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An interview with Jerry Schatzberg

Par Jerry Schatzberg, Clifford Armion : Professeur agrégé d'anglais - ENS de Lyon
Publié par Clifford Armion le 18/10/2011

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Jerry Schatzberg started his career as a photographer and made his debut as a film director with Puzzle of a Downfall Child in 1970. Three years later he won the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix for Scarecrow with Gene Hackman and Al Pacino. He was invited by the Festival Lumière to present a restored copy of his first film and was kind enough to answer a few questions on his work as a photographer and director.


A transcript of the interview

Clifford Armion: What impressions did you have when seeing this film (Puzzle of a Downfall Child) that you made forty years ago?

Jerry Schatzberg: It's very emotional to me. First because it was released forty years ago and not received very well in America - it was always received well in France, the French are very good to me - and also knowing Faye (Dunaway) for so many years; it's a brilliant performance that she does in that film, it is very touching to me.

C.A.: How did you cast her for the film?

J.S.: I started as a photographer and Esquire asked me to go to Florida. She was doing her first film and she was gaining a reputation. She had been on stage and she was that new starlet coming along. So I went there and photographed her. When she came back to New York three years later, after doing two more films, one of them Bonnie and Clyde, her press people suggested that she call me so I should do some more photographs of her. We became friends and in that period of time she asked me what I was doing. I told her about this film I had been working on for a couple of years. When she heard the subject matter she got very enthused. The character in the film ages from thirteen to forty and Faye was in her late twenties. I felt that it would be interesting, seeing the structure of her face, that I could make her young and then make her look a little older. Her enthusiasm really grabbed me. I had thought of using an older actress and a young child. I was thinking of Anne Bancroft or Joanne Woodward but when Faye came into the picture she became the character and she became part of the project. Then we went on through another three years trying to get it done. We went through three screenplays, three studios and finally somebody agreed to do it.

C.A.: What led you to take that step from photography to cinema at the time?

J.S.: Well the story of the film is based on somebody I knew very well. When you see the film, you see the relationship between the photographer and the model. She was a good friend of mine. I met her when I was an assistant and she was really a very successful model. We struck up a friendship in the studios while we were waiting to shoot and she offered to do photographs for me. That was a great help at a time when I was putting together my portfolio and we became friends. Then I saw the way they treated people after they were a little older. By that time I had my own studio and I wanted to take her to Paris to do the collections for Vogue and Vogue said "no, we want a new face." They didn't do it with any kindness; they just said "no we don't want her." That's very debilitating to people who depend on their cosmetic looks, on their talent to show clothes. She was still very beautiful and still very capable of doing that but it really struck something inside her and she had a breakdown. I knew a number of models that went through that same experience. Some of them became drug addicts, some of them just broke down. I knew one that was a homeless person. This really made me think. I tried to photograph her but it didn't say the story in the way I thought cinema could do it. So I started the movie in that direction, not knowing too much about cinema, but you learn; if you want to know something, just find out and do it.

C.A.: I also wanted to ask you about your collaboration with Harold Pinter on Reunion. Was it easy to work with him?

J.S.: It was great to work with him. I didn't know they had given it to him. When I read the book and I said that I'd like to do it, I recommended two English writers, because I wanted an English writer to do it, but they couldn't get in touch with them. The production gave it to Pinter, just on their own, and he said "Oh yes, I love this story, my mother recommended it to me." I thought of Pinter's work and I didn't know whether it was the right casting, but I called him and after the telephone conversation I felt he was just perfect. We worked together and after I received the first draft we decided to go to Germany and look at locations. He knew Stuttgart, he knew different locations there and I was interested. But then I had that first draft and I had about three pages of notes, of changes I wanted to have in the screenplay. It's pretty harassing in your mind to think of telling Pinter what changes you want. But because of the way I write my notes, being quite explicit about why I want something to change and what are the possibilities, he loved it and he was very enthusiastic. We did have one disagreement about the script after the sixth draft. It was about the ending. His ending was not as cinematic as what I thought an ending should be. My ending was a little more like the book. We couldn't come to an agreement so I told him to write both endings. I told him that I would shoot both of them and that I would shoot them both well because whatever ending worked I wanted it to be good. I put it together with my ending, he came to Paris to see the film and he loved it. He was a great collaborator.

C.A.: Just one question about this place (the Villa Lumière) and the people who lived here. Do you have an interest in very early cinema? Did you see the films by the Lumière brothers and by Méliès?

J.S.: Oh yes. You know I came to cinema fairly late. I went to movies when I was a kid but I didn't really think of it as cinema. When I was twenty-seven I got involved with photography and it's at that point that I started to seriously look at cinema and foreign films. I was also very much interested in what the Beat Generation had to say. I think that coming a little later to it gave me a different approach to it because I was able to understand it more. If you read it when you're younger, you don't have the same understanding. I didn't do my first film until I was forty so I had enough time to think and acquire some knowledge, and wisdom I hope.


Pour citer cette ressource :

Jerry Schatzberg, Clifford Armion, "An interview with Jerry Schatzberg", La Clé des Langues [en ligne], Lyon, ENS de LYON/DGESCO (ISSN 2107-7029), octobre 2011. Consulté le 24/05/2024. URL: https://cle.ens-lyon.fr/anglais/arts/cinema/an-interview-with-jerry-schatzberg