I first read The Go-Between I burst into tears on the last
page so that when Joe Losey asked me if I'd like to write a screenplay
of it I said "Impossible. I can't write a screenplay with tears
streaming down my face." However, I managed to pull myself together
and get down to work. Joe and I decided quite early on that we
would bring the present into the past throughout the film. This
entailed the arrival of Michael Redgrave (the elderly Leo) to
the village he last saw as a boy in 1912 where he witnessed or
rather participated in the disintegration of a society. This structure
was not popular with the distributors. Coming away from an early
screening I heard a moneyman say "If they just get rid of all
that Michael Redgrave crap it could do well." Pressure was brought
to bear on us but Joe and I would not budge. I'm very glad we
stuck to our guns.
Someone asked me once why I kept so much of L
P Hartley's dialogue. I replied "Because it could not be bettered."
Early in 1972 Nicole Stephane, who owned the film
rights to A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, asked Joseph Losey
if he would like to work on a film version of the book. He asked
me if I was interested.
For three months I read A la Recherche du Temps
Perdu every day. I took hundreds of notes while reading but
was left at the end quite baffled as to how to approach a task
of such magnitude. The one thing of which I was certain was that
it would be wrong to attempt to make a film centred around one
or two volumes, La Prisonniere or Sodome et Gomorrhe, for
example. If the thing was to be done at all, one would have to
try to distil the whole work, to incorporate the major themes
of the book into an integrated whole. We decided that the architecture
of the film should be based on two main and contrasting principles:
one, a movement, chiefly narrative, towards disillusion, and the
other, more intermittent, towards revelation, rising to where
time that was lost is found, and fixed forever in art.
In Le Temps Retrouve, Marcel, in his forties
hears the bell of his childhood. His childhood, long forgotten,
is suddenly present within him, but his consciousness of himself
as a child, his memory of the experience, is more real, more acute
than the experience itself.
Working on A la Recherche du Temps Perdu
was the best working year of my life.
The money to make the film was never found.
I worked on the script of Victory with
Richard Lester. I had found Joseph Conrad's book immensely powerful,
with a very rich collection of characters. I was also excited
to write a film based in East Asia in 1900. But the American production
company did not share my enthusiasm. They decided that "period"
films cost too much money, particularly when they dealt with Conradian
moral complexities, so they withdrew. This screenplay has never
been shot, although another film of the book was made a few years
Turtle Diary, a wry, secretive book by
Russell Hoban, I found a very attractive proposition. The film,
I believe, succeeds on a number of counts but finally disappoints.
This is because it fails to give proper expression to the inner
life of the two protagonists. The failure does, I think, lie in
the screenplay itself, although it's difficult to put one's finger
on it. The film is funny but not, perhaps, sufficiently earthed.
I believe Reunion is a very underrated film. Fred
Uhlmann's book focuses on the life of two boys (one a German aristocrat,
the other the son of a Jewish doctor) in Germany in the early
thirties. The framework of the novella is the Jewish boy fifty
years later, now a lawyer in America. I took the lawyer on a trip
to Germany and juxtaposed past and present, gradually revealing
both. The contrast, in Jerry Schatzberg's film, of Germany then
and now and Jason Robard's almost silent journey through the city
of his childhood I found extremely telling.
I have never written an original film. But I've
enjoyed adapting other people's books very much. Altogether, I
have written twenty-four screenplays. Two were never shot. Three
were rewritten by others. Two have not yet been filmed. Seventeen
(including four adaptations of my own plays) were filmed as written.
I think that's unusual. I certainly understand adapting novels
for the screen to be a serious and fascinating craft.
13 September 2000