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Author: Neil Sinyard

This book explores why Jack Clayton had made so few films and why most of them failed to find a large audience. It examines the kind of criticism they generated, sometimes adulatory but sometimes dismissive and even condescending. The book hopes to throw light on certain tendencies and developments within the film industry and of film criticism, the British film industry and film criticism in particular. The fact that Clayton's films fit David Bordwell's paradigm of the art film is one explanation why producers had difficulty with him and why mainstream cinema found his work hard to place and assimilate. Clayton's pictorial eye has sometimes antagonised critics: they often take exception to some aspect of his mise-en-scene. Clayton had come to prominence with Room at the Top, around the time of the British 'Free Cinema' movement and immediately prior to the so-called British 'new-wave' films of the early 1960s from directors such as Tony Richardson and John Schlesinger. Thorold Dickinson's evocation of the Russian atmosphere and, in particular, his use of suspenseful soundtrack to suggest ghostly visitation undoubtedly had an influence on Jack Clayton's style in both The Bespoke Overcoat and The Innocents. The critical controversy concerning the status of Jack Clayton as director and artist is probably at its most intense over The Pumpkin Eater. Clayton stressed the importance of an opening that established right away the situation of 'a woman in crisis' but wanted to delay the Harrods scene so as to build up an atmosphere of suspense.

Open Access (free)
The early British films of Joseph Losey
Neil Sinyard

In an interview in Films and Filming in October 1963, Joseph Losey had declared: 'The Servant is the only picture he have ever made in his life where there was no interference from beginning to end, either on script, casting, cutting, music or on anything else. This chapter focuses on his two British films prior to The Servant, The Criminal and The Damned. The Servant could be seen as the completion of the first phase of Losey's English period, which had begun in 1954 with his first film in England, The Sleeping Tiger. The film in which Losey's background is most obvious is The Intimate Stranger in which the hero Richard Basehart is a former American film editor who, partly through an advantageous marriage, has become an important executive producer in England.

in British cinema of the 1950s
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The Great Gatsby (1974); Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)
Neil Sinyard

Jack Clayton was always a controversial director for so American a subject as The Great Gatsby. He was the preferred choice of Ali McGraw, who at that time was married to the head of Paramount, Robert Evans, and had suggested the idea of a film of Gatsby to him with her in the role of Daisy. The Great Gatsby is about the death of a particularly single-minded innocence and romanticism, the high price to be paid for, as Scott Fitzgerald put it, living too long with a single dream. The nine years between The Great Gatsby and Something Wicked This Way Comes were the most difficult of Clayton's career. Francis Ford Coppola undoubtedly saw Gatsby as a very American tale, one indeed with which he himself could identify, Gatsby possibly being a symbol of his own dreams of money and success.

in Jack Clayton
The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
Neil Sinyard

The critical controversy concerning the status of Jack Clayton as a director is probably at its most intense over The Pumpkin Eater. Clayton stressed the importance of an opening that established right away the situation of 'a woman in crisis' but wanted to delay the Harrods scene so as to build up an atmosphere of suspense. Certainly if one compares, say, The Red Desert with The Pumpkin Eater, it is the Antonioni film rather than the Clayton one that seems to have more surface than substance. Actually The Pumpkin Eater was the third consecutive Clayton piece to be based on material narrated in the first person; and in each case, although the main character appears in just about every scene, the presentation is more objective. 'No viewer will ever forget the intercut close-ups of James Mason's mouth', wrote Tony Sloman in his tribute to Clayton for the National Film Theatre.

in Jack Clayton
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1987)
Neil Sinyard

Brian Moore's début novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, was published in 1955 to immediate acclaim. When screenwriter Peter Nelson acquired the rights of Judith Hearne in 1982, he had talked to Shirley MacLaine about doing it, with Mike Nichols directing. Jack Clayton tried to option the screen rights for the book in 1961, 1964, 1970 and 1973. Clayton sent a copy of Nelson's screenplay to Moore for comments. Judith Hearne is arguably Clayton's finest and most completely realised film since The Pumpkin Eater. The release of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne turned out to be something of a disaster. It was prémiered in Los Angeles in the Christmas week of 1987 in order to qualify for Oscar consideration. Like John Huston, Clayton is a tender chronicler of the courageous spiritual processes of lowly people whose hopes are defeated by destiny but who nevertheless endure.

in Jack Clayton
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Memento Mori (1992)
Neil Sinyard

Muriel Spark's novel Memento Mori had been published in 1959 and had immediately attracted Jack Clayton's attention as a possible film project, partly because he admired its style and dialogue but particularly because he related to the theme. Death and/or funeral scenes occur frequently in Clayton's work, involving the key characters and always carrying great weight. Even the humour of John Huston's spoof thriller, Beat the Devil, on which Clayton was the associate producer and which has at least an underground reputation as a cult classic, was lost on him. A pupil and protégé of Georges Auric, Georges Delerue had come to Clayton's attention with his score for François Truffaut's Jules et Jim. In May 1988 Clayton was interviewed about Delerue by the Belgian film magazine Soundtrack; in their edition of 21 September 1992, after Delerue's death, they reprinted Clayton's comments.

in Jack Clayton
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The unrealised projects of Jack Clayton
Neil Sinyard

This chapter provides brief details of some of the projects on which Jack Clayton was involved but which for various reasons either never materialised on screen or were made by someone else. The projects include A Child is Waiting; The Looking-Glass War; Sweet Autumn; The Walking Stick; Mary, Queen of Scots; Zaharoff Pedlar of Death; The Tenant; lf You Could See Me Now; The Main; Revelations; Hand-Me Downs; The Bourne Identity and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The list also includes One Last Glimpse; The Enchantment; Hannah; The Last Enemy; Cold Spring Harbour; The Stone Virgin; Augustus; Poe (The Dark Angel); The Cherry Orchard; Revolutionary Road; Hay Fever; Casualties of War; Massacre at Fall Creek and Silence. The chapter also reveals a lot about Clayton and perhaps even more about the industry in which he worked throughout his adult life.

in Jack Clayton
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Our Mother’s House (1967)
Neil Sinyard

Jack Clayton described Our Mother's House as a story about children with no father and so religious that when their mother dies they decide to bury her in the garden. Our Mother's House could be seen as a continuation of The Innocents and The Pumpkin Eater. Our Mother's House feels like a personal, private battle with inner demons: flawed, obscure, old-fashioned in places it may be, but there are many more passages in it that seem touching, tender and true. The danger to adults of childhood innocence has been explored in other films, notably in those of Alexander Mackendrick, but Our Mother's House has an atmosphere all of its own. The nearest to it for its combination of the grotesque and the poignant in its depiction of childhood, is René Clément's great film, Jeux Interdits - Forbidden Games.

in Jack Clayton
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Neil Sinyard

Jack Clayton was a director of great sensitivity, intelligence and flair. Clayton died of a heart attack in the arms of his wife on 25 February 1995 in a hospital in Sloug. He was a few days short of his seventy-fourth birthday; Haya Clayton believes it was on that same day seventeen years before that Jack suffered his stroke. During pre-production work on The Massacre at Fall Creek, Clayton had become fascinated with American Indian jewellery and began wearing a Navaho bracelet, also buying one for Johnny, his dear neighbour, and insisting on telling him it had 'healing powers'. When he died, it was not only the film fraternity that mourned his passing; there was to be a touching obituary by a friend, Tony Cowan, in the magazine The Racing Pigeon and a Jack Clayton Memorial Cup established in his honour.

in Jack Clayton
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The Innocents (1961)
Neil Sinyard

In his obituary notice in the Guardian, John Clayton's fellow director and close friend Karel Reisz, who thought The Innocents the greatest of Clayton's films, also relates the power of the film to the chord the material struck in Clayton's memory of childhood. For the ability to locate the precise moment of maximum tension in a scene, Clayton's direction has a mastery comparable to that of another great director of domestic tension, William Wyler. Interestingly, Clayton was less happy with Quint's ghost than with Miss Jessel's: it was altogether cruder, he thought, more obviously melodramatic and Gothic, less atmospheric. Miss Jessel provided the dimension of supernatural sadness, but Quint was necessary to give the weight of diabolical threat. Pauline Kael had a fine phrase for Miss Jessel's tear on the blotter: she called it 'that little pearl of ambiguity'.

in Jack Clayton