A clip from the 1986 documentary, Mackendrick: The Man Who Walked Away, directed by Dermot McQuarrie for Scottish television.
Alexander Mackendrick, director of The Man in the White Suit (1951) and The Ladykillers (1955), both of which starred Sir Alec Guinness, and Sweet Smell of Success (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis, left the industry in 1969 to become founding dean for CalArts’ School of Film (now School of Film/Video).
A pivotal figure in CalArts history, he taught at the Institute until his death in 1993, and remains a major influence on contemporary narrative directors and screenwriters. For his centennial year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the CalArts School of Film/Video and CalArts Office of Alumni Relations present a special program on Feb. 6 at REDCAT to discuss Mackendrick’s far-reaching impact on film history and the lives of his students.
Special guest speakers at Alexander Mackendrick: A Centennial Celebration are Paul Cronin, editor of Mackendrick’s influential book On Film-Making, and two of Mackdendrick’s CalArts students: Director James Mangold and author and filmmaker F.X. Feeney.
In the latest issue of Written by—the magazine of the Writer’s Guild of America—Feeney writes about his time in “Sandy’s” Writer-Director’s Workshop. Held in CalArts’ sub-level (essentially, the basement) for four hours per class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the class was as intense as Mackendrick’s Scottish-American temperament. During the first workshop, Mackendrick screened On the Waterfront, written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan.
“This is a film you will get to know very well by the end of this course,” Sandy cautioned us. He wasn’t kidding: We were to see it again and again, at least once a week for the next 18 weeks, twice in some weeks, even three times with a special stop-motion function on the second projector for super-close study, as our work reached its crest of intensity in mid-March. “It is entirely possible you will come to hate it,” he added on that first day.“But this will pass.” He was confident the film’s strengths would outlive whatever incidental resistance we might feel toward the ordeal of watching anything again and again. “What I want you to discover is the very skeleton of the picture, and this is something you can only do for yourselves, in experiencing it.”
Looking back 36 years, I especially admire that he chose the word skeleton over structure. Skeletons are organic, structures abstract. Sandy would speak freely of structure, of course—the word is inevitable in art—but he wanted us to understand that artistic creation is a process engaged first and last by living, breathing imaginations.
The Alexander Mackendrick program at REDCAT promises to be an evening of both personal reminiscences and critical observations—like the one above—from Feeney and the rest of the panelists.
Alexander Mackendrick: A Centennial Celebration
631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles
Wednesday, Feb. 6
Tickets: $10 for general admission, $8 for students, $5 for the CalArts community