Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Wise Man

To have been responsible, as director, for one of my all-time favourite films - West Side Story - is an accolade worthy of applause. To also have directed another - The Sound of Music - marks a man out as a genius!

Today we celebrate the centenary of Mr Robert Wise, the genius in question.

[Shamefully, this momentous occasion appears to have gone all but unnoticed in what tattered feeble remnants remain of what was once known as The British Press - so obviously unable to afford proper grown-up journalists these days, replaced by automatons whose only connection with the outside world is Twitter (fine if you happen to be interested in the lives of nonentities such as Rita Ora or Iggy Azalea, or in stupid/outrageous/heart-string-pulling {*strike out as appropriate} YouTube videos), that one might be forgiven for thinking that there were never people with actual talent in the history of the universe.]

Mr Wise began his estimable career back in the 1940s - he was nominated for an Oscar as film editor on Citizen Kane:

By the 50s, he had already created a bit of a reputation for directing dark, menacing films such as The Body Snatcher before adding his special touch to that most iconic of "world-in-peril" movies of the era, The Day the Earth Stood Still - and science fiction obviously remained in his blood, as decades later he won huge accolades for the classic The Andromeda Strain, and went on to bring Star Trek to the big screen.

But it was when he turned his hand to the burgeoning genre of movie musicals in the 60s that his noirish artistry gave way to pure cinematic camp. West Side Story set the bar for big-screen musicals, winning ten Oscars (including one for Mr Wise), and has often been named as the best of its kind in musical history. And no wonder - here's the Gym Mambo:

The Sound of Music, however, eclipsed even that magnificent movie - in commercial success, at least. To date the film has earned at least $300,000,000 worldwide (making it one of the top grossing movies of all time), and for it Mr Wise deservedly won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Here (in case anyone's never seen it before; ha ha) is the official 1965 trailer:

Speaking of camp, another of Mr Wise's notable films, the otherwise completely soulless biographical movie about Gertrude Lawrence Star! - which was a critical and commercial flop - nevertheless (in his hands) provided some spectacularly OTT moments. Such as this one - The Physician:

Robert Wise's sheer range of filmic styles, and his willingness to always take up a challenge (regardless of box office success), has been an acknowledged influence on generations of directors who followed - everyone from Scorsese to Spielberg to M. Night Shyamalan. It is difficult, of course, to "pin down" a recognisably "Robert Wise movie" because of this eclecticism, but, as the great man himself said:

“Some of the more esoteric critics claim that there's no Robert Wise style or stamp. My answer to that is that I've tried to approach each genre in a cinematic style that I think is right for that genre. I wouldn't have approached 'The Sound of Music' the way I approached 'I Want to Live!' for anything, and that accounts for a mix of styles.”

Robert Earl Wise (10th September, 1914 - 14th September 2005)

For more, those fab people over at The Film Experience blog are doing a whole week of tributes to Mr Wise.


  1. Wonderful post!

    And a shout out for his directing of I Want To Live; almost documentary in style and with a terrific jazz score, it was startlingly original at the time. (He directed Hayward to an Oscar, to boot!)

    1. Thank you, Miss O'Hara - and yes, I would have given more of a mention of I Want To Live were it not for the fact that I (shamefully, perhaps) have never seen it... Jx

  2. I envy you -- I'd love to see it now for the first time -- you have a treat in store!


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