"I am a product of violence myself. By the age of 15 I'd been through Auschwitz and Belsen and my family destroyed... Without motivation, without warning. One's whole life is literally changed by making oneself cope with violence. The force cannot destroy the sensitive... Tennessee Williams believes that violence destroys sensitivity but I don't believe this -- we go on, the life force goes on in spite of it." - Jack Garfein
I'm honored to be presenting the work of Jack Garfein at this year's Telluride Film Festival. He's a master. A master with only two feature films. But he's accomplished so much more in the world of theater, film and life. Garfein has stories. So many stories. Stories from decades ago and stories from two weeks ago. Warm, bracing, brilliant, funny and empathetic, he is both powerful and pleasant to talk with in person. It will be wonderful to interview him on stage. The man is a force.
Garfein is a ﬁlmmaker so ahead of his time that, even after 50 years, his two features The Strange One (1957) and Something Wild (1961) continue to inspire, shock, provoke empathy and amaze. You can’t believe these complicated, human stories remain so modern and experimental to this day. But this is Garfein – an artist who beautifully combines expressionistic lyricism with raw naturalism while exploring still controversial subjects; never preaching, simplifying or insulting his characters: The fascistic military dehumanization and homoeroticism of The Strange One, and the complexity of rape and entrapment in his masterpiece, Something Wild.
Garfein, born July 2, 1930 in Czechoslovakia came to the U.S. after surviving Auschwitz, joined the Actor’s Studio, directed, in his early twenties, “End as Man” with Ben Gazzara and founded the Actors Studio West. His accomplishments are too vast to list, but he remains one of the great acting teachers, and continues to instruct in Paris. He’s chronicled his return to Auschwitz with his documentary The Journey Back, and has written “Life and Acting - Techniques for the Actor.” He remains a power in the world of acting and film.
On Saturday (today), I'll be presenting a picture I programmed for Turner Classic movies a few years ago and have written about here -- the extraordinary Something Wild. Garfein’s brave, emphatic, confounding, mysterious and in the end, darkly beautiful Something Wild is a picture so powerful, that it shocks and distresses viewers to this day. This expressionistic and naturalistic work of art (the location shooting is remarkable) dared observe the complexity of rape by following a young woman (a brilliant Carroll Baker, Garfein’s then wife) after she is viciously attacked by a stranger in the park.
The psychologically chaotic aftermath – her anxiety, repulsion, depression and eventual withdrawal from society -- not, and then by her own choice – is given a potent punch with the arrival of a tremendous Ralph Meeker in a performance you’ve never seen before. Not one to oversimplify (as rape never should be), this story of victimization turns into a twisted Stockholm syndrome/true love (or not, which makes it even more intriguing) fairy tale that still provokes argument. With a score by the virtuoso Aaron Copland, title sequence by legendary Saul Bass and cinematographer by the remarkable Eugen Schüfftan, Something Wild is an un-sung masterpiece.
On Sunday I'll be presenting The Strange One, which is strange and not so strange when considering the extent of human sadism. But the film remains shocking and potently violent -- both physically and emotionally. Adapted from Calder Willingham’s novel and play End as a Man (directed on stage by Garfein), The Strange One looks at a sadistic, little Hitler of a sociopathic cadet Jocko De Paris (a remarkable Ben Gazzara) as he terrorizes and manipulates underlings in a Southern military academy. Garfein’s picture boldly took on the abuse of power in such a system and the fearful acceptance of abuse -- sick abuse that goes well beyond boyish hazing.
It also dared to delve into undercurrents to overt moments of homosexuality. Along with Gazzara in his ﬁlm debut, the cast includes George Peppard, Pat Hingle, Geoffrey Horne, James Olson, Larry Gates and Arthur Storch. It's a major first effort by a young director with a mighty new leading man in Gazzara. The synergy is obvious between these two young talented men and it's not just raw, though it's unafraid of raw emotion and almost feels natural born -- but it's more fine tuned, intelligent and observant. They were thinking but they were never over-thinking. Garfein believes in instinct and his movies and performances flow -- you're swept into worlds both shocking and recognizable.
Jack Garfein is a maverick -- a sensitive, perceptive maverick. Cinema needed him then (but stupidly resisted) and cinema needs him now. Once you've seen his work, it's impossible to forget.
With Jack in Telluride, high in the mountains at Gray Head.