Inside Llewyn Davis
"Inside Llewyn Davis" is the most satisfyingly diabolical cinematic structure that the Coens have ever contrived, and that's just one reason that I suspect it…
Fourteen months we were trying to get someone to believe in that picture," Raymond Stross said. "We had our own money in it. All of our money. Everything except the house. And all the time people were telling us, make a Hollywood picture. Make a commercial picture. 'The Fox' will never make a dime."
Stross paused for dramatic emphasis, using his cigar as a stage prop. "To date," he said, "'The Fox" has grossed $14,000,000 worldwide. It will eventually gross $16,000,000, making it one of the most successful films of recent years. And you know what it cost? It cost $1,000,057. 1 still can't figure out where that $57 went to." "The kitchen sink," Anne Heywood said, and smiled. "But he's telling the truth. There was a lot of financial backing available for other pictures, but Raymond and I both like emotional involvement, We don't like to make a picture just to keep working. And I was personally so close to 'The Fox' and to Ellen, the character I played. It was such a good, sound story."
And so, eventually, Anne Heywood starred in "The Fox," which was produced by her husband, Raymond Stross, and it turned out they were right. They have, as the saying goes, no worries about where the next buck, comes from.
"For me," Stross said, "that's a comfort. I've been rich and poor so often, made money and lost it, gone right to the edge of disaster and pulled out at the last moment..."
Miss Heywood and Stross were visiting Chicago for the world premiere of their latest partnership; a gold-robbery adventure titled "Midas Run." Stross was frank about it: "It's not a profound message picture. But it's fun, it's a little offbeat, it's not the average robbery film of the sort that's so common right now."
He said a few more things about "Midas Run" - how much trouble they'd had shooting in the rain in Venice, how good it was to work with Fred Astaire - but his thoughts were on "The Fox." It was perfectly obvious that these two people were delighted with this film they'd made, against all advice, that had turned into an artistic and commercial success.
"A lot of people have asked me if I didn't have qualms about playing the lesbian scene," Miss Heywood said. "The answer is, of course not. At least not in that particular story. Ellen isn't a lesbian at all, in fact. She's more of a modern, independent woman - a very dynamic woman.
"That's clear in the original story, which Lawrence wrote nearly 50 years ago. And I hope it's true in the film. The funny thing was, D. H. Lawrence gave me a lot of help in understanding the character Ellen. Our director didn't know, and our writer didn't know, whether the two women were definitely lesbians or not. Well, you couldn't make the picture without knowing that. How would you create the role?
"I found the answer by going back to Lawrence's original story. In the last paragraph, when Ellen marries the man and goes away, Lawrence writes that she would remain her own woman. She would still know her own mind, she would still make her own decisions. "That's Ellen! She was concerned with the autonomy of the human being. She was a wife, but also a woman and an individual. She demanded the respect which women have fought for and are eventually beginning to win. "So the answer is - no, I didn't have qualms about the lesbian scene, although I'd never go farther in a movie than I went in 'The Fox.' I felt the controversial scenes were done with delicacy and taste. It means nothing to simply be sensational. Life has to be molded into art."
Stross nodded. "That's what I objected to in 'The Killing of Sister George'," he said. "Robert Aldrich was so pretentious in filming his lesbian scene. He was so concerned about the impact, the sensationalism, that he forgot what the scene meant in dramatic terms. I like a lot of Aldrich's films - I liked 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' - but for sensitivity, he's the last man I'd think of."
Miss Heywood said she thought the attitude of the actresses was important as well: "My whole attitude toward Sandy Dennis, for example." Miss Dennis was the other woman in a triangle which also included Keir Dullea as the male symbol, the fox.
"From the moment we saw Sandy in 'Virginia Woolf,' we knew she had to play the other role," Miss Heywood said. "I had to get it straight in my own mind what I thought about her. Even off screen, I had to keep believing, I love you, I love you. That was Ellen's attitude, you see. She loved her, but she wanted the love of a man. She wasn't a lesbian. That's why she was waiting for the fox. Those weren't easy scenes to do. But they meant something, I think."
"We've come a long way," her husband said. "To be able to do this sort of film honestly and warmly is a real advance. Ten years ago, I made a picture, 'The Mark,' with Stuart Whitman and Rod Steiger. It was also considered too controversial for its time. But I made it because I felt that sort of subject - the sex offender trying desperately to go straight - needed to be treated.
"Stanley Kramer liked the story, and he wanted to buy it from me. I wouldn't sell. I wanted to make the picture my way. Chances are, Kramer would have produced a much more commercial film. But that wasn't what was needed. What was needed was an honest, sensitive approach to the subject. 'The Mark' was only a moderate success - very moderate. Now, 10 years later, a film like 'The Fox' can be both honest and successful."
There was silence for a moment.
"Did you ever hear that story about Sam Goldwyn?" Miss Heywood said. "They wanted to make a film of the novel 'Well of Loneliness.' Sure, Goldwyn said, why not? But Mr. Goldwyn, they told him, it's about lesbians. So what? Goldwyn said. We'll change them into Americans."
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