Monday, November 08, 2010

The American Television

(with apologies to Andrew Sarris)

This past weekend I came upon a 1959 letter circulated among interested parties, which concerned the hiring of directors for the second season of The Twilight Zone, giving an intriguing breakdown of potential helmers.  Some excerpts, with format changes and elisions ...

Justus Addiss
Walter Doniger
Robert Florey
Christian Nyby
Montgomery Pittman
Richard Sale 
Robert Stevens 

(I include Mr. Florey's name because I know he is much admired in many quarters; I am dead set against him because I believe he gives actors no help whatsoever.)


Here's a list of men of whom I've heard very good reports and whom we should consider

Robert Altman
Jack Arnold
Douglas Heyes 
Phil Karlson
Richard Wilson
Jack Smight

There are several young men, many raised in the Matinee Theatre school, whom I think have done very good work.  They seem to be especially notable for injecting a great deal of life and vivacity into their films:

Walter Grauman 
Jeffrey Hayden
Lamont Johnson
David O. McDearmon
Boris Sagal


There are several men still active, who, over a long period of years, have established a reputation as men of great style:

Lazlo Benedek
John Brahm
Arthur Ripley
Harry Horner
James Neilson

Bernard Girard
John Peyser

(The last two names are young men and less dependable then the others; under the discipline by which they do their best work, they are perhaps better than the others.)

Should we do it as a comedy, it might be well to consider the following successful directors:

Rod Amateau
Hy Averback
Richard Kinon
Oscar Rudolph

* * * 

A letter like this shows that they qualitatively grouped directors in the industry, too (and lines between the film and television industry at this point were blurring), albeit not with the same kinds of categories as Mr. Sarris and those who've come after - but definitely according to the characteristics of a director's work (like vivacity) or an established track record in a genre.  It all points to the complexity of artistic input and collaboration that can go into producing some big audiovisual affair.  There are enthusiasts of the moving image who take special pleasure from, say, the John Brahm-directed episodes of The Twilight Zone (or Gerd Oswald in The Outer Limits), regardless of who wrote that episode's script.  I say this not to devolve into the awful parlor game / pissing contest that asks (as though there's an answer), "who is the real author of this object?" ... only to point out the lines which establish an aesthetic, from the viewer's perspective, are unstable and also capable of keying in to official discourse marginally or obliquely, posing unanticipated questions and finding answers neither proffered nor hidden by "the text."  And there seems to be some industrial and historical precedent for this ...

* * *

Season two of The Twilight Zone, episode list with directors.

"The King Will Not Return" (Buzz Kulik), "The Man in the Bottle" (Don Medford), "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" (Douglas Heyes), "A Thing About Machines" (David O. McDearmon), "The Howling Man" (Douglas Heyes), "Eye of the Beholder" (Douglas Heyes), "Nick of Time" (Richard L. Bare), "The Lateness of the Hour" (Jack Smight), "The Trouble with Templeton" (Buzz Kulik), "A Most Unusual Camera" (John Rich), "The Night of the Meek" (Jack Smight), "Dust" (Douglas Heyes), "Back There" (David O. McDearmon), "The Whole Truth" (James Sheldon), "The Invaders" (Douglas Heyes), "A Penny for Your Thoughts" (James Sheldon), "Twenty-two" (Jack Smight), "The Odyssey of Flight 33" (Justus Addiss), "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" (John Brahm), "Static" (Buzz Kulik), "The Prime Mover" (Richard L. Bare), "Long Distance Call" (James Sheldon), "A Hundred Yards Over the Rim" (Buzz Kulik), "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" (Justus Addiss), "The Silence" (Boris Sagal), "Shadow Play" (John Brahm), "The Mind and the Matter" (Buzz Kulik), "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" (Montgomery Pittman), and "The Obsolete Man" (Elliot Silverstein).

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