Joseph Losey

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Joseph Losey in 1965

Joseph Walton Losey (January 14, 1909 – June 22, 1984) was an American theater and film director. After studying in Germany with Bertolt Brecht, Losey returned to the United States, eventually making his way to Hollywood. In the 1950s Losey was blacklisted in the United States and moved to Europe where he made the remainder of his films, mostly in the United Kingdom.

Early life and career[edit]

Joseph Losey was born on January 14, 1909, in La Crosse, Wisconsin,[1] where he was friends with Nicholas Ray in high school.[2] He attended Dartmouth and Harvard, beginning as a student of medicine and ending in drama.[3]

Losey became a major figure in New York political theatre, first directing the controversial failure Little Old Boy in 1933.[4] He declined to direct a staged version of Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, which led Lewis to offer him his first work written for the stage, Jayhawker. Losey directed the show, which had a brief run.[3] Bosley Crowther in the New York Times noted that "The play, being increasingly wordy, presents staging problems that Joe Losey's direction does not always solve. It is hard to tell who is responsible for the obscure parts in the story."[5]

In 1935, he visited the Soviet Union for several months to study the Russian stage. He either accompanied or was accompanied by Elizabeth Hawes, who staged a show of her fashions in Moscow.[6]

In 1936, he directed Triple-A Plowed Under on Broadway, part of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project.[6]

Losey married Hawes on July 24, 1937.[7] They had a son, Gavrik Losey, in 1938, but divorced in November 1944.[8]

He arrived in Hollywood just after the Second World War. His first film, in 1947, was a political allegory The Boy with Green Hair.

That same year he returned to Broadway and staged the first English language version of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo starring Charles Laughton, with music by Hanns Eisler.[9] Of the extravagant production with 66 roles, Brooks Atkinson wrote: "As produced under Joseph Losey's direction, Mr. Brecht's play diffuses the legend of Galileo across the stage, and values showmanship above the drama."[10] Participants reported that Laughton and Brecht controlled the performance, leaving little for Losey in the role of director.[11]

Politics and exile[edit]

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was interested in Losey because in the 1930s and 40s he had extensive contacts with people on the political left, including radicals and Communists or people who would become such. He had a long association with Hanns Eisler, long a target of HUAC's interest.[12] Losey wrote to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in support of a resident's visa for the composer, who had many radical associations. They collaborated on a "political cabaret" from 1937 to 1939. Losey invited him to compose music for a short public relations film he had been commissioned to direct for presentation at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Petre Oleum and His Cousins, which launched Eisler's career in film music.[13]

Losey had also worked on the Federal Theater Project, long a target of HUAC. Triple-A Plowed Under, on which Losey had worked, had been denounced by HUAC's antecedent, the Dies Committee as Communist propaganda.[12] His Hollywood collaborators included a long list of other HUAC targets, including Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner.[12]

Losey's first wife Elizabeth Hawes worked with wide range of Communists and anti-Communist liberals at the radical newspaper PM during their marriage. After it ended in 1944, she wrote about working as a union organizer just after World War II, where "one preferred the Communists to the Red-Baiters".[14] At some point, probably early in the 1940s, the FBI was maintaining dossiers on both Losey and Hawes. His included charges that he was a Stalinist agent as of 1945.[12]

In 1946, Losey joined the Communist Party. He later explained to a French interviewer:[12]

I had a feeling that I was being useless in Hollywood, that I'd been cut off from New York activity and I felt that my existence was unjustified. It was a kind of Hollywood guilt that led me into that kind of commitment. And I think that the work that I did on a much freer, more personal and independent basis for the political left in New York, before going to Hollywood, was much more valuable socially.

Losey had a long-term contract with Dore Schary at RKO when Howard Hughes purchased the company in 1948 and began purging it of leftists. Losey later explained how Hughes tested employees to determine if they had Communist sympathies:[15]

I was offered a film called "I Married a Communist," which I turned down categorically. I later learned that it was a touchstone for establishing who was a "red": you offered "I Married a Communist" to anybody you thought was a Communist, and if they turned it down, they were.

Hughes responded by holding Losey to his contract without assigning him any work.[12] In mid-1949, Schary persuaded Hughes to release Losey, who soon began working as an independent on The Lawless for Paramount Pictures.[12] Soon he was working on a three-picture contract with Stanley Kramer. Then his name was mentioned by two witnesses before HUAC in the spring of 1951. Losey's attorney suggested arranging a deal with the committee for testimony in secret. Instead Losey abandoned his work editing The Big Night[16] and left for Europe with his wife Louise a few days later, while HUAC took weeks to try unsuccessfully to serve him with a subpoena compelling his testimony.[12]

After more than a year working on Stranger on the Prowl in Italy, Losey returned to the U.S. on October 12, 1952. He found himself unemployable:[12]

I was [in the United States] for about a month and there was no work in theatre, no work in radio, no work in education or advertising, and none in films, in anything. For one brief moment, I was going to do the Arthur Miller play, The Crucible. Then they got scared because I had been named. So after a month of finding that there was no possible way in which I could make a living in this country, I left. I didn't come back for twelve years.... I didn't stay away for reasons of fear, it was just that I didn't have any money. I didn't have any work.

He returned briefly to Rome and settled in London on January 4, 1953.[12]

Career in Europe[edit]

He settled in England and there he developed a cult following for genre films that ranged from the Regency melodrama The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958) to the gangster filmThe Criminal (1960).[17]

He was credited for his work as director on his first British film, The Sleeping Tiger, a 1954 film noir crime thriller, under the pseudonym Victor Hanbury, because the stars of the film, Alexis Smith and Alexander Knox, feared being blacklisted by Hollywood in turn if it became known they had worked with him. The Intimate Stranger (1956) carried a pseudonym as well.[3] Losey was also originally slated to direct the 1956 Hammer Films production X the Unknown, but after a few days' work the star Dean Jagger refused to work with a supposed Communist sympathiser and Losey was removed from the project.

In the 1960s, Losey began working with playwright Harold Pinter, in what became a long friendship and a successful screenwriting career for Pinter. Losey directed three films based on Pinter's screenplays: The Servant (1963), Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971). The Servant won three British Academy Film Awards. Accident won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.[18] The Go-Between won the Golden Palm Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, four prizes at the 1972 BAFTA awards, and 'Best British Screenplay' at the 1972 Writers' Guild of Great Britain awards.[19] Each of the three films examines the politics of sexuality, gender, and class in 1960s and 1970s Britain. In The Servant, a manservant facilitates the moral and psychological degradation of his privileged and rich employer. Accident explores male lust, hypocrisy, and ennui among the educated middle class as two Oxford tutors competitively objectify a student against the backdrop of their seemingly idyllic lives. In The Go-Between, a young middle class boy, the summer guest of an upper-class family, becomes the messenger for an affair between the daughter of his hosts and a working class farmer.

Although Losey's films are generally naturalistic, The Servant's hybridization of Losey's signature Baroque style, film noir, naturalism, and expressionism and both Accident's and The Go-Between's radical cinematography, use of montage, voice over, and musical score amount to a sophisticated construction of cinematic time and narrative perspective that edges this work in the direction of neorealist cinema. All three films are marked by Pinter's sparse, elliptical, and enigmatically subtextual dialogue, something Losey often develops a visual correlate for (and occasionally even works against) by means of dense and cluttered mise en scene and peripatetic camera work.

Losey also worked with Pinter on The Proust Screenplay (1972), an adaptation of A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. Losey died before the project's financing could be assembled.

In 1975, Losey realized a long-planned film adaptation of Brecht's Galileo released as Life of Galileo starring Topol. Galileo was produced as part of the subscription film series of the American Film Theatre, though it was shot in England. In the context of that production, Losey also made a half hour film based on Galileo's life.

Losey's Monsieur Klein (1976) examined the day in Occupied France when Jews in and around Paris were arrested for deportation. He said he so completely rejected naturalism in film that in this case he divided his shooting schedule into three "visual categories": Unreality, Reality, and Abstract.[2]

In 1979 Losey filmed Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, shot in Villa La Rotonda and the Veneto region of Italy: this film was nominated for several César Awards in 1980 including Best Director. He demonstrated a facility for working in the French language and Monsieur Klein (1976) gave Alain Delon as star and producer one of French cinema's earliest chances to highlight the background to the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of French Jews in July 1942.

Personal life[edit]

In 1964, Losey told the New York Times: "I'd love to work in America again, but it would have to be just the right thing."[3] He told an interviewer the year before he died that he was not bitter about being blacklisted: "Without it I would have three Cadillacs, two swimming pools and millions of dollars, and I'd be dead. It was terrifying, it was disgusting, but you can get trapped by money and complacency. A good shaking up never did anyone any harm."[1]

Dartmouth College, his alma mater, awarded Losey an honorary degree in 1973.[1] In 1983, the University of Wisconsin at Madison did the same.[1]

Losey married three times and divorced twice. He had a son, Gavrik Losey, with the fashion designer, author, and feminist Elizabeth Hawes. Gavrik helped out with the production on some of his father's films. Gavrik's two sons are film directors Marek Losey and Luke Losey. From 1956 to 1963 Losey was married to British actress Dorothy Bromiley. On July 16, 1957, they had a son, Joshua Losey, who has become an actor. Losey then married the former Patricia Mohan, who adapted Lorenzo Da Ponte's opera libretto for Losey's Don Giovanni and Nell Dunn's play for Steaming.

He died at his home in London on June 22, 1984, following a brief illness, just four weeks after completing his last film.[1]

Filmography as director[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Apple, Jr., R.W. (June 23, 1984). "Joseph Losey, Film Director Blacklisted in 1950's, Dies at 75". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Brody, Richard (November 8, 2012). "DVD of the Week: Joseph Losey’s "Mr. Klein"". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d Archer, Eugene (March 15, 1964). "Expatriate Retraces his Steps". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  4. ^ Little Ol' Boy at the Internet Broadway Database
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley (November 6, 1934). "Fred Stone as a Civil War Senator...". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  6. ^ a b McGilligan, Patrick (2011). Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. NY: HarperCollins. pp. 64–5. 
  7. ^ "Elizabeth Jester Wed". New York Times. July 24, 1937. Retrieved March 31, 2013. 
  8. ^ Berch, Bettina (1988). Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes. NY: Dutton. p. 103. 
  9. ^ Galileo at the Internet Broadway Database, December 7–14, 1947
  10. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (December 8, 1947). "Charles Laughton Opens Experimental Theater Season in Brecht's 'Galileo'". New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  11. ^ Fuegi, John (1994). Brecht and Company: Sex, Politics, and the Making of the Modern Drama. NY: Grove Press. p. 474. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gardner, Colin (2004). Joseph Losey. Manchester University Press. pp. 8–11. 
  13. ^ Palmier, Jean-Michel (2006). Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration In Europe And America. NY: Verso. pp. 532, 802n131. 
  14. ^ Horowitz, Daniel (1998). Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism. p. 129. 
  15. ^ Milne, ed., Tom (1968). Losey on Losey. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. p. 73. 
  16. ^ Hoberman, J. (2011). An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. NY: New Press. p. 174. 
  17. ^ French, Philip (May 23, 2009). "Blacklisted but unbowed". Guardian (UK). Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  18. ^ "Accident". Festival Archives. Festival de Cannes. Retrieved April 3, 2013. 
  19. ^ "IMDb: Awards for The Go-Between" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067144/awards

Further reading[edit]

  • Caute, David, Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life (Faber, 1994), ISBN 978-0-571-16449-3
  • Ciment, Michel, Conversations with Losey (NY: Metheun, 1985); originally published as (French) Ciment, Michel, Le Livre de Losey. Entretiens avec le cinéaste (Paris: Stock/Cinéma, 1979)
  • (French) Ciment, Michel, Joseph Losey: l'oeil du Maître (Institut Lumière/Actes Sud, 1994)
  • DeRahm, Edith, Joseph Losey: An American Director in Exile (Pharos, 1995)
  • Hirsch, Foster Joseph Losey (Twayne, 1980)
  • Houston, Penelope, "Losey's Paper Handkerchief", Sight and Sound, Summer 1966
  • Jacob, Gilles, "Joseph Losey, or The Camera Calls", Sight and Sound, Spring 1966
  • Leahy, James The Cinema of Joseph Losey (A.S Barnes, 1967)
  • (French) Ledieu, Christian, Joseph Losey (Seghers, 1963)
  • Palmer, Palmer and Michael Riley, The Films of Joseph Losey (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • (Spanish) Vallet, Joaquín, Joseph Losey (Cátedra, 2010)

External links[edit]