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Abraham Polonsky

Abraham Polonsky: Interviews

Edited by Andrew Dickos
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Abraham Polonsky
    Book Description:

    Abraham Polonsky (1910-1999), screenwriter and filmmaker of the mid-twentieth-century Left, recognized his writerly mission to reveal the aspirations of his characters in a material society structured to undermine their hopes. In the process, he ennobled their struggle. His auspicious beginning in Hollywood reached a zenith with his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Robert Rossen's boxing noir,Body and Soul(1947), and his inaugural film as writer and director,Force of Evil(1948), before he was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch hunt.

    Polonsky envisioned cinema as a modern artist. His aesthetic appreciation for each technical component of the screen aroused him to create voiceovers of urban cadences--poetic monologues spoken by the city's everyman, embodied by the actor who played his heroes best, John Garfield. His use of David Raksin's score inForce of Evil, against the backdrop of the grandeur of New York City's landscape and the conflict between the brothers Joe and Leo Morse, elevated film noir into classical family tragedy.

    Like Garfield, Polonsky faced persecution and an aborted career during the blacklist. But unlike Garfield, Polonsky survived to resume his career in Hollywood during the ferment of the late sixties. Then his vision of a changing society found allegorical expression inTell Them Willie Boy Is Here, his impressive anti-Western showing the destruction of the Paiute rebel outsider, Willie Boy, and cementing Polonsky as a moral voice in cinema.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-067-6
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. vii-xiv)

    The indelible noir images in Abraham Polonsky’sForce of Evil(1948), vivid with New York City’s propitious allure yet tinged with the melancholy of one’s aloneness in the city, resonate in our imagination long after the film ends. The power of these images cannot be divorced from the power, poetic and incantatory, of Polonsky’s dialogue. Every technical component—from the eloquent tirades exchanged by Joe and Leo, to the dramatic tonal variations of David Raksin’s score, and on to the richly evocative cinematography of the New York City of our noir imagination—achieves a completeness and discreteness that becomes part...

  4. Chronology
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Filmography and Bibliography
    (pp. xix-2)
  6. The Best Years of Our Lives: A Review
    (pp. 3-7)
    Abraham Polonsky

    About this time each year, the Academy Awards remind us of the fictional odds and ends produced in the Hollywood studios. I suppose everyone will agree thatThe Best Years of Our Livesstands above its competitors as life itself dominates our fictions.

    We are offered a view of three veterans from different social classes adjusting themselves to modern times in Boone City, America. It is a pattern of reality as Wyler and Sherwood see it, the life that touches their imagination with truth, with warmth, with communication. The social environment of former Captain Fred Derry is treated reluctantly and...

  7. Odd Man Out and Monsieur Verdoux
    (pp. 8-16)
    Abraham Polonsky

    Whenever I think of modern times, I see a continuing crisis. Above the airplanes that circle the globe, scientists tell us, is an atomic cloud, radioactive, created at Bikini, and now a kind of planet to our own. Upon the earth itself every headline proclaims new disasters, and if every dream dreamed this night were continuously flashed on a screen we would see how general secret problems had become. In such an age a great moral danger is that the individual may lose hope and with it the will to struggle.

    How, then, can the artist function in this crisis...

  8. Hemingway and Chaplin
    (pp. 17-28)
    Abraham Polonsky

    In the lifetime of an artist after he has created a body of work, an instant arrives when the pressure to speak with his own voice, as if privately, becomes irresistible. All works of art whether they are called objective or subjective and no matter who pays for them, the artist, the patron, the publisher, or the state, express the artist’s point of view. This is one of the fascinating things about art as with the manufacture of munitions; even when you say I’m saying this because they make me or I’m manufacturing this because I have to, to eat,...

  9. A Utopian Experience
    (pp. 29-32)
    Abraham Polonsky

    I am often asked if it is possible to conceive a scenario as a particular literary form. Having tried this experiment, I hope my story might interest all those who, like me, have had the most disappointing results in this pursuit. It is mainly in the obstacles of three hazardous conditions: the producer, the director, and the script itself. (I suppose the writer, director, and producer are people whose competence cannot be questioned and who will not question the characters and scenes fixed in the story.)

    What does the producer expect from the screenplay? To make possible an assessment of...

  10. Conversations with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 33-54)
    William S. Pechter and Abraham Polonsky

    In 1948, a writer, whose experience, with the exception of two previous screenplays and two unmemorable novels, had been primarily in radio, made an adaptation of another writer’s undistinguished, journalistic novel to the screen, and directed a film of it. The event would not seem to be a particularly auspicious one nor much of a novelty for Hollywood, where every other day finds one hack adapting the work of another hack into a piece of adapted hack work. Nor would it have been much more promising to know that the film made use of several elements that were sufficiently familiar...

  11. Interview with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 55-74)
    Eric Sherman, Martin Rubin and Abraham Polonsky

    Polonsky: The trouble with interviews is that everything sounds so damned intended and pompous. It’s like someone writing a review of his film after he’s made it. A great deal of just plainlivinggoes into making a film—that’s the pleasure of it—and the interviews never reflect that. They reflect Seriousness and Significance and all that. That’s like saying a love affair is all about the time you had these kids. But that’s not what it’s about, is it? Those are just some of the things that happened. And these interviews always sound like that to me. So,...

  12. Interview with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 75-88)
    Michel Delahaye and Abraham Polonsky

    Polonsky wrote in 1966: “The blacklist has never been abandoned. It has extinguished itself little by little. Those who haven’t perished in the course of these witch-hunts are still around, for the most part doing new projects. Me too.” Polonsky co-wrote the screenplay for Don Siegel’sMadigan(1968) under trying conditions and, in 1968, wrote and directedTell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which we will see here this fall [in 1969].

    The Hollywood witch-hunt period has recently aroused a rather suspect interest over one aimed at learning about its oppressive mechanisms—collective or not, pathological or not—of certain...

  13. Interview with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 89-100)
    Michel Ciment, Bertrand Tavernier and Abraham Polonsky

    Abraham Polonsky: My film [Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here] isn’t a fable. The word “fable” creates confusion in people. If you use the word “myth,” everything becomes clearer. A fable is a story that has moral significance, while a myth is a story that is part of the life of a people, whose meaning is both clear and dark, without giving a lesson in what the cons are, the way a fable does with its moral ending. The myth is very American, and it functions on several levels depending on the recollections and time when it happens. In America,...

  14. Interview with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 101-116)
    Jim Cook, Kingsley Canham and Abraham Polonsky

    Jim Cook: What was the attraction of Communism for American intellectuals in the thirties and forties?

    Abraham Polonsky: Well I think it would be wrong to say the attraction ofCommunismfor the American intellectuals—it’s the attraction of radical political activity—because a great many intellectuals became followers of Leon Trotsky—a great many intellectuals became radical socialists, and a great many more became attracted to standard Communism. They were all attracted to some form of Leftist activity. I think you’ve missed the point to say just Communism—because that’s the way the McCarthy committee talked about it—you’ve...

  15. How the Blacklist Worked in Hollywood
    (pp. 117-129)
    Abraham Polonsky

    Polonsky directed his first feature, Force of Evil,in 1948, when McCarthyism was beginning to terrify Hollywood. Blacklisted for years and forced to work under pseudonyms on fifteen feature films, Polonsky at last has returned to directing, after twenty-one years, withTell Them Willie Boy Is Here.The following is a transcription of a tape-recording of Polonsky, taken from an interview conducted by James Pasternak, former UCLA film student and Preminger production assistant, now free-lancing in New York, and Prof. William Howton, Chairman, Department of Sociology, City College, New York.

    I never paused to consider compromise. When you start to...

  16. Making Movies
    (pp. 130-132)
    Abraham Polonsky

    Up toRomance of a Horse Thief, the film I have just finished, such images as I used in my movies originated in the eye, and whatever was visionary, however defined by memory, began with an event, not someone else’s memory of an event. Of course, my memory of my memory of an event is already bogged down in the ritual of critical philosophy. Nevertheless, the images ofRomance of a Horse Thiefsignify something beyond, because they come by way of the tales my grandmother told me, worked through the stories of the Opatoshus, father and son. It is...

  17. Abraham Polonsky: Interview
    (pp. 133-149)
    James Pasternak, F. William Howton and Abraham Polonsky

    Question: Tell us about your new project?

    Polonsky: I have three. One of them isChildhood’s Endby Arthur Clarke, which Universal bought for my company to make into a film. Another is an original screenplay by me calledSweet Land, which Universal bought for my company to do, and a third is one I haven’t sold to anyone yet,Mario the Magicianby Thomas Mann.

    Question: You’ve been working on that property for quite a while now, haven’t you?

    Polonsky: I got it from Thomas Mann in 1950. He was living, in those days, in California. I’ve known his...

  18. On John Garfield
    (pp. 150-153)
    Abraham Polonsky

    I met John Garfield when I went to see him and his partner, Robert Roberts, to tell them the story ofBody and Soul. A new friend, Arnold Manoff, had just come to work at Paramount Pictures, just a few blocks away from Enterprise Studios. Manoff had been trying to make something of the Barney Ross story, but somehow he wasn’t getting anywhere, and since he found me numb with Paramount, he suggested that I go over and see what I could do with some sort of prizefighter story for Garfield. But first, we had lunch at Lucey’s. The match...

  19. “A Pavane for an Early American”: Abraham Polonsky Discusses Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here
    (pp. 154-169)
    Joseph McBride and Abraham Polonsky

    This 1980 discussion with Abraham Polonsky that I moderated with the audience of the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) was actually my second extended discussion with Polonsky aboutTell Them Willie Boy Is Here, which I regard as one of the great American films. From its original release in 1969 to less than widespread acclaim in this country, I was an admirer of Polonsky’s radical, bleakly existentialist Western, only the second of three films he was able to direct in a career riven by the blacklist. When I moved to southern California in 1973, I spent a year living...

  20. Interview with Abraham Polonsky and Walter Bernstein
    (pp. 170-175)
    Robert Siegel, Abraham Polonsky and Walter Bernstein

    Walter Bernstein and Abraham Polonsky talk to Robert Siegel about writing the early CBS television programYou Are Therewhen they were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The two men, together with the late Arnold Manoff, submitted scripts through fronts, individuals who lent their politically acceptable by-lines to the banned writers’ works, to the producer Charles Russell, who was in on the ruse. Polonsky’s long-unacknowledgedYou Are Thereteleplays were assembled and published by California State University at Northridge.

    Polonsky: It’s very bad and very sad that Arnold Manoff and Charles Russell are dead. It’s very sad that all the...

  21. Interview with Abraham Polonsky
    (pp. 176-191)
    Paul Buhle, Dave Wagner and Abraham Polonsky

    Abraham Lincoln Polonsky, the son of a Jewish pharmacist, grew up in New York and graduated from City College and the Columbia Law School. He taught at City College and started writing for radio, scripting episodes ofThe Goldbergs, during the mid-1930s. By the end of the decade he was also writing forColumbia Workshop Theatreand Orson Welles’sMercury Theatre of the Air. As he continued working on plays and fiction, he visited Hollywood for the first time in 1937. But instead of immediately attempting a career there alongside so many other left-wing writers, he made a political choice....

  22. Selected Sources
    (pp. 192-194)
  23. Index
    (pp. 195-201)