Daniel Kremer is a prolific, accomplished filmmaker, writer and biographer. His seven feature films include THE IDIOTMAKER'S GRAVITY TOUR (2011), A SIMPLE GAME OF CATCH (2012), RAISE YOUR KIDS ON SELTZER (2015), and the upcoming EZER KENEGDO (2017). As an author he has published articles in Filmmaker Magazine, Keyframe, and other publications, and is currently finishing the first book to cover director Joan Micklin Silver. He is also working with Tom Luddy and David  Thomson on a collection of Susan Sontag's writings on cinema for Picador. In a two-part interview, I spoke with Daniel about one of his favorite filmmakers, Sidney J. Furie (THE IPCRESS FILE, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, THE ENTITY, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C), the subject of his excellent book Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films (2016) and his upcoming documentary FIRE UP THE CAROUSEL! (2017).   

How did you become familiar with Furie's films? 
I could work the VCR at age two, and I was always watching films as a kid. I saw THE IPCRESS FILE (1965) when I was around eleven years old. It was really eye-opening in many ways, especially how he was staging the scenes, and I began to make my own amateur films with my cousins as actors, framing everything through objects and doing all these wild angles that he used in that trilogy of IPCRESS, THE APPALOOSA (1966) and THE NAKED RUNNER (1967). As I watched more of his films I began to piece together an auteurist thread in all his work and began to see a voice emerge in terms of choice of content and themes that correlated to form a singular vision. This led up to me writing a full career retrospective piece on my blog in 2012, and Sidney and I got in touch that way and began a relationship.

How did he get to know about your article? 
He was working on a film called PRIDE OF LIONS (2014) at that time, and one of its stars, Margot Kidder found my article online, which was hot off the press. She told Sidney ''You really should read it. It's a great piece. '' He read it at a truck stop on the way to set one day. I told him I wanted to a write a book on him but he said ''I enjoyed the article, and you can clearly write, but I'm not ready for a book. '' He had people tell him he should do it, and we shared some mutual friends and contacts, and after talking, he finally agreed. On his way to Toronto to do the mix on PRIDE OF LIONS, he flew to New York to meet me and get the project going. 

Why was he initially resistant to do a book? 
He would tell me ''My mind is always on the future. If I gotta look into the past, it depresses me. I like to look ahead. '' But once you get him talking about the past, he has a great time. It was the fact I made my own films that sealed the deal. He said ''You know films, you know how they're made and you know what goes into them. You're not a critic or a journalist. '' I think to his mind a lot of critics don't know or respect the process of filmmaking. Sidney is not a schmoozer. He doesn't like to go to parties, and never went to many Hollywood parties when he was at the height of his career. He never promoted himself, which I think is one of the reasons he is not the big name he deserves to be. Even when LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972) was up for Oscars, he said ''I couldn't care less about all that. I was all about the work. I was off making HIT!, and wasn't even at the Oscars. '' 

Furie, producer Albert S. Ruddy, and Kremer
Does being respected by other filmmakers please him? 
I think he finds that amusing, but there is a large part of him that loves that and is proud of that. We went to the Toronto Film Festival back in September to screen his early film A COOL SOUND FROM HELL (1959), which was a lost movie that I helped to dig up and get restored. It had never played in North America before. He said ''Why are they showing that? It's an old movie. '' And I would tell him ''Sidney, it's a really lovely little movie and it's not been seen in a long time. '' He really doesn't think in those terms. He's the most selfless by far of any filmmaker or film person I have ever gotten to know. How people think of him or how he is being regarded or how he will be remembered is not on his radar at all. The act of working is the most important thing to him. Now he has read my book, he can see all these things that run through all his movies, but if you had asked him before the book about whether his work had any themes or motifs or trademarks he would have said ''No, there's nothing. '' 

What kind of brief did you present to Furie about your approach to the book? 
What I wanted to do was map out, and trace a trajectory, and also make the argument that he is a real auteur who works with certain themes and types of stories and invests serious creative input into his films. I am surprised nobody has ever made this claim before. I think he is one of the most underrated filmmakers working in the English language who is alive today. I find his career so fascinating, with the leaps he has taken from movement to movement and from genre to genre. Making the two independent Canadian features, then crossing the pond to England and making a couple of New Wave kitchen sink films, the Cliff Richard films and THE IPCRESS FILE, and after that moving to Hollywood and making larger-scale films. And now he is making direct-to-video films, which he calls his 'retirement films'. He says ''I don't have to worry about them getting seriously reviewed and there is no pressure. It's just a chance to work. '' I told him that he had maintained a career that was very curious and intriguing, and very rich. The work is this tapestry that went in every direction. 

How does Furie react when you refer to him as an 'auteur'? 
He got used to it! He hadn't seen HIT! (1973) since it came out, and I showed him, on Blu-ray, a couple of scenes from the Marseilles section of the film, and he said ''This is really good. Put some subtitles on it and it'd be an arthouse masterpiece. '' The more I made him watch these films that he hadn't seen in a while he began to see the themes he was exploring and that A DANGEROUS AGE (1957), A COOL SOUND FROM HELL, and DURING ONE NIGHT (1960), was a trilogy about wounded masculinity and male anxiety, which is so obvious if you watch them back to back. His subsequent films developed the theme (THE IPCRESS FILE has a bespectacled man who cooks, with the woman doing the heavy lifting in the seduction, removing his glasses when going in for 'the kill') but the theme is front and center in those early works. DURING ONE NIGHT is a WWII era drama about male impotency! I don't think artists can look at their own work in any objective way, and often it's up to other people to interpret it.

Why do you think Furie, like Ted Kotcheff, was one of the few Canadian filmmakers who managed to make films internationally? 
Sidney made not one but two Canadian films before leaving the country, at a time when there was no Canadian film industry to speak of. Ted arrived in England shortly after Sidney and began working in television. Because he had two features under his belt, Sidney was able to go directly into making features in England. The British felt that films from North American directors were more in line with what British people wanted to see. He got to make DOCTOR BLOOD'S COFFIN (1961) almost by a happy accident. Sidney was able to make films quickly in England because he had proved he could get money together and direct well. It all led to THE IPCRESS FILE, which took him to Hollywood and changed his career. I've developed a small audience with my own films but I'm still trying to break through and Sidney agrees that in his time, all a director needed to do was prove that they could make one movie. As he says, ''Nowadays, six year old kids are making movies on their phones. ''

Kremer, Furie, and Ted Kotcheff
Where do you think Furie's ability to make his films feel of the country they're made in comes from? 
With the kitchen sink dramas, THE BOYS (1962) and THE LEATHER BOYS (1964), and THE IPCRESS FILE, which is an Angry Young Man drama set in the espionage world, there's a grimy feel prominent in all of the films. He has the ability to immerse himself in the world he's creating. With THE LEATHER BOYS, he had a script that wasn't really working for him so he got the actors in a space and said ''How would you improvise this?'' They came up with a new script based on their improvisations. I spoke to Rita Tushingham and Dudley Sutton about the dynamic process on that film, and how Sidney let himself be open to the youthful energy of the cast. Dudley said he was the best director he ever worked with, and Rita loved working with him and noted how he was the only director who dressed like an average guy. The likes of Desmond Davis and Tony Richardson would wear a suit and tie. Rita said Sidney was this cool guy to the actors who would really listen to them in a different way. The films I've mentioned are so of their time and place and feel so British because he really allowed the actors to fulfill the visions they had of their characters by letting them feel safe, which he saw as his role as the director. They could experiment and go out on a limb, and trust that he would catch them if they fell. 

One of my favorite anecdotes from the book is Furie closing his eyes and listening to the actors perform during takes on THE LEATHER BOYS. 
Yes, Dudley Sutton told me that. He would watch the first take to make sure the staging was correct and then turn around and listen. The idea was to put himself in another mental zone and make sure that he would believe what they were saying if he was eavesdropping. He would look at Chick Waterson to confirm there'd been no flubs in the staging, and then he'd know he had a good take.
Do you think one of Furie's talents is to quickly isolate which components of a particular film were the most important? I'm thinking of not only the dialogue in THE LEATHER BOYS, but also the sound effects in THE ENTITY (1982). 
Absolutely. He also respected his technicians in an uncommon way. He has worked with a number of great cinematographers throughout his career: Russell Metty, Stephen Burum, Douglas Slocombe, Otto Heller, Jordan Cronenweth, Donald Morgan, and Ralph Wolsey. He speaks about people like these in glowing terms. He loved really dark lighting patterns, and trusted them before Gordon Willis's work made filmmakers more comfortable using them. If you look at Sidney's Canadian films, A COOL SOUND IN HELL, for example, has some of the best night photography of any film. 

I've always been struck by his empathy with women, and the performances from his actresses in his films. Another great one is Gwen Welles in HIT! A character in the film tells Billy Dee Williams that he has to speak to her differently. I wondered if that was a skill Furie had – knowing how to talk to actresses and help them give naturalistic performances. 
I think so. It also comes through in SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975). Even though Jeannie Berlin was like the pariah on set, fighting with absolutely everybody, and even walking off the set and never coming back, leaving some of her scenes unfilmed, Sidney was still able to get a terrific performance from her. Pauline Kael and Vincent Canby gave the film negative write-ups but there were a handful of critics like Gene Siskel and John Dorr who said that this was an uncommon lead female performance and that what we were seeing in the scene where she is in the booth listening to Roy Scheider deliver the lengthy monologue (Molly Haskell called it some of the best ever romantic acting) was a long-form reaction in real time. Most directors would have kept cutting to Scheider, but Sidney focusses on Berlin's face, which is where all the power in the scene came from.

I also have to single out Barbara Hershey, who was fantastic in THE ENTITY. As Sidney said, ''She was putty in my hands. '' She gave herself to that role, and it was not an easy role. If I were a woman, I'd be skittish about being the lead in a film about a woman who is continually raped and ravaged by an invisible demon. But she trusted Sidney. It's a very complex, strong but fragile performance. I think another director may have made the whole film more mechanical. 

As you have continually rewatched the films for the book, how has your relationship changed to certain films? 
I have seen PURPLE HEARTS  (1984), which is the last of his art film cycle, about eight times. When I first saw the film I thought Ken Wahl was bland and Cheryl Ladd was soso but that there were some interesting things in it. But the more I watched it, the more I started to realise that it was a pretty good film, and that I had underrated it. Films like PURPLE HEARTS require repeated viewings, and if I were writing the book today, I would be a lot kinder to it. I told Sidney it was his MONSIEUR VERDOUX (1947). In both cases what were originally deemed as weaknesses in the films were actually contributing to something larger.

What were some of the highlights of the new information you got from Furie in your interviews? 
I had always loved SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK, but I did not know Jeannie Berlin had walked off the set and never came back. I loved hearing about the improv done on THE LEATHER BOYS, LADY SINGS THE BLUES, HIT! and a couple of other films. It intrigued me that he would do that at such a fever pitch as he did on a Hollywood film like LADY SINGS THE BLUES. 

Part two of the interview.  

Sidney J. Furie: Life and Films can be bought here

Kremer's websiteSome of his film work can be seen here. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

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