Saturday, December 15

Jack Arnold rememberedfor knack on, off screen


Thursday, October 30, 1997

Jack Arnold remembered

for knack on, off screen

FILM: Renowned mentor mastered storytelling art, director-actor
cohesion

By Stacy Sare

Daily Bruin Contributor

Storyteller. Problem solver. Mentor. Humorist. The late
moviemaker Jack Arnold, widely recognized for his sci
fi/horror-cult, classic films of the ’50s, had a knack for making
crew members laugh and audiences reflect on the human
condition.

Dressed impeccably and donned in a natty hat, the renowned
filmmaker carried a slew of jokes that had tired crew members out
from hysterically rolling on the floor. Crew members also got a
kick watching Arnold tap dance with Fred Astaire on the set of "The
Great Casino Caper."

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television adjunct assistant
professor Myrl A. Schreibman was a student and friend of Arnold and
recalls the light-hearted moments working with him on the set.

"He would have a whole bag of jokes that he would use on the set
when I worked with him," Schreibman says. "Particularly when it was
long shooting days, 12- to 14- hour days.

"He’d tell an off-color joke or he’d tell a joke with a little
Jewish humor to it with an accent. And people would roar on the
floor, and they’d get their energy back." Schreibman chuckles. "His
sense of humor was just terrific."

Above and beyond his sense of humor, Arnold, who died in 1992,
had a reputation for being a master at storytelling. And his
magnificent monsters mirrored the human condition.

"In ‘Creature from The Black Lagoon’ he didn’t just take a
monster and give us a monster. He humanized the creature,"
Schreibman says. "You felt sorry for the creature. You felt sorry
for his loneliness. You felt sorry for his life, his longing. You
knew the creature was longing for something more than he was
permitted to have."

Schreibman believes that Arnold influenced prominent directors
like Steven Spielberg.

"If you look at the movie, ‘Jaws,’ one of the things Speilberg
did was that he humanized the shark. You would see images in ‘Jaws’
where you’d have the shark swimming underneath the woman who’s
swimming in the water," Schreibman says. "That’s reminiscent of the
sequence in ‘Creature’ where the creature is swimming underneath
the girl."

Arnold’s movies appealed to a large teen-age audience. Under
contract for Universal Studios, he made many of his films during
the teen exploitation era. According to Jonathan Kuntz, UCLA
visiting associate director in the department of film and
television, the 1950s was the era that discovered the teen-age
market.

"Network television was taking the mass audience away from the
theatrical film. Studios searched out target audiences," Kuntz
says. "Major studios made juvenile delinquents. They found out
teen-age audiences might be interested in getting away from mother
and dad to see a movie."

The drive-in movie became a popular craze for teens in the ’50s.
Among Arnold’s movies, "High School Confidential," renamed "Young
Hellions," and "Creature From the Black Lagoon" were among some of
his films shown at drive-ins.

A decade before making films for the teen market, Arnold made
documentaries with Robert Flaherty, who was called "the father of
the documentary film."

"To be connected with Robert Flaherty is to be connected to the
godfather of the whole business," Kuntz says.

Schreibman thinks Arnold gained first-rate problem-solving
skills while studying under Flaherty’s apprenticeship. According to
Schreibman, Arnold could fix anything.

"Arnold was often called upon to take a show that was failing.
(On one show) none of the actors were talking to each other. They
hated each other. The show wasn’t working, and he got in the middle
of it," Schreibman remarks. "He directed an episode or two and got
them all working and communicating together. The rest is history.
The show was ‘Gilligan’s Island.’"

Arnold had a way with his actors. Schreibman recalls another
story in which the filmmaker spent two to three hours with an
actress in one shot trying to get this performance from her.

He says, "I remember asking him at lunch time, ‘Why’d you spend
so long with this person?’ His comment to me was, ‘Because that’s
the story. That’s the story, and if we don’t get it right there, we
don’t tell the story.’ He said we can save time on other sequences,
but that sequence is the story.

"That lesson has kind of stuck with me and has influenced the
way I teach production in terms of storytelling and working with
students who are working with restrictions and limitations,"
Schreibman continues. "When people couldn’t figure out how to do
certain things visually, Jack would help them figure it out."

Arnold was a whiz at solving any problem on the set. He believed
in using whatever worked. Schreibman says Arnold never let
technology dictate the storytelling. In "The Incredible Shrinking
Man," Arnold used condoms to create the illusion of dripping water
from a water heater.

Actor. Writer. Director. Producer. Arnold contributed humor,
wisdom and above all, great storytelling to the art of film
making.

FILM: The UCLA Film Archives’ film festival, "Jack Arnold: The
Incredible Thinking Man" starts this weekend and runs through Nov.
23. For more information, call (310) 206-8013.

UCLA Film and Television Archive

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" will be shown at the "Jack
Arnold: The Incredible Thinking Man" film festival starting this
weekend.

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