Neil Sinyard on George Stevens
Sunday 25th 3:30pm, Studio
If you were asked to make a list
of the greatest ever film directors,
would George Stevens even be in
your thoughts? Yet with films such
as Giant, Shane, The Diary of Anne
Frank and A Place in the Sun to his
credit, Stevens must surely rank as
one of the best.
Neil Sinyard will tell
more of his story, from working on
Laurel and Hardy films to the impact
of World War II on his film making.
George Stevens was a hero to his cinematic peers and one of the greatest movie makers of
Hollywood’s Golden Age. In a career spanning fifty years until his death in 1975, he brought
distinction to every kind of picture, whether it be an Astaire and Rogers' musical (Swing
Time), a Tracy and Hepburn romantic comedy (Woman of the Year) or Cary Grant at his
most adventurously rumbustious Gunga Din) or poignantly vulnerable (Penny Serenade). He
learned his craft as cameraman on Laurel and Hardy shorts and his early career was notable
for delectable comedies that prioritised character over slapstick. Yet by the early 1940s, the
shadow of war began to hang over even ostensibly escapist fare such as Woman of the Year
and The More the Merrier: and his actual wartime experience, which included being part of
the Allied forces that liberated Dachau, changed his sensibility. Comedy receded; and his
films became more serious and contemplative about human destiny. The Diary of Anne
Frank (1959) movingly commemorated the war dead, but his greatest post-war achievement
was to be his trilogy of films, A Place in the Sun, Shane and Giant, which constitute an epic
reassessment of the American Dream.
In this talk, which will be illustrated with film extracts, Neil will explore some recurrent
preoccupations and characteristics of Stevens's work: the yearnings of the social outsider;
his hatred of class prejudice and racial intolerance; a commanding visual style where his
signature slow dissolve is used to unite and inspire thoughts and ideas as well as signal
transitions of time and place. Particular attention will be paid to the two films shown in the
Festival, arguing that Woman of the Year has a progressive political agenda that completely
undercuts criticism of its seemingly conservative sexual politics; and that Shane, for all its
deserved reputation as one of the greatest westerns ever made, contains a subtle study of
marriage and relationships that typifies this exceptional director at his finest.
Neil's illustrated talk is
complemented by screenings of
Woman of the Year and Shane.