All I wanted
A young American, Lewis Allen, felt that private backers could be found who would be interested in each putting up a couple of thousand dollars for a film. With this sum they would have no excessive anxiety about losing the lot. He and his partner Dana Hodgdon has just financed the film of The Connection this way, and they offered to do the same for Lord of the Flies.
We were going into the unknown and we knew that luck and faith were completion's only security.
In France, feature films have been made for $150. The $150 gets you through the first day's shooting. By then, enough wheels are turning to get you through the second day and soon you have enough to show to justify credit for going on a bit longer. Our only question was how to get to the point of no return.
An assistant I had in New York named Mike Macdonald stood on the docks and accosted likely-looking families as they set foot on American soil. He loitered outside the circus, he wrote to the Embassy families in Washington, he found in the New York telephone directory on Old Estonians Club, and Old Harrovians Club and even one of the Old Boys of Mill Hill. I suppose we saw about 3000 children, all anxious to be in the film, with parents ardently keen on the novel and glad to have a quiet summer with the children taken off their hands.
Ralph, the leading boy, we found in a swimming pool in an army camp in Jamaica just four days before filming began. And as far Piggy,l he arrived by magic through the post-- a sticky Just William on lined paper, "Dear Sir, I am fat and wear spectacles." and a crumpled photograph that made us cry with delight. It was Piggy, come to life in Camberley--the unique boy himself, conceived ten years before at the very moment that Golding was wrestling with the birth of the novel.
We found an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. A jungle paradise; miles of palm-fringed beaches owned by Woolworth's . They lent us the island in exchange for a screen credit.
Being for once in a position to decide, I ruled that no one could ever question the use of film. This was our salvation, because despite bad weather, illness, no rushed, no lights, no facilities, we kept on shooting, several cameras turning at once, leaving them to run as we talked to the children, starting again and again.
We ended up with 60 hours of unbroken screening-and a year's editing. This was not the ideal technique, but it was the only technique open to us, and in a sense it was our completion guarantee.
I believed that the reason for translating Golding's very complete masterpiece into another form in the first place was that although the cinema lessens the magic, it introduces evidence.
The book is a beautiful fable--so beautiful that it can be refuted as a trick of compelling poetic style. In the film on one can attribute the looks and gestures to tricks of direction. The violent gestures, the look of greed, and the faces of experience are all real.
People always ask whether the children understood, and what effect it had on the. Many of their offscreen relationships completely paralleled the story.
Even the wise and calm Piggy came to me one day close to tears. "They're going to drop a stone on you." the other boys had been telling him. "That scene on the schedule, Piggy's death. It's for real. They don't need you anymore."
My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding's fable is the length of time the descent to savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.
Excerpted from The Shifting Point, © 1987 Peter Brook, from Harper, Collins Publishers.
Studio: Home Vision Cinema
Full Screen (Standard) - 1.33:1
Purchase the DVD at AMAZON.COM Lord of the Flies - Criterion Collection
Put a glass of water in front of British novelist William Golding. Then ask him if it's half-full or half-empty. If Golding's influential 1955 novel Lord of the Flies (and Peter Brook's film adaptation) are anything to go by, Golding won't just tell you the glass is half-empty, he might say whatever is there is of little value. Disturbing, dramatic, and woefully pessimistic, Golding's Lord of the Flies asks a simple question: What would happen if a group of young schoolboys were stranded on a tropical island, with only a scant understanding of civilized behavior and no adult guidance? It was a question Golding pondered only briefly when he first conceived his novel, and the result was a tale about young boys in public-school uniforms who readily cast them aside for war-paint, tribal behaviors, and a "might-makes-right" ethos that has scarred the vast chronicle of human history. A faithful re-telling of Golding's novel, Brook's 1963 Lord of the Flies is equally valuable, for where Golding may have used language to subtly convey the psychological turmoil and violent episodes of children who exist in a world without consequences, the skilled Brook brings these conflicts alive, aided by a solid production team, a capable cast of young actors, and stark black-and-white photography that effectively strips Golding's tropical paradise of anything resembling organic life.
At an unspecified point in the future (as it was written in 1955, Golding's novel conceivably could occur in our present day), a worldwide war has forced a group of English schoolboys to evacuate the country via a high-altitude jet aircraft, which inexplicably crashes over the south Pacific. Jettisoned safely to a small island, young Ralph (James Aubrey) meets the rotund, shy Piggy (Hugh Edwards), and with the call of a conch shell Ralph summons the other surviving boys. As Ralph has summoned them, he quickly is elected as the leader (or "chief"), and a few rules of civilization are established, including regular meetings and the various duties that all will perform in the hopes of getting rescued. But, almost immediately, Ralph is challenged by Jack (Tom Chapin), the leader of the school choir, who declares that his group will be "hunters." Before long, Jack's bullying, exciting hunts, and wild ways seduce most of the other boys to see him as a leader, as they prefer his offers of fun and protection over Ralph's precocious ideas of democracy and rationalism. Other boys suffer in the process, including Piggy, who enjoys looking after the youngest boys and cajoles Jack for his barbaristic ways, and Simon (Tom Gaman), an almost mystical young child who sees through Jack's warnings of a "sea-monster" and tries to discover the truth about the crash for himself.
Allegorical on almost every level, Lord of the Flies functions literarily much like Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, using a simple story to illustrate truths the author believed to be most relevant to his 20th century readers. But while Orwell was committed, almost fanatically, to decrying the threat of totalitarianism (and thus asserting that enlightened democracy is something worth defending), Golding's story -- and Brook's film -- approaches the nature of civilization and self-government from historical, anthropological, and sociological viewpoints, where the line between savage tribalism and ordered civilization is a much finer distinction than one might suspect. To Golding, rational self-government is possible (the famous final scene of the film illustrates emphatically that this brief ordeal has merely been an aberration from the manners of conventional civilization), but it is a social structure that is arrived at through centuries of progress -- progress that easily can be dismantled when people are thrown into a desperate crisis.
Criterion's recently released DVD of Lord of the Flies is a definitive edition, with a good transfer (in the original 1.33:1) and audio in the original mono (DD 1.0). The print looks very good for a film from the '60s, with many sequences free of damage and with strong low-contrast details. However, there are a few scenes that have substantial flecking and lines, and, while minor, it's unfortunate these elements couldn't be digitally corrected before the DVD release. Supplements include a commentary track (from the 1993 Laserdisc edition) with director Brook, producer Lewis Allen, director of photography Tom Hollyman, and cameraman/editor Gerald Fail; some home-movies and tests by D.P. Hollyman, along with outtakes and a production scrapbook; a deleted scene and a trailer, both with commentary; and an introduction and excerpts from the novel read by Golding himself on a third audio track. The final supplement, in and of itself, is priceless.
William Golding's symbolic novel, "Lord of the Flies", written in 1954 has been twice been made into films, in 1963 and again in 1991. The less said about the newer version, the better, but director Peter Brook's earlier screen adaptation succeeds fairly well in conveying the book's points. The story deals allegorically with the conflict between Man's deep-rooted savagery and his humanizing ability to reason. As Golding sees things, we cannot avoid moral disintegration without sensible laws and ethical behavior. Criterion's DVD transfer of Brook's film is everything we could expect, and the disc's extras further sweeten the pot.
The framework for the story concerns a group of young British school children, aged six to twelve, who in the course of being evacuated from a private boarding school during a mythical war are shot down in their plane and crash-land on a deserted tropical island. The adults on the aircraft are killed, leaving the children stranded to fend for themselves. In showing how the kids try unsuccessfully to duplicate the adult world of rules and regulations, Golding is able to build a picture in microcosm of the problems of civilization. As the author once stated in a publicity questionnaire, "The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system, however apparently logical or respectable." Golding goes on to say, "The whole book is symbolic in nature...," which is true, but a good fable needs grounding in a good story, and the author provides a rousing adventure, too. As time goes on in the tale, the children become more barbarous and more willing to follow any leader who will provide them comfort, food, and fun, regardless of cost. In addition to its being a treatise on the decay of humanity, the narrative offers a fundamental profile of human psychology, with each of the children representing a different aspect of the individual psyche. Part of the fun of the book is observing the behavior of the children and trying to determine which part they play in one's own makeup. The idea is only slightly lost in the movie translation.
Sir Peter Brook, long associated with stage productions, shot his film as inexpensively as possible. He was able to use an island off the coast of Puerto Rico for free, courtesy of Woolworth's in exchange for a screen credit. His camera and sound crew were minimal, and they took no editing equipment with them. They shot over sixty hours of film and then condensed it to a mere ninety minutes during the next year. The young actors were mostly amateurs, auditioned from among thousands who applied for the roles. Brook wanted children who not only looked right but would behave as naturally as possible, and he certainly achieved his goal. Unfortunately, the kids often act awkwardly in the film, too, and nothing can be done with the long, clumsy silences that frequently plague the characters' exchanges of dialogue. The boy who plays Piggy, though, Hugh Edwards, is a perfect delight. He had sent the director a letter saying, "I am fat and wear spectacles," along with a crumpled photograph of himself and immediately got the job. The most charming scene in the film has Piggy explaining to a group of "littluns" how his hometown got its name changed. It's a sweet, quiet moment amidst the enveloping turmoil. James Aubrey plays Ralph, the charismatic leader of the group, and Tom Chapin plays Jack, Ralph's sinister rival. After the movie, most of the cast went back to everyday lives, but Aubrey surfaced again in the 1983 British film "Forever Young."
Conductor Raymond Leppard provided the sparse but evocative musical score that dramatically punctuates the action.
Criterion's transfer surprised me a little. It is presented in a 1.33:1 screen ratio as originally shown in theaters. By 1963 a majority of films projected in movie houses were in some form of widescreen, but for Brook's low-budget, independent production the use of widescreen cameras or widescreen matting was apparently not an option. Criterion's black-and-white digital copy was made from a 35mm answer print of the original negative. It is mostly good, clean, with sharply etched if not always deeply marked contrasts; but it also displays a number of small age flecks, noticeable mainly, I suspect, toward the ends of film reels. The monaural sound was created from a 35mm optical track positive, and it appears to be as good as it can be. That's not saying a lot, though. It is often too soft or too distanced for easy listening. There is only dialogue to be conveyed, granted, but its limited frequency and dynamic ranges are telling.
The most important extra features on the disc are a commentary track by the director and other filmmakers and a series of book excerpts read by the author. A push of the "Audio" button on one's remote control switches among the film's own soundtrack and the other two tracks. It's quite handy to be able to access instantly the director's explanation of a scene or Golding's reading of the same scene from the novel. There is also one complete deleted scene, with commentary, and as a part of the production scrapbook a whole segment of outtakes. Finally, there are included brief portions of a 1972 documentary, "The Empty Space," showing some of Brook's directorial methods. English is the only spoken language available, but English subtitles are provided for the hearing impaired. The accompanying booklet contains a short essay by Brook on the making of the film, extensive credits, and a helpful listing of the disc's thirty-one chapter stops alongside the book's table of contents for easy reference.
Brook, whose later screen credits include "Marat/Sade" and "Meetings with Remarkable Men," creates a deliberate and often stagey effect in "Lord of the Flies." The children, who had little or no acting experience to begin with, never seem to perform with much spontaneity and, indeed, can often appear ungainly in their roles. In spite of this, the film conveys a chilling vitality, an almost documentary vision of a world gone mad. It deserves to be seen and discussed, and Criterion's DVD affords the perfect vehicle for both.
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