a "not yet" list

Film I have a not list, or more accurately, a "not yet" list, of films which I know to be classics but which I'm deliberately ignoring so that I'll always have something good to watch. This week it was the turn of Ken Russell's crazy Altered States (which I'll talk about another time) and Poltergeist a funny, clever, scary, atmospheric, surprising piece of work that I now know has been imitated dozens of times.

I also now understand the question of authorship which has dogged the production since its release. Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Tobe Hooper is credited as director on the film, but sight unseen it has all of the hallmarks of a Steven Spielberg production, from the small child as point of view figure (especially in the opening sequence which apes Close Encounters) to the overlapping, easygoing dialogue between the leads and the camera work and shock editing.

Seeking confirmation online, I've stumbled across this page at a Poltergeist fan site which collects together raw quotes from contemporary and retrospective interviews, online postings from anonymous sources who claim to have been on the set, describing the working relationship between producer and director during shooting and post-production. It's a fascinating read, if only to see how some people dance about the subject whilst other jive right in.

From a journalistic perspective you could use these quotes to sway the argument either way, but even from the words of official sources, the process of clearly exceedingly collaborative. Paul Thomas Anderson aided Robert Altman on the set of his final film, A Prairie Home Companion, because otherwise the insurers wouldn't under-right the production otherwise. Similar measures occured during the making of Return of the Jedi with George Lucas helping Richard Marquand along with the special effects (as the special features on one of the many hundred dvd reissues explained).

Much the same working relationship can be inferred from this page, with both Steven and Tobe offering direction, shouting action and cut. Neither comes off well, and indeed it sounds like there was a fair amount of infighting with the cast and crew siding with one or other of the men. Here's Spielberg himself:
"Tobe isn't what you'd call a take-charge sort of guy. He's just not a strong presence on a movie set. If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump up and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of the collaboration. I did not want to direct the movie-I had to do 'E.T.' five weeks after principal photography on 'Poltergeist.'"

"My enthusiasm for wanting to make 'Poltergeist' would have been difficult for any director I would have hired. It derived from my imagination and my experiences, and it came out of my typewriter [after re-writing the Grais/Victor draft]. I felt a proprietary interest in this project that was stronger than if I was just an executive producer. I thought I'd be able to turn 'Poltergeist' over to a director and walk away. I was wrong. [On future films] If I write it myself, I'll direct it myself. I won't put someone else through what I put Tobe through, and I'll be more honest in my contributions to a film."
And he has, though his methodology if the imdb is to be believed has been to simply stop writing (with the exception of a story credit on The Goonies and a rewrite on AI). None of this really matters of course, not after twenty-five years. In classic old Hollywood all kinds of films had multiple directors for one reason or another. What matters is the quality of the work, and as far as I'm concerned Poltergeist is a classic, however it was created.

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