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Karel Reisz

Karel Reisz

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Also Known As: Died: November 25, 2002
Born: July 21, 1926 Cause of Death: died from a blood disorder
Birth Place: Profession: director, producer, author, critic, print editor, teacher

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Uprooted from a secure and comfortable home at the age of 12, Karel Reisz emigrated from his native Czechoslovakia one step ahead of the Nazi invasion and arrived in his adopted England knowing scarcely a word of its language. He went about becoming as English as possible, returning after a brief repatriation to a Czechoslovakia much changed by the war to study at Cambridge. Teaching grammar school brought him in contact with working-class students and their parents, broadening his teenage socialism and fascination with the disenfranchised. Writing for the influential film journals Sequence and Sight and Sound placed him in close proximity to the likes of Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson, with whom Reisz championed the British version of the auteur theory, believing that the best movies were those that expressed the personal vision of a single artist--the director. In 1953, he published "The Technique of Film Editing" (co-authored with Gavin Millar), a landmark study encompassing the theory, history and practice of editing. His extensive research for the project served as a great training ground for the would-be director. In the mid-50s, Reisz and some of his Sequence colleagues translated their...

Uprooted from a secure and comfortable home at the age of 12, Karel Reisz emigrated from his native Czechoslovakia one step ahead of the Nazi invasion and arrived in his adopted England knowing scarcely a word of its language. He went about becoming as English as possible, returning after a brief repatriation to a Czechoslovakia much changed by the war to study at Cambridge. Teaching grammar school brought him in contact with working-class students and their parents, broadening his teenage socialism and fascination with the disenfranchised. Writing for the influential film journals Sequence and Sight and Sound placed him in close proximity to the likes of Tony Richardson and Lindsay Anderson, with whom Reisz championed the British version of the auteur theory, believing that the best movies were those that expressed the personal vision of a single artist--the director. In 1953, he published "The Technique of Film Editing" (co-authored with Gavin Millar), a landmark study encompassing the theory, history and practice of editing. His extensive research for the project served as a great training ground for the would-be director.

In the mid-50s, Reisz and some of his Sequence colleagues translated their critical theories to the screen via a short-lived documentary movement known as Free Cinema, to which Reisz contributed "Momma Don't Allow" (1955, co-directed with Richardson) and the award-winning "We Are the Lambeth Boys" (1959), as well as co-producing (with Leon Clore) Anderson's "Every Day Except Christmas" (1957). His first feature, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" (1960), matched him with screenwriter Alan Sillitoe adapting his own semi-autobiographical novel of the bleak provincial factory town of Nottingham. Together, exploring similar terrain as had the documentaries, they revealed the inner workings of Arthur Seaton (Albert Finney) and enjoyed critical and commercial success for their film's gritty portrayal of the frustrations of working-class life. Preceded by Richardson's "Look Back in Anger" and Jack Clayton's "Room at the Top" (1959), both featuring working-class heroes, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" was more authentic, vigorous and quirkier than either of its precursors and remains one of the best examples of Britain's "angry young man" dramas.

After producing Anderson's "This Sporting Life" (1963), Reisz faltered momentarily with the remake of "Night Must Fall" (1964) before rebounding with "Morgan--A Suitable Case for Treatment" (1966), a decidedly offbeat gem presenting mental illness as a not-dishonorable response to the materialism, selfishness and hypocrisy of the "sane" world. Acknowledging Alain Resnais' influence, Reisz dispensed with a linear narrative to capture the inner fantasies of Morgan (David Warner), a misfit to whom many of the emerging "youth generation" responded as a kindred spirit. His last British film, "Isadora" (1968), was nearly his Waterloo, but he finally regrouped following its failure to begin his Hollywood career with 1974's "The Gambler", starring James Caan. Although none of his later work measured up to the standard set by "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" or "Morgan", "The French Lieutenant's Woman" (1981), adapted from the John Fowles novel by Harold Pinter, garnered the most favorable critical attention, particularly for its star turn by Meryl Streep. "Who'll Stop the Rain?" (1978) featured top-notch performances in every role, and "Sweet Dreams" (1985) offered a tour de force for Jessica Lange as country singer Patsy Cline. Only "Everybody Wins" (1990), despite a script by Arthur Miller, was an outright misfire. In recent years, Reisz has turned to staging plays, including an acclaimed revival of Terrence Rattigan's "The Deep Blue Sea" in London and Harold Pinter's "Moonlight" on Broadway.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Everybody Wins (1990) Director
2.
  Sweet Dreams (1985) Director
3.
4.
  Who'll Stop The Rain? (1978) Director
5.
  Gambler, The (1974) Director
6.
  Isadora (1968) Director
7.
  Morgan! (1966) Director
8.
  Night Must Fall (1964) Director
10.
  We Are the Lambeth Boys (1958) Director

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1938:
Moved to England
:
Joined Czech squadron of Royal Air Force; war ended before he saw service
1945:
Repatriated to Czechoslovakia
:
Returned to England
1947:
Taught grammar school in London
:
Worked as film critic
:
Was program director for National Film Theatre, London
1955:
Film debut as co-director (with Tony Richardson), "Momma Don't Allow", a 22-minute documentary short
:
Made instructional and promotional films for Ford Motor Company
1957:
Co-produced Lindsay Anderson's documentary "Every Day Except Christmas"
1959:
First solo directing effort, the documentary "We Are the Lambeth Boys"; also produced
1960:
Feature film directing debut, "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning"; scripted by Alan Sillitoe from his semiautobiographical novel; starred Albert Finney
1963:
Produced Anderson's "This Sporting Life"
1964:
Reteamed with Finney (who co-produced and starred in) remake of "Night Must Fall"
1966:
Directed the decidedly offbeat gem, "Morgan--A Suitable Case for Treatment"; Vanessa Redgrave's feature debut for which she received a Best Actress Oscar nomination
1968:
Reunited with Redgrave for "Isadora", for which she received an other Best Actress Academy Award nomination
:
Made commercials
1974:
First American feature, "The Gambler", scripted by James Toback and starring James Caan
1978:
Helmed "Who'll Stop the Rain?", adapted by Judith Roscoe and Robert Stone from the latter's novel "Dog Soldiers"; starred Nick Nolte
1981:
Directed screen version of John Fowles' novel "The French Lieutenant's Woman", adapted by Harold Pinter and starring Meryl Streep who received a Best Actress Oscar nomination
1985:
Helmed "Sweet Dreams", a biopic of country singer Patsy Cline starring Jessica Lange (who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award)
1990:
Last feature to date, "Everybody Wins", adapted by Arthur Miller from his play "Some Kind of Love Story"; starred Nolte and Debra Winger
1991:
Directed off-Broadway production of "Gardenia"
:
Helmed London stage production of "The Deep Blue Sea"
1995:
Broadway directing debut, Pinter's "Moonlight", with Jason Robards and Blythe Danner
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Leighton Park School: -
Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge: - 1945 - 1947

Notes

About his period teaching: " . . .coming straight from university, the whole impact of the outside world was very, very strong. It was probably the first kind of wide community life I'd come across at all; for though I'd been happy at boarding school and university, I'd felt totally incapsulated there. Teaching was my first taste of social reality; and you can't deal daily with working-class youngsters and their parents in their own habitat and retain an archaic view of the lower classes as comic relief or criminals, the roles they traditionally filled in British films." --Karel Reisz quoted in "World Film Directors", Volume Two

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Julia Coppard. Divorced.
wife:
Betsy Blair. Actor. Second wife; formerly married to actor-dancer Gene Kelly; divorced.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Joseph Reisz. Lawyer. Jewish; perished in a concentration camp during WWII.
mother:
Frieda Reisz. Perished in a concentration camp during WWII.
brother:
Paul Reisz. Older; educated in England, at Leighton Park School in Reading, Berkshire; preceded Karel there.

Bibliography close complete biography

"The Technique of Film Editing" Focal Press

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