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Overview for Karel Reisz
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 ... director producer author critic print editor teacher


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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