Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The "...And Scene!" Blogathon

Sister Celluloid is hosting a blogathon where the objective is "your chance to go into excruciating detail about your favorite classic film scene (or one of them, anyway—I’d never be so cruel as to ask you to narrow it down any further)." Having seen my fair share of classic films, I wanted to choose something different. No "We'll always have Paris" or Gene Kelly splashing around in puddles, I wanted to talk about a scene from a movie that not enough people are talking about. In the end, I settled for this:

(1966, dir. John Frankenheimer)

(Spoilers ahead!)

There are so many things about Seconds that are worth talking about. The contorted cinematography by James Wong Howe, Frankenheimer's tense direction, the work from the many actors…it’s pretty clear early on that it was way ahead of its time. Thankfully after nearly fifty years, it now has the reputation that initially eluded it.

The reality subtext behind Seconds is worth mentioning. It’s a film involving becoming a “reborn”, gaining a new life through a new identity. Makes it all the more eerie considering the film’s star. In the previous decade, he was remodeled from the homosexual Roy Scherer, Jr. to the bastion of masculinity that is Rock Hudson. And that just makes a crucial scene in the film all the more potent. The following passages are from Idol, Rock Hudson: The True Story of an American Film Hero by Jerry Oppenheimer and Jack Vitek:

…the scene that cut closest to the bone for Rock was unquestionably the drunk scene, in which Rock, as the new man, falls apart. It is a harrowing scene --- a man crying out for the right to his own identity. Even Rock, who despised introspection and self-analysis, had to realize when doing the scene how dangerously close he was coming to acknowledging to the deepest problems of his own life. Rock broke down completely doing this scene.
Frankenheimer was determined that the scene be as realistic as possible. He wanted Rock exhausted --- and he wanted Rock actually drunk. What he got was more than he bargained for. 
In trying to do the scene drunk, Rock began to lose control. The character’s unbearable pain became his own; the veneer between make-believe and reality cracked completely. He broke down totally, unable to continue. The filming had to stop.
“A lot of traumatic feelings began to surface at that time,” said [co-star Salome] Jens, who was there and was furious with Frankenheimer for having helped bring on the breakdown. “I’m sure it was also because of what came up in the film and what he was dealing with as an actor. I was aware there was in him a great deal of pain....There was a part of Rock that was very private, a part that was very sad, that he felt incomplete without.
“And when that thing became unloosed, he broke down completely --- he could not stop,” said Jens. “Whatever got released, it was an avalanche.”
Frankenheimer realized the filming could not continue. He gave the signal to stop shooting. He knelt beside Rock, who was sobbing on the floor, put his arms around him, and held him, trying to soothe him, but the actor could not regain control. The rest of the cast and crew finally left. The director spent the rest of the night on the floor with the star, holding him and rocking him for hours, trying to comfort him, while Rock sobbed out his fear and pain. Frankenheimer held the grown man in his arms, the way a father holds a fearful little boy --- the way no father had ever held Rock.
"They know."
"They know what?"
"They're like you. Reborns."
Frankenheimer today does not want to discuss that night, except to confirm that it did occur. On the relationship between acted and real emotions, he was terse. “What’s real and what isn’t with an actor? I don’t know. Acting is reality in imaginary circumstances.”
“He [Frankenheimer] was rather amazed at what had happened to Rock,” said Jens. “But…what you realized was that Rock was a human being. And that he had a lot of pain. It’s not easy being a star. You pay an enormous price for success. When you’re a star, you’ve got more to lose. It’s scarier.”
"Shut up, damn you! Just who the hell do you think you are?"
It had been a mistake to try the scene with Rock truly drunk, Jens felt. The scene as it was finally shot the next day, with Rock sober, is unquestionably one of the best he ever did in his life.
That commentary certainly gives the film a more chilling edge, don't you agree? (And if you haven't seen Seconds yet, you really should.)


  1. I will certainly check out "Seconds", hoping that all that pain was worth it.


Comments are appreciated. More so if they are appropriate.