Josef von Sternberg

1894 (Vienna) – 1969 (Los Angeles)

Von Sternberg’s notable contribution to cinema was through his non-naturalistic use of camera and lighting. He also discovered Dietrich, making six films with her and becoming one of her lovers. Chaplin took him under his wing, but was displeased with the resultant film. Eisenstein said he was dogged by his own sense of inadequacy, Grierson agreeing that he didn’t match his own high standards. He called on Schnitzler but nervously talked too much, and hoped Reinhardt would give him some work. He commissioned a Neutra house and a Siqueiros portrait. Grosz was almost alone in understanding his cane’s symbolic importance.

Josef von Sternberg knew…

Buster Keaton

1895 (Piqua, Kans.) – 1966 (Los Angeles)

Keaton was one of the silent-screen greats, and as gifted a film-maker as actor. He himself claimed that Houdini (a friend and business partner of his father’s, a regular visitor in the house) gave him his nickname. Chaplin tried to stop him signing away his independence, and much later directed him in their one film together. Wilder and Lester both directed him too, Wilder as a bridge-player (he said he was tournament standard), Lester in his last film. Beckett unsuccessfully tried to get him to converse, but was impressed by his stamina and professionalism in front of the camera.

Buster Keaton knew…

Peter Brook

1925 (London) –

One of the most influential thinkers about theatre in the later 20th C, Brook is known for stripping things back to essentials and for pioneering global theatre. He went to Haiti with Greene and stayed with Dalí in Spain (persuading him to design sets for a production). Meeting Chaikin and Grotowski (who became a close collaborator) was seminal, with Craig (whom he’d known well) another influence. Barrault helped him establish his Paris company: other close collaborators (often friends) included Hughes, Oida, Bâ, Diop, Weiss, Genet and Fugard. Williams corresponded warmly. Brook called Beckett a good companion, saying his joviality was underappreciated.

Peter Brook knew…

Sergio Leone

1929 (Rome) – 1989 (Rome)

Leone revitalised the genre of the western, sweeping away older conventions and deepening its moral complexity. As a young man he assisted de Sica, Donati and visiting American directors including Walsh (who told him the western was finished) and Wyler. Morricone, a crucial collaborator, had been a schoolfriend; Bertolucci and Donati also worked with him. Leone asked Mailer to help with a script before realising it was not his forte, and was warned by Welles against making one of his most memorable films. Scorsese, a great admirer, got his Sicilian mother to cook for him in her Lower East Side apartment.

Sergio Leone knew…

  • Mario Soldati
  • Orson Welles
  • Norman Mailer
  • Bernardo Bertolucci
  • Michelangelo Antonioni
  • Paul Schrader
  • Federico Fellini
  • Ennio Morricone
  • Vittorio de Sica
  • Sergio Donati
  • Sam Peckinpah
  • Martin Scorsese
  • Costa-Gavras
  • Raoul Walsh
  • William Wyler

Terry Gilliam

1940 (Medicine Lake, Minn.) –

Gilliam is an influential and idiosyncratic film-maker (if perhaps less original than popularly imagined). He met his future fellow-Python Cleese while working in New York for Kurtzman, of MAD magazine fame. His hero Fellini was encountered in Rome, while filming ‘Munchausen’. Rushdie interviewed him sympathetically, the aspirant director Tarantino found him the only supportive mentor at Sundance, while Stoppard, who co-wrote ‘Brazil’ with him, kept telling him it was too close to ‘1984’ (which Gilliam in fact had not read).

Terry Gilliam knew…

Sergei Eisenstein

Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein

1898 (Riga, Latvia) – 1948 (Moscow)

Eisenstein was one of the great cinematic pioneers; his ideas, as well as his films, continue to influence. He studied briefly with Kuleshov, and worked for Meyerhold as set-designer. Luria and Vygotsky were both friends (Vygotsky for life) and influences. Widely travelled, he met Brecht, Lang, Murnau and Grosz: Stein, Einstein, Marinetti, Gance and Cocteau: and in America, his hero Griffith, Disney, whom he also admired, and his new friend Chaplin. Sternberg finished his abandoned Hollywood film. He collaborated with Richter, Tretyakov and (most notably) Prokoviev, held long discussions with Joyce, and had a talent for misunderstandings with Malevich.

Sergei Eisenstein knew…

Mario Soldati

1906 (Turin) – 1999 (Tellaro, Italy)

Soldati worked as assistant director to Ruttmann, re-writing Pirandello’s screenplay though uncredited. He heard about Ginzburg’s writing at a party, and sent her an approving telegram. Greene was a great friend — Soldati admired his raffishness, directed one of his stories for the cinema, and worried about his choice of biographer; they smoked opium together in Sierra Leone and visited brothels on Capri. Pasolini was a professional colleague (both of them very literary film-makers). Nykvist assisted and translated for him, while his old friend Carlo Levi designed the cover for his first successful book.

Mario Soldati knew…

Luis Buñuel

1900 (Calanda, Spain) – 1983 (Mexico City)

Dalí and Lorca were fellow-students and close friends, Dalí also a noted collaborator (each had only three seconds to agree or disagree an idea). Ernst and Aragon were good friends among Paris surrealists; Breton and Éluard took him to order a Sade novel (it never arrived). Ernst, Giacometti and Tanguy were revolutionary associates before Buñuel joined the communists, causing a vituperative break with Dalí as well as with Breton. He assisted Epstein, helped Ivens and Hemingway with permission to film in Spain, and  was introduced by Silberman to Carrière, his other great collaborator.

Louis Malle

1932 (Thumeries, France) – 1995 (Beverly Hills, Calif.)

Malle worked for Cousteau (on a prizewinning film) as a cinematographer, bursting his eardrums shooting underwater. Tati also employed him as cinematographer, and Bresson as assistant director. He met Davis through Gréco, and asked him to compose the score for his first film as director; Moreau ran the bar during all-night recording, the film made her a star, and she became Malle’s lover for several years. Truffaut, a friend and admirer, recalled being mistaken on the street for the handsome Malle. He was working with Guare when he died, and had been working with Malick intermittently for some time.

Louis Malle knew…

Jean Renoir

1894 (Paris) – 1979 (Los Angeles)

The artist Renoir was his father, an abiding influence on his own very influential work, and about whom he wrote the definitive biography. Welles, a friend, described him as the greatest of all directors. Odets was another close friend. Kosma collaborated as composer, and Jacques Prévert as writer (Renoir described the script for an unmade film as perfect, but leaving him with nothing to do). Renoir said of von Stroheim as an actor, that he had to learn his German lines just like a schoolboy. Meeting Ray (who had just completed a masterpiece), Renoir asked him innocently if he also made films.

Jean Renoir knew…