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Author Topic: ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ: Style and Technique 1: Siegel's Direction  (Read 3241 times)
Matt
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« on: January 30, 2005, 11:33:01 PM »

The genesis of the film Escape from Alcatraz could be said to go back as early as 1964, when Don Siegel read the book of the same title by J. Campbell Bruce. Siegel wrote Bruce that he liked the book, but felt that it needed some work. Years later, Bruce showed Siegel's letter to a young screenwriter, Richard Tuggle, who was then inspired to write the screenplay. Fourteen years after first reading the book, Tuggle's screenplay arrived on Siegel's desk. Siegel loved the script immediately, and purchased the screenplay himself.

Siegel knew Frank Morris would be a perfect role for Eastwood, but since he refused to work with Warner Bros. again (due to their lack of Oscar promotion for Dirty Harry), he approached Michael Eisner, then President of Paramount Studios, to have Paramount produce the film. Paramount signed on to the project, and Tuggle, Siegel, and Siegel's associate Carol Rydall were soon busy with script revisions. Eastwood agreed to play Frank Morris, then he met with Siegel to propose further changes to the script.

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Some of them we didn't buy, many of them were excellent and most of his suggested changes were incorporated into the revised script. [Eastwood] was very pleased and the script was much improved.
(Don Siegel in his autobiography A Siegel Film, p. 439.)

This script was then submitted to Paramount's "creative group that works on all our properties," as Paramount Vice-President Don Simpson called it. The group came up with four pages of notes. Siegel and executive producer Bob Daley met with Simpson to go over the notes:

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At the meeting in Simpson's office, I listened to his suggestions. He had the four pages of exposition notes in front of him. He felt that we should know all about Morris's criminal history, what kind of person he was and, especially, why he had chosen a life of crime. Dirty Harry, in his hands, would have had girl friends, he would have been in the car when his wife was killed, etc. I pointed out to Simpson that the more you describe, analyse and explain a character, the less real he becomes. The trick is to suggest, to try to leave holes, problems, questions that the viewer's imagination will fill in a much more satisfying way than we could ever do. I suggested that we call it a day and leave well enough alone. Bob Daley and I left him staring at his notes.
( A Siegel Film, p. 439-440.)
 
Siegel's concept of leaving things open to interpretation was also Eastwood's belief. As far back as his first film, A Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood scrapped much of his own character's dialogue, feeling that viewers would be more interested if they had to try to figure out a character for themselves, rather than have everything spelled out for them.

What do you think of Siegel's direction of Escape from Alcatraz? List the strengths and any weaknesses, including anything you find particularly striking about the film's visual style: camera placement, lighting, point of view, length of shots, etc. Do you find the film to be well paced? What Siegel trademarks do you see in this film? Does he make the film and the prison feel "real" to you?

If you've seen Don Siegel's other prison film, Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), how would you compare his directorial style in the earlier film with his work in Escape from Alcatraz?
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Chessie
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2005, 11:29:18 PM »

I've always thought Siegel did a great job directing this film.   The Beguiled is still my favorite Siegel directed film, but this one and Dirty Harry tie at second.  I think the use of the camera and shadow play in the first scene is very good, the mood he creates is eery and just very creepy, which then sets the general tone for the rest of the movie.  

Whenever I watch Alcatraz I always think wow this is a Siegel film. Siegel's style just is so apparent to me when I watch this film.  On thing I've noticed in his films he adds close ups to particular items, in this film it's Doc's fingers after he cuts them off, in Coogan's Bluff it's the glass that Coogan left on the file cabinet, and so on and so forth.  Those little inserts are just so Siegel, and when I see those I just think yeah it's Don.  

I think that the crew did a good job resotring Alcatraz for the film and I think that helped a lot in creating the mood of the film.  Siegels direction is a huge part of it, the way he uses the camera and the angles it's very clean, and the film flows very smoothly.  And, that goes with the pace of the film, it develops nicely and I like how it progresses, it gives time for character development but it also moves.  

I'm glad that Siegel didn't keep in everything about Frank's past.  I love speculating on what Frank did to get to Alcatraz.  In some cases not enough information about a character isn't good, but in this film it works in such a way that it adds to the mood.  Alcatraz appears, to me anyway, as a very secret place and a very lonely place, and that's what Frank's character is, he's very secretive about his past, he doesn't explain alot.  

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CHARLEY BUTTS: I turned thirty-five today. Some birthday. When's your birthday?

MORRIS: I don't know.

BUTTS: Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?

MORRIS: Short.


And, Frank seems like a loner to m, just in how he talks and his mannerisms, it presents a very lonely man.

I always felt like Alcatraz was a real film.  It felt real to me.  It captures part of what I think Alcatraz would be like, the movie is simple in it's style, and I imagine that's what it would feel like for people in the prison, life is simple now, the past doesn't matter you're there now, and there's not a lot of hope for the future.  It's simply the present.  
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« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2005, 04:09:41 PM »

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I always felt like Alcatraz was a real film.  It felt real to me.  It captures part of what I think Alcatraz would be like, the movie is simple in it's style, and I imagine that's what it would feel like for people in the prison, life is simple now, the past doesn't matter you're there now, and there's not a lot of hope for the future.  It's simply the present. 

Excellently put Chessie, couldnt agree more. One of the things about EFA is that the viewer lose the sense of time. We have no idea how much time the movie stretches over. Is it weeks? months? years? beautyfully done really
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KC
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« Reply #3 on: April 03, 2007, 06:05:04 PM »

Thanks to everyone for participating in this discussion. This topic is now closed, please post any additional thoughts in the General Discussion forum.
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