Karel Reisz

Karel Reisz
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Interview Date(s): 
17 Apr 1991
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Born in Czechoslovakia in 1926, educated there until the German invasion, when his parents sent him to the UK, where he went to a Quaker school along with his brother; at the age of 17 joined the Czech air force, sent on a short course (six months) held at Cambridge, got his wings three weeks before the end of the war. Was demobbed in Prague, went to search out his parents, but found no trace. Returned to UK, went back to Emmanuel College wher he finished his degree in chemistry. Joined the Film Society while he was there; came down in 1948, did supply teaching for three or four years, then started to write reviews for the Monthly Film Bulletin The British Film Academy asked him to edit their proposed book on editing (Focal Press). This had a so-called committee consisting of Thorold Dickinson, Sid Cole, David Lean and Jack Harris, but as he said, you cannot write a book with a committee! So for eighteen to twenty four months he watched all kinds of films on a movieola and the book was published; to the question “was this the definitive book on editing?”, he replied, “No, it's the only book on editing, and its sold all over the world.”  He later became the programme director for the National Film Theatre, and when the Experimental Film Production Fund was set up, together with Tony Richardson, and a £300 grant they made a film Momma Don’t Allow, which went into the NFT programme series Free Cinema. This was based upon Humphrey Jennings poetic approach to film; with two other films, made by other people O Dreamland and Together. He saw an advert put out by the Ford Company looking for a Films Officer, applied and got the job on his terms that once a year they would provide the money to make a non-commercial film. This produced Every day except Christmas Day and The Lambeth Boys, which went out on the circuit as a second feature. He then got his chance to make a feature film. Made for Woodfall Films, their first was Room at the Top (Jack Clayton) then Tony Richardson’s Look Back in Anger, then Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and then came This Sporting Life, directed by Lindsay Anderson and produced by Reisz.


He talks about his first disaster film Night Must Fall, and the break up of the group; he then talks about his great success with Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment. He also talks about the consortium who bought British Lion (He together with Tony Richardson and Oscar Lewenstein along with the Boultings, Launder and Gilliat and Joseph Jannie). Their offering was Morgan. He then made Isadora, which was a very unhappy experience, because of Universal’s request to make it a “road show” in the way The Sound of Music was exploited. He then made The Gambler, working in the USA, after that Dog Soldiers (called Who Stopped the Rain? In the USA). He then started talking about the French Lieutenant’s Woman.


French Lieutenant’s Woman continued. He has continued to work in the USA because no British company is coming up with the type of money now required to make feature films.