Karel Reisz - Director

Nationality: Czechoslovakian/British. Born: Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, 21 July 1926. Education: Leighton Park School, Reading, England, 1938–44; Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1945–47. Family: Married 1) Julia Coppard (divorced); 2) Betsy Blair, 1963, three sons. Career: Arrived in England as refugee from Nazi threat, 1938; joined Czechoslovakian wing of R.A.F., 1944–45; teacher in London grammar school, 1947–49; film critic for Sequence and Sight and Sound , from 1950; programme director for National Film Theatre, London, 1952–55; "officer of commercials" for Ford Motor Co. in England, 1956–57; directed first feature, 1960.

Films as Director:


Momma Don't Allow (co-d)


We Are the Lambeth Boys (doc)


Saturday Night and Sunday Morning


Night Must Fall (+ co-pr)


Morgan, a Suitable Case for Treatment ( Morgan! )


Isadora ( The Loves of Isadora )


The Gambler


Who'll Stop the Rain ( Dog Soldiers )


The French Lieutenant's Woman


Sweet Dreams


Everybody Wins

Other Films:


Every Day except Christmas (Anderson) (co-pr)


This Sporting Life (Anderson) (pr)

Karel Reisz (left) and John Fowles on the set of The French Lieutenant's Woman
Karel Reisz (left) and John Fowles on the set of The French Lieutenant's Woman


By REISZ: book—

The Technique of Film Editing , revised by Gavin Miller, London, 1968.

By REISZ: articles—

"Hollywood's Anti-Red Boomerang," in Sight and Sound (London), January/March 1953.

"Stroheim in London," in Sight and Sound (London), April/June 1954.

"Experiment at Brussels," in Sight and Sound (London), Sum-mer 1958.

"Karel Reisz and Experimenters: An Exchange of Correspondence," in Films and Filming (London), December 1961.

"How to Get into Films—By the People Who Got in Themselves," in Films and Filming (London), July 1963.

"Desert Island Films," in Films and Filming (London), August 1963.

Interview with Gene D. Phillips, in Cinema (Los Angeles), Sum-mer 1968.

"Outsiders," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), January 1979.

"Karel Reisz: permanence d'un personnage: le mal adapté," an interview with J. Grissolange, in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October 1979.

Interview with B. Gilbert, in Stills (London), Winter 1982.

"Recontre avec Karel Reisz," an interview with Francis Donovan, in Cinéma 72, November 1990.

"Of Reisz and Men," an interview with Brian Case, in Time Out (London), 24 April 1991.

"Stroheim revu par Karel Reisz," in Positif (Paris), May 1995.

Interview with Tomáš Liška, in Film a Doba (Prague), Winter 1996.

On REISZ: books—

Barsam, Richard, Non-Fiction Film , New York, 1973.

Walker, Alexander, Hollywood U.K.: The British Film Industry in the '60s , New York, 1974.

Leyda, Jay, editor, Voices of Film Experience , New York, 1977.

Armes, Roy, A Critical History of the British Cinema , New York, 1978.

Gaston, Georg, Karel Reisz , Boston, 1980.

On REISZ: articles—

Lambert, Gavin, "Free Cinema," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.

Hoggart, Richard, " We Are the Lambeth Boys ," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer/Autumn 1959.

"Karel Reisz: Free Czech," in Films and Filming (London), Febru-ary 1961.

Zito, Stephen, " Dog Soldiers : Novel into Film," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1977.

"Reisz Issue" of Positif (Paris), November 1978.

Kennedy, H., "Minute Reisz: Six Earlier Films," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1981.

Armes, Roy, "Karel Reisz," in International Film Guide , edited by Peter Cowie, London, 1982.

" Saturday Night and Sunday Morning Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 October 1982.

Lebouc, G., "Chacun sa chance," in Grand Angle (Mariembourg, Belgium), October 1990.

Grandmaire, G., "Filmographie de Karel Reisz," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), June 1991.

Lefevre, R., "Karel Reisz," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), June 1991.

McKee, A. L., "She Had Eyes a Man Could Drown In: Narrative, Desire, and the Female Gaze in The French Lieutenant's Woman ," in Literature Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 20, no. 2, 1992.

Breschand, J., "Lyon fete ses Lumiere," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1995.

"Moonlighting on Broadway," in New Yorker , 2 October 1995.

* * *

Karel Reisz came to filmmaking from the world of academia and scholarship. He had taught in an English grammar school, written film criticism, co-edited with Lindsay Anderson the last issue of the slightly snooty magazine Sequence , and written a theoretical textbook still in use today on film editing techniques (without having spent one working day in the industry). With such a background, it was obvious he would have preconceived notions about filmmaking, but they were notions without regard to established filmmaking practices. Reisz wanted to improve the British film industry (also the critical aim of Sequence ). He had his first opportunity to do so with two documentary shorts, Momma Don't Allow (co-directed with Tony Richardson) and We Are the Lambeth Boys. In these films, Reisz depicted contemporary Britain from a working-class viewpoint, and when they were first screened at London's National Film Theatre, they were presented along with films from Lindsay Anderson and others as "British Free Cinema." In fact, these films were to herald a new wave in British filmmaking, which reached its zenith with Reisz's first feature, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Jack Clayton's Room at the Top paved the way for Saturday Night and Sunday Morning , a study of a tough, young machinist, played by Albert Finney, who takes out his frustrations with his work and his life through sex and alcohol. He is the quintessential British rebel, the English answer to James Dean, who takes his revenge on society by impregnating his boss's wife. It is an uninhibited, fresh, and frank look at British working-class existence, and it brought critical fame to Karel Reisz.

The only problem was that Reisz seemed temporarily unable to follow up on that first success. (Reisz's output is pathetically small: a sign perhaps not so much of a careful director as a director with whom producers feel uneasy.) Next, Reisz directed Albert Finney again in Night Must Fall , which had worked as a classic melodrama in the 1930s but had little relevance to the 1960s. The unconventionality of Morgan also seemed strained, and even a little pretentious (a claim that also can easily be made regarding Reisz's outdated study of a Vietnam vet, Who'll Stop the Rain? ). It was not until Isadora that Reisz began to demonstrate a new side to his work, a romantic side, perhaps born of his Czech background (he did not come to Britain until he was twelve).

Both Isadora and The French Lieutenant's Woman showed that Reisz had discovered how to successfully blend romanticism and the realism of his first films. In Isadora it is perhaps a little more subtly accomplished than in The French Lieutenant's Woman , where the two elements fight against each other for existence.

As to his directorial techniques, Reisz appears to be very willing to listen to others. He is quoted as saying, "For me the great thing about a film is to allow everyone to make their contribution and to keep the process fluid. The process of adaptation is a free process and the process of rehearsal is a free process and the process of shooting is a free process." Free process, free cinema, and a healthy freedom in his choice of subjects have marked Reisz's career to date.

—Anthony Slide

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