Retrospective Celebrates 'Postman Only Rings Twice' Director


Growing up as the daughter of film director Tay Garnett, best known for his 1946 thriller "The Postman Only Rings Twice", Tiela Garnett learned all about the highs and lows of Hollywood from an early age.

Tay Garnett, who died in 1977 at the age of 83, began his career as a writer in silent films before going on to make over 40 movies with some of the biggest names in 20th century cinema from Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck to Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich.

"He had great successes and great flops, it was all like a recipe in the kitchen, (dependent on) what ingredients came together. Things that looked like they should have been huge successes were failures and things that looked like sweet little films were hits," Tiela Garnett told Agence France Presse in an interview in Paris.

A modest man who was "uncomfortable with any kind of praise", according to his daughter, Garnett enjoyed a long and varied career in Hollywood although he lost out on an Academy Award for "One Way Passage" (1932) after his agent advised him not to take a writing credit.

Thirty-five years after his death, his work is now the subject of a major retrospective in Paris.

At the same time, French publishing house TNVO Editions is also reprinting Garnett's "Century of Cinema" ("Un Siecle de Cinema") in which directors including Howard Hawks, Federico Fellini, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg talk about their craft.

In an introduction to the book, French film producer Thierry de Navacelle, the driving force behind its reissue, attributes Garnett's prolific output to a tendency among critics to undervalue his work.

"It's without doubt this profusion, with, naturally some less good films, which has led critics and historians to say that Tay was not in the same class as Howard Hawks or Raoul Walsh," he wrote.

"But Tay had a real style and the care that he showed for the tiniest details... made each of his films recognizable."

In the mid-1970s, after the death of his friend John Ford, Garnett set about compiling an anthology that would capture the wisdom of some of the pioneers of film along with younger directors such as Spielberg.

A questionnaire he compiled with sections on every aspect of making movies was returned by 42 directors.

"My father and I used to visit John Ford in the actors' home and then John Ford died and my father was overcome with frustration," said Tiela.

"He said 'why didn't I have the brains to sit down and interview this man because he was one of the greatest directors that's ever lived'.

"And basically he made a commitment to himself that he'd never let that happen again and that was the birth of the idea for the book," she said.

At the time of his death, however, it remained unfinished.

"When he died the book was in stacks of paper in a closet. I put it all in a box and I moved to France," said Tiela.

Without any interest from US publishers, de Navacelle, who had known Tiela at film school, took on the task of translating the text and getting it published in France.

With the support of the late French film director Francois Truffaut, a publisher was found. A print run of 15,000 sold out quickly after publication in 1982 and until now it has never been reprinted.

It's a "treasure for anyone who is studying film and anyone who is interested because the questions of the questionnaire are written so well that it really draws people out, there's a lot of autobiography in the answers to these questions," Tiela said.

Now she hopes to use her father's model to compile a follow-up.

"I would like to do volume two because I think the questionnaire is excellent," she said.

"Steven Spielberg was in the original book, but I would love to ask if he has anything to add or take away from the answers to those questions. It would be wonderful to get him to write an introduction to the book or Martin Scorsese… or perhaps Quentin Tarantino."

The Tay Garnett retrospective runs until April 29 at Paris's Cinematheque Francaise.

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