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Schlesinger, John


Nationality: British. Born: John Richard Schlesinger in London, 16 February 1926. Education: Uppingham School and Balliol College, Oxford, 1945–50. Career: Maker of short films, from 1948; actor with Colchester Repertory Company then Ngaio Marsh's Touring Company, 1950–52; directed 24 short documentaries for BBC TV series Tonight and Monitor, 1956–61; directed first feature, A Kind of Loving, 1962; associate director, National Theatre, London, from 1973; opera director, 1980s; also director for TV, work includes Separate Tables, 1982, and An Englishman Abroad, 1983. Awards: Best Direction, New York Film Critics, for Darling, 1965; Oscar for Best Director, Best Direction Award, British Film Academy, and Directors Award, Directors Guild of America, for Midnight Cowboy, 1969; Best Direction Award, British Film Academy, for Sunday, Bloody Sunday, 1970; Commander of the British Empire, 1970; British Film and TV Academy Award, for An Englishman Abroad, 1983. Agent: c/o Duncan Heath, 76 Oxford Street, London W1R 1RB, England.

Films as Director:


Terminus (doc) (+ sc)


A Kind of Loving


Billy Liar


Darling (+ sc)


Far from the Madding Crowd


Midnight Cowboy (+ co-pr)


Sunday, Bloody Sunday


"Olympic Marathon" section of Visions of Eight


The Day of the Locust


Marathon Man




Honky Tonk Freeway


Privileged (consultant d only)


The Falcon and the Snowman (+ pr)


The Believers (+ pr)


Madame Sousatzka


Pacific Heights


A Question of Attribution


The Innocent


Eye for an Eye; Cold Comfort Farm


The Tale of Sweeney Todd (for TV)


The Next Best Thing

Other Films:


Single-handed (Sailor of the King) (Boulting) (role)


The Divided Heart (Crichton) (role as ticket collector)


The Last Man to Hang? (Fisher) (role as Dr. Goldfinger)


The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee) (Powell and Pressburger) (role); Brothers inLaw (Boulting) (role)


Fifty Years of Action! (appearance as himself)


By SCHLESINGER: articles—

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

"John Schlesinger," in Directors in Action, edited by Bob Thomas, Indianapolis, 1968.

Interview with David Spiers, in Screen (London), Summer 1970.

Interview with Valerie Wade, in Interview (New York), July 1974.

Interview with Gene D. Phillips, in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1975.

"Dialogue on Film: John Schlesinger," with James Powers, in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1979.

"John Schlesinger," interview with John Study, in Films in Review (New York), October 1981.

"Spies like Us," interview with Stephen Rebello, in Saturday Review (New York), January/February 1985.

"Treason to Believe," interview with Graham Fuller in Stills (London), April 1985.

"Dialogue on Film: John Schlesinger," in American Film (Washington D.C.), November 1987, January 1991.

Interview with L. Farrah in Films and Filming (London), May 1988.

"An Englishman Abroad," an interview with Colette Maude, in TimeOut (London), 20 February 1991.

Interview with Tomáš Liška, in Film a Doba (Prague), Autumn 1994.

Interview with L. Verswijver, in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), October 1994.

"John Schlesinger Speaks No Evil," an interview with T. Rice and T. Allen, in Moviemaker Magazine (Los Angeles), September/October 1995.

"Look Who's Talking," an interview with M. Figgis and J. Singleton, in Interview, June 1996.


Brooker, Nancy J., John Schlesinger: A Guide to References andResources, Boston, 1978.

Phillips, Gene D., John Schlesinger, Boston, 1981.

Salizzato, Claver, John Schlesinger, Florence, 1986.

On SCHLESINGER: articles—

Phillips, Gene D., "John Schlesinger, Social Realist," in FilmComment (New York), Winter 1969.

Hall, William, "John Schlesinger, Award Winner," in Action (Los Angeles), July/August 1970.

"John Schlesinger at the Olympic Games," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), November 1972.

Perry, George, The Great British Picture Show, London, 1974.

Walker, Alexander, "A Kind of Stoicism," in Hollywood UK: TheBritish Film Industry in the Sixties, London, 1974.

Rand, Kenn, "Behind the Scenes of Day of the Locust," in AmericanCinematographer (Hollywood), June 1975.

Sherman, Eric, "John Schlesinger," in Directing the Film: FilmDirectors on Their Art, Boston, 1976.

Phillips, Gene D., "Exile in Hollywood: John Schlesinger," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1977.

Phillips, Gene D., "On Yanks and Other Films," in Focus on Film (London), Fall 1978.

Gross, Sheryl, "Guilt and Innocence in Marathon Man," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), January 1980.

Welsh, James, "Hardy and Schlesinger: Far from the MaddingCrowd," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1988.

Fuller, Graham, "An Englishman Abroad," in Cinema Papers (Melbourne), July 1985.

Allmendinger, Blake, "From Silent Movies to the Talkies in The Dayof the Locust," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1988.

Phillips, Gene D., Major Film Directors of the American and BritishCinema, Cranbury, New Jersey, 1989.

Brode, Douglas, "Darling, Midnight Cowboy," in The Films of theSixties, New York, 1990.

Bookbinder, Robert, "Day of the Locust, Marathon Man," in TheFilms of the Seventies, New York, 1990.

Murphy, Robert, "Far from the Madding Crowd," in Sixties BritishCinema, London, 1992.

Hadleigh, Boze, "Midnight Cowboy, Sunday, Bloody Sunday," in The Lavender Screen: Homosexuality on Film, New York, 1993.

Russell, Ken, "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," in The Lion Roars: KenRussell on Film, Winchester, Massachusetts, 1994.

Kael, Pauline, "The Hollywood Novel: Day of the Locust and Other Films," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Winter 1995.

Segnocinema (Vicenza), January/February 1997.

* * *

John Schlesinger began his professional career by making short documentaries for the BBC. His first major venture in the cinema was a documentary for British Transport called Terminus, about twenty-four hours at Waterloo Station, which won him an award at the Venice Film Festival. Schlesinger's documentaries attracted the attention of producer Joseph Janni; together they formed a creative association which has included several of Schlesinger's British films, beginning with A Kind of Loving, which won the Grand Prize at the Berlin Film Festival.

Schlesinger began directing feature films in Britain at the point when the cycle of low-budget, high-quality movies on social themes (called "Kitchen Sink" dramas) was in full swing. Because these films were made outside the large studio system, Schlesinger got used to developing his own film projects. He has continued to do so while directing films in Hollywood, where he has worked with increasing regularity in recent years, starting with his first American film, Midnight Cowboy. "I like the cross-fertilization that comes from making films in both England and America," he explains. "Although I am English and I do like to work in England, I have gotten used to regarding myself more and more as mid-Atlantic." As a matter of fact, foreign directors like Lang and Hitchcock and Schlesinger, precisely because they are not native Americans, are sometimes able to view American life with a vigilant, perceptive eye for the kind of telling details which home-grown directors might easily overlook or simply take for granted. Indeed, reviews of Midnight Cowboy by and large noted how accurately the British-born Schlesinger had caught the authentic atmosphere not only of New York City, but also of Miami Beach and the Texas Panhandle, as surely as he had captured the atmosphere of a factory town in his native England in A Kind of Loving. "Any film that is seriously made will reflect the attitudes and problems of society at large," he says, and consequently possess the potential to appeal to an international audience, as many of his films have. "But it is inevitable that a director's own attitudes will creep into his films. For my part I try in my movies to communicate to the filmgoer a better understanding of other human beings by exploring the hazards of entering into a mutual relationship with another human being, which is the most difficult thing on earth to do, because it involves a voyage of discovery for both parties." Hence his prime concern as a director with examining complex human relationships from a variety of angles—ranging from the social outcasts of Midnight Cowboy to members of the jet set in Darling. Among the standout films of his career are: Marathon Man, a thriller about a young American Jew who finds himself pitted against a Nazi war criminal in New York; The Falcon and the Snowman, the true story of two young Americans who betrayed their country to the Russians; and Madame Sousatzka, which concerns a dedicated, demanding London piano teacher whose exacting standards threaten to drive her most promising pupil away. Significantly, Schlesinger's acutely observed depiction of the ramshackle old rooming house where Madame lives, with its colorful assortment of diverse tenants, lends to the film an authentic atmosphere that recalls Schlesinger's social ("Kitchen Sink") dramas.

Given the great success of Marathon Man, Schlesinger went on to make a trio of superior thrillers: Pacific Heights, in which a hapless young landlord is victimized by a psychotic tenant; The Innocent, a story of international intrigue about a young English technician sent by British Intelligence to work on a secret operation in Berlin after World War II; and Eye for an Eye, a dark study wherein a vengeful mother vows to bring to justice the brute who raped and murdered her daughter. This trilogy of suspense films clearly established Schlesinger as a worthy successor to Hitchcock in the thriller genre.

In sum, John Schlesinger is a member of the international community of filmmakers who speak to an equally international audience. That is the way the world cinema has been developing, and directors like Schlesinger have helped to lead it there.

—Gene D. Phillips

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