It may seem a little peculiar to include Gavin Lambert (1924–2005) in this series, but he was an important figure in film history and scholarship, and his solitary directorial effort, Another Sky, is an interesting example—like Peter Emmanuel Goldman’s Echoes of Silence (coming in February) and Michael Roemer’s Nothing but a Man (coming in March)—of a kind of independent film made with passion and dedication outside the mainstream. Lambert had befriended Lindsay Anderson (This Sporting Life) and Karel Reisz (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) at Oxford, and, as a critic, he was part of their circle at Sequence magazine.
Another Sky was actually filmed in the mid-1950s, but it was not released (to the extent it ever was) until 1960—hence its late arrival in our more-or-less chronological sequence. It was filmed in Morocco, and I must confess to a certain fondness for that country, based on a visit in 2001 where I delivered a paper on Josef von Sternberg’s Morocco, which is close to being my favorite film. Although I never got to Marrakesh or the Atlas Mountains, Lambert’s film seems to me have captured the authentic flavor of a slowly changing country, nearly half a century before my visit. It’s also evident that he had seen Sternberg’s film (which was shot in Hollywood). Lambert was also influenced by the expatriate author Paul Bowles (with whom he later became friendly), whose The Sheltering Sky was filmed on location in 1999 by Bernardo Bertolucci. For all of these, milieu is crucial, and Lambert is blessed by being able to shoot, inexpensively and picturesquely, in the streets, mountain villages, and desert with an unfailing and highly professional sense of composition. (The film was photographed by Walter Lassally, who, after this, his second feature, went on to a distinguished international career working for Michael Cacoyannis, Tony Richardson, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and James Ivory, among many others.) Although Lambert’s shy English heroine is a long way from Marlene Dietrich’s nightclub diva in Morocco, Lambert borrows Sternberg’s ultra-romantic ending, having the girl pursuing her man (a young indigenous musician, not a bit like Gary Cooper’s Legionnaire) into the desert with passionate and sensual abandon. In his extremely useful book-length interview with George Cukor, Lambert would try to draw the director (Camille, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, A Star Is Born, Justine) into discussing the similarity of his approach with that of Sternberg, whose work with Dietrich somewhat paralleled Cukor’s work with Greta Garbo.
Shortly after Another Sky Lambert moved to Hollywood, and wrote biographies of Norma Shearer, Alla Nazimova, and Natalie Wood, in addition to a memoir about Lindsay Anderson. He wrote seven novels, including Inside Daisy Clover, which Robert Mulligan filmed from Lambert’s screenplay with Wood in the starring role. He is remembered mostly for his screenplays, especially Bitter Victory, Sons and Lovers, and The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone. Bitter Victory was directed by Nicholas Ray, who may have been Lambert’s lover. Lambert lamented on his career: “The important thing to remember about ‘gay influence’ in movies is that it was obviously never direct. It was all subliminal.” I think we may also lament that he never pursued directing films after the promise of Another Sky.
As a reminder, The Aesthetics of Shadow, Part 1: Japan continues through January 19 in Titus Theater 2, with professor Daisuke Miyao introducing several rare Japanese films this weekend.