Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Mondo Cinema

By Devin D. O'Leary

APRIL 20, 1998: 

Chatting With Judy Stone, Author of Eye On The World: Conversations With International Filmmakers

When one thinks of people with a lifelong association with Hollywood, one thinks, naturally, of movie stars like Jimmy Stewart, Robert Redford and Elizabeth Taylor--people who seem to have spent every cradle-to-grave moment of our collective memory performing on the silver screen. But there are others, far less noticeable, whose dedication to the art of filmmaking has lasted just as long.

Take, for example, journalist Judy Stone. For more than 30 years, Stone served as an editor and film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. During her tenure, Stone interviewed hundreds of filmmakers from around the world and bore witness to every major movement in modern cinematic history. Stone herself will soon be in New Mexico to attend the Taos Talking Pictures Film Festival (April 16-19). She, along with other notable critics and film historians, will host the festival's Salon Cinema lecture series.

Recently, Stone's historic interviews were collected into a single, 826-page volume titled Eye On The World: Conversations With International Filmmakers. What makes Stone's work so different from other celebrity chat books is her unique "global" approach. In an era when Hollywood rules the roost, it's difficult to remember that there are other parts of the planet producing films. Stone's interviews represent more than 40 countries. There's Gillian Armstrong from Australia, Zhang Yimou from China, Jean-Luc Godard from France, Danny Boyle from Great Britain, Alfonso Arau from Mexico, Ang Lee from Taiwan and a host of lesser-known talents from such decidedly non-Hollywood places as Tunisia, Portugal and Burkina Faso.

So how do such international talents view the Hollywood money machine? With derision and dismissiveness? "No, they're not dismissive at all. They're a lot less dismissive than I am," admits Stone. "What fascinated me in so many of those interviews I did with directors overseas was how they were all inspired, early on, by American film."

Times, however, have changed. "Now, there's a very difficult situation," stresses Stone. "They're all trying to imitate Hollywood, and it just doesn't work very well. For instance, I'm afraid that's true of my friend Volker (The Tin Drum) Schlondörff's film Palmetto--which I really enjoyed. In terms of film noir, it was dismissed by most critics for not being up to the American film noir. ... The same thing is true of another director I admire very much, Costa-Gavras (director of the Oscar-winning Z). I enjoyed his last film, Mad City. It got dismissed by all the critics. I don't know if I'm less critical now that I don't have to sit down and think about it and write about it. But it is an example of two foreign directors not succeeding in the American market when they're really so talented."

America, of course, gets its due in Eye On The World with interviews of Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Allison Anders, John Huston, Spike Lee, John Waters and dozens more. Another attendee at this year's Taos Film Festival will be writer/director Paul Schrader, whom Stone interviewed in 1992. "There's a lot of very personal material in (that interview) about his former drug addiction, etc. One of the things I respected him for--there is such a dearth of movies about workers in America. Blue Collar was one of the few in recent years. It's a subject nobody wants to pay much attention to. I can't think of anything recent. Full Monty was about unemployment, but it was in England."

Most of Stone's interviews are brief (she doesn't reach nearly the level of intimacy that Peter Bogdonovich did in his recent compilation Who The Devil Made It?). Where others go for Hollywood glam and show business gossip, though, Stone concentrates on the personal. "I must say that, temperamentally, I am opposed to million, million, million dollar extravaganza pictures. What I'm interested in are smaller pictures with a more human touch." It is this "human touch" that elevates Judy Stone from passing journalist to lasting historian. (Silman-James Press, paper, $35)

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