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Andrew Spicer, University of the West of England: ‘The Producer in the 1970s: Michael Klinger’
Paper Given at the Centre for Cinema and Television History, De Montfort University, 17 November 2010

- Thanks to Steve for the invitation and for his willingness to share materials on British cinema that will prove very helpful for the work of the project. An opportunity to talk about the research project on Klinger and to consider the ways in which it might engage with the concerns of CATH. The division of labour in this joint presentation was to have been that I will start with a summary of the project, the material itself and the overall aims and objectives. I was then going to hand over to Kenna who was to have concentrated mainly on the early phase of Klinger career, his showmanship and his involvement with sexploitation cinema then back to me to discuss an aspect of Klinger’s 70s career. However, he’s unwell and therefore I’m going to focus today solely on the 1970s. This is, as you’ll appreciate, work-in-progress and is not intended to be comprehensive, but to raise some issues and to stimulate discussion. Therefore I’ve decided to drill down into the production of one particular film, Rachel’s Man (1976).

Although I’m addressing a very knowledgeable audience, I think it best to give a sketch outline of MK’s career first. Rotund, cigar-chomping and ebullient -
Sheridan Morley described him as resembling “nothing so much as a flamboyant character actor doing impressions of Louis B. Meyer” - Michael Klinger might seem a caricature of the producer, but this image belied a quicksilver intelligence, photographic memory and a cultivated mind. Born in 1920, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants who had settled in London’s West End, Klinger’s entry into the film industry came via his ownership of two Soho strip clubs, the Nell Gwynn and the Gargoyle - that were used for promotional events such as the Miss Cinema competition and by film impresarios such as James Carreras - and through an alliance with a fellow Jewish entrepreneur Tony Tenser, who worked for a film distribution company, Miracle Films. In October 1960, they set up Compton Films which owned the Compton Cinema Club - that showed, to anyone over twenty-one, nudist and other uncertificated, often foreign, films - and Compton Film Distributors which started out with a modest slate of salacious imported films (e.g. Tower of Lust) and a series of imaginative publicity stunts. However, finding it difficult to obtain sufficient films, Klinger and Tenser started making their own low-budget films, beginning with Naked as Nature Intended (November 1961) directed by George Harrison Marks and starring his girlfriend Pamela Green.

On the strength of a modest success, Tenser and Klinger formed a new company,
Compton-Tekli, to make several films - including That Kind of Girl (1963), The Yellow Teddybears (1963) and The Pleasure Girls (1965) - that combined salaciousness with an attempt at examining serious sexual issues, an assortment of different genres - period horror: The Black Torment (1964), A Study in Terror (1965) and sci-fi: The Projected Man (1966) - and two ‘shockumentaries’ - London in the Raw (1964) and Primitive London (1965).

Klinger and Tenser were highly ambitious, but culturally divergent. Characteristically, when
Roman Polanski arrived in London and approached the pair to obtain finance having failed elsewhere, it was Klinger who had seen Knife in the Water (1962) and therefore gave him the opportunity to make Repulsion (1965) and the even more outré Cul-de-sac (1966). Although Repulsion in particular had been financially successful, and both films won awards at the Berlin Film Festival that conferred welcome prestige on Tekli, Tenser, always happier to stay with proven box-office material, sex films and period horror, saw Polanski as at best a distraction and at worse a liability. These differences led to the break-up of the partnership in October 1966.

Klinger set up a new company,
Avton Films and continued to promote young, talented but unproven directors who were capable of making fresh and challenging features: Peter Collinson’s absurdist/surrealist thriller The Penthouse (1967); Alastair Reid’s Baby Love (1968), another film that focused on a sexually precocious young female, but with an ambitious narrative style that included flashbacks and nightmare sequences; and Mike Hodges’s ambitious and brutal thriller Get Carter (1971). Although Get Carter is now routinely discussed as Hodges’ directorial triumph, it was Klinger who had bought the rights to Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home because he sensed its potential to imbue the British crime thriller with the realism and violence of its American counterparts and who had succeeded in raising the finance through MGM-British all before Hodges became involved.

Part of Klinger’s success was his ability to tap into various markets. In the 1970s he continued to make low-budget sexploitation films with the
“Confessions of” series (Window Cleaner/Pop Performer/Driving Instructor/Holiday Camp, (1974-78) for which he acted as executive producer and whose modest costs could be recouped (in fact they made substantial profits) even from a rapidly shrinking domestic market and partly compensate for an industry that now lacked a stable production base, was almost completely casualised, and where there was a chronic lack of continuous production. Klinger continued to produce more recherché and challenging crime thrillers, including Hodges’ Pulp (1972) Reid’s neglected Something to Hide (1972), Collinson’s Tomorrow Never Comes (1978) and Claude Chabrol’s Les liens de sang (Blood Relatives, 1978). However, Klinger’s main energies went into the production of big-budget action-adventure films - Gold (1974) and Shout at the Devil (1976) - aimed at the international market.

Given the parlous state of the British film industry, such a strategy may seem odd or even reckless. However, the selection of the action-adventure film was based on Klinger’s estimation of public taste - particularly the popularity of the Bond films - and his conviction, in the context of a dwindling domestic market, that international productions that could hope for worldwide sales were the route to survival for the British film industry. Indeed, he repeatedly attacked the insularity, parochialism and timorousness of the British film industry in the trade press. Klinger also saw an opportunity, with the withdrawal of large companies (notably
Rank) from production, for ambitious (and, one might add, courageous) independent producers to fill a production vacuum. His problem was that he could no longer rely, as he had done for Get Carter and Pulp, on American finance. As Alexander Walker has shown, it was largely American money that had sustained the British film industry in the 1960s and the withdrawal of Hollywood studios from the industry in the 1970s was swift, unceremonious and catastrophic. However, through the variety and range of his productions, Klinger became the only consistently profitable independent British producer during the 1970s. Thus he is an intriguing, multifaceted figure who had a substantial and relatively successful career that has the potential to illuminate a key period of British cinema history.

Synopsis: Two year Research Grant of c. £195,000 that started on 1 Feb. 2010 and will finish on 31 Jan. 2012. So we’re heading towards a mid-point, with a conference on the producer in Bristol in April. Kenna has now completed the catalogue that will go public in January. We will add to this gradually with interviews and selected documents so that it becomes not just a catalogue but a scholarly resource. Although, as I say on the summary, it contains rich material - extensive correspondence, production files, contracts, distribution rights, and company profit and loss accounts, it is incomplete. There is nothing on his earlier career: the Compton files may have gone elsewhere or may have been lost and there is no Polanski material. Equally infuriating is the absence of files on
Get Carter, which should be there. There are gross imbalances: comprehensive material on Gold and almost nothing on Shout at the Devil. Although Klinger would not have owned the Compton material and it may have been kept by his erstwhile partner Tony Tenser, the other lacunae are difficult to explain. MK’s son, Tony Klinger has told me, on several occasions, that he rescued the material from a bonfire that his mother had started after his father’s death in 1989 that had been burning for two days before he arrived. But why did Mrs Klinger start with the Get Carter files?! Be that as it may, what we have is a substantial resource, not only to catalogue but to interpret.

Conceptually, we aim to contribute to British cinema history as suggested, but also to bring into sharper focus the role of the producer that we argue has been both misunderstood and neglected within film studies. We contend that the producer performs a key creative as well as commercial function, an entity that
John Caughie calls the ‘producer-artist’. Caughie argues this role has a particular pertinence to the study of British film history: ‘Outside of a studio system or a national corporation, art is too precarious a business to be left to artists: it needs organizers. The importance of the producer-artist seems to be a specific feature of British cinema, an effect of the need continually to start again in the organization of independence’ (All Our Yesterdays 1986, 200). This aptly captures the multi-dimensional nature of Klinger’s activities, with their complex union of art and commerce, and their importance to a film industry characterized throughout its history as under-funded, precarious and haphazardly organized. This emphasis on creativity, the producer-artist, offers a more adequate account, in our view, of the producer’s role than that of John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny in their Economic History of Film (2005) who argue that the producer functions to ‘attenuate’ the inevitable uncertainty of how a film might perform in the marketplace (2005, 19). Producers also have a vital cultural function, as I shall try to demonstrate in today’s presentation, and which will inform our monograph for I.B. Tauris and be the basis for an edited collection of papers that will partly arise from the conference in April, but which we now see as encompassing other cinemas - American, European and Asian producers as well as ones who were highly internationalist, such as the recently deceased Dino de Laurentiis.

Section 2: Rachel’s Man (1976)
I hope it won’t seem either idiosyncratic or even perverse, but I want to concentrate on a turkey,
Rachel’s Man released in 1976, partly because it’s what I’m specifically engaged with at the moment and partly because it’s an oddity, a curiosity, a Biblical love story filmed in Israel shortly after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, starring Mickey Rooney! What the hell is Klinger doing, at the most successful point in his career, making such a film?! It doesn’t seem to fit the narrative of his career, nor the conceptual framework of someone adroitly constructing a varied portfolio of projects to sustain a career in turbulent times. But oddities, of course, are important precisely because they throw into relief a range of issues that otherwise remain implicit or hidden, in this case Klinger’s Jewishness. I’m made one attempt to consider this aspect of his career by analysing the failure of his efforts to make a war epic, Green Beach, the story of a working-class Jewish radar expert, Jack Nissenthal, the only non-combatant on the Dieppe Raid of August 1942, whose knowledge was so valuable that orders had been given for him to be shot rather than fall into enemy hands. But as I’ve written this up for the September issue of the New Review of Film and Television Studies, I didn’t want to repeat that material today, therefore decided to concentrate solely on Rachel’s Man. There is extensive material on the film in the archive, but I’ve also recently completed an interview with the film’s director Moshe Mizrahi, now based in Tel Aviv and with TK who was production manager. But first a taste of the film.

The first thing to say is that this is an Israeli film and was designed partly to support the nascent Israeli film industry and the precarious Israeli state. Klinger knew that he could obtain finance from the Israeli Film Center if the film qualified: an original script, an Israeli writer, and shot in Israel. It was also a project in which he could unite a Zionist sentiment and an appeal to the wealthy South African Jewish businessmen who had funded
Gold. It’s worth mentioning that Klinger never obtained any production finance from British sources, so in this sense, Rachel’s Man is, in fact, typical. Klinger wrote to his South African ‘associates’ that RM was an ‘important project’ whose production will ‘advance our national film industry and the development of the cinematic art in Israel ... a terrific vehicle for helping Israel and God knows she needs all the help she can get’. Klinger is hustling, as ever, but not in order to make a quick profit, rather, as he sees it, fulfilling a diasporic duty to the Jewish homeland.

Rachel’s Man also fits Klinger’s consistent commitment to up and coming directors. Klinger was impressed by Mizrahi’s previous films I Love You Rosa, The House on Chelouche Street and Daughters, Daughters but also with the awards they’d garnered: two Oscar nominations and two official entries at Cannes. He wanted to work with Israel’s best and most high profile director. From the material in the archive - which documents the process of making the film rather than its genesis - I had rather assumed that the choice of topic, a Biblical love story, was Mizrahi’s. I think I was guilty of slipping into the auteur-director convention: RM was Mizrahi’s ‘vision’. However, what became crystal clear from the interview with Mizrahi was that the conception was entirely Klinger’s: 'He thought that I had a special talent to tell unusual love stories’, Mizrahi recalled and that MK had urged MM to tackle the oldest and greatest love story, the story of Jacob and Rachel. MM recollected his surprise at this ‘romantic side’ to Klinger, and also that MK was prepared to pursue this conception over two years from their first meeting at Cannes in March 1972, through to the completion of the screenplay in spring 1974. Klinger summarily rejected MM’s thriller, Quietus, a completed screenplay and a much more obviously box-office proposition. However, Klinger, as befitted his status and self-conception, wanted an international production so filming was to be in English with a British principal crew including John Mitchell as sound recordist and Ousama Rawi as cinematographer, both of whom had worked on Gold. Mizrahi was responsible for assembling the supporting actors and the general crew members, Klinger the international stars: Leonard Whiting (Zeffirelli’s Romeo) as Jacob, Rita Tushingham as Leah, Rachel’s sister, and Mickey Rooney as Laban - Rooney had starred in Pulp (1972). Rachel was to be played by the Israeli actress Michal Bat-Adam, MM’s partner, who had taken the lead role in his three previous films.

Scripting and Production
However, although MM falls in with Klinger’s wishes, two thing start to destabilise the production. The first is that there appears to have been little discussion of the script. MM is writing in French and MK is preoccupied first with post-production work on
Gold and then with the organisation of his largest and most expensive film, Shout at the Devil. These projects demanded most of his attention and occasioned extended periods in Africa. We do have a script that has some annotations and several deletions, but although it’s undated, my impression is that this is a final script that Klinger is then trying, slightly desperately, to shape. So he’s deleting and making comments on using cuts rather than inserts, a quick fix, but there is no sense that he is engaged in a dialogue with MM and his co-writer Rachel Fabien in order for them to re-write. It was too late in the day. Thus, although the idea is Klinger’s, the conception and execution becomes, indisputably, Mizrahi’s. As his thinking developed, MM had decided that he did not want to make a straightforward adaptation of the Biblical story, but to reinterpret it. As he recalled in interview:
    I said to myself: why couldn't I replace the Jacob and Rachel story in the context of the underlying mythological content that exists in Genesis. I remembered Robert Graves's postulation in
    The White Goddess
    that the name “Israel”, that was given to Jacob after his fight with the angel at the crossing of the Yabbok river, came from “Ish Rahel”, the Hebrew words for 'Rachel's Man'.
    A practice, common to the old matriarchal religions of the Middle East, was to give a new name to the man who marries the woman representing the Goddess. At that moment I had a “poetic”
    title for the story. I became convinced that I could then try to film not only the love story but build a new narrative and an original way to treat the Genesis story. I wanted to give a new meaning
    to the story and avoid the monotheistic narrative that after all evolved much later with Moses, who founded what was to be the Jewish religion as we know it today.
Thus part of Mizrahi's conception was to eschew the formulaic action-epic Hollywood treatment of the Bible in The Ten Commandments or Moses the Lawgiver, a television mini-series starring Burt Lancaster released just before Rachel’s Man, with its emphasis on patrilineal masculine heroism. In Hollywood’s conventional gender politics, women are temptresses: Samson and Delilah, David and Bathsheba. Mizrahi’s feminist conception, deeply congruent with his earlier films, also necessitated a particular visual style - as we saw - avoiding the 'desert cliché of the Biblical films', by representing 'a new visual conception more in accord to [sic] a vision of a “Land of milk and honey” ... I needed virgin landscapes without agriculture, modern buildings, or electrical pylons ... I needed mountains, trees, running waters, and springs. I chose to look for them in the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee.'

Thus there are two problems here. The first is the mismatch between Mizrahi’s intellectual, art house conception of the film which is at odds with its internationalism and, to a degree with Klinger’s romantic love story. The second is that in addition to choosing inaccessible locations in which it was difficult to film, the Golan Heights, of course, had been a war zone until quite recently and was still a very dangerous place. Tony Klinger, who was temporarily in charge of on location production before his father arrived from Africa recalled the dangers vividly in interview, as did John Mitchell in his memoirs: avoiding roads that may still be mined, the interruptions to the shoot by low flying Mirage fighters and even the possibility of the production attack by Syrian forces. Klinger’s security bill for the production was colossal. The Israeli crew was inexperienced and, despite wishing to aid Israel, Klinger found himself exploited as a wealthy overseas businessman. Mitchell recalled that he became ‘obsessed with the sharp practices and shady deals he was getting from the Israelis which drew the complaint: “I wouldn’t mind so much if they were gentiles who were taking me for a ride - but they are my own people”’.

Rachel's Man was completed, Klinger became incensed when the Israeli Film Committee only placed it in the middle category of films that receive special benefits from their income in Israel while Diamonds, the Golan and Globus crime thriller, had been placed in the top category. Klinger wrote to Ze’ev Birger the head of the Israeli Film Center: ‘I must say that the grading between these two films is quite ludicrous and is an insult to the most important directing talent to have come out of Israel, namely MM. Furthermore, it does not encourage me as an overseas producer to be concerned about further production in Israel.’ Klinger went on to argue that the purpose of such grading is usually to encourage ‘those films which do not have the same obvious commercial possibilities as others. In other words it is an attempt to encourage the more artistic type of product. There is no doubt that Diamonds is a straightforward, good, commercial picture. Rachel's Man is quite clearly a highly artistic and individual kind of picture and is exactly the sort of film which should get the maximum encouragement.’

Post-Production, Distribution and Reception
Throughout its gestation,
Rachel’s Man’s costs escalated; what was to have been a modestly budgeted film gradually became an expensive one, rising from £72,000 to £254,417. The original estimate, by MM, was never realistic and MK knew this. However, because he was so keen to make the film, Tony Klinger describes his father as being almost wilfully blind to the economics of the production, stressing in his interview that they did not apply the same commercial logic to RM as to their usual productions. Indeed, at one point in his correspondence, Klinger describes RM as a labour of love. Hence the budget was never really under control, nor was the film costed in a way that took cognisance of its probable box office returns. MM’s original estimate, for instance, took no account of the cost of the international cast.

The substantial cost - rising with indirect costs to over £400,000 - left Klinger with a dilemma as to how to distribute and market the film that was in essence an art house film but one whose costs had to be recouped through mainstream exposure. As with his earlier 1970s films, Klinger tried to interest
Warner Bros, Universal and Columbia but the reaction of the Jewish executive David A. Matalon at Columbia was representative. He declined to distribute the film ‘even at a reduced fee’ because his brother in Tel Aviv feels it is too risky commercially even for Israel itself and therefore he cannot accept minimum guarantees. Eventually Allied Artists agree a distribution deal but it is clear that they did so because they had handled Gold profitably and expected to distribute Shout at the Devil, which they could see as a much more straightforward commercial proposition. Allied Artists’ attitude was mirrored by the UK distributors Hemdale; they took on Rachel’s Man in order to secure Klinger’s more commercial films.

With both companies, Klinger complained repeatedly about their insensitivity and ham-fistedness, lacking the ‘special type of promotion’ that he felt the film needed, and deserved. He also became irritated by RM’s inept handling by both his overseas sales agent
Paul Kitzer and his European one Alain Katz, noting that if the latter ‘wants to handle my big pictures he has to bust his gut a little bit on the more difficult ones … We have important investment at stake in Rachel’s Man by people who will continue to invest provided we make our best efforts.’ Throughout, MK insisted that he has ‘faith and confidence in this beautiful film and distributors have often been wrong before. I think if the public gets to see it they will love it, and we must take a very strong line with our customers who want Shout at the Devil, Green Beach, Eagle in the Sky etc. and they just have to buy this picture.’ Unfortunately the ‘strong line’ cut no ice with overseas exhibitors, many of whom declined to screen it. Joe Sando, the head of Ster Films in Jo’burg, was prepared to make the effort because of South Africa’s extensive Jewish population. But he wrote to Klinger:
    As you can see, [the reviews] were not very good, and even though we went flat out to promote the film with Jewish organisations, special previews, etc., the initial result has been very disappointing.
    We will obviously suffer a very considerable financial loss. I really do not know how this problem can be overcome but we are contemplating to repeat the film in smaller houses - perhaps you can
    come up with some suggestions
Even at special screenings for Jewish community leaders the film was unfortunately not well received. They found the film slow in the main.

Despite arguing that
Rachel’s Man would be a ‘good film for raising money for Israel’, Klinger did not have much success in rallying British Jewish organisations to support the film. Again, the reaction at special premiers was lukewarm. Klinger had also delayed releasing Rachel’s Man because he hoped it would be showcased as Cannes, but was frustrated because the Israeli government did not put Rachel’s Man forward as its official entry because MM’s last film, Daughters, Daughters, had been selected the previous year. Thus Rachel’s Man limped out on release in Spring 1976 with little publicity or promotion and generally received dismal reviews. They were not necessarily unperceptive - there was some recognition of what MM was trying to achieve. Patrick Gibbs in the DT thought Rachel’s Man was ‘at least original in attempting an Old Testament story on an intimate rather than epic scale’ and some reviewers picked up on its use of Graves’s mythology. But even those who were vaguely sympathetic considered Rachel’s Man to be uneven, the dialogue occasionally inept, that it hovered uneasily between an overt allegory and a realistic, intimate portrait of a love story, and that it was disastrously slow-moving: ‘lumbering’ and leaden’ being favoured adjectives.

MM’s own retrospective judgement is shrewd: unusual film and perhaps ahead of its time. I also think that perhaps there were too many things in it, and that each one of them, could, if developed, sustain a whole film. One, the poetic
    and romantic love story. Then, the mythological story that replaces the Bible narrative and baffled the audience. Finally the unusual situation comedy that arises from the tribulations of Jacob,
    torn between his four women and the wiles of Laban. I also think, that despite the brilliant performances of the cast, the English language of the film and the different origins of the cast didn't give
    to the film a unity [in] the dialogue.
Mizrahi recalled that Klinger was 'very much surprised when we screened the final cut of the film. I understood that this was not the film he expected. But I also must say that he didn't interfere at all with the result.' However, if Klinger was, as his son avers, bitterly disappointed by
Rachel’s Man, he never expressed this to anyone and remained intensely loyal. I believe that he felt that he had tried, honourably, to do his bit for Israel and its film industry, that he had championed an exciting talent, and that Rachel’s Man was an unfortunate, and expensive, failure. I guess if you’re going to have a turkey, have a Jewish one! Tony Klinger, who seems to have been quite badly scarred by Rachel’s Man, feels it was a strangely nightmarish way of making a donation to a Jewish charity!

I hope that the story of
Rachel’s Man was of interest. It’s a ‘lost’ film, not even mentioned in books on Biblical films or in studies of Israeli cinema. Its production, in the full sense, tells us many things about the nature of the British and Israeli film industries and about domestic and international distribution and exhibition during this period. But its significance for me was how to explain its place within Klinger’s oeuvre. It’s a curiosity to be sure, and a failure, but it was part of Klinger’s sense of himself as an international rather than solely British independent producer, a champion of directorial talent and above all as a Jewish film-maker, aiding the cause of the beleaguered homeland. In my thinking it has become part of a wider project investigating the role of Jewish producers in the British film industry - that would encompass the Ostrers, Sidney Bernstein, Michael Balcon, Oscar Deutsch, the Woolfs, Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy, The Hyams and so on - why they are drawn to the financial rather than the straightforwardly ‘creative’ roles (obviously the director) and how this accords with certain conceptions of Jewish entrepreneurialism and the historic mores of this ‘diasporic merchant minority’.

But, to return to our title, Klinger’s role is, in fact, highly creative. He identifies the man he wants to work with as his director and he has the idea, if not the vision, of the kind of film he wants. Thus it’s not the case of the producer ‘attenuating’ the risks of the iron laws of the marketplace, but an intelligent man pursuing a, in this distinctly Jewish, cultural as well as economic logic. In fact, as I have tried to show, Klinger cannot weld the two together. Thus rather than, or in addition to, understanding the producer as an economic entity, we need to understand his or her work as part of a cultural history of creativity in an industrial/commercial context. Appreciating that ability is to understand the ‘art’ of commercial feature film-making, an artistry all the more elusive because it is, for the most part, invisible. The critical challenge is to render that art visible by a detailed examination of the production process, understood as encompassing not only the shooting of the film, but also its genesis, distribution, marketing and exhibition, and archival material plays an indispensable part in this process.

In the end, the Klinger project, that extended my earlier work on
Sydney Box, and the putative collection of essays will, I hope, reposition the producer as the central figure in British cinema history. To ignore or marginalise that role, in Alexander Walker’s deft formulation, ‘has to be resisted if films are to make sense as an industry that can sometimes create art’ (Walker, 1986, p. 17). The producer’s pivotal role, what Michael Balcon characterizes as its ‘a dual capacity as the creative man and the trustee of the moneybags’ (Balcon, 1945, p. 5), is the key to making sense of the film industry.

Thank you.

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