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Love Review Print-ready version

by Gerry Flahive
Cinema Canada
April 1981
Original article: PDF

When a film has nine separate stories (each with a different cast), nine screenwriters, and four directors, things move quickly during production. If ever filmmaking deserved to be described as a 'collaborative art,' it des in this instance.

The film in question is Love, the first feature to be produced by Renee Perlmutter, formerly a script developer at Quadrant Films (and incidentally, wife of it's president, David Perlmutter). Shot in Toronto over nine weeks from October to December, Love is an anthology film consisting of nine segments, of eight to fourteen minutes each, all of which examine some aspect of the form of love.

What makes this film most intriguing, however, is that it represents probably the most concentrated and most significant utilization of female writing and directing talent ever seen in a feature film production: each and ever screenwriter and director is a well-known and accomplished woman.

Perlmutter read the script, written by Nancy Down (Coming Home and Slapshot), Lady Antonia Fraser, Germaine Greer, Gael Greene, Joni Mitchell, Edna O'Brien, Penelope Gilliatt (Sunday, Bloody Sunday), Mai Zetterling, and Liv Ullmann, at Cannes in 1979. She snapped it up, and later convinced Ullmann, Dowd, and Zetterling to direct their own segments (Zetterling also handed those by Mitchell and O'Brien): Canadian Annette Cohen served as director on the other four, and as supervising director of the over-film.

A huge Toronto mansion, nearly the size of a small European hotel, served as the production's base of operations (some costumes and sets were made there), and as the site of several segments. Upon stepping through the baronial front door, one found a house furnished largely by cables, lights, folding tables and chairs, and, in one room, a full-size mock-up of an ocean liner stateroom, complete with fake portholes and low ceiling. It was filled with twenty or so technicians, assistants, and actors, leaving only a little more space than the Marx Brothers had onboard ship in Monkey Business. The room had 'forced perspective,' achieved, as art director Claude Bonniere told me, simply by widening it at one end.

Scenes from Penelope Gilliatt's screenplay - about an elderly couple's romance - directed by Annette Cohen, were being shot that day. Robin Ward and Candace O'Connor, looking terribly British in their upper-class clothes, were perched precariously on a bed in a corner of the stateroom, doing their Thespian best to be comfortably intimate while the crew was hunched up near them. The near mob of technicians, however, politely ignored Cohen's whispered conferences with the actors between takes.

The switch in this story is that, although the characters are elderly, they appear to each other, because of their intense love, as they were in their courting days - hence, no 'age' make-up or plastic wrinkles on their actors.

The sensitive sound equipment, which could easily pick up whispered lines of dialogue, presented something of a problem, for this particular house had extremely communicative and forthright stairs, bannisters, floorboards, doors, and plumbing. A warning system, using a signal bell and walkie-talkies, advised those on the premises to shut-up during shooting. At one point, while filming took place in the stateroom, a few dozen crew members in the room above had to eat their lunch and move around in total silence.

The setting two weeks later couldn't have been more of a contrast. Filming of Mai Zetterling's "Love From the Marketplace" (not all segments have yet been titled) was taking place in the ancient and notorious Wheat Sheaf Tavern. This was the fourth episode to be done. For the sake of convenience, and because the same crew worked on all the segments (except for director of photography Norman Leigh, who was replaced part-way through production by Reg Morris), the nine stories were shot one at a time, in nine successive five-day weeks.

The scene being filmed was supposed to take place in a smokey poolroom/tavern populated by some slightly seedy regulars. You would expect, knowing the Wheat Sheaf, that this would be an exercise in cinema verité. But no. Smoke-generating devices, looking something like medieval watering cans, were used to create the right atmospheric 'look,' necessitating the use of gas masks by some of the crew members. The extras looked 'correct,' but when it came time to run through a billiards seen (doing something each of these guys had probably done every day after work for years), some of them were stilted - proving, it's hard to play yourself. Director Zetterling, seemingly a model of patience, finally said after about seven run-throughs "C'mon fellas, this isn't Shakespeare."

Producer Perlmutter raised the production money through the sale of thirty $90,000 units, and is aiming at a spring finish of post-production work. Domestic and international sales of the film will not be attempted until it is completed - Perlmutter feels that Love (originally given the racier and perhaps misleading title of Acts of Love) deserves to be seen in its entirety, and not just 'described' to potential distributors.

This is clearly a writer's film, and Perlmutter feels it is important to be true to the scripts: she is not worried about offending some movie-goers. "If someone doesn't like the story by, say, Gael Greene, that's okay," she says, elaborating that, with nine scripts, it would probably be impossible to ensure that the film is all things to all people. A rare and admirable attitude.

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Added to Library on August 6, 2021. (255)

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