Filmmaker DeWitt Sage answers questions about his film F. Scott Fitzgerald:Winter Dreams.
Q: Do you agree with the several end-of-millennium surveys that rank F. Scott Fitzgerald as the most important or one of the most important American writers of the 20th century?
DeWitt Sage: No, I personally don’t for the simple reason that I have not read the competition thoroughly enough. Certainly I think that F. Scott is a great writer from two major standpoints. First, he had the talent as a writer and editor of his own writing to make the reader feel the mood, the emotional and physical atmosphere of any place. He could literally make you feel the air of a city, a room, a relationship. That takes enormous talent, in my opinion, and furthermore he had an innate sense of the musicality of language which evokes the setting or the emotional landscape poetically, often visually.
Q: Visually? Like a screenplay?
DS: Well, he clearly saw scenes...I am talking about his novels now and his more “serious” short stories...meaning those that he did not have to write purely for money.
Q: An example, please.
DS: Well, of course the example that springs to mind - I’m old so I should say ‘seeps’ to mind - is neither a short story nor a novel. It is from an essay that we have somehow managed not to use in the film.
“It is twilight as I write this, and out my window darkening banks of trees, set one clump behind another in many greens, slope down to the evening sea. The flaming sun has collapsed behind the peaks of the Esterels and the moon already hovers over Frejus, five miles away...In half an hour Rene and Bobbe, officers of aviation, are coming to dinner in their white ducks; and Renee, who is only twenty-three and has never recovered from having missed the war, will tell us romantically how he wants to smoke opium in Peking and how he writes a few things “for myself alone.” Afterwards, in their garden, their white uniforms will grow dimmer as the more liquid dark comes down, until they, like the heavy roses and the nightingales in the pines, will seem to take an essential and indivisible part in the beauty of this proud, gay land.
Q: Wow. You really know this stuff. That's amazing, the way you just...
DS: It's one of the advantage of having to interview yourself.
Q: Is that what normally happens after you write, produce and direct a film? You have to sit down and interview yourself?
DS: In this case there was no one else available, and also I have the distinct advantage of being completely unemployed. Also, this is documentary film and so frankly there aren’t that many people interested in what the filmmaker has to say.
Q: Did that aspect of being periodically unemployed help you to identify with F. Scott Fitzgerald?
DS: No. I identified more with his drinking, grandiosity, and malignant insecurity. A few years ago, though, the condition of my own unemployment did inform my response to Susan Lacy's suggestion that I re-read F. Scott and consider him as a subject for American Masters.
Q: Well, had you ever read him in the first place?
DS: Barely. I had read GATSBY, certainly. And some of the short stories ...
DS: And what?