John Huston Hans Koningsberger - Essay

Hans Koningsberger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Last October, in the oldest gothic abbey of Italy, Fossanova, John Huston completed filming A Walk with Love and Death, a novel of mine published in 1961…. I was present from the beginning and worked with the director, which is not standard practice; and Huston is not a standard director….

[It] was my good fortune as a writer that Huston is a man who believes in books. Real books are seldom seen circulating in the movie world; its dealings are with story outlines, as if what mattered in literature was really and only what the personages ended up doing to each other, and the rest just decoration—a parallel to saying, never mind whether this painting is a Vermeer or a Picasso or a Smith; just tell me its subject.

Huston, then, wanted to film (as he has always done) a novel: not the movements of the people in a story but the idea of the book….

Important to a writer were two qualities of Huston's…. The first one is his bitter aversion to shortcuts, clichés, mixed metaphors. No matter, for instance, how difficult it was to convey a passage of time, he would sooner work on it for a week than resort to the trees-in-leaf-and-then-bare type of film trick. (p. 2)

[This] leads me to a second quality of his working ways. His artistry, I think, is under perpetual observation of his almost purely mathematical concept of film-reality, vastly different for him from book-reality and real-reality. Thus I had to explain every word and every action to him in precise terms in order to get away with them; no vagueness was admitted….

[His] analytical way of investigating a scene was the precise opposite of the writer's synthetical way. I looked at my characters from the inside out, saw them in a synthesis which was clear and natural, but in which I might very well be mistaken about one particular utterance or action. His was the analysis: he accepted the whole, but weighed each part, and if I could not convince him, not only of its naturalness but indeed of its unavoidable necessity, he wanted it rewritten, or at times rewrote it himself. (p. 3)

Hans Koningsberger, "From Book to Film—via John Huston," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXII, No. 3, Spring, 1969, pp. 2-4.