Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reinventing the wheel

Shirley MacLaine tells us about Vincente Minnelli’s perfectionism in her book: My Lucky Stars: a Hollywood Memoir. She and Minnelli were on location in Indiana (with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and others) filming Some Came Running. Sinatra could be obstreperous, Minnelli meticulous and ponderous.

One night, Minnelli was shooting a particularly difficult scene that appeared toward the end of the film. This was the dramatic carnival sequence, an iconic element of which was a large Ferris wheel.

Minnelli was taking a particularly long time framing an important shot. Cast and crew stood by. Hours passed. One supposes Minnelli did that which directors do -- framing the shot, gesturing with his hands, nodding negative and then affirmative, framing the image with his hands, looking reflective, endlessly framing the image with his hands.

All the while, Frank, Dean, Shirley and the cast were waiting for Minnelli to make the decision. It was nearing dawn as Shirley tells it. Those on hand knew that once Minnelli was satisfied, he would likely tell the crew “Move the camera” and the shot would proceed.

Minnelli stopped gesturing. Apparently, the moment had come. Finally, according to MacLaine, he “came out of his reverie” and gave the order: ….. “Move the Ferris wheel.”


  1. i think i would tear out all my hair if i were them, but hope the final image was well worth it. art is such a meticulous process. great story!

  2. Yes Meredith, a casebook example of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object: Sinatra vs. Minnelli. Shirley MacLaine goes on to tell us that immediately after the Ferris wheel incident, Sinatra deserted the shoot and flew back to the west coast. He eventually had to be cajoled back to Indiana.

    As to the final image being well worth it, in Scorsese’s documentary on American film he said the film's final carnival scene was one of the best uses of CinemaScope. Best. Gerald