RAN DA HAINES
Allan Hunter meets Randa Haines, director of Children of a Lesser God.
Randa Haines‘ direction of Children ofa Lesser God marks another small victory for the advancement of women in the film industry, Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan). Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Amy Heckerling (Johnny Dangerously) and Barbra Streisand (Yentl) are just a few of the figures to make their mark and. as Miss Haines points out; ‘Each time a woman makes a film that does well it opens the door a little bit wider and makes things a tiny bit easier. I hope this film will slide open the door further.‘
Haines. at forty-two. brings a lifetime ofexperience to her responsibilities on Children ofa Lesser God. Born in Los Angeles. she was raised in New York City. studied acting with Lee Strasberg and spent a decade as a script supervisor before moving towards direction. On television. she has been at the helm of four episodes of Hill Street Blues and the Emmy awards-winning incest drama Something About Amelia ( 1984). which finally brought her to the attention of Hollywood.
Children ofa Lesser God tells of the relationship between a gifted teacher and a withdrawn young deaf woman whom he meets at a remote school. An award-winner as the Best Play of the 1979—80 Broadway season it had defied a successful translation to the screen until Haines was appointed to the job. ‘There had been other directors before me. people like Sydney Pollack. Mark Rydell and scripts that didn‘t work. I had strong feeling about the theme and how it could be made. I think it is a wonderful love story with a larger theme ofthe struggle that we all have to communicate. The deafness is a metaphor for the barriers that separate us. I felt it should be tougher and not sentimental.‘
Haines, along with actor William
Hurt. learnt sign language to facilitate communication with a cast that ranged from the hearing impaired to the profoundly deaf. ‘We used “total communication“. which is whatever you’ve got. There was an interpreter and I learned to sign and I wrote notes. but deaf people really pay attention and read body language so I could gesture and show what was needed without language at all.‘ One bonus for Haines was the real-life romance that blossomed between Hurt and newcomer Marlee Matlin. ‘Every director prays for great chemistry and they were very drawn to each other,’ she says diplomatically.
‘Marlee had an enormous responsibility for someone in her twenties and. finding that she was playing opposite a movie star who became a friend and confidant made it less intimidating and gave her more confidence.‘
Children of a Lesser God has received five Oscar nominations. including Best Picture. although one notable absentee from the roll of honour is Haines herself. ‘I wouldn‘t be telling the truth ifI said I was not disappointed personally. But I worked on it for three years. all the creative choices were mine and you can‘t do better than best picture. Awards are wonderful but the main thing is that people see the film and are moved by it.‘
Looking to the future. Haines hopes to venture away from sensitive local issues with her next project. ‘It‘s at the script stage and is based on a novel by William Wharton who wrote Birdy. It‘s set during the Second World War and features some American soldiers who are very young and very frightened and hope to sit out the war without dying. They meet some German soldiers and the two decide to stage a phoney battle that goes wrong. It‘s not a traditional war movie.‘ (Allan Hunter)
Children of a Lesser God opens at the
Cannon. .S‘auchiehall Street. Glasgow and the ( ‘annon. Lothian Road. Edinburgh over the next fortnight. See Cinema Listings for details.
Jack Klafftalks to Nigel Billen about his new play on the legality ofnuclear weapons.
With almost a hint of embarrassment. Jack Klaff admits that he will be returning to the Edinburgh Festival this year. Although he missed it last year Klaff
remains so associated with the Festival and Edinburgh that he feels he has something approaching a personal platform unavailable to him anywhere else in the world. ‘lt‘s so strange I can say to someone like the Assembly Rooms or The Theatre Workshop I‘d like to come to Edinburgh and do such and such and they say "Yeah!“. Everywhere else they‘d say “well. . .send up a synopsis’. But before the Festival comes round again Klaffwill be in Edinburgh overseeing the final stages ofa new project for Theatre Workshop.
It's Not the End ofthe World isn‘t another one man show . indeed he won‘t even be appearing. It is anarrangement that Klaff. who claims that he never wanted to do one man shows but had to when no one wanted to mount his plays. appears to be happy about. “I much prefer to have other people acting. In many ways you get a hell ofa lot more. Theatre is a collaborative art form and it‘s lovely to be involved in it. Apart from any thing else it shows I can get on with other people.‘
Billed as an outrageous comedy. It‘s Not the End of The World has been written by Klaffand television comedy script writer. Bob Sinfield but was inspired by George Delf‘s Humanizing Hell. Delf‘s book argues from a detailed knowledge of International Law the illegality of nuclear weapons. In the play the arguments are put across within the context of ‘largely an ordinary working family; two children. a car and a house ‘. ‘I can‘t go so far as to say this is set in the real world because this is the THEATRE.‘ says Klaff. ‘but I suppose the audience will be asked to believe in them as a family.‘ Although the play takes as its starting point a technical work on the law. this is no court room drama. ‘It has been a difficult thing to convey but it‘s not a play about law. I‘m not saying that laws should be obeyed because they themselves are good — written-down laws are just a recognition in this world that people aren‘t that trustworthy. aren‘t that good. The ideal would be not to have the laws at all. The law is just there to remind us of the mimimum standards of humanity and that is all that is being asked of it in this play.‘
The play‘s title is typical of Klaff‘s approach. cleverly mixing the colloquial language ofthe home with political issues. ‘There is an interesting tension in this whole thing. We are talking about a world wide issue. but are also talking about
how it affects a family‘. Though Klaff. who studied law before becoming an actor. was in part drawn by the legal arguments he believes the subject of the play is accessible to everyone and he points
out that the international legal opinion itself is ‘becoming a campaign point for ordinary people in the peace movement‘. For Klaff. returning to the law as a theme is not a regression back to his student days nor is it an attempt to use legal debating as a means of resolving the problems ofdrama. ‘You must remember I didn‘t like what happened with the law so the idea 0F debating something In that sense isn‘t quite right.‘ Rather Klaff sees theatre as an attempt ‘to resolve difficult questions through art.‘ ‘I suppose that would be closer to it though that sounds very poncey. We could have had a court room drama in this play. it always appeals. it‘s good theatre. We didn‘t do it that way because it doesn‘t satisfy me in the first instance. You don‘t always get satisfaction through the courts— in any sense. This issue is different
from a legal issue. But it isn‘t quite a moral issue either- that all sounds too idealistic. It‘s really where the law should be human.‘
It's Not The End of The World is.Klaff believes. a logical extension ofwhat he has been doing up till now. picking up the theme of relationships explored in Cuddles. addressing politics and the role of the state which be dealt with rather differently in lV'agging Doubt his play about South Africa. and exploring again the psychological world of Kafka (the subject of another of his one man pieces) part ofwhich ‘is about the forgetting ofbasic standards and the perversion ofthe law'.
Throughout his work Klaff confronts issues. whether political or intellectual. with simple human reactions generating as well as laughter. warmth and optimism. ‘Difficult though the subject is. frightening though the subject is. overwhelming though the subject is it still quite funny: more than quite funny at times I hope‘.
It '3 Not the End of th e World opens at Edinburgh 's Theatre Workshop on 31 Mar. See Theatre.
The List 20 March —- 2 April 1