Unknown authors: Anthony Page

Unknown authors: Anthony Page

Many will say that to be a true film auteur you must dedicate your life to filmmaking to the exclusion of any other pursuits, which would somehow indicate a conflict of interest. The Unsung Authors column is heavily populated by directors unduly celebrated because they’ve done more high-profile work elsewhere, which is the unfortunate space in which the little-known (at least cinematically) Anthony Page resides. Born in 1935 in Bangalore, British India, Page worked in English television in the 1960s (on shows like Z-cars And Festival) before becoming a successful director in the UK and the US, where he won acclaim on Broadway, winning the coveted Tony Award for Best Director for his 1997 production of Henrik Ibsen. A doll’s house. Although best known for his stage work, Page also has a slew of TV movies and miniseries on his resume, as well as a small but impressive collection of feature films.

Anthony Page made his big screen debut in 1968 Evidence inadmissible, a tough and compelling adaptation of John Osborne’s hugely successful play, which won a Tony Award for Best Play on Broadway. Page sticks pretty closely to the source material, and makes another smart move by bringing in the play’s main performers, Nicol Williamson and Peter Sallis, to recreate their roles on the big screen. An emotionally complex and powerfully acted drama about a lawyer re-examining the shattered remnants of his life after a career filled with morally questionable behavior, Evidence inadmissible is a very impressive first film, but which remains largely forgotten today.

Antoine Page

Despite these powerful beginnings, Page spent much of the 1970s making TV movies, many of them (including 1974 Alpha Beta with Albert Finney and Rachel Roberts; 1974 The October Missiles, with William Devane, Martin Sheen and Ralph Bellamy; 1975 F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, with Jason Miller and Tuesday Weld; 1976 Collision Course: Truman vs. MacArthur, starring Henry Fonda and EG Marshall) were of an impeccably high standard, and the equal of much big-screen material. In the late 1970s, however, Page returned to filmmaking with a trio of strong and wide-ranging works.

An unlikely effort from famed exploitation producer Roger Corman (who was clearly influenced by the huge success of Flight over a cuckoo’s nest), 1977 I never promised you a rose garden represented another strong work by Page, this time adapting a novel by Joanne Greenberg, who later disavowed the film. Writer’s issues aside, the film benefits from a highly responsive script by full-fledged Lewis filmmaker John Carlino (The Great Santini) and Gavin Lambert, and Anthony Page explores it beautifully, telling the difficult story of a young woman diagnosed with schizophrenia (an extraordinary debut performance by Kathleen Quinlan) who is placed in an institution and only begins to flourish when she is placed under the care of a nice doctor, brilliantly played by Bibi Andersson. Although the film received Golden Globe Best Picture and Best Actress nominations, and a Best Screenplay Oscar nod, I never promised you a rose gardenas Page’s first film, remains largely forgotten today despite its many impressive qualities.

Richard Burton in Absolution.

Page’s next film, 1978, is also largely forgotten. Absolutiona perfectly wacky little thriller written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer (Detective, Frenzy, The wicker man). Atmospheric, engaging theatrical and deeply unsettling, the film stars the hulking Richard Burton as a priest at a Catholic boys’ school driven to the brink of madness by a creepy, arrogant and monstrously manipulative young student (a brilliant Dominic Guard ) who first pranks the priest in the safety of the confessional with a murder story, then actually does it, bringing down his hippie friend (played by, uh, Billy Connolly!), then looking at a classmate as his next target. Weird and scary in a way that only 1970s British horror thrillers could be (see also somewhat similar theme Unman, Wittering and Zigo by John Mackenzie), Absolution is a true forgotten gem, even if he is decidedly a little villain.

Also awash in paranoia and overwhelming madness, Page’s 1978 thriller The lady disappears is another excellent but deeply under-celebrated work, probably due to the fact that Alfred Hitchcock had already adapted Ethel Lina White’s source novel in 1938. Any remake of a work by the great master will likely suffer in comparison, and Page The lady disappears suffered that fate, despite charming lead performances by the very 1970s duo of Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould (who play a strange couple thrown together on a train in post-war Europe investigating the disappearance of a woman gone) and fast, well-paced movement, involving a nicely orchestrated story by Page.

Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould in The lady disappears.

Whether The lady disappears is now only really remembered as a 1970s oddity via his Hitchcock connection, so Page’s next film has been well and truly forgotten. A deeply humanist story, 1984 Forbidden stars Jacqueline Bisset and Jurgen Prochnow as a couple whose romance is truly tested when they are separated by the Nazis during World War II in Europe. Forbidden is still Anthony Page’s last feature film, but there are some of the director’s before and after TV movies worth mentioning. Although TV movies are now extremely difficult to find (especially legally), they represent (despite being so often maligned) an absolute treasure trove of storytelling, performance, and directorial talent.

Anthony Page made some of the best works of this humble and horribly underrated art form: the 1981s Bill (starring Mickey Rooney as an intellectually disabled man befriended by Dennis Quaid and his wife Largo Woodruff); its 1983 sequel Bill: Alone; the touching 1982 drama Johnny Belinda, with Rosanna Arquette, Richard Thomas, Dennis Quaid and Candy Clarke; 1986 second serve (a very early and then very controversial look at transgender issues with Vanessa Redgrave); 1988 Scandal in a small town (in which Raquel Welch’s bartender legally takes on racism and anti-Semitism in a small town); 1993 Guests of the Emperor (starring Gena Rowlands, Annabeth Gish and Chloe Webb as Japanese prisoners in Singapore during World War II); and 2008 My zinc bed (a strong look at addiction written by David Hare with Uma Thurman, Jonathan Pryce and Paddy Considine).

Master of the stage, Anthony Page is also a compelling and criminally underrated feature (with a particular focus on the fragility of the human condition and the ease with which we can be pushed over the edge) and a true TV movie titan.

If you liked this story, check out our articles on other unknown authors Julie Gavras, Ted Post, Sarah Jacobson, Anton Corbijn, Gillian Robespierre, Brandon Cronenberg, Laszlo Nemes, Ayelat Menahemi, Ivan Tors, Amanda King & Fabio Cavadini, Cathy Henkel, Colin Higgins, Paul McGuigan, Rose Bosch, Dan Gilroy, Tanya Wexler, Clio Barnard, Robert Aldrich, Maya Forbes, Steven Kastrissios, Talya Lavie, Michael Rowe, Rebecca Cremona, Stephen Hopkins, Tony Bill, Sarah Gavron, Martin Davidson, Fran Rubel Kuzui, Elliot Silverstein, Liz Garbus, Victor Fleming, Barbara Peeters, Robert Benton, Lynn Shelton, Tom Gries, Randa Haines, Leslie H. Martinson, Nancy Kelly, Paul Newman, Brett Haley, Lynne Ramsay, Vernon Zimmerman, Lisa Cholodenko , Robert Greenwald, Phyllida Lloyd, Milton Katselas, Karyn Kusama, Seijun Suzuki, Albert Pyun, Cherie Nowlan, Steve Binder, Jack Cardiff, Anne Fletcher, Bobcat Goldthwait, Donna Deitch, Frank Pierson, Ann Turner, Jerry Schatzberg, Antonia Bird, Jack Smight, Marielle Heller, James Glickenhaus, Euzhan Palcy, Bill L. Norton, Larysa Kondracki, Mel Stuart, Nanette Burstein, George Armitage, Mary Lambert, James Foley, Lewis John Carlino, Debra Granik, Taylor Sheridan, Laurie Collyer, Jay Roach, Barbara Kopple, John D. Hancock, Sara Colangelo, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Joyce Chopra, Mike Newell, Gina Prince-Bythewood, John Lee Hancock, Allison Anders, Daniel Petrie Sr., Katt Shea, Frank Perry, Amy Holden Jones, Stuart Rosenberg, Penelope Spheeris, Charles B. Pierce, Tamra Davis, Norman Taurog, Jennifer Lee, Paul Wendkos, Marisa Silver, John Mackenzie, Ida Lupino, John V. Soto, Martha Coolidge, Peter Hyams, Tim Hunter, Stephanie Rothman, Betty Thomas , John Flynn, Lizzie Borden, Lionel Jeffries, Lexi Alexander, Alkinos Tsilimidos, Stewart Raffill, Lamont Johnson, Maggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.

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