Talking to David Ehrenstein in today's edition of the Weekly, 60s icon Anna Karina reminisces about her life and work as the wife/muse of French New Wave master Jean-Luc Godard (a restored print of one of their greatest collaborations, Pierrot le Fou, screens next week as part of the City of Lights, City of Angels Film Festival). Though Karina is most often recognized for her work with Godard, after their creative split she went on to work with a wide variety of the greatest directors of the era. In an portion of Ehrenstein's interview that had to be cut for space, Karina opens up about her struggles in Hollywood, working with George Cukor, and the correct make-up for playing a hooker. Also after the jump, clips of Karina in action in three Godard films: Pierrot, Vivre se Vie, and Band of Outsiders.
Godard's sensitivity had its limits, as is clear from the high regard Karina holds for a director who was his polar opposite — George Cukor, who in 1969 directed her and an all-star cast in an adaptation of Laurence Durrell's Egyptian-set romance drama Justine. It was a project that came to the great director, who hadn't made a film since winning the Oscar in 1964 for My Fair Lady, quite by accident.
“We shot about eight weeks in Tunisia with Joseph Strick,” Karina recalls of the ill-starred independent director whose adaptations of Genet and Joyce had won critical acclaim, but only limited box office.
“He got fired because Zanuck — who was running the studio that backed the film, 20th Century-Fox — didn't like the rushes,” Karina recalls casually. “So we waited for a new director to arrive — and were well paid of course. But then we were told George Cukor was taking over. I nearly fainted because I love his films.”
Transitioning from working for Godard, the director who famously said, “A film should have a beginning middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order,” to the highly ordered craftsman of Camille, Dinner at Eight, Adam's Rib and A Star is Born proved no problem for Karina–eventually. “When I first saw him I thought, “I hope he's not going to fire me.'
But it was Kathryn Hereford, the wife of producer Pandro S. Berman and an associate producer in her own right, who gave Karina the most trouble. “She wanted me to look sweet. That was how she thought of me. But that was ridiculous because I was playing a prostitute. I went with the make-up man and really made myself into what the character was like in the book. So when I was ready I was very proud of myself and went to the bungalow at the studio where George was with the producer. And the producer's wife started to scream, 'What have you don't to yourself? You don't look cute anymore.' I ran out and I was in tears. There was a little tree there and I hung onto it and started to cry. Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder, and it was George. He said, 'Don't cry.' He asked where I lived and it was near to where he lived. So he took me home in his Rolls Royce — which he drove himself. It was like a dream. We became very good friends. Such a beautiful person and such a fantastic director.”
Pierrot le Fou
Nana's dance from Vivre sa Vie
Dance from Band of Outsiders