Written By — January 2013
Change Language:
Sandy Mackendrick’s Master Class
F. X. Feeney

A course in screenwriting like no other.

Imagine a well-lit, double-size classroom in the bowels of a still fairly new school building. The year is 1974. The place: the California Institute of the Arts, then a boxy labyrinth on a bare lunar hillside.“The sub-level,” a maze of hallways where daylight never reaches, is home at all hours to insomniac film students.

It is in here that the coming semester— January to May—will house a demanding new course: the Writer-Director’s Workshop.Four hours per class, twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. We were to arrive at 10, break for lunch at roughly 12:30, then return for another 90 minutes of intensive discussion, ending approximately three p.m.

Our teacher has never offered such an elaborate or concentrated course before. But we’re all aware he spent the previous spring and fall intensively devising this class, creating lessons distilled from a lifetime’s experience as a working film director.

Nevertheless, he was “Sandy” to us, well before we were fully aware of his achievements under the imposing Scottish moniker of Alexander Mackendrick, even though he’d made such classics as Tight Little Island, The Man in the White Suit, The Lady killers, Sweet Smell of Success. (Per the last will of “Walt”—as we called CalArts’ late founder Walt Disney— the faculty, students, and even the school president were mandated to deal with each other only on a first-name basis.) A tall, sturdy man who favored turtleneck shirts, youthful at 59— thick black hair flecked with silver when we first met in 1971, silvery but still thick when he died two decades later—Sandy gave no clue he was dean of the film school when I first set eyes on him, softly stammering as he led a meeting of the faculty and student body. He perpetually gave off the air of filling in for someone else.

A 16-millimeter projector stood forward of the square of tables where Sandy was to lead our discussions. This was typical. Yet close beside it stood a second, a mate with which (in those days pre-DVD) a lecturer could if need be thread speedily through an earlier or later section of the film under discussion for a bit of scene-and-sequence comparison, sometime from another picture altogether.

The first item threaded up would be On the Waterfront, written by Budd Schulberg, directed by Elia Kazan.

“This is a film you will get to know very well by the end of this course,” Sandy cautioned us. He wasn’t kidding: We were to see it again and again, at least once a week for the next 18 weeks, twice in some weeks, even three times with a special stop-motion function on the second projector for super-close study, as our work reached its crest of intensity in mid-March. “It is entirely possible you will come to hate it,” he added on that first day.“But this will pass.” He was confident the film’s strengths would outlive whatever incidental resistance we might feel toward the ordeal of watching anything again and again. “What I want you to discover is the very skeleton of the picture, and this is something you can only do for yourselves, in experiencing it.”

Looking back 36 years, I especially admire that he chose the word skeleton over structure. Skeletons are organic, structures abstract. Sandy would speak freely of structure, of course—the word is inevitable in art—but he wanted us to understand that artistic creation is a process engaged first and last by living, breathing imaginations.

A Life’s Notes

He would tease us that we were arrogant to think ourselves anywhere near ready to write and direct, only to admit under his breath that he’d been the same way when young, and that “a necessary arrogance” comes with the territory of wanting to make movies at all.

Born in Boston in 1912, raised primarily by his grandfather in Scotland, he had dropped out of the Glasgow School of Art in the mid-1930s to work as an illustrator and graphic artist at the advertising agency of J. Walter Thompson. Fifty years later, when the Scottish BBC asked him about his teaching career at CalArts, Sandy told them: “The idea of starting as dean of a film school when you haven’t completed art school yourself seemed too funny to resist.” Although he disliked the world of advertising, “What I learned was invaluable.” The agency put him to work scripting short commercials that were shown in movie theaters.

During World War II, he accompanied the troops through Algiers and Italy, directing a number of short documentaries, primarily for Britain’s Psychological Warfare Division. (He headed the unit that greenlit Roberto Rossellini’s landmark film Open City.) Working at Britain’s Ealing Studios became a natural next step, initially as a writer (most successfully in 1948 with Saraband for Dead Lovers), then as director of the string of Ealing Studio comedies between 1949 and 1955 for which he is best remembered.

When Ealing was bought out by MGM, he moved to Hollywood. His first American film, the noir classic Sweet Smell of Success, tanked at the box office (though a pristine copy of the negative is now filed in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress). Although other fine films followed through the 1960s (A Boy Ten Feet Tall, A High Wind in Jamaica), Sandy felt himself adrift.

“To make movies in Hollywood, you have to be a deal-maker,” he told the BBC. “And I have no talent for that.” When CalArts approached him in 1968, he leapt at the opportunity and discovered that he had a natural talent for teaching.

“There are no concrete formulas available to the filmmaker,” he said that first day of the workshop. This was a rebellious declaration, given that form was the whole point of the course. There are no concrete formulas, he reiterated, “or at least none that should not be abandoned if another arises that suits the circumstances.”

Sandy’s mimeographed classroom handouts, which he revised annually until his death in 1993, in time gathered a cult Akin to the Ark of the Covenant among his former students.His wife, Hilary, had quite forcefully made these pages possible: verbally sparring with Sandy in his off hours; helping him test and hone his thinking; above all, by typing the things and maintaining the archive after he died. For decades following graduation, many of us kept our own collections bound and shelved in our various offices, checking with one another to see if we were missing any pages. (Sandy’s assistant from those early years, Jack Valero, was a veritable missionary, making sure nothing was lost and that everybody had copies.) Eventually, in 2004, Paul Cronin brilliantly edited and, through Faber & Faber, published the best of these in a volume called On Filmmaking: An Introduction to the Craft of the Director.

There, in a state of high refinement, you can find distillations of everything we discussed during those four-and-a-half months: What Is a Story; Exposition; Activity Versus Action; Dramatic Irony; Plausibility and Suspension of Disbelief; Density and Subplots in Sweet Smell of Success; Cutting Dialogue; Condensing Screen Time. More valuably still, the book contains his technical advice to writers: A Technique for Having Ideas; When NOT to Write a Shooting Script; and (most valuably of all) Slogans for a Screenwriter’s Wall.

The Heart and Head of a Story

Oedipus Rex is a detective story, as Sandy taught it. Thebes is under a curse because some rotten citizen slept with his mother and killed his father. King Oedipus becomes obsessed with finding out: Who-done-it? Every Greek in the audience already knows who, having known it for well over a thousand years in advance of opening night. So Sophocles makes this ancient chestnut sprout fresh life by turning the drama into a suspenseful investigation. The King is the cop trying to catch the guilty party, and when he realizes the villain is himself, he must also, tragically, act as his own judge and jury.

Hamlet, which alongside Oedipus was required-reading in Sandy’s class, might be just as heretically (but usefully) comprehended as a police-procedural. The Danish Prince is not just some existential neurotic trying to make up his mind— first and last he’s an aggressive student of those around him, getting to the bottom of a murder mystery, reasoning that once he does, there will be no question of what-to-do. That’s his motive. Yet every character around him is an obstacle.

And so it is with Terry Malloy, the protagonist in On the Waterfront. Watching Schulberg and Kazan’s masterpiece unspool in that initial class, you could feel all over again the pleasures of seeing it for the first time. Terry (Marlon Brando at his peak) is a sympathetic scrapper fighting his way through a world of bullies—an easy figure for a viewer to identify with, but especially for us, fresh from surviving American high schools. Violent peer-pressure besets Terry from the very first moment, as without meaning to he sets up a friend to be murdered by shadowy thugs. “I thought they was just gonna talk to him,” he protests. His brother, Charlie (Rod Steiger), tight with the crooked union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), waves Terry’s lament aside: “Maybe he talked back.” The theme of talking—of talking to the wrong people; of saying the wrong thing to the right people; of informing; of telling what you know, even at risk of your life, even as the worst of those killers who need you to keep silent are all busy whispering about you, behind your back—is the story’s unmistakable theme. The least treachery—even a rumor of treachery—can get you killed on this waterfront.

And yet… What if you betray yourself, by keeping silent?Terry comes to see this as a living death. He has long surrendered his dignity to “dummying up,” one blood-drop at a time, for years. He’s even sacrificed his own once-promising Career as a boxer to serve these mobsters, an agony that is magnificently expressed in the film’s most memorable scene: “I coulda been a contender. I coulda had class! I coulda been somebody instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.” His disappointment in himself touches bottom as he Falls more deeply in love with Edie (Eva Marie Saint), the sister of the dead man he had unknowingly betrayed.

Later, when Terry has given the testimony that will likely get him killed, he finds the courage to defy the fury of his old boss face-to-face: “I’m glad o’ what I done to you! You think I ratted you out?? I was rattin’ myself out all those years!” He is then savagely beaten within an inch of his life. For an instant his fellows and we even accept the likelihood that he has died, facedown in salty murk, but the parish priest (Karl Malden), who has acted as his conscience from the heart of the story forward, talks him into rising to his feet, to set a heroic example that the other longshoreman will follow. Terry “resurrects”; walks to work; overthrows the previous order and at last becomes “somebody,” the bloodied but upright new leader of his community.

All this is so self-evident from a single viewing that in the discussion afterward we wondered aloud just how much there would be to analyze in a work of such perfect accessibility. Sandy responded by threading the projector afresh. We spent the last 15 minutes before lunch watching the first 15 minutes of the movie for a second time.This became a pleasant shock: With the suspense cleared away and the story’s outcome firmly in our heads, it was clear that every shot, from first to last, every gesture, every word had been shaped with the themes and outcome consciously in mind, yet the filmmakers had made these unities feel effortless, even spontaneous.

The unveiled magic of that illusion never entirely wore out in the following weeks. From Terry’s first shout to his doomed friend (“Joeeey!! Joey Doyle!!!”) through the priest’s mighty sermon in the hold of the ship where the second man brave enough to stand up to the rackets has been killed in an “accident” (“This is my church!! … What you see here is a CRUCIFIXION!”), all the way to its last line (“Let’s go to work!”), each word remained oddly alive, despite that we’d come to mouth each one by heart in perfect lip sync.

A lesser movie never would have stood up to such scrutiny.
We grew to know this story so well that by the umpteenth viewing its interior harmonies began to take the shape of music.The story begins on the wharf at the exact stretch of gangplank where it ends. The characters are introduced in order of their value to the outcome and depart in reverse order. In the very first shot, Terry ascends the plank close behind Johnny Friendly, the pair of them leading the rest of the mob—the same plank later becomes the scene of their final battle. In the third scene, immediately after the first murder, Edie and the priest meet over the body of the dead man, just as, at the end, they together rouse Terry to his feet. Each succeeding shot is a declarative sentence essential to the advancement of the drama. Every prop serves a purpose:

“Notice the jacket,” Sandy called out the third time we watched. The dead man’s fur-lined jacket is bequeathed early on to the second man who will turn informant and be killed in the ship’s hold. By Act 3, the jacket is given to Terry.

All the Professor’s Men

One briefly distracting side-consideration in our talks, especially in the spring of 1974, became the theme of “becoming an informer.” Nixon was still president, and the Watergate hearings were tilting him toward impeachment. The paranoias that gave rise to the Cold War and the Vietnam War (still very much in progress then), were a source of sarcastic bitterness all around. It was lost on none of us that Schulberg and Kazan had renounced their ties to the communist party in the early 1950s and given “friendly” testimony before the U. S. Senate. Many of us knew people (or had parents) who’d suffered under the studio blacklists of that era. Hilary Mackendrick even tore bitterly into Schulberg over this very topic when, by coincidence halfway through the semester, she and Sandy shared a dinner table with him. He outraged her all the more by quietly standing his ground.

In class the next day, while acknowledging his own hostility to “naming names,” Sandy nevertheless posed a question that shut us all up: “Would you prefer on these grounds that John Dean had never testified against his former friends in the Nixon White House?” He pointed out that the choices in On the Waterfront are about conscience overcoming cowardly silence, that there are no easy affirmations (good triumphs only narrowly, and at enormous cost), and as such this theme transcends topical prejudice.

By the 16th or 17th viewing of On the Waterfront, we Were no longer “seeing” the film at all, but wearing it in our minds, blindly, like a uniform we worked and slept in. Groan though we might at the grind of the projector cranking up yet again, it was a relief to discover there actually isn’t one dull scene in the picture. If characters speak, it is always to a dramatic point. When Johnny Friendly yanks open his shirt collar to show where his throat was cut as a boy, he’s not narrating a sideshow, he does so to impress upon Terry the savagery of the world they’re in, and that there’s no use protesting.The priest’s angry sermon in the hold is no preachy lecture but an action, the moment when he commits himself completely to battle. When Terry confesses to Edie that he lured her brother to his death, a loud ship blasts its horn in the harbor, obliterating his words, but which we don’t need to hear. What we’re given is their mutual anguish.

Later, desperate to reconcile with her, Terry breaks down the door to her apartment, seizes her in an embrace, and shouts: “Edie, you love me!” This high-energy reversal of the usual “I love you” we’re accustomed to hear in movies, Sandy emphasized, is an important screenwriting trick. If information is obvious, let the unexpected person state it. Edie never has to explain that she grew up far from the waterfront, attending convent school; Terry and everybody else tease her about it from the get-go, and we’re allowed to eavesdrop.

“Characters need to have backs to their heads and change in their pockets,” Sandy would tell us, citing Clifford Odets.By way of homework, he told us each to pick a single character from the film and work up a treatment retelling the whole story from their point of view. “I assure you it can be done,” he told us. Yours truly then spent the better part of a weekend improvising a poor imitation of a Mario Puzo novel in honor of Johnny Friendly—feverish, bare-knuckled adventures were relentlessly imagined—but come Tuesday’s class, Sandy threw cold water on this. “No, no, no,” he told me.“Look to the film. Schulberg has already given you the clues.Pay attention.” By this he meant, notice the brief mention that Johnny once got his throat cut when he stood up to his own evil bosses, probably when he was about Terry’s age; that he had adopted Terry and his brother, Charlie, when they were orphans and raised them like sons, taking them to ball games; that he’d groomed Terry to be a great prizefighter but then cut him down because he didn’t want him to become independent.“There is no need to imagine a ‘new’ story. You’re telling the same story. But the point of view is different, and this will allow you to make interesting discoveries about Terry that you might otherwise take for granted.”

In one of those bits of synchronicity fed by having this film so much on the brain, I discovered Schulberg’s novel Waterfront in the CalArts library. Although a series of newspaper stories by Malcolm Johnson originally attracted him to the docks, where he prowled for several years before bringing Kazan on board, Schulberg found himself in possession of so much rich material that only a novel could do it justice. There he told more or less the same story, although Terry has a darker fate. The priest is instead the “viewpoint” character. I lazily wolfed through it in a sitting, alerted Sandy to its existence, and—typical of his work-ethic—by the next week he had not only read it in depth, he walked us through its 400 pages beat by beat, just by way of further proving his points about the value of research-gathering and how a story must remain fluid—that “point of view” might be your last decision.

Every character we see in a film, he urged us, should ideally project some vivid sense of a life they lead off-screen, independent of the story being told.

When “B” Thinks of “A”

When pondering a character, “I start by asking: What does A think B is thinking about A? It sounds complicated, and it is, but this is the very essence of giving some density to a character, and in turn a scene.” Think, Sandy advised, “not of a character As a character-in-itself, but of character interactions.”

On alternating days, we also watched (and closely studied, with an average of three viewings each): The Third Man, Citizen Kane, The Hustler, and (from Sandy’s own body of work) The Man in the White Suit and Sweet Smell of Success. He showed us these latter two films for practical rather that egotistical reasons—he could tell us firsthand about how they were made and without self-pity walk us through what he judged to be the mistakes and might-have-beens.

His lecture on The Third Man was marvelous, tracing the cat’s cradle of interdependent relationships in that story, demonstrating how each interaction is indispensable to the outcome.Because he’d been friends with writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed, he could also share an interesting piece of background information: Greene was creatively paralyzed for a short time before beginning the script, for technical reasons. Try as he might he couldn’t think in terms of “EXTERIOR, VIENNA – NIGHT” or “DISSOLVE TO.” Reed told him, “Skip all that. Just write it as a short novel, but think in terms of physical action.” The published novel is thus the script that was handed to Reed, who marked it up and handed it over to a stenographer to turn it into a shooting script.Sandy urged us to approach writing our scripts the same way: Just tell the story, physically and visually; don’t censor; let the final form come last. “Avoid generalizations and indeterminate actions. …Don’t put in things that the camera cannot photograph in action.” In other words, don’t write a “pitch” to yourself: Tell yourself a story.

In the case of Citizen Kane, he prepared a detailed storyboard which painstakingly revised the story’s broken timeline into a strictly chronological one. He did this, paradoxically, to prove an exception to his rules: He always preached against the use of flashbacks, because drama is by nature of the here-and-now. “Though a flashback may appear to be cinematic, it is inherently disappointing. It lacks the force of immediate narrative impetus.” However, in Kane the present-tense is the exception, while pushing forward into the past is the narrative thrust. But rendering the story into linear time, “needless to say, isn’t as good, since what has been thrown away is the central thematic idea: the exploration of why the man was the kind of man he was.”

The Man in the White Suit had been based on an unproduced play by Sandy’s cousin Roger MacDougall, and their collaborative screenplay adaptation (together with John Dighton) shifted the viewpoint of the story entirely. Whereas its original plot centered on a coming-of-age crisis for the young daughter of a textile manufacturer, Sandy preferred to focus on a completely minor character: an eccentric scientist at work in the factory’s (and the story’s) basement, who is trying to invent an indestructible fabric.Ever since the detonation of the first atom bomb, Sandy had been seeking a story about “the moral responsibility of the scientist,” and here he found the opportunity to explore it in farcical terms. That the result has since proved to be a timeless comedy classic was for him at most a source of ironic consolation, given his deeper hope that the audience would emerge from the film taking a harsh critical view of the dotty scientist played so well by Alec Guinness.“Wouldn’t you know,” he said drily: “The public bloody well fell in love with him.”

The making of Sweet Smell of Success constituted a different adventure.Ernest Lehmann, a good friend of Sandy’s, had written the short novel on which it was based, as well as a screenplay that Lehmann intended to direct himself. But movie star Burt Lancaster and his producing partner James Hill were wary of this so instead handed it off to Sandy.

“I could work well with Ernie,” he told us later, “though I did explain to him and the producers that there were certain things about the first draft that worried me a good deal.” His main concern was that “just about every scene consisted of an exchange of dialogue between two people sitting at a table in a restaurant, at a bar, or in a nightclub.”

Before they could fix this, “a major disaster” struck: “Lehmann fell ill.With only a month or so before shooting was due to start, a date that could not be postponed because of contracts to the principal actors, we were faced with the task of finding a new screenwriter… By enormous good fortune, Hecht-Hill-Lancaster had just put Clifford Odets under contract to work on another project.” Their thought had been that this would be a relatively elementary script-doctoring job, but Odets found so many deeper problems lurking under those two-hander scenes that, without meaning to displace Lehmann, he revised it completely.Only the original structure remained by the end.

“What Clifford did, in effect, was to dismantle the structure of every single sequence in order to rebuild situations and relationships into scenes that were more complex and had much greater tension and dramatic energy. Disastrous as this was from the point of view of the production—I had to start shooting while he was still working on scenes to come, and on a couple of occasions filming had to be halted—the truth is that for me personally it was an experience that taught me a staggering amount. I can make no claims for the completed film, but what I can say is that without this work done by Odets, it would have had none of the vitality you see up on the screen.

“Clifford’s process,” Sandy told us, “took place mostly in story conferences, daily meetings between three people: Odets, producer Jim Hill, and myself… Clifford would improvise in the way an actor does, sometimes using a tape recorder, more often just talking and making notes. Then he would go off on his own to sketch out a scene that he would come back and read— perform, in fact—for our benefit. His acting, to my mind, was atrocious.Moreover, the scene would usually be horrendously overwritten and much too long. Then he would set about cutting it down quite ruthlessly. Clifford was, in fact, much more drastic in the editing of his own first drafts than any other writer I have worked with. He would reduce a scene to bare bones, the essential moves of the dramatic action.All that would be left were the key lines that triggered a shift in the story.”

Odets would act out all the parts, male and female, treating scenes wholly anew and tunneling into different viewpoints within them each time. In so doing, “he uncovered previously unnoticed problems related to interrelated characters.” Moreover, he would take Lehmann’s two-person cross-talk and “triangulate” it. Don’t just have it be said that gossip columnist J.J. Hunsacker orders U.S. presidents around.Stick a presidential hopeful at his table in Club 21 and show it. Better still put a pretty bimbo next to that Senator so that we see what’s at stake for the man, and what J.J. knows about him.

“See that each of the characters coming into a confrontation scene arrives with ammunition,” Odets had advised.When Sandy worried aloud that the feverish dialogue—“I’d hate to take a bite out of you: You’re a cookie full of arsenic!”—might prove too overwrought (Sandy admired the “gutterpoetry” of it but feared it was “artificial, and not at all realistic”), Odets was unruffled.“Don’t let it worry you,” Odets told Sandy. “You’ll find that it works if you don’t bother too much about the lines themselves. Play the situations, not the words. And play them fast.”

Sandy later told us, “When it came to the highly stylized, almost preposterous lines the actors had to speak, I found this to be a marvelous piece of advice… The spoken word is often at its most effective when the actors concentrate not on the words and their literal meaning but on the actions that underlie them… A line that reads quite implausibly on the printed page can be quite convincing and effective when spoken in a throwaway or incidental fashion by the actor.” He concluded: “Dramatic economy, which includes the ability of a writer to cut what at one point he might have considered to be his best work ever, is one of the most important skills a writer can have; it is learned only through much experience, combined with a ruthless attitude and an utter lack of sentimentality.”

The Final Exam

Our last day of class: We’d been through the war; we were like a platoon of narrative Marines, able now to strip any story to its parts and reassemble it blindfolded. There would be no “final exam” as such—the philosophy at CalArts then was that if you learned anything, you learned it. Your passing grade would be given to you in the outside world.

Nevertheless, there were two projectors set up side-by-side, just as they were on our first day, back in January.What could we possibly be seeing?

Word spread with a sickening groan: On the Waterfront! Now, mind you, we had all come to admire the picture, deeply, some of us more grudgingly than others, but the inspirational solidity of the thing was now firmly established. “Please, Sandy, no,” came the collective murmur. “Maybe next fall. Or next spring! Two springs from now! But not today!”

“We are ending the class on a note of experiment,” Sandy replied. “Please notice that the second projector contains another film altogether.”

Reel one of Viva Zapata had been threaded up beside reel one of On the Waterfront. “We will be running On the Waterfront with the sound off,” Sandy explained. “I’m sure you know the dialogue by now.”

This won him the laugh he’d hoped for, and now that we were suitably intrigued it was lights off. What an interesting revelation that little experiment proved to be! We’d seen Viva Zapata back in February and looked closely at John Steinbeck’s screenplay, with a particular eye—per Sandy’s guidance— at the clean, highly active prose with which it was written. No adjectives, only verbs so vivid they might suggest inner life, as actions will—a rich prose that can nevertheless be fully photographed. We remembered the film well enough to know its ins and outs and regard it impartially now. Yet it remained fresh enough to make for a pleasurable revisit.

What we were not prepared for— and this became the surprise that made Sandy Mackendrick’s Master Class unforgettable—is that with On the Waterfront playing alongside, the living skeleton of Viva Zapata was laid bare, as if by a magic lantern X-ray. By this I mean something different from dramatic structure or directorial grammar (for both films were directed by Kazan). What was disclosed was the viscera, the muscle of whatever a story is, transparent in our imaginations.

The two stories could not be more diametrically opposed, in terms of the themes, actions, and choices they describe.Whereas it takes two thirds of Waterfront for Terry Malloy to find his courage, Emiliano Zapata owns his in the first scene, when he’s a peasant who refuses to be bullied, even by the president of Mexico. An element of Cain and- Abel does develop in common between the two sets of brothers in each film, yet their trajectories are very different.Both outcomes are tragic, but each reveals different things about the societies around them. Where On the Waterfront centers on courage, Viva Zapata might be said to center on trust. Zapata’s big moment of vulnerable choice comes on his wedding night, when he confesses to his bride that, despite leading a revolution, he can’t read.Every death or downfall around Zapata boils down to a question of who you can rely on or not.

And this was where the spark jumped between films: Zapata’s doom, we knew, would eventually be brought about by the sycophantic advisor (played superbly by Joseph Wise) who attaches himself early on, falsely winning his confidence. This odd, rather cadaverous Judas has a memorable entrance: at first all we hear is his echoing voice, hollering “Zapata!” as he approaches the hero’s hideout across a barren topography of mountain crags.Yet his entry coincided, to the very second, with the approach of the FBI man on the opposite screen as he bears a subpoena across the rooftops to where Terry broods in On the Waterfront.

I remember that several of us actually gasped. The FBI man’s purpose is the direct opposite of Wise’s acolyte. He sincerely wants to do good, even though, given the odds, he might be leading Terry to his doom. Both the villain in one film and the angelic messenger in the other are instrumental in bringing about their man’s eventual apotheosis— whether it kills him or not.

This was such a fascinating parallel.And it was accurate to the minute, throughout each film as they kept rolling, in a strange dance that proceeded as our eyes flicked from one to the next.Every time the FBI was up to something, there was Joseph Wise up to no good in the other. Every time the priest was in play along the waterfront, pushing Terry to confess, Zapata’s brother (Anthony Quinn) would be goading him as well, behaving wildly, inviting him to set aside responsibility and be free. Again, the two sets of characters could not be more different in terms of intention or purpose, yet they were part of a story rhythm as innate as a heartbeat.

And so it is. For this was the point of Sandy’s making us sit through that one film, upwards of two-dozen times. He was inviting us to discover that whatever a story is, it was already within us.The rhythm is there, the shape and the dream-figures are there, already alive in us, however unconsciously. This is true of every human being, whether we’re telling a story or listening. What we needed from him was the discipline to let an already existing story so deeply penetrate our imaginations that we would see—as clearly as the watermark in a paper held to light—what we didn’t know we knew.

“Film-writing or film-directing cannot be taught, only learned,” Sandy told us early and often, “and each man or woman has to learn it through his or her own system of self-education.”

And yet we learn by example. Stories give us that. So did Sandy.