Entry dated :: September 15,1960
Tolon, Greece   
The Iliad :
Out Of Control

          Shooting the Battle of the Ships continues on the beach at Tolon for the third day.  The burning ships rise Phoenix-like from their own ashes at least 10 times a day, and for each take need to be refitted with new masts, netting and prow heads.  They  have already consumed almost all the telephone poles in the region as well my stockpile of plywood, netting, junk tires, and imported napalm.     At this agonizingly slow pace, I will also run out of money just feeding the extras.   The problem is no longer a recalcitrant director  but my overly-ambitious production design. 

      On first reading Homer's Iliad last year, I had envisioned the foot soldiers like pawns in a chess game.   They were protected from the front by giant ox hide shields but, without armor, entirely vulnerable from the rear.  In my concept, only the heroes like Achilles, Ajax, Hector and Diomedes, had bronze armor. Once a hero cut his way through the line of enemy shields, he could slaughter their entire Trojan army unless opposed by an enemy hero in armor.  This disparity could visually explain why heroes play such a decisive role in the Iliad.    Lewis Milestone-- who had won an Oscar for All Quiet On the Western Front in 1930-- found my idea impractical.  After I described the shields in more details in "production notes for The Iliad,", he wrote back (March 18, 1960):  "The prospect of doing the Iliad is exciting and inspiring and  my interest could not be more thoroughly aroused.   However ... your notes state 'the extras will carry giant shields from which only their naked feet and head protrude.'  I must assume that the author of that sentence does not expect an extra to fall down, nor to turn around, nor to pass the camera and be photographed from the rear."   Even though Milestone had 30 years of experience as an action director, I had an idee fixe.  When he decided not to direct the Iliad-(after discovering I had no funds to pay him), I proceeded with my giant shield obsession.

       In Athens,   I consulted Spyros Vasiliou, a true renaissance artist.  He had undertaken projects ranging from a mural in a high school to stained glass windows in a monastery on Mount Athos.   He showed great enthusiasm for my shield concept, explaining over a mound of pistachio nuts from his own trees, how the Greeks could have built such huge shields in the Bronze Age by stretching wet animal hides over wooden frames.  I made him the Iliad's production designer, and his wife Kiki the costume designer. He immediately began manufacturing the shields out of mesh layered with paper-mache. 


      Vasiliou converted an open air theater to a shield factory, manned it with his legion of student apprentices, and by September delivered 1,200 body-sized shields to the location in Tolon. (He also made the ships' prow heads.)  The problem was not his work, but my concept.

        Now, the camera is rolling, and Achilles' Myrmidian contingent, carrying huge figure-eight shields that make them look like a swam of ants, charge onto the beach to save the Greek ships.  But, as has happened in the last 5 takes, many stumble and fall under the weight of their shields, others stop dead in their tracks. O'Donovan again yells "Cut."


     By now, it is clear, alas, that Milestone had been right.  As magnificent as these shields look when stationary-- an army of ant-men silhouetted on a ridge-- they cause chaos in motion.  Not only do they restrict the movement of the soldiers-- with them, not even the fear of the snorting chariot horses can prod them to run; they limit the angle of the camera.          "We are out of telephone poles," Eric Andreou, the assistant director, informs me.   Apparently, the production inferno has consumed all the poles for 30 kilometers.

        I   suggest burning more rubber tires to mask the background ships in a cloud of smoke. 

        "Baumgarten says we are out of tires-- and napalm," Eric replies.

         I suggest using diesel fuel from the LST, reasoning that with a smashed propeller it has no need of fuel.  Eric sends the special effect crew out  to get the fuel.

       O'Donovan strolls over in a bathing suit.  He suggests cutting out the Myrmidons, proposing to write a "cover scene" in which an old man with a lyre sings of the Myrmidons rescuing the ships.  "It would be like the gods intervening.".

       "Shoot the charge of the Myrmidons," I insist.

        "The sun is setting."

         I watch the special effects crew douse the ship in Navy diesel oil, which Baumgarten manages to ignite.  The smoke begins rising.

         "Shoot it anyway," I say.

         The soldiers again pick up their shields, the clap board clicked on"take 7," and I quietly slipped away.  I had seen enough takes of the battle of the ships.  I headed back to Athens to look at the new footage-- and consult again with Rudy Mate.



Questions? Email me at edepstein@worldnet.att.net
The webmistress can be reached at june@jooon.com