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
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.
are out of telephone poles," Eric Andreou, the
assistant director, informs me. Apparently,
the production inferno has consumed all the poles for
suggest burning more rubber tires to mask the
background ships in a cloud of smoke.
"Baumgarten says we are out of tires-- and napalm,"
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
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
"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.