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April 6, 2012 / schulerbooks

Schuler Guest Director Spot: David Jones on ‘Anatomy of Anatomy’

We’re excited to give you something a little different this week for our Guest Author Spot — this week it’s our Guest Director Spot, featuring David Jones of the Lansing-based film company Eclectic Brew. David has directed ‘Anatomy of Anatomy,’ a documentary about the legendary Michigan-filmed movie Anatomy of a Murder, excerpts of which are featured on the recently released Criterion Collection edition.

David will be at our Lansing store at 7 p.m. next Thursday (April 12) to talk about the original film and his documentary. Check out his guest blog for a teaser and pick up the new Criterion Collection edition (currently 20% off at Schuler)!

For several years a friend of mine from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, knowing me to be an aspiring documentary filmmaker, tried to convince me that I needed to make a film about a film that was made in Michigan. It was called Anatomy of a Murder; it was made in 1959; ‘Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick are in it,’ she would say. Knowing nothing about it, my first thought was that it sounded like an Alfred Hitchcock film. My second, that she probably meant that a few scenes were shot here or maybe part of the story takes place in the Mitten State.

After several years of avoiding the topic she sent me something called Anatomy of a Murder Scrapbook; a sort of magazine-looking book made for the 40th anniversary of the film and sold to the locals in Marquette County. Iʼm not sure I even looked at it right away, but when I did it was a light bulb moment; I finally “got it.” I saw what she was telling me all
along. The book was full of behind-the-scene photos; old newspaper articles about the making of the film and resident interviews recalling what it was like to have Hollywood
invade their small community.

Anatomy of a Murder was, in fact, entirely filmed in Michiganʼs largest county, Marquette. The scoring of the music was completed there, too. Rough editing had also been performed in-state. None of this, however, was standard operating procedure for a Hollywood studio in 1959 so, why did it happen?

Well, the answer lies in the cooperation and vision of two men: John Voelker, the author of the best-selling novel on which the film was based (under the pen name Robert Traver), and Otto Preminger, an actor/director who seemed to have carte blanche in Hollywood. Voelker, the defense attorney during the actual trial from which his book originated, was from Ishpeming; he lived and breathed the Upper Peninsula. Preminger, by now a world-famous director who came to Marquette to scout locations for background shots, fell in love with the area, according to historian Paul Bonetti. Bonetti told me John and Otto just hit it off; there was magnetism between the two of them. Based on this and other little bits I had discovered, I believe Voelker convinced Preminger to shoot it all up there. He even offered up his house to be used as the law office and home of “Paul Biegler” his alter ego in the film.

Of course, relocating a Hollywood film crew to Marquette was no small task. In 1959, nothing in the world of motion picture making was small. In fact, the camera and crane were so heavy the crew had to reinforce the floor in the courtroom in order to keep the whole thing from winding up in the basement! And how they ever got all that equipment and staff in Voelkerʼs house is beyond me. The shooting quarters at 205 West Barnum were so tight that sometimes you can see the camera shadow on James Stewart as he makes his way though the century-old home.

The climate was something else altogether. Preminger might have been the only one who appreciated the cool northern temps of the UP. March up there, when the filming began, could put the Fahrenheit scale to around 45 degrees. Marquette resident Millie Menze commented to me that James Stewart seemed to have a cold the whole time he was there. Not surprising; after all, these were people who came from and usually worked in a very warm environment: California.

In speaking with the natives of our fine Upper Peninsula, perhaps the most important thing I learned was about the amount of employment of locals by the studio, Carlyle Productions. Dozens were signed up as extras; some worked as drivers and maintained security. It was amazing how many got speaking parts including Lou Chappell who during the shooting of a scene had to drink real beer and deliver lines. He hadnʼt eaten anything all morning and the beer on his empty stomach was having quite an effect on him!

I knew it was these kinds of stories I wanted to tell. And I wanted the residents, not a professional voice-over talent, to tell them. A year into the project I discovered something else: a memoir of sorts assembled into a book entitled Anatomy of “Anatomy”: The Making of a Movie. This was it! This was the glue that would bind it all together. Local resident Joan G. Hansen wrote it and had it published just prior to the 40th anniversary of the film. I approached her about it and she agreed to rework it into a more narrative form and agreed to voice it for us.

The result of our work promises to be a unique account about the making of a Hollywood film: a film that is a true-life courtroom drama; one against which all others are measured; one that went on to receive seven Oscar nominations including Best Picture; one that had an every-lasting impact on the citizens of a small northern community; and one that is still very much celebrated by them today.

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One Comment

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  1. Victoria M. Dinkin / Sep 21 2012 2:20 am

    Wonderful review, David! We Yoopers eagerly await your return and the debut of your much anticipated completed documentary. The segments in the Criterion Collection Edition were fabulous! (In fact the entire DVD was exciting to watch.) Quite informative and even humerous at times. Joan Hanson does a wonderful job telling her story. Anatomy of a Murder, no matter how many decades pass since Otto and Hollywood graced the U.P., will forever remain a highlight with us. Your film rekindles those warm memories (… and preserves some of our friends who have passed on since you began this project.) Bravo!

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