CARTIER, RUDOLPH

British Producer/Director

When Rudolph Cartier died in June 1994 his obituaries unanimously credited him as the "inventor of television drama" and "a television pioneer". He was a television drama director at the BBC from 1952 to the late-1960s (although the BBC preferred the title "producer" for their directors until the 1960s) and he was one of first innovative television stylists working in British television during this period. The range of his 120 television productions (all for the BBC) stretched from the science fiction serial (The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955), Quatermass and the Pit (1958)), drama documentary (Lee Oswald - Assassin (1966)), adaptations of classics (Wuthering Heights (1953), Anna Karenina (1961)), to crime serials (Maigret (1961) and Z Cars (1963)) and opera.

He was born Rudolph Katscher in Vienna, 1904, and studied to be an architect, before attending a classes given by Max Reinhardt which had an important impact upon him. In 1929 he submitted a script to a film company in Berlin which was accepted and he was enrolled as a staff writer (paired with Egon Eis) scripting low budget crime movies. He later moved on to writing for UFA and directed his first movie, Unischtbare Gegner in 1931. Cartier emigrated to Britain in 1935, but it was not until 1952 that he began work as a BBC Television Drama director. From this point until the mid-1960s he directed over 120 separate productions, most of them live studio plays, although he also had a penchant for televised opera adaptations.

Cartier did not expand the spectrum of BBC TV drama single-handedly, but he did offer some innovations both stylistically and thematically. Before Cartier's arrival on the scene BBC TV drama production has been perceived as consisting largely of adaptations of West End successes: theatrical, static stage performances respectfully and passively relayed by efficient BBC personnel. This is a false perception, although it captures the sense of impasse felt by a drama department which, during the late 1940s, was starved of funds, studio space and equipment. The transformation of BBC drama in the early 1950s was the result of various factors, not simply Cartier's fortuitous arrival. By 1951 the expansion of television was underway: threats of a commercial competitor, and increased funding for the TV department meant that new studios were acquired and re-fitted with fresh equipment (new camera mountings, cranes, etc.). The largely ad hoc manner of production and training was formalised: training manuals and production courses were established.

The appointment of Michael Barry (a former drama director, and innovative in his own way--he had directed the first documentary-drama for the BBC) as Head of Drama established a continuity of drama policy that was to last a decade until Barry was replaced by Sydney Newman. Unlike his predecessors Barry was convinced that TV drama had to rely less on dialogue, more on the "power of the image": that television had to be visibly televisual, not a discrete passive relay medium. It was into this new fertile environment that Cartier was employed, and he quickly took full advantage, "I said [to Barry] that the BBC needed new scripts, a new approach, a whole new spirit, rather than endlessly televising classics like Dickens or familiar London stage plays." Barry was initially receptive to these suggestions (drama directors were given a relative amount of freedom in the selection of their material).

One way of changing traditional approaches to drama direction was to change the material: instead of using current or recent West End successes, Cartier drew upon the science fiction genre and European modernist theatre as well as the pulp detective genres he had worked on in Germany. Initially Cartier directed more unconventional, European modernist drama: Brecht, Sartre, Anouihl; later he developed a partnership with the newly appointed BBC staff writer Nigel Kneale, and directed works specifically written by Kneale for the medium, including the three Quatermass serials. Later Kneale adapted Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four for television and Cartier directed.

The impact of that play (transmitted live and repeated live a few days later, as was the norm) cannot be overstated. Produced in 1954, as Cold War ideologies were being constructed and reinforced, the play's landscapes of totalitarian control achieved a massive resonance with the public, both celebratory when perceived as an anti-Soviet piece (an editorial in The Times praised the play for clarifying the "Communist practice of making words stand on their heads" for the British public) and disgusted by the graphic depiction of torture (one letter to the BBC reads, "Dear Sir, Nineteen Eighty-Four was unspeakably putrid and depraved"). Questions were asked in Parliament about the tendency for BBC drama to "pander to sexual and sadistic tastes" and Cartier himself received death threats from those who considered the play anti-fascist (the BBC provided bodyguards for him).

Hidden behind the furor is an important point. If the 1953 BBC live broadcast of the Coronation proved that television had a mass audience which could be united by a spectacle of national re-birth, Cartier's Nineteen Eighty-Four proved television's ability to influence, and frighten a mass audience (one Daily Express headline read, "Wife Dies as She Watches"). It was the beginning of television's role as an agency of pernicious influence.

The power of that production rests with Cartier's explicit desire to influence and manipulate the television audience. Nineteen Eighty-Four is an exemplary instance of his technique: the mixture of powerful close-up and expanded studio space. Writing in 1958 Cartier cites the close-up as a key tool of the TV director, "When the viewer was watching these 'horrific' TV productions of mine, he was, completely in my power."

Another important element was his use of filmed inserts. The restrictive space of the Lime Grove studios meant that filmed inserts were usually location scenes introduced into the live studio action. In this way scenery, camera and costume changes could be made in the studio. But Cartier took this further: instead of filmed inserts for entire scenes, he often used telecine inserts between shots hence expanding the apparent studio space.

For example, a minor, almost unnoticeable case in Nineteen Eighty-Four: Winston Smith (Peter Cushing) is walking down a corridor past another employee working at a console. This movement consists of three shots. The first, live in the studio, Winston walks past. The second, a filmed insert, Winston walks past another console (in fact the same one, filmed earlier with another actor ). And the third--with Cushing having the chance to re-position--Winston walks past the same console again: the corridor appears to be long, but takes only a few steps to complete! This is a minor example of how confident Cartier was combining both live and telecine material seamlessly.

One criticism of this technique made by television purists at the time was that the expansion of space gave the plays a cinematic rather than a strictly televisual feel: one critic described his plays as "the trick of making a picture on a TV screen seem as wide and deep as Cinemascope". And Cartier's desire to expand the scale of television often brought him into conflict with Barry.

In 1954 Barry sent Cartier a warning that his productions were becoming ambitious and, more importantly, expensive. He cites Cartier's recent version of Rebecca:

I am unable to defend at a time when departmental costs and scene loads are in an acute state the load imposed by Rebecca on Design and Supply and the expenditure upon extras and costumes ... the leading performances were stagey and very often the actors were lost in the setting.

Occasionally there were fine shots such as when Max was playing the piano with his wife beside him, and the composition of figures, piano top and vase made a good frame, but the vast area of the hall and the stairway never justified the great expenditure of effort required in building and one is left with a very clear impression of reaching a point where the department must be accused of not knowing what it is doing.

Michael Barry to Rudolph Cartier, memo, 12 October 1954, BBC Written Archives Centre, File number T5/424

In effect Barry is judging Cartier by the model of the small-scale "intimate style" espoused by many critics and television producers of the time--for them television plays should be small with few characters, and nice close shots, "Max playing the piano with his wife beside him". Cartier's television style was radically different: large spaces, long shots and close-ups. Cartier's response to Barry is that "the set should be large enough so that the small Mrs. de Winter should feel 'lost' enough and not 'cosy'". Packed into this observation is the contrast between the early BBC drama style of directors such as Fred O'Donovan, George More O'Ferrall, Jan Bussell and Royston Morley (longer-running shots, close-ups, the study of one or two characters) and Cartier and Kneale's conception of a wider canvas of shooting styles, a more integrated mixture of studio and film, larger sets, multi-character productions.

 

Cartier's difference from other directors did not simply lie in a greater use of film. It was a refusal to confine television within one essentialist style which required constant reference to its material base (intimate because the screen was small, the audience was at home, urgent because it was live, etc.). It was a use of film not primarily dependent on the limitations of what could be achieved during live studio production, a use as a material which could expand the space of the production.

Cartier never saw himself as a film director constrained by an imperfect medium: he preferred television production (although he returned once to cinema in 1958 to direct a striking melodrama, The Passionate Summer). Writing in 1958, when his stature was confirmed, he noted, "If the TV director knows his medium well and handles it skillfully, he can wield almost unlimited power over his mass audience; a power no other form of entertainment can give him--not even cinema."

-Jason J. Jacobs

RUDOLPH CARTIER. Born Rudolph Katscher in Vienna, Austria, 17 April 1904. Attended the Vienna Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (Max Reinhardt's master-class). Married Margaret Pepper in 1949; two daughters. Film director and writer, Berlin; emigrated to the United Kingdom, 1935; joined BBC, 1952, and remained for 25 years as producer and director. Recipient: Guild of Television Producers and Directors Award, 1957. Died in London, 7 June 1994.

TELEVISION SERIES

1953 The Quatermass Experiment
1955 Quatermass II
1958 Quatermass and the Pit
1961 Maigret
1963 Z-Cars
1974 Fall of Eagles

TELEVISION PLAYS (selection)

1951 Man With the Twisted Lip
1952 Arrow to the Heart
1952 Dybbuk
1952 Portrait of Peter Perowne
1953 It is Midnight, Doctor Schweitzer
1953 L'Aiglon
1953 Wuthering Heights
1954 Such Men are Dangerous
1954 That Lady
1954 Rebecca
1954 Captain Banner
1954 Nineteen Eighty-Four
1955 Moment of Truth
1955 The Creature
1955 Vale of Shadows
1955 The Devil's General
1955 Thunder Rock
1956 The White Falcon
1956 The Mayerling Affair
1956 The Public Prosecutor
1956 The Fugitive
1956 The Cold Light
1956 The Saint of Bleecker Street
1956 Dark Victory
1956 Clive of India
1956 The Queen and the Rebels
1957 Salome
1957 Ordeal by Fire
1957 Counsellor-at-Law
1958 Captain of Koepenick
1958 The Winslow Boy
1958 A Tale of Two Cities
1958 A Midsummer Night's Dream
1959 Philadelphia Story
1959 Mother Courage and Her Children
1959 Otello
1960 The White Guard
1960 Glorious Morning
1960 Tobias and the Angel
1961 Rashomon
1961 Adventure Story
1961 Anna Karenina
1961 The Golden Fleece
1961 Liars
1961 Cross of Iron
1962 The Aspern Papers
1962 Doctor Korczuk and the Children
1962 Sword of Vengeance
1962 Carmen
1963 Anna Christie
1963 Night Express
1963 Stalingrad
1963 Peter the Lett
1964 Lady of the Camellias
1964 The Midnight Men
1964 The July Plot
1965 Wings of the Dove
1965 Ironhand
1965 The Joel Brand Story
1966 Gordon of Khartoum
1966 Lee Oswald, Assassin (also writer)
1967 Firebrand
1967 The Burning Bush
1968 The Fanatics
1968 Triumph of Death
1968 The Naked Sun
1968 The Rebel
1969 Conversation at Night
1969 An Ideal Husband
1969 Shattered Eye
1970 Rembrandt
1970 The Bear
1970 The Year of the Crow
1971 The Proposal
1972 Lady Windermere's Fan
1973 The Deep Blue Sea
1976 Loyalties
1977 Gaslight

FILMS

Unsichtbare Gegner, 1931; Corridor of Mirrors, 1948 (producer and writer); Passionate Summer, 1958 (director).

FURTHER READING

Cartier, Rudolph. "A Foot in Both Camps." Films and Filming (London), September 1958.

Myles, L., and J. Petley. "Rudolph Cartier." Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1990.

 

See also Quatermass; Z Cars