Joe Massot

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Joseph Martin 'Joe' Massot (1933 - 4 April 2002) was an American-born British film director and writer, best known for directing Wonderwall (1968) and the Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same (1976). Massot is closely associated with the 'Swinging London' scene of the late 1960s and for his cutting edge cinema that had mixed commercial success.

Career

The son of Cuban parents, Massot was born in New York. His mother was the sister of Waldo Medina, a senior and popular Havana judge. His early career developed under the guidance of the Actors Studio in New York. In May 1959, Massot began studying cinematography at the Cuban Cinematic Institute (ICAIC) in Havana, and was greatly influenced by the teachings of Constantin Stanislavski and the directing style of Stanley Kubrick. His first cinematic project as assistant director was a short-documentary filmed in 1960 entitled Carnaval. One year later, Massot directed the short film Made in USA, in collaboration with American writer Marc Schleifer, on the emerging Vietnam War. Throughout the 1960s, Massot often established an ad-hoc writing collaboration with Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who sometimes appeared in screen credits as 'G. Cain', with Massot also using the pseudonym Jose Massip.[1] Arriving in London in 1964, Massot was assisted in acquiring work by theatrical agent Emilio 'Mim' Scala.[2] After directing an episode for the BBC television series Six, Massot's first international success was with Reflections of Love in 1996, on the swinging youth scene of 1960s London. The Beatles' George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon, all appeared in film along with Jenny Boyd, and was nominated as the best short film at the Cannes Film Festival. Massot had previously met the Beatles on-set during the filming of Help! in 1965.[3] Harrison contributed soundtrack music, his first solo venture, to Massot's most notable film Wonderwall. Massot's first choice had originally been the Bee Gees.[4] Wonderwall, starring Jane Birkin and Jack MacGowan, mixed comical farce with serious emotional conflicts, voyeurism, and generational differences, and debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on 17 May 1968, with members of the Beatles in attendance. The success of Wonderwall allowed Massot to finance filming scripts he had been working with in the 1960s, and the opportunity to relocate to the United Kingdom in 1970, and on a permanent residential basis by 1972.

In 1971, Massot collaborated with writers Derek Marlow and Infante, for the film Universal Soldier. The original working title for the project was The Mercenary, reflected in the storyline originally written in 1966, of two hardened mercenaries in London becoming involved with a woman and a biker gang.[5] The film, starring George Lazenby, unfortunately fared poorly at the box-office. Massot had better success however with Zachariah, which became a cult classic. The script had it's seeds in Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha, and an earlier unfinished work The Gambados, which Massot co-wrote with Infante, about disparate individuals confronting each other as hero and outlaw in a desert setting, with psychedelic overtones. Massot was inspired by the idea while in India with the Beatles, observing Harrison and Lennon duelling on who could out-meditate who, and finished the script with comedy writing troupe, the Firesign Theatre.[6] Massot originally wanted Bob Dylan for the lead role. Zachariah was shot in Mexico and featured Don Johnson, Country Joe and the Fish, the James Gang, Doug Kershaw, Elvin Jones, White Lightnin', and the New York Rock Ensemble.

Jimmy Page's partner Charlotte Martin was an acquaintance of Massot, whom she had previously met at a Cream concert at the Forum, Los Angeles on 19 October 1968. Massot visited the couple at Page's Pangbourne boathouse, after being formally invited to witness Led Zeppelin at the Bath Festival in June of that year.[7] In 1972, Massot's met Page again this time at Plumpton Manor in Sussex, and discussions of a documentary film project on Led Zeppelin, evolved into directing The Song Remains the Same.[8] There had been an earlier failed attempt to document the band at the Royal Albert Hall. On advice from Page, manager Peter Grant reluctantly contacted Massot on 14 July 1973, to make a new documentary funded entirely by the band.[9] Grant had wanted a director with more concert experience. The band members were formally introduced to Massot mid-tour at the Sheraton Boston Hotel on 19 July 1973, with principal shooting to commence on 23 July 1973. A film crew, including cinematographer Ernie Day and Robert Freeman, was assembled within two days of the meeting and flown to the Civic Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Massot suggested that instead of the usual 'talking heads' approach in documentaries, to make a film consisting of symbolic representations of the band members as fantasy sequences. Grant and the band at first disliked the idea but Massot persuaded them to film their segments. Massot's first wife, Claire Massot, also makes an uncredited appearance in the film as the maiden on horseback handing Robert Plant a sword. The slow progress of the film, the less-than-satisfactory live shots, and a lack of close-ups, resulted in Massot being removed as director in March 1974 by Grant, and replaced by Peter Clifton.

Massot's only other attempt at concert film was the 1980 2 tone/dance documentary Dance Craze. In 1984, Massot wrote and directed Space Riders, a docudrama starring former motorcycling champion Barry Sheene, which was not a commercial success. Massot ventured into music in 1985, producing the Slim Gaillard album Siboney in London, which unfortunately did not see release until after the jazz singer's death in the early 1990s. Massot also directed the children's film The Bewitched Tree in 1988. He planned to shoot Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine in concert in Miami, but this was delayed and eventually cancelled after Estefan's near-fatal bus accident. The 1990s saw a revival in interest in Massot's work. Inspired by Oasis's song 'Wonderwall', a direct reference to his film, Massot edited a new directors version of Wonderwall in 1999, and included a previously unreleased Harrison composition 'In the First Place' which Massot had rediscovered in his sound archive.[10]

After a short illness, Massot died on 4 April 2002 in London at his Flood Street residence. His daughter Gemma Massot is an actress.

References

  1. Souza, Raymond D. (1996). Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds. Austin: University of Texas Press, 106. ISBN 978-0-292-77695-1. OCLC 33335216. 
  2. Scala, Mim (2001). Diary of a Teddy Boy: A Memoir of the Long Sixties. London: Review, 79. ISBN 978-0-7472-7068-3. OCLC 50101491. 
  3. Lavezzoli, Peter (2007). The Dawn of Indian Music in the West: Bhairavi. London; New York: Continuum, 182. ISBN 978-0-8264-2819-6. OCLC 62134753. 
  4. Bilyeu, Melinda; Hector Cook and Andrew Môn Hughes (2003). “First Fame”, The Bee Gees: Tales of the Brothers Gibb, Revised. London: Omnibus, 149. ISBN 978-1-84449-057-8. OCLC 45399269. 
  5. Souza, Raymond D. (1996). Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds. Austin: University of Texas Press, 104. ISBN 978-0-292-77695-1. OCLC 33335216. 
  6. Reid, Graham (14 February 2011). Joe Massot Interviewed (2001): And after all, you're my wonderwall…. Elsewhere. Retrieved on 1 January 2014.
  7. Welch, Chris (2002). Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 115. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 840923238. 
  8. Case, George (2009). Jimmy Page: Magus, Musician, Man - An Unauthorized Biography, Revised. Milwaukee: Backbeat Books, 130. ISBN 978-0-87930-947-3. OCLC 315078855. 
  9. Welch, Chris (2002). Peter Grant: The Man Who Led Zeppelin. London: Omnibus Press, 116. ISBN 978-0-7119-9195-8. OCLC 840923238. 
  10. (7 June 1999) "Joe Massot"&pg=PA7 "Lost Harrison Track to be Released". CMJ New Music Report 58 (11): 7. ISSN 0890-0795. Retrieved on 1 January 2014.