Jimmy Stewart: “That’s what I mean by the moment.”

Jimmy Stewart to a British Film Institute interviewer in 1972:

I’m beginning to believe that, in films, what everyone is striving for is to produce moments–not a performance, not a characterization, not something where you get into the part–you produce moments that create a feeling of believability to what you’re doing….

I was making a Western in British Columbia and we were on the Columbia Icefields. It was raining and there was heavy mist around, so we couldn’t shoot, so we were all huddled around a fire. Suddenly, out of the mist, came a man, and he was not a young man. He had a beard–it wasn’t exactly a beard, he just hadn’t shaved for a while–and he was a miner type, he was dressed like a miner. He came closer to us and he said, “Which one of you is Stewart?”

“I am.”

He came over and looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah. Yeah. I recognize ya. Well, I heard you was here, and I thought I’d come up and say hello. I’ve seen a lot of your picture shows, but I think the one I liked best–you were in this room and your girlfriend was in the next room and there were fireflies outside, and you recited a piece of poetry to her. I thought that was a nice thing for you to do.”

And I remembered exactly the moment, exactly the film, who was in it, who directed it, and I also realized that that picture had been released twenty years before. That man made a tremendous impression on me. To think that I had been part of creating a moment that this man had liked and had remembered for twenty years. I’ll never forget it. That’s what I mean by the moment.

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4 Responses to Jimmy Stewart: “That’s what I mean by the moment.”

  1. Greg F says:

    Jimmy Stewart was just so fucking awesome!

  2. Bruce Reid says:

    I need to bone up on my early Stewart. I’d pegged the location shoot as The Far Country right away, but had to look up Come Live With Me, which I’ve never seen.

    Though I’ll be hunting for it from now on; as much out of its inherent interest–IMDB quotes Stewart’s forgetful reading of the title poem, which even on the page beams his warm, winningly shy way with romance–as to feel myself a link in the chain from ’40s Hollywood to ’50s Canada to now, and to see if I get the same thrill of recognition that would send me out into the chill and the mist to thank a man I’d never met for once being so nice on the screen.

    Greg F, no doubt about it. Had I ever the opportunity to have met Stewart, I doubt I could have settled on which lovely moment to praise. That splayed, bony grip on Novak’s shoulder in Vertigo, maybe? The marvelous two-step ascent in his blaring, a drunken indulgence shot out with a drunk’s confidence that nobody noticed, when he calls out C. K. Dexter Haven on the doorstep, one of my favorite line readings in any movie? Start down this path and I’ll be writing all night. So many perfect moments.

  3. red says:

    Bruce – I think that any actor who wants to “play drunk” and convincingly need only watch Jimmy Stewart in that scene to see how it is done. He is so fantastic.

    My favorite line in that scene is when he says, “CK Dexter Haven, you have unexpected DEPTHS.”

  4. red says:

    And well done on pegging BOTH of those movies. I was wondering – I haven’t seen either of them. I love how the man’s comment was not specifically about acting, as in “You were so good in that scene” – but he was still in the story of the movie. “I thought that was a nice thing for you to do.” Gulp!!

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