REVIEW: Laddie – The Man Behind The Movies (2017)

dir. Amanda Ladd-Jones.

As the opening montage to this intimate yet sweeping doc proves not everyone has heard of “Alan Ladd Jr”, but cinema – both Western and World – owes him an unrepayable debt. From awards heavy-weights Chariots of Fire and Braveheart to genre classics Alien, Blade Runner, The Omen and a little film called Star Wars, Ladd has been instrumental in bringing much of what is now considered a golden period of studio movie-making to fruition. Directed here by his daughter Amanda this retrospective then is both chronicle of a vanished time as well as familial excavation as a daughter makes sense of why her dad wasn’t at home when she was a kid.

Cinematically, Ladd’s legacy is astronomical. Beyond the headlines of titles he helped shepherd to the screen luminaries such as Richard Donner, Mel Brooks, Morgan Freeman, Ben Affleck and Ridley Scott attest again and again to how the gently-spoken mogul believed in individuals and trusted them with creative control. In one sequence George Lucas in particular attests to how Ladd insulated him from studio misgivings about his now world-conquering space opera. And speaking elsewhere Sigourney Weaver confirms that “the objective was not to make money… it was to help these incredibly creative people make the best possible movie they could”.

It’s an ethos which frequently extended outside of mainstream tentpoles, with Ladd’s investment enabling Kurosawa to complete Kagemusha and Fosse to finish All That Jazz (decisions that would later be vindicated not only by the critical success of those films but also when they tied for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1980).

Similarly Ladd emerges as a laid-back progressive, frequently placing women in positions of power and restructuring stories to promote diversity. It was him who suggested that Ripley be a female character in Alien, and would also later argue that Scott’s Thelma and Louise keep its iconic ending. “If men can be popular in movies why can’t women?” he asks with characteristic charm in one low-key interview. “Why do all roles have to be made for men?”. The fact that question is still being asked may be disheartening, but such honest candour – from an ex-studio head no less – speaks volumes about him as a person.

In-between the talking heads and archive footage Ladd-Jones’ own directorial voice emerges, reflecting on her father’s absence during her formative years (as well as his own fractured relationship with his dad, actor Alan Ladd of Shane fame). Her loss is perhaps downplayed at times, though there’s a wonderful grace to the process of her coming to understand her father, a sense of connection palpably ingrained in the celluloid. And in this the film is both heartfelt and transcendent: a love letter from child to parent, written at 24 frames-per-second.

Tim Coleman

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