Huston, Sartre and the Freud Scenario : The story behind an item from the NUI Galway archives' Huston Family Collection.
Nearly all of John Huston's 37 feature films are literary adaptations however perhaps one of the most interesting items in NUI Galway's Huston Family archive is an original screen play for Huston's 1962 release Freud: the Secret Passion. The original screenplay was written by renowned French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre's manuscript in NUI Galway's archive which includes 'corrections' by John Huston runs to over 700 pages, however Sartre refused to have his name associated with the film when it was released following a dispute with Huston over the script.
Sartre possibly motivated by the need for cash to sort out his tax affairs agreed a fee of $25,000 to write the script of Freud and delivered a 300 page first draft in French in late 1959. Huston calculated that if a film was produced from the 300 page script it would be over 5 hours long. The storyline centred on the development of Freud's theory of the Oedipus Complex, exploring each 'wrong alley' Freud went down while developing the theory. While Huston agreed with the general approach he felt that there was too much material for a single film. After corresponding with Sartre for several weeks Huston invited him to St. Clerin's , his home in Galway, for two weeks in January 1960.
|Sartre and his 'multilingual Arab girl secretary'|
Sartre's visit consisted of daily meetings aimed at reducing the length of the script. The two men's recollections of the visit differ considerably. Huston describes Sartre as a man who talked incessantly taking notes of his own words. As Huston remember it "You'd wait for him to catch his breath, but he wouldn't. The words came out in an absolute torrent. You might be able to catch him off guard and get in a point, but if he answered you at all -which was seldom- he would resume his monologue." On one occasion Huston left the room during one of Sartre's monologues, returning some time later to find him still talking. A woman who Huston describes as Sartre's 'secretary – a multilingual Arab girl' (in fact Arlette Elkaim-Sartre an Algerian adopted by Sartre , who later edited many of his works) would type up Sartre's notes in English and circulate them. According to Huston Sartre was 'as ugly as a human being can be' always dressed in a grey suit, black shoes, white shirt, tie and vest. These clothes which he wore from when he came down for breakfast in the morning until last thing a night were always impeccably clean. Huston wondered if perhaps Sartre had several identical grey suits and white shirts. One morning Sartre appeared with a swollen check resulting from a bad tooth. Huston offered to take him to his dentist in Dublin. Sartre insisted on going to a local dentist in Galway. He was out in a few minutes having had the tooth pulled. According to Huston "the physical world [Sartre] left to others; his was of the mind. He was by the way, very heavy into the pills. I think he had to be to keep going at his pace.'
Huston screened Let There Be Light his 1945 documentary about U.S. soldiers suffering from psychiatric problems following combat in World War II. Sartre was fascinated by the scenes in the film which depicted hypnosis and Huston who had learnt the technique during the process of making the documentary offered to demonstrate on Arlette, 'an easy subject' who was hypnotised by Huston without difficulty. When Sartre then put himself forward for hypnosis Huston found him 'hypnotically impregnable ...occasionally you encounter someone like that '.
Sartre's memories of the two weeks of script meeting were somewhat different. In his letters home to his wife Simone de Beauvoir in Paris he describes the Galway countryside: "Everywhere you go, ruins, which range with no warning from the 6th century to the 20th . . . Only the presence of grass proves that an atom bomb wasn't dropped there . . . one step away from lunar, precisely the interior landscape of my boss, the great Huston. " While Huston wondered about Sartre's monologues and grey suit (or suits) Sartre wrote of Huston "...in moments of childish vanity, when he puts on a red dinner jacket or rides a horse (not very well) or counts his paintings or tells workmen what to do. Impossible to hold his attention five minutes: he can no longer work, he runs away from thinking." According to Sartre's account of the incident when Huston suddenly walked out of a meeting leaving Sartre with Arlette and another house guest, Sartre noticed Huston's departure but kept talking to avoid an embarrassing silence.
|Montgomery Clift as Sigmund Freud|
The manuscript of Jean Paul-Sartre's original script for Freud is available for consultation in the James Hardiman Library NUI.
A full descriptive list for the Huston Family Collection is available here
An online exhibition including some pages from the Sartre's draft can be viewed here
|The opening scene from Sartre's manuscript for Freud. The full manuscript is available for consultation at the James Hardiman Library, NUI Galway|
Scence from John Huston's Freud: the Secret Passion. Freud has more success with hypnosis than Huston did with Sartre.
John Huston (1980) An Open Book Knopf, New York. pp 294-305
Ronald Hayman (1986) Writing Against: A Biography of Sartre , Wiedenfeld and Nicolson. 323-340.
'The misfits: when Sartre met Huston in Galway' The Irish Times, January 6, 2009 Tuesday, FEATURES; Pg. 14