Oscar Artists: Zaentz, Saul, Oscar-Winning Producer Extraordinaire Dies at 92

amadeus_posterInternational Producer Saul Zaentz, who won best picture Oscars for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Amadeus,” and “The English Patient,” died Friday in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He was 92 and had been suffering from Alzheimer’s.

I have met the colorful Zaentz and interviewed him three or four time, at the Golden Globes and other Hollywood functions like premieres.  Vibrant and intellectual, he had an amazing grasp of literature and cinema, both classic and modern, and had an instinctive understanding of what books or plays could be made into artistically great, Oscar-winning pictures.

Feisty, he once attacked me for being a snob, when I criticized “The English Patient,” a picture that I liked a lot but though had some major flaws (I was not the only critic who faulted the film, which went on to win the Best Picture).  The conversation went on for about 15 minutes, and when I told him that I was a film professor, he snapped, “that’s why your taste cannot be fully trusted.” I humbly accepted the verdict.

 

the_english_patient_posterA moment later, he asked me what kinds of movies I was showing in my film classes, and I told him it depended on the course (genre, auteur, Independent Cinema, Classic Hollywood).  “Which are you favorite movies?” he asked insistently.  Put on the spot I mentioned the usual suspects, highlighting the works of John Ford, Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, Vincente Minnelli.  It turned out that when it came to specific director and movies, we seemed to agree completely on their status.

I then volunteered a prediction that of his three Oscar-winning films, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would stand the best the test of time (the ultimate criterion of an art work), if only as a zeitgeist movie and Jack Nicholson Oscar-winning performance,  whereas “Amadeus” (helmed by Milos Forman, but still very much a play), would not hold up very well.  All I can say is that he listened attentively and said nothing.

bvgv2gk3kd3The verdict on these three films is still out there: Time will tell.

The entrepreneurial and famously belligerent and litigious Zaentz, who spent most of his life as a record producer, did not become involved in the movie business until he was in his 50s.  He produced only a handful of movies, many of them self-financed and high-profile due to the caliber of talent, behind and in front of the cameras..

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His nephew Paul Zaentz, with whom he had worked for years at the Saul Zaentz Company, confirmed his death and said he was “an extraordinary person.”

But his foresight in acquiring rights to prestigious novels including J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” led to blockbuster status. In many cases, the profits led to lawsuits.