Dazed Digital

Rome / Italiano

Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu's Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills

November 2, 2011

The brilliant Roman film producer and co-founder of Person Films celebrates the next wave of documentary filmmakers

  • Text by Tommaso Fagioli

There are niche documentaries, beautifully made, that narrate in detail side stories of great interest that would otherwise remain anonymous. I recently saw Jack Taylor of Beverly Hills, which chronicles the life and trade of the rough but lovable Jack Taylor, the most famous tailor in Hollywood. An American icon who has been dressing the biggest Golden Age movie stars such as Cary Grant, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, creating the nip and tuck style of the Rat Pack. You can watch the trailer here.

Then I read on IMDB that the director of this little gem is the Roman producer Cecile Leroy Beaulieu, daughter of French actor Philippe Leroy-Beaulieu and married to American director Michael Haussman with whom she founded Person Films who have made music videos for Justin Timberlake, The Chemical Brothers and Lou Reed. We met her for an interview at her beautiful house in the centre of Rome.

Satellite Voices: How did the project "Jack Taylor" start?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
Immediately after entering his studio. I was accompanying my husband to a fitting of a Searsucker suit, when I saw this old man with an impeccable elegance of past times. All around there were pictures and relics of the old Hollywood actors whom I known through my mother's passion for these typee of films, and suddenly something clicked. After one year of filming, Jack and his wife Bonnie practically became my American granparents.

SV: What kind of distribution it has had?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
It has been seen and purchased by the Sundance Channel and then by Indiepix, so it had its proper distribution. The thing is, in Amercia there is something rather missing in Italy: meritocracy. It means that if the product is good, there are channels. I did not know anyone there at that time but thanks the American site Withoutabox (an online applcation service for film festivals), I could understand how the circuit of festivals worked and could push my film in the best way. 

SV: How do you choose a good subject?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
All the things that surround us and affect us deeply can be a good subject for a documentary. The best, however, are those in which the protagonists are characters with a strong temper. One of the key questions to be asked at the beginning is "What the film will be talking about?" That is the topic on which you want to focus on, but then you need to get overwhelmed by things and follow your instincts. In my documentary I was following Jack, then realizing that I was actually filming the end of American elegance, and that became the main theme.

SV: Today, the documentary genre is undergoing a phase of great expansion. What do you think?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
True. There is a real renaissance, in which digital technology has certainly played a decisive role, making the tools lighter and economically affordable. Then of course, the web now allows instant and global views. This has created a very fertile ground to experiment new languages and art forms. YouTube and Vimeo are spontaneous and permanent laboratories, which even large productions often take their inspiration from. Also are emerging a number of sites that allow diffusion of documentaries through streaming. There’s a fantastic one I strongly recommend documentary heaven, besides, it's free.

SV: If you had to make a documentary about Rome, what would it be about?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
Probably I would choose to film the craftmen and their old shops obscured by time. An example would be a tiny shop in 29 Via di Ripetta that repairs old dolls since 50s or even earlier. It shows decapitated dolls in the window and locals call it “The Dolls Hospital”, already a title.

SV: What is your relation with the city?
Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu:
I went away from Rome at the age of 13, passing through Switzerland and the United States, then came back when I was 22. I needed to return home, to find my Italian roots, to get closer to Rome. I began to miss its magical atmosphere, its light and its amazing beauty in every corner. Latelly I feel there is a new artistic fervour in the air, a new energy.

SV: You studied Ethnographic filming at Boston University, whar are your favourite 10 documentaries?

Cecile Leroy-Beaulieu: (Randomly listed)

"The Up Series" Michael Apted
"Salesman" Mayles Brothers
"Capturing the Friedmans" Andrew Jarecki
"Dark Days" Marc Singer
"Dig" Ondi Timoner
"The Thin Blue Line" Errol Morris
"When We Were Kings" Leon Gast
"Grizzly Man" Werner Herzog
"Spellbound" Jeffrey Blitz
"Koyaanisqatsi" Godfrey Reggio

And the ones who inspired me the most during my studies:

"Nanook of the North" Robert J. Flaherty
"Les Maitres fous and a Chronique d'été" Jean Rouch
"Delits blatant" Raymond Depardon 

You can follow Person Films on Facebook
Images: Jack and his wife Bonnie today, Jack in the tub in the late 50s, Cecile

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