Papillon Special Edition
|Director:||Franklin J. Schaffner|
|Cast:||Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman|
|Running time:||150 mins + Behind-The-Scene Documentary|
|Audio format:||Dolby 6.1 Surround EX DTS 6.1 Discrete Surround|
|Aspect Ratio:||2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen|
The incredible life of Henri Charriére, confined for thirteen years in the famous penal settlements of French Guiana and Devil’s Island, is the subject of this classic film, Papillon, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
Nicknamed “Papillon” because of the butterfly (symbol of freedom) tattooed on his chest, Charriére devoted his entire energies to escape and suffered savage punishments – including two long periods of solitary confinement – before he finally made it to freedom.
His experiences, from the time he was sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 25 for a murder he always protested he hadn’t committed, became an international best-seller. His courage, self-discipline and indestructible spirit triumphed over all the inhumanities heaped upon him and he survived to see the film of his life in production before his death in 1973.
Steve McQueen, in one of his finest screen portrayals, plays the title role with Dustin Hoffman as his fellow prisoner and friend, Dega.
The multi-million dollars production, filmed in Panavision on locations in the Caribbean, was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, who won an Academy Award for his direction of “Patton”. Schaffner also co-produced the film with Robert Dorfman, from a screenplay by distinguished writers Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jnr. Based on Charriére’s book. The executive producer was Ted Richmond and the stirring music for the film was written by Jerry Goldsmith.
More than a year was spent in researching the film and set construction, and over 1,000 extras were used for scenes of the convicts boarding the ship to be transported to the colony.
THE PAPILLON PHENOMENON
At the age of 62, ex-safecracker, ex-convict, ex-fugitive, ex-nightclub owner Henri Charriére took up a new career. He wrote a book – in large, sprawling longhand on lined, school exercise paper and sent it to a publisher with the simple note: “These are my adventures, have a professional re-write them”.
The publisher, to his credit, did nothing of the sort. He produced the book exactly as Charriére had written it. Papillon (Charriére’s nickname because of the butterfly – symbolic of freedom – tattooed on his chest) went on sale in France in May, 1969, and became an instant literary sensation.
It was praised extravagantly, attacked viciously, discussed universally in all the media. Since then it has been translated into 14 languages and has sold more than 17 million copies, including well over a million copies in Britain (1969-1974).
The film had an Academy Award winning director, Franklin J. Schaffner, and cost a little over 14 million dollars which included the film rights and the cost of nearly two years preparation before filming started on locations in Europe and the Caribbean.
The story must be regarded as the greatest adventure of escape ever filmed, yet Charriére’s account of his experiences has been criticized in some circles as being “too bizarre” and a handful of the book’s critics felt that no man could have experienced so much.
Charriére always persisted, however, that: “There is nothing embroidered. Everything is rigorously true. If I have lied, it is by omission.” And most people who met him believe this is the truth.
What is important is that Papillon is a story of man’s courage and his relentless pursuit of freedom in spite of overwhelming odds. And this is where its universal appeal exists.
Says director Schaffner: ”Its theme is illustrated by Papillon and Dega exploring the struggle between destructive inhumanity and compassion, between imprisonment and freedom – not just in Devil’s Island, but in man’s own nature.
Charriére was born in 1906 in a village in the Rhone Valley. By his late teens, he had drifted into the Paris underworld with something of a reputation as a safebreaker. At the age of 25 in 1931, he was arrested for the murder of a pimp, a crime he absolutely denied until his death in 1973, claiming the evidence was rigged against him by the police.
Sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colonies – a forgotten man in a hostile country covered by equatorial forest, infested with snakes and poisonous insects, and forced to labour in malarial swamps without proper food, housing or medical attention – his one passion was escape. His first break was made only six weeks after arriving and despite savage punishments he continued to plan and execute escape bids.
He suffered beatings, starvation, humiliation and monstrously long periods in solitary, but still Papillon had to be free.
It was the man’s character, his need to live free or not at all, that attracted Steve McQueen to the part and McQueen’s own personality and career were a factor in Schaffner choosing him as the first and only actor for the role.
“My name could have been Papillon, too,” says McQueen, whose early brushes with the law as a rebellious youngster led him to a variety of jobs which included working on a Greek oiltanker, in the Texas oilfields, as a tree-topper and a dozen other occupations before taking up acting.
“I kept being driven by a restless feeling – looking for something I couldn’t find – not knowing what it was but always with a sense I couldn’t and shouldn’t be confined,” says McQueen.
“That’s what I felt in common with Papillon when I read it. He had to be free and suddenly found himself imprisoned. His natural reaction was ‘I gotta get out of this damned place?’”