Sophie's Choice (1982)

R | 151 or 157 mins | Drama | 10 December 1982

Director:

Alan J. Pakula

Writer:

Alan J. Pakula

Cinematographer:

Nestor Almendros

Editor:

Evan Lottman

Production Designer:

George Jenkins

Production Companies:

ITC Entertainment , Marble Arch Productions
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HISTORY

On 29 May 1979, NYT announced that filmmaker Alan J. Pakula purchased motion picture rights to the newly-published William Styron novel, Sophie’s Choice (1979), after viewing the galley proofs earlier that year. Pakula paid for the property in a joint deal with Florida real estate developer Keith Barish, who was eager to invest in the entertainment business. According to the 24 Jul 1979 NYT, Barish flew to NY to meet Pakula on the set of his film, Starting Over (1979, see entry), after the two were introduced by their mutual agent, Stan Kamen. Although Pakula did not expect to sign with a production company until a script had been completed, negotiations began 28 Jun 1979, when Incorporated Television Company (ITC) Entertainment’s Marble Arch Productions President, Martin Starger, received the book from his employee, Lois Smith. The property was also reportedly circulating at Orion Pictures and Universal Pictures, but Marble Arch owner Sir Lew Grade wished to use his company to produce “more substantial” pictures, and Starger agreed to cover the novel’s costs, which had increased from $600,000 to nearly $750,000 due to its recent best-seller status, and budget the film at $10-$12 million.
       The 1 Jun 1979 HR suggested that Mike Nichols and Milos Forman expressed interest in dividing directorial duties of the NY and European scenes, respectively. However, Marble Arch negotiated a $1 million salary for Pakula to produce and direct, in addition to writing the first draft of the screenplay. At this time, principal photography was scheduled to begin in summer 1980. The 24 Jul 1979 NYT and 10 Sep 1979 HR ... More Less

On 29 May 1979, NYT announced that filmmaker Alan J. Pakula purchased motion picture rights to the newly-published William Styron novel, Sophie’s Choice (1979), after viewing the galley proofs earlier that year. Pakula paid for the property in a joint deal with Florida real estate developer Keith Barish, who was eager to invest in the entertainment business. According to the 24 Jul 1979 NYT, Barish flew to NY to meet Pakula on the set of his film, Starting Over (1979, see entry), after the two were introduced by their mutual agent, Stan Kamen. Although Pakula did not expect to sign with a production company until a script had been completed, negotiations began 28 Jun 1979, when Incorporated Television Company (ITC) Entertainment’s Marble Arch Productions President, Martin Starger, received the book from his employee, Lois Smith. The property was also reportedly circulating at Orion Pictures and Universal Pictures, but Marble Arch owner Sir Lew Grade wished to use his company to produce “more substantial” pictures, and Starger agreed to cover the novel’s costs, which had increased from $600,000 to nearly $750,000 due to its recent best-seller status, and budget the film at $10-$12 million.
       The 1 Jun 1979 HR suggested that Mike Nichols and Milos Forman expressed interest in dividing directorial duties of the NY and European scenes, respectively. However, Marble Arch negotiated a $1 million salary for Pakula to produce and direct, in addition to writing the first draft of the screenplay. At this time, principal photography was scheduled to begin in summer 1980. The 24 Jul 1979 NYT and 10 Sep 1979 HR listed conflicting release dates of fall 1981 and Christmas 1980, with distribution to be handled by Grade’s Associated Film Distribution Corp. (AFD), which was later acquired by Universal Pictures.
       However, production was repeatedly delayed over the next two years due to a prolonged casting process as Pakula completed the script. In early 1980, the 10 Apr DV stated that the budget had been increased to $12-$14 million. A 22 Jul 1981 NYT article claimed that Pakula originally hoped to hire unknown actors for the three lead roles, but conceded the need for at least one established star to generate box-office appeal, and initially considered Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann for “Sophie Zawistowska.” According to an 11 Dec 1982 LAT article, Meryl Streep expressed interest in the role and insisted she be allowed to screen test before Pakula had finished writing the screenplay. As early as 1979, the 12 Oct HR listed her as a possible contender alongside actor Michael York in the role of “Nathan Landau.” Although her name remained in consideration, the 11 Jul 1979 HR indicated that Bobby Deerfield (1977, see entry) co-stars and real-life lovers Marthe Keller and Al Pacino were also rumored to star, while the May 1980 Playgirl named German actress Hanna Schygulla. Sally Field was also interested in the part, but reportedly assumed she did not “[stand] a chance” of being cast. The 22 Jul 1981 NYT stated that the final decision eventually came down to Streep and Slovenian actress Magdaléna Vášáryová. Although Pakula offered the part to Streep in summer 1980, she opted not to commit until the script was completed while she filmed The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981, see entry) and Pakula directed Rollover (1981, see entry). The 11 Dec 1982 LAT stated that the actress eventually obtained a copy of the completed screenplay from a friend at Yale Drama School, and renewed her interest with Pakula.
       Meanwhile, the NYT article also announced that earlier contenders for the role of Nathan—including Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, and Robert De Niro—were rejected in favor of Kevin Kline, whom Pakula had seen as the “Pirate King” in a Broadway performance of The Pirates of Penzance in late Jun 1981. Although Kline had reprised his stage role for the motion picture adaptation of The Pirates of Penzance (see entry), the film was not released until 18 Feb 1983, making Sophie’s Choice his screen debut. For the role of Stingo, Timothy Hutton and Michael O’Keefe were being considered over Pakula’s initial choice, Philip Anglim. Two months later, the 25 Sep 1981 NYT reported that Peter MacNicol was ultimately selected from more than fifty actors who read for the part. A 9 May 1982 NYT article stated that MacNicol “tried—unsuccessfully—to develop the voice of an older and wiser Stingo” for the film’s opening and closing narration, which resulted in the eventual hiring of Josef Sommer.
       The 1983 Theatre Crafts noted that costume designer Albert Wolsky and Streep’s hair and makeup artist J. Roy Helland began working on Sophie’s character design long before rehearsals. To achieve the appropriate style of the time period, dresses were created from the fabrics of re-cut vintage garments. The Jan 1983 Moviegoer indicated that rehearsals continued for three weeks, which allowed the actors to “experiment” while developing their character arcs.
       Production notes in AMPAS library files stated that principal photography began 1 Mar 1982, with the filming of interior boarding house scenes at Camera Mart Studios in New York City. According to the 31 Dec 1982 NYT, exteriors were shot at a Victorian house at 101 Rugby Street in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, which was painted bright pink to match its description in the novel. Additional Brooklyn locations included the Brooklyn Bridge, Prospect Park, Prospect Park South, Rockaway Playland, the Loew’s King’s Theatre, and, as indicated in the Feb 1983 issue of American Libraries, the Brooklyn Public Central Library. The 9 May 1982 NYT noted that weather postponed the Rockaway Playland sequence, prompting filmmakers to substitute Sophie and Nathan’s climactic death scene in the schedule.
       A 30 Apr 1982 HR news item reported the shooting of a scene in Bergen County, NJ, which included the Delaware-Oswego Railroad line, seventy local background actors, and multiple vintage automobiles. The 16 May 1982 LAT noted that the cars were provided by Uncle Irv’s Antique Autos in Lodi, NJ, which is not credited onscreen. Once exterior pick-up shots were completed outside the Brooklyn boarding house, the 17 May 1982 DV announced the conclusion of production in NY, with Streep set to travel to Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to film an additional two and a half weeks of flashback scenes. Although a 29 Dec 1981 DV article indicated that political unrest in Poland prevented the film from shooting there, production manager Bill Garrity and art director George Jenkins researched locations in Krakow, Katowice, Warsaw, and Auschwitz for three weeks in Sep 1981. After originally considering duplicating the locations in Czechoslovakia, filmmakers feared the country was located too close to Poland, and continued scouting in Yugoslavia. The 9 May 1982 NYT claimed that Pakula hoped to increase authenticity by hiring an unnamed Auschwitz survivor as a consultant, with the actors actually speaking Polish and German with English subtitles. Various contemporary sources reported that Streep spent months learning Polish, and spoke with her accent both on and off camera throughout filming. Principal photography concluded 1 Jun 1982.
       The 25 Nov 1982 LAT announced that the West Coast premiere was scheduled to take place 8 Dec 1982 at the AMPAS Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles, CA. Proceeds for the event matched a donation from the National Endowment for the Arts contributing to the building of the new AFI campus. Sophie’s Choice opened 10 Dec 1982 in select theaters, in order to be eligible for that year’s Academy Award consideration.
       Reviews were generally positive, with many critics owing the film’s success to Streep’s performance, which earned her a Best Actress Academy Award and Golden Globe Award. Sophie’s Choice also received Academy Award nominations for Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, and Adapted Screenplay, as well as Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama, and New Star of the Year – Kevin Kline. AFI ranked the picture #91 on its 2007 list of the 100 Greatest American Films of All Time.
       The 30 Mar 1983 HR stated that composer Carol Connors was hired by ATV Music to write lyrics to the main theme from Marvin Hamlisch’s score, which was to be re-titled, “To Face The World Alone.”
       Although contemporary reviews listed the duration at 157 minutes, the print viewed for this record had a 151-minute run time.
       The film begins and concludes with voice-over narration by Josef Sommer, portraying an elder version of Peter MacNicol’s character, “Stingo.”
       End credits state that location shooting took place in Yugoslavia, “with the Cooperation of Jadran Film, Zagreb.” “Special thanks” are given to: “Nancy Littlefield and the New York City Mayor’s Office for Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Lt. Jesse Peterman and the New York City Tactical Police Unit. The Flatbush Development Corporation, Brooklyn, New York. Bronx Community College.” A disclaimer notes: “Rudolf Hoess was the commandant at Auschwitz. The story, all other names, all other characters, and all incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons is intended or should be inferred.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Libraries
Feb 1983.
---
Daily Variety
10 Apr 1980
p. 1, 19.
Daily Variety
29 Dec 1981.
---
Daily Variety
30 Mar 1982.
---
Daily Variety
17 May 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jun 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Sep 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 1982
p. 3, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
16 May 1982.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Nov 1982
Section V, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
10 Dec 1982
Section VI, p. 1, 12.
Los Angeles Times
11 Dec 1982
p. 1, 7.
Moviegoer
Jan 1983
pp. 9-11.
New York Times
29 May 1979
Section C, p. 10.
New York Times
24 Jul 1979
Section C, p. 5.
New York Times
22 Jul 1981.
---
New York Times
25 Sep 1981.
---
New York Times
9 May 1982
Section D, p. 1, 15.
New York Times
10 Dec 1982
Section C, p. 12.
New York Times
31 Dec 1982
Section C, p. 1, 15.
Playgirl
May 1980.
---
Theatre Crafts
1983
p. 23, 44.
Variety
8 Dec 1982.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-Starring:
In Poland
In Brooklyn
[and]
In Poland
Featuring:
In Poland
In Brooklyn
[and]
In Brooklyn
In Brooklyn
In Brooklyn
In Poland
German children:
In Poland
In Poland
In Poland
[and]
In Poland
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
ITC Entertainment Presents
in an Alan J. Pakula Film
a Keith Barish Production
From ITC Entertainment
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir, Yugoslavia loc unit
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Still photog
2d key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
House elec
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Assoc film ed
1st asst ed
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Set dresser
Scenic artist chargeman
Scenic artist
Shop craftsman
Const grip
Const grip
Const mgr, Yugoslavia loc unit
Set dresser, Yugoslavia loc unit
Propman on set, Yugoslavia loc unit
Set dresser
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Women's ward supv
Men's ward supv
Ward master, Yugoslavia loc unit
MUSIC
Orig mus
Orch
Asst mus ed
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Looping ed
Asst looping ed
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and opticals
Subtitles
for Titra Film New York, Inc.
MAKEUP
Miss Streep's hair and makeup by
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
Hair and makeup, Yugoslavia loc unit
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Exec in charge of prod
Consultant--Europe
Tech adv--Europe
Asst prod mgr
Loc mgr
Prod office coord
Coord for Mr. Pakula
Prod auditor
Yugoslavia loc auditor
Asst prod auditor
Exec asst to Mr. Pakula
Unit pub
Asst to the casting exec
Extra casting
Asst prod office coord
Transportation capt
Transportation co-capt
Prod asst
Post prod supv
U.S. loc coord, Yugoslavia loc unit
Prod supv, Yugoslavia loc unit
Asst prod mgr, Yugoslavia loc unit
Loc mgr, Yugoslavia loc unit
Unit mgr, Yugoslavia loc unit
Asst to Mr. Wolsky, Yugoslavia loc unit
Polish and German dial coach, Yugoslavia loc unit
Stage facilities and prod equip
Payroll & employer of record
Payroll & employer of record, Disc Management Serv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Sophie's Choice by William Styron (New York, 1979).
MUSIC
"Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring," by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Lorin Hollander, courtesy of Intersound, Inc.
"Leider Ohne Worte, Op. 30, No. 1," by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, performed by Lorin Hollander, recorded for the film
"Eine Kleine Nachtmusic, K525," by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Lorin Hollander
+
MUSIC
"Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring," by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed by Lorin Hollander, courtesy of Intersound, Inc.
"Leider Ohne Worte, Op. 30, No. 1," by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, performed by Lorin Hollander, recorded for the film
"Eine Kleine Nachtmusic, K525," by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, performed by Lorin Hollander
"Sleepy Lagoon," by Eric Coates, performed by Lorin Hollander, copyright Chappel & Co., Ltd.
"Symphony No 6 In F Maj, Op. 68--'Pastoral,'" by Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Lorin Hollander
"Symphony No. 9 In D Min, Op. 125--'Choral,'" performed by Lorin Hollander
"About Foreign Lands And People, Op. 15," by Robert Schumann
"The Water Music: Suite In F Maj," by George Frederic Handel, performed by Lorin Hollander
"Voices Of Spring, Op. 410," by Johann Strauss, performed by Lorin Hollander.
+
PERFORMER
DETAILS
Release Date:
10 December 1982
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere: 8 December 1982
New York and Los Angeles openings: 10 December 1982
Production Date:
1 March--1 June 1982 in Brooklyn, NY
New York City
Bergen County, NJ
and Zagreb, Yugoslavia
Copyright Claimant:
ITC Films, Inc
Copyright Date:
30 March 1983
Copyright Number:
PA168505
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
151 or 157
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Yugoslavia, United States
Languages:
Polish, English
PCA No:
26835
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1947, a young Southern man nicknamed “Stingo” chases his dream of becoming a novelist and rents a room in the "Pink Palace" boarding house in Brooklyn, New York. One day, he finds a book of Walt Whitman poetry containing a letter inviting him to dine with his upstairs neighbors, a Jewish pharmaceutical researcher named Nathan Landau, and his Polish émigré girl friend, Sophie Zawistowska. After overhearing the couple loudly making love, Stingo later witnesses Nathan abusing Sophie on the staircase. When Nathan catches Stingo eavesdropping, he mocks his Southern drawl and leaves Sophie, who tearfully excuses his behavior and returns to her room. That evening, Sophie brings Stingo a tray of food, and he notices numbers branded onto her forearm from her time spent in a World War II Nazi concentration camp. As Stingo returns his empty dishes, he watches Nathan enter the house and collapse in Sophie’s loving embrace. The next morning, Nathan and Sophie invite Stingo for an outing to Coney Island. Over breakfast, Nathan is affectionate with Sophie and explains that he nursed his ailing girl friend back to health after her period in captivity. She solemnly withdraws when discussing her late parents, whom she says spoke out against the Nazis. Although Stingo is unable to forget the heated words exchanged between the couple the previous night, he stays at the boarding house and soon becomes their closest friend. In one of her English lessons, Sophie’s teacher notices that she has grown increasingly anemic, and she later passes out in the library. Nathan instantly appears at her side and brings her home, where he puts her to sleep and cooks her dinner. She does not ... +


In 1947, a young Southern man nicknamed “Stingo” chases his dream of becoming a novelist and rents a room in the "Pink Palace" boarding house in Brooklyn, New York. One day, he finds a book of Walt Whitman poetry containing a letter inviting him to dine with his upstairs neighbors, a Jewish pharmaceutical researcher named Nathan Landau, and his Polish émigré girl friend, Sophie Zawistowska. After overhearing the couple loudly making love, Stingo later witnesses Nathan abusing Sophie on the staircase. When Nathan catches Stingo eavesdropping, he mocks his Southern drawl and leaves Sophie, who tearfully excuses his behavior and returns to her room. That evening, Sophie brings Stingo a tray of food, and he notices numbers branded onto her forearm from her time spent in a World War II Nazi concentration camp. As Stingo returns his empty dishes, he watches Nathan enter the house and collapse in Sophie’s loving embrace. The next morning, Nathan and Sophie invite Stingo for an outing to Coney Island. Over breakfast, Nathan is affectionate with Sophie and explains that he nursed his ailing girl friend back to health after her period in captivity. She solemnly withdraws when discussing her late parents, whom she says spoke out against the Nazis. Although Stingo is unable to forget the heated words exchanged between the couple the previous night, he stays at the boarding house and soon becomes their closest friend. In one of her English lessons, Sophie’s teacher notices that she has grown increasingly anemic, and she later passes out in the library. Nathan instantly appears at her side and brings her home, where he puts her to sleep and cooks her dinner. She does not immediately recognize Nathan, but accepts him as her caretaker as he reads aloud poetry by Emily Dickinson. Meanwhile, Stingo courts a wealthy, seemingly sexually-liberated girl named Leslie Lapidus, who is ultimately too nervous to engage in intercourse. Dejected and sexually frustrated, Stingo returns home to Sophie, who reveals that she was once married to one of her professor father’s young disciples. Despite her Catholic upbringing, Sophie was taken to Auschwitz following her father’s murder and her mother’s death from tuberculosis. After being released, she lost her faith in God and attempted to commit suicide in a Swedish refugee camp. As Stingo tries to comfort her, Sophie grows worried that Nathan has not yet returned from work, and is annoyed with Stingo for questioning her lover’s obsession with the persecution of escaped Nazi war criminals. Just then, Nathan walks in and becomes jealously agitated by their presence alone together, but Sophie calms his perilously mounting temper. The next day, Nathan makes amends by offering to read Stingo’s writings while Sophie takes him to the cinema. When they return home, he leads them to the Brooklyn Bridge and uncorks a bottle of champagne, toasting Stingo’s imminent success. One day, Nathan brings gifts for his friends to celebrate a medical breakthrough at work, promising to share the news later that evening. Upon his return, however, he accuses Sophie of committing adultery with one of their acquaintances, unaware that she met the man in question to have a gift made for Nathan. Consumed with rage, Nathan insults Stingo’s novel and taunts Sophie for surviving Auschwitz while millions of Jewish people died. When Sophie and Nathan move out in the middle of the night, Stingo attempts to track her location by speaking with a Polish professor at the nearby university. The man reveals that, contrary to Sophie’s claims, her father was a fervent anti-Semite. As Stingo prepares to return home to the South, Sophie stops by the house and agrees to tell him the truth about her past: Although she deeply loved her father, she transcribed his speeches and soon became aware that he supported the Nazi plan for Jewish extermination. She took a lover in Warsaw, Poland, whose sister led a resistance movement against the Germanization of the Polish people. Afraid to endanger her children, Sophie refused to join them, and her lover was soon killed. Due to their association, however, she was sent to Auschwitz, where her daughter was murdered and her son sent to a children’s camp. With her German language and secretarial skills, Sophie was allowed to personally serve Commandant Rudolf Hoess, and relocated to a private room in his cellar. Another prisoner asked her to seduce Hoess and smuggle a radio in exchange for the possibility of her son’s release. During her initial meeting with Hoess, Sophie explained her father’s beliefs and implored him to recognize the injustice of her imprisonment. The officer refused, citing her Polish heritage, but found himself attracted to Sophie’s “Aryan” appearance. To resist physical temptation, he decided to send her back to the camp while reluctantly agreeing to release her son to be raised as a German. Sophie ultimately failed to steal the radio, and Hoess broke his promise to save her boy, driving her to attempt suicide. Finishing her story, Sophie falls asleep in Stingo’s arms and later awakens to find Nathan sitting on the curb. He moves back into the house, and the three resume their happy friendship until one day, Nathan’s brother, Larry, reveals to Stingo that Nathan is a paranoid schizophrenic and cocaine addict who lied about his biology degree. Charged with keeping watch over Nathan’s ever-changing temperament, Stingo returns home in time to witness Nathan propose marriage to Sophie. As the landlady shares Nathan’s supposed claim of discovering a cure for polio, the boy learns that the couple has disappeared. Sophie immediately returns, and Nathan telephones, again accusing her and Stingo of having an affair. Sure that he will kill them both, they flee to Washington, D.C. Stingo hopes to marry Sophie and raise a family on a farm in Richmond, Virginia, and she half-heartedly agrees to go, provided they do not wed. He insists, but she again refuses, revising her story to reveal her final secret: Upon arriving at Auschwitz, a German officer threatened to kill both her children unless she chose between them, prompting her to sacrifice her daughter. Overcome with emotion, Sophie and Stingo make love, but Sophie leaves him with a note stating that her guilt has driven her back to Nathan. Sometime later, Stingo learns that Nathan and Sophie poisoned themselves. He returns to the boarding house, where their bodies lie intertwined on the bed next to a book of Emily Dickinson poetry. Letting go of his rage and sorrow for the couple, Stingo finally leaves Brooklyn to begin the next stage of his life. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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