Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1973)

G | 114-115 mins | Allegory | December 1973

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HISTORY

The film opens with the written statement, "The Jonathan Company presents Hall Bartlett's Film." The statement, "A Film by Hall Bartlett," precedes the closing credits. The title card contains a 1973 copyright statement, but the film was not registered until 8 Feb 1990, at which time it was issued number PA-470-453. The claimant was The JLS Limited Partnership, for which, according to a 17 Oct 1973 Var article, Bartlett was the sole general partner. Also on the title card is a 1970 copyright for Russell Munson's iconic photograph that appears throughout the opening credits. The photo of a seagull was a facsimile of the cover art for Richard Bach's novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull , on which the film is based. Bach’s book, which contained many other photographs of seagulls taken by Munson, had been on the NYT and other bestseller lists for many months and became a national phenomonen for its spiritual message of seeking perfection.
       A dedication that appears at the beginning of Bach’s book is also shown onscreen after the opening credits: "To the real Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who lives within us all." End credits thank Charles R. Stribling, the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Park Service Death Valley National Monument. The names of the actors providing character voice-overs as shown above were not listed onscreen, but were provided by the Var review. Actress Leslie Parrish, who is credited onscreen with "Research" and was Bach’s wife from 1977 until the late 1990s, also served as a ... More Less

The film opens with the written statement, "The Jonathan Company presents Hall Bartlett's Film." The statement, "A Film by Hall Bartlett," precedes the closing credits. The title card contains a 1973 copyright statement, but the film was not registered until 8 Feb 1990, at which time it was issued number PA-470-453. The claimant was The JLS Limited Partnership, for which, according to a 17 Oct 1973 Var article, Bartlett was the sole general partner. Also on the title card is a 1970 copyright for Russell Munson's iconic photograph that appears throughout the opening credits. The photo of a seagull was a facsimile of the cover art for Richard Bach's novel Jonathan Livingston Seagull , on which the film is based. Bach’s book, which contained many other photographs of seagulls taken by Munson, had been on the NYT and other bestseller lists for many months and became a national phenomonen for its spiritual message of seeking perfection.
       A dedication that appears at the beginning of Bach’s book is also shown onscreen after the opening credits: "To the real Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who lives within us all." End credits thank Charles R. Stribling, the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Park Service Death Valley National Monument. The names of the actors providing character voice-overs as shown above were not listed onscreen, but were provided by the Var review. Actress Leslie Parrish, who is credited onscreen with "Research" and was Bach’s wife from 1977 until the late 1990s, also served as a bird handler, according to a Box news item. The onscreen credit "Helicopter photograph McGillvray/Freeman" refers to Greg MacGillivray, whose surname was misspelled, and Jim Freeman. The partners had formed an independent production company, McGillivray Freeman Films, in the mid-1960s that initially focused on films about surfing and later became one of the largest producers of IMAX films.
       Information submitted by the studio to AMPAS reported that the running time of the film was 138 minutes, while the HR review reported both 114 and 116 minute durations, and the NYT review, 101 minutes. The LAT review stated that although the press viewing ran two hours, it was later cut by seventeen minutes. The duration listed in the pressbook and of the viewed print was 98 minutes.
       The film had a complicated production history, which resulted in lawsuits and credit changes, including the removal of Bach’s name from the onscreen credits. The following information was derived from contemporary sources: According to a 13 Nov 1972 Time article, Bartlett was reading Bach’s book in a San Fernando Valley, CA barbershop when he impulsively decided to call the publisher, Macmillan, and then Bach, who was on the verge of selling the screen rights to David L. Wolper Productions. Bartlett suggested that the story needed to be told simply, without animation or actors, and acquired the property for $100,000 and fifty percent of the profits. Also, according to the article, Bach received final approval rights on the film and all advertising and merchandising "gimmickry.” In a 7 Jun 1972 HR news item that announced Bartlett’s acquisition of exclusive screen rights to Jonathan Livingston Seagull , it was reported that Bach would write the screenplay and serve as associate producer; HR production charts also list Bach as the associate producer.
       A 29 Oct 1973 Box news item reported that Bartlett’s concept was to retain the book’s spirit exactly. According to the news item, Bartlett “loved the philosophy [the book] espoused,” but to make the film, which had become an “obsession” for him, he had to seek private funding. According to a 13 Nov 1972 Time article, Bach gave permission for the script to imply a relationship between the main character “Jonathan” and the seagull “Maureen,” a character that did not appear in the book.
       Just prior to the film’s release, according to a 13 Oct 1973 LAT news item, Bach asked the Los Angeles Superior Court to grant an injunction prohibiting the exhibition of Jonathan Livingston Seagull , claiming that his screenplay had been substantially altered without his consent “so that the film as it now stands is totally unacceptable to [him]” and is “not a faithful adaptation of [his] story.” Bach also sent telegrams to film critics who saw the press screening to complain that the film “fails to incorporate most of the ideas which are contained in the story and which [were included in the] original screenplay." According to a 16 Oct 1973 LAHExam article, Bach claimed that the changes detracted from his philosophical message. The 13 Oct 1973 LAT news item reported that Bartlett refused to discuss details of the case, saying that the issue would be decided in court and “not in a series of emotional, preposterous telegrams.” Bartlett stated that Bach’s “limited right of approval” did “not give him the point he is advancing.”
       A 15 Oct 1973 DV news item reported that the hearing had been set for the day of the film’s scheduled New York City opening. Although, according to a 17 Oct 1973 Var news item, Bach wanted an additional forty minutes added to the film that would bring the duration to 157 minutes, seventeen minutes were trimmed by Bartlett based on viewers’ reactions to the press preview of the 117-minute print. The article also stated that Paramount, the film’s distributor, claimed to have a “hands-off” policy regarding the length of the released print.
       According to a 19 Oct 1973 DV news item, Judge Campbell A. Lucas was concerned that Bach had not received "a copy of the script actually used in the film," but took into consideration that the author had not asked for one. A 23 Oct 1973 HR news item reported there were two days of arguments involving the lawsuit, during which Bartlett and Paramount opposed the issuance of a temporary injunction, arguing that they had contractual agreements with exhibitors. The judge called Paramount an “innocent victim in the litigation” and asked attorneys to give a progress report on 29 Oct. A 23 Oct 1973 DV news item reported that the film was given permission to begin its regular Los Angeles run on 31 Oct and to open in Anaheim. A LAT news item on the same day reported that Lucas, who decided not to block the film’s premiere, stated that a new version could be shown at openings in other cities. A 23 Oct 1973 HR news item reported that a “precede” was to be “flashed on the screen” at the 23 Oct and 30 Oct showings to inform the audience that litigation over the film was still ongoing.
       According to a 6 Nov 1973 DV news item, Lucas ordered that, after 20 Nov, Bach’s name was to be removed as screenwriter and only be credited as book author. Twenty-three pages of changes in the screenplay that dealt with the book’s “philosophical message” were ordered by the court to go into the new version. Lucas’ ruling was handed as a pendente life order, which meant pending final disposal of the lawsuits. Although Bach is credited as the author of the original story in Oct and Nov 1973 ads for the film, in the viewed print, he was not credited onscreen.
       Bach’s lawsuit was not the only obstacle challenging the project. During principal photography, numerous difficulties plagued the filmmakers, especially as they related to the seagulls. The 13 Nov 1972 Time article reported that Ray Berwick, who had trained birds for Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 production The Birds (See Entry), was persuaded out of retirement to work on Jonathan Livingston Seagull . The SatRev article reported that to “recruit” birds for the film roles, four-man teams visited garbage dumps in Oxnard, Berkeley and Monterey, CA and used a Navy cannon that shot a huge net to catch 2,700 birds, of which all but 300 were released.
       According to 13 Sep 1973 HR and 29 Oct 1973 Box news items, during the two weeks of rehearsal before principal production began, five seagulls became ill and were diagnosed by the veterinarian as suffering emotional exhaustion. From that point, the birds were only used every other day; however, problems with the production continued because of the filmmakers’ lack of knowledge about seagulls. The same news items reported that the U.S. Navy, with which Bartlett had affiliations, assisted by sharing information acquired from five years of research of over 6,000 gulls. According to the 13 Sep 1973 HR news item, the filmmakers, having learned from the Navy’s research that gulls always face the wind, devised a way to use wind machines to blow into the gulls’ faces from different directions and, with off-camera barriers, were able to prompt the birds to face each other and appear to converse.
       The Sep 1973 HR news item stated that production supervisor Gaylin Schultz “put away a production board after a week’s shooting,” allowing a “fluid” schedule to accommodate the birds. The birds did not allow themselves to be cleaned, causing shooting delays while they cleaned themselves. In order to take aerial shots, pilots herded the birds with helicopters, but after a month no usable footage was achieved. The crew spent one week using a high-speed, slow-motion camera to find a shooting speed that would slow down “the naturally jerky head movements” of the birds. A 16 Jan 1973 DV news item reported that the film crew used Lockheed's wind tunnel to produce breezes to train ten seagulls to do "advanced acrobatic" flying.
       According to a 2 Jan 1973 DV news item, the film crew took seventy white seagulls to locations in Death Valley to film the Heaven and Hereafter sequence. Nov 1972 and Oct 1973 HR news items mention that location shooting occurred in the High Sierras, Big Sur, Yosemite, Death Valley, Carlsbad, the Mono Lake region, Pinnacle National Park and the Monterey-Carmel coast of California, and a 29 Oct 1973 Box news item added Mount Whitney, CA and Hawaii to the location sites. A 13 Sep 1973 HR news item reported that 700,000 feet of film was shot by the time of post-production, which was completed in Apr 1973. According to a Var review, the film was said to have been budgeted at $1,500,000.
       Like the novel, which spawned companion books and related merchandise, the film inspired various seagull-related souvenirs. A 1 Oct 1973 DV news item reported that the Franklin Mint promoted the film with silver medallions bearing a seagull logo and a quote from the book and that Mattel Toys produced a board game based on the film. A 6 Aug 1973 New York news item reported that a company, Finn Studios, Ltd., created silkscreen outlined depictions of seagulls for tee-shirts that were sold to the department store Bloomingdale's. Munson’s lawyers demanded that Finn and Bloomingdale's cease and desist, because the drawing looked like one of the photographer’s pictures. However, the news item suggested that, as Munson had taken “pictures of seagulls in every conceivable position,” it was “practically impossible” to create depictions of seagulls that did not resemble his and therefore the lawyers were working on a “complicated copyright question.” The outcome of this dispute has not been determined.
       Another lawsuit that emanated from various production disputes centered on the film’s score. A 16 Oct 1973 LAHExam news item reported that singer-songwriter Neil Diamond, whose first of two film scores was Jonathan Livingston Seagull , had also filed suit against Bartlett to block the release of the film, claiming that the background music was changed without his permission, in violation of his contract to compose and score the soundtrack, and that the changes detracted from his professional reputation as a musician. A 17 Oct 1973 Var news item stated that Diamond was displeased that five minutes of his music had been cut and replaced with twelve minutes of other music, and that the changes were “no longer…fairly representative” of his music. He also claimed that he was supposed to get the screen credit, “Music by Neil Diamond,” at least 75% of the size of Bartlett’s name.
       According to a 6 Nov 1973 DV news item, Lucas ordered Bartlett to reinstate the five minutes of Diamond’s music score and three of his songs, “Anthem,” “Prologue” and “Dear Father,” and that starting on 21 Nov, the onscreen credits were to state “Music and songs by Neil Diamond,” “Background score composed and adapted by Neil Diamond and Lee Holdridge” and “Music supervision by Tom Catalano.” Paul Haggar was appointed "referee" on any disputes that might arise in changing the score and Diamond was to be given a private showing for his approval.
       According to a 4 Dec 1973 HR news item, actor Richard Harris, whose narration of the novel version of Jonathan Livingston Seagull won a Grammy award for Best Spoken Word Recording, refused, when asked by Bach’s and Bartlett’s lawyers, to refrain from reading selections from the novel as part of a concert tour. According to 23 May 1974 DV and 7 Jun 1976 DV news items, a one million dollar lawsuit was filed against Paramount and JSL Partnership by Ovady Julber, claiming that Jonathan Livingston Seagull substantially copied scenes and the plot of La Mer , his 1936 educational film that was never licensed commercially and which depicted the aspirations of a seagull as a parable. The suit was dismissed by Judge Charles H. Vogel without a trial, after Paramount lawyer Francesca de la For petitioned on the grounds that extensive public school and cultural use of the film had robbed it of common-law copyright protection.
       Jonathan Livingston Seagull garnered mixed reviews. The LAHExam described Bach's novel as "comparable to cracking open 73 Chinese fortune cookies and studying the little notes stuffed inside in search of answers to life's complexities." The Newsweek review, which called the film "middlebrow kitsch," reported that despite Bach’s claim that the script was rewritten, the “screen translation is a deadeningly accurate rendering” of the book. The review also commented that Bartlett depicted the seagulls’ scavenging as “mean and nauseating,” but the birds are actually exercising “the role nature has assigned them.”
       Jonathan Livingston Seagull received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography and Best Film Editing. Diamond’s Columbia-released original soundtrack album won a Grammy award for Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture. Diamond also won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score–Motion Picture and his song, “Lonely Looking Sky,” was nominated for Best Original Song–Motion Picture. In Oct 1976, a LAT news item reported that Bartlett, believing that bad reviews and lawsuits had ruined the film’s original run, intended to re-release the film with a narration and without dubbed voices. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Oct 1973
p. 4634.
Box Office
29 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
30 Nov 1972.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1973.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jan 1973.
---
Daily Variety
1 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
19 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
23 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1973.
---
Daily Variety
23 May 1974.
---
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
6 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1973
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 1973
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
16 Oct 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
2 Nov 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
8 Dec 1972
Section B, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1973
Section II, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
23 Oct 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Nov 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Oct 1976.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Oct 1973.
---
New York
6 Aug 1973.
---
New York Times
25 Oct 1973
p. 59.
Newsweek
12 Nov 1973.
---
Saturday Review
Mar 1973.
---
Time
13 Nov 1972.
---
Time
12 Nov 1973.
---
Variety
14 Feb 1973.
---
Variety
10 Oct 1973
p. 12.
Variety
17 Oct 1973.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Film by Hall Bartlett
Hall Bartlett's Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Helicopter photog
Helicopter photog
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Gaffer
Head grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Visual consultant
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Film ed
Negative supv
MUSIC
Background score comp and adpt
Background score comp and adpt
Mus supv
Editorial assoc
SOUND
Prod sd
Sd eff created by
Sd editorial staff
Sd editorial staff
Sd editorial staff
Sd editorial staff
Sd eff mixer
Sd track album mus mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Continuing imagery
Opticals
Opticals and titles
Titles suggested by
Titles suggested by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod supv
Administrative consultant
Unit pub
Research
Documentarian
Documentarian
Exec secy
Prod's representative
Asst to the prod
Spec asst to the prod
Mr. Dvore's asst
Prod asst
Bird trainer
Bird trainer
Bird trainer
Bird supv and care
Bird supv and care
Bird supv and care
Bird handler
Bird handler
Bird handler
Transportation
Helicopter pilot
Airport coord
Aerobatic aircraft
Equip for aerial photog
Film shipping coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, with photographs by Russell Munson (New York, 1970).
SONGS
"Be," "Lonely Looking Sky," "Dear Father," "Skybird" and "Anthem," music and lyrics by Neil Diamond.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1973
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 23 October 1973
Los Angeles opening: 31 October 1973
Production Date:
began 30 October 1972
Physical Properties:
Sound
Westrex Recording System
Color
DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
114-115
MPAA Rating:
G
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23701
SYNOPSIS

A seagull, Jonathan Livingston, yearns to fly faster and higher than any gull has flown before. Toward this goal he works hard, despite the disapproval of his parents, who worry about him, and the others in his flock, who see no purpose in his dreams. Jonathan senses there should be more to their lives than fighting each other for scraps of food in a garbage dump and that opportunities await those who can reach them. Often, he goes off alone to practice his flying, believing that his experiments hurt no one. Theorizing that his fear is what prevents him from achieving his goals, one day he tries to fly higher and faster, and almost kills himself when he loses control and falls fast and hard into the water. Battered and injured, Jonathan settles on a piece of driftwood far from the flock and thinks about falcons, who can fly faster because they have shorter wingspans, and wonders whether he should be content to be a seagull like the others. However, he forces himself to try again and succeeds. Intent on showing the flock this better way to fly, he loses control and his flockmates must flee to avoid being hit by him. Soon after, when Jonathan is summoned by the elders, he believes that they finally understand what he is trying to accomplish. Instead, to his surprise, they accuse him of flying recklessly and turning his back on their traditions, and banish him from the group. Forced to make his way unprotected in the world, Jonathan flies away. When he tries to land, a bird of another species attacks him, claiming that ... +


A seagull, Jonathan Livingston, yearns to fly faster and higher than any gull has flown before. Toward this goal he works hard, despite the disapproval of his parents, who worry about him, and the others in his flock, who see no purpose in his dreams. Jonathan senses there should be more to their lives than fighting each other for scraps of food in a garbage dump and that opportunities await those who can reach them. Often, he goes off alone to practice his flying, believing that his experiments hurt no one. Theorizing that his fear is what prevents him from achieving his goals, one day he tries to fly higher and faster, and almost kills himself when he loses control and falls fast and hard into the water. Battered and injured, Jonathan settles on a piece of driftwood far from the flock and thinks about falcons, who can fly faster because they have shorter wingspans, and wonders whether he should be content to be a seagull like the others. However, he forces himself to try again and succeeds. Intent on showing the flock this better way to fly, he loses control and his flockmates must flee to avoid being hit by him. Soon after, when Jonathan is summoned by the elders, he believes that they finally understand what he is trying to accomplish. Instead, to his surprise, they accuse him of flying recklessly and turning his back on their traditions, and banish him from the group. Forced to make his way unprotected in the world, Jonathan flies away. When he tries to land, a bird of another species attacks him, claiming that the area belongs to him. Trying to make the best of his situation, Jonathan reasons that he will travel and see every land. He flies to faraway places and sees bubbling creeks, horses in lush fields and sandy barren places. He flies into the snowy mountains and, shivering and lonely, rests next to a small evergreen twig. Some time later, several seagulls approach him, introducing themselves as his “new flock,” and inform him that he has finished one school and is about to begin another, but Jonathan confides that he is tired. Encouraging him, an instructor named Maureen, who tells him they have known each other over several lifetimes, introduces him to an elder, Chiang, who flies in ways Jonathan has never seen. Admiring Chiang’s ability, Jonathan tells him that he can fly two hundred and seventy miles per hour, but it is not fast enough for him, as he does not want to be limited. Chiang points out that there are always limits, no matter how fast you fly and, while explaining that time and place are not quite real, Chiang seems to move from one place to another instantaneously. Chiang says that the way to move beyond oneself is by knowing that you have already arrived. Diligently, Jonathan practices, trying to duplicate Chiang’s ability but showing little progress. With Chiang’s instruction and encouragement, Jonathan tries again and finds himself in a cave, feeling trapped. Chiang suggests that perhaps he wanted to be there and suggests that he think of something he has always loved. When Jonathan thinks of love, he finds himself at the dump with his old flock. Chiang explains that when the time is right to give to them, nothing can keep it from happening, but when it is wrong, nothing can make it be. He explains that Jonathan is now ready to begin the most difficult and most powerful journey of all, to fly up and know the meaning of kindness and love. He tells Jonathan that he was born to be a teacher and encourages him to give what he has learned. Although Chiang must now leave to help others, he encourages Jonathan to keep working on love. Aware that he must now return to his old flock, Jonathan and Maureen part, knowing they will be together again. When he arrives at his old home, Jonathan witnesses the banishment of a young gull, Fletcher Lynd, by the elders from the flock. Resentful, Fletcher vows to behave as an outlaw, but Jonathan approaches him and urges him to forgive. He teaches Fletcher to break the chains of thought in order to break the chains of the body, and shows him how to fly. Soon other gulls come to learn from Jonathan and Fletcher, although the elders decree that anyone who listens to them will also be outcast. Jonathan tells the others that they do not need ritual or superstition to live and it is not mandated that the gulls fight one another for garbage. At Jonathan’s encouragement, a young bird with a broken wing discovers that he is free to fly. As Fletcher demonstrates his ability to fly two hundred miles an hour to a group of gulls, a baby gull barely able to fly glides into his path. To avoid hitting the baby, Fletcher turns abruptly, flies into a hard cliff and tumbles to earth. Meeting with him on another plane of existence, Jonathan explains to Fletcher that he is not dead and has simply changed his level of thinking abruptly. Jonathan tells Fletcher that he can choose to remain at this higher level or return to the flock. When the other gulls see Fletcher seem to come alive at Jonathan’s touch, the elders pronounce that Jonathan is the devil and incite the crowd to kill him before he can destroy the flock. As the gulls fly menacingly toward them, Jonathan suggests that they leave, and he and Fletcher instantly move out of harm’s way. Although it will soon be time for Jonathan to move on, he encourages Fletcher to continue to love the flock and reminds Fletcher that he is not a god, but simply a seagull who likes to fly. Before flying on, Jonathan urges Fletcher to find out what he already knows and teach it. +

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

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.