F.I.S.T. (1978)

PG | 145 mins | Drama | 26 April 1978

Director:

Norman Jewison

Producer:

Norman Jewison

Cinematographer:

Laszlo Kovacs

Editor:

Graeme Clifford

Production Designer:

Richard MacDonald

Production Company:

Huron Productions
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HISTORY

Text appearing after the end credits states: “Our thanks to the People of Dubuque, Iowa and Governor Robert Ray.”
       Materials in AMPAS library files mention Michael Sturges and Chris Soldo as assistant directors. However Soldo is listed in onscreen credits as a production assistant and Sturges’ name does not appear onscreen at all. Although Stuart Newman is mentioned as a production assistant in Box on 19 Sep 1977, onscreen credits list him as Stuart Neumann, location manager.
       According to a Joe Eszterhas interview in materials in AMPAS library files and articles in the 5 Sep 1977 LAHExam and the 14 Apr 1978 DV, producer Gene Corman was inspired to make a movie about labor unions after reading some of Eszterhas’ magazine articles. Corman and studio United Artists commissioned Eszterhas to write a screenplay on the topic. Although he had never written a screenplay before, Eszterhas interviewed workers in the Midwest about their union experiences and submitted a forty-page outline to UA in the fall of 1975. Director Norman Jewison joined the project later that year. Eszterhas turned that forty-page essay into a 500-page screenplay. He and Jewison edited it down to 240 pages in 1976 and, when Sylvester Stallone was hired, the actor helped edit the script down to 150 pages. In a 7 May 1977 NYT news item, Jewison clarified that Stallone contributed to the writing of his character, “Johnny Kovak,” and to his dialogue with Melinda Dillon. The director denied that the main character was based on Jimmy Hoffa, the missing leader of the Teamsters union, though several publications drew ... More Less

Text appearing after the end credits states: “Our thanks to the People of Dubuque, Iowa and Governor Robert Ray.”
       Materials in AMPAS library files mention Michael Sturges and Chris Soldo as assistant directors. However Soldo is listed in onscreen credits as a production assistant and Sturges’ name does not appear onscreen at all. Although Stuart Newman is mentioned as a production assistant in Box on 19 Sep 1977, onscreen credits list him as Stuart Neumann, location manager.
       According to a Joe Eszterhas interview in materials in AMPAS library files and articles in the 5 Sep 1977 LAHExam and the 14 Apr 1978 DV, producer Gene Corman was inspired to make a movie about labor unions after reading some of Eszterhas’ magazine articles. Corman and studio United Artists commissioned Eszterhas to write a screenplay on the topic. Although he had never written a screenplay before, Eszterhas interviewed workers in the Midwest about their union experiences and submitted a forty-page outline to UA in the fall of 1975. Director Norman Jewison joined the project later that year. Eszterhas turned that forty-page essay into a 500-page screenplay. He and Jewison edited it down to 240 pages in 1976 and, when Sylvester Stallone was hired, the actor helped edit the script down to 150 pages. In a 7 May 1977 NYT news item, Jewison clarified that Stallone contributed to the writing of his character, “Johnny Kovak,” and to his dialogue with Melinda Dillon. The director denied that the main character was based on Jimmy Hoffa, the missing leader of the Teamsters union, though several publications drew that parallel, including the 24 Jun 1978 Saturday Review.
       In production materials in AMPAS library files, Eszterhas said he wished the movie could have starred Jack Nicholson, the actor he had originally envisioned as “Johnny Kovak.” Also, Jewison considered three endings for the film, each of which differed from Eszterhas’ original ending, which had “Kovak” returning to the warehouse that was his original place of employment, only to be gunned down in an ambush by “Babe Milano’s” men.
       In the NYT article, Jewison explained that, after he received Eszterhas’ forty-page treatment, United Artists’s chairman of the board Arthur Krim offered Jewison a budget of $4 million to make the film, but only if Jewison could raise another $4 million himself. When Jewison tried and failed to find a studio to co-produce the film, he convinced Krim to give him the full budget amount. Months later, in an 18 Jul 1977 DV article noting that F.I.S.T. was one of the first films to be affected by United Artists’s mandate to reduce cost overruns, Jewison protested being denied his customary 10% overrun contingency. He accepted the limitation because United Artists was the only studio that agreed to make the movie. Despite the studio’s attempt to restrict production costs, the movie would cost “about $100,000 to $125,000 over” its $8.1 million budget, Jewison reported in HR on 10 Aug 1977.
       An early announcement in Var on 1 Dec 1976 reported that United Artists expected F.I.S.T. to begin shooting Apr 1977, but most sources, including Box on 21 Mar 1977 and again on 2 May 1977, agreed that principal photography started 9 May 1977 in Dubuque, IA. Box further reported that the production would finish shooting in IA on 2 July 1977, then move to southern California for nine weeks to shoot on a soundstage and on location before filming the movie’s final scenes Sep 1977 in Washington, D.C. In a 27 May 1977 HR news item, Corman confirmed that F.I.S.T. was scheduled to shoot for eighteen weeks and was expected to open in 1978 around Easter time.
       According to LAHExam, production materials in AMPAS library files and the 20 Sep 1977 HR, F.I.S.T.’s production in California included working on a soundstage at Culver City Studios and locations in the cities of Colton, Wilmington, San Pedro, Sun Valley and South Pasadena as well as at venues such as the Hollywood Palladium, the Van Nuys airport, Scandia restaurant on the Sunset Strip and Hughes Market in Culver City. According to a Box news item on 19 Sep 1977, the production then moved to Washington, D.C. and shot on location from 9 Sep 1977 to 11 Sep 1977.
       Articles in the 10 Aug 1977 HR and the 16 Sep 1977 Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram reported Jewison’s plan to spend six months dubbing and editing the film at Pinewood Studios outside of London so that it would be ready for release by Easter 1978.
       In an interview in production materials in AMPAS library files, Eszterhas claimed that as late as mid-March 1978, a month before the film’s release, Jewison was sneak previewing different endings to determine which one audiences preferred. On 10 May 1978, Var reported that Jewison screened the film with two different endings and saw there was no difference in the audience reaction. He went with the original ending because he found the triumphant version in which “Kovak” lived, which Stallone preferred, to be “unsatisfactory,” according to an article in the 20 Nov 1978 LAT.
       On 24 Jan 1978, HR announced that F.I.S.T. would have its world premiere on the opening night of the 1978 Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex), 13 Apr 1978, at the Plitt Theatre in Century City. The publication reported on 13 Apr 1978 that it was “the first film to sell out opening night in the exposition’s eight-year history.” An article in the 2 Dec 1977 LAT reported that the movie was scheduled to open in Dubuque, IA on 25 Apr 1978, then in other cities the following week. Al Fitter, United Artists’s VP for sales and distribution, said he and Jewison wanted to reward the city for its cooperation during production. According to a 1 May 1978 United Artists press release and a news item in the 3 May 1978 Var, the premiere at the Dubuque Cinema Center was also a gala event that raised money for three local organizations.
       A 27 Feb 1978 news item in HR reported that F.I.S.T. would open on 26 Apr 1978 in 100 theaters, then open nationwide in 250 additional theaters on 21 Jun 1978. According to an article in Var on 15 Mar 1978, the film’s opening in New York City, scheduled for 26 Apr 1978, was jeopardized when a writer named Lionel White requested that the New York Federal court prevent the film’s release in a lawsuit brought against United Artists and Jewison. The suit claimed that the studio and the director plagiarized his book, Rafferty, the film rights to which were sold in Apr 1967 to production company D. Constantine Films, White’s co-plaintiff in the suit. On 22 Mar 1978, however, Var reported that Lionel White had no knowledge that he was named in the plagiarism suit, which was actually brought by the attorney for D. Constantine Films. DV reported on 26 Apr 1978 that the plaintiffs dropped their request to stop the movie’s New York opening and, according to a 26 Apr 1978 review in NYT, F.I.S.T. opened as scheduled that day in New York.
       Var reported that the other notable opening took place in Minneapolis, MN, where the movie played at a theater known for screening pornographic movies.
       According to LAT, F.I.S.T.’s television rights were presold for $7.5 million to ABC, which scheduled it to be broadcast on 23 May 1982, according to the 22 May 1982 TV Guide.
       F.I.S.T.’s critical reception was mildly positive at times: the 14 Apr 1978 DV praised the performances and the contributions of associate producer Patrick Palmer, and the 14 May 1978 NYT commended the film for opening a national dialogue on the corrupting power of power. Overall, however, the movie’s reviews were negative. The DV review echoed the 14 Apr 1978 HR critique, which found that the romance between "Kovak" and "Anna" "[deflected] the film away from its central theme" of “Kovak's" rise within the trucking union. Several reviews, including those from the 1 May 1978 Newsweek and the 13 May 1978 Cue, took exception to the star's acting, with the latter publication describing Stallone as "utterly inadequate when a deeper level of acting is required" to bring depth to the “Kovak” role. Newsweek also chastised Jewison for asking audiences to retain sympathy for “Kovak” after it is clear he sold out, while the 8 May 1978 New Yorker found the film "exceptionally genteel, for all its masculine heroics" and the depiction of the labor movement "romanticized," with "none of the halftones of class distinction." The LAT reported that Stallone blamed poor reviews on Jewison’s refusal to shoot the movie that he and Eszterhas wrote; Jewison countered that he shot the film Stallone agreed to do.
       In production materials in AMPAS library files, Joe Eszterhas claimed he wrote the novelization of the movie for Dell Publishing in three months. Reports in LAHExam and the 27 May 1977 HR confirm the publisher paid $400,000 for the paperback rights, reportedly the most ever spent on a novel based on a screenplay to that time. A 2 Jan 1978 news item and a 9 Jan 1978 ad in Publishers Weekly announced that Dell would publish the novel in Mar 1978. On 12 Jul 1978 Var reported the publisher had 750,000 copies in print. A DV news item on 22 Sep 1978 noted that the F.I.S.T. novel’s poor sales mirrored the movie’s poor performance at the box office.
       On 23 Jun 1977, an article in HR announced executive producer Gene Corman’s plans to shoot a “continuation” of F.I.S.T., featuring the son of Stallone’s character seeking vindication for his father’s death, budgeted at $8 million and scheduled to shoot in 1978. However, the existence of such a project has not been confirmed. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
21 Mar 1977.
---
Box Office
2 May 1977.
---
Box Office
9 May 1977.
---
Box Office
19 Sep 1977.
---
Cue
13 May 1978.
---
Daily Variety
18 July 1977
pp. 1, 9.
Daily Variety
7 Jun 1977.
---
Daily Variety
15 Mar 1978.
---
Daily Variety
14 Apr 1978
pp. 3, 8.
Daily Variety
25 Apr 1978
p. 12.
Daily Variety
22 Sep 1978
p. 39.
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1979.
---
Dubuque Telegraph-Herald
8 May 1977.
---
Filmex
1978.
---
Filmworld
May 1978
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
23 June 1977
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 1977
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Sep 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jan 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1978
pp. 1, 4.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Mar 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1978
pp. 3, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1978
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Apr 1978.
---
Independent Film Journal
19 May 1978.
---
LAHExam
5 Sept 1977.
---
LAHExam
26 Apr 1978
Section B, p. 2.
Long Beach Independent-Press-Telegram
16 Sep 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Apr 1977
Section II, p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
2 Dec 1977.
---
Los Angeles Times
27 Feb 1978.
---
Los Angeles Times
23 Apr 1978
Calendar, pp. 1, 31.
Los Angeles Times
20 Nov 1978
P. 12.
Motion Picture Product Digest
10 May 1978.
---
New York
8 May 1978
p. 74.
New York Times
26 Apr 1978
p. 15.
New York Times
7 May 1978
pp. 17, 28.
New York Times
14 May 1978
pp. 17, 21.
New Yorker
p. 121.
Newsweek
1 May 1978.
---
Publishers Weekly
2 Jan 1978.
---
Saturday Review
24 Jun 1978.
---
Time
1 May 1978
p. 74.
Variety
1 Dec 1976
p. 6.
Variety
15 Feb 1978.
---
Variety
15 Mar 1978.
---
Variety
19 Apr 1978
p. 26.
Variety
26 Apr 1978.
---
Variety
3 May 1978
p. 3, 52.
Variety
31 May 1978.
---
Variety
12 Jul 1978
p. 23.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Co-starring:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Gene Corman Presents
A Norman Jewison Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam tech
Spec photog
Still photog
Still photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
2d propman
Asst set dec
Const co-ord
Const painter
Painter
Painter
COSTUMES
Cost des
Male cost
Lady cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Prod mixer
Dubbing mixer
Dubbing ed
Dubbing ed
Boom op
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
MAKEUP
Make-up
Make-up
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Loc mgr, Iowa
Loc mgr, L.A.
Loc mgr, Washington, D.C.
Prod co-ord
Personal asst to dir
Prod asst
Prod asst
Scr supv
Prod auditor
Asst auditor
Research
Unit pub
Extra casting, Iowa
Extra casting, Iowa
Extra casting, L.A.
Transportation co-ord
Transportation capt
Spec equip
Police security
Prod asst
STAND INS
Stunt co-ord
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
Stunt man
SOURCES
SONGS
"Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," written by Fred J. Coots and Haven Gillespie, performed by Bing Crosby and The Andrews Sisters, courtesy of MCA Records Inc.
"Rockin' Robin," written by Michael McGinnis and Jimmy Thomas, performed by Bobby Day, courtesy of Malynn Enterprises Inc.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
FIST, Federation of Interstate Truckers
Release Date:
26 April 1978
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 26 April 1978
Production Date:
began 9 May 1977 in Dubuque, IA.
Copyright Claimant:
United Artists Corporation
Copyright Date:
18 October 1978
Copyright Number:
PA20967
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by Technicolor®
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
145
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In 1937 Cleveland, Ohio, Johnny Kovak leads a small rebellion among his fellow warehouse workers to protest their poor working conditions and the unfair dismissal of one of their co-workers. Kovak relays the men’s concerns directly to the warehouse owner, Andrews, who promises to make improvements. However, when Kovak shows up for work the next day he learns that everyone has been fired. Later, Kovak commiserates with his childhood friend, a gangster named Vince Doyle, who thinks Kovak is naïve for believing a company owner could be trusted. Doyle knows the only thing the bosses respect is force. The next night, Kovak is approached by Mike Monahan, a truck driver who observed Kovak’s actions at the warehouse. Monahan is the president of the local trucker’s union, the Federation of Interstate Truckers (FIST), Local 302, which regularly deals with companies run by unscrupulous men like Andrews. Monahan believes Kovak has a way with men, so he asks Kovak to come work for the union as an organizer. When Kovak learns FIST will also hire his best friend, Abe Belkin, and give Kovak access to a company car, he accepts Monahan’s offer. Kovak attempts to impress Anna Zerinkas, a young woman he met a few months earlier, by showing off the car as she walks to work. Later, Kovak and Abe try to organize workers at a company called Consolidated. When none of the workers will speak with them, Kovak invites the men to attend the next union meeting. At the meeting, Kovak brings in wheelchair-bound Joe Harper and explains that although Joe was injured on the job, his company has ... +


In 1937 Cleveland, Ohio, Johnny Kovak leads a small rebellion among his fellow warehouse workers to protest their poor working conditions and the unfair dismissal of one of their co-workers. Kovak relays the men’s concerns directly to the warehouse owner, Andrews, who promises to make improvements. However, when Kovak shows up for work the next day he learns that everyone has been fired. Later, Kovak commiserates with his childhood friend, a gangster named Vince Doyle, who thinks Kovak is naïve for believing a company owner could be trusted. Doyle knows the only thing the bosses respect is force. The next night, Kovak is approached by Mike Monahan, a truck driver who observed Kovak’s actions at the warehouse. Monahan is the president of the local trucker’s union, the Federation of Interstate Truckers (FIST), Local 302, which regularly deals with companies run by unscrupulous men like Andrews. Monahan believes Kovak has a way with men, so he asks Kovak to come work for the union as an organizer. When Kovak learns FIST will also hire his best friend, Abe Belkin, and give Kovak access to a company car, he accepts Monahan’s offer. Kovak attempts to impress Anna Zerinkas, a young woman he met a few months earlier, by showing off the car as she walks to work. Later, Kovak and Abe try to organize workers at a company called Consolidated. When none of the workers will speak with them, Kovak invites the men to attend the next union meeting. At the meeting, Kovak brings in wheelchair-bound Joe Harper and explains that although Joe was injured on the job, his company has provided no insurance or compensation for Joe’s family. However, the union will take care of Joe and his family since he has been a good union man. Kovak encourages the non-unionized men to join FIST so that they’ll be strong enough to stand up to the company bosses and get fair working conditions. Many men from Consolidated sign up with the union. Later that night, a lawyer for Consolidated, Arthur St. Clair, visits Kovak in his office and explains that because the company recognizes Kovak’s talent for communicating with the workers, St. Clair has been authorized to offer him a job at Consolidated. Kovak throws the man out. The next day, Kovak greets Anna after work and they get to know each other. After Kovak takes Anna home, he is attacked and beaten by men working for Consolidated. As he recovers, St. Clair contacts him to see if Kovak will reconsider his offer. Kovak refuses again. After the next union meeting, Max Graham, the visiting national president of FIST, makes it clear that he doesn’t trust Kovak because he has never worked as a trucker. Later, men from Consolidated beat up Abe. He and Kovak try to use the incident to convince Consolidated workers to go on strike. However, the men don’t want to endanger their jobs. Kovak reassures the union workers that he and Monahan will talk to Consolidated's boss, Win Talbot. At the meeting with Talbot, Monahan conveys the union workers’ wishes for the company to cover job-related medical bills and to set up insurance for their families. When Talbot refuses the workers’ requests, Kovak threatens that the men will go on strike. Shortly, Consolidated workers begin their strike by gathering at the company’s gate and agreeing to Kovak’s mandate that no trucks come in or out. After several days, Talbot calls in the Law and Order League, men hired to disrupt the strike, and they attack the unarmed workers. A riot ensues in which Consolidated trucks start operating again and Monahan is killed. After talking with Doyle, Kovak agrees to use Doyle’s men and methods to retaliate against Consolidated. Abe tells Kovak that if Doyle gets involved in FIST, the gangster will ruin it and the union will always be tainted. At the next union meeting, Graham tells the men he’ll get their jobs back. Privately, Kovak accuses the union president of having no intention of fighting for improved working conditions since their conflict with Consolidated is not Graham’s fight; it is local union business. When Kovak gets the men’s support to go back on strike, he assures them that this time they will have the means to retaliate if Consolidated tries to attack them again. As Doyle’s men start sabotaging Consolidated trucks, the workers, now armed with axe handles, have a confrontation with the police and the Law and Order League that leads to another fight. Eventually, the striking workers overwhelm their opposition and Talbot agrees to their terms. Kovak and Abe start successfully unionizing drivers in nearby states with the exception of one holdout in Chicago, Illinois, Frank Vasko. Kovak visits Vasko who says his men don’t need the union because their company already gives them good wages and insurance. Kovak explains that because all workers are not as lucky as Vasko’s men, the union cannot make any exceptions and that all of the companies must sign up. Vasko refuses to force his men to join the union. Later, Doyle and Kovak ask a local Chicago mob boss, Anthony “Babe” Milano, to handle Vasko. Milano agrees, but says Kovak owes him a favor in return. Kovak emphasizes that Milano’s role is just to talk to Vasko to persuade him to join the union. Instead, Milano’s men attack Vasko’s wife. Vasko finally capitulates and his men join the union. Elsewhere, Anna and Kovak get engaged and prepare for their wedding. When Babe approaches Kovak to collect on his favor, Kovak reluctantly agrees, unaware that Abe overhears the deal. At Kovak and Anna’s wedding, Abe accuses Kovak of selling out to Doyle and Milano and endangering everything they worked for. Kovak argues that dealing with the mob is the only way the union can secure better working conditions for its members, but Abe disagrees. He tells Kovak he is leaving to go work with Graham on the West coast. Twenty years later, when Kovak, now the head of Local 302, travels to Washington, DC, for a regional meeting, he comes to the attention of Senator Andrew Madison, the chairman of the senate’s Rackets Committee. Back in Cleveland, Kovak welcomes a visiting Abe, who informs him that Graham is embezzling union funds. Later, at the national convention in Washington, DC, where Graham is running for union president, Kovak confronts him with proof of his misappropriations. Graham withdraws from the race and nominates Kovak to run in his place. Kovak wins the election and promises the men he will get them a pay increase. In negotiating for a national contract, Kovak secures the pay raise he promised the union members, but the agreement comes with a no-strike clause as well. Elsewhere, in a closed executive session, Senator Madison suggests to the rest of the senate that his committee investigate labor unions’ ties to organized crime, starting with Kovak’s organization. Back in Cleveland, Milano pressures Kovak to give him an extension on a loan Milano received from FIST. Although Kovak is reluctant to do so, since Senator Madison has been subpoenaing the records of several local union offices, Kovak relents, telling Milano it is the last favor. Madison tries to subpoena the files at Local 302’s headquarters, but Kovak and Doyle claim all the records were stolen. Meanwhile, Doyle’s men confront union workers who go on an unauthorized “wildcat” strike and the two sides start fighting. Senator Madison uses the incident as a catalyst to launch public hearings. Senator Madison hears Milano’s and Doyle’s testimonies, then privately confronts Abe about FIST being allied with the mob. The senator warns Abe that the Rackets Committee is prepared to clean up the problem right now. Later, Doyle tells Kovak that Abe is going to testify against the union. If that happens, Kovak and FIST will be ruined. Milano wants to keep Abe from testifying and demands that Kovak step down as union president. Kovak refuses to resign and warns Milano against hurting Abe. Kovak visits Abe and urges him not to testify, but Abe feels that it is the only way to get Doyle and Milano out the union. Kovak tells him to follow his heart. Just before Kovak delivers his testimony to the hearing, he learns that Abe has been killed during a supermarket robbery. Angered by Madison’s accusation that Kovak ordered Abe’s death, Kovak leaves the hearing and is greeted by cheers from truckers outside. Kovak returns home to find no sign of Anna and their children. Hearing a noise on the first floor, Kovak grabs his gun and runs downstairs, but is shot and killed by Milano’s men. +

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.