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HISTORY

       Quintet was Paul Newman’s first film following a year and a half hiatus from acting, as explained in production notes in AMPAS library files. He had previously worked with director Robert Altman on Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976, see entry). Except for casting and location choices, Altman withheld any pre-release publicity about the film, including the plot, to avoid “conditioning” the audience in advance. The set was closed and the actors were requested not to discuss the project with the media.
       According to Altman, Quintet was an actual board game that he invented himself, complete with rules and pieces, to represent the culture of the film’s post-apocalyptic future. However, the game was not only a prop. Cast and crew often played for fun on set, and there were plans to market a commercial version. The setting was also meant to be unidentifiable in terms of a particular country, and Altman stated that using an international cast with various accents helped to “denationalize the story.”
       The filmmakers originally considered shooting in Chicago, IL, before deciding to film the entire picture in the vicinity of Montreal, Canada, as stated in a 26 Oct 1977 LAT article. According to a 7 Dec 1977 Var article and an 8 Dec 1977 HR brief, principal photography was scheduled to begin 16 Jan 1978 for ten weeks.
       Production notes explained that the primary set was an open-air, steel-grid building on Saint Helen's Island, situated on the Saint Lawrence River outside Montreal. The deteriorating complex, which provided an ... More Less

       Quintet was Paul Newman’s first film following a year and a half hiatus from acting, as explained in production notes in AMPAS library files. He had previously worked with director Robert Altman on Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976, see entry). Except for casting and location choices, Altman withheld any pre-release publicity about the film, including the plot, to avoid “conditioning” the audience in advance. The set was closed and the actors were requested not to discuss the project with the media.
       According to Altman, Quintet was an actual board game that he invented himself, complete with rules and pieces, to represent the culture of the film’s post-apocalyptic future. However, the game was not only a prop. Cast and crew often played for fun on set, and there were plans to market a commercial version. The setting was also meant to be unidentifiable in terms of a particular country, and Altman stated that using an international cast with various accents helped to “denationalize the story.”
       The filmmakers originally considered shooting in Chicago, IL, before deciding to film the entire picture in the vicinity of Montreal, Canada, as stated in a 26 Oct 1977 LAT article. According to a 7 Dec 1977 Var article and an 8 Dec 1977 HR brief, principal photography was scheduled to begin 16 Jan 1978 for ten weeks.
       Production notes explained that the primary set was an open-air, steel-grid building on Saint Helen's Island, situated on the Saint Lawrence River outside Montreal. The deteriorating complex, which provided an ideal representation for Altman’s frozen city in ruins, had been originally built for the 1967 World’s Fair, known as Expo 67, and remained in place after the Fair as an exhibition called “Man and His World.” In order to maintain the story’s sub-freezing temperature in every scene, interior sets were also constructed within the exposed multi-story building, unprotected from the area’s winter weather. Strong winds required welding the scenery to the structure. Snow already surrounded the location, and the crew splashed the set with water each night to enhance the icy appearance. Art director Wolf Kroeger mentioned that his team was not in complete control of production design, since the glacial weather influenced about fifty percent of the final effect. While the unsheltered nature of the building created an appropriate atmosphere for the story, executive producer and assistant director, Tommy Thompson, stated that the extreme cold was challenging for cast and crew because the set was difficult to heat. Shooting required warming devices for equipment, such as cameras lenses, cables and dollies, and for paint and makeup, which would immediately freeze. Before entering the frigid set, actors were dressed in heated quarters, then moved to their trailers, known as “decompression chambers,” which were kept at approximately fifty degrees. Multi-layered costumes were designed for warmth as well as for visuals. The twenty Rottweilers used in the film were from CA, and the animal training company, Frank Inn, Inc., relied on a local Rottweiler club to locate most of the dogs. After being trained, they were driven, instead of flown, to Canada so they could gradually acclimatize to the cold weather.
       According to an 18 Oct 1978 HR article, production costs were approximately $6.4 million and marketing expenses, $2.9 million. When the picture garnered mostly negative reviews, Alan Ladd, Jr., then-president of Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., revealed in a 9 Feb 1979 DV article that Altman did not have final editing cut on the “complicated” film, while the studio’s input was restricted by the director’s unique vision for the story and by the remote location. A 4 May 1979 DV article called Quintet a “financial disaster” and explained that Fox would quickly shift the picture to the cable television market in Sep 1979 to help offset losses.
      End credits include the acknowledgement: “Our special thanks to Sonolab, Inc., Montreal.” The following statement also appears in the end credits: “Filmed on location at Man and His World, Montreal with the fullest cooperation of the entire organization.”
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
9 Feb 1979
p. 1, 25.
Daily Variety
4 May 1979
p. 1, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1978
p. 1, 17.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1979
p. 3, 23.
Los Angeles Times
26 Oct 1977
Section F, p. 12.
Los Angeles Times
9 Feb 1979
Section G, p. 1, 24.
New York Times
9 Feb 1979
p. 13.
Variety
7 Dec 1977
p. 3, 22.
Variety
7 Feb 1979
p. 20.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Lion's Gate Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Key grip
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst to art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Editorial apprentice
Editorial apprentice
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Title des
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Post prod
Asst to prod
Project mgr
Project coord
Project auditor
Project accountant
Casting
Trains des and built by
Rottweiler dogs
Head trainer [Rottweiler dogs]
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
DETAILS
Release Date:
9 February 1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 9 February 1979
Production Date:
began 16 January 1978 in Montreal, Canada
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
1 March 1979
Copyright Number:
PA31593
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and cameras by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
118
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In a post-apocalyptic ice age future, a seal hunter named Essex, travels north with his companion Vivia, who is the daughter of Essex’s deceased hunting partner. The couple walks across a barren, snow-covered landscape towards a city where Essex once lived. Along the way, they pass a pack of Rottweiler dogs feeding on a human corpse, which has become a common occurrence, but they also spot a goose flying, which Essex has not seen in years. As they rest inside an abandoned structure, Vivia, child-like and naïve about the world, asks Essex once again to describe his memories of the city. Essex says the metropolis of five million inhabitants had twenty-five levels and five sectors, plus a park with a lake and trees. After Essex and Vivia arrive in the sparsely populated and ruined city, Essex attempts to locate his brother, Francha, but is unsure if he is still alive. At the non-functioning information center, Essex is able to decipher Francha’s address from the extant data. When the brothers reunite, Francha is thrilled that Essex, whom he assumed was dead, has returned. Essex explains that he has been hunting seals in the south for the last decade, but the population is now depleted. Amazed by Vivia’s youth, Francha speculates that she might be the last person born. As Vivia removes her outer garments, Francha and his female companions, Jaspera and Aeon, are astonished to see that the young woman is pregnant, a rarity in the current world. Francha suggests they celebrate by playing the six-person board game, Quintet, which has become the primary activity and obsession for ... +


In a post-apocalyptic ice age future, a seal hunter named Essex, travels north with his companion Vivia, who is the daughter of Essex’s deceased hunting partner. The couple walks across a barren, snow-covered landscape towards a city where Essex once lived. Along the way, they pass a pack of Rottweiler dogs feeding on a human corpse, which has become a common occurrence, but they also spot a goose flying, which Essex has not seen in years. As they rest inside an abandoned structure, Vivia, child-like and naïve about the world, asks Essex once again to describe his memories of the city. Essex says the metropolis of five million inhabitants had twenty-five levels and five sectors, plus a park with a lake and trees. After Essex and Vivia arrive in the sparsely populated and ruined city, Essex attempts to locate his brother, Francha, but is unsure if he is still alive. At the non-functioning information center, Essex is able to decipher Francha’s address from the extant data. When the brothers reunite, Francha is thrilled that Essex, whom he assumed was dead, has returned. Essex explains that he has been hunting seals in the south for the last decade, but the population is now depleted. Amazed by Vivia’s youth, Francha speculates that she might be the last person born. As Vivia removes her outer garments, Francha and his female companions, Jaspera and Aeon, are astonished to see that the young woman is pregnant, a rarity in the current world. Francha suggests they celebrate by playing the six-person board game, Quintet, which has become the primary activity and obsession for many inhabitants, since work now seems meaningless in their dying civilization. Each player requires three matching game pieces, which often reflect his or her personality, and some players wear their game pieces as identification tags. Francha offers to give Essex a set, but Essex is not interested in playing and leaves to buy firewood at the market, and inquire about employment. While he is away, a Quintet gambler named Redstone detonates an explosive at Francha’s apartment. Essex rushes back when he sees the blast and finds everyone inside dead, including Vivia. Kneeling beside her body, he grabs a stick for a weapon and pursues Redstone, whom he saw near the apartment. However, another Quintet gambler, St. Christopher, slits Redstone’s throat, then quickly departs the scene. In Redstone’s bag, Essex finds personalized Quintet game pieces and a list of six names: Francha, Redstone, Goldstar, Deuca, St. Christopher, and Ambrosia. Essex buries Vivia in the river before hungry dogs have a chance to mangle her corpse, then investigates the explosion that killed her. After locating Redstone’s address, Essex learns that the gambler has reserved a room at the Hotel Electra for a Quintet tournament. Arriving at the hotel, Essex poses as Redstone and wears the man’s game piece around his neck. The female innkeeper, Deuca, assigns Essex a room, while Grigor, the Quintet casino referee, observes him with interest, knowing that Essex is an impostor. Later, Grigor tries to befriend Essex and explains that, as referee, he establishes rules and settles disputes, but is not allowed to play. He invites Essex to join a game of Quintet at the hotel that evening. Among the participants is an expert female player named Ambrosia. In the first round, she rolls the highest number with the dice, earning the advantage of being the “Sixth Man” and proceeding directly to final round, known as the end game. She awaits the winner from the five remaining players, who try to purge each other by means of dice rolls and board moves. Elimination of a player is known as a “killing.” Meanwhile, Grigor returns to the casino. Along the way, he is approached by St. Christopher, who is anxious to know how they should proceed with the tournament now that a man posing as Redstone has arrived, but Grigor wants to learn more about the mysterious intruder before issuing a ruling. St. Christopher is also angry that the real Redstone unnecessarily massacred everyone in the apartment, just to murder Francha, and believes the action betrays the ethics of the tournament. Back at the hotel, Ambrosia emerges the winner of the board game after eliminating Essex in the final round. During the night, Essex continues his investigation of the names on the list and overhears the gambler Goldstar telling Ambrosia that he will enjoy murdering St. Christopher, whom Essex later learns is the most skillful Quintet player and runs a charity house. Meanwhile, Goldstar loses his opportunity to confront St. Christopher and is fatally stabbed by Deuca. Elsewhere, Essex becomes friendly with Ambrosia, who resides in the adjacent hotel room. When they discover Goldstar’s corpse, Essex interrogates Ambrosia about the ritual killings and also discloses his true identity. Although evasive about the meaning of the list, Ambrosia is touched by Essex’s old-fashioned, hopeful view of the world and reminds him that avoiding death is pointless since civilization will soon end as the world freezes. Lonely, Ambrosia asks Essex to spend the night with her. The next day, hoping to glean information about the impostor’s identity and purpose, Grigor invites Essex for a drink of booza, the local liquor; Essex, pretending to be intoxicated, frustrates Grigor by rambling incoherently. St. Christopher arrives at the bar and agrees to escort the impostor back to his room, where he has the chance to murder Essex. However, St. Christopher refrains, since the impostor is not officially on the kill list. Later that night, the fourth player in the tournament, Deuca, is stabbed to death by St. Christopher. As the winner of the front game, St. Christopher declares to Grigor that he is ready to face Ambrosia, who has been waiting on the sidelines of the tournament as the “Sixth Man.” However, Ambrosia insists that the man who claims to be “Redstone,” even if he is an impostor, must be killed first. Agreeing with her, Grigor rules that the impostor has unknowingly become a player in the tournament and must be eliminated if St. Christopher wants to advance to the final round. St. Christopher defers to Grigor’s decision and leaves to assassinate Essex. As Essex walks to his brother’s sector, St. Christopher confronts him, but during the chase, St. Christopher falls through a cavity in the snow and is impaled on his own spear. Arriving at Francha’s apartment, Essex locates his brother’s list, which contains the same six names as Redstone’s list, confirming that the tournament is a Quintet game of real killings. Unexpectedly, Ambrosia arrives and approaches Essex with a concealed knife, but Essex slits her throat, realizing that he is now a player and must kill or be killed. At the casino, he deposits Ambrosia’s body in a fire pit in front of Grigor and declares himself the winner, but also reveals his contempt for the deadly game. As Grigor tries to convince the impostor to stay in the city and be a great Quintet player, Essex leaves and walks north, hoping to find another way to survive. +

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.