Byron Bay woman Alex Mankiewicz has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where she viewed the restored four-hour version of the 1963 film Cleopatra, written and directed by her father, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (pictured).
Byron Bay woman Alex Mankiewicz has just returned from the Cannes Film Festival where she viewed the restored four-hour version of the 1963 film Cleopatra, written and directed by her father, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (pictured). Isobel Rodgers

Cleopatra restoration vindicates traumatised director

WHEN Alex Mankiewicz was growing up, the most expensive epic Twentieth Century Fox had ever produced - the 1963 film, Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - was never talked about.

That's despite her father having been the writer and director of the celebrated movie.

"Cleopatra was like Voldemort - He Who Shall Not be Named," Ms Mankiewicz, of Byron Bay said. "It was a huge part of my dad's story and it nearly destroyed him."

The making of the epic film had traumatised her father, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, she said, both during filming amid the scandalous affair of its stars, Burton and Taylor, and later when film executives cut the original length of six hours, to four, to eventually just over three.

Cleopatra was like Voldemort - He Who Shall Not be Named

 

However, on its 50th anniversary last week, the film was lauded at the Cannes Film Festival where the restored four-hour version was screened as part of the Cannes Classics to an audience that included Richard Burton's daughter Kate Burton, and Chris Wilding, Elizabeth Taylor's son, along with Ms Mankiewicz and her mother, Rosemary Mankiewicz, 83.

The film was already $5 million in debt and had been shooting for six months in London before Joseph L. Mankiewicz was asked to take over from Rouben Mamoulian and start filming in Rome from scratch.

"There really was no script so dad was writing at night and filming during the day," Ms Mankiewicz, who returned from Cannes on Monday, said.

"This was in a time before CGI (computer generated images) so he was managing a cast of 2300 extras.

"In the middle of it all there was the Burton and Taylor scandal and all the paparazzi.

"At one stage the Vatican stepped in and threatened the whole production.

"It was an extremely exhausting undertaking and the scandal threatened to overshadow the beauty and the intimacy of the film and the brilliance of the actors.

"Dad originally wanted it to be two films, but he was ahead of his time with that idea.

"The film's restoration is so beautiful. Dad would have been so pleased to see it screened in its original length.

"He would have felt vindicated," Ms Mankiewicz.


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