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Condon, Bill - Director, screenwriter, and producer, Career, Sidelights

film monsters gods award

Born William Condon, October 22, 1955, in New York, NY. Education: Graduated from Columbia University.

Addresses: Office —c/o DreamWorks, 1000 Flower St., Glendale, CA 91201.

Career

Film work includes: screenwriter and associate producer, Strange Behavior , 1981; screenwriter, Strange Invaders , 1983; screenwriter and director, Sister, Sister , 1987; screenwriter, F/X2 , 1991; director, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh , 1995; director and screenwriter, Gods and Monsters , 1998; screenwriter, Chicago , 2002; screenwriter, Shortcut to Happiness , 2003; screenwriter and director, Kinsey , 2004; screenwriter and director, Dreamgirls , 2006. Television work includes: director, Murder 101 , 1991; director, White Lie , 1991; director, Dead in the Water , 1991; director, Deadly Relations 1993; co-executive producer, The Man Who Wouldn’t Die , 1994. Directed an episode of The Others , 2000. Also worked in the publicity department at Avco Embassy Pictures; contributed to Millimeter .

Awards: Edgar Allan Poe Award (with Roy Johansen) for best television feature or miniseries for Murder 101 , 1992; Academy Award for best writing, screenplay based on material from another medium, Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Bram Stoker Award for screenplay, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Critics Award, Deauville Film Festival, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Audience Award, Flanders Film Festival, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; FIPRESCI Prize, Flanders International Film Festival for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Silver Seashell for special prize of the jury, San Sebastián International Film Festival, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Golden Space Needle Award for best director, Seattle International Film Festival, for Gods and Monsters , 1998; Golden Satellite Award for best motion picture screenplay—adaptation, International Press Academy, for Gods and Monsters , 1999; Edgar Allan Poe Award for best motion picture, for Chicago , 2003; Directors Guild of Great Britain for outstanding directorial achievement in international film, for Kinsey , 2005; Stephen F. Kolzak Award, GLAAD Media Awards, 2005; Golden Satellite Award for best director, International Press Academy, for Dreamgirls , 2006;

Sidelights

Bill Condon won an Academy Award for his screenplay for 1998’s Gods and Monsters , a critically acclaimed film the openly gay filmmaker also directed. Condon was also the director and screenwriter of the award-winning films Kinsey and Dreamgirls . Condon also wrote, directed, and produced several television movies during his career.

Born in 1955 in New York, New York, Condon’s family was Irish Catholic. His father worked for a brokerage film. The young Condon loved the theater, especially musicals, and was an enthusiastic reader of Plato and Aristotle. He attended Regis, an all-boys school run by Jesuits, then earned a degree in philosophy from Columbia University.

Condon moved to Los Angeles in 1976. He worked in the publicity department at Avco Embassy for one year, his first film-related job. When he moved, Condon wanted to attend the University of California at Los Angeles’ film school, but instead began his career after a producer read a freelance article he wrote in Millimeter . Condon became a screenwriter, penning Strange Behavior , a mad-doctor flick for which he also served as associate producer, and Strange Invaders , which focused on an alien invasion.

In 1987, Condon directed his first film, Sister, Sister . This thriller was set in the South and centered around a crime which occurs in an unusual household headed by two sisters. Masculine Charlotte, played by Judith Ivey, and catatonic Lucy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, live in a plantation house and take in boarders. The home is surrounded by a swamp and they keep local men like the sheriff away with a shotgun. This idyllic domestic situation is affected by the weekend visit of a matron from up north with her daughter and son-in-law as well as a handsome charmer played by Eric Stoltz.

Condon’s drawing of the sisters was influenced by What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte . two films from the 1960s which starred Bette Davis. Liam Lacey of the Globe and Mail dismissed Sister, Sister as formulaic, writing, “As shamelessly bad as the plot gets—at its worst it makes the average TV crime plot seem sophisticated—the story never obliterates the pleasure of the key performances.”

Condon later conceded that Sister, Sister was a failure, telling Liese Spencer of the Independent , “The film was not a success, so I went to filmmakers’ jail: directing cable movies.” While directing films for cable—including 1991’s Murder 101 (which he also wrote) and White Lie —Condon continued to write screenplays as well. He composed the script for 1991’s F/X2 , the sequel to the popular gadget-oriented action thriller F/X , which was released in 1986. Starring Bryan Brown and Brian Dennehy, who also appeared in the original, Condon’s script remained true to the spirit of the first film.

After directing another television movie, 1994’s The Man Who Wouldn’t Die , Condon helmed his second film, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh , in 1995. The film was a sequel to Candyman , which was based on a story by Clive Barker. Like the first movie, Candyman 2 focuses on the monstrous Daniel Robataille a.k.a The Candyman, who was once a slave killed in inhumane fashion by slave owners after becoming involved with his master’s daughter. The Candyman now lives inside the mirror owned by her, coming out only to slash those who speak his name five times. Condon’s film explores what drove the Candyman to this existence, touching on related racial and moral issues along the way while he finds victims in New Orleans. Reviewing the film, Ed Masley of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette commented, “But if one thing other than a whole lot of bloodshed is relatively certain in this thought-provoking sequel, it’s that Condon expects you to at least sympathize with the poor guy.”

Condon’s career rose to a new level in 1998 with Gods and Monsters , a film he both wrote and directed. In fact, the director was even introduced at one film festival screening of his creation as a rookie filmmaker. Though not a rookie, Condon received numerous accolades, including an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for the film, an art-house hit in contrast to the action/thriller/horror genres which had earlier dominated his career.

Gods and Monsters explores the end of the life of British director James Whale, who directed classic Hollywood horror films like Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein , and The Invisible Man in the 1930s. The mysterious death of the openly gay man in 1957 drives the film as the then 61-year-old director was found floating face down in his swimming pool. It was unclear if he committed suicide or was murdered for one of several reasons: his open homosexuality at a time when such a sexual preference was kept under wraps in Hollywood, his dictatorial directing style, and his talk of killing himself shortly before his death.

While the film was based on a novel by Christopher Bram, Father of Frankenstein , and Condon’s own research, Gods and Monsters was primarily a speculative take on Whale’s life and death. Still, Condon told Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star Tribune , “I felt obligated to get to the real Whale.” The script focuses on the relationship between Whale, played by British iconic actor Ian McKellan, and his gardener/handyman, played by Brendan Fraser. The film also starred Lynn Redgrave as Whale’s protective housekeeper.

Condon admitted Gods and Monsters was a tough sell to studios, telling the Independent’s Spencer that “80 percent of it was two people sitting in a room   talking. It’s about a man who is losing his powers, not gaining powers. It’s about loss, regret, and melancholy. It has a gay man in the lead and it’s not a perky, gay-lifestyle movie.” Condon’s film and his stars were roundly praised for their work on the film, with McKellan taking many awards for his remarkably able depiction of Whale. Condon himself won an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, in 1998.

After the success of Gods and Monsters , Condon directed an episode of the television series The Others in 2000 and wrote the script for the hit film Chicago . Released in 2002, Chicago was based on the long-running Broadway musical which made its debut in the mid-1970s. The stage version was originally based on a 1926 play entitled The Brave Little Women which focused on two women who became best friends in jail while awaiting trial for murdering their lovers. The stage musical version changed the dynamic by making the women enemies who become stars on vaudeville and emphasized the downside of fame. Condon’s script retained the essence of the story, but focused more attention on the character of Roxie, who is obsessed with herself. Reviewing the film for the Boston Globe , Wesley Morris wrote of Condon’s take on the story, “It’s a wiley narrative choice.” Condon was nominated for another Academy Award for his script.

Condon’s next major project as a director and screenwriter was 2004’s Kinsey , which had taken three years to get off the ground. Like Gods and Monsters, Kinsey was a biopic about a controversial public figure. Alfred C. Kinsey (Liam Neeson) and his wife Clara “Mac” McMillen (Laura Linney) studied the sex lives of Americans and published his findings in his well-known, but highly controversial, Kinsey Reports of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Kinsey and his associates used an effective face-to-face interview technique which helped convince interviewees to open up about their deepest sexual secrets. Kinsey had begun his career as an entomologist, but turned to sex research because of his students’ problematic ignorance about sex as well as his own youthful experiences with misinformation. He also gave sex instruction lectures.

Condon hoped audiences would connect with Kinsey and his revelations. He told Jose Antonio Vargas of the Washington Post , “One of the basic ideas in the movie is that we all have an individual, unique sense of sexuality, but that we all want to feel normal, feel a part of the group, feel that we belong. I hope the people who see the film don’t just consider it as an amusing look at a moment in our past. I hope they connect to it today.”

One of Kinsey’s biographers, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, wrote of Condon’s Kinsey in the Independent , “It is a moving film and a brave one. Bill Condon doesn’t evade any side of Alfred C Kinsey—not his bisexuality, for instance, or the way he encouraged very free behavior among his associates. It is certain to arouse fury on the right, just as its subject did.”

Many critics praised the provocative film, including David Denby of the New Yorker who noted that " Kinsey is … playful and happy and even naughty. It’s partly a scientific brief, partly a song of sex, and it’s enormously enjoyable." Yet as when Kinsey originally published his reports on male and female sexuality, Condon and his film were condemned by some conservatives who regarded him and his work as contributing to the fall of modern society.

Two years later after Kinsey hit movie screens, Condon’s film Dreamgirls was released. Like Chicago, Dreamgirls was based on a hit Broadway musical. The story in turn was inspired in part by the drama within and around the popular Motown girl group, the Supremes. With a $70 million budget, the largest of Condon’s career to date, the film starred singer Beyonce Knowles, American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson, and comedian Eddie Murphy.

Dreamgirls encompasses the rags to riches story of a Detroit-based girl group through a manager named Curtis (Jamie Foxx), who discovers their talent and takes them to the top of the music charts. Condon also included relevant cultural happenings from the time period, emphasizing the social change that came from the success of Motown music. He told James Ulmer of the New York Times , “I wanted the story of Dreamgirls to mirror its larger historical context of the turbulent ’60s and ’70s—the peace marches, the riots and the real decimation of the inner cities.” The result was a popular film which was a hit with critics and audiences.

In addition to making films, Condon also worked to support the film industry in other ways. He served on the board of IFP/Los Angeles, which supports independent filmmakers and film enthusiasts. He also helped create the Writers Guild of America’s Independent Writers Steering Committee. Condon planned on continuing to make unique films in his own right, telling Vargas of the Washington Post , “I don’t want to make movies about heroes. I want to make a movie about fascinating people.”

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