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'I'm Interested in Taking People Into an Enlightening Experience,' Director Says

August 22, 1986|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

The day after the screening of "Extremities," director Robert M. Young kept thinking about the woman in the audience. She didn't tell him her name, nor did he ask. He figured her to be in her late 30s. At the end of the taut drama, she had hung back in the MGM theater to talk.

"She started crying, but she was angry too. She had been raped as a child," Young recalled, in the white-walled quiet of his Westwood home.

"She said, 'This is not life. In life, the woman doesn't get away. . . .' "

Adapted from the play of the same title, "Extremities" depicts the actions of a woman (played by Farrah Fawcett) who fights off a rapist, and who does so with what some might consider some rather extreme measures. Like the play, the movie provokes.

"I tried to explain to her what I was trying to do," Young said. "The film isn't life, but it is to try to take you into an experience, and we have an opportunity to inform through the structure, to take usinto a place where we may not go in life. I'm not interested in just mirroring life; I'm interested in taking people into an experience that can ultimately be enlightening or revealing.

"And I told her about my daughter."

Before Young would commit to direct "Extremities," which opens today, he had his daughter read the script by William Mastrosimone, who also wrote the play. Young wanted her approval. The oldest of his five children from two marriages, his daughter is now 30 and living in North Carolina. She is single. He prefers not to see her named in print.

When she was 16, she was pulled in off the street, held captive in a Greenwich Village apartment near their home for 3 1/2 hours and raped. As in the movie, the man had a knife and threatened to kill her.

In the hospital, his daughter refused to cooperate with the police. "She also had her schoolbooks with her, and he knew her name. He had her name and telephone number and address, and she said he told her, 'If anyone comes back here or anything, if I get caught, I'm going to get out, and I'm going to come and kill you.' "

In the movie, Marjorie (the Fawcett character), who is about 30, thwarts the rape, and her attacker warns: "They lock me up, I get out, I get you."

Unlike the movie character, Young's daughter was unable to fight back.

"She used to wake up at night, sometimes crying and shouting, screaming like in rage because she had never been able to . . . to be a victim, to be victimized, and to have to not consent to it, but to go along. . . . He finally let her go. She had kept talking to try to keep reminding him she was a person. My daughter told me she was very proud of herself to survive."

Young said that when he first read the "Extremities" script, he turned it down. But on the advice of the agent and his lawyer, who's also his best friend, he took a second look.

He said he had been afraid a movie might be "melodramatic" or "salacious." He had seen enough movies "which had rape in them which are titillating." He was also concerned about "the vigilante side" of the story. He said he was afraid to make another "Death Wish."

And Young had just been burned on a movie called "Saving Grace." The movie, about a Pope who resigns and goes to live in a small Italian village, came out in a different cut than the one he had made. "I didn't have any control, and it was a horrible experience."

So at first glance at "Extremities," Young kept thinking, "What if it doesn't work right?"

At 61, the director has a cherubic face with a gray-and-white beard and piercing blue eyes. He is an intense man, gesturing with his hands, sitting forward in his chair. He is what one might label an issues-oriented director; his themes tend to involve the poor and the dispossessed.

Young was somewhere in the South Pacific as a Navy combat photographer during World War II when he knew, suddenly, just like that, that he wanted to be a film maker. "In those days there wasn't even an expression, film maker ," he noted.

From an artsy New York family, Young's father was a film editor. And his uncle, Joe Young (who changed the family's Russian-Jewish name when he went into show business), was a songwriter whose works include "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue," "I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and "My Mammy" (for Al Jolson). He was also one of the founders of ASCAP.

After graduating from Harvard in 1949 with a major in English literature, Young concentrated on documentaries.

"I loved making documentaries," Young said, "because I could write, I could shoot, I could even do the sound.

"I had a lot of great adventures--I swam with all kinds of animals. I made films about whales, sharks, jellyfish, the life cycle of the octopus; I did a film called 'Secrets of the Reef.' It was on the Best 10 list in Time magazine in 1957."

In the early '60s Young became an associate producer and director at NBC, making four of the first eight of the network's "White Paper" series.

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