Oscar-winning documentary maker Arnold Schwartzman is turning his cameras on Margate, the seaside town where he grew up and where he first experienced the lure of Hollywood.
Schwartzman, who won his Best Documentary Oscar in 1982 for directing the Holocaust film Genocide, is using old film clips, posters and live action footage to create Margate Paradiso, a paean to the Kent resort.
His 90-minute documentary coincides with Margate being listed as one of the top ten places to visit in the world by the Rough Guide. It is the only British resort to make the list.
“People don’t realise the connection Margate has to celebrities, going back to the turn of the century,” says Wapping-born Schwartzman, who has lived in Hollywood for 30 years but is experiencing nostalgic longings for Margate.
“Trevor Howard was born there, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford spent their honeymoon there, Sydney Greenstreet went to school there, Marty Feldman worked at Dreamland and Alfred Hitchcock spent his summer holidays there,” he said. “J.W.W. Turner stayed there and Karl Marx and T.S Elliot would go there for the sea air to recover from their ailments.”
In addition, some of the top stars of the day appeared at the town’s Winter Gardens. “I saw Gracie Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Tommy Cooper, Terry Thomas, Tommy Steele, Gigli, the Beatles, Benny Hill and many others there.”
Schwartzman, who first became interested in filmmaking when as an 11-year-old he saw the 1948 film The Weaker Sex being made on Margate beach, is in the process of obtaining clearance to include old film clips in which Margate is mentioned. And there are a surprising number, including Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Carry on Cruising, Kelly’s Heroes, Summer Holiday, The Lavender Hill Mob and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Schwartzman, who was made an OBE in 2002 for services to the U.K film industry in the U.S., moved to Margate with his parents after the war when his father, a former waiter at the Savoy Hotel, bought a small hotel in Cliftonville.
At the age of 15 he got a job as assistant projectionist at the local Cameo Cinema before enrolling in the local art school.
While doing his national service in Korea he bought an 8mm camera from the U.S Army PX store and his first film shot on the camera in Korea is now in London’s Imperial War Museum.
After being demobbed he worked as a graphic designer at Southern TV and later at Associated-Redifussion. In 1978 he moved to Hollywood where he has produced and directed a number of feature documentaries.
“I frequently return to the U.K. and go to Margate,” he said. “The town is undergoing a renaissance with the Turner Contemporary Gallery, the development of Dreamland and so on, so I think my documentary is quite timely.”