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Producer Stanley Jaffe; CHILDREN ARE HIS CINEMATIC THEME

By Joseph N. BellSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 18, 1982



Los Angeles

Three years ago, producer Stanley R. Jaffe left a cutting room to attend the Academy Award ceremonies. ''As I sat there and watched,'' he recalls, ''I was wishing that I was working on a picture like 'Coming Home' or 'Deer hunter' - a picture that was about something and that somebody would want to see. I had this awful feeling I'd just spent two years on this little picture that nobody was going to see.

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''You go through that. Any producer who says he doesn't is lying - and they don't come any more sure of themselves than me. That's why a producer needs a positive support system around him. But even that didn't stop me from feeling very low that night.''

The movie Jaffe was editing at the time was called ''Kramer vs. Kramer,'' and a year later it won almost every award in sight. And while that was happening, Jaffe's head was deep into his next film, ''Taps.'' Though it didn't appear in this year's Oscar nominations, a small picture it is not, either technically or cerebrally.

On the surface, it tells the story of a group of students in an American military academy - run by a rigid, retired general - who seize the academy and defend it with weapons of war when developers threaten to take over the school and tear it down. The film has been seen variously as an antiwar tract, a tribute to honor, a defense of the military, and a dramatic warning against the effects of extremism. Jaffe sees it as none of these things, but he is also impatient when asked to explain the message he wanted to convey in ''Taps.''

''The first picture I ever did,'' he says acerbically in a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, ''was 'Goodbye Columbus.' When we screened it for a group of college editors in New York, one of them asked the director, Larry Peerce, what he meant to say in the film, and Peerce said, 'What's the difference? I can tell you what I meant, but it really doesn't matter. I can't sit next to everybody and interpret the film the way I would like it interpreted. The picture means whatever you got out of it.'

''Same way with 'Taps.' Is there a reason I made it? Absolutely. Is the message clearly getting across to everyone? Apparently not. Is it getting across to enough people? Yes.''

OK, so what is the main point of the movie?

''My principal concern,'' Jaffe says, stressing each word, ''is that we are not watching what is going into the heads of our children. We are sitting in a society where Pavlovian responses are elicited by words like 'honor,' 'country,' 'duty,' 'friendship' - words if spoken by a single voice can lead a lot of people, especially children, down garden paths. There must be other voices entering the makeup of our children. In this case, we are talking about children in a military academy, but it could just as easily have happened somewhere else. It is finally, I suppose, a plea for the importance of a breadth of education. Our children are the most important assets in our world. That's why I am obsessed with doing pictures about them.''

If this kind of passion in a filmmaker seems a distant cry from the conglomerate figures who now own and frequently run the motion picture business, it is. Stanley Jaffe is possible only because he's successful. On his terms.

He had his run in the executive suites of Hollywood. He was actually born to such a job. The son of the chairman of the board of Columbia Pictures, Jaffe grew up at the feet of men like David O. Selznick and Jack L. Warner, who put a very personal stamp on all their films. But young Jaffe also immersed himself in the other side of the film business, the side that was taking over when he was growing up: high finance. After he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Finance, Jaffe was the complete film executive, steeped in tradition, creativity, and finance.