BAADER’S ANGELS: INTERVIEW WITH PAMELA JAHN

Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom

Baader’s Angels: Women’s Roles in German Terrorism Films

6-10 December 2007

ICA, London

Programme

Born from the radical student movement of the late sixties, the Red Army Faction, or Baader-Meinhof group, as it was known in the press, threatened the stability of the West German state for a decade. Their violent attacks against a right-wing establishment that they saw as a direct continuation of Nazi Germany deeply polarised the nation and put into question the very foundations of German democracy. It’s been thirty years since the group’s leaders, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Jan-Carl Raspe, died in prison, and the ICA is marking the event by presenting a season of films that focuses on the role women have played in the revolutionary movement. We talked to Pamela Jahn, curator of the season, to find out more.

Virginie Sélavy: The thirtieth anniversary of the death of the Baader-Meinhof gang leaders is a strange anniversary to mark. In your view what does it represent?

Pamela Jahn: First of all, when I was thinking of putting the season together I struggled with marking the death of the leaders as an anniversary, so I decided to call it not an anniversary but rather a season to remember the German Autumn. I think that the debate over the deaths in Stammheim over the last few years is about German democracy, and the way that the police dealt with them is still something that interests a lot of people in Germany, especially because many former RAF members are now being released from prison. There’s a lot going on in Germany and I thought that might well be of interest to people elsewhere too.

VS: Yes, definitely, I think there’s an interest in this all over Europe. Why did you decide to concentrate specifically on the role of women in these filmic representations of German terrorism?

PJ: Two reasons mainly. The first one was that I personally found it really interesting that when you look at, for example, old wanted posters you see that almost half of the people that the police were looking for were actually women. I think that women played a very important role in the RAF. While I was looking for films a lot of filmmakers pointed out the struggle that women had experienced personally and politically at that time.

VS: It is striking to see the number of women who were part of the RAF, not just the leaders Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin, but many other young women. How do you explain that? Why did so many young women join such a hardcore revolutionary movement at the time?

PJ: I think one of the reasons was that it all started in the late sixties, and even though I wouldn’t call it a feminist movement, I think a lot of women were given the opportunity to actually act within the group. They also found a base to fight against what was going on in West Germany and everything that they didn’t agree with. And I think they were given as much space as men, and maybe that was something rather typical in West Germany, more so than in other countries at that time.

VS: There definitely seems to be a link between the involvement in the RAF and the feminist struggle in the story of people like Inge Viett, that we see in Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom. In her case, there seems to be a clear connection between personal and political struggle.

PJ: I think Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom is the best example of the way the women explain why they did what they did and I think that what Inge Viett says applies to most of the women who were active within the RAF. This is why it’s a very important film within the season, as much as The Legends of Rita, in the way that it shows how a lot of women terrorists had to take on another identity. I find it incredibly interesting how Schlí¶ndorff deals with the fact that there’s a woman actually on the other side [the East German side] who’s trying to change her life, to escape from her previous identity and to find a new identity in a new country. All these films focus a lot on the political situation in the separated and then unified Germany.

VS: You’ve mentioned Volker Schlí¶ndorff and it’s interesting that in such a short season that features only five films, there are two films by him, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and The Legends of Rita. Why did you include those two films in the selection?

PJ: Because I think Schlí¶ndorff was not only important at the time – he also plays an important role in Germany in Autumn, which was made in 1977-1978 as a reaction to the events of the time – but it’s also very interesting to see his development within his own filmography. He comes from The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum and then [25 years later] he picks up the topic again to do The Legends of Rita. I think he’s one of the crucial directors when it comes to terrorist films made in Germany and especially within New German Cinema.

VS: What’s also interesting in the comparison between the two films is that in Katharina Blum you have a character who’s come into contact with a terrorist but is not actually one herself. In The Legends of Rita, Rita is actually a terrorist and she’s been involved in violent action. Do you think that Schlí¶ndorff could have made a film like this in 1975 or do you think that at the time it would have been unacceptable to portray such a violent female terrorist?

PJ: I’m pretty sure he could have. What I think he was more interested in back in 1975 when he made The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum was the way the media dealt with the German Autumn and the death of Baader and Ensslin in Stammheim. I think that at the time he wanted to point out the particular problem of the media’s attitude in West Germany rather than show the personal destiny of someone who was an active member of the group. I think what was more important to him was to show how you can become a victim of the media even if you are not directly active yourself. But at the same time it shows the character’s own sense of democracy and resistance.

VS: In The Legends of Rita, Rita is a kind of composite of various female members of the RAF. There are elements in her character that come from the real life of female members of the RAF. How does Schlí¶ndorff portray these women terrorists through the character of Rita? What does he show about them through that character?

JD: I think he shows her struggle to carry on living. Whether you want to or not you have to take on a new identity and live under cover to survive. And that’s not really related to Meinhof or Ensslin who actually decided to end their lives in prison instead of doing everything they could to survive. Rita Vogt was never like a real character, she was never a real terrorist. Interestingly enough, it’s a story Schlí¶ndorff wrote with [Wolfgang] Kohlhaase, who is an East German screenwriter, which makes it even more interesting in the connection between East and West Germany. I think that it is really about the second movement of the RAF and what happened after the German Autumn and how these active men and women who had played an important part in the movement had to struggle to go on and had to keep their will to fight for whatever they thought was the political future of Germany.

VS: In Rita’s story there are echoes of the life of Inge Viett, a member of the RAF who took refuge in East Germany to escape prosecution in the West and whose life is documented in Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom. By including these two films in the season did you think that it would be interesting to have this kind of echo between this fictional story and the real story of someone like Inge Viett?

JP: They are connected to each other, of course, and even though The Legends of Rita was made up it certainly relates to real-life stories.

VS: I think this mirroring of fiction and reality among the different films in the season is quite interesting.

PJ: Definitely. And it’s really cleverly done, for example The Legends of Rita never mentions any RAF events, it’s never said, it’s never shown, there aren’t many references directly given in the film. But you don’t have to know much about the RAF when you’re watching the film.

VS: Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom is the only straightforward documentary in the season. Why did you pick this one in particular, rather than for instance, a film like Ulrike Marie Meinhof, the 1994 documentary about the RAF leader?

PJ: I found it interesting to see not just a portrait of one of the most famous leaders of the RAF but to show the personal struggle of all these women who were fighting within the RAF and for its aims. I thought that the comparison between the destinies of the two women [Inge Viett and Urugayan anarchist Maria Barhoum] was done in a very sensitive and very interesting way. When I first saw the film I was really impressed not only by those two lives but also by the emotional impact it has on everyone, even someone from a later generation.

VS: It is a very interesting film, also because there is no commentary to help you figure things out. It’s just these two women reminiscing and meeting in Cuba, and although it obviously has a lot of meaning for them, that’s never overly emphasized.

PJ: I have to say that one of my major problems in putting this season together was that a lot of the films that I would have liked to have shown are just not subtitled. I really wanted to have Greater Freedom, Lesser Freedom and at the same time screen Marianne and Juliane, which is related to Ensslin’s life, and it would have been incredibly interesting to show them as a double bill, but unfortunately there is no longer any subtitled print available.

VS:Yes, it seems like an obvious film to show in this season.

PJ:I know, I was hoping until the last minute that we would be able to get hold of it but unfortunately we couldn’t.

VS:There were two other films that I was going to ask you about, two films that were actually made by or connected to the two main female leaders of the group. Ulrike Meinhof made a film called Bambule in 1970, a TV drama set in a girls’ boarding school. It wasn’t broadcast until 1997, and it’s obviously a very rarely screened film, so this would have been a great opportunity to show it. Did you consider including it?

PJ:I would have loved to show it but as it was only produced for TV there is no subtitled version of it and we can’t show anything that is not subtitled, even though I think that there is actually a large German community in London that would have been interested in seeing it.

VS:I think other people would have come as well. Even if you don’t understand, it would be such an amazing thing to see!

PJ:Of course, but even with the few films that we’re showing I was already struggling. It’s a shame because there are a lot of very interesting documentaries that were made for TV in Germany, which don’t necessarily concentrate on women but which would have been very interesting to show to an audience that is not directly involved in the whole political situation. I’m glad that I can at least screen Germany in Autumn. I used it as a kind of historical background even though it also deals with women’s struggles in a lot of ways. It is interesting to see Fassbinder in a very emotional conversation with his mother who’s completely passive because of the generation she’s from – basically the WWII generation – but it also shows a few women who were not terrorists but who were trying to deal with German history at that time. So even that film is somehow related to what I wanted to show with this season. There have been a lot of seasons about this subject, in other European countries and also at the ICA in 2002. Personally I found it most interesting to show the women characters depicted in the New German Cinema films.

VS:The other film I was going to ask you about is the one that Gudrun Ensslin starred in in 1967, Das Abonnement. I suppose that must be even more difficult to get hold of than the other films?

PJ:Yeah, I would have loved to see that film but I couldn’t get hold of it. It would have been incredibly interesting to see her acting. But it was made before she became a leader of the RAF.

VS:It sounds like a very intriguing film: it’s been described as pornographic and experimental at the same time.

PJ:Yes, it would have been interesting. In Germany now they’re currently shooting the film version of The Baader-Meinhof Complex, the book that was written by Stefan Aust. It would have been great to show that as well but I would have had to wait until next year.

VS:Three of the five films you’re showing were made in 2000, while the other two were made in the 70s. Was it a deliberate choice on your part to mix films from the time with more recent films?

PJ:I really wanted to show the development not only in terms of time going by and how people from different generations are now living with what happened in the late 60s and 70s, but also to show the development of the New German Cinema. I think 2000 was a crucial date. After the wall came down a lot of filmmakers started to think about how to deal with that subject again. It’s all related to the new unified Germany in some way or another. So I wanted to make people aware of that development, in the political situation and the personal situation of the terrorists, because it was only in the early 90s that they said they would stop their activities.

VS:The State I Am In is a bit different from the other films you’re showing because it focuses on the daughter of former terrorists. Why did you choose to include that one in the season?

PJ:Because even though she’s only fifteen, in a way she’s a woman. What also interested me was that even though she’s from a completely different generation, she has to deal with whatever her parents did, she’s thrown into a life that she didn’t choose. It made me think of the lives of women like Anne Frank, who basically don’t have a choice in the first place. She’s a strong character, you can see where she comes from, her family roots are showing in the way she struggles to deal with her situation; even though she’s looking for a normal teenage life, she is very political in her own right.

VS:There’s another German film that deals with the younger generation’s attitude towards 70s politics, called The Edukators in English. It’s interesting that there is a focus in these two recent films on how the younger generation responds to this period, and on their way of being political, because it’s different from the previous generation.

PJ:Yes, it is. I think it’s also got to do with the fact that the whole RAF movement and the Baader-Meinhof Complex is becoming more and more a sort of cultural phenomenon, as it happens with a lot of political events and especially personalities, if you look at Che Guevara for instance. I think that there is this strong political stance among the German youth, probably because of our history. It’s a great topic for filmmakers to pick up and to show how they think we can deal with that and how to go on in life if you have a history like that.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

One More Time with Feeling: Interview with Andrew Dominik

One_More_Time_With_Feeling
One More Time with Feeling

Seen at Venice International Film Festival, Venice (Italy)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 8 September 2016

Distributor: Picturehouse Entertainment

Director: Andrew Dominik

UK, France 2016

112 mins

The Australian filmmaker talks about working with Nick Cave, directorial tactics and his favourite song from the new Bad Seeds album.

For one night only, on 8 September 2016, Andrew Dominik’s beautifully moving and sad documentary will give audiences around the world a special opportunity to hear songs from Skeleton Tree, the latest album from Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and see a glimpse of how it got made. The project originally started off purely as a promotional film to support the album release, but ultimately turned into something bigger, much bolder and undeniably richer, mainly driven by the emotional trauma Nick Cave found himself in after the death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in July 2015.

Like Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s recent documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, which offered an intriguing and highly original look at Cave’s life, One More Time with Feeling is anything but a standard take on the great artist and his irresistibly captivating music. From experimenting with mixing 2D and 3D black-and-white cinematography, to the shrewd staging of the songs, and Cave’s magnetising voiceover, Dominik (Killing Them Softly) manages to not only capture the artist at work but encourages him to gradually open up about his emotions and the sheer bewilderment and haunting grief that surrounds him and his family since the terrible ‘accident’ (a word that Cave himself doesn’t use easily). The result is illuminating and as deeply affecting as the music itself: fragile, fragmented, powerful and utterly poignant to its hauntingly dark core.

Pamela Jahn talked to Andrew Dominik at the Venice Film Festival earlier this week, where the film had its world premiere.

Pamela Jahn: The original brief for this documentary was quite different to the final film. How did it come about?

Andrew Dominik: Basically, the original idea was to just do some sort of live event that would be shown in a bunch of theatres, but Nick didn’t want to do it, maybe because he thought it was too much pressure, and so they decided to make a film instead. And he originally just asked me if I’d shoot the songs from the record, like a performance or something. But that would have only added up to 35 minutes, so we had to put other stuff into this, and what that other stuff would be we didn’t really know. It all happened quite organically. I knew obviously that the film had to deal with the trauma, because that was really the only thing that was happening, or that was the thing that was under everything. It was just a question of how directly we would deal with it, because as a friend, you don’t want to go too much into it, but as a filmmaker you’ve got to try to get to the subject matter at hand, and I kind of felt that that’s what he wanted me to do, that that’s my job, and so that’s what I did. And then the film took shape little by little. I came up with the idea of the voiceover, because Nick’s life is this swirl of activity, but at the centre of that he disappears into whatever goes on inside him, and I felt like we needed that to be expressed. But I didn’t want it to be polished. Nick is always controlling and I wanted to get in the way of that, so he could reveal himself.

Did you have any arguments?

Yes, all the time.

About what?

Nick doesn’t like to wait around, and he didn’t. For example, when we were going [to the studio] to shoot overdubs, he wouldn’t tell me when exactly he’s going in to do a take, because they’re trying to fool themselves that they are not working. It’s more like, they’re going to do something that happens to be recorded. Because he doesn’t want to deliver anything, he just wants something to happen. But you can imagine from an organisational point of you that’s a fucking nightmare, when the guys are not even going to tell you when it’s happening. And especially with 3D, everything is difficult. Even if you just want to change a lens, it takes an hour. So all I wanted from him was some indication about what’s going to happen during the day, and he wouldn’t give it to me.

At some point early on in the film Nick asks you, ‘Is this some sort of directorial tactic?’ – Was that true, did you actually have a tactic when it came to directing him?

I do believe in difficulty, I believe in making things difficult for people, because they reveal themselves when you do that. But it’s not malicious or deliberate. I don’t try to manipulate people but I am naturally manipulative, depending on the person. You have to basically adapt yourself to every person that you deal with. Nick, for example, is very suspicious, he’s not trusting necessarily, and he’s a very impatient person and he sees all sides of things. He’s actually a relief to deal with because he’s really bright and he understands what you’re doing structurally. But at the same time, Nick is anxious because he wants to get to the studio to start working on the record, and he’s got to wait around because we’re fucking working out this camera in the car, so at that point you mentioned there, he was serious. He thought I was trying to slow him down to provoke a reaction from him, although I wasn’t.

The title is part of a song from the new album. Whose idea was that?

It was my idea. It’s just a superstition really. I looked at all the music documentaries and all the ones that were good, the title was an action: Don’t Look Back, Shut Up and Play the Hits. So we just went through the songs and this one seemed to make sense.

How do you perceive Nick Cave has changed since what happened?

He’s like Nick, but more so. He says himself that he’s a lot more compassionate. I think he always was compassionate, but he used to be a very armed person, he was never afraid of making things difficult for other people and I think he’s a lot less like that now. And he’s a very ambivalent person, but I am not sure that’s changed, but he’s certainly much more patient with people than he used to be.

It’s said in the film that women are more 3D. Do you agree?

Yes. There is much more depth to women than men. And also, when you are dealing with actresses, they have a lot more speed. If they were like a bike, men have got three speeds and women have got like 15 speeds.

Was it clear from the beginning that Nick’s wife Susie would talk to you as well, and be in the film?

No, and it took a little bit of convincing. But I thought, his family is his life, I mean he goes on tour but at the end of the day he’s a family man, and every time you talk to Nick half of what he says is about Susie and the kids. So it didn’t really seem possible to make a film about Nick without including Susie. Also because what happened didn’t only affect Nick and it didn’t just affect Susie and Earl, it affected everyone. So to not hear from them would have been weird, I think, because it happened to them.

Which track from the new album is your favourite?

I think I like Jesus Alone the most, the first one. Because it’s real, I mean, they’re actually recording it as we shoot it, and the other songs are performed. So purely the one I think I captured the best was that one, probably. But I do like them all really, because ultimately they all mean different things to me.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Skeleton Tree is released worldwide on 9 September 2016.

Watch the trailer:

The Childhood of a Leader: Interview with Bradley Corbet

the-childhood-of-a-leader
The Childhood of a Leader

Seen at Venice International Film Festival, Venice (Italy)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 August 2016

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Brady Corbet

Writers: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Stacy Martin, Liam Cunningham

UK, France, Hungary 2015

115 mins

The actor-turned-director talks about Scott Walker, politics in cinema and the dilemma of having a high standard in filmmaking.

Loosely based on the short story of the same name by Jean-Paul Sartre, Brady Corbet’s directorial debut The Childhood of a Leader might be best described as the sum of its parts: historical psychodrama, arthouse horror and period mystery all come together in this demanding but strangely compelling film, which draws its study of the rise of fascism out of an unruly young boy’s tantrums and power struggles as he moves with his parents from the United States to France at the end of World War I. Set against the background of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, the 27-year-old American actor-turned-director has crafted a film that is every minute as relentlessly rich and mesmerising as the striking, full-volume orchestral score by the great Scott Walker that accompanies it.

Pamela Jahn caught up with Brady Corbet at the Venice Film Festival in September 2015 to talk about Scott Walker, poetic films about politics and the dilemma of having a high standard in filmmaking.

Pamela Jahn: Your film has been one of the most eagerly awaited debut features to come out this year – no pressure then?

Brady Corbet: I knew that it would be a love it or hate it movie. To tell you the truth, the divided reactions that I experienced were more in the process of putting the film together, because when you are making a movie like this, where there is no exact road map of what it is supposed to be, people get very nervous and shaky, because they are frightened of what the reaction is going to be. And it was hard for myself to anticipate how the audience would take it, but to my surprise, the reactions have all been pretty good. People have been very patient and receptive to it and I am feeling a lot more relaxed now. Also, the film is inherently a little bit of punk, because you open with classical instrumentation but it’s like they’re playing ACDC…

It is also a very loud film.

Yes, I like things really fucking loud and Scott Walker does, too, so it was sort of a request that everything is at maximum volume (laughs).

It’s an impressive film not only from a technical point of view but also in terms of its narrative and production value, especially given that, I believe, it was made for very little money?

I’ve been given instructions to not ever say the budget out loud, but you are right, it wasn’t much and a lot less than what I think it looks like, too. The first person who really made the movie seem possible, in both a physical and creative sense, was our production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos. He designed Amour for Michael Haneke, but he’s also designed video installations for Philippe Parreno or blockbusters for Roland Emmerich, so he’s worked with a 6000-dollar budget right up to a 49-million dollar budget, and I mean 49-million dollars just for his department, not the film. He really had the solution for every problem that arose and he realised that, because of the way we set out to make this movie, we were going to be extremely specific about what we were seeing and what we were not seeing, and that helped a lot. And frankly, the film was so unconventional in its structure: a UK, Hungarian, French and Belgium co-production with an American director and a Norwegian producer and writer… basically the movie was the fucking Paris Peace Conference, at least it was about as effective. The amount of miscommunication was just shocking, on a daily basis. We had contracts that had to be translated into three different languages, the closing of the finances, which usually takes three or four weeks, took like four or five months.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

Part of the idea was to talk about how everybody is responsible for the events that define the twentieth century, that there is a certain sense of culpability, and that partly goes back to Margaret MacMillan’s book Paris 1919, where she gives a very sober account of the events of the Peace Conference. Her book is infinitely more complex and academic and more intelligent and well-rounded than any movie on the subject could ever be, but we didn’t really set out to make a political film anyway, we set out to make a poetic film about politics. It’s interesting though, because historically speaking there already are a lot of poetic film about politics, everything from The Conformist to Saló, not just on the subject of fascism, but those are the ones that spring to mind right now. But weirdly, when we were trying to raise soft money for the project, we were told poetry and fantasy do not belong with history, and I found that really bizarre, because the thing is that history is always only a version of history anyway, it’s always a bit of fiction. And therefore there is a reason why a new book on Napoleon comes out every nine or ten years, and you wonder, what more could you have possibly learned in the last nine years to make it a new definitive account of the events, that the last guy who wrote a book on him didn’t know? It’s always a point of view. So, the fact that we were dealing with history, in a sense, never disturbed us from borrowing from a number of different events and sources and to sort of merge them into something that was original and cinematic.

Looking at your film on some level it almost feels like it could have been made in the 70s, though with a contemporary twist. Do you sometimes feel like you would have preferred to make films back then?

Not really, and I definitely don’t resent my era at all, because I am only 27, and so I think we are going to see a lot of amazing things over the course of the next 30, 40, 50 years… depending how long the universe decides to keep me around. But something that bugs me is that I see probably 200 movies in a year and I come out of my year talking about only five of them. There is a lot of content around these days, and images and films are more disposable than ever, and mediocrity is… it takes an awful lot to make a very good film, and it doesn’t happen very often any more. And of course I can only speak for myself and what I see, but I feel like something happened in the 90s, where a lack of ambition became really celebrated for some reason. It partly happened because of the digital revolution, I think, which first was genuinely exciting but now you are almost expected to do something anti-cinematic, just because you can. And the only reason that frustrates me is that somehow that very low standard in filmmaking has made it very difficult to have a very, very high standard. So I am not resentful of my era, I think right now I am just a little tired. Because you work so hard on something, and although you don’t need it to be accepted by everyone, you want to make sure that it doesn’t just go to the graveyard either, so you work even harder.

How tricky was it to get Scot Walker involved?

A lot less tricky than it was to raise money for the film, for sure. First, I didn’t think he would say yes, but we thought we would really try, because we thought it would be so appropriate given that he has written so many lyrics on the subject of tyranny in the twentieth century, and it’s a recurring theme in a lot of his music. Also because of the architecture of his avant-garde pop songs… and they really are pop songs in the way that it’s very easy to listen to them over and over again, despite them being abrasive and challenging. There is some kind of souterrainian [is this the right word?] melody in his music that keeps you coming back for more. I find everything about Scott Walker deeply inspiring but especially for this project. So we wrote a lot of letters, it was the same letter but we sent it to a lot of different sources, to make sure he would get it. And he did, and three days later he said yes. And I got this email which said, ‘Dear Brady’, and I kind of thought, oh, this is really nice that he made the effort to write this rejection letter himself. I was the most excited I’d ever been to get rejected. But then he said, ‘Great, I really look forward to working together’, and I was just really amazed. I mean I was 23 or 24-years-old at that point and I couldn’t really believe it. And as you know, it took years to finally get the film together, but he’s used to working on projects for a long time and so it all worked out in the end.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

The Neon Demon: Interview with Cliff Martinez

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The Neon Demon

Format: Cinema

Seen at Cannes 2016

Release date: 8 July 2016

Distributor: Icon Film Distribution

Director: Nicholas Winding Refn

Writers: Mary Laws, Nicolas Winding Refn, Polly Stenham

Cast: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves

France, Denmark, USA 2016

117 mins

The composer and musician talks about working with Steven Soderbergh and Nicolas Winding Refn, his earliest movie music experiences and why the greatest scores can’t save a bad film from its downfall.

Cliff Martinez started his career drumming for Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Captain Beefheart before making his big leap into cinema, writing the music for Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies & Videotape, The Limey, Traffic and Solaris, . He’s since formed a close bond with Nicolas Winding Refn, composing the scores for Drive and Only God Forgives. Their latest collaboration, Refn’s shiny new offering The Neon Demon, which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has an intriguing, pulsing electronic score that is haunting and emotional in equal measure, while the film itself unexpectedly divides critics and audiences alike.

Pamela Jahn spoke to the composer and musician about working with Steven Soderbergh and Nicolas Winding Refn, his earliest movie music experiences and why the greatest scores can’t save a bad film from its downfall.

The Neon Demon is your third collaboration with Nicolas Winding Refn. Did the fact that it features women rather than men in the lead role, which is quite unusual compared to Refn’s work in the past, change your way of approaching the music for this film?

Cliff Martinez: No, Nicolas had told me very early on in the process, ‘This is going to be a very different film because the subject is going to be women.’ And when he told me that, I was curious what it would be like. But then when I got to saw the film and I saw the shower scene and things like that, I thought, ok, so that’s how Nicholas is making a film about women, of course. So, no, for me it didn’t feel so much different. It was more a departure for Nicholas himself, I think.

Do you think there is a specific link between electronic music and fashion in the way those two worlds seem to complement each other?

Oh, I never thought of that, but it’s an interesting idea. Maybe there is some sort of connection, I don’t know.

The music to Drive is widely regarded as one of the greatest scores of its time. Did it feel special to you when creating it?

I loved Drive from the minute I saw it, but I don’t think anyone imagined at the time how successful the film was going to be, or at least certainly I didn’t have a clue. It was just a great project to be working on. I’ve never really grasped quite why that particular score got so popular. And I’m still kind of fascinated by the fact that in my 25 years of working as a composer, that’s the one score that people keep talking about.

In 2014, the BBC created a televised re-score of the original Drive soundtrack – what did you make of that new version?

I’ve heard of it but I’ve never actually seen this new version, so I don’t know. I heard that it was re-scored but that’s about it.

You also worked with Nicolas on Only Good Forgives, which has these great karaoke moments. Were you involved in creating these scenes?

As I recall it, the script and the actual film turned out very different from each other, but I think the karaoke material was there from the very beginning. I remember that it was the first thing that I did when I started working on the project. I usually don’t come in until the film has been shot but this time the ground floor was really the script, because there were several karaoke scenes that they needed the music for so they could shoot. I’d never done any karaoke for film before and I remember in the beginning Nicolas had this idea about iconic country western songs but then he decided to go with Thai music instead. So, I think I created five of these Thai karaoke tracks, each track was then tested and got changed several times to be performed at the karaoke bar, but in the end I think we used the original tracks.

You started your career as a composer working with Steven Soderbergh. Was he your first sort of soulmate in cinema, in a similar way that Nicolas seems to be now?

I don’t know, we just seem to work together very well. We seem to agree on films, their philosophy, musical genres and so on. We have a similar taste, I guess.

You’re currently working with Soderbergh on the TV series The Knick. Does it make a difference to you if you compose for the big or small screen, apart from the fact that it’s a longer process?

That’s the thing, it’s more exhausting than feature-film work but, in the end, it just feels like a ten-hour Soderbergh film to me. But there are some differences as well, I guess, one of which being that you have to mix the score so it sounds right on very small speakers, because most people will see it on their normal TV at home. And you also really have to develop your theme and your emotional peaks and stretch them over ten hours as opposed to two hours.

You are working across the board, from cinema to TV and video games. How do you choose your projects?

To be honest, it’s more that people chose me rather than me selecting things. Directors like Steven, Nicolas or Harmony Korine, for whom I composed the score for Spring Breakers, have asked me to score their films. So I feel that if I have worked on these great projects, it’s not so much because of my decisions, but because people have chosen me and trusted me with what I can bring to their work.

Was there a score when you were younger that first made that feeling, that relationship between music and movies, click for you?

There are a couple of films or film scores that come up actually, like the old scores by Bernard Herrmann and especially Ennio Morricone. One of the first film scores that I owned on vinyl when I was young was A Fistful of Dollars. Another thing that resonated with me from the beginning was the TV show Saturday Night at the Movies. I would watch The Day the Earth Stood Still three or four times a year, and the music just got to me, I listened to it every time it came on.

A film might be flawed but the music can still be brilliant. What do you think the score can bring to the movie as a whole?

Well, the score depends on the film. The music has a significant role, especially if there is not much dialogue. People turn to the music to maybe explain a bit more about what’s going on.

Do you think a great score can save a film from being terrible?

No, I don’t think the music has the power to salvage a terrible film, but I do believe it has the ability to completely transform a film. It’s hard to explain what it is, I didn’t understand it myself until I saw a film without music and then with the music, but when you do that, you can appreciate the power of music. But still, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that music can rescue an utterly flawed film and turn it into an entertaining, successful film – no musical score can do that.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:

Tale of Tales: Interview with Matteo Garrone

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Tale of Tales

Format: Cinema + VOD

Seen at Cannes 2015

Release date: 17 June 2016

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Director: Matteo Garrone

Writers: Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso

Based on the fairy tale collection Pentamerone by: Giambattista Basile

Cast: Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel, Toby Jones, John C. Reilly

Italy, France, UK 2015

134 mins

The Italian director talks about fantasy movies, casting Toby Jones as an eccentric king and why every director only needs to make one good film.

Matteo Garrone might have made his name with the gritty, realist mafia drama Gomorra (2008), but his latest offering is a different beast entirely. A fantastically bizarre, wildly imaginative and highly stylized affair, Tale of Tales features a trio of stories, set in three neighbouring kingdoms and focusing on the increasingly mad and often hilarious miseries of their royal leaders, all of which are loosely based on the folk myths collected and published by the 16th-century Neapolitan poet and scholar Giambattista Basile.

Pamela Jahn met with the Italian director at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015 to talk about fantasy movies, casting Toby Jones as an accentric king and why every director only needs to make one good film.

Pamela Jahn: It seems like Gomorra, which turned out to be your most successful film to date, and your new film Tale of Tales could not be further apart?

Matteo Garrone: Yeah, it seems strange…But, for me, there are also dark fairy tales in Gomorra, in the same way as the tales talk about archetypes, about human beings, so they are also somewhat modern too. And my approach is always one that starts from a realistic approach, from observation of contemporary reality, but at the same time there is also a fantastic dimension. In this case, I started off with fantastic tales and tried to bring them a little closer to reality. But all my movies are very visual, so the approach was not so different from my point of view. I actually felt that the line was quite natural, especially since I always talk about obsessions in my films, and Tale of Tales is about desire and how this desire becomes obsession. Of course, the language of Gomorra was much more based on a documentary style, but behind this choice of the language is an important visual work.

There are not many fantasy movies coming out of Italy these days.

No, but we also have directors who in the past worked well in that genre. For me, one of my references was Mario Bava, for instance. He worked with horror but also with fantasy. And I also like the early work of Pasolini, his short movies and fairy tales in particular, so we do have a heritage of that in Italy too.

When did you discover Giambattista Basile’s tales for yourself?

As a kid, I read tales like the ones by the Brothers Grimm like everyone else. I discovered Giambattista Basile only four or five years ago, through a friend of mine, who is a painter. I immediately fell in love with them, with the different characters of the stories, but also with the visual aspect.

This is your first English-language film. Do you think anything got lost in the translation of the stories into English?

No, because, first of all the original stories were written on the streets in the Neapolitan dialect of the 16th and 17th centuries. So even when you read the book in Italian you are already reading a translation. I also think there is something Shakespearean in the way Basile writes, and hopefully we helped a little to make him known in the world, finally. Because it’s really unfair that nobody knows this author who wrote the first book of fairy tales in Europe and who was the first to write about Cinderella and about many other famous tales…everybody only knows the Grimms. And at that time, the tales were not for kids, they were seen as entertainment for a mixed audience. That’s partly why these tales are also very dark sometimes and also almost oral because they are of medieval origin. It was important to me to keep the soul of Basile’s writing, the violence but at the same time also the comical aspects, because Basile is a master of mixing comedy and fear.

Toby Jones is brilliant as the eccentric king whose love for a giant flea overpowers the love he feels for his own daughter.

Yes, he’s wonderful. Jones is an actor, who like Vincent Cassel, can play comical and dramatic, all at the same time, and always in a way that never becomes cliché, he’s always believable. And that was very important for me with Basile’s tales, to find the right balance between comic, dramatic and the grotesque.

Like in the scene in which Salma Hayek, who plays a queen desperate to receive a child, has to eat a sea monster’s beating heart.

Salma was very generous with me. She’s Mexican, you see, and when we met, she basically told me I’m like a Mexican director because I’m so crazy. But in all honesty, when you believe in something the rest doesn’t matter, so she went through that scene without flinching because she believed in what we were doing.

What is she actually eating in that scene?

It’s a sort of disgusting cake, I think.

Together with Paolo Sorrentino, you are one of the most acclaimed Italian directors today. Is it true that you live in the same building?

Yes, it’s true. We meet in the elevator sometimes, but since he won the Academy Award for The Great Beauty I decided we shouldn’t meet too much. (laughs)

Why did you decide to work with Peter Suschitzky, the cinematographer, who is also a long-term collaborator with David Cronenberg and who shot all of his films?

I saw the work he did with Cronenberg. It’s realistic in its roots but at the same time you can feel something that is artificial in a way. And that’s exactly what we wanted to do with this film, we wanted to create an image that is believable but at the same time you feel like it was created in a studio. Almost like the beginning of the cinema, like the Méliès, something that is almost a performance, something that can surprise the audience, visually and emotionally. But at the same time you feel it’s artificial.

You used to be a painter in your earlier career. Why did you stop?

When I stared making movies I stopped painting, because for me making movies is always a figurative art, and it’s my way of painting now. Unfortunately, I can’t do both, because when I do cinema I think about it 24hours a day, I’m constantly thinking about the language of cinema. It’s something that I cannot combine and think about both at the same time. So if I ever start painting again I have to stop making films. But I’ll probably need at least two years to switch my mind because it takes time. I am very curious though to see what would come out of it, so maybe if I make a movie that is a complete disaster, I’ll go hide in my studio and start painting again.

You mentioned elsewhere that making this film was a very difficult experience for you.

I learned a lot about the technical aspects with this movie, but sometimes it was very frustrating for me because I like to have the control, especially the visual control. And sometimes when you work with special effects you shoot only with a green screen, so you have to imagine what it will actually look like. It’s like you’re giving away your brushes to somebody else and see what they do with them. And it took a long time to see something, like for example, even only to see the giant flea, I had to wait five months.

Has that somewhat discouraged you from making more ambitious fantasy or genre-twisting films like this in the future?

I think making films is always difficult. The world of cinema is somehow connected to something almost esoteric, because when you make a movie in a way you’re blind. Every day you make a piece but you forget what you’ve done the day before, it’s not like when you’re painting that you always see the colour that you put in front of you on the canvas. Instead, putting all the different pieces together is like a mosaic and finally, hopefully, you understand the tone of the movie. But sometimes it is easy to lose the control, visually. And my point of view is this: if a director makes just one really good film in his career, that’s enough. Then you can make mistakes. But imagine if every director would make just one good movie, how rich cinema would be!

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:

Victoria: Interview with Sebastian Schipper

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Victoria

Format: Cinema + VOD

Release date: 1 April 2016

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye

Director: Sebastian Schipper

Writers: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz

Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, André Hennicke

Germany 2015

140 mins

German director Sebastian Schipper reveals the secrets behind his one-take tour de force, from his football coach approach to directing to his fascination with bank robberies.

Only ever so often comes a film that gets under your skin, not only because of the story, the brilliant performances or pumping soundtrack, but because it is fresh, radical, vigorous and raw and, most importantly, highly entertaining. Victoria is all of that and more, as the film follows its eponymous heroine (played by newcomer actress Laia Costa) in one continuous 140-minute shot from her first encounter with a gang of four persuasive thugs led by the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) on a mild summer night in Berlin to an ill-fated bank robbery and the nerve-racking police hunt that follows it – all in all zipping through 20 odd locations in the early hours before the city awakens. No doubt that a venture like this required not only months of meticulous planning and an excellent crew, but also one big leap of faith. After two disastrous attempts Schipper managed to pull it off, making Victoria not only the runaway favourite at last year’s Berlinale but the most exciting film to come out of Germany in a very long time.

Pamela Jahn talked to the actor-turned-director about his football coach approach to directing and his fascination with bank robberies to get behind the secret of his one-take tour de force.

Pamela Jahn: What came first, the concept of shooting the film in one take or the story that you wanted to tell?

Sebastian Schipper: To be honest with you, I cannot separate them. What I actually had in mind was to make a film about a bank robbery that grabs you like one. It was, first of all, an emotional concept in terms of how to make it feel real, how to share the experience. And why is it, that if you make a film about a bank robbery, it always has to be the biggest bank robbery in the world? Presumably, that’s because it means you create the greatest possible experience for the audience, but I think that sort of approach sometimes kills the opportunity to really get into the moment, to feel what is actually going on. That’s how the concept to do the film in one shot evolved. The more we worked on it, the more I realised that this is not necessarily a film that tackles the brain or the mind, maybe it doesn’t even affect the heart, but it feels as if it has a direct impact on your nervous system. And I really like that. Of course, there are many mistakes in it, which, ultimately, I would have liked to cut or correct in the editing process. But at the same time I feel that because it’s all in there, because time flows and you can’t really escape the high points and the low points, it is almost like you’ve been conditioned by the way you watch the film.

You both write and direct. Does that make it easier when you’re shooting, especially with a project like this?

I wish I could say it’s easier but I find writing a script really painful. It takes an awful long time, sometimes years. Even if you write fast, it still takes at least two years, and that’s only the basic amount of time you are investing. But for some reason I feel I have to do it myself. Having said that, for this project I wrote only 12 pages and we didn’t edit anything in the end. When I think about it, the one big idea I had was that I wanted everything to happen in a team. Of course, with that kind of approach you lose a lot of power as a director in the overall hierarchy on set, but everybody else gains more. At the same time, the pressure is on everyone who is part of that crew. Like the smallest runner, everybody knew, ‘I can’t fuck it up! If the elevator is not downstairs when they come, I am the one who’s made that mistake.’ So everybody involved has a lot more responsibility, and I like that. I also wanted to bring the creation of the characters, of the story and the rhythm – which is normally part of the scriptwriting – into the entire process. To some extent that was a crazy thing to do, but it was also really beautiful.

Apart from the responsibility you also give your actors an incredible freedom to improvise.

It’s funny that you’re saying that because when I did my first film Absolute Giganten, people would ask me, ‘So, did you improvise a lot?’ Back then, I felt almost offended and said, ‘I didn’t, I wrote it all myself.’ And now it’s the complete opposite. That’s something that is very important to me, to have a sense of how people speak, for example, or how it really feels to talk to a friend, a soul mate or whoever. I am very interested in that. And I love actors. But again, this was different to when you direct actors in a more conventional way where you give them instructions about how you want them to say this line or that line. This time I really talked to them about their deepest feelings about the characters, not about the scene, not about the moment, not about the line. I felt almost like a football coach telling them their position on the field, and then they had to play football and follow the match and know what was going on all the time. They all had to take care of themselves.

Did you rehearse at all?

Yes, we had some rehearsals. But I don’t really want to go too much into detail about the way we made the film, because it takes away the magic. All I can say is that we did have rehearsals and then we had three days where we shot the whole film three times. So theoretically, there are now three films, but honestly, only the last one is actually a film. The other two are works in progress.

Did shooting become more difficult after the first run-through, because you then had a version of the film, an idea of the dialogue, the action and so on?

No, thank God. It was an improvisation, but there was still a very strict structure we had to follow from the outset every time we did it. It’s like a band who is playing an improvised piece. You’ve still got to know when it’s your solo, or that this is the rhythm, this is the tune and so on. But most importantly, you have to really know your instrument if you want to improvise. So we were very focused in that way.

How much do the three versions differ from each other?

A lot, mainly in quality. In the first one, nobody wanted to fuck it up, so everyone was very concentrated and technical, but there was no sparkle, no chemistry. So afterwards I said to them, ‘OK, guys, you’ve got to be alive. Make mistakes! Be chaotic, just go with it’. But then they tried that too hard and were all over the place. Those three days were horrible, because I was very nervous and tense – again, like a coach at half time. It was all very heartfelt and so I said to them, ‘You know what, we don’t have to win this game, but we have to start playing football. We have to show them that we are a good team. So don’t be afraid of making mistakes, but please, please concentrate’. And after that they really put it all together.

You talked about the rhythm of the film earlier. How did you manage the energy between your main cast?

They very much managed it themselves. I just had to organise it slightly. For me, it was all down to the casting, especially if you have them improvise so much as in this film. It’s very important that it feels organic, that it flows. And Burak and Freddy are friends in real life as well. First I was sceptical about that because Freddy showed me a picture and I thought Burak might be too much of a macho type and I didn’t want that. But when I met him in person I realised that he is actually very charming in his own way and that he has the biggest heart of all. And then it made sense to me, because he is like the heart of this group, Boxer is the leader while Sonne is good in talking to people, and Fuss is the little sidekick who always comes up with a crazy idea. I think if you structure a group like that then they become a team. It’s a natural process so they don’t all fight for the same spot. In a way it’s like an X-Men group, they all have their little super powers and that’s what I think is really important here too.

Where does your obsession with bank robberies come from?

I think it’s because I have that feeling that we sometimes get trapped in thinking that life is just one consecutive stage after another. You did this, now you are allowed to do that. Then you go a bit further, you move up into a better position, you get a little more money, a little more respect, and this is your life. And I guess the thing with bank robberies is that you walk in and pull your gun and you say, ‘I want everything, motherfucker! Give me my life, right now! I don’t want to be good anymore, I don’t want to wait’. And that’s why Victoria is the piano player in the film. She tried so hard and she’s always been the good girl, but I think we live in a world where things are getting more and more absurd, where you don’t have to be good anymore. On the contrary, it seems like you have to be sneaky and you have to betray people to get further in life. And that’s also what I see in this bank philosophy, it’s all about the money and no one cares about anybody else anymore. It’s like Brecht used to say, ‘Bank robbery is the business of amateurs. True professionals found a bank’.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

The Forbidden Room: Interview with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson

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The Forbidden Room

Seen at Berlianle 2015

Format: Cinema

Release date: 11 December 2015

Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson

Writers: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, Robert Kotyk

Cast: Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, Matthieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling, Maria de Medeiros, Louis Negin, Géraldine Chaplin

Canada 2015

130 mins

The co-writer-directors talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.

No barrier could hold what is unashamedly unleashed in Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, and equally there is no stopping the wonderfully twisted mind of the Canadian filmmaker as he consistently pushes further the various ideas he has developed in his previous films, from his hypnotic debut Tales from the Gimli Hospital (1988) right through to the magical and haunting Keyhole (2012). This time, Maddin has co-written and directed the film with his collaborator Evan Johnson (who has been working with Maddin since 2009). Together they have crafted a perfectly chaotic, yet fiercely formal, billet-doux to the lost, destroyed and forgotten films of previous decades by reimagining their very essence, sometimes based on little more than the original title of the films or the bare bones of their narrative. Immersing itself in a mad melange of wild plotlines, colour saturations, tints and overlays, the film initially evolved out of an even more ambitious project called Seances. Maddin and Johnson made lost films in public, filming at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Phi Centre in Montreal, and these films will be made available next year on a website devised so that each user’s experience is unique and unreproducible. Part of this complex project, The Forbidden Room can and should be watched a number of times, not only to discover the cinematic treasures it hides but to appreciate the relentless effort and sheer love that went into its making.

Pamela Jahn sat down with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson at this year’s Berlinale to talk about the perks and pitfalls of collaborating, using intertitles in talkies, Udo Kier’s haircut and the best remedy against forgetting people’s birthdays.

Pamela Jahn: You’ve been working together on other projects in the past, but this is the first time you are officially co-directing. How did that come about?

Guy Maddin: We all worked together on the companion piece to this project, the interactive website called Seances, ‘we’ meaning Evan and I, and also our third writer Robert Kotyk. We co-created it just through discussions in the screen editing room. But when it came to shooting, Evan and I were very close together, we’re inseparable. I consult with Evan for advice all the time. I tend to hold the camera more often…

Evan Johnson: I never hold it.

GM: But you have done on other films, on My Winnipeg and other short films, you’ve actually done the cinematography, so occasionally you do shoot. And it’s basically all just filmmaking. In the same way I long had a guilty conscience about my editor John Gurdebeke because, if an editor gets a bunch of found footage and makes a documentary out of it, he’s called the director, but if he’s just editing footage that we’ve shot, he’s called the editor. And I remember years ago, before I started working with Evan even, I asked John if he wanted to be called the co-director, but he said, no thanks, he’d rather be paid. So I kept him to that but I do try to give a shout out to him as a fellow filmmaker. And Evan is my co-director because he, too, is a filmmaker, even though our duties aren’t exactly the same. I couldn’t have made the film without him, or the editor, but John got paid eventually and Evan and I haven’t, so there’s that. Evan also does editing, or assistant editing for John, who gets things in a rough draft from us. And he does all the colour timing and effects along with his brother, the production designer Galen Johnson. I don’t do any of that, but I sit in a big comfy chair and write intertitles, the silent movie text.

What inspired you in the first instance to use both dialogue and intertitles in your films?

GM: I first became inspired to include intertitles with dialogue by the precedence set in Josef von Sternberg’s The Scarlet Empress. I like the way he uses intertitles with lots of dialogue and I thought, yeah, why would you abandon this wonderful vocabulary unit, just because you can have actors talk? Why not put these intertitles in which you can really establish a lot of flavour, in which a lot of expositional work can be done. And just like the way a child – if he or she learns a new word – doesn’t cough up the last word, so the vocabulary just keeps getting bigger and bigger. So, we kept the intertitles as an option here as well, even though our movies are essentially talkies.

The film is multi-layered with different storylines, genres and characters. How did you decide how to connect the various parts and, eventually, to frame everything with a prologue on how to take a bath which feels like another film within the film?

GM: When we were shooting some of the larger elements – there is a Filipino ‘Aswang’ vampire film and lumberjack-‘saplingjack’ film – we knew that those where going into the feature, and we knew ‘How to Take a Bath’ would be part of it. But then we had to start planning the links, and some of that was done after the shooting was done, which meant we had to go back and shoot some transitions. The narrator of ‘How to Take a Bath’, Louis Negin, and I ended up in Havana last year on a vacation together, and at one point I put him in a room – he didn’t really know what was happening – and I just pulled out my camera and there I had him. I mean, it’s clearly not shot the same year, the same country, the same camera, because I just opened up the laptop with his lines on it in really large font, and I just sort of scrolled down for him while holding the camera, so he could read the lines. But I love that because I’ve always loved the way my granddaughter could just gleefully slap together items and make a collage or a drawing, something with a noodle glued on, and I love the way Ed Wood or Oscar Micheaux did the same thing with film. And so I thought, well, I need some transitional exposition from Louis, and I’ll just take my camera and shoot this stuff before he goes to the beach.

Despite the dipping in and out of different storylines you end up with a surprisingly classic melodrama-like structure that carries the film.

EJ: We literally structured the whole thing like a classic Hollywood movie.

GM: Yeah, we bought Robert McKee’s book on how to write a screenplay, or a story, or whatever it is called – I never said I read it, but I bought it. But no, we worked way harder on this. I like working quickly on set, but I’ve always kicked myself for working too quickly at the screenwriting stage and never writing a second draft, and this time, we did second and third drafts of each different episode even. It took a long time, but I really enjoyed collaborating with Evan. I have always feared confrontation, and whenever I drew up designs for sets, half the time, the production designer would say, ‘No, you can’t have stairs’. I think I made eight movies before I finally got three steps in a movie! So in a way, collaborating was actually just compromising heartbreak and me hating myself for not sticking up for myself. But in the writing room we’d all collaborate and we argued things through and whenever it got personal – we can argue quite vehemently – there was no hurt feelings, and I think I learned that from Evan and it feels really good. And since his brother is the production manager there is none of that other stuff either. I got stairs, I got other things… I understand that things needed to be cheap but I was never just told, ‘no, you can’t have this or that’. And because they are brothers, they almost always worked things out between them and I never had to deal much with that. Before, my editor was my collaborator, and the most important collaborator was the happy accident, but now I have many collaborators and I really love collaborating.

You mentioned the Seances project earlier. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

GM: We shot a bunch of our own adaptations of long-lost films at the same time in Paris and in Montreal, in some cases with the same cast even, like improvised live ‘happenings’. That’s going to be an internet interactive, where anyone visiting the website can call their own a seance of lost cinema: little fragments of films will come up and interrupt and combine and collide to form new narratives. The programme will generate a title for that film, you’ll watch it and then it’ll be lost again. The programme creates and loses unique films and the title will be entered in an obituary list. Hopefully the two companion pieces will help each other, that’s the master plan.

Are you using some of the footage from The Forbidden Room when creating those seances?

GM: There is a little bit. Some the stuff from the film will be used as raw material in Seances, but it will be much altered in many cases, because they are alternate plots that you can change to incredible degrees by just re-wording the intertitles. That part gets hard because you have to come up with a completely different story that somehow fits the same edit – that’s the part that has racked my brain the most. But it’s really fun, it’s really satisfying when you come up with a plot that somehow fits. I guess it’s somewhat akin to Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? where he took the whole movie and changed its plot, but I’ve never seen the film, I’ve only read about it. And with Seances, there are literally 500 billion different permutations that are possible and I still don’t have a concept of that number, so every now and then I go, ‘Are we really losing and destroying those movies afterwards?’ But yes, we are!

You’ve also made an incredible effort reworking all the palettes and colour-timing the raw material, as if to give it a new life of its own.

GM: At one point we discovered that movies weren’t just being lost in the 20s and 30s but that the Khmer Rouge destroyed many films in the 70s and sometimes they even murdered the directors. And there were low-budget exploitation films that were getting lost just because there was only one print and the director lost track of it, or he died and his widow didn’t care, something like that. There were lost films from all over and, for example, when Evan was colour-timing that little musical number with the obsessive man he decided to give that a lurid 70s palette. Whether or not it reads as that is beside the point, but it just felt ‘nower’, not just imitating the very limited two-strip Technicolour palettes of real film history – basically a blueish green and a pinkish apricot – but creating other palettes as if from a parallel universe of something.

EJ: I think in that case it was more Udo Kier’s haircut.

GM: Yes, Udo had a blonde Moe Howard thing going that determined the palette. It was really despairing while shooting because it was my first experience shooting in raw colour HD video and I just didn’t have the right attitude, I wasn’t seeing things that were really beautiful. But I have a lot more courage now, knowing how much the footage can be fixed. I actually made a colour movie way back in 1992 (Careful) where I controlled the palette literally by painting everything. I would paint people’s faces, their clothing, the walls… I even painted the plants, literally. But because we were so poor on this film, we had to take our props from anywhere and there was just no palette to the naked eye, no order, no control, no art, no thought put into the colour. I just couldn’t afford to think about it, so it had to be added later.

Given the low budget, you worked with an incredible cast. How did you convince them to take part in the project?

GM: They just seemed to be up for an adventure, because there is no way they could have known what exactly they were doing. I just told them they’d be acting in public. They saw the scripts eventually because they had to memorise some lines in some cases, but I think they were just up for finding out. We didn’t waste time asking people who would just say no. It was just a matter of meeting everyone for a coffee or lunch, one on one, talking to them for a little while and, every time, they agreed to show up. I couldn’t believe it. I was just waiting for them to just storm out of the set, but they never did.

As always in your work, there is a great sense of humour in the film.

GM: I’m a laughter slut, ho ho. I always take a laugh. I know people earlier in my career didn’t know whether the laughs were intended or not, so it made people very uncomfortable or embarrassed for me to the point where they had to go home early. But then, because I never quite had the nerve to make a joke, if it got laughed at, fine, but if not then I could save my dignity and the joke hadn’t failed. This time though, I started to make some changes and I made some conspicuous gags – although they are not that conspicuous, there are still probably not more than two people laughing at once.

You talked about your obsession with dreams before and there are some Freudian references worked into the film. Are you a fan of his work?

GM: I am a fan in theory, but I think my publicist at the Sundance film festival described me as a six-year-old pervert…

EJ: …a cross between Eisenstein, Italo Calvino and a six-year-old pervert.

GM: Exactly right. I’ve only read a little bit of Freud, on the interpretation of dreams, standing up in a book store and it just ruined dreaming for me for the next couple of months because I was interpreting them while having them. And I like having dreams, they just come out of me and mystify me, and I start figuring them out later, but I don’t need Freud’s voice nattering in my ear all the time telling me what to think. So I just have a basic cartoon understanding of what’s going on, just like a lot of people probably did before he existed anyway.

How much of this film derived from your dreams?

GM: A few episodes came straight from dreams – that I am willing to admit. I don’t know about Boba and Evan. But there are a few guilt dreams and empowered-ness dreams… The dead father one is a recurring dream I’ve had since my father died in 1977. But there are other things like forgetting wives’ birthdays… there are not just dreams, they happened in real life too, and then they revisited me as nightmares over and over again. It’s about time to get over that. And what I’ve learned is that by making movies about things that really matter to me, things that I have experienced, I sort of cure myself of them. It’s a form of therapy. I don’t know what kind of therapy that is, aversion therapy maybe, where you just make yourself sick of something, because in the act of making something that matters to you into a movie, you have to turn it into work units, you have to cast the thing, you have to design a set, you have to shoot it, edit it, sound design it, then you have to talk about it with people and by the time it’s finally over, you’re cured. I’m cured of My Winnipeg, I’m cured of my childhood, so now I am finally cured of forgetting peoples’ birthdays – I am going to keep forgetting them, but I don’t care anymore.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

This interview is part of our Berlinale 2015.

Watch the trailer:

It Isn’t Very Pretty… Interview with John Waters

Pecker (Credit - Michael Ginsburg) (2)
John Waters on the set of Pecker (1998) © Michael Ginsburg

Format: Cinema

It Isn’t Very Pretty… The Complete Films of John Waters (Every Goddam One of Them…)

Screening Dates:
1 Sept – 6 Oct 2015

Venue: BFI Southbank

Enjoy a 2-4-1 ticket on all events in this season by simply quoting Waters241 online, in person OR over the phone 020 7928 3232. For full programme info and to book tickets online, visit BFI website

On 18 September 2015, the exceptional John Waters will be in London to conduct an on-stage interview as part of the BFI’s two-month season celebrating his 50-year film career. Pamela Jahn caught up with the director ahead of his visit to talk about his work, breaking taboos now and then, turning Pink Flamingos into a kid’s movie and feeling good watching French feel-bad movies.

Pamela Jahn: You’ve just had your first UK art show at the Sprüth Magers Gallery in London, now you are honoured with an extensive film season at the BFI – it seems that the thin line between dark comedy, bad taste and high camp that you’ve been walking for decades has manifested into a runway for success on all fronts…

John Waters: Well, it’s true that nobody really gets mad at much about anything I do anymore, but I haven’t changed anything. I mean, the very first thing I ever did was a film called Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. I still lived with my parents, it was filmed on the roof of my house with my high school friends, and it was a white woman marrying a black guy and the wedding ceremony was performed by a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But is it that so different from my last movie, which was about a middle-class neighbourhood that is taken over by sex addicts? I don’t know. But I’m certainly proud to be having a 50-year retrospective at the BFI now – and my mum would really be proud because she was such an anglophile.

The season at the BFI includes not only your features but also your early short films from the 60s, which you just mentioned. What do they mean to you today?

The early films are not really movies, and that’s why they are shown for free. They were never distributed or anything, they’re kind of like my home movies that I made with my friends. Still, I look back at them all with fondness, although I never sit around and watch my own movies. I also don’t think I had more fun then, I always think tomorrow is going to be more fun than yesterday. But then again, I was trying to make an underground movie and I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t go to film school, so I learned just from experimenting, and those really early films are what that is. It just so happened that my friends happened to be Divine and people who, I guess, seemed like normal people to me at the time, but I guess they were a little more extreme than other people’s friends.

According to your mother, one of the most important influences on your filmmaking must have been Charles Walters’s Lili (1953), and from there you went on to organise your own puppet shows as a kid. Did you sort of know back then where you wanted to go with it, that you wanted to make films one day?

David Lochary, when he used to get mad at me, used to say, ‘We are not your puppets, you know!’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe you are!’ Because do you know how many film directors, if you asked them, were puppeteers when they were kids? They all had puppets, because they are control freaks and the puppets could create their own world. For me, when I then went on to do those puppet shows as a kid, I would break the fourth wall of puppetry at the end and come out with a dragon puppet and say, ‘So, all brave kids stick out your hands and the one kid that gets bitten by the dragon will have good luck forever.’ At that point, some of the kids would start crying and the brave ones would stick their hands out, and I always thought the ones who started crying ended up being losers in life.

How difficult was it to be a control freak given the low budget and pretty chaotic circumstances that you shot your early films in? You still always managed to have a script and stick with it, and you’ve always had a very clear idea of what you wanted.

That’s my work ethic. Obviously, I was on pot when I wrote the movies, but I was never on pot or any drugs when we made the movies. I don’t think anybody was, it was too hard to work. I mean they were made for an audience that was completely on marijuana, but when we made the movies, we had like 20-hour shooting days or something, with no food. If you were stoned you couldn’t have gone through it really. Okay, the cast might have smoked pot behind my back somewhere, but not that much. I think afterwards, yeah, but during the actual shooting day… Mink Stone always used to say, when someone called them amateur actors, she said, ‘Amateur? We had to remember five pages of dialogue and get it right in one take – that isn’t amateur.’ And even today, I still don’t like improvisation. But I know all actors want to improvise today and you can see it in movies, there is too much of it. I’m in the Writers Guild – save the script!

Shooting those films with your friends required a lot of trust from both sides, I imagine…

I didn’t make them do anything, it was all in the script and I asked them to do it. There is a movie that I presented at a festival recently, it’s called Killer Joe, it’s a pretty shocking movie and there is a scene where Gina Gershon does this hideous sex act with a chicken, it’s really hilarious. And Mink said to me afterwards, ‘See, they’re just like us. We didn’t talk about it, we just went for it. We just did it.’ And that’s right, it was a group effort, it was a group madness in away, and I didn’t really do anything that was bad for them… I mean, we all survived. I wasn’t a sadist. And the eat shit scene, we just did it once, it was one take, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, let’s try that again!’ I think, they’re my friends and we all did this together, more as almost like a political action. I think Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass movies are the closest in spirit to my early movies and also in terms of the camaraderie those films were made in.

About Pink Flamingos, you used to say it’s like a kindergarten movie – it’s grown-up people doing babyish things. Was that your inspiration for Kiddie Flamingos, the video that was part of your recent art show in London?

Exactly! I basically just rewrote it and took out all the dirty parts and just made it PG-rated with the same story. But I don’t see it as my next film, I do see it as a video-art piece, because it’s the same thing, whether you poke your head in and watch five or ten minutes of it, or you watch the whole thing. It’s not a feature film, it’s a concept video piece. But with Pink Flamingos, yeah, I think you’re dead right, I think no one over 18 should be allowed to see it, it’s so juvenile.

Almost ten years later, Polyester became your transition film, somewhat marking an evolution from the underground midnight movies and before your mainstream success with Hairspray

Yeah, and you know why? Because video had just come out, so midnight movies were over. Before you always had to go to a movie theatre to see a film. It’s hard to imagine these days, but nobody could watch a movie twice. That’s why midnight movies were so popular, because people would come and see them every week, but once video came out, the mystery was gone. So, Polyester was the first movie I did that was made to be R-rated, it was the first one to play not at midnight.

And it was the first one that really put the melodrama at the forefront. Was that part of the plan, to become more commercial in a way?

Yes, I was certainly influenced by Douglas Sirk. But there was never a time when I tried to be uncommercial. I always wanted people to come and see my movies. The ending of Pink Flamingos was commercial, when you think about it. In the beginning I made exploitation films for art theatres at midnight, but I always had an audience and I knew that I was trying to get people. I wasn’t purposely trying to not make people to come.

You originally screened the film in ‘Odorama’. How did you come up with the idea?

I always remembered that in the late 50s or early 60s there was a film that I have never seen, because it didn’t play long enough when I was a child. It was called Scent of Mystery, and the system that they used to show it with was called ‘Smell-O-Vision’, it was basically a big machine that came to the theatres and pumped out the smell, but it didn’t really work. And I always loved William Castle, who had all those gimmicks in his movies, so it was made kind of as a homage to him.

How did people react when you first screened the film back in 1981?

The very first time we showed the film was in Cannes. There was such a mob of people who came to see it, that they broke the glass door to get in, so the ‘Odorama’ was definitely a success. But I think it was coupled with the fact that Tab Hunter, who was a real movie star, was part of the cast. He was in the movie with Divine, kissing, which – I know it’s hard to imagine today – was surprising to people, but it was. And I think Tap was also a huge part of why that movie was so successful.

You mentioned in the beginning that people don’t get mad anymore about the things you did in your movies. Do you also feel that today there are fewer taboos that you can actually break?

No, there are more taboos. Everybody is so politically correct. That’s why there’s this thing in America that they call a ‘trigger warning’, where, in college, the teachers have to say, ‘This is a trigger warning’, in case they are going to talk about anything controversial that might make people question their values, which is so ludicrous. I always thought that’s why you went to college in the first place, to question your values. So, no, I think today they are more taboos – but are they interesting? Maybe not. Maybe Hollywood now makes big 100-million-dollar gross sell-out comedies that are funny. So maybe that’s where I’ve been a bad influence.

In your latest book Carsick you almost reveal yourself as being a sentimentalist after all, in particular in the chapter where you imagine reuniting with Edith Massey.

Yes, I believe the chapter with Edith you could call sentimental, certainly. I don’t think it’s pushed too far. I look back at the past with a certain fondness and my memories of Edith are touching to me… is that the same as sentimental? I guess so, so I plead guilty there.

Do you have a personal shock limit? Are you genuinely shocked by anything you watch these days?

Well, I’ll always try to surprise people, but sure, I’m shocked by bad romantic comedies, I am shocked by movies that are exactly the same as a science project. I’m shocked but not in a good way. I like to be surprised, certainly, and Gaspar Noé surprises me. I think Bruno Dumont surprises me… usually they are French feel-bad movies that make me feel good.

Looking back at your own filmography, is there a movie that you personally would like to remake today?

Well, I always used to joke and say I’d make Pink Flamingos a children’s movie, but I already did that. Maybe I will do Female Trouble set in an old-age home next. At one point I was trying to make Flamingos Forever, the sequel to Pink Flamingos, but today that would never get made because it would get an N-17 rating and it would cost a lot and we’d have to have movie stars in it, so I’d rather not go there. I’ll prefer doing something new… a new surprise!

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Love: Interview with Gaspar Noé

Love
Love

Seen at Cannes 2015

Format: Cinema

Director: Gaspar Noé

Writer: Gaspar Noé

Cast: Aomi Muyock, Karl Glusman, Klara Kristin

France 2015

135 mins

Cannes 2015 Coverage

One of the most talked about films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Gaspar Noé’s latest offering is a labour of love, in every sense of the word. Noé’s first feature since Enter the Void (2009), the drama takes intimacy to a graphic third dimension, chronicling the sexual and drug ventures of an American who falls in love in Paris. But even if Noé is pushing the envelope in a similar vein as he did with his previous films, Love (3D) is more sensual experience than exploitation.

Pamela Jahn caught up with the Argentine director right after the film’s premiere to talk sex, Salò and pubic hair.

Pamela Jahn: Has the response so far been as you’d expected?

Gaspar Noé: I don’t know. I haven’t read many reviews yet. And actually, I fell asleep while watching the movie. I woke up when the credits came on, so the only response I had was from the people at the afterparty.

It’s the first time you shot in 3D, but it’s used in a quite subtle way throughout, apart from a couple of scenes.
Yeah, I didn’t want to do ‘pop-out’ all the time. There are only two, or maybe three moments, where you see things pop out from the image, mostly penises or the hand of the girl. I think the reason why I wanted to make the film in 3D is mostly because it looks a bit more real when you see the images on the big screen, or even on a smaller screen. There is some kind of vulnerability in those images that makes them more touching or emotional in 3D.

Was it difficult to get the actors to do exactly what you wanted them to do?
No, not at all. One day though, Karl Glusman was worried when we were shooting the scene with the transvestite. He asked me, ‘Where are the limits with that scene?’ And I said, ‘There are no limits.’ Actually, I knew that nothing would happen, but he didn’t know what I would ask him to do, so he was afraid. But when he realised what was going on, he started laughing. It was the funniest shooting day ever.

You found both actresses in nightclubs. What exactly where you looking for in terms of their characters?
Klara was just dancing, but she was dancing extremely well. But it didn’t need to be a club. I also quite often stop boys or girls in the subway or on the street, to ask them if they would be interested in playing a supporting role in a movie, and I take their number. I never talk about the main character because then people get overexcited, but once you make the first contact, all you have to do is film them with your phone or a small video camera to see how they look on screen. And I did a test with Klara and Aomi and they were both great. So then I had to introduce them to the guys who would potentially play the main character. At that point, I was still considering three or four guys, but I also thought that Karl was by far the best choice, and the girls agreed.

In the film, Karl plays a young film director and the posters on his walls seem to reference your personal taste in cinema. How autobiographical is his character?
It’s not autobiographical, it’s just the kind of people I know… or, let’s say, a mix of me and many different guys that I know. Even if his cinematic taste might be similar to mine, his behaviour is totally not. And mostly he is in his own mind anyway. He talks shit about women, but in a way, you don’t know what most people think, why they don’t talk.

Do you feel Love is maybe a bit more conventional than your previous films?
Maturity! I’m getting to a maturity zone… [laughs]

Oh, really?
No, it’s just… if you want to commit a new crime, make it different to the previous one. I’m not going to redo any of my previous films. And actually, shooting in 3D was a new game for me, plus I was always talking about making a film with lots of sex scenes and here it is. I dreamt for years of watchching a movie of this kind, where sexuality is portrayed as it is in life and not as it is in adult videos or what they call ‘erotic cinema’ these days. Because actually, erotic cinema has disappeared, it was a genre in the 70s that really existed and now it’s nothing – there’s erotic photography but no erotic cinema. But also, I would still not call it a conventional film. For me, the way sex is portrayed is very banal or close to life in a good, healthy way, yet it’s not conventional… but maybe less intentional.

Was it a conscious decision by you that the girls would keep their pubic hair?
It’s sensual, I wanted the movie to be vintage. Personally, I really don’t get aroused at all by girls who shave their pussy, and I wanted the women to be attractive on screen. At one point I was considering a very pretty young porn actress from the States to play the part of Aomi, but the issue was that she was shaving and it would have taken too long for her to let it grow again. We even thought about maybe sticking some fake hair on her, but it was very messy, so finally I decided it wouldn’t work. Also, the lack of pubic hair reminds me of adult videos, or what people call pornography, because now in modern porn images the girls are always shaving. But also, that even shocked me when I watched La vie d’Adèle, because at one point her girlfriend is painting her and you see she has no pubic hair and I thought it didn’t fit with her character. She is supposed to be very natural, almost like a country girl, and seeing her shaved just looks more like a porn image to me.

What do you make of adult cinema today?
I don’t know, I lost track. I haven’t watched porn since I was 25. I liked the movies from the 70s like Defiance (by Armand Weston), or the French pornography from the 70s like Jeux de langues by Francis Leroi. For me are they were arousing, much more than those Californian videos with girls who look like firemen or soldiers with tattoos. But also, your sexual interest changes during your lifetime. I remember when I was 20, I would get very excited watching two girls having sex together, and nowadays I feel it can be good and that’s it, I don’t get aroused. But maybe that’s because I have less testosterone than when I was 18 or 20.

Are there any boundaries in cinema that you wouldn’t cross?
I don’t know, because when you say that I don’t know which boundaries I could think of. Irreversible always comes second or third place in a list of the most violent films ever, amongst A Serbian Film and Pasolini’s Salò;. But even Salò , for example, is a clean movie. As long as not everything is fake and the message is right… Salò might be hardcore to watch, but it’s also a very clever movie, a useful movie.

This interview is part of our Cannes 2015 coverage.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:

20,000 Days on Earth: Interview with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

20000 Days on Earth 2
20,000 Days on Earth

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 20 October 2014

Distributor: Channel 4 DVD

Directors: Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard

UK 2014

97 mins

www.iainandjane.com

Following on from the short films they made to accompany the albums of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have continued their working relationship with Nick Cave with 20,000 Days on Earth, a beguiling, artistic and highly spirited look at the life and work of a man who, celebrated as a musician, songwriter, author, screenwriter, composer and occasional film actor, never seems to rest. Through a vivid collection of memories, archive materials and conversations with those who have affected and inspired him, both professionally and personally, the film revolves around Cave’s very personal views on the world in general and his everyday life and creative process in particular.

Pamela Jahn caught up with the filmmakers at the Berlinale in February 2014 to talk about their relationship with Nick Cave, the magic about emotional truth and why you should never mess with somebody else’s mojo.

Do you remember the first time you heard a Nick Cave song?

Jane Pollard: I do! Mine was actually track four on the first compilation tape that Iain made for me. It was ‘Slowly Goes the Night’. But back then, I didn’t know who Nick was. I thought that he was more from the kind of Elvis era because he had this phenomenal gravel in his voice… an amazing voice. I immediately picked up on that song. Then I bought the record and became just as obsessed with it as Iain already was.

Iain Forsyth: I don’t remember a particular moment. But I remember that the first album I knew was The Good Son and that I was astonished by the range of styles, I suppose, because with most of the bands I was listening to at the time, every one of their records was just another version of the same thing, which was great in a way because I loved it all. But to listen to somebody who can change so much and be so interesting in such a short space of time was very memorable.

The 20,000 Days on Earth DVD and Blu-ray are packed with over 45 minutes of extra material including a making of, several outtakes, exclusive rehearsal performances and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds with Kylie Minogue performing ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’ live for the first time in 15 years.

What was the most difficult thing about shooting and interviewing a friend?

JP: This film couldn’t have been made without the friendship already being in place. But there were times where we needed to get out of his way. We couldn’t be in his line of vision because he’d let himself get so comfortable, like when he’s talking to the analyst or in that scene in the archive, for example. If we hadn’t stepped aside he would have started including us in the conversation because he is used to talking to us. But it wasn’t that hard actually. There was a mutual understanding that either of us would have to walk away from this if at any point it wasn’t working, or if it was just average. It had to be good and it had to be different. And it couldn’t have happened without that level of trust. And without that patience. He’s not a very patient man, but he gave us a lot (laughs).

Did you discuss beforehand how close you could come, or how much of his private life could be revealed in the film?

IF: There were no lines drawn. The amazing thing for me is that, now that I am sitting here looking at what we have done, the Nick I see in the film is the Nick I know. I mean, Nick has been doing what he is doing for over 35 years and there is so much stuff about him out there already, but I never particularly recognised him in those things. In the film I do.

JP: He didn’t have to check himself, because he knew that if, at any point, he had said, ‘Oh, you know, that thing I said about so and so, I don’t want you to use it’, then we would have just not used it, full stop. But we needed him to know that about our crew as well, that he was in a safe environment. And when he talks about his father, for example, we chose to use very little. We decided to leave it as an open question, so that you could make up your own mind about the ramifications a loss of that importance has on somebody. That was a very deliberate decision in the editing process. He actually did talk a lot about his father over those two days, but we didn’t want the film to offer itself up to psychoanalysis. We thought it was more interesting that you watched him and understood through all of this – like his relationship to his children, or his reliance on, and closeness with, male collaborators from Roland Howard to Blixa and Warren Ellis – how much of an impact that loss had on him.

Was Nick Cave involved in the narrative structure of the film?

IF: No, we deliberately kept Nick away from that, in as much as he himself was quite keen to keep himself away from it, because he was very conscious about not getting involved with making the film. In fact, as the project became more and more structured and inevitably more people became involved, one of his big concerns was always, ‘Are you keeping control? Is this still your film?’

JP: And Nick would say that ‘you don’t mess with somebody else’s mojo’. So as an artist, he gets that, he knows that you have to feel that it is your voice making this thing. It’s the same with how an album comes together. It’s about a feeling, an instinct, about being in the moment or ‘mojo’, as he calls it.

Part of the allure comes from his striking voice-over, which almost feels like another composition of his. Was that scripted or is that something you developed together as you were going along?

IP: Nothing was scripted. There was no set structure. But the voice-over was written by Nick, mostly while he was on tour. While we were going through his notebooks and stuff, we got to the point where we thought it would be great to have some of that background information in the film, like why he lives in Brighton and so on. So we would call Nick and he would write something and show it to us. And when it got to a stage that Nick felt it was right, he would record it on his phone and we’d use it as a guide in the edit. The thing is though, that Nick is not an actor. He’s done a couple of things before, but if you’ve seen those films, you know he’s not an actor. So we wanted to avoid giving him the feeling that he would have to play a certain part, or imposing another ‘act’ upon him as it were. We just wanted him to be Nick.

In the press conference you mentioned your theory about the truth not being the most interesting thing, meaning that sometimes you have to create a fake situation to create something that is really true.

JP: Oh, thank you for picking up on that. This is something that carries through our art practice on the whole. Some of our earliest works was a re-enactment of the last David Bowie show as Ziggy Stardust, with a fake band, fake costumes, everything, down to the last detail. And we had this theory as young art students that somehow through the most crazy, artificial environment, to the extent of re-enacted situations, there is a democracy of that experience that allows the viewer to have a new emotion. In the way that, say, you go and see a gig for the first time and often in that moment you think about really mundane everyday stuff, like what you should have for dinner, or that your shoes are hurting and that you are stood behind the tallest bloke in the room. But then that gig becomes legendary, it becomes the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, but you weren’t in that room thinking that, ‘one day, that gig will become legendary’, you were there thinking, ‘shit, I am stood behind the tall bloke again’. So in other words, when you know you are in a situation and you know the guy who looks a bit like Ziggy Stardust is coming on stage and he is going to play, note for note, the entire set, there is a freeing from within that happens. We have experimented with this in our art work for years, so when we came to do the film, it was those theories that we brought to filmmaking rather than trying to adopt known techniques in directing. We wanted to try and use the theories and experiences we had beforehand, and we were very lucky to find a crew who were willing to work with us on that basis. For example, we only ever did one take, because otherwise it would have been like asking Nick to act and that’s when self-awareness kicks in, and we wanted to avoid that. The takes usually last for about an hour or two, without intervention. Endurance becomes very important. The crew has to back off, and we often use cloths or put cameras behind things. Because as artificial and constructed as the situation may be, the heart of it is still a real experience for Nick. And there is still something in there, a bit of reality, that he can crap on to and you get this lovely truth out of this, a sort of emotional truth. Because we are not interested in factual truth, but emotional truth, hell yes!

How many hours of material did you end up with before starting the editing?

IF: (laughs) All I can say is that I am glad we didn’t shoot on 35mm.

After all these years of friendship and working together, what is it that still fascinates you about Nick Cave?

JP: The feeling that we want you to get from watching the film. That is it. And I’m still fumbling around trying to find an eloquent way of articulating it. It’s a feeling that you only have a very limited amount of time and you should bother to see through ideas. If you have any ambitions or thoughts, that you should get on and do them. And that’s what it is like to be his friend, at least that’s the biggest impact he’s had, and still has, on us. He’s just so impressive, his discipline and the fact that he’s so progressive and ruthless with his work. He works hard, his schedule is mad. And you come away feeling… not inspired that you want to be like Nick Cave, but that you want to work like Nick Cave. You want to work that hard, and think in a forward direction, and not look back, and never rest on your laurels, and raise the bar, because that’s what he is doing and he does it with every single album they put out – constant progression.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Watch the trailer:

A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews