Fabio Frizzi’s Film Jukebox

fabio-frizzi-live
Fabio Frizzi (live in concert)

Italian maestro Fabio Frizzi is the composer of film scores for cult horror films including The Beyond and Zombie Flesh Eaters, and his brooding, synth-powered compositions are amongst the most memorable of the entire genre. On 29 October 2016, Frizzi returns to London’s Union Chapel for an evening of Chills in the Chapel, a show that includes new orchestrations of his scores for cult films by Lucio Fulci, mixed with explorations of his work outside of his longstanding collaboration with the Italian director. Below, Fabio Frizzi discusses his 10 favourite films.

1. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
My favourite film, at least to date, is this great parable of human existence. I’ve seen it many times in all the various versions, and I love that there is always something new to discover. Some films have the ability to teach you something, or give you something important to think about. These are the movies I love the most. For this reason, Blade Runner is my number one, and the soundtrack by Vangelis was hugely important and inspiring for me.

2. Play It Again, Sam (Herbert Ross, 1972)
Play it Again, Sam confirmed my adoration for Woody Allen’s work. Despite having a very different background and life experiences compared to mine, there are many things I relate to. There is his passion for good music, and having some familiarity with psycho-analysis and an ironic (often self-deprecating) approach to things in life. I found the main character irresistible, and it was wonderfully directed by Herbert Ross. From this moment, and for a long time now, I’ve been a big fan of Woody Allen.

3. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)
A surreal film which feels like a balance between a dream and reality, as with a lot of Federico Fellini’s work. As a boy I often spent holidays in Romagna and moments of the film played on my memories (the title actually means ’remember’ in local dialect), and this captivated me. I saw the film on the big screen and many characters reminded me of people I knew as a child.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
This film really unites different generations of fans. It’s a big production but you simply can’t forget those actors or that classic score. The story mixes action and archaeology and is able to grab even the most distracted viewer. One of those rare movies you can go back and re-watch time and again.

5. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984)
A great Italian film, directed by someone I knew well. Fulvio, my father, was a man of the cinema and a close friend of the great Sergio Leone. Much of the crew were Italian with a team of mostly American actors, and it was a very high profile production at that time. The result is an extraordinary and intense movie experience. It’s a film I’ve seen many times, always discovering new details. Huge artistic credit should go to Ennio Morricone, who enriched the epic story with his beautiful musical score.

6. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
Another fantastic film, in fact this ‘Film Jukebox’ is making me do a real examination of my own conscience! Who hasn’t dreamed about travelling back in time, to see how their parents lived as young people? Plus, we all want a friend like Doc, a bit of the crazy type, but the perfect companion. Back to the Future is another film that never gets old and you can watch again and again.

7. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
When we are small we love fairy tales. Forrest Gump is a beautiful fairy tale with a happy ending that captures your imagination every time. As usual, the actors are absolutely crucial and here Tom Hanks is a real showman. I like how his incredible journey in time is punctuated by big moments in life. It makes you forget where you are and live through that little boy’s experience with a box of chocolates. Finally, the musical score is beautiful, and I always admired the work of Alan Silvestri.

8. Face/Off (John Woo, 1997)
Among the many thrillers I’ve seen (a genre I’m very passionate about) this is the one I love the most. What fascinates me in this kind of sci-fi inspired story is the huge range of both characters, the good guy becomes the bad guy and vice versa. This works well because of the great performances from both Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.

9. Sliding Doors (Peter Howitt, 1998)
What appealed to me about this film, in addition to the great production style and Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance, is the venture into a totally surreal territory. Life can change, completely, if just one event turns out differently, if the light turns red or the doors of the subway close before we can jump on. The theme of fate fascinates me and this film made me really reflect on living life to the fullest.

10. Cast Away (Robert Zemeckis, 2000)
This is a regular theme of discussion, especially between friends: what if you were trapped on a desert island? A fascinating answer comes from this beautiful Robert Zemeckis film with Tom Hanks. I am fascinated that, for much of the film, the protagonist lives in total isolation. This whole experience is a monologue with the psychological aspects varying continuously between highs and lows. It’s a story that focuses on our fears and the desire to fight back and the extraordinary power within each of us.

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:

Watching Tarkovsky in a Time of Terror

Tarkovsky Rublev
Andrei Rublev

The great Russian master’s work offers hope in troubled times.

2016 has been one rolling piece of shit. Imagine the burning things Spartacus’ slave army roll down the hill into the advancing Roman army in Kubrick’s epic film, but imagine that the things on fire are bundles of shit and that will give you some idea of 2016’s unrelenting avalanche of bad, worse and worst news. Already reeling from the Bataclan and San Bernardino massacres from 2015, we’re now seeing people being shot, blown up, hacked with knives and axes and driven over by trucks – a failed coup in Turkey, a wedding party blown to smithereens, the endless horror of Aleppo. The geographical list now associated with individual atrocities is becoming depressingly long, blotting the Google map of our psycho-geography with cigarette burns of destruction. I know we shouldn’t succumb to terrorism; and I understand, statistically, I’m more likely to be killed from a bee sting than a car bomb, but it’s pointless to ignore the fact: the terror is working. The Western mind is closing: a deep Brexit of the soul has begun; the far right is on the rise; racism rears a brutish face and, as Yeats might put it, President Trump shuffles towards Bethlehem to be born.

So why am I watching the films of Andrei Tarkovsky? Why am I doing anything for that matter that doesn’t involve wailing and gnashing and the rending of garments? Well, the mundane reason: I need to review them. It’s summer and nobody else was up for three hours of a Russian monk trying to draw pictures on a church wall in black and white. But as I watched late into the night, each film seemed to echo my own doubts: ‘What’s the point? How can you continue? How can anyone continue?’

Tarkovsky’s first feature Ivan’s Childhood shows us a war child on the Eastern front, whose world is made up of rain-filled craters, nightmare forests and the constant possibility of violent death. For all that Ivan’s no victim. His childhood is more this war-torn present than the dreamlike memories of a time when his family were still unkilled by the Nazis and he is eager to be sent on suicidal missions behind the lines. Life during wartime is going to present its share of horror – as distinct from the terror we live with – but it was with Andrei Rublev that Tarkovsky gave his audiences a portrait of the nightmare of history and how it hammers people into submission, silence or death. Terror is everywhere in his 15th-century Russia. Whether it comes from a group of soldiers beating up a jester, the warring noblemen, two brothers locked in such deadly enmity that they will jealously blind artisans to stop them repeating their work, or invading Tartars: violence can be sudden and brutal and the art of the eponymous artist Andrei – the icon painter – is compromised by the violence of the church of which he is a member and its (and his) official patrons. Horses are often used throughout Tarkovsky’s movies as a symbol of hope, of life itself. In a horrific scene of siege, a horse gets thrown down a flight of stairs, swept into a river and finally stabbed to death in the field. That’s what happens to hope. That’s what happens to life. Following such violence, Andrei gives up. Stops working. There’s nothing to be said; no glory to be celebrated. Only guilt and withdrawal. Fear and loathing.

It’s a radical but not unusual revelation. The Holocaust makes poetry impossible. The rest is silence – but the silence will be broken by a young boy, the only surviving member of a bell-making family (another child Ivan) who supervises the casting of a giant church bell as he’s the only one left with the secret knowledge of how to do it. The Prince threatens death to the workmen if they fail, but miraculously, from earth, water and fire they cast this beautiful industrial machine that rings. It breaks Andrei’s silence as well who, inspired by the boy’s art, returns to the world, so to speak. But the boy is distraught. There was never any secret, he confides. This is the mystery of art for Tarkovsky: there is no mystery. The miracle is we don’t need miracles.

This empty mystery returns throughout Tarkovsky’s films: an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. In Solaris, it’s the sentient planet, trying to communicate via our memories, our love, ghosts and regret. In Stalker, it’s the Room inside the Zone, a room in which whoever enters gets what they always wanted. The catch is they don’t necessarily know what they want until it’s too late. An unhappy party of men journey to the Room, and one of them has a bomb. Can there be no good in the world? Must it always be destroyed? In Sacrifice, it is the end of the world in a nuclear war, played out as the nightmare of an aging theatre director. When history is rewound and war impossibly, magically averted, the director burns down his house as the doctors come to cart him off to the local looney bin, but his insanity is the most rational reaction to the crazier world-wide destruction that is threatened.

Throughout all of his films, Tarkovsky offers love, self-denying, self-sacrificing love as the only answer. For all their highbrow reputation, the films never shy away from raw emotion, just as his raw materials are as elemental as fire, water, earth – often all represented in the same masterfully composed shot: a fire burns, rain pours and a wind wants to tear the trees from the ground. The resilience of his vision and the reason they spoke through the pain of this moment in history, this shitty piece of 2016, is due to their confrontation with the pain and suffering of the world, the mediocre evils as well as the atrocious ones, and to still offer liberating hope. Albeit hope that risks being knocked down the stairs and stabbed with spears.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s films are released in the UK by Curzon Artificial Eye.

John Bleasdale

Elias Krantz’s Film Jukebox

Elias Krantz
Elias Krantz

Elias Krantz is an instrumental musician from Sweden, whose music revolves around melancholic and euphoric asymmetrical melodies, driving rhythms and ambient soundscapes, reminiscent of Krautrock legends such as NEU! and Can, as well as modern post-rock like Tortoise and Four Tet. His latest and rather conceptual album Lifelines consists of just continuous tracks that form side A and B of the record. Lifelines is released on 26 August 2016 via Control Freak Kitten.

1. Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)
Humble and slow film about friendship and how people change over the years. Amazing pictures and a great score by all time favs Yo La Tengo. Starring Will Oldham as one of the main characters.

2. You, the Living (Roy Andersson, 2006)
From the Swedish king of dry humour, Roy Andersson. He is one of those directors that you recognise after seeing the first 10 seconds. The colours, characters, tempo and mood are unique. You, the Living is the second film in a brilliant trilogy Andersson did over the course of fifteen years.

3. Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982)
One of the strangest films I’ve seen, in a good way. Weird plot starring heroine-addicted aliens, nymphomaniac lovers, German scientists in 80s New York. The music sounds like the DIY, cassette-released music that was so hyped a few years back. The whole film is up on Youtube!

4. The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997)
Haven’t seen it for years now, but remember how I loved it when I saw it in my early teens. Think it stuck because it was the first time I went to the cinema, and was presented to a totally new world that just existed there. Since then I love to see those kinds of films at the cinema: Avatar, Mad Max, etc. (films that are pretty lame if you see them at home on your computer, haha).

5. Aguierre, the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)
Classic Herzog. Klaus Kinski, filmed in Amazonas, soundtrack by Krautrock legends Popul Vuh – what else do you need?

6. Gitarrmongot (Ruben Östlund, 2004)
Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s first film. Basically just filmed fragments and scenes in no order, starring 12-year-old guitar playing Erik. Even though it’s so randomly filmed and without an obvious narrative, it has something. Really fun, moving and capturing.

7. My Life as a Dog (Lasse Hallström, 1985)
Maybe the film I’ve seen the most times ever. Lasse Hallström’s breakthrough film. Very Swedish. Saw it a lot when I got a bit older but still was a kid – during that time when you feel you are a bit too old to cry in front of other people. So every time I felt sad but was too much of a ‘cool kid’ to cry in front of others, I watched this film.

8. Rams (Grímur Hákonarson, 2015)
A film I just saw. Beautiful and slowly told story about two rival brothers/farmers in Iceland. Great to see at the cinema, with its stripped-down music and beautiful pictures of the Icelandic landscapes.

9. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
One of the best films of the last years, with one of the best scores by Jonny Greenwood. It’s not an original pick really, but I´ve seen it several times now and love how it just feels like a heavy hitter with it’s acting, music and scenery.

10. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven, 2015)
And another film I just saw. I guess a lot has already been written about it this year, but it feels like an important film in these times. Slowly told history about five sisters in Turkey. About old and new traditions colliding.

Listen to an extract from the second track ‘On Time’ on Elias Krantz’s new album Lifetime:

Caroline Smailes is Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink

Pretty in Pink
Pretty in Pink

Caroline Smailes is an Open University tutor, an editor and the author of six novels. Described by The Observer as ‘an arch experimentalist’, she has used sign language, short chapters, white spaces and 11 possible endings to one novel as a way of telling the story. She writes the first 10,000 words without plan or structure ‘to establish a voice’, next the first draft is composed at top speed, then it’s ‘redraft, redraft, redraft, edit, edit, edit’. Her urban fairytale The Drowning of Arthur Braxton has just been re-issued by Fourth Estate, and will be released as a film in spring 2017. As her filmic Alter Ego, Caroline has choosen Andie Walsh from Pretty in Pink. Eithne Farry

If there’s one character I would love to have as my screen alter ego, it’s Andie Walsh: she’s a strong woman, she’s self-assured, she’s unapologetic, she likes herself, she doesn’t care what others think about her and she wears amazing clothes.

Added to that, Andie is brimming in contradiction. Being plain yet striking, self-assured yet self-doubting and astute yet reckless, sees her dismissed as a typical teenager, yet, for me, it is those characteristics that make Andie exceptional.

She’s a high school senior from the wrong side of the tracks who falls for rich-kid Blane McDonough, but it’s her empathy and her ability to speak from the heart that are worthy of praise. It’s Andie’s capacity for compassion, creativity and personal growth that appeals. She clasps her eccentricities and who she truly is; she refuses to change to fit in and, on top of all that, she actually likes herself.

Indeed, Andie is a role model and friend for anyone who doesn’t quite belong. Her dottiness, her uniqueness, her magnificent mix of both maturity and immaturity, and determination not to let people ’break’ her, are entirely refreshing. She tells us that it’s okay to be different. Actually, more than that, she tells us that there’s something rather remarkable and splendid in being true to who you are.

Andie displays what I wasn’t able to achieve in my teens. She made teen me want to be braver, but I lacked her conviction. My school life was about survival, in both physical and mental senses. Somehow in amongst all the bullying and abuse, I lost who I truly was and I stopped liking myself. I didn’t embrace being an outsider.

I guess that outsider feeling is something many of us experience. Be it not fitting in at school, at work, in families, in a crowded room. I don’t live a life of regrets, but I wish I’d been a little less afraid to display my difference when I was younger. I wish I’d been more like Andie Walsh. She didn’t choose the easiest path to take, but I think she selected the braver one. I wish more people were that honest, and that bold.

Caroline Smailes

As the Gods Will: Interview with Takashi Miike at Fantasia

As the Gods Will
As the Gods Will

Seen at Fantasia 2016, Montreal (Canada)

Format: Cinema

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Hiroyuki Yatsu

Based on the manga by: Muneyuki Kaneshiro, Akeji Fujimura

Cast: Shôta Sometani, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Riri Furankî

Original title: Kamisama no iu tôri

Japan 2016

116 mins

One of the Montreal festival’s favourite directors talks about manga adaptations, teen films and not making a science fiction movie.

It was with a standing ovation that Takashi Miike was greeted by a very enthusiastic Montreal crowd as he introduced As the Gods Will, one of the two films he had playing at this year’s Fantasia festival, the second being science-fiction action epic Terraformars. A violent death-game fantasy, As the Gods Will sees high school children confronted with a series of traditional toys with lethal powers; if the children lose the game, their heads explode into thousands of little red balls. The survivors are then taken to a mysterious white cube that floats above the city, where another set of challenges awaits them, the aim of that cruel testing unclear. Adapted from a manga, it is another hyper-kinetic, over-active, playfully delirious film from the prolific Miike, quirkier than Battle Royale and deadlier than Alice in Wonderland.

Virginie Sélavy talked to Takashi Miike at Fantasia about manga adaptations, teen films and not making a science fiction movie.

Virginie Sélavy: Both Terraformars and As the Gods Will are adapted from manga, which is also the case with a number of your previous films. What do you particularly like about turning manga into live action films?

Takashi Miike: If I told my producer, ‘imagine that on Mars there are a lot of cockroaches and I want to make a film where people fight with cockroaches on Mars’, the producer would ask me if I’m alright in the head. Or if I said I wanted to make a film with a daruma doll playing games with children and making their heads explode, people would be asking if I’m insane. Now producers avoid all risks in film, but in the world of manga they can take more liberties with those things. There are a lot of young people competing and the editors take more risks. That’s what people making films want to do, but they can’t right now. So adapting a manga is good because we can prove that we can have a hit with it, and afterwards I can make other kinds of films, so there’s a natural continuity.

A few of your recent films are also violent stories set in high school, Crows Zero, Lesson of Evil, For Love’s Sake. Do you particularly like school settings and teenage stories?

When you make a teenage film you have to have a whole class, so you need a lot of actors aged from 15 to 20, and actually there are a lot of different kinds of actors who fit the bill. There are actors who have played since they were children, and there are also models, but we cannot have a class made up just of beautiful-looking people. So there are a lot of different types of actors that we can use and it gives us a lot of possibilities because there are many imperfections. Even if they don’t play like professional actors there’s something that can be created. Those imperfections are very interesting because it’s like making a documentary film about being young. That’s my interest in those types of films and I enjoy doing this.

The contrast between the cuteness of the toys and their deadliness is startling and very effective. Was that an aspect that attracted you to this particular story?

As a writer or a producer it is a world that you cannot make with adults. It’s not adults fighting, it’s basically children. If they were at university they would not fight like this. There is something that is very childish, that is not balanced yet, about the way they fight, and those children fight with very old traditional Japanese games that are actually quite cruel. So this is something that can be connected, and that’s why I was attracted by this.

You’ve worked in many different genres, in fact you’ve even created your own hybrids (yakuza vampire film in Yakuza Apocalypse for instance) but science fiction is not really a genre that you’ve done much work in, especially on this grand scale. What interested you in the Terraformars story?

For me, Terraformars is not a science fiction movie. For me, in a science fiction movie there is something that is logical and scientific, and the science is the key to the problem, it is what you use to solve the problem. But Terraformars is more like fantasy. And also we can imagine that it is a fight between two schools, and it’s about which school is more powerful than the other. It’s like being inside the imagination of children, and while they’re creating this fantasy we try to find out how people can survive, and what will come after. So it’s a world that is strange and mysterious, but it’s not science fiction.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

Rupture: Interview with Steven Shainberg

Rupture
Rupture

Seen at Fantasia 2016, Montreal (Canada)

Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 November 2016

Distributor: Signature Entertainment

Director: Steven Shainberg

Writers: Brian Nelson, Steven Shainberg

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Peter Stormare, Michael Chiklis, Kerry Bishé

USA, Canada 2016

102 mins

Secretary director Steven Shainberg talks about female leads, arachnophobia and Peter Dinklage on the occasion of his latest film, which marks his first foray into genre.

It has been 14 years since Steven Shainberg’s brilliant indie breakout hit Secretary and 10 since his last directorial effort, Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Always following his own individual path, Shainberg returns with a horror/SF tale that feels like a cross between X-Files and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, starring Noomi Rapace as Renee, an arachnophobic single mum kidnapped by a group of sinister strangers with mysterious aims.

Rupture premiered at Fantasia in Montreal in July 2016 where Virginie Sélavy met Steven Shainberg to talk about his interest in female leads, his adoration for Peter Dinklage, and the spider metaphor.

Virginie Sélavy: It’s been 10 years since Fur, why has it taken so long for you to make another film?

Steven Shainberg: It’s all about money. I had my children, whom I adore and try and spend as much time with as I can possibly can, but the answer is, it has been impossible to get my other movies made. In the time that it took me to get Rupture made I’ve had seven other movies projects. Some of them are cast partially, two of them got very close to getting made, and every single time the money was not there. That’s the reason it’s been that long.

This is your first foray into horror and SF. What led you to make a genre film?

It is a genre film in certain ways, but in other ways it’s exactly the same movie as the other seven movies that I haven’t made and the movies that I have made, in that it’s the story of a person who is confronted with an unusual situation and has to discover who they are. For whatever reason, all the things I’m interested in are always about that kind of personal discovery within yourself, about who you really are and identity. When I started, I had this idea for this movie and I started talking to this producer about it. Originally it wasn’t a movie I thought I’d be interested to make, and then as I started working on the story and as we developed the screenplay I realised, ‘this is that movie, I’m making that movie again’. And I thought it would be interesting to see if that kind of story could be told in a different context. It is a movie about somebody who has to confront their fear in order to transform into who they really are. That’s the story of Secretary and that’s the story of Fur. And that’s the story of the other movies as well. So in that sense it is really no different.

In the films you’ve made, self-discovery also comes through pain, is that fair to say?

There’s pain, which is also part of self-discovery and change, and there’s confusion, and fear. Those I think are the doors through which we have to pass in order to get anywhere and in order to have any kind of truth about ourselves. And girls are more fun to look at than boys.

Yes, you clearly like female characters.

When Kieslowski made Red, White and Blue, he was asked why all his heroes are women, and I think his answer was something along the line of ‘they’re great to look at’. And you do have to look through the lens at them for a long time, and then you have to be in the cutting room with them for a long time, and then you have to go out into the world with them for a long time, and I think I’m inclined to love them, and adore them, so that’s what leads me in that direction. But then, most of the movies I’m trying to get made have very strong male characters and I think to some extent that’s a desire to change that. But that’s pretty much been my inclination.

Do you have to be in love with your main character?

You have to be in love with all your characters for sure, even the ones that are horrible, at least understand them and want to connect with them in some way. But the protagonist of the movie, yes, you got to love that person. That’s what’s hard about making a movie. I’ll just give you an example. I have a movie that the rather fabulous Peter Dinklage is going to play the lead in and I totally adore him. So because of that feeling that I have for him it’s exciting to think that we can make that movie. He’s a guy.

Despite the similarities between Secretary and Rupture the big difference is that in Secretary there is some kind of resolution, whereas Rupture is open-ended – it seems made for a sequel.

From your mouth to God’s ears. There were various endings for this movie, the intention and the hope were that the movie would make a shitload of money and that we would get to make another one. That’s why the ending is open-ended. Because this tells a very simple first-beat story of Renee becoming part of them. And the thing that happens between her and them, and then between her, them and her kid and then the world, is not part of this movie. It’s supposed to be part of other movies. So that’s the reason.

Why did you decide to focus on a single mum? Did that have special significance for you?

This is the reason why they take her when they take her. She’s primed for the ‘rupture’. This means that there are periods in your life when you are vulnerable and when you’re more fragile and you’re not as strong as you might have been a couple of years ago or you will be in the future. But at that moment some real change can occur for you. And that’s why she’s a person who is saying to her friend on the phone and to her kid, ‘I’m going sky-diving’. Who goes sky-diving for the first time? It’s a person who is looking for a new feeling, they are looking for something in themselves that they can release, for a kind of transformation. So she has this fragile relationship with her ex-husband who is insensitive to her, and she’s vulnerable and she’s tender and she’s looking for a change and that’s the moment when things can happen for you.

You always seem interested in marginalised characters, people who are different for one reason or another.

Yeah. The thing is, problems are what’s interesting. The movie has to have somebody in a problem, and I’m not drawn to the ordinary guy who is angst-ridden about his suburban life unless he’s nuts and really on the edge. I guess I grew up as an unusual person in various ways and so I feel connected. My wife says, ‘you’re much more Peter Dinklage than Bradley Cooper’, [laughs] and it’s true! I would rather cast Peter Dinklage than Bradley Cooper!

The actors are all terrific. How did you cast the film?

It’s one of the ironies of low-budget filmmaking that for most supporting parts you can’t afford another big name. And my translation of that is, ‘oh, we get to cast people who are great and right for the movie’. If Renee goes to that facility and all those people are faces that you know, people you recognize, you will not be scared because you know who they are. But if you don’t know who they are it’s much more unnerving. So we had to cast certain people out of Toronto because of our Toronto deal, but we could also bring some people. So for instance we brought Lesley Manville, who from my point of view is one of the greatest actresses of the world. I never thought she would do it, but she was free, in between two movies, so it was amazing to have her, I love her. And the same thing was true with Michael Chiklis and Kerry Bishé and everybody else, and certainly with Peter Stormare. It needed to be a group that had a certain coherent internal vibe. And the criterion was, is this a person who feels like they’ve ‘ruptured’ in their own lives? That’s what Andrew Lazar the producer and I would assess during casting. ‘That guy is awesome but he’s wrong for the movie. He hasn’t ruptured yet.’ [laughs] I’ve ruptured many times… [laughs]

What inspired that idea of transformation coming out of terror?

It’s something I understand, what you have to move through and be capable of working with in your life in order to arrive at something new for yourself. The spiders in the film are merely a metaphor, and we all have those things crawling all over us all of the time. Most of the time most people can’t transcend that. One of the things that I like about the movie is that everyone else is saying, ‘what do you want from me?’, all the people who are in the facility, and they never answer the question, except to say, ‘it’s entirely up to you’. And that’s the truth, it’s entirely up to you.

What’s great is that you never know if they’re good or bad guys, their ultimate aim is never made clear.

That’s absolutely true. That’s the experience we have in our own lives with people who are working on us. Whoever is saying to you or to me, ‘this is where you’re failing’, or ‘this is your problem’, or ‘you need to…’, or ‘how come you can’t…?’, ‘what’s stopping you?’, we’re suspicious of them. We don’t know if they’re good or bad. They might be loving and gentle but they might be insisting that we do something hard. Or they might be threatening and suggesting that we might be doing something easy and good for us. So we are confused about it. Our experience of it is confusion.

And this goes with the fact that in the movie you show two people transform, the two most beautiful women in the cast, and the transformation looks disturbingly ugly, so you have this contrast between beauty and monstrosity.

Yes, but that’s also about one of the things that we are terrified of: if we make that transformation we will become something horrible to ourselves and to others. Or not necessarily something horrible, but something unknown, and unknown and horrible are right next to each other. You can’t have them transform into something beautiful and lovely because that’s not how we experience the fear of transformation, that’s not how we experience the challenge of all these things. We’re afraid that there’s something ugly in us. Otherwise we wouldn’t be afraid of it. If it was just something beautiful that was going to be revealed it’d be very easy. We’re ashamed and terrified and disinclined. This is precisely the metaphor of the movie and how it operates throughout the whole film. And that’s what made me want to make it. Yes, it’s a genre movie, but it’s really a movie about spiritual existence.

Interview by Virginie Sélavy

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

Daisy Johnson is Leeloo in The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element
The Fifth Element

Daisy Johnson is 24 and currently lives in Oxford. She has a degree in English from Lancaster University and an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford. She travelled around a lot as a child, but it was the landscape of the Fens that haunted her – ‘it’s an unquiet land… land that dreams of being the coast’ – and it became the setting for her debut short story collection, Fen (Jonathan Cape). The startling stories are all about women and girls and are full of myth, dark magic and odd metamorphoses. Fittingly, as her filmic Alter Ego, she has chosen Leeloo from The Fifth Element. Eithne Farry

When left to my own devices I imagine my alter ego would be a Luc Besson character: Jacques from The Big Blue who dives without air, tries to have a normal life but cannot, dreams of water rising up the walls; Mathilda, who is only twelve but is already cut from cool: a sharp fringe, round glasses. ‘How old were you when you made your first hit?’ she asks Leon, listens to his reply, says: ‘Beat you!’

There is something though, isn’t there, about The Fifth Element’s Leeloo. Clad in some kind of bondage tape, falling through the roof of Bruce Willis’s taxi, very strong on issues of consent, keen on roast chicken.

As a child I learnt most of my vocabulary from books, which means that, sometimes, when I’m speaking, words come out wrong. This happens to Leeloo too, though it bothers her less. The world is under attack and only she can save the day. She isn’t entirely convinced, though, that she wants to. She says: ‘What’s the use in saving life when you see what you do with it?’ She is sparing with her words, speaks her mind, gathers material to her in a writer-like manner. In the end she is a hopeless romantic. Something, perhaps, about Bruce Willis’s bright orange vest.

If she was brought where we are, I think she would miss the bright colours and over-exaggerated emotions. She would become melancholic, binge on microwave food, get a couple of cats. She would – to remind her of the old days – prey on muggers, litterers, those with late library books. She would, for lack of use, slowly lose the language she’d learnt. I do not think she would miss it much.

Daisy Johnson

Vertigo: Doomed Love

Vertigo
Vertigo

Format: Cinema

Date: 5 – 31 August 2016

Part of Soundtrack Season

Venue: HOME, Manchester

Tickets are now on sale via the HOME website
or the Box Office on
+44 (0)161 200 1500

Musician and filmmaker Barry Adamson on Bernard Herrmann’s dizzying score for Hitchcock.

Vertigo is without doubt, Hitchcock’s masterpiece. A masterpiece because Hitchcock lets us into his (and our own) universal truth. He shows us his longing. A longing that can never be satiated. A longing that merely leaves us up in the air, frozen in time and space forever.

He dismisses conventional story telling structure. (Conventional film structure is three acts. You put a person up a tree. You throw rocks at them. You watch them try to make it down. Most first acts are over with pretty quickly so we can get on with the business of throwing rocks. Hitchcock putting Jimmy Stewart’s Scottie up a tree is to have him fish Kim Novak’s Madeleine, the woman he’s been following at a distance, out of San Francisco Bay, take her home, strip her naked and put her in his bed… after 46 minutes.) He then masterly creates his trademark suspense. In the last few acts, the audience knows something the protagonist doesn’t, after a remarkable disclosure of the film’s plot. Up until that point, there’s so much tension, intrigue and seduction manoeuvring. We’re watching a man watching a woman who’s keeping an eye on herself while observing another woman…

Bernard Herrmann said that whereas he wrote character music for Orson Welles, Hitchcock wanted place and situation and to feel the tension building. The music throughout the opening titles tells the whole story. The film is set in San Francisco. Herrmann builds a geographical, dreamlike and suspenseful motive around ‘contrary motion’. One motif plays six notes up and down the scale as the other motif (same notes) comes down and up the scale and this alludes to the idea of physical vertigo as well as a kind of teetering on the edge, both emotionally and mentally.

He then adds the ‘doomed love’ theme in four notes, ending the phrase with a dissonant death chord. It would seem to be the end, and of course later in the piece it really is BUT… he then arranges for ‘trilling’ violins to animate and rise from a pit of desire, into omnipotence. They begin skipping carelessly as if to mock the idea of death as finite. This is short-lived, however, as again doom now plays out before the final death knell rings.

This happens over swirling graphics and close-ups of a woman’s mouth and eyes. What’s this film about again? A fear of heights? No. Fear of falling… in love.

The other part of the score is the brilliant Carlotta Valdes theme, which Herrmann uses as a link to the past and then turns it into a hallucination, another kind of vertigo for Kim Novak. Scottie’s toxic seduction is played out over a stealing of Wagner’s opera, Tristan und Isolde. Herrmann uses the ‘love/death’ theme, which he rewrites and extends as mere metaphor, gluing together the idea of Madeleine’s obsession with the past and Scottie’s idea that the dead can be brought back and made alive again…

The Soundtrack season at HOME Manchester has been co-curated by Barry Adamson and HOME’s Artistic Director of Film Jason Wood.

Barry Adamson

A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews