Outside The Frame

Friday, 26 October 2007

Funny Gamesnanship


Many of those who meet Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke in person are surprised at how jolly and gracious he is given the cold-blooded brutality and perversity of his films. Myself, I was surprised to see how much he resembled Lloyd Schwartz, Pulitzer Prize winning Phoenix classical music critic and a jolly and gracious fellow himself. So impressed was I by this resemblance that I  suggested that Lloyd interview Haneke when he was in town (Lloyd’s interview with Jerry Seinfeld will appear as the “Backtalk” in the 11/2 Phoenix). Or maybe have Haneke interview Lloyd. This was dismissed as yet another of my too often repeated jokes.

At any rate, I ended up interviewing Haneke myself (through an interpreter, a highly competent woman who works at the U.N. and didn’t respond to my references to Sidney Pollack’s “The Interpreter” or its star Nicole Kidman), even though Haneke seemed to speak English pretty well with a slight accent (then again, it could have been Lloyd having one on me). He (Haneke, not Lloyd, was in town as part of the ongoing retrospective of his films at the Harvard Film Archive and the Museum of Fine Arts and in particular was promoting his shot-for-shot remake of his own “Funny Games,” starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt. It's screening here in a sneak preview but not opening theatrically until February (a situaton he seems very unhappy with). Here’s how things started out.

PK: It must be gratifying to come to the United States and be celebrated at the Museum of Modern Art and here at Harvard.

MH:  Yes, it is always a pleasure to have recognition. It’s not my first retrospective, but my first on in America.

PK: It’s the heart of the beast, isn’t it, America?

MH:  (laughs) Yes.

Peter- But it was less gratifying working with the Hollywood studio system on your new movie?

MH: It was of course no problem at all working with the actors. But as far as the team was concerned, and the blown up apparatus on to you, that was less pleasant to work with. You know, for each job you have five people. If I want a glass of water, I tell the assistant, the assistant tells it to the procure man, and they in turn tell someone else, and it takes ten minutes to get a glass of water. I hate that.

PK: Is it like a union thing?

MH: Yeah. That was not so pleasant.

PK: And in dealing with the actual producers, and the people who finance the movie and distribute it?

MH:  They are pretty much thinking that they are it, you know? They are pretty arrogant. They ask what I want to be done and turn around and do whatever they want. However in shooting, I had a contract that no one can interfere, and they were forced to let me do whatever I wanted.

PK: When I heard that you were remaking the film shot by shot, first I thought of George Sluizer’s “The Vanishing,” who made his very successful European movie into a Hollywood movie and it wasn’t so successful. I also thought of Gus Van Sant’s remake of “Psycho,”  which didn’t do so well, either. With those prior examples, weren’t you a little daunted doing this?

MH:  Yeah, I mean you’re always a bit worried. Gus Van Sant was a little bit different because it was a study. He didn’t do his own film as a remake -- he made someone else’s film. For me the first “Funny Games,” the one in Europe, was meant for consumers of violence, and it was a slap in the face for these people. … So when I had the possibility to do it in English, I took the opportunity. And now the film has arrived at the audience that it was meant to be at. It was meant for the United States to begin with, because “Funny Games” has an English title. There was a house in the German version that no house in Austria is like that. It was a set. And, you know, we tried to imitate a classic American colonial house, you know, with the center staircase. And so there was a reason for doing the remake, so when I was offered to make the remake I said sure, I’d love to do it, but only if Naomi Watts is going to play the lead role.

PK: Did she approach you, or did you just see her in a movie and say…

MH:  No, I approached Naomi.

PK:  What was it about her performance or what drew you to her as an actor?

MH: “Mulholland Drive”and “21 Grams.”She was really great in both, I think.

PK: “21 Grams”  is  50 grams short of your “71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance.”

MH: It was successful, no? I know that the director likes my films. He wrote a very enthusiastic review of “Code Unknown” in some US magazine.

PK: It’s similar to “21 Grams” and Babel”  -- the multiple narrative.

MH: Yes, these films have similar structure.

PK:  There’s no multi-narrative really in "Funny Games."

MH:  I mean I did a few films that did this  but, you know, I’m not forced to do every film the same way of course.

PK:  “72 Fragments” is kind of like Kieslowski’s “Three Color  Trilogy without a happy ending.

MH:  “The Trilogy” is three dramas, three stories. They come together in a disaster.

PK: But they’re saved. I guess that’s the difference right there, one of them anyway. It seems like you are drawn to a particular actor, like Daniel Auteuil, you wrote the role in “Cache” for him. Do actors provide your inspiration for making movies these days?

MH:  I mean it’s not THE inspiration, no. But if I like an actor or an actress then obviously I’m very intrigued to get to know them, and it’s very gratifying then to get to work together. In Juliette Binoche’s case, she approached me. She had seen some of my films, some of my television films, so she called me and asked me whether we could do something together. =

PK: And they all asked to do more movies with you. Maybe Naomi Watts can do a sequel to this movie!

MH:  We can do one of these multiple end things where the viewer has the ability to manipulate which end he’d like.

PK It could be a video game actually.

MH:  Yes (Laughing).

PK: This is how you make money these days. So it’s a shot by shot remake but there are some differences. What are the differences?

MH:  Well the difference is obviously the actors. The actors have a different charismatic, different way of portraying things, and that obviously results in differences. And I did try and really succeed in reflecting all the shots one to one. I mean there are even shots that I wouldn’t have done in such a way nowadays, had I done the film from scratch. But because I decided to do an exact replica in terms of shots, I left them in.

PK: So you’ve become a better filmmaker since you repeated the same?

MH:  If it’s better? I don’t know. It’s a different sensibility.

PK:  It’s also different because 10 years have passed and there are different connotations and historical contexts.

MH:  In some ways I feel that the film has become more up to date because violence in the media, if anything, has increased, and the senseless consumption of it. I mean, you had to do nothing different, you had to change nothing, and it became more apropos. And the social level I am describing there, they are the same all over the world. I mean whether they are in Austria or in the United States, they are “bo-bo-” maybe you know that expression describing the bourgeoisie in France. A well educated, cultivated, and still saturated blasé bourgeoisie. In other words the people from which I come.

PK:  But it’s not the group of people who go to see movies like "Saw IV" or "Hostel" or something like that.

MH:  The young people? Or the “bo-bos?”

PK: [agenda in mind, obviously not paying attention] I was thinking of the scene with the kid with the pillowcase over his head- Abu Ghraib crossed my mind.

MH: Yeah, you know, it was actually the poster of the first “Funny Games,” and it was way before Abu Ghraib, but the associations of course have multiplied.

PK:  So do you think “Funny Games” inspired Abu Ghraib?

MH: (Laughs) No. You don’t need to inspire these kinds of things. Yesterday, actually, at the master class [taught for students at the Harvard Film Archive], I mentioned a story that illustrates that you don’t need to tell people how to commit violence. When the first film came out -- well it had not come out yet, it was finished, but it had not come out. Nobody had seen it yet. There was an article in Der Spiegel,” a German magazine, and it had talked about a case that happened in Spain where two young men got white gloves [part of the m.o. in “Funny Games”], very polite, the whole thing, and tortured a family -- one person to death.

PK: So when the movie came out they probably started blaming you for it.

MH:  It’s interesting to see the parallels because the two young men that did that, in reality, were two well educated people. One was a student of chemistry, and when he was put in jail he actually then wrote a very intelligent essay. He quoted Nietzche and everything and the worthlessness of life. The victims deserved to die, he argued,  because there is no point to existence.

PK: That Nietzsche -- he's got a lot to answer for.  Do you remember the Virginia Tech killings, where a student killed 20 or 30 other students? They were saying that it was inspired by this Korean movie because there was a shot of the killer with a hammer and there was the same shot in the Korean movie. He made a video of his like, manifesto, and it’s the same shot as the movie. But he never saw the movie, he never played video games. He just spent his time in his room doing nothing. He never had any connection to videos. So it’s like as soon as something like this happens, they look for something in the film culture or popular culture…

MH:  It’s a clever method of the lawyer’s too. It’s the famous litigation of “Natural Born Killers.”

PK: Right. But you also seem to suggest in your films, and in Benny’s video, and that whole “glaciation” trilogy that there is an alienation effect that images and video and the whole culture seem to have. Some people start losing their connection with reality.

MH:  Now our understanding of reality is really based on television nowadays, and that’s of course very dangerous because the images are not the reality. So I always in my films try to nourish some distrust in taking this reality for granted.

PK: Do you own a TV?

MH:  Yes.

NEXT: What Michael Haneke watches on TV!

10/26/2007 18:18:13 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Terror campaign

As I was pondering what to go as to the many Halloween parties I haven’t been invited to, it occurred to me -- this is how we can save the democratic system. Instead of another one of those boring, repetetive and frankly embarassing “debates,” why not have the candidates dress up as their favorite movie monster and let the voters pick the scariest? I have some suggestionsto start them off.

1. Rudy Giuliani.

Conventional wisdom says go with The Weekly World News’s Bat Boy. But the WWW has folded -- not a good sign. I’d advise a more traditional image -- Max  Schreck’s Nosferatu. Just don't forget the sunblock

2. Hillary Clinton

The Wicked Witch? The Bride of Frankenstein? How common and obvious. Leave those for such populists as John Edwards and Joe Biden. Take on those who have been making fun of your unsettling titter by dressing up as Conrad Veidt’s The Man Who Laughs.

3. John McCain

Face up to those who question your stability. Don’t wait for the full moon to turn into Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man

4. Mitt Romney

Slick hair, cadaverous face, unctuous eastern charm, shape-shifting style: Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula.

5. Dennis Kucinich

Lowly in the polls, ignored and held in contempt, still, he craves the Ring of Power: Gollum.

6. Fred Thompson

Impersonate that terrifying former Republican president: Fred Thompson as Ulysses S. Grant in "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."

10/24/2007 17:23:03 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

More Lust, More Caution: Ang Lee II

At this point I began to suspect that maybe these dropped calls were not entirely accidental. Maybe he was getting defensive or even angry. Judging from his response when I finally called back, the comparison to “In the Mood for Love” seemed to touch a nerve. However, when I got into more sensitive areas, like whether the hard core sex in the film might drive first time actress Wei Tang into the loony bin, as was the case with Maria Schneider in “Last Tango in Paris,” there were no more disruptions (the static was still pretty bad and, let’s face it, the guy’s English isn’t as fluent as his filmmaking). So here’s the remainder of the interview, which proceeded without further interruption, supplemented though with editorial insertions.

PK: We were talking about “In the Mood for Love” and repressed sexuality. Did that movie play into your mind at all when you were casting?

AL: No, not at all. Actually, I tried everything to avoid it.

PK: You did?

AL: Yeah. The one scene where she seduces him into the apartment — the way they walk, it reminds him [Leung] of that movie. He was very upset because he wanted it to be different. I knew the movie was going to be different, so I wasn’t really paying much attention to being in those shoes. But that was the second scene he shot, so when I saw that reaction I knew I had work even harder to get away from that movie, just to get him to function.

PK: Did you try to get away from other movies that are similar? You know, like “Last Tango in Paris” or “In the Realm of the Senses.”

AL: Those are great movies. But sexually, I think “Last Tango in Paris” is nowhere near what we do, even though I’m a great admirer of “Last Tango in Paris.” “In the Realm of the Senses” -- there are some similarities. Sexually, there are some similarities: [in both]they exhaust  each other. But the movie is very different. 

PK: They’re set in the same period.

AL: Yes, they are of the same period. Other than the sexual part, though, I don’t see a lot of the similarities.

PK: You mentioned “Notorious” and “Dishonored” as inspirations in another interview.

AL: Yeah, not so much me, but for Eileen Chang [when she wrote]this story, which is kind of written like a movie. She uses intercutting and such technique. “Notorious” -- I think the plot is very similar, except the end. At the end of German movie there is honor. I think “Casablanca” might have something to do with this and might have played in Shanghai at that time [when the story takes place]. They have a similar kind of mood. For me, I check out quite a bit of old film noir for references. I really like the romantic mood they put in towards the end — one of sophistication that I very much admire, the unpredictability which has sort of been lost over the years. But there are no movies that I directly wanted to influence this movie.

PK: You have a couple of snippets from “Intermezzo” and “Penny Serenade,” but they seem to be totally different movies from the one you’re making..

AL: Right, at one point I tried to use “Suspicion,” which was the biggest hit in Shanghai that year. At one point I put a poster in, but finally I decided not to use it, because it was too on the nose for female anxiety. Usually, the way I’ll pick a reference is through the music because a movie should try to avoid too much on the nose. But somehow reference is how movies function that we try to see. For her,  Ingrid Bergman is definitely an actress to aspire to. After all, she’s an actress always trying to pick up attitudes and ways of behavior.   

PK: Are you in the movie? There’s an early scene where I though I might have seen you.

AL: No, no. Not at all.

PK: I thought it might have been a Hitchcock moment.

AL: No, I really just wanted to identify with the girl. So I kind of just shot the stage [in a way recalling] how I felt when I first stood on stage.

PK: You’ve discussed that this film is more about acting and the theater than it is about love and sex and war.

AL: Yes, and in some ways, movies as well. [a bad connection here: audible are fragments sounding like “It’s kind of an existential question” and “The reality is sort of the opposite of truth” and “who’s the real thing?”] Pretending can be more truthful. So that’s kind of the exercise.

PK: It’s similar to “Brokeback Mountain” in that they’re playing a role that’s supposed to be their real lives but they’re true selves are completely different.

AL: Yeah, what you wish for and what you pretend in your fantasies. There’s more truth to it.

PK: The Oscar, I guess, makes a lot of things possible for you. I was surprised, however, that after the success of “Brokeback,” there weren’t more films made with gay themes. Were you surprised by that?

AL: Yeah, I was. I don’t have an explanation. Maybe they’re waiting for a good script. I don’t really check with the studios. Can you tell why?

PK: [some off-the-cuff long-winded bullshit] Let’s not get too off topic, though. In some of the other films, like Last Tango, where young actresses are included in a very graphic sexual relationship, they’ve had problems afterwards. I know Maria Schneider ended up in a mental institution a few years later. I spoke to Kerry Fox [for “Intimacy”] and she had problems. Do you fear the same fate will befall the young actress in your movie?    

AL: Oh gosh, I hope not. I try everything to protect the actors—and not just the sexual scenes, but a whole career thing. Before she was nothing and now she’s getting so much attention. I try every step of the way to protect her and educate her—make sure she’s going on the right path. I helped her find her next project. I do the best I can. I have not sent any young actor in my career to a mental institution. Even though she has many sex scenes, I do my best to make sure she’s comfortable and walking in the right path. Take care of her as much as I can. So far, there has been praise for her performance. She believes in each role like a child. That’s the beauty.



10/10/2007 17:11:15 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Friday, 05 October 2007

Cautionary tale: Lee on "Lust"

I recently interviewed Ang Lee about his new film “Lust, Caution,” an adaptation of a short story by the revered Chinese auther Eileen Chang He was on a cell phone, riding or maybe even driving through New York while talking to me. This is an arrangement I don’t recommend. The reception was frequently garbled — maybe on both ends, because Lee’s answers were sometimes — and every ten minutes or so cut off. I’d ask a long, carefully thought out question and there would be silence. I’d repeat the question, differently phrased, worried that Lee might have been offended or perhaps killed in a traffic accident. Then I realized we were disconnected and
I’d call back and he’d resume answering the previous question. It was a little like being in one of those Cingular/AT&T dropped call commercials.
  At any rate I was able to glean some worthwhile material about the movie and it’s many controversies, which includes not only its rambunctuously graphic sex scenes between Tony Leung as a vicious Chinese collaborator during WWII and newcomer Wei Tang as an undercover spy, but also because it presents the Chinese experience in this period in a not altogether flattering light. Not a big deal here, maybe, but an issue in Taiwan and Hong Kong where Lee had just premiered the film.

PK: Are you in Hong Kong, because the last I heard you were in Hong Kong when the movie was premiered there 

AL: I was in Hong Kong, Taiwan and I just flew back. I’m in New York now.

PK: How did things go in Taiwan--they liked it?

AL: Oh yeah. I was so moved I was in tears—in public.

PK: Would say it was one of the best receptions you got for any of your movies there?

AL: It was the most [successful?] movie I’ve ever had. I was sitting there with the audience and I could feel that it [inaudible except for “fat” “in the heart” and “punch me in the guts”]. It’s a tough movie for them, but I could feel the energy. They didn’t come out with their heads down; they were very emotional. It was as very emotional experience.

PK: So, it deals with a past that most people probably don’t speak about.

AL: Yeah, the past. The way we live through them, the way I was raised. They lose it in the public eye of fear, but there will always be a solution at the end. It’s a pretty tough movie, but I really think people embraced it. I couldn’t get a ticket to get in the first couple days.

PK: I read that in Hong Kong you said that you thought it was a film that American audiences wouldn’t appreciate—that it was more like a Chinese movie.

 [Long pause. A dropped call. Redialed]

AL: …yeah, it was a very emotional experience for me. Most people couldn’t find words for it. Even critics are pretty quiet—relatively quiet. It seems like they need a second viewing, or something, to figure out what they think. I think it hit pretty hard.

PK: In Hong Kong, you said you didn’t expect American audiences to…

AL: Yes, it’s a level 3 [ a censorship designation?]. Usually, it’s equivalent to porno film. But people are really going to see it, whether the reaction [can be?] is pretty tremendous.

PK: Are you somewhat regretting it had so much explicit sex, because it seems the whole conversation surrounding the film, at least here in the United States, is about the sex scenes. Do you think that’s kind of not the right focus for the film?

AL: I don’t mind if the focus on those three scenes, I think it’s a shame because I think the whole movie is pretty sexy, probably because of those three scenes. I do as much [something like “reduction”] as possible both ways, but when I dive into those sex scenes it was pretty dramatic driven. That’s how I could convince myself and my actors to go through with it.

PK: Would you describe those scenes as pornographic, because I saw in one interview that you said you don’t shoot pornography all the time, so that sort of implies-- [garbled?]

AL: Yeah, it’s very hard. I think it’s not hard for some people. But for me and, at least, for Tony, it’s pretty hard. That’s just how it

goes. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just hard for us.

PK: The actress who was in it—this was her first movie.

AL: Her first movie, yes. She seems to be pretty natural when you put her in the zone. She’ll do anything as long as she’s in the part, she’ll do anything. She’s almost like a child actor. It’s really nice in how much she devoted to the character and the believability. The difficult part is that I had to couch her in the different skills.

PK: So, you designed all the rather ornate and complex sexual positions?

AL: Yes, pretty much, I did.

PK: Did you get that from a book?

AL: Yeah, I’m pretty guilty of that; I had to try all those positions. For a thematic purpose—

[someone’s phone rings; long pause; disconnected; called again]

AL: … I was guilty of designing those shots. The only way I could pull it off was to be dramatic and ornate. They were designed for a thematic purpose; therefore, it’s easy for actors to do their action.

PK: Was anyone injured in some of those positions? It seems as though some of them required some athleticism.


AL: …for dramatic needs, it’s easier for actors to express their feelings. Like who you’re blocking a scene, even it’s about balancing a scene. Secondly--visually, to stimulate the audience. To veer them towards what I want them to think about the scene. Pretty much pure dramatic cinematic pieces rather than sexual fantasy.

PK: But a little bit of that probably went into it, right?

AL: Well, yeah. That’s something I would probably deny, but probably some [sounds like  “houses”]. Because it worked for me, so it must be part of my fantasy. But I just think that way—what do I need to tell a story. I actually shot those scenes relatively early in the shooting schedule. I wanted to see how they landed before I could crop the second half of the movie.

PK: So you used that as a dramatic--

AL: Anchor, yeah. It’s an abstract feeling. About how you feel solid in your heart than with the heart that you make the movie, something like that. It’s a strange process that I had never experienced before.

PK: Everybody asks you, but you usually shake off the question, as to whether they actually did it.

AL: Yeah, I can’t answer that question. Either way, it’s kind of awkward. I can tell they’re great actors—their very devoted to the movie, their roles and their situation, their dramatic situation.

PK: How about that scene where he shoves her head against the wall? Does she actually get her head banged against the wall?

AL: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Certainly. But it’s padded wall. You can feel the bounce, the collision.

PK: It’s kind of a parallel to the interrogations that the guy does that happen off screen.

AL: Yeah, that’s the only scene where you see what he does—and the frustration and the repression.

PK: Everybody talks about the sex scenes. I found much more graphic and disturbing the one killing scene in the movie.

AL: Oh yes. That scene is what I call the “mitzvah” scene. They had the girl lose her virginity and somehow they also have to lose innocence. It’s a ritual kind of sceneis  how I see it, so that’s the direction I decided to go to. It’s about disillusion, about growth—it’s about the war though I never really show the war.  This is the other side of the war, the darker side of the war. I felt I had to introduce it and to get into the second half.

PK: That wasn’t in the book.

AL: Yeah, it’s not there. That passage of three years between Hong Kong and Shanghai there is almost nothing. We’re making a film here. She didn’t put much into the characters much, either. I had to develop them.

PK: In this movie, and also in your previous movie, unlike other adaptations you’ve done, you’ve gone from—instead of a long or longish novel and cutting it down—you’ve taken a short story and

AL: Only the last two movies, since Brokeback Mountain.

PK: Is that just a coincidence?

AL: I think so. But, again, who’s to say? You know, I have a lot of choices, why did I choose to make two short stories in a row? I think it’s because you have more space. With a novel, usually, you feel obliged, especially if it’s a famous writer, to tell the story and put everything that’s in the book and you don’t have much time to do your own thing.

PK: Tony Leung, when I was watching it, it occurred to me that he’s almost playing the same role here as he did in In the Mood for Love, except there’s graphic sex and World War II. Did you have that film in mind at all when you were making this one?

[Call is dropped. I call back and get Lee’s voicemail].

FEMALE VOICEMAIL VOICE: Please leave your message…

To be continued…

10/05/2007 15:38:50 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Tuesday, 02 October 2007

Women with guns


Sixteen years ago I made the mistake of playing pundit when “Time” magazine asked me for my opinion on Ridley Scott’s “Thelma and Louise.” “Ten years from now,” I intoned, “it will be seen as a turning point.” So much for prophecy. And they never asked my opinion about anything ever again.

So I was encouraged  a couple of weeks ago when Judith Warner in her “New York Times” blog “Domestic Disturbances”
took a look back at the movie. Warner feels that the tale of two women who revolt against violent macho oppression by blowing up 18-wheelers with handguns and [spoiler] driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon embodied an age of female terror and “feminist victimization” which, thank goodness, is all in the past. She concludes:

“It’s easy to forget now how vital and urgent the new focus on date rape and sexual harassment seemed, for a brief moment, back then. And yet it was, truly, transformative; the world of “Thelma and Louise,” I think it’s fair now to say, is not the one that we inhabit psychologically or physically today. Rape itself is down – its incidence having dropped 75 percent since the early 1990s, according to the Department of Justice. These are profound and meaningful changes, and we should celebrate them — and revel  in ‘Thelma and Louise’’s passage into history.”

Needless to say, Warner took a lot of heat in her comments column for her rosy assessment. And if I could put in my two cents 16 years after my previous pontification, regardless of whether the rape rate has declined or not,  the domestic violence that initially sent T & L off on their anti-patriarchal crime spree doesn’t seem to have waned muchsince 1991. Every other night on the news there seems to be a story about some boyfriend/husband murdering their girlfriend/spouse. Hasn’t anybody else noticed this epidemic? Isn’t it just another, more widespread and lethal form of terrorism?

Anyway, I suspect this renewed interest in “T & L” springs in part from the recently released “The Brave One” (which, I confess, I have not seen yet), in which Jodie Foster goes all Charles Bronson on gangbangers after they attack her and kill her fiancé (In real life these days she would more likely have been the one killed — by the fiancé).

Be that as it may, the film has been compared to Abel Ferrara’s superb rape-revenge thriller “Ms. 45" (1981). Clint Eastwood’s unheralded masterpiece “Sudden Impact” (1983) also comes to mind. Rather than reinforcing rightwing law and order values (before it entered Ronald Reagan’s lexicon, “Make my day” was the film’s catch phrase), the film dismantles them.

Dirty Harry Callahan, the cop dedicated to serving out justice to evil doers, whose worst foes, more so than the perps themselves, are the namby pamby do-gooders and bureaucrats who insist on constitutional rights and proper procedure, finds out that one of the evil doers he’s pursuing  is acting on the same principles as he is.

A rape victim (played by Eastwood's then girlfriend Sondra Locke) is astounded when the pack of lowlifes who assaulted her and her sister get  off the hook through some legal shenanigans. Seeking her own justice, she hunts each one down and gives them a “.38 caliber vasectomy” (even the bull dyke lesbian).  How can Harry turn in her in when she is essentially doing the same thing he’s been doing? How can he NOT turn her in and remain true to his belief in justice/revenge? The contradiction breaks down the whole vigilante thriller. It’s Clint Eastwood’s Hamlet.

10/02/2007 17:00:02 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Friday, 21 September 2007

Character "Assassination"

I find it kind of serendipitous that the release of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” takes place in the midst of the growing controversy about the Jena Six. As you probably know, several thousand people have marched in that small Louisiana town protesting the draconian punishments meted out to African-American high school students goaded by racial harassment (including a noose hung from a tree) into assaulting a white classmate.  Two guys drove by the demonstration in a pickup, also subtly sporting a pair of nooses. They were arrested, and one apparently is a member of the KKK. Adding to the growing sense of deja vu to the Jim Crow era evoked these events are other recent, disturbing incidents such as this and this.

So what does all this have to do with Jesses James? The noble rebellious soul persecuted by rotten politicians and capitalist nabobs into resorting to a life of crime? The Wild West Robin Hood betrayed by a quisling he trusted? Such is the Jesse Jame promoted by a long tradition of Westerns ranging from “Jesse James Under the Black Flag” (1921) to “American Outlaw” (2001). Punch “Jesse James” into the IMDB and you’ll come up with over 200 titles in which he’s played by actors including Audie Murphy, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, George Reeves and Jesse James, Jr. He’s a Hollywood icon on a par with John Wayne.

But if T.J. Stiles fine book “Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War” is to be believed, the Western outlaw hero of the silver screen was in real life a racist thug who started out as a bushwacker, a Confederate guerilla murdering abolitionists, Unionists and African-Americans during the Civil War and after. He and opportunistic politicians and newspapermen would transform his image from that of a ruthless thief and killer into a romantic symbol of the late, great Confedracy. It was part of a successful campaign to undo the gains of Reconstruction and restore white supremacy to Missouri and the South. In short, he was a terrorist for a racist, pro-slavery,  anti-Union cause.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t look to movies for history lessons, not yet, anyway. And some of those  films were classics, like Fritz Lang’s 1940  “The Return of Frank James” (though it’s more about Jesse’s older brother), Sam Fuller’s 1949 “I Shot Jesse James” (though this was more about the conflicted Bob Ford) and Philip Kaufman’s  1972 revisionist Western “The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid” (though this portrays James, accurately one imagines, as a scumbag).

But “Birth of a Nation” is a great film, too, and I doubt if many people are still comfortable with its portrayal of the KKK as heroic crusaders saving the white south from Yankee  carpetbaggers and black degenerates  lusting after white women.

 “The Assassination of Jesse James” might also turn out to be a classic  — I haven’t seen it yet and I’m looking forward to doing so. A quick glance at some of the reviews suggests the film is about legend and myth and celebrity (with James a kind of John Lennon and Ford a stalking Mark David Chapman?). All well and good, but since this is the kind of legend that promotes racism and strife and nooses tied to trees and pickup trucks, isn’t it time that Hollywood reconsidered the legend and printed the truth?

09/21/2007 17:42:51 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Battle fatigue: has the Iraq film surge already fizzled?

As the media gratefully takes a pass on Iraq, the election or anything else of depressing substance for the golden opportunity for endless inanity presented by the new OJ case, the success of the upcoming spate of War on Terror related movies seems in doubt. After all, don’t people go to the movies to escape the troubles of the world rather than be confronted with them? And when the news itself doesn’t even want to think of all that bad stuff, what chance does “In The Valley of Elah” (which I think is a crock, but that’s not my point) have against, say, “Good Luck Chuck?”

And indeed, some pundits and critics have already buried the trend before the first films have barely been released.

Asks David Carr in “The New York Times:” “Are audiences ready for the steady stream of movies and documentaries that bring a faraway war very close? … historically, audiences enter the theater in pursuit of counter-programming as an antidote to reality.”

Also unconvinced isTodd McCarthy, lead critic for “Variety." After catching Brian De Palma's "Redacted," Nick Broomfield's "Battle for Haditha,” Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah,"  James C. Strouse's "Grace Is Gone" at the Toronto film festival, he concludes, “I think I know exactly where they're coming from and that I'm not going to learn anything new from them… Just  the war sucks, Bush sucks, America is down the tubes.Does anyone in Hollywood think anything different than this? According to polls, more than 60% of Americans also agree.” The anti-war films, he adds, are an inverted instance of the gung-ho war movies of seven decades ago: “Just as, during World War II, Hollywood pictures had a unified aim, to rally viewers around the war effort and present an image of the Allies prevailing, today they are also identical in nature, except in the opposite direction.”

But didn’t those war movies do pretty well commercially? And if they hadn’t be sure the ever-bottom-line-minded studios would have stopped making them. Then maybe films reflecting an anti-war mood might draw an audience also. According to  the IMDB, the preliminary box office reports on “Elah” look pretty good. (“a solid $150,000 in nine theaters, averaging $17,000 per theater.” )
Since all they’re getting from the news is fluff and from the administration spin and lies, maybe the 60+%  of the  people who think the war might be a bad idea will show up for films that offer them an escape from make-believe and back into reality.

09/18/2007 17:25:03 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Sunday, 16 September 2007

"Promises" fulfilled at TIFF: Cronenberg III

Wrapping up the Cronenberg interview, a few notes on synchronicity, Soviet motorcycles, nepotism, Martin Amis and some gratuitous references to Russian literature.

PK: Have you had that happen before in other films, where the theme or some other elements of the film suddenly became reflected in real life.

DC: Yeah.

PK: Wasn’t there something with “Crash” that was going on then.

DC: Yeah, well, “Crash” — and then even “Dead Ringers.” Suddenly, there was all this twins stuff happening and there were five twins movies that came out. It was very bizarre. And with “Naked Lunch”there was suddenly all these writers writing and having characters from their books come to life. Yeah, it’s strange sometimes. It’s as though you’ve tapped into the zeitgeist somehow and it tends to reflect back on you.  

PK: Is that motorcycle in the movie yours?

DC: No, but it was certainly my motorcycling knowledge that got it to be a Ural. Originally he had written it as a Royal Enfield and I thought that for her father, who was Russian, he should have a Russian motorcycle and I knew about Urals. Sure enough, they still make them. You can buy a new one in England; in fact, that was a new one that we aged down to look vintage because we wanted it to start all the time. But no, that wasn’t my bike, but it is exactly what I wrote the line for Nikolai to say, “[Here Cronenberg recites in a Russian accent Nikolai’s line from the movie describing the motorcycle that, like in the movie, I found inaudible]”

PK: It’s almost a character in the movie. It’s the only technological item, really.

DC: Yeah, but you certainly see it’s lovingly photographed.

PK: Do you collect motorcycles

DC: I don’t collect them, but I still ride them. I favor Italian bikes, I have Ducatis.

PK: You also race cars, too.

DC: Well, I did. I haven’t done that for quite a while. But I have raced them in the past.

PK: All of your films tend to have a dissection of the family unit--and also, you’re family is part of your unit making the movies.

DC: That’s true.

PK: Have you ever thought about what this means?

DC: No. [laughs] Well, I mean, nepotism is great. It’s wonderful to have your family involved with you. Certainly movie business is not the only business where this occurs. It’s sort of natural that your family lives your business with you and that some of your kids or relatives are going to get into it just by osmosis. There was a time when there was no film business in Canada. When I started, it wasn’t like in L.A. where your friend’s father was in the business if yours wasn’t. But there was nobody around because there was no film industry, so it’s kind of sweet that it’s changed in Canada now. Of course, family drama is one of the dramatic cores--you can’t really get too far away from it, I think.

PK: This is your second largest budget yet?

DC:  Yeah, this is the second bigges budget. “A History of Violence” was 32 million and this was about 27 or 26 million.

PK: Having so much money invested, did you get a little bit of interference from people who put the money up?

DC: No, Focus [the studio] were great. And it wasn’t only Focus, but BBC films, of course. It was very intelligent support and collaboration and the one thing you want to be able to say, weirdly enough, is “If it’s bad, it’s my fault,” because nobody made you make it bad. I have to take the full brunt of it. Well, if you don’t like it, it’s my fault. That’s actually the best compliment I can give to my producers.

PK: So, next movies: “London Fields,” “Painkillers,” none of these came about.

DC: No, you have to be careful of imdb.

PK: Well, you told me a couple of years ago that that “London Fields” credits was a possibility.

DC: Actually, I had Martin Amis visit the set of “Eastern Promises” with his wife, but for various reasons, at the moment, that’s sort of in limbo. So I actually don’t know what I’m going to do next.

PK: Do you like that feeling better than knowing what you’re going to do next?

DC: Each one has kind of a thrill factor, so I’m okay with either one.

PK: Did I hear the name Vladmir Nabokov come up as the person who was providing the drugs from Kabul?

DC: It was Valerie Nabakov. He was initially called Valerie and I thought we should give him a last name so, yes, I did give him the Nabokov name.

PK: I think Nabokov would’ve been happy with that.

DC: I also gave Nikolai his last name, which was Luzhin. It’s only mentioned once when the cop comes looking to find him in the hospital, “Nikolai Luzhin, please,” he says and that’s an allusion to  his novel “The Luzhin Defence.” 

PK: Yeah, and that was made into a movie too, with John Turturro.

DC: Yeah, I think they just called it “The Defence.”

PK: No Dostoevsky references, even though I guess both of you have read “The Possessed.”

DC: Yes, well, we read the version called “The Demons.” I phoned Viggo and said, maybe you should be reading this new translation of “The Possessed” which is called “The Demons” and he said, “I’ve just finished it.”

PK: Yeah, it was my favorite Dostoevsky book. I wanted to be Stavrogin when I grew up, but it didn’t work out that way. 

DC: [laughs] That’s a good thing.

PK: I hope your film gets another fifteen minute standing ovation [as did “A History of Violence” when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005].

DC: Well, thank you very much.

[“Eastern Promises” won the audience award at the festival].



09/16/2007 14:01:18 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Friday, 14 September 2007

Mob rule: David Cronenberg, Part II

With two studio films in a row, is Cronenberg selling out? It’s not the kind of question you want to ask even when he’s three hundred miles away on the phone. Note above how I failed to follow up on asking him whether his films have  influenced the trend of the “Saws” and “Hostels” (chances are, however, that his answer would be “no.”). So after tapdancing around the sell-out question (even if so, or because of that, they are two of his best movies, we move on to other topics. Is this a gangster movie? IS Martin Scorsese right and Cronenberg is going to Hell? Is the film more Western than Eastern? And is he worried Putin might be oputting polonium in his tea?

PK: You were writing your own scripts up until “eXistenZ?”

DC: Yeah, it waxes and wanes. It depends. I’ve done adaptations of plays, of novels, I’ve written original scripts, and then I’ve worked with other people’s scripts. I’ve sort of done all these levels. It’s difficult to say, I’m going to take two years off and write an original screenplay, knowing, that at the end of that, you might not like your own screenplay, or you might like it but not be able to get it financed. So you’ll notice a lot of directors who started off writing their own screenplays — even Coppola and Brian de Palma for example are in that category — and then as their careers gained some momentum, they stopped writing scripts. It’s not that they’re not using their screenwriting as they’re working with writers and so on, and certainly I do the same. But to stop the momentum for the length of time it takes to write an original script, it’s kind of hard. It’s difficult.

PK: And also to get it financed. I spoke to you for your last film, “A History of Violence,” and you said after “Spider” you didn’t really want to make another independent movie because of the headaches in financing. Is that still the case?

DC: Well, I wouldn’t say never, but I’m sure I said that I couldn’t do that again, the next time. Because basically, every movie, you seem to seem to start from scratch with financing, as though you’re inventing the movie business from scratch each time you do it, if you’re doing independent film. Because money always comes from different and strange places, and you’re really very much at the winds of global economy: you know, suddenly, the Noia market in Germany goes belly up, and that’s where you financed your last film, but now you can’t because it doesn’t exist anymore. You know, that kind of thing. And “Spider” was unique even beyond that, because we all decided to make the movie knowing that we weren’t going to get paid for it. That’s unusual, even on an independent film. So you work for two years and you make no money. It doesn’t matter who you are; that’s difficult.  

PK: And you still haven’t made any money on that?

DC: I’ve made a little money, because it actually on DVD started to make a profit.

PK: So you started out in horror films, and now you’re — and this is sort of a simplistic way of looking at it — now you’re going into the gangster genre.

DC: That is simplistic. [Laughs] Well I certainly started in the horror genre and then went in and out of it, many times. Also I guess the sci-fi genre; it depends what you’re definitions are. And then I did movies like “M. Butterfly” and “Dead Ringers”  that aren’t really any genre. So I don’t really think in those terms, I must say. For me the question of genre is really a marketing question. It’s not a creative one, because when you start to make a movie, the genre thing disappears. You’re left with the same problems: how do you cast it? What locations do you get? What costumes? What lens are you going to use? How are you going to light it? All of those things don’t have anything to do with genre. You have to solve those problems--or at least, they’re not always problems, they’re creative decisions that can be quite exciting rather than just problem-solving. But at that point you’re just making the movie, and the genre is irrelevant. 

PK: But there’s also a tradition of iconography in other films and other filmmakers…

DC: That’s true, but I think the trick is to try to ignore them. Without being disingenuous, if you really feel the weight of one hundred years of noir on your back, you’re going go paralyze yourself. If you think about not just “The Godfather” but Fritz Lang’s “M” and “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” and you know, you name it, you’ll go crazy. You won’t be able to make one decision because you won’t know whether you want to connect with that one or disconnect that one, or follow this convention or try to subvert that convention but not that one. So once again, I think you’re left…you feel it, you know those things are there, and you certainly know a cliché when you hear it, one that’s really clunky. But other than that--and this is my approach, I’m not saying that it’s anybody else’s--I try very hard to pretend that no one’s ever made a movie like this before. Without, of course, I’m not claiming complete originality for one frame, but you have to, in a way, act as though you are.  

PK: Your own movies too…

DC: More my own movies than anyone else’s. I don’t really think in terms of thematic connections or even visual ones. I know that making those two or three thousand decisions a day that I will make while making the movie that are unique to me, there will be enough of me in the movie. I don’t really have to worry about putting my snap on it or anything else. I try very hard not to think about people’s expectations based on other movies that I’m making, because this one is not those, you know?

PK: I read a quote from Martin Scorsese, who said that after reading interviews with you, it was clear that you didn’t understand your own movies.

DC: Yes, he said that after he’d seen about the first three movies I’d made. But you know, Marty’s a good Catholic, and he’s an Italian, and he’s an American. All of those things, I am not. He has his own … I think that my movies, my early ones in particular, really freaked him out and made him fear for his soul, frankly, which pleased me to no end. But I am an atheist you see, and I don’t believe in the soul, not, not in…

PK: Do you think he’s trying to convert you to the church, and you’re trying…?

DC: Well, I think his interpretation tends that way, and of  course for me, everybody’s reaction to your movie involves a collaboration. They have a subjective reaction to the movie that takes their whole life into consideration. And I have no way of controlling that, nor would I want to, and I can’t anticipate it either. And so, it makes for some very interesting responses and interpretations, which are completely legit. I mean, the movie is not an objective thing. You want it to be organic and to involve an audience. Even people’s perception of a movie shifts with time. People catch up with it ten years later, their life has changed, and the way they perceived it ten years ago, suddenly they see it in a completely different light.

PK: Do you watch your old movies and come up with different interpretations?

DC: No, I don’t. In fact, I find it very difficult when I’m asked to do commentary on an old movie for a DVD, because I don’t really want to do it, but I have done it. And I find it very strange.

PK: Do you find it enlightening?

DC: I wouldn’t call it enlightening.

PK: Has Scorsese called you  on treading on his gangster turf?

DC: He really liked “A History of Violence.” We haven’t talked in detail though, but he sent a note about “Spider” as well. We keep in touch. But I would be very interested to know in detail what he thought of last two movies, and I really don’t know. But he’s really not territorial in that way; he’s a very generous guy, really is. 

PK: He seems to be. So it’s called “Eastern Promises.” I would think it would be called “Western Promises,” because it’s about this girl who gets lured to the West.

DC: Yeah, believe me, we went through all of that.

PK: So it’s not just me.

DC: Eastern promises made about the West. The promise was made in the East. You know, there are many ways to look at it. In fact, in England, eastern tends to mean Russia, whereas in North America, eastern tends to mean Asia, like Japan or China. 

PK: We’re more insular. Eastern tends to mean, like, Massachusetts.

DC: Well, I’m glad you said that. Absolutely, the east coast. So there were some questions about how confusing or well understood it might be. But finally, we couldn’t come up with anything we liked better. It’s kind of a soft title. When I first read the script, the first thing I thought was--wow, this sounds like some romance, set in China or Japan.

PK: Well, it’s kind of a romance.

DC: Yeah.

PK: Were you aware that the female protagonist is a midwife and the male protagonist is referred to as an undertaker.

DC: Well, they’ve got everything covered, don’t they?

PK: Yeah, and the first two scenes are bloody scenes of birth and death.

DC: Well, yes, as he says, birth and death go together sometime.

PK: I saw a film recently called Trade, and tat also touches into this really horrible kind of reality, the sex trade.

DC: Yeah, we did a certain amount of research. There was a miniseries in England called “Sex Traffic”  and we looked at that and we read some things. Of course, it’s not really the main subject of the movie whereas it was the focus of those other dramas and semi-documentaries. It is pretty horrifying and it’s still happening.

PK: You’ve said that the biggest fan of this movie might be Vladmir Putin.

DC: [laughs] Well, you don’t want to give away the ending, but I thought that he would be very pleased that…  [omitted to avoid spoiler]

PK: Did you get a call from someone saying unless you want polonium in your tea  you'd better… [omitted, ditto]?

DC: Well, that was happening down the street from us, I don’t know if you’ve heard about that..

PK: So, you had radioactivity?

DC: When we started, the Russian mob in London was a fairly obscure subject and by the time we finished it basically front page news all the time. It was literally half a block away from where Viggo, Vincent Cassel and I were staying. It was a building owned by Berezovsky, the oligarch, and we walked by that every day and one day there were cops in hazmat suits and a forensic van and sure enough they were finding traces of polonium  in there because Litvenenko had been there. It suddenly came close to home, but it was half-way through the shoot when it started to happen.  

PK: Did it make you feel a little nervous?

DC: Not really, but it was a little creepy that the sushi place we used to go to eat at was suddenly closed and had cops standing outside.

PK: Did you go there after they reopened?

DC: Surprisingly, they haven’t reopened. They keep saying they’re renovating. When we left, months later, it still hadn’t opened.


09/14/2007 12:31:03 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Terror watch: David Cronenberg on "Eastern Promises" Part I

Terror can be good for you, or so might argue David Cronenberg. He should know, having made some of the most terrifying films of the last thirty years or so, such as “Shivers/They Came From Within” (1975), “Rabid” (1977) , “Scanners” (1981), “Videodrome” (1983), "The Fly"(1986), "eXistenZ" (1999). He’s moonlighted lately in the gangster genre with his last two films, "A History of Violence "(2005) and "Eastern Promises," in the gangster genre (though Cronenberg has said the former is more of a Western). But these too are unsparing as they force the audience to stare at the cold blade of personal extinction.

I talked with him on the phone last week while he was in Toronto for the world premiere of Eastern Promises at the Film Festival. Here’s some of our conversation.

PK: I guess the most squirm-inducing scene is the infamous bathhouse scene.

DC: Well, I don’t know.

PK: I’ve seen it with an audience, and oddly that scene seems to disturb women more than men. I’m not sure why.

DC: That scene?

PK: Yeah.

DC: Well, I guess it is like that shower scene in “Psycho.” You’re naked, you’re wet, and there are guys with knives who don’t like you. You can’t be more vulnerable than that, I suppose.

PK: But the other scenes of violence, I mean, there are only three or four real nasty moments, and they’re all with edged weapons too — there’s no gunfire or anything. But the first moment, the first scene of that type, I said, “I’ve seen this somewhere before.” And I realized, we had shown at our website the killing of Daniel Pearl, and you must have seen that…

DC: Well, I haven’t seen that particular video, but I have seen some--one, it was a guy named Berg. And it was definitely in my mind when I did that scene. There is now snuff on the web for anybody to see anytime, and this is a pretty new development. And it’s obviously very disturbing and I definitely had that in mine when I was doing those scenes.

PK: It’s harder to shock people now.

DC: Well, see, I don’t think that’s true. And you were saying, “people were squirming.” I think they’re more sensitized, because I think it’s come much closer to home; I mean, it’s come into your home on your computer. In the old days, it was all stuff that happened far away, and you heard about it, or maybe you saw a gruesome photograph, but usually not. And now, you can look at it at three in the morning if you want, in your house. And it’s American citizens often, in countries that seem to be unfathomable in some ways, the mentality that’s involved. And you have people doing these things thinking that they’re committing holy, sacred acts, and to you it’s like a heinous, hideous atrocity. And where do those cultures come together? So I actually think people are more sensitive to violence onscreen now, not less.

PK: But then you have the phenomenon of films like “Saw” and “Hostel” that people, at least up to a little while ago, have been going to, to sort of indulge in that kind of sadistic…

DC: Well I wonder — and I haven’t seen them, so I can’t get too specific — I wonder if that’s not a reaction to that. That you want to confront what scares you in a controlled environment, which is a movie theater. Certainly, that’s always been an aspect of horror films. Why do people want to be scared? Well, there is a need to confront things that scare you, but you want to walk away from it. Even just scenes of violence on the street, for example: people read about it all the time and they worry about it, and they wonder what it would be like and how they would react, if they were in a situation where a couple of guys came up to them at night on the street and so on and so on. And the way of exercising that — exercising and exorcising that — is to see a movie in which there are scenes like that. And you get a chance to experience it at a distance in a safe way. I think the main reason, really, that people go to see a movie is to live another life for a moment — not necessarily a life that you’d want to be your own, but that you’re curious about. So you become, say, Nikolai this mobster. I mean, to me that’s why I showed that bath scene, not in a Bourne-movie kind of impressionistic, quick-cutting way where you don’t really see what’s going on, but where you saw everything that was going on. Because if you’re going to be Nikolai for the time of this movie, following this character, or in fact inhabiting him, or as we used to say identifying with him, I want you to have his experiences. So I feel like I would be cheating my audience to do it off camera or out the window or some other way.

PK: So is Viggo Mortensen [star of both “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”] turning into your alter ego?

DC: Well, we are very close buddies. I have to say we’ve become quite close friends since working on “A History of Violence.” We do hit it off rather well. But when you’re making a movie, in a way, you are all of your actors. Not just the lead ones but all of them, in a way. And I think the better directors feel that, and the actors appreciate that; they want you to be them while they’re acting.

PK: So he’s not quite the John Wayne to your John Ford yet.

DC: Well, we’d have to make a few more movies I think. I would love to — I mean, I’d love if he could be in all my movies, frankly.

PK: He also is kind of your chief researcher. He did a lot of research on this movie.

DC: Well, he turns out to do that, yeah. He’s incredible that way, and he does it in such a kind of off-handed, not, there’s no imposition, he just goes and does it. And it’s there for you to use it if you want or not; he has no ego involved in it. It’s really lovely research. And the thing is, he always brings back such great stuff that everybody wants to use it — not just me as a director but my production designer and the screenwriter as well. Viggo’s input was very important to shaping this script as we were doing rewrites.  

PK: Was he the first one into the tattoos, or were you already going in that direction?

DC: Well, they were alluded to in the first draft, but an actor, his instrument is his body. And so any actor is obsessed with what he puts on his body or his hair or his shoes, his feet. And normal people think that this is vanity, but they don’t understand that that is what an actor acts with, is his body. So anything that’s on it, clothes that cover it, is of great interest to him. So naturally, an actor who is going to be tattooed for a movie starts to think about, well, what tattoos? Why? And where? And where do they come from, and what do they mean? It didn’t take long for Viggo to find these books, called “Russian Criminal Tattoos”, that were fantastic. They outlined the history of the subculture of tattooing in Russian prisons. And he also found a documentary made by a friend of his, Alix Lambert, called “The Mark of Cain,” which was a fantastic documentary shot in Russian prisons, with the prisoners talking about their tattoos and what they mean. Really fantastic, and it puts you in such a different world, such a strange and different but well-formed world, because this subculture has been developing since the czarist days in Russia. It predates the Soviets by a long time, and continued through the Soviet era and continues now.   

PK: It kind of fits into one of your themes, the intersection between technology, the media and human flesh.

DC: It does, but as I say, ironically enough, I was working on the movie, had agreed to do it before tattooing had that sort of central place in the movie. So it’s kind of interesting how those things just come together. It was really not preordained, because as I say, the fact that Nikolai’s character was tattooed was certainly in the script, but it didn’t get much more detail than that.

 Next: mob rule, Martin Scorsese, birth, death and money.

09/12/2007 16:26:26 by Peter | Comments [0] | Trackback 


RSS 2.0
Atom 1.0
Send mail to the author(s)

What's happening behind the scenes in movies.

(c) Matt Bors

Funny Gamesnanship
Terror campaign
More Lust, More Caution: Ang Lee II
Cautionary tale: Lee on "Lust"
Women with guns
Character "Assassination"
Battle fatigue: has the Iraq film surge already fizzled?
"Promises" fulfilled at TIFF: Cronenberg III
Mob rule: David Cronenberg, Part II
Terror watch: David Cronenberg on "Eastern Promises" Part I


Copyright © 2006 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group