When it comes to what I love about film, my affinities not only lie in what we see on screen, but the minds behind it. I gravitate towards personalities and auteuristic flourishes, finding a great pleasure in tracing the steps, winks, and tones of a filmmakers voice—like meeting a new friend who only becomes more fascinating and more dynamic with each encounter. And even in the films that don’t drive me wild, my journalistic interest has always bee to shed light on what I find emotionally or intellectually stirring, culturally important, and most importantly, why did this person choose to make this film at this particular time.
In the last year, I’ve gotten the chance to sit down with some amazing directors and actors, who’ve helped me further uncover what it is I love about cinema as well as what is still missing from the medium. So as 2014 is winding down and a new year of movies is ahead of us, let’s take a look back on some of those interviews who have provided a fascinating look behind the screen, from John Waters and Mia Hansen-Love to James Gray and Mathieu Amalric.
GOING BETWEEN MELANCHOLY AND EUPHORIA WITH DIRECTION MIA HANSEN-LOVE
Your characters are always on very insular journeys, which leads me to think solitude is something of great importance to you and your work.
I have a very complicated relationship to solitude, and I think the way I work actually reflects that because I write my own script. Solitude means a lot to me and it’s very important for me; I love it, I need it, it’s kind of an obsession. Like when I’m promoting a film I truly suffer being not being on my own and not having time to write. But at the same time, I hate solitude, it’s my demon. I’ve always been scared of solitude, so I’ve always lived with somebody. I was never living on my own except for the one time I did and
I was extremely unhappy. So I guess this thing with solitude, this complex or ambiguous relationship to solitude, finds its way in my films too. I enjoy so much filming people walking alone, that’s something that comes back in my films. It’s a kind of obsession and a sum up of this theme of solitude.
But there are varying degrees of solitude. There’s solitude that’s a choice, a decision to be by oneself, and then there’s the solitude that feels more like a lack—when your missing someone or feeling a certain void and “alone” becomes “without.”
What you just said is exactly is what I was meaning to say. For me, when I was saying I miss solitude now it’s because it’s not solitude. When I write a film and work on a film, I never feel solitude as being solitude. So yes, I really have the same feeling about this duality, that there are two kinds of solitude. For me the solitude that I get as a filmmaker is never the painful solitude, it’s always the happy solitude, which was not the case before I was a filmmaker, which was why I enjoy being a filmmaker so much.
JOHN WATERS: 50 YEARS OF FILMMAKING
Thinking about your early films and low-budget cinema, how do you view the world of independent film today?
Well, I tried to make underground movies and then midnight movies and then independent movies and then Hollywood movies and then Hollywood underground movies—that’s what I did in that order. The difference today is that is that if Pink Flamingos came out today it would play in 20 cities, it would open on a Friday night, and if nobody came it would be gone Monday. But when Pink Flamingos came out it took us three years to open it around America. We’d go to each city and start at one night at midnight and then two nights and then three nights and then word of mouth. There’s no such thing as world of mouth anymore. People forget about it before they get out of a theater.
So the business has changed and it has to be a hit right away. Now there is no independent film business anymore, television’s better. You have more chances, many more people see it. I’m not complaining, the movie business always changes and goes through cycles and everything, but I would say, since I started 50 years ago, it’s the worst for someone like me. It’s the best for young person because the Hollywood studios are looking for the next weird little movie that some kid made on his cellphone, but they’re not looking for an independent movie that I make now that has no movie stars in it, because they always want movie stars no matter what. Movie stars used to work for studios and make weird little movies for their street cred and then go and make millions of dollars on Hollywood movie, but the problem today is that movie stars don’t get paid the millions of dollars anymore because there’s special effects! It’s a science project. So they’re not going to go make independent movies for no money because they’re not making that much in Hollywood.
WILLEM DAFOE ON ABEL FERRARA’S PASOLINI
Is collaboration and being able to work closely with a director something you look for when choosing projects?
I like that, I like to make things. I’m not a guy that walks in with his stuff and is loaded for bear, and then you know, does his thing. I like being part of the whole filmmaking, collaborating with the director. In fact, I like to work all kinds of ways but that’s probably my favorite. It also brings out the best in you when you have to go towards someone else’s vision, and it may not be yours, but in the going towards it you learn things through study and putting yourself in their shoes. That elevates the experience because you learn things and it makes you think in a less ego-based and conceptual way. You feel free and you’re much more fluid and you can see and I think as a performer.
The important part is to be able to see, be able to hear, be able to breathe and deeply look past the surface of things and not get caught into this game of being just an interpreter of the symbols that are available to us.The trick is to try and find symbols that are magical and mysterious and haven’t been tapped yet and are true. True is a funny word, but true in the sense that they speak to you. It’s all idealist talk. There’s also another part of me that just likes to be in motion and have fun and be extraordinary circumstances and have interesting experiences, but they aren’t.
MARION COTILLARD ON JEAN-PIERRE AND LUC DARDENNE’S TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT
You turned down the film you mentioned earlier because you needed to distance yourself from darkness–so does that mean you’d like to do something lighter next?
Yeah. I’m interested in experiencing something different for myself. I have conversations with myself and when I said yes to Macbeth I was like, “My god, here you go again, I really thought we had this conversation before when you told yourself, okay drama is enough, you’ve experienced a lot a drama can you have fun, please, so we can have fun all together within yourself?” And the thing is, projects come and it’s not my brain that’s making the decision in a way. I feel that I have my place here or there and that’s how I choose my projects. That’s why sometimes I’m like, “Are you really going to choose this, are we really going to go back to drama, drama, drama?” So yeah, I don’t know what’s going to come, but I hope fun is going to come.
MATHIEU AMALRIC FOR THE BLUE ROOM
You were initially working on another script before deciding to make this film, so what spurred your desire to adapt Simenon’s novel?
You know, really the thing that made this film exist is the producer, Paul Bronco, who said, “Stop writing and make a film.” Okay, he was right. Let’s stop this thing with Stendhal and just shoot something, but I didn’t know it would be this film. This book, I had read it a long time ago and I remembered I was really struck by it, especially the opening, the first page, which is very sensual, very raw, and just this miracle of the chemistry that can happen between two bodies and two people. Of course you try to forget that because it’s dangerous for everyday life, we have to forget that everyday. Fortunately we love our job, we’re parents, we’re sons and have responsibilities so life can
PORN BEFORE IT WAS CHIC: RADLEY METZGER RETROSPECTIVE
You began your career during a tumultuous time for sexual politics, so did you ever see your work as a way to express your feelings on what was happening in society, or did you come into erotic cinema from another angle.
We were small, which is a polite way of saying we really didn’t have much money. So the only way you could attract an audience was by spending money and advertising. If you advertised, people would notice you, but we couldn’t do that, we had to use other means. There’s a fork in the road and you take one of those two forks: one of them is horror movies and the other is eroticism. For better or worse, I followed the erotic because I had this small distribution company and the first film I made, Dark Odyssey, was one of these films from the heart. It was dripping with sincerity and it was a disaster. Reviews were wonderful and it was very flattering, the New York Times said the perfect things you want to hear, but no one showed up. So I bought a French film that had, if I can be so vulgar, a woman’s bare breasts–Deep Throat was nothing compared to that period with a woman’s bare breasts, and not even in a sexual situation! So I bought that film and dubbed it and used all the skills I had as an editor, and suddenly doors opened and exhibitors would play the film and nobody walked out on it, like they did my heart-felt movie. So I continued along that line. I don’t know what else was going on in my psyche.
Maybe it was the fact that I grew up in a very restricted time. There was a phrase that Richard Pryor used–I guess we were the same age–he said that he grew up in “the great pussy drought of the 1950s.” It was a time of great, great restriction and not much interplay between the sexes. However, something I was fanatical about was that a lot of people used a sex film as a way of meeting women and a way of raising money, and I was obsessed about not falling into that. I thought, once you get that reputation you’re no going to get good people to work for you, and getting the good people I got, that was number one for me. I was very ego-involved with my work. My work was me, and if the work didn’t succeed, I didn’t succeed and if the work was bad, I was bad. That was more important than socializing. But anyway, we followed the path of eroticism.
LOUIS GARREL FOR PHILIPPE GARREL’S JEALOUSY
In stepping into the role of your grandfather, how did you and Philippe go about crafting the man your character would be, culling from Maurice’s life but replicating him in your own vision of who he was?
I processed the fact that he was an actor when I was twelve because I had a girlfriend, and I remember he was playing the character of Freud in a theater that had great success in Paris. I just remembered I was so proud to go see Maurice play on stage with the young girl and the mother of the young girl, and I was proud to say, this is my grandfather. But I was not so connected with him, and then at the age of thirteen maybe he started to explain his vision of acting and his own contradictions about why he thinks being an actor is not a job for men, which is what he told me. So these few words and these few moments that I could share with him maybe gave me something. His generation is not like our generation, he didn’t talk a lot about it. So our movie is also a projection of him, a dream that I could have about him, and it’s the same thing. The fact that he was my grandfather is what we had in common with Philippe when we were doing the movie.
Many actors and many directors I’ve met have told me about Maurice and the fascination he could have on people. He once said no to a very interesting project and nobody understood why, but he had his own reasons, even though it was a great director for him to work with. I was so angry and I said, why did you say no? And he said that he couldn’t say the words in the beginning of the movie. The words were like, “My kid is dead and I don’t feel sad,” and he told me, “I can’t say those words.” And I said, but it’s a role, and he said, “No, I don’t want to say it.” But he comes from a strange generation, and after the war, I think he was, maybe not friends with, but Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre he was full of admiration for them. I think he was a bit ashamed to be an actor, but he had a strange connection with it, because at the same time, he was also crazy about the job. Whenever he was doing a movie or in theater, he could go like no one else into a role or in the spirit of the film—sometimes maybe too much. So when I did the movie, because he never talked to me about women, I just heard things from actors that I met. They would tell me things, things I couldn’t even imagine about my grandfather, like went in the street to sing to a woman. So, you know, every father or mother, they talk about their lives, but you can only imagine.
BRIT MARLING ON MIKE CAHILL’S I ORIGINS
In talking with Mike I’ve realized that to speak with him, is to understand his films. To sit with him and talk has the same energy as his work. There’s a really poetic kind of wonder and excitement to him and that’s great to be around. It’s interesting though, because it’s not something I’ve often found when meeting filmmakers. People hide themselves in their work, but he just feels soul-baring in a way that’s endearing and refreshing.
It’s true that a lot of people are hiding behind the work. You can easily do that. You can hide behind words, or so much fantasy creation. I’ve always been more interested in how to reveal. When I feel my cheeks burning with shame, I know that I’m really acting or writing something that’s getting close to a truth. I remember when we were writing the scenes about Rhoda confessing to him, finally, what she’s done. And I remember trying to think, “How does somebody really go about telling this?” And I was like, “Oh my god, she can’t tell it in the first person.” She can’t bear to tell him the truth in the first person. She starts in the third person and she tells it as a story. I started writing, and I remember feeling my cheeks get red and hot. That, to me, is the litmus test of oh my god, this is how you would do it, and your body has a physiological response because it knows that it’s real. You’re not thinking anymore. When that occurs, that is pretty damn awesome.
I remember, I think it happened during this movie too. The scene where Karen finds him masturbating to the photos of Sofi. I remember thinking about all the ways that you respond to something like that happening. But what came up in the moment, after we talked a bit, was I was suddenly turned on by how erotic the intimacy was with my husband that we had gotten to the other side of this thing. I had said things, and he had said things that had been underneath our marriage for years, that we’d never said. In the aftermath of that, it’s actually intensely erotic. And then you feel yourself get flushed in the cheeks and your body responds because you’re stumbling into something true in a scene that you didn’t necessarily even find in the script phase or the rehearsals. Yeah, I like what you’re saying. You can hide in the work, but it’s better if you can reveal. Definitely.
DIRECTOR JAMES GRAY ON THE IMMIGRANT
In an interview you did earlier in the year, you said giving the audience what they want is “cowardice. The whole point is to give the audience what it needs.” Thinking about that in the context of prostitution in the film, it’s something that’s obviously present but not the focal point, as you might often expect.
Somewhere around 1980 there was a very big key change, not just in cinema but in culture. It has to do with the influence of powerful corporations in our lives. When the movie business, for example, was taken over by very large business conglomerates, this idea of giving the audience what it wants became of paramount importance because the stock price of the company was so reliant on huge blockbusters. So I would say that the motion pictures went from a tradition of satisfying public taste to a tradition of exploiting public taste, which is a very subtle but important distinction.
If you were to even look at something like Gone With the Wind, which is for ticket sales still the biggest movie of all time, he leaves her at the end. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” But it’s a satisfying ending, and you understand why it ends the way that it ends, as opposed to something that is simply crafted in a very cynical way for a certain response. So this is a very important thing that we’re fighting against. Of course I recognize that corporations have provided Americans with incredible opportunity and wealth, but we can’t ignore that every time I hear there’s a Taco Bell timeout when I’m watching a game or something, corporations have really investigated every part of our lives. They’ve changed the movies and what we expect of the characters and of the stories—that’s a very profound thing.
UMA THURMAN ON LARS VON TRIER’S NYMPHOMANIAC
Although you’re technically only in one scene of the film, people have been raving about your performance. I’ve heard talks of it being compared to Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
That is one of my favorite characters and favorite performances of Elizabeth Taylor—of which there were many performances to love. But that is one of my favorite of all time movies. Mike Nichols’ version of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf –and boy would I love to play Martha. I think I fell in love with Richard Burton in that movie. I’m still in love with Richard Burton, I can see why she married him three times. Oh, I am totally off topic! But you know, this film was a real treat for me because it was the only thing I had done since I decided to have a baby.
I’ve always wanted to work with Lars von Trier, and you know, the dream come true phone call came through. The baby was actually three weeks old, and Lars called and asked me to do it. It was this spectacular scene, like a seven page monologue of very complicated material. Who knows if she’s a complicated women or if she’s just going through an extremely complicated moment in her life—I would probably say the latter would be the stronger situation, if you could only imagine yourself in a similar situation, to have your life undone. And then to put yourself in the situation to try and find the meaning of it, and understand why, and what would be so appealing to destroy your life and change the life of your children so badly. She finds herself in an exceptionally unusual situation and there’s humor and sadness and outrage and sort of shock and horror—there’s more acting to be done in those seven pages then sometimes you get out of a whole movie.
DIRECTOR GREGG ARAKI ON WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
What is it about teenage years and this particular period in a person’s life that you’re so drawn to?
I try not to make movies about teenagers because I get so identified by that and it feels like pigeon-holing in a way, but for me this movie is kind of opposite of those movies. Those movies I made in the ‘90s, like Doom Generation and Nowhere, those teenage movies, they were really about the state of being a teenager, and the kids in those movies were just kind of teenagers run amuck and having sex and killing people, all kinds of crazy shit going on.
This film, I don’t think I could have made this movie 20 years ago, in the sense that to me this is much more like American Beauty or The Ice Storm, it’s really about that family. Yes, it has those teenagers in it, it has a Depeche Mode dance sequence in it, and it has the sex and the making out, but it also is so much more about the mother and the father, her relationship with them both. There’s the marriage of her parents, the house in suburbia, like I’d said Ice Storm or American Beauty, really about the American Dream and the fracturing of that and the truth that lies beneath the surface.
DIRECTOR RICHARD AYOADE ON THE DOUBLE
I really enjoyed how well it amalgamated this very somber and frightening story with romance, yet was also filled with wonderfully comedic moments.
We hoped that the main story would be a love story, and that’s what it ended up being. To me that’s the fundamental thing that’s different between this and the Dostoevsky novella, which really is a somewhat hopeless decent into madness. This, for me, feels that it isn’t hopeless and feels that there is a redemptive strand in it, which has to do with his getting over himself in some way. So it was important to have that, but also inherent in the idea, was this very comic thing—being usurped by someone that looks exactly the same as you do and the outrage and indifference of everyone else.
To me they were already funny in the novel, and there are these descriptions that we didn’t really use, which were the double always looking at him from a far distance smiling and winking. He keeps saying that the double “minces away winking.” I don’t know whether “mince” is a correct translation, but there’s something funny about it and something theatrical about it.
DIRECTOR JONATHAN GLAZER ON UNDER THE SKIN
How did you set out to disguise her? Was there a certain look you were trying to achieve that wasn’t obviously a disguise, but more so the camouflage of making someone so recognizable blend in?
We had this thought about dressing her a bit wrong, dressing her without quite understanding the nuances about how people dress or the choices people make when they wear clothes. We were kind of using the idea of maybe somebody who had recently immigrated to Britain who was just putting clothes together in a way that wasn’t quite right. It was the kind of gap in what’s obvious to all of us—or to most people—and what isn’t obvious to her—and clothes factored in there.It was quite interesting dressing her and working that out, actually.
It was also important to have her doing one thing, I didn’t want her changing her clothes. I just wanted her to have this one uniform, so it was about what that uniform could be across the whole film. I loved the idea of this pink sweater inside the fur, it felt very much like an insect or inside the wrong continent or something—like a shocking color in that landscape, just incongruous. Then the fur is this practical warm coat to hide another skin, another layer. And then these very femme fatale red lips. this primary colored visage.
DIRECTOR ELIZA HITTMAN ON IT FELT LIKE LOVE
I’m really interested in the element of dance in the film. Those scenes in the grass and then the final scene, they really hit me and gave a sense of who these girls were through the way you saw them perform and carry themselves.
I never took dance classes growing up, but I always felt like girls who studied dance had this weird, sexual edge over the rest of us, you know? They knew how to behave at school dances, they knew how to carry themselves in a sophisticated way, and I never had that. They always knew how to like, lift their legs in the air. So I always know Chiara was going to be a dancer, and in the script originally Lila would just meet her at dance class and observe them. But when I started looking for someone to play Chiara, I went to a lot of Italian-American neighborhoods and looked at dance class and sat in. When I went to this one studio in Carroll Gardens, they performed for me, which I wasn’t expecting, and that’s where I met Giovanna Salimeni.
I was so impressed with the intensity and dynamism of their energy and movements and the sexual aggressiveness of hip hop, and also with the professionalism of it. I was so impressed that I started to write it into the script and expanded the dance elements. Gina had never taken hip hop, but she had taken ballet, so we gave her one or two days of rehearsal. So she barely knew it, and we just filmed her at her own personal discouragement trying to keep. In the end, I think it worked because it spoke to the performative nature of being an adult and being a woman and things that she was trying to accomplish.
DIRECTOR JOHN MAGARY ON THE MEND
You have some clear aesthetic affinities—irises, zooms, etc. Were those there from the page as well?
Maybe it’s just a stubbornness, but I feel like the choices I’m trying to make aesthetically are to destabilize things constantly. So if the music feels like it’s stabilizing things, I’m not happy with it. And that applies to the dialogue, and sometimes too much. I hate basic dialogue—”Are you enjoying that sandwich?” or something like that, but I shouldn’t always. It’s helpful to sometimes use that, and a nice little discussion can be good. But in terms of the irises, I’m sure the influence there was Desplechin or Scorsese. I’m a big Scorsese fan. I love the simplicity of the an iris and it feels, for obvious reasons, like an antique artifact. But you also focus differently with an iris in a weird way, and you look at something differently. It looks more like a portrait, and you take it less seriously. It becomes something other than reality.
I love all devices, they’re all fun to me. It’s funny, something like irises, when you watch a Chaplin movie, they really were used a lot, like it was a very common way to end or begin a scene and it’s just something that I hope comes back.
JEFF GOLDBLUM ON THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
In thinking about the character of M. Gustave H., I imagine Wes is a little bit like that himself—an antiquated spirit, out of time, of an old world.
I have said that myself! Yes, Wes is of his own time, he’s out of this world, he’s transcendental, he’s brave and courageous and a unique artist. He lives in his own unique dream world and peruses it in a sufi masters state—it’s wonderful to see him in this Adam Stockhausen created set, and think what else can he do? And he is, like the character, a person of unusual gentility, servility, graciousness, generosity, taste, sweetness, hard work, and contribution, which, I admire terrifically.
He also has a deep soulfulness, nobility and principle—which he’s willing to die for. We never get tested exactly in the way the characters get tested, but I guess my character is willing to die. I’m one of the characters in the movie that goes, gee, I better make a decision now, I better take a side once and for all. I think that’s the point of the movie, but also in Wes too—to fight the good fight no matter what, it’s worth living and dying for.
CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG ON LARS VON TRIER’S NYMPHOMANIAC
Lars puts so much of himself into these characters and allows you to really play these intensely dynamic women—how does that differ from working with other directors and what does Lars give you that’s unique to his style of filmmaking?
The characters go so far into suffering and depression. I know people have said that this was a trilogy—Antichrist, Melancholia, and Nymphomaniac—but I don’t see where the trilogy is. Although depression was the subject in the first two, but in this one I don’t see a trilogy. However, I can see how much he reveals of himself, and how honest he is about his suffering.
I don’t see that in a lot of other directors that I’ve worked with. For Antichrist, I remember I hadn’t gone through having any panic attacks before, and he was showing me by just being there what those anxiety attacks were, because he was going through them the whole time. A lot of it had to do with imitation, or just mimicking. In that sense I could see that I was portraying him. He’s so open about himself, and that’s why I feel that he’s portraying himself. This film was very easy to see that, and on every subject he was setting up two characters in opposition that were both him.
DIRECTOR JOAN MICKLIN SILVER ON CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER
When you began your career there weren’t nearly as many female filmmakers working in Hollywood, let alone making studio films. How did you go about navigating your early days as a director, leading up to Hester Street and eventually onto Chilly Scenes?
When I started, women were not getting job as directors, and I tried very hard. I made short films for an audiovisual company that showed them in schools, so then I thought, okay, I can make a full-length film, but I just couldn’t get work. I finally met with a studio executive who said to me, and I’ll never forget this in my life, he said, “Feature films are expensive to make and expensive to market and women directors are one more problem we don’t need.” That was just the last for me. I couldn’t take it, I just got so depressed. My husband, who wasn’t even in the film business, got angry, which is a better thing to be. He was in the real estate business and had syndicated various real estate projects with various people. So he thought he could go back to these people and raise enough money from these people for me to make a film. He said to me, just write one up and we’ll make the film.
I knew about the story Hester Street was based on because one of the audiovisual films I’d made was on immigration. Although it was not about Jews, because as they said Jews were too atypical, I had my choice of Poles and Germans and I picked Poles because at the time there was a large Polish community in Brooklyn and I thought that’d be great. So that’s how Hester Street came to be. When I was done with it, nobody wanted to distribute it, so my husband distributed it. He was definitely the magic and that made my career possible.
HELOISE GODET FOR JEAN-LUC GODARD’S GOODBYE TO LANGUAGE
Given you and Zoé function almost as doppelgangers in the movie, did you work on your characters together?
There was no encouragement of doing things, except this abstract art painting that he gave us during the shooting. But before, we wouldn’t hear anything from him… like, is this still happening? We knew we were committed and couldn’t commit to other things but we didn’t have much news, so we were independent. Because of that the actors tended to see each other, saying “let’s keep tight to stay focused” because we knew it could happen from one day to another. “Okay, you have to go to Switzerland and it’s tomorrow!”
Godard asked Zoé and me to send him a video before the shooting doing a bit of his text with the handicap of talking close to deaf and dumb. He gave us this documentary about being deaf and dumb to see, In the Land of the Deaf by Nicolas Philibert. We had to see this and kind of steal the way of talking to do this bit of text for him in the video. When [Zoé and I] meet and say, “Hey what have you done? I’ve done that.” That was so different, and so rich to compare what we had done. So we talked about it together before.