Latest Features

Chewbacca Actor Joonas Suotamo on Stepping Into Peter Mayhew’s Shoes and Conveying the Wookiee Language

Written by Marc Ciafardini, May 27, 2018 at 10:00 am 

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For the third time in as many years, Finland’s own Joonas Suotamo dons the iconic Wookiee get-up to continue playing Chewbacca in a galaxy far, far away. Suotamo, at 7 feet, certainly has the height to play the famous walking carpet, but how about his acting chops? Well, if you somehow thought Chewie was still being played by Peter Mayhew, then you can thank Suotamo’s thespian background for the seamless performance.

We got to sit with Suotamo (who has a very Star Wars looking name) to discuss the role, the gestural and non-verbal delivery, his inspirations, and his hard-to-pronounce last name. I fell into the trap inadvertently referring to him in his own tongue as a “swamp worm.” [Cue Finnish children’s laughter]. Chalk it up to the dizzying environment of a press junket, and my last name is also regularly butchered, so I get a pass.

But Suotamo is a delight, and has embraced the film series and the culture. He’s also got a great sense of humor. As he was a professional basketball player in Finland, we discussed the possibility of him playing basketball dressed as Chewie. Would a Wookie have a wicked hook shot? His answer is pretty funny. Enjoy our time with Suotamo below.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is now in theaters.

Whit Stillman Reflects on the 20th Anniversary of ‘The Last Days of Disco’

Written by Joshua Encinias, May 24, 2018 at 4:45 pm 

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Among the memorable scenes from The Last Days of Disco is the easily discouraged Josh Neff’s (Matt Kesslar) dissection of Lady and the Tramp. Just as Disney released the pups from their vault this year, director Whit Stillman and select cast will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Disco at select screenings this summer.

The third film in the director’s Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love series” follows what today we call “frenemies,” Alice Kinnon (Chloë Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale), as they spend their days working their way up the ladder at a New York publishing house and their nights dancing and romancing at a Studio 54-style nightclub.

Cinephiles on both coasts and London (with more screenings to come) have that rare opportunity to see Disco with the filmmakers in person. The Film Society of Lincoln Center kicks off the summer tour with Stillman, Chloë Sevigny, Michael Weatherly, and Mackenzie Astin in attendance for a post-screening Q&A tonight, May 24. For more dates, follow Stillman’s active Twitter account.

We spoke with Stillman about Alice and Charlotte’s fraught relationship, today’s characterization of the disco era, and about his future projects, including a possible TV continuation of Stillman’s 2016 hit, Love & Friendship, starring Tom Bennett.

The Film Stage: I’ve seen the movie a few times, and I can’t figure out why Charlotte is so cruel to Alice.

Whit Stillman: We live in a society that’s considered to worship youth and implies it’s much better to be young than old. It’s a bit of false thing. Yeah, it’s good to be young and healthy, that’s true. Maybe good to have a lot of options and possibilities ahead of you. But also, you sort of don’t know your own mind that well. You get in situations, you get with people and you don’t really know that maybe this isn’t a situation you want to be in. You go along with situations that rational people would change. You go on a lot longer. Also there was a housing shortage. So Alice ends up friends with Charlotte, and she’s not really a friend of Charlotte’s. She even says “I’m not even sure I quite like you, we’re just roommates” to Charlotte. [Laughs.] I’m laughing again, I think it’s a funny thing. Somehow this kind of character, this Charlotte character, this egomaniac person who is too cool for school… first she’s the most sexy girl, the most out there girl, the most daring girl with all these situations. And then she’s also the most moralistic and most religious girl and singing “Amazing Grace” from the bed while criticizing Alice. Whatever it is, she’s going to outflank Alice and everyone else around her.

I just think that those people when you’re younger, unless they get elected president, you can avoid. You can say “I’m not going to be around these people who are totally putting me down all the time, and they’re always better than me, they’re bragging all the time.” Unfortunately, when you’re twenty-two or you’re sixteen, you put up with them for too long. Part of the film is Alice putting up with Charlotte for too long.

The disco era is characterized by the extravagant personalities, costumes and sexuality. But in Disco we only see it in passing. The main characters will walk by someone about to take drugs or a couple about to hook up. They’re always walking through it but stay unaffected.

You didn’t see the outlandish behavior. Fifteen years later we found out about all these amazing things that were supposedly going on. We didn’t see it at all. So we put in more stuff to satisfy people’s expectations. [Laughs.] It was there, I guess—someone saw it. There was just a lot of normal behavior. These nightclubs were really cool places and really fun. They made their money selling drinks generally, so it was mostly people buying overpriced drinks they would nurse for a long time so they didn’t have to buy another. One of the great things about this period is you didn’t have the bottle policy. Now at nightclubs, if you sit at a table they make you buy a bottle of champagne or vodka, and it just cost an absolute fortune.

If the disco nightclub era wasn’t as out there as it’s depicted today, what was really lost when it all ended? People still go to clubs and dance.

That’s true. The idea that it all ended is false. But record companies did suddenly stopped selling disco records, that’s true. The great clubs that were so important, they did disappear pretty quickly. To talk about Studio 54, it was a great place, it was sensational. They did great theatrical things. If you somehow managed to get in, you would get a high from the liquor plus the feeling of exclusivity. It was a marvelous atmosphere. Licentious behavior and drug taking doesn’t enhance that. When you read about that, it doesn’t seem like what life is all about. I think you’re right that we thought it had ended and disappeared more than it had. Dance clubs continued, dance music continued. There’s more continuity then we thought.

Music in the film is often as loud as the dialogue in scenes at the club and Rex’s. I’ve always wondered if that was poetic license or did it have to do with the mix?

I think that’s an error somewhere along the line. The dialogue correctly balanced is audible. That was also kind of a cheat. We had the music as high as we could have it while still having the dialogue audible. I did actually have a conflict with the mixer. I am a great believer in poetic license. I dipped the music for the dialogue. I liked to hear the music be substantial and I liked to bring it down for the dialogue so you can get in the words. The mixer I was working with had some religious thing. [Laughs.] He didn’t want to bring it down as much as I wanted to. He either wanted it lower to start with or higher for the dialogue and that was a point of conflict.

I think a lot of people working on films have specialized knowledge and hearing. He knew a lot more about music and acoustics than I did. I’m just a generalist, I don’t know much about music, I just know what I like. Sometimes I think we generalists who aren’t that knowledgeable are closer to the audience experience. And so if you had a problem that way, that’s either a mix in your TV set or the way it was produced was wrong. But I guess there was a problem. The intent of my poetic license was the opposite: I wanted you to hear the dialogue even though it’s set in a place where you normally couldn’t hear people without shouting. We tried the shouting thing on set but it was just ridiculous. We did the cheat of having them talk normally in a loud club.

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Will you talk about the philosophy behind the Lady and the Tramp scene and how that ties into what Des (Chris Eigeman) says about “to thine own self be true“?

I think they’re similar kind of scenes, but I think they’re separate in their content and their implications. Lady and the Tramp is pretty specific to the sort of myth in literature, theater and film of opposites attracting.

So opposites attract I have a lot of problems with because it seems cool but actually, generally, it’s not a good idea. Generally, Tramp is going to revert to type at some point, as I’ve observed in human relations. It’s rare. Usually, change is a kind of come to Jesus thing. It’s a little bit like an alcoholic giving up alcohol or a licentious person becoming religious. They really have to transform themselves if they’re going to get away from being Tramp. It’s a big, big thing. It’s not just falling in love with Lady and getting along with her owners. And so I think that’s one message. And “to thine own self be true” is a different thing. You’re right that they’re very parallel as far as taking something we know about and applying it to the lives of the characters in the film.

Do you have any updates on The Cosmopolitans and Dancing Mood?

I’m working on both and I have another possibility, something written by someone else. It’s the first time I’ve been offered a good script, frankly. I’m waiting for things to settle at Amazon to finish The Cosmopolitans scripts and submit them. I’m recasting what I was thinking of doing for Dancing Mood. It might be called something else, but I really hope both of those things will happen. I also have the chance to, maybe, do a TV series based on the Love & Friendship novel I did. In that there’s a continuation character, Rufus Martin-Colonna, who is a really funny character. So there might be this funny, silly English aristocrat in the 1800s as a TV comedy. Essentially it’s the same character Tom Bennett played in the film. In the novel he’s the nephew of Sir James Martin played by Tom Bennett. But if it becomes a TV show, I would like Tom Bennett to play the nephew.

The Last Days of Disco 20th anniversary screenings will continue this summer. For more dates, follow Whit Stillman on Twitter.

Claire Denis on the Emotional Journey of ‘High Life’ and How Filmmaking is Like Murder

Written by Nick Newman, April 28, 2018 at 11:04 am 

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Full disclosure: this is not really an interview about Let the Sunshine In. Claire Denis and I met on the day of her new film’s U.S. release, which was, like many cinephiles, on my mind. All the more so because Sunshine has been swimming through parts of the subsoncious since I first saw it nearly seven months back at the New York Film Festival — where I mean to speak with Denis, and finally didn’t on account of her shooting, to our immense fortune, another film: the much-anticipated Robert Pattinson-starrer High Life.

So there many questions about this wondrous, mysterious film had percolated for a long time, and I didn’t get to them — to this interview’s benefit, as I think will soon become clear. Denis is, in her films and both times we’ve spoken, a searching mind, and it’s clear that, a year out from its premiere, Let the Sunshine In — about which she’s done many interviews and, by her own admission, answered many of the same questions — is in the past; High Life, and the personal loss that surrounds it, holds steady.

The Film Stage: How was the Q & A last night?

Claire Denis: How was the Q & A last night… I think, probably, the people’s faces were mostly happy. The questions were not so different from other countries or friends; the questions are mostly about Juliette Binoche. Secondly, if it is an adaptation of The Fragments by Roland Barthes, and then why I kept the fragmentation. The third question, more or less, is about what it is to be a woman in middle age — is she heroic, is she strong, is she too fragile, is she stupid?

Psychological questions which, honestly, I try to avoid because I have the feeling that, sometimes, me — myself — I don’t ask. I’m not even asking myself when I am in trouble, when my life is not so fun. I think I don’t interrogate myself on a psychological level; I think I’m doomed or I’m lucky. You know? I always consider my situation under a very primary statute: am I a victim or am I a brute? So when it comes to a very specific psychological question, I feel that’s better to… it doesn’t go with filmmaking, I think. Filmmaking is a more abst… it’s not abstract, but, in film, it’s better not to pay too much attention to those things.

I had a question that I’d worried is too psychological.

Ah. No, maybe not.

Well, at the New York Film Festival screening, you said something along the lines of —

It was so weird. I was shooting in Germany; I flew in the morning. [Laughs] No, it was weird. Anyway.

You said that writing the screenplay with Christine Angot was a process of incorporating your lives and personalities into this film. This sparked something in me, because my favorite films of yours is U.S. Go Home, which is supposedly based on —

Autobiographical memories, yeah. Sure. Except I didn’t meet Vincent Gallo when I was 14 — sadly.

I don’t often see your work labeled as autobiographical, but that’s coming from outsiders’ perspectives. Is there more of that throughout your filmography than any of us could realize?

There is a lot, I guess; there is a lot. Maybe my first film, Chocolat, was always considered to be autobiographical, but you are right: U.S. Go Home was much more autobiographical, except that the setting in Africa at the end of a colonialist era is maybe more obvious, as I grew up in Africa. But U.S. Go Home was much more close to my coming of age, yeah. I think, in a way, I’m not able to imagine any character, even when they are very far from me. Like, for instance, the man interpreted by Michel Subor in The Intruder; I think it’s also very close to Michel. Now Michel told me, “This is now my real life. This is a pure, autobiographical film.” But, in a way, it’s also my autobiography. If I had been a man, I would have been that man of 70-ish.

Isabelle Huppert in White Material is very close to me, you know? Not only that. I think Isabelle is so shrewd and brilliant and funny that she was really looking at me all the time. I was not realizing that, but she did something. When I was in the editing room, I realized she was doing things I am doing. And I realized — although I never had a coffee plantation — there were so many things of my own feeling in that, and Isabelle picked them up. Is it a right answer?

I would say so. You had shot Let the Sunshine In over about five weeks.

Sure, yeah. Very short.

That’s short for you?

Yeah.

Do you find there’s a different energy when you’re working at a faster pace?

I never had a long period. It never happened to me that I had a big budget. I would say that my budgets are always too small for what I want, and I accept it as too-tight jeans because I thought, “Maybe it will be better for my life.” You know what I mean? I think it’s giving me a sort of fierce energy to fight against all odds. If I was at ease, maybe I would stay and bed and do nothing. But this film, I’d been waiting to start shooting this film, High Life, with Robert Pattinson, and, every month, there was this thing: “No, let’s wait another three weeks.” Then four years –five years, almost — went through, and Robert was still waiting, and I felt I was going to die. It’s not the waiting — it’s the non-waiting. Then when I was offered to do this film with a small budget, I said yes — because it will wake up my senses. I was in a paralyzed situation where I was ashamed to have Robert waiting on me. Ashamed to be lied. And this offer, wow, was like pure joy.

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I’ve been thinking about how you sometimes make films in very close succession. There was Trouble Every Day and Friday Night, 35 Shots of Rum and White Material, now this and High Life. Can you sense ways in which one kind of informs the other?

Sure. I don’t know who — a famous director — said you do a film against the previous one.

Arnaud Desplechin has told me that. Are you thinking of him?

No, it’s not him. It’s, like, a famous American director who said that. It’s not Hitchcock. Maybe Howard Hawks. Someone like that, who can say something brutal. And I think, in a way, it is true, but in the process of making a film against the other, there is a strange thing happening: you then realize they are closer than I think while shooting, and they have something in common, in a way. And they are not enemies at all. One is leaning on the other. One is supporting the other.

On a more practical level, I think about the potential for exhaustion.

This time, it was terribly exhausting because I’ve been waiting so long to do High Life, and then, as soon as I finished this one, I was told, “You have to be ready on September 4,” and I knew I was not ready. The art department will not be ready. The only person ready to be ready was Robert, actually. And then I lost Patricia Arquette, and then Juliette came to me and said, “I want to replace her.” There was a lot of friendly moments where Robert told me this great thing: “You see, Claire, you thought I was too young four years ago. Maybe now you will accept me because I am older.” It’s true that, at the beginning, I told him I wanted an older guy, but I don’t know.

It was painful for me, but probably also painful because I was breathless and because I was losing my mother in the same time, and I was shooting in Germany. My mind was always occupied by the fact that I wanted to be in Paris, holding her in my arms; and, on the other hand, I didn’t want to betray the actors. So I was always split, and I don’t think it is the saddest moment of my life, because it happened only once in life, that you are losing a mother. So I never experienced that before. It’s not like a love story, you know? I knew I was losing my mother, and I was shooting in Cologne — four hours away from Paris by train — and it was an extremely strange thing. Maybe I gave to the film, maybe, a sort of sadness, but I put all my trust in Robert — as if I was telling him, “I’m here for you. Otherwise, I would be in the train already, to the hospital.” I’m almost crying.

I’m sorry.

It’s true. It’s true. Now I know what it is to lose a mother, but, at that time, I thought… losing a mother at a young age is one thing. Probably terrifying. But me, I’m the oldest child in the family, and I had got along in a sort of friendship with my mother, as though we were two friends. No more mother and daughter — I mean, a little bit, yes. But she was not immortal to me anymore. It’s strange. And then the film was very important for me, not to betray the film. I was not allowed to do that. But maybe I did betray the film. I don’t know.

And it’s partly about parenthood, right?

It’s about parenthood, yeah. It’s, in a way, parenthood like 35 Shots of Rum — father and daughter.

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Do you see the production of your films as demarcating periods of your life?

Of course. I think the reason why it’s difficult to answer is that the film, during the shooting and pre-production, is a sort of new era, a new relationship in my life. It’s a completely different moment; I’ve never experienced it before. It happened once, the film, not twice, so there is no experience. It’s not because it’s the third film or the fourth or the fifth. It’s the first and only time, and it’s the only time in the editing room that I can suddenly see a little bit of myself in the film. While I’m shooting and preparing, I’m projecting everything that is alive in me into the film. Also projecting all my avoidance. I don’t think I project all of myself, with all my energy, to the film.

I also give to the film my fear, my fright, what I avoid in life — everything for one time. And I know it’s for one time, for a few weeks, and it’s rare to experience something for once. Maybe in a murder case. You can kill a person only once, you know? And the second murder is not at all related. You know? I always think there is something like serial crimes in filmmaking. There is a relation: it’s the same person who does commit. But it’s always a different one, and it’s bringing so much of love.

I’ve interviewed many filmmakers. You’re the first to compare filmmaking to murder.

But it’s honest. Because when I say murder, it’s not because I want to be exotic. No. I mean it, because there is something to do with life and death in filmmaking. The first time I shot a death in a film was in No Fear, No Die — the death of Alex Descas. And I remember it was a big shock for me. I remember Jacques Rivette told me, “You have to think twice before killing one character in a film.” And I realized it’s true. It’s also a matter of death and life, even when there is no murder in a film, because I have no idea where I am. I’m doing my best, but I know that it could end in a very bad way for me. It could be such a bad movie. I would prefer to die instantly.

[Laughs]

No, I’m not joking about this question. I think if it’s too bad, then I will jump. I’m not going to stand it, a bad film.

You’ve done well so far.

Safe, it’s something I don’t know, to be safe. I never experienced being safe — or very rarely. Very rarely. When I was shooting the last scene with Gérard Depardieu and Juliette, Gérard said, “Okay, I like this scene, but one day.” And it’s seven pages. I said, “Am I able to do it? Can I stand the pressure to do it one day?” And of course he was right. It was the most easy way to do it, to do it in one day. Let’s say I had one week to do it. It would have been a disaster. But, on the other hand, while I was shooting I was not safe; I was petrified.

You’ve said that choosing collaborators comes down to people you can trust. What is the metric for knowing you can trust someone?

It’s like when people ask me, “What is casting for you?” I said, “I never cast. I don’t know what it is to cast someone or to test someone.” It happened with me that, for some reason — maybe I am not brave enough to face casting or choosing. I feel someone and I understand this person is important to me, and because this person is important to me, trust is necessary. It’s like when I meet an actor, an actress, I hate the idea to test if it’s a good cast or not. And I don’t trust myself for that, you know. The trust I can share with someone; that’s the only thing I can share. Not myself. My English is very embarrassing.

No, it’s fine. Where did you learn English?

I learned English when I was at school, and I discovered, at night, this British radio station, Radio Caroline, that was set in the middle of the sea because free radio was not allowed at that time. I remember listening to The Animals, The Byrds, of course Beatles. And I thought, especially with The Animals, I wanted to be an English person immediately. I was always going all summer, in England, working. I was working in shops, in offices, I was doing summer jobs to be in England as much as I could, because I had this sort of resistance to learn English at school. I wanted to learn it the way English people were speaking, the way they were. It’s England I liked and English people.

Of course American movies, but American rhythms language were a little different for me. There was something in the English accent that drove me crazy, you know? I wanted this learning to be on the spot, not from school. It’s only later that I started reading English and started learning Shakespeare or famous writers. I started to read English to force myself to overcome my… I had a kind of… I was resisting study. So, by reading a book, it was my own decision, and I was learning the word and the rhythm. American language came, of course, through songs and bands and mostly films. Yeah, mostly films to start with.

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One of the best scenes in pretty much any movie is in U.S. Go Home, where Grégoire Colin dances to the Animals’ “Hey Gyp.”

One thing happened to me in Berlin five years ago. I was there for Arte, the French TV, and they said, “We have a surprise for you.” There was a private concert of The Animals, and I met, in person, the singer, which has been my first idol. It was great. I liked him, also, when he went to L.A. with the band War. I think it was also great.

When I last talked to Olivier Assayas, he talked to me about supervising his movies’ English-language subtitles. Do you have a hand in that process?

When I did High Life, the English producer introduced me to an English writer, and, for some reason, I was curious to meet her. But, for some reason, I was afraid that there was absolutely… although I really agreed to work with her, but she was so distant. We had no connection at all, even in literature, even in music, even in casting. She kept telling me that Robert Pattinson was the worst casting ever. Then I went on doing the film, only with Andrew, who is also working with Olivier translating. I asked him to be with me. I didn’t want anyone else, because, otherwise, a supervisor is someone who is not even interested in the film. They’re only interested in a superiority of English practice, and this is fake.

I remember that there was in my script… [Puts hands over face] I’m crazy. Because I wrote the script in French first and it was translated. There was a place I called the “Love Machine,” and it was a place where people could go and have their own sexual fantasies. This writer told me, “‘Love Machine’ is stupid. It’s a song. It’s nothing.” And I said, “Yeah, but it helped me to understand the meaning of it.” And it became the Fuck Box. But without her, because I thought, “She’s right, probably.” But I need, to move from “Love Machine” to “Fuck Box,” this Tindersticks vision of what it was. Because Stuart said, “Oh, it’s the box.” And I said, “Oh, the box. Yeah. Great. Fuck Box. Suddenly, this is really helping me.”

I feel I should mention that my bag has your former collaborator, Rivette, on it. I’m a huge fan of your documentary on him, of course.

Oh, no! Beautiful. Great. During High Life, I was thinking of Romeo & Juliet, the words of the father of Juliet — some lines. And he was telling his daughter, “My little baggage.” Meaning: he’s thinking she’s mine, but she’s also baggage, heavy to carry. I thought this was so beautiful, so I told Robert, “Would you mind to add that into the dialogue,” and I thought he was going to say, “No, this is too old-fashioned. How could I speak like, ‘Oh, my little baggage.'” Finally he loved it and he did it. So I think supervising English is something that has to do with song and reading — songs and sounds and reading a feeling. Like going from “Love Machine” to “Fuck Box.” It’s the perfect example, for me, of real English.

So your English is actually very good, if you can go from “Love Machine” to “Fuck Box.”

Yeah. Thank you.

You’ve had one great film open this year, so here’s hoping for another.

I hope. Yeah, I will finish in June. I think Robert is going to do voice, post-production, at end of May or something like that, and mixing is in June. In the meantime, I hope for some special-effect add-on.

Let the Sunshine In has begun its theatrical run, while High Life is expected to premiere this year.

Sebastián Lelio on Identity, ‘Disobedience,’ and Avoiding Simplicity

Written by Jose Solís, April 27, 2018 at 1:51 pm 

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Director Sebastián Lelio arrived at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival with two new works: A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience. The former, a melodrama with surreal touches about the grieving process of a transgender woman (played by the incredible Daniela Vega) dealing with the death of her lover. The latter, a naturalistic look at an Orthodox Jewish community in London, disrupted by the arrival of the self-exiled rabbi’s daughter Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who comes to pay tribute to her late father.

At first glance, the films couldn’t seem more different from each other if they tried, but a closer look reveals common themes that are becoming identifiers of Lelio’s oeuvre. The Chilean director has become a master at telling the stories of women living on the edge; whether it’s the middle aged divorcee of his international breakthrough Gloria, or the fearless Marina of A Fantastic Woman, Lelio is in his element when his camera becomes the medium for these women to remind the world that they’re still here and that they’re forces to be reckoned with.

Even though the women in Disobedience, Ronit and her former lover Esti (Rachel McAdams in a career-best performance), are much more subdued in the reclaiming of their power, the ripples of their awakening send their quiet community into chaos. The plot sees them rekindle their affair, even though Esti is married to the future rabbi Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), and the film’s twist lies in the realization that the women first need to discover who they are, before embarking in a relationship. Lelio, who co-wrote the screenplay with playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz based on the novel by Naomi Alderman, imprints the film with his love of texture and sensual cuts creating a sense of melancholy and longing in every scene.

We spoke to the director during the Tribeca Film Festival where Disobedience made its U.S. debut. In the interview Lelio discusses the themes that attracted him to the story and the effect of his Oscar-winning Woman in his native Chile.

First of all, congratulations on the Oscar for A Fantastic Woman. I’d love to hear you talk about the social movement the film began in Chile and what it’s like for you as an artist to see your work create real change in the world.

That was something we wouldn’t have been able to calculate. It’s been thrilling to see the film spill out of the screen and become part of the social fabric and collective imagination all over the world, but especially in Chile. The film began a movement in my country that woke up members of Congress to talk about the Law for Gender Identity. They’re currently discussing it and we hope it becomes law. It’s what Chile deserves. To have a film trigger, or push a movement like that is impressive.

With Disobedience and your upcoming remake of Gloria, you will have done four back-to-back films focused on women who have become exiled within their own world. What attracts you to telling their stories?

Precisely what you’re saying, taking a character who lives on the edge of society and prevailing narratives, and putting them at the center where we can observe them in portraits that are both exaltation and examination. I like to capture these women from all possible angles to make something resembling a cubist portrait. There’s something in watching them fall and lift themselves up that has truly moved me. It’s hard for me to intellectualize it, but I tend to pursue what moves me, and I’ve been going through a phase where following these female characters who seem to not deserve movies of their own, and to make them leads in my films, has mobilized me.

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Disobedience is your first film in English, and it’s also about a culture not many people are familiar with, so it’s like a foreign film times two. What was your approach in dealing with two completely new worlds to you?

It was interesting to go to England to make a film about a world not even the English know about. It was like making a contraband foreign film [Laughs], but I also loved the novel, its approach to characters, and I also wanted to work with Rachel Weisz who I admire deeply, and who owned the rights to the novel. I appreciated the invitation to direct and write, which provided me with more freedom than other opportunities I was being offered to direct films in English based on screenplays written by other people. Disobedience gave me an opportunity to leave my mark on the screenplay, and allowed me to find familiar elements in a world that seemed to be so remote. At the end of the day, we’re telling a human story about law vs. desire or individual liberty vs. social expectations, which are recurring themes in my films.

Ronit is a photographer and she comes back to England to pay respects to her father, but she doesn’t feel she’s returning home. I read that when you were growing up you moved a lot, so I wonder if this sense of a displaced home was something you shared with Ronit?

Perhaps? But perhaps there’s also an element of having grown up in a Chile that was so defined by Catholic morality and during the dictatorship, which made the country feel very isolated. Those elements also resonated in Chile. I’m not saying that the Orthodox neighborhood in the film is a dictatorship, but there are certain elements that I felt I understood. I know what it’s like to live under religious influence, and I also know about the power of disobedience as a basic human right. The idea of disobedience as duty was what attracted me most to the story.

It’s also a world where a wig changes who you are. I really liked the contrast we see first when Esti doesn’t recognize Ronit when she sees her wearing a wig, and then during the love scene when Ronit takes Esti’s wig off, making her feel more exposed than any other form of nudity. Can you talk about elements like the wigs that helped shape the characters in the film?

The film is focused on the idea of the individual identity vs. the identity imposed by the community, so the idea of a person in the epistemological sense, as a mask, is very strong. These are the layers we use to hide and function in society, in a way each of these layers fall apart in the film. We see wigs fall off, then clothes, and we ask who is behind all of that? The love scene is striking because it’s the first moment we truly see Esti, with the simple removal of the wig, the scene achieves that power because of the context.

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Usually when we see love triangles in movies there’s always a villain, but in the triangle in the film they’re all simply people. It made me think a lot of what Truffaut did in Jules and Jim, were you thinking about the movie, or any other famous love triangles, by any chance?

More than being inspired by, and as much as I love Jules and Jim and The Woman Next Door, I wanted to avoid turning the community into the antagonist. I wanted the antagonic force to be within each of the characters, they’re their own biggest obstacle, of course taking into consideration that the community does play an important role because voluntarily or involuntarily they each allowed the community’s ideas to blossom within them. Each of them, including Ronit, is their own worst enemy. Turning the community into the antagonist would’ve been simplistic.  

I was very moved by the scene in which Ronit takes a picture of her father’s grave. We never meet the father in the movie, but this intimate moment was almost like watching a conversation between them. I wonder if this scene involving a camera is also the way you see art as a tool to preserve the essence of those who leave us?

What I love about that scene is that she’s taking a picture of “nothing.” She’s photographing a grave but she sees much more than that. She’s taking a photograph of her father, her childhood… and I believe cinema has that power, to see and capture all the meanings that reality can possess. Cinema does what Ronit does; through a camera you shoot an object, but you also shoot everything that object could represent, of course depending on the sophistication with which the film is constructed.

Disobedience is now in limited release.

Olivier Assayas on the Extremity of Cannes, Piracy, ‘Non-Fiction,’ and Restoring ‘Cold Water’

Written by Nick Newman, April 24, 2018 at 10:39 am 

Olivier Assayas presenting 'Après mai' at Viennale 2012

I’d spoken to Olivier Assayas four previous times in almost as many years, and last month was the first time I caught him at a funny moment. Though the writer-director remains as intelligent, enthusiastic, and friendly as ever, this latest promotional run not only concerns a film that’s about to turn a quarter-century — Cold Water, his semi-autobiographical 1994 feature restored by Janus and now getting a U.S. theatrical release for the first time — but interrupts post-production on his latest feature, Non-Fiction. (A vast improvement over the originally reported E-Book.) Though the good fortune of seeing it at Criterion’s office had enlivened my memory of his alternately spare and fulfilling tale of love, rock, and radicalism in a post-68 landscape, the inherently in-between nature of our conversation often took us away from there and towards specific musings on what’s happening with film culture today. Needless to say, Assayas has many a thought.

The Film Stage: Where are you with Non-Fiction?

Olivier Assayas: I’m finishing editing. I’ve almost locked image, after months of post-production.

How do you usually feel late into editing? Is there a serenity, calm in getting there?

[Pause] I start to get impatient to know exactly how it will play. In this case, it’s kind of a comedy. I didn’t write it as a comedy, but, in gradually putting the elements together, I kind of realized that was the closest to defining it, even if it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done. It’s a series of dialogues, really. It’s a series of dialogues about the modern world — or, I guess, something like that. [Laughs]

Is it strange to do interviews about an old film while working on a new one?

Yes. It’s strange. But the thing is: it’s a movie I care a lot about, and it’s been such struggle just to get it, to get it out of the clutches of Universal, first — who sat on the film, who had the old rights and sat on it for, like, ten years — to solve the music-rights situation. It’s been a long process. Plus, restoring it — the image, the sound, ah! It’s been an ongoing project for quite a while, so I’m just, at least in talking about it, relieved, because it’s the end of the ordeal.

When did you last see the film?

I had to see it over and over again when we were restoring it, but I was just so focused on the technical side that I was not watching it. When the film screened in Austin, I did something I never do: I stayed for the screening and I watched the whole film with an audience, just being able to sit back and look at as a viewer — which is obviously completely an illusion, but at least I could kind of have a notion of what the film is about.

Is Cannes usually the one time you watch a film with an audience?

With the recent one, the one time I watched it with an audience was Cannes, yes. Absolutely. Totally. In Cannes, I don’t really see the film. I mean, Cannes is… it’s great. I’m always very happy my films are shown there, but it’s such a tough experience in the sense that that’s not what you make movies for. The tension, the pressure in Cannes, it’s so violent, so extreme. It’s a very violent experience. It’s not about it being positive or negative both ways; it’s just too much. It’s really hard to keep some kind of cool head in the context.

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Well, Personal Shopper immediately had sprung upon it this narrative of “booed at Cannes,” yet reports indicate it was really an isolated incident.

Yes, yes, yes! I know. And I more or less know who the people are, so it has to do with French politics. It was absolutely not important, but that’s also the Internet age; it’s the Twitter age. People don’t know what to say about the film. The thing is, anybody — myself included — needs… a moment, a few hours, a day, two days, I don’t know — some people less, some people more — to know just what you’ve seen and how to react to it. How it stays with you or does not stay with you. Just to analyze your feelings to a film.

Now, with Twitter, people… the credits are rolling, they want to be the first to say something, anything. It’s not the reason why I make movies. I don’t like that relationship to the medium; I think it kind of twists, in a bad way, the perception we have of cinema and movies, because it becomes competitive. It’s kind of absorbed by the worst, evil energies of the modern world, in a certain way, when movies should… it’s an art, so it should not exactly be happening in a bubble. It should be a moment of quiet in the media age. That, to me, is what movies are about.

It’s interesting to hear you say this since you started out as a critic, most notably for Cahiers. Do you find yourself still participating in discourse, even privately?

No, I do not. But it’s because I think I’ve been moving away from the logics of the ascetics of cinephile culture. I mean, I think that something of the cinephile culture has become fossilized in film theories of the 1960s and ‘70s. As much as cinephile culture has been a very relevant tool, in the ‘60s, for the New Wave and post-New Wave writers to make sense of cinema, to make sense of what had been happening — including in Hollywood; it was kind of a road map for what had been happening — I don’t think it works anymore. I genuinely don’t think it works anymore, because it creates some kind of closed, limited film world. I think it’s much more exciting and much more interesting to think about movies in terms of art theory, and I think that you can’t deal with cinema — with what is going on in cinema — if you don’t use the best tools that have been defined by writers through the ages to deal with images!

I suppose it’s one of the reasons I admire David Hockney so much and I think he’s one of the great theoreticians of modern images. He kind of uses the best tools of classic art theory to deal with how you can capture the world, analyze perception, and capture some notion of our experience of the world with the new, modern tools. You know, making paintings with iPhones or iPads or whatever, but trying to use them in relation with recreating the experience of watching a tree, a landscape, the view out of your window — very simple, basic things. So what I am saying is: I am much more excited by writers who think about analyzing perception and how reality is subjective and how moving images — including movie images — transcribe that in cinema. I think that’s where my concerns have been, as opposed to the cinephile debate, which I find extremely limited and frustrating and, in a certain way, out of touch with reality.

Not to bring up a cinephile debate when I note, nevertheless, that Cahiers caused a stir by having Twin Peaks as their best “film” of 2017 —

Yeah, I kind of refer to Cahiers as “post-Cahiers.” I think they have moved in a direction that is basically the opposite of what this magazine is about. Because I think it’s André Bazin’s magazine. I’m extremely conservative in that sense. I really believe that the framework that André Bazin designed — meaning: its relationship between filmmaking, ethics, morality, and representing reality — is basically the identity, the DNA, of what Cahiers is about. If you move away from that… and I’m not discussing Twin Peaks. I admire Twin Peaks; I think that David Lynch is a genius. But I think that Cahiers has been moving away from the Bazinian aesthetics in ways that I find disturbing.

The first time I saw Cold Water was in 2012, off a file I downloaded from The Pirate Bay.

Yeah, of course. Absolutely. For sure.

Do you have particular stances about the age where people are sharing rare, out-of-print films?

No! No. I am perfectly comfortable with that. I’m extremely honored, you know, when guys [Laughs] kind of struggle to get my films wherever they can get them. I think the relationship to a film, often — with any artwork — ultimately is made by the effort you made to access it, and that effort is not necessarily with money. It’s movies I made a long time ago. No, my concern is that people access them in a better shape, form than possible. So that’s why I’ve been struggling to restore this film, image, sound: so next time someone gets the film from the Pirate Bay, it will be a better standard. [Laughs]

I would never illegally download any film of yours I could easily buy.

Yeah, no! I don’t… well, “I don’t have to.” I don’t need to download stuff from a pirate site. I buy DVDs, and I like watching movies on a big screen, but again: I’m perfectly okay with the process. I’m just so happy when I find pirate versions of my films in China, on the street. I go, “Oh, wow, they went through the trouble of printing a jacket, putting it into the case, and now it’s on the street. Maybe someone will bump into the film and had never had a chance to see it.”

I’d just worry about the translation.

We fixed all the subtitling. Criterion helped us with that kind of stuff.

Were you looking closely at the screenplay and previous translation?

I always supervise the subtitles, the English subtitling. So they used the original subtitling, except there were a few mistakes. They made it better.

Speaking of at-home viewing, I’m sure that Criterion has you in mind of who sees this on Blu-ray.

Mmm-hmm.

Do you see most films at home now?

I like to… I have this fetish with silent films. I love silent films — I’m just obsessed — so I watch silent films at home. But I don’t know. For the last couple of years, I vote for the Academy Awards. So I get screeners, and I get screeners of movies I want to see because they are new films by directors I like. They are not accessible in Paris, so I end up watching screeners on my TV. A lot of recent American films — all the movies that were in the Academy Awards — I’ve seen on DVD. It’s a bit frustrating because, especially for the movies I like the most — like Phantom Thread, which I was just amazed with, I loved — I wish I had seen them on the big screen. Now I will be lazy, because the film has opened in Paris and, I noticed, I didn’t gather enough energy to go and see it again on the big screen.

When you watch silent films at home, do you soundtrack them?

No. I’m extremely respectful. [Laughs] And I’m not so fond of the guys who experiment on silent films. Once in a while, something decent comes out of that subculture, but, usually, it’s abusive. I remember when they had fully restored version of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc — all of a sudden, the full, original cut of Dreyer with 15 minutes more, at least, than the version we usually know — they gave the score to that modern composer. I went to see the film, and, at some moments, the sound level was like heavy metal, which made, like, zero sense. It was an unpleasant experience because, as much as I loved the image, I hated the soundtrack. [Laughs]

I was thinking of Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis as the gold standard.

Yeah. I like Giorgio Moroder, but… I prefer more conservative versions of the soundtrack to Metropolis. But I have it. I have it somewhere.

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You still buy films regularly?

Yeah. I’m not a streaming person.

You would’ve been in your late 30s when you made Cold Water. You’re now in your early 60s. When I was younger, I was really fond of movies about kids because I could identify, and now I’m at an age where I’m not interested in that. But I wonder if I’ll feel differently about that when I’m older, especially if I have children of my own. Has there been a change in how you perceive youth in cinema?

Cold Water was about looking back on the ‘70s, which is something that I rejected. In the sense that, for my generation, you had politics — leftism, radicality — in the years between ’68 and ’72, ’73, and, gradually, whatever had been fascinating, exciting, energizing in those years became oppressive, became burdensome, became cut off from reality. That’s when punk rock happened and, all of a sudden, it’s like you had turned on the light in a world that had become dark. So I was very much part of that, and I left the early ‘70s behind. I think it’s been rushing ahead, and, at some point, I had to turn back — and that was Cold Water, in a certain way. Accepting the ‘70s again and remembering the energy.

The thing is: I’m the least-nostalgic person. I don’t like looking back on the past, and I get no emotion out of that — or if I get some sort of emotion, it’s a melancholy, anxiety, depression. But still, I think I had to reconnect with myself. It’s like I had been cut off from a part of myself that was essential, and who was the person I grew up as. I think it opened the door to my following film, Irma Vep, where I also tried to deal with stuff I had left behind — including film theory, my love of Chinese cinema, and so on. It’s stuff that I had left behind because, when I started making films, I was just so mad that everybody would ask, “Okay, so how does it feel to start as a film critic and become a filmmaker?”

But I never defined myself as a film critic. I was a kid trying to get myself as close to movies as I could, and writing about them was one of the paths. But I had been a screenwriter, I was an assistant, I was a trainee on movies, I was a trainee in the editing room — I did any job that would get me to there. So I was so reactive against that that I kind of repressed the part of my life that had been about writing about movies and loving movies and experimenting — the cinema’s geography. Irma Vep was a way of getting back there, of reaccepting, of saying, “Yes, that’s also part of what defined me,” because it’s this weird kind of autobiographical moment.

Many studies of your filmography treat the pre-Cold Water titles as a prelude, which I find odd.

Well, for some reason, Cold Water is my first movie that had any kind of international recognition. The other ones did really well in France, but they were made in the framework of French indie filmmaking. But I’m better-known in France for my early films, in a certain way. Disorder and Paris Awakens were successful films, were much-lauded, at the time, in France, and they were released not so much in the English-speaking world. They were released in Italy, in Germany. They had some kind of European audience. But I genuinely think that I became, also, a slightly different filmmaker after Cold Water. Before making Cold Water, I had consciously tried to transform my approach to cinema when I did A New Life. A New Life, it’s like: you follow the wrong path. You want to move on, but I took a wrong turn somewhere. Instead of defining something new, I think I kind of pushed to the extreme what I was doing, into some strange, abstract area.

I love the film — I’m very happy I did the film — but it’s very much a transitional film. Whereas the change I needed, I longed for, was the change I found in Cold Water. I made this string of movies using the Super 16 format, which is more like a Dogme moment. It was Dogme before Dogme, where I realized, “If I use non-professional actors, if it’s handheld, if it’s Super 16, if I shoot it faster than I used to — if I kind of break all the formalities of filmmaking, get rid of the weight of filmmaking — maybe I can move on and go further in the direction I went for, and I think that’s what happened. Cold Water was the turning point.

You have Non-Fiction next, but there’s already word you’re developing another title.

Wasp Network. It’s the story of the Cuban Five, who were Cuban spies in Miami in the early ‘90s. That, I think, will be my next film. Most of it will be in Spanish.

And Idol’s Eye?

Idol’s Eye can happen; it still can happen. I actually had an offer to make it this summer, and I’ve written Wasp Network; I want to do Wasp Network first. If the offer is still around, I will do it next year.

Hopefully Non-Fiction shows up at NYFF so I can see it ASAP.

It’s a weird film. But I’m very curious to see how it plays abroad, because it’s a dialogue. Subtitling will be an issue. [Laughs]

Cold Water opens at IFC Center in New York starting Friday and at the Laemmle Royal Theater in Los Angeles on May 18, 2018, to be followed by a nationwide rollout.

50 Years Later, Douglas Trumbull Reflects on Stanley Kubrick’s Vision and the Technological Breakthroughs of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey

Written by Sam May, April 16, 2018 at 9:01 am 

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With its cosmic ambitions that still somehow achieved a universal appeal, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that has immersed audiences in its unique and singular vision for fifty years, and few were more immersed in the pioneering film than lifelong visual effects wizard Douglas Trumbull.

Working as a contractor on preliminary design work at production house, Graphic Films back when the film was still called Journey Beyond The Stars, Trumbull stayed with the film even as Graphics Film was let go by necessity, and the production moved to England. “I cold-called Kubrick from a telephone number I found in the (Graphic Films) office and I think he was impressed with what I had to say,” Trumbull said. “He contacted my boss (Con Pederson) and he helped arrange my flight tickets to England. I was never actually contracted for the film. I was originally told I would only be needed for about nine months, but obviously it turned out to be a lot longer than that.”

Despite being in his early twenties with no feature film experience at the time of the production, Trumbull’s ingenuity and perseverance made him a valuable member of the crew. “I was part of the team that had to design all these computer readouts, sometimes there would have to be sixteen projectors running at once so it was thousands and thousands of feet of film that was required,” Trumbull said. “I came up with a solution that could automate large parts of the process.”

douglas-trumbull-1Trumbull found a way to take graphics – often sourced from scientific journals – and animate them on a grand scale, eliminating an otherwise impossible hand-drawn process. “I think after that [success] I had gone up in Kubrick’s estimation. Before I knew it, I was shooting the Moonbus scene on the soundstage,” he tells us.

Trumbull was not the only inexperienced crew member on the film. Andrew Birkin (who ended up shooting the African location footage for the Dawn Of Man sequence) and Ivor Powell were also promoted to roles of greater responsibility despite limited knowledge. But it was also Kubrick’s own experience as a young filmmaker that dissolved the usual filmmaking hierarchy that exists on sets. “There were plenty more seasoned professionals on the film, but they all came from a particular way of working and Kubrick didn’t want to work like that. He encouraged a much more experimental process,” explained Trumbull.

With more responsibility in the effects department, Trumbull was working on the film’s iconic models, but Kubrick’s editing requirements often meant that arduous effect shots would get left on the cutting room floor. “It wasn’t an efficient way of working, but as we were watching the images on the giant, deeply curved Cinerama screens – it became clear that any fast motion or cutting would be objectionable. And you would [see the] blurring and strobing of stars, so Kubrick wanted to slow everything down and have a more editorial pace. He wanted to be able to pick and choose footage like live action.”

With all the film’s imagery being created ‘in-camera’ it would often be a nerve-wracking process waiting to see if a shot had been completed successfully. “It could be anything from a week to a month. The longest shot was the [Tycho crater shot] where they walk down into the excavation site; the rest of that shot wasn’t completed for over a year. The film would be put in a freezer and wait to be loaded back into another camera to be completed,” Trumbull said. “We tried to create a process that we dubbed ‘the sausage factory’ that would be able to churn out shots a lot quicker, but needless to say it didn’t actually end up saving a lot of time. I would say for every successful effects shot, there would be five or six failed attempts.”

Many involved have discussed being in the dark about what they were doing at the time, but Trumbull doesn’t believe it was because Kubrick was trying to be secretive, but it was rather a reflection of his directorial spirit. “I don’t think it was a deliberate move by Kubrick. You often got the sense that he was making it up as he went along. He was rewriting the script every day. He wanted to stop talking and have it be a visual experience. There was originally a narrator and he cut that out completely. Performers like Gary Lockwood and Keir Dullea would come onto the set and [were] given new pages all the time, and there was HAL, who was originally supposed to be female and called Athena, which was based on a study that male pilots would respond quicker to a female voice. Douglas Rain was only really a last-minute choice.”

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While filming, and Arthur C. Clarke optimistically stated in ‘65 that they were aiming for a Christmas ’66 release, but production ended up stretching on for three years. Still, primarily shooting at MGM’s Borehamwood studios, Trumbull never noticed much of a studio presence, saying, “We were the only production shooting there at the time so we took over the whole studio, we were on every stage. Kubrick knew he would have to come here to get his way, he had already shot Dr. Strangelove (at Shepperton Studios) so he was comfortable working there. It really was a great place to work. It was a beautiful studio in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farmland; it wasn’t until I saw and worked in more film studios that I realized what a great place it was.”

While the model-based effects work required a painstaking amount of work, they at least drew from pre-production sketches and technical writing. But what eventually became known as the ‘Stargate’ sequence had to be completely imagined. The original script ended with the line, ‘In a moment of time, too short to be measured, space turned and twisted upon itself,’ and another variant mentioned a ‘slot tunnel’, but beyond that, it was up to the production to decide how to visually articulate the sequence.

“It had been alluded to as a tunnel in one of Jupiter’s moons that when you looked through it you could see through to another part of the universe, but no one really knew what to do about it. Initially, it wasn’t my job to create a solution but I was watching what others were doing and you could see it just wasn’t working. I had seen John Whitney’s work (part of the avant-garde animation crowd of the 60’s) where he had moved the camera around while the shutter was open to create a streaking effect and I thought it was promising. So I did a Polaroid test putting the camera on an animation stand and moving it with the shutter open as I moved around some artwork underneath. I showed it to Kubrick and he said, ‘What do you need to build the real thing?'”

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The resulting creation was the ‘slit-scan’ machine, which in layman’s terms, moved colorful artwork behind a slit while the camera was focused on the same point with the shutter open and moved away from the slit. This combination of techniques created the streaking effect. “Kubrick was very enthusiastic about the results; he just said ‘keep shooting, keep shooting.’ It took four minutes a frame, so it was running twenty-four hours a day, and the stuff that is in the film was probably only about a quarter of what we produced. It was always aimed to be subjective. We tried some shots with the pod, what would be described as an over the shoulder shot, but it was clear it wasn’t going to work. All Kubrick did was cut back to Keir’s face.”

The most complex aspect was a shot dubbed the ‘mindbender,’ which combined seven octahedrons arranged in the top half of the frame and the slit-scan process. Trumbull said, “We had exhausted the slit-scan, shooting vertically and horizontally, so I came up with the idea of shining the light onto Plexiglas to create this kind of pulsating effect. Each [octahedron] had four visible sides, each needing 3 passes, so as you can imagine it was incredibly complex. In total, [there were] eighty-five passes, all on the same piece of film.”

A complex process at the time, the slit-scan was still relatively inexpensive compared to modern CGI methods, which have become one of the most expensive elements of modern filmmaking. “Once it got going, it was a fully automated process. It would run twenty-four hours a day, all it needed was someone to watch for pieces breaking and flying of the machine, as they often would. I don’t dislike digital imagery, there has been plenty that I have been very impressed by, but if you look at the credits of any [effects heavy] movie now, the amount of manpower required is incredible.”

The Stargate wasn’t the only aspect of production that was difficult to visualize. The figure of the alien Monolith is one of the most iconic images, but creating convincing aliens was an altogether different challenge requiring extensive testing and trial and error. “For about the first year and a half of production we tried to avoid it, but Kubrick’s wife (Christiane) was doing concepts and sculpting alien designs, I think that was kind of a back-up project on Kubrick’s part. He adds, “Dan Richter also experimented with something that was dubbed the polka-dot man, where he was covered in dots and shot against black from above, and he would twist and contort his body.”

Then there were Trumbull’s own efforts to create the otherworldly beings.

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“After we had finished the Stargate, I adapted the slit-scan into what I called the ‘Jupiter machine’ which was able to create a believable vision of Jupiter. No one had been able to do [that] until then, so after that I began to experiment. I tried using video feedback by shooting its own feedback image to create this kind of undulating effect. Then I experimented creating aliens using just light. I put a light on the floor and moved a camera with the shutter open to create a figure composed entirely of light that only existed when the camera was running. And I also tried something I called ‘cities of light’ where I used dots of light and streaked the camera to create the illusion that they could be structures created out of light. The results were promising, but we just ran out of time. Kubrick made a decision at some point that ambiguity was better, that less was more and any kind of alien was never going to be convincing.”

Even though 2001 took years longer than expected to complete, it was still rushed to be finished. But in a perfect world, it would have been an even longer production. “I think Kubrick could have gone on another year; certainly, the film would have ended up three and a half hours long!,” exclaimed Trumbull. But even after the production consumed the lives of everyone involved for years, Trumbull had no interest in an extended vacation. He went right back to work.

“I went back to Los Angeles and set up my own studio, making animations for the NBC network and other places, which led to creating effects for The Andromeda Strain and eventually directing Silent Running.” And with Kubrick, the legendary perfectionist editing the film up until its release date, Trumbull didn’t even see the finished product until its premiere, albeit in an extended form before Kubrick cut nineteen minutes for its theatrical run.

“There were a few surprises, musical cues and editing choices, but otherwise it matched up to what I thought we were making. It was great to see it all completed up there on the giant screen. The scenes that were cut, I don’t think they added anything to the film, I think Kubrick was wise to cut them,” he said.

Though the film lived up to Trumbull expectations, early reviews were not so enthusiastic. “I was surprised, they (Pauline Kael and other New York critics) didn’t like it. It took about a month until the film was rebranded as ‘the ultimate trip’ until people started to get it.”

Even inside the production, they were those who didn’t ‘get it.’ Scientific consultant Frederick Ordway even wrote a detailed letter to Kubrick outlining his problems with the film. “The thing about people like Ordway and Harry Lange (production designer) was that they were scientists, and I’ve come to the opinion over the years that when scientists get involved in a film, they’re going to end up disappointed. They want science, but a movie is a movie.”

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Trumbull was one of four credited as a ‘special photographic effects supervisor’ on the film, but he was unfortunately not given credit by the academy when 2001 won Best Visual Effects. In an unpopular decision, Kubrick accepted the Oscar alone.

“We didn’t feel that was a good move on Kubrick’s part. I don’t think it would have taken much effort on his part to lobby for the rules to be changed to accommodate us all. I didn’t get to see the Oscar until after Kubrick’s death, when I went to his memorial service, so it was a very long time before I got to see it.”

The fate of 2001’s incredible models have long been debated, with rumors of Kubrick wanting to destroy them to stop others using them. And with the film’s completion coinciding with MGM’s closure, they may have been accidentally destroyed, but Trumbull sees little truth in these speculations.

“I believe Kubrick had planned along with Ordway and others to take the models and props on a Roadshow and take it around Europe, but at some point he decided against it,” Trumbull says. “Then there was a fire where all the models were being stored so lot of the stuff got destroyed, though Kubrick may have kept the Moonbus model in his office and he had given the Aires-B (lunar-lander) model to his daughter’s tutor in exchange for payment. And it was only recently bought by the Academy.”

Arthur C. Clarke went on to write three sequels to 2001, the first – 2010 – was adapted in 1984 with returning stars Keir Dullea and Douglas Rain, but also with the conspicuous absence of anyone behind the camera from the original film, including Trumbull. “I cannot remember if I was asked to do the film, but my studio that I had started along with Richard Yuricich (Blade Runner) was used to shoot all the effects for the film. I didn’t care for the film, I thought it was more standard action fare and it didn’t understand what 2001 was.”

2010 achieved little in comparison to its predecessor, and in an age of franchises and sequels, where many old favorites are looked to be revived, it remains a testament to 2001’s singular vision that its two remaining sequels – 2061 & 3001 – have remained untouched.

Even despite owning a pilot’s license and demonstrating an evident passion for space travel, Trumbull doubts that Kubrick would have pursued real space travel. “I don’t think so,” he answers. “There was part of Stanley that was very risk-averse, physically. If someone had a cold he wouldn’t shake their hand and he would put a mask on. It has become a lot safer now, and its becoming more commercially viable. Perhaps if were a younger man I would be interested, but I am always interested in the beauty of the universe. I am doing an anniversary event at MIT where they are going to show the recent images taken of Jupiter accompanied by Ligeti’s (whose compositions signal the appearance of the Monolith) music, and Keir and Gary are going to do a reading of Kubrick’s (September ’68) Playboy interview.”

For its 50th anniversary, 2001: A Space Odyssey will get a 70mm unrestored theatrical re-release, overseen by Christopher Nolan, starting May 18. See a trailer above.

Bruno Dumont on the Rhythm of ‘Jeannette,’ Evolution of Style, and the Actor’s Interpretation

Written by Nick Newman, April 12, 2018 at 5:45 pm 

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At a distance, Bruno Dumont seems hard to pin down — a filmography alternately hilarious and horrifying, marked by a sense of humor as stone-faced as the bodies that litter it. Get closer, though, and the pleasure is in the clarity. Case in point: we ended our review of his latest film, Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc, by noting that the Frenchman had “made a gesture towards complete reinvention, both for a tale told many times and the boxes he’s been checked in as an artist” — seemingly big as far as these claims go, but one for which he has only absolute agreement. So I learned when we sat down to discuss his Joan of Arc heavy metal musical, a film I kind of had to ask him about because (and I know this directly contradicts what’s written right above) I have questions about the fact that I’m not even sure how much I like it.

Thanks to Nicholas Elliott, who provided on-site translation.

The Film Stage: In my research, I come across your great admiration for Péguy. You speak of him in very laudatory terms, the essential part his writing played here; but I think of Bruno Dumont as a very singular figure. So is there a sense of giving yourself over fully to an artist, or more than you’re used to?

Bruno Dumont: With Péguy, really, there’s a discovery that goes beyond the artist and poet. What really moves me most is the philosopher Péguy. It’s an extremely contemporary thought of the human condition, and there’s no correspondence among philosophers today. I really see his thought as a thought of the present, the instant, and grace which has no lineage in western philosophy, so he’s completely in the metaphysics of Bergson, but he’s also embodying philosophy in art – or art is the embodiment of philosophy. Bergson remains a philosopher, whereas Péguy takes this additional step – he’s the artist as philosopher, and he really describes, defines, cinema. Cinema is the overwhelming, lightning-like expression of the present through a heroic figure, and Joan of Arc is a heroic figure. The fact is, you can have the experience of God in cinema and in the location of the simulacram of cinema.

Do you share these ideas with your performers?

So, if I talk to the little one about all this stuff, she’s not going to understand anything. Once the director has the understanding, then the actor has the action. The actor is only in action. It’s an error to talk to the actor about thought. The actor is an interpreter. He’s not there to meditate; he’s only there to act, as in “do things.” Otherwise, it would be unbearable.

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You said the young Joan, in auditions, was wild and impulsive. How do you know that will be good for a production?

In fact, I filmed the casting. I make my choices based on seeing the rushes of the casting; that’s when I say “yes.” It’s not the interview with the actor; that’s quite banal. “Cinegeny,” or whether someone reads well on film, is something that I see, and something that some people have and other people don’t. I don’t know why that is, but that’s what I see when I look at the rushes.

You described her recitation of the material as obscure. What are the specific pleasures of obscurity in performance?

What’s obscure is the meaning; what is not obscure is the rhythm. The little girl understands the rhythm of Péguy’s text; she doesn’t understand the meaning. Myself, there are passages that I do not understand at all. Péguy’s poetry is rhythm. The meaning is not important. It’s a theologically obscure text, and what’s important is something that’s tonal, musical. There’s a kind of knowledge there that takes us towards a mystical, ecstatic level. It’s like when you listen to music there. There’s no meaning there; there’s something there that has nothing to do with thought, that has just purely to do with the domain of music. And I just want to correct something that I said earlier, for your tape: I said he’s tonal, music etc. It’s not that there’s a knowledge; there’s no knowledge, whereas there’s something mystical and ecstatic.

I’d like to know about the key differences between shootings on sets and locations.

The huge advantage of shooting on location is that everything is there. It’s like the sheep: I don’t order up the sheep. I like these accidents, this happenstance. It’s like the sound of the trees, the birds, the wind. All these things are happenstance, and they’re very important. Because cinema is such an artificial form: you have to set up your camera, you have to set up your frame, you have to go in search of the happenstance; you have to go in search of the breath. The countryside has this breath, this spirit to it.

And I accept the happenstance; I need it. It gives the film texture, and that’s why I use direct sound: I take what happens, whatever comes. In those circumstances, what wasn’t planned for is part of what was planned for. I can always cut, after all. I have this little girl’s breath, I have her heartbeat, and these take me back to something that is non-thought, and is a kind of counter-balance to the artificiality. As I was saying earlier, there’s an equilibrium that needs to be found. If we did all these things inside a room, it would very quickly become unbearable. That is Bergson. That idea is Bergson.

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It was recently announced that you’ll be doing a sequel to the film, titled Jeanne. This follows your upcoming sequel to Li’l Quinquin. Your movies often feel closed-off, singular, so what is your particular attraction to continuing narratives?

I find the subjects so unimportant. It’s like in painting: you can make something grand, major, with just a little crossroads in the countryside. The subject is so unimportant. I was very interested in a series, to come back to something. So, in Quinquin, I come back to my characters four years later. So there’s the same actors, the same characters, then something else. That’s exactly what I think of cinema: it’s always the same director making another film, so there’s always some same and some other. I’m always making The Life of Jesus, actually. But my style has evolved, my sensibility has evolved, so now, when I see The Life of Jesus, I want to recut it. We continue making films because we evolve. There’s no reason to say “I’m going to stop” because we’re constantly evolving.

You’ll be making a film based on the period that we do know. What material, in particular, do you look at when going there? Are you particularly conscious of the many great filmmakers who have explored it?

The second part is the battles. What I’m interested in is finding a way of renewing the battles, a new approach to the battles. We’ve seen lots of films that deal with the battles – most of them start there and then go to the trail – so what I’m looking for is renewing it, a new way of showing this part with a contemporary sensibility and make Joan of Arc felt today. I think I’ve found a new way to show these battles. I’m not going to shoot like Cecil B. DeMille, that’s for sure – but I do like Cecil B. DeMille.

Do you have a favorite of them?

[Laughs] I really like Cecil B. DeMille. His Joan of Arc looks like she’s 40. That makes it very original, actually.

While I’m here, I should mention that I’ve long been fascinated with the song from L’il Quinquin. Did you write it?

No. The actress wrote it, music and lyrics. I kind of held her in as far as the genre of the music – I steered her.

Admittedly, there’s not much of a question. I just feel that, if I sit before the man who directed those sequences, I should mention it.

Then you’ll be surprised by version two. Specifically in regards to what you’re mentioning, the song – and the singer. [Laughs] She’s dead.

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Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc opens on Friday, April 13.

Andrew Haigh on Keeping Secrets, the Political Landscape, and Eluding Romanticization in ‘Lean on Pete’

Written by Jose Solís, April 4, 2018 at 9:18 am 

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Andrew Haigh’s partner gave him a copy of Willy Vlautin’s Lean on Pete shortly after he finished making Weekend, and after falling in love with the way in which the author portrayed a sensitive, resilient teenage boy, he decided to turn it into a film. It would take Haigh roughly another six years or so to turn the novel into a film, in the meantime working on HBO’s Looking, and directing 45 Years which earned him critical acclaim. Perhaps the wait was for the best, since the years in between where the same during which actor Charlie Plummer broke out into the business, and given his work as Charley in Pete, it’s hard to believe any other actor could’ve been better. Haigh’s conversations with Plummer, which focused on Charley’s sensitivity and why this boy who steals a horse to rescue him from the slaughterhouse, is a kid who rarely gets portrayed this way in movies.

“The book felt like an old style fable grounded in a very gritty reality,” said Haigh during a recent meeting in New York City, and Plummer anchored it with a naturalism that at times makes one think of James Dean in Giant. Pete is also a great showcase for Haigh’s evolution as a writer and director, his economy in dialogues always making a great contrast with the amount of visual information in each of his frames. The way he and cinematographer Magnus Joenck know what to show and when, to elicit the most unexpected emotional reactions. We spoke to Haigh about film rhythm, secrets and why he didn’t want to make another Old Yeller.

You’re a J.M. Barrie adaptation away from having your own “Pete trilogy.”

It’s gonna happen one day. Maybe I’ll do a mixture of both my Pete movies, which will be a very strange combination, I don’t think it will be a big hit.

Thinking about the lead characters in your films, I was struck by how you’ve created a body of work which showcases the different stages of being a man. A kid in Lean on Pete, a 30-something in Weekend, and then a 70-something in 45 Years. Were you consciously interested in doing this?

Self-consciously possibly. Most filmmakers when they make movies are trying to understand themselves and how they fit into the world. Even if the story of Lean on Pete might not seem like it’s a personal story, to me it is just as personal as Weekend, oddly. It says just as much about me as Weekend.

Is it weird to think that you’re letting audiences in on your secrets?

The weird thing about making films, especially if you make films that are personal to you, is you’re giving something of yourself to the world. It’s a strange feeling, filmmaking to me is anxious, emotional and stressful.

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Lean on Pete felt like a big “fuck you” to Old Yeller and all those romantic movies about kids and their animals. Why did you want to show that adolescence isn’t bucolic and full of melancholy as those movies suggest?

I’m not a fan of those movies that romanticize boys and their horses, I think if there’s an animal movie that spoke to me it was Kes by Ken Loach. There’s a version of these stories that aren’t about the animals, this one is about Charley and his feelings, wanting to be cared for, caring about something and all that. I understand that my movie creates a marketing challenge, because you go in expecting something that it’s not.

No Lean on Pete plush animal then.

[Laughs] That would be weird.

Charley’s story feels like the kind of thing a person would keep in their heart and only tell certain people about. I could imagine Charlotte Rampling’s character in 45 Years finding a picture of her husband as a young man with a horse, or Tom Cullen’s character from Weekend telling it to the guy he knows he won’t see again. I’d love to hear you talk about secrets and what we keep.

If you grow up gay you’re always keeping secrets. They’re secrets that could change people’s understanding of you. If you’re gay, you think your parents will stop loving you for instance. As human beings we’re always one centimeter away from falling into loneliness and despair at any given point. You’re scared of being alone. Charley in the film is a very lonely kid, he keeps these secrets and doesn’t tell authority figures, he’s afraid of being put into foster care. Those kinds of secrets are painful and the only one he can talk to about this is the horse. I always found that tragic, rather than cute or adorable.

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You lived in the liberal paradise of San Francisco while doing Looking, while Lean on Pete focuses on people living at the margin of society, people who might’ve voted for…

Trump.

…exactly. Lean on Pete reminded me of American Honey which is another film by a British director who was able to see America right in the eye without any of the romanticism artists often use to portray poverty. What insight did you get into America by exploring these contrasts?

I filmed this before Trump, but there’s no escaping the fact that some of the characters in the movie would’ve voted for him. From my personal and fiscal views I would call myself a democratic socialist. I’m not on Trump’s side whatsoever, but one of the needs of being left wing is to find a world where people who are suffering economically are helped. You can disagree fundamentally with who people have voted for. I don’t think voting for Trump was a great solution at all, but you can also have sympathy for the fact that these are people who are really struggling, socially and economically. In the film I had to take out the notions of left or right wing. You need to understand people at a base level. You need to understand people are suffering and need to be compassionate. Kindness and understanding should be where politics are seen from, but on the left and the right that’s rarely the case. I don’t wanna go on a big rampage, but I get angry with the left wing media because they don’t seem to care about the people who were left behind by globalization. They don’t care about people struggling economically. We live in a world where identity politics is more important than economic inequality.

At the beginning of the movie, Charley’s father tells him something along the lines of “all good women are waitresses at one point” and later in the movie this becomes true so to speak. Do you find as an adult that something your mom or dad told you, was true?

I love in films when little bits of information are echoed later. It’s true though: our parents give us our understanding of the world. I like that about this story. Even though Charley’s dad isn’t great, he loves his son. I didn’t want the characters in the film to be one thing. The Del character could’ve been an angry horse owner or a father stand in, and he’s all and none of those things.

It was so great to see Chloë Sevigny and Travis Fimmel playing outside of their type too.

The thing I love about Chloë is that she’s a great character actor. She can fit well into a working class environment more than many other actors. She says she sees herself as a character actor, but a lot of people in the industry don’t want women to become character actresses.

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Can we talk about how you use time in your films. Weekend feels like it takes place in a matter of seconds, 45 Years has a more languorous feel, Lean on Pete feels slow because we’re always dreading something bad happening to Charley. How do you define the way in which you’ll shape time?

It’s a very instinctual thing, my films have a certain kind of pace that you either sign up to enjoy or not. In Lean on Pete I knew I wanted it to feel like it had a slow dread that keeps going on and on, like a horse’s feet constantly marching forward. Everything fit into that, once you know the rhythm everything else falls into it.

What animal would you steal?

Something very small I don’t have to feed often. That’s what’s interesting about the film. Charley feels capable of looking after this horse, but he isn’t. That element spoke to me about how we all want to be compassionate, but we don’t have the ability. We don’t always have the time, energy, or money to be good people.

Charley is very selfish too, which was refreshing.

He makes wrong decisions. He’s not always wise. He’s on the cusp of being a kid and an adult. I don’t even wanna talk about all the bad decisions I made when I was 15.

Lean on Pete opens on Friday, April 6.

Aaron Katz and John Cho on ‘Gemini,’ Gun Violence, and Finding the Heart of Los Angeles

Written by Jose Solís, April 4, 2018 at 8:42 am 

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In Gemini, Aaron Katz weaves a neo-noir mystery so provocative that you wish it went on far longer than it does, and that is because as with all good mysteries, the suspects, alibis and investigation become much more fascinating than solving the case. In the film, Zoe Kazan plays Heather, a young, rebellious superstar who is shot dead in her mansion one night, leaving her personal assistant and best friend Jill (Lola Kirke) as the prime suspect. Jill easily slinks away from Detective Ahn’s (John Cho) sight, and a pursue ensues as they both try to find the culprit.

Using stylized cinematography and some truly inventive art direction, Gemini takes place in a Los Angeles of movie dreams, a tempting but slightly menacing location where sex, intrigue and deceit ooze from each turn. Gemini is also endless entertaining, as Katz gives into genre tropes which he manipulates to create a sense of dread and mystery. We spoke to the writer-director, and his star, Cho, about creating the moods of Gemini, and how a tale of gun violence lands differently in the current political era.

Can you talk a bit about the Los Angeles in Gemini? It’s clearly a movie L.A., not necessarily a very realist version of the city.

Aaron Katz: When I wrote the movie I’d been living in Los Angeles for two-and-a-half years. I was very new to the city, so I wanted to show that I was approaching the city from a place of curiosity and wanting to understand what the city was. John, how long have you lived in L.A.?

John Cho: 27 years.

Aaron Katz: So for someone who knows the city that well, I wanted the film to feel like it represented the city well.

John Cho: I definitely felt that reading the script. You can see L.A. from any number of viewpoints, that’s what makes it so tough to pin down. There are cliché things about L.A. that are true though, like the vehicle fetish. Greta [Lee] was pregnant when we shot the movie, so we used vehicles to cover her tummy, which was so perfect. As an Angeleno watching something about L.A. I also saw me clocking the cars.

Aaron Katz: L.A. has a strange currency of fame and perception of ease. In the movie there’s a line Michelle Forbes’ character says, “I know we kind of hate each other, but I actually really like you.” That to me encompasses the philosophy of L.A. which is about all those other things, but also competence.

Were you trying to find “heart” in the city then?

Aaron Katz: Jill and Heather’s relationship has a lot of real love in it. It’s a complex relationship. I don’t think they’re pretending to like each other. I hope the movie has a lot of heart. I don’t want it to be a satire of Hollywood.

John Cho: There’s a whole Oz relationship with Heather and Jill, as to who is the one behind the curtain controlling everything. There’s also a difference in how people socialize in N.Y. and L.A. In N.Y. people do it in public. They meet in restaurants and bars, but in L.A., parties happen at people’s houses. Almost every party in L.A. feels like a business.

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Real estate in N.Y. is also super small though, so it’d be tough to have as many parties in homes. This reminds me of your work in Columbus too, watching both movies made me realize you’re the guy to get…

John Cho: cheap.

No, for very architectural movies. Both movies have a very uniquely defined sense of place.

John Cho: That’s so interesting, I hadn’t thought about it but you’re right.

Aaron Katz: When you said architectural I thought about how one is literally about architecture, but in Gemini the architecture is such a key too.

John Cho: What I learned about architecture in Columbus was that instead of appreciating buildings like “this looks beautiful or magnificent” is to ask “how is this space making me feel?” Standing in some of these spaces I could think about what the architect wanted me to think by being in this space. They encourage different things too, depending on the space they have. Looking back at Gemini each of those spaces had data, and selecting locations for a movie is like building a stage.

Aaron Katz: The places really impact how the conversation feels. We’re in a swanky hotel right now, but we’d be talking differently if we were in an ancient barn. John, you revisited the diner from the movie recently, how was that experience?

John Cho: It was at 2 or 3PM so it was less inhabited. I particularly remembered Detective Ahn’s posture in that scene, which was about not wanting other people to hear what he was saying. It was always interesting to go back on location to see what was us and what was them.

Aaron Katz: When you walk on set you don’t see what the art department does, it’s just there. It’s interesting to see two movies with the same spot. Ingrid Goes West shot in the same tiki bar we shot in. We didn’t dress the set at all, but in Ingrid they put a lot of stuff that deemphasized the tiki aspect of it.

Detective Ahn is always one step behind Jill, what’s it like to play a character like that?

John Cho: [Laughs] You just take a scene at face value and try to stick to it.

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You don’t get to decide when your films come out, but seeing Gemini in the aftermath of the recent school shootings, made me think of Jill as someone who figures she needs to take justice on her own hands, because no one else will. Has watching the movie and how the country reacts to gun violence different now?

Aaron Katz: Thinking about the gun violence aspect, I don’t think the movie is meant to be overly political in any way. But the act of violence in the film happens because there is a gun, what could have been something smaller becomes bigger. In that way I think the movie is a bit of a reflection of what’s possible when a gun is around. I didn’t grow up around guns, so there’s very little gun action in it, did you grow up around guns, John?

John Cho: I grew up in the church and when I was in junior high I was an awkward kid, so this couple who taught at Sunday school invited me for a sleepover and they were being very caring. I remember we had dinner, went to a movie and the next morning they took me to a shooting range where I used a pistol and a rifle for the first time. I think they were trying to teach me about personal responsibility and focus. I don’t even think they told my parents, which is weird in retrospect.

Aaron Katz: I don’t think I’d handled a gun before the one that was on set. It made me feel so nervous being around it.

John Cho: My dad told me he was a courier for the army in Korea. He was in a restaurant once and as a courier he was required to carry a pistol. Guns aren’t available to the public in Korea, and my father says there was a drunk man making a scene and he remembers being overwhelmed by the desire to use the gun to threaten him to shut up. He was so frightened by that feeling that he realized no one should have guns. Because, what if?

Gemini is now in theaters.

Courtney B. Vance on Narrating ‘Isle of Dogs,’ the Power of Failure, and Clint Eastwood’s Filmmaking Philosophy

Written by Joshua Encinias, March 30, 2018 at 11:17 pm 

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I didn’t know what to expect before interviewing Courtney B. Vance. He sat in front of me earlier this year at a Black Panther screening and jumped for joy every time he saw wife Angela Bassett on screen. Vance’s team was just as energetic at the Isle of Dogs press day in Midtown Manhattan. They were taking photos of Courtney and cast throughout the press conference, then Courtney would take pictures of the cast and press.

One-on-one, he’s quiet but loquacious. Vance chooses every word carefully but not in a contrived, political way. He talks about meeting Wes Anderson at Sundance in 1993, not knowing Isle of Dog’s story until seeing the film, and the project’s mysterious political parallels. We close out the conversation discussing transparency in failure, his thoughts about God’s use of human failure, and Clint Eastwood’s filmmaking philosophy.

How did you link up with Wes and his crew?

You know, Josh Encinias, I didn’t really see any of those guys. I just saw Wes. And we worked together years ago when we were young whippersnappers at Sundance and someone suggested it, so why not? He jumped in and called me and I said of course. Does voiceover narration work with you? Oh yeah. And so we really had a great time, but it took us minute just to find the rhythm of the narration and what kind of narration he wanted. I mean you have the narrator voice kind of thing. The typical narrator voice. This was not that, so, but I didn’t know… is it my rhythm or if it’s not my rhythm, there’s another rhythm, what is the rhythm that you want? So it took us quite a while to figure that out. Once we did then we started to really click.

When you were talking about working together, were you always going to be the narrator?

Oh, I hope. I hope for my ego, I hope I was always in the forefront of his mind. It’s a good question. We’ll have to ask him.

When did you record your part?

They’ve been making this movie forever. I recorded it in the middle to end of 2015. That’s why when people ask me, what do you remember? I don’t remember much about our time together because it was so long ago. And then there were two or three or four sessions after that, maybe like four or five lines he just wanted to grab. So you know his projects go on for a while.

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Most of the cast recorded separately, so what’s it like to be with this massive ensemble for the first time at the film’s premiere?

It’s kind of fun, just like a little homecoming of sorts. There’s some voiceover work where they recorded everyone sitting around in their high chairs together. This is not that. So I have a feeling that everyone did their own little solo thing themselves in their respective towns and then sent it in and then maybe Wes got on the phone with them threeway and gave them some direction.

What drew you to the story?

I don’t think there was a script when we started talking. I saw my dialogue just to get a sense of how long it was going to take me, but I don’t think there was a script because when I saw the film I was shocked. I didn’t know what I was seeing. I didn’t know what it was about and even if you try to describe it you really can visually see… some of those images were just in his head.

If you recorded in late 2015, they couldn’t have anticipated the way politics would be in 2018, but there’s so many parallels.

I think that Wes has his finger on the pulse and sometimes you fall into it, sometimes you don’t. I did a project sitcom the year before last, just when Trump was coming, the election happening. We thought ‘this project is so perfect, we just know that ABC is going to pick it up because it’s good.’ It’s the perfect sitcom to talk about all these huge issues and get people to laugh and still be able to deal with stuff. So we know what’s going to happen. ABC did not go for it. All of us were just in shock. You just don’t know that you’ll be given the opportunity to.

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When you look at this character Mayor Kobayashi, he’s a guy who’s really fearful. He’s afraid of being seen having any kind of failures or having any doubts. It made me think of this interview where you talk about your vulnerabilities being the place where you sow seeds, where God does his thing.

I did a clown workshop years ago and for an exercise we all sat in a circle on the floor was and there was an opening, so one by one, you get up and go into the circle. You couldn’t leave the circle until you made everybody laugh, made everybody cry. We all failed. You couldn’t use profanity, you couldn’t use gentlemanly humor. We tried red noses, fat suits and nothing worked. After a week the teacher said that’s it, let me tell you what the secret is: going into circle one by one, you have to try to do something and you fail and you have to acknowledge the failure and after you’ve acknowledged failure in front of everyone, that you’re a failure, and you have to acknowledge it. You have to do something and try to do it and fail big time. And then, at that point, you can make people laugh and make people cry. You can do whatever you want to do. It will go wherever you want to go. And it’s that fine line that as a performer, as in life, if you want to lead somebody, people have to have to be behind you. They have to say we want him for our leader because we know that they stand for something. They have gone through it. I mean, from a biblical standpoint, I’m a Christian man. We follow Jesus because he did everything that we would have gone through. So you follow somebody who acknowledges what you’re going through. If somebody doesn’t know what you’ve gone through, you’re not going to follow them. Who are you? Larry Bird said it best. He said they pass me the ball at the end of the game because I’m the first one in the gym, two hours in the gym before anybody comes in. I’m here two hours after everyone goes home. So everybody knows the play when it’s two seconds left in the game. Some people don’t want the ball when it’s two seconds to go. They don’t want the pressure because if you don’t make the shot then you failed. But I’d rather have the ball in my hands. That’s a special kind of person. Some people can’t handle the truth, Jack Nicholson said.

What’s Wes like as a leader?

We were talking last night. I sat with him and Harvey Keitel and I haven’t sat with Wes a lot. I barely remember our time back in 1993 at the Sundance lab. I was sitting with him last night and he was telling me about a prominent actor he had a really difficult time directing and I just listened. Harvey told a story about a prominent actor-director he worked with and the abuse the actors received from this director. I said people are just clamoring to be in this business and do what we do. But people get in the business for many different reasons and some people, based on how they were raised, they’re trying to work out stuff as a director with other other actors or a leading actor trying to impose their will. It’s just… you come in. I think Clint Eastwood said we’re going to come to, going to say some lines, we’re going to hit some marks. That’s what it is. And you get paid a great deal of money to say some lines and hit some marks. Don’t make it complicated. And if we do it that, we do it right, we change people’s lives. When people feel they’re so, so special because they can say some lines and hit some marks, they started messing with people. Don’t mess with people. Just do your thing and go home. That’s what I try to do. I do my thing and go home.

Isle of Dogs is now in theaters.