By Jonathan Marlow
September 9, 2005 - 1:21 AM PDT
"God bless Hitchcock. He never won an Oscar and never gave us a second of boredom," Alex de la Iglesia has said. No one would ever accuse the Spanish director of boring an audience. In his latest film, El Crimen Ferpecto (The Perfect Crime), he hits again on a striking mix of violence and comedy. Jonathan Marlow asks him where all those outrageous ideas come from.
How did Pedro Almodóvar and his brother come to produce your first feature film?
Well, the first thing I made in movies was a short film called Killer Mirindas [Mirindas asesinas].
This was in 1991?
1991, yes. It was in black-and-white and I made it in Bilbao, in my home, with my friends who work in the theater. With this short film I went to Almodóvar's office and said, "Can you watch this thing?" Almodóvar loved the short film and said, "Would you like to make a long feature film?" I said, "Yes, of course," and we began to work on the film Mutant Action.
Acción mutante is essentially a superhero movie for misfits. It's what you might expect would happen if something like the X-men were to really form. They would not get along.
It's a group of terrorists. A bunch of handicapped terrorists who try to fight against the beautiful people. That's the plot. It's very badly shot and very badly done, but very funny. I was very naïve when I made this movie. I put strange things in that movie. I made things in that movie that I can't make now. I'm scared of those things now but, in the moment that I made this film, I felt totally free to make whatever I wanted.
Acción mutante (Mutant Action)
It seemingly received a favorable reaction from audiences wherever it played. At least I remember hearing about it for years before I was finally able to see it. As far as debut films go, it was very successful.
Well, I don't know if it was very successful, but...
Perhaps not financially, but it established your reputation.
The movie definitely had a big reaction in the world.
How much of your Jesuit education informed Day of the Beast? Obviously, your former school would not be happy with the film that resulted.
I don't know what they'd think about the movie, but, yes, I came up with this story when I was studying philosophy at Loyola University. I remembered one priest there who always thought about Plotino [known to us as Plotinus]. He was an expert in Plotino. Plotino is not a very good philosopher. He's a bad philosopher. A stupid philosopher after Plato and after Aristotle and I thought, "How is it possible that this man is, all his life, dedicated to think in a not very important philosopher, not a very smart philosopher?" Suddenly, he didn't know anything about life, about TV, about anything. He was totally ignorant. What happens if you take this man and put him on the street? That's the essence of Day of the Beast. A crazy priest tries to prevent the apocalypse because he reads a lot and discovers that it's revealed in a cryptogram.
Of all the films that have been made about the coming of the Antichrist, no other film has decided that the way to locate the "denier of the Father and the Son" is to break all of the commandments! What was the inspiration of this idea?
I think that it's the best plot I've made, together with [co-writer] Jorge [Guerricaechevarría]. The idea, you know, to have some innocent guy making some wild things is funny because he is small and old and very respectful. He has only one friend and he is a fucking junkie, this fat guy who's in love with metal music. I don't know how I was able to make this movie. It was very difficult to make because everyone said no to everything. Almodóvar refused because he is very superstitious and said, "I don't want to make a movie about the devil." Okay, but do you think it's bad? I don't know if Almodóvar liked the movie at the beginning. Maybe it was only an excuse.
It has a very shocking opening sequence. I think it really sets everything in motion with the collapse of the cross.
I love that scene. You know, I love Satanist things. I love demons and The Exorcist and this kind of stuff. I love those movies. I am always scared to make another movie about the demons, about hell, because the people might compare it with Day of the Beast. I need fifteen years to say, "Okay, let's do another one." My next movie is about demons. The only thing I hate is the people who say "Hey, you're repeating the same idea."
You had a difficult time financing Day of the Beast because it was too...
It was very difficult because in Spain, the people said, "I cannot understand this thing." If you read the script, it's not funny. It's totally serious. All the dialogue is very serious...
...including the television psychic.
Yeah, all is very normal, but you have a funny sensation when you see the movie after reading the script. When you read the script you say, "This is not funny."
That process comes about in the casting and obviously in the way that you directed. Obviously, you knew going in, the way that you wrote the script...
Yeah, I knew perfectly.
But the potential financiers just immediately went, "This cannot work."
When they are reading the script, I can say, "Okay, it seems unfunny, but I swear to you that it's funny!"
Perdita Durango (Dance With the Devil)
Did you not have the same troubles raising money for Perdita Durango [Dance with the Devil - the titular character also appears in Wild at Heart]?
No, because Day of the Beast was a big success in Spain and suddenly they said, "Make whatever you want." In this moment, I remember, I didn't have an idea for a movie but my producer Andrés [Vicente Gómez] said to me, "Have you read this Barry Gifford novel [59° and Raining]?" So I read it and I said, "Maybe this could be a good movie." It was not my idea to make the movie so, in that sense, it's like a job.
You always write or co-write your screenplays. Did you collaborate with Barry Gifford on this script or...
You just took the book?
I had the book and I had Barry Gifford's script. There exists a Barry Gifford script for the movie and I read the script of another filmmaker who wanted to make the movie, but we made our own script. I think it's one of my best movies. It's difficult to take one idea and make it yours. I am a very scared man, you know? I only want to make my own ideas. I need to feel some security. I never feel secure with other peoples' ideas. When we're working, suddenly some guy in the crew says, "Hey, why not make this thing in another way?" and I say, "Yes, maybe," if it's not my idea. If I make the script and I know the thing perfectly, I can say "No, it's impossible." We have to make the thing with this point of view and this lens and these characters in this way, because it's my idea.
I suspect that this film was a bigger challenge because it was a co-production between many countries and had a larger cast...
That's the reason I love this movie, because it was a big effort for me to do it. I had to talk with a lot of people and go to Mexico and go to Arizona. The pre-production was a nightmare. I remember suffering a lot to make the movie. Rosie Perez was a very strange girl and suddenly, in the middle of the movie, she says, "You don't understand what you are making." I said, "Why?" She said, "You don't understand English very well. You don't know if I'm acting well or not." I said, "I don't speak English but I know you're acting perfectly." I had to convince her all the time for every shot, every take. Suddenly she said, "I don't want to make this thing." I said, "Why?" "Because there's a nude sequence." I go, "Yes, of course, because the movie is about this tale..." She says, "In my contract, I can never appear in a nude sequence." I go, "That's impossible," so I took the contract and read that thing! I asked my producer, "What the fuck are you doing agreeing to that?" "I signed it because it's so hard to get a contract for this kind of character, for these kinds of actresses, and I say yes to everything." It's so hard to make this movie.
Obviously, you have great deal of experience with American cinema and, in several ways, that expertise surfaces in La Comunidad (Common Wealth). Particularly, the influence of Alfred Hitchcock.
Hitchcock, yes. I love the Hollywood directors of the 1940s and 1950s - Hawks, Ford, Cukor, Mann, Tourneur...
You also maintain this notion of trying to film in enclosed spaces, an effort at keeping the primary action in a single location, which you continue in your latest film, El Crimen Ferpecto (The Perfect Crime). I wonder if this started as a budget concern or...
I think it's better for shooting. It's easier to work well with the camera when you work in an enclosed space. You feel the dramatic scenes more if you have all the sequences in a closed location. It's more theatrical. I love theatrical things, to create the set and imagine that all these images are mine. I imagine the actors in the set, I imagine the position of the camera, you know?
In Common Wealth, this location was built from scratch, yes? It's the full set.
La Comunidad (Common Wealth)
You used Carmen Maura, the star of Common Wealth, again in 800 Bullets, although she has a much smaller part in that.
She has the same job, working with buildings!
If Common Wealth shares a connection with mid-century American cinema, I see 800 Bullets as your love letter to classic Spanish cinema. The character of Julián Torralba that, at one point, had a tremendous career as a stuntman but his style of cinema is now out of fashion. In a sense, you hinted at this last night with the mention of your fondness of Spanish filmmakers such as Luis García Berlanga, the director of El Verdugo (The Executioner). There is a stylistic gap between what came before and the filmmakers that are working now.
I hadn't thought about it, but you're right. I don't feel for my parents' movies. I love my grandfathers', you know? Not the hippies' generation but the generation before. Maybe when I talk about cinema - because 800 Bullets is a movie about cinema - I am talking about needing to know where I am or whether I belong to some place. The idea, you know, of coming from a one-star town in the middle of the desert. Maybe this film is talking about that.
When you were scouting for Perdita Durango, did you visit Tombstone? There is a similar recreation of an embellished past. It's the same sort of situation that is recreated in 800 Bullets.
Yes, I went there.
There are these kinds of things all over, but these towns that exist purely for the recreation of a past, whether it is real or imagined. You bring that same atmosphere back in your latest film with the amusement park, Rafael and Lourdes's only escape from the department store.
Why do you think that is?
I don't know. I just ask the questions.
I don't make these things and think... I say, "They must go to an amusement park."
It's intuitive. A place of escape, but an escape that is definitely not a place to relax.
These kinds of things, you just don't think about them. You say, "They go to an amusement park." It's important, that scene. They visit the amusement park because the amusement is not real, perhaps.
El Crimen Ferpecto (The Perfect Crime)
You use footage in El Crimen Ferpecto [in fact, the name of the film is a reference to the Spanish title for Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder - El Crimen Perfecto, except that Alex's title is, well, less perfect; the English distributors corrected the spelling, unfortunately] for Rafael's research from one of the greatest films ever made - Luis Buñuel's Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz. This idea that reality is less powerful than fantasy. It's one of the few successful intersections of comedy and murder, like [Charles] Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, except that Buñuel naturally twists the tale by making the aspiring killer an absolute failure. Did this provide some inspiration for writing this story or at least taking it in that direction?
The real origin of the movie comes from Vincent Price. He's the only character who is truly bad in these movies and, in the end, he always is punished. I remember one tale in particular called The Masque of the Red Death. A big castle in the middle of Europe surrounded by a plague while inside the castle there is a big party with beautiful people trying to forget the red plague. You're in a beautiful place dancing, like Vincent Price, you know? "I am the king of this castle, where the people survive and live in a beautiful way." Suddenly, as always, the red plague finds a way inside. Lourdes [Mónica Cervera], in El Crimen Ferpecto, is the red plague. She infects everything!
back to past articles >>>
"I don't feel for my parents' movies. I love my grandfathers', you know?"
back to past articles
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
February 6, 2007. Mark Savage & the D.I.Y. Aesthetic by Jeffrey M. Anderson
February 3, 2007. Seeing the Humor in Sexual Identity by Michael Guillen
January 29, 2007. Smokin' Aces with Joe Carnahan and Jeremy Piven by Sean Axmaker
January 26, 2007. Include Me Out: Interview with Farley Granger by Jonathan Marlow
January 25, 2007. Grindhouse: Chapter Four - The 1960's by Eddie Muller
January 19, 2007. Charles Mudede: Zoo Story by Andy Spletzer
January 19, 2007. Mark Becker: Merging the Personal and the Political by Sara Schieron
January 19, 2007. Micha X. Peled: The Lives of the Sweatshop Youth by Hannah Eaves
January 16, 2007. Djinn: A Taxi Driver Dreams of Perth by Jeffrey M. Anderson
January 12, 2007. Clint Eastwood: Flags and Letters From the "Good War" by Jeff Shannon
view past articles