By Jonathan Marlow
April 12, 2006 - 6:57 AM PDT
With Breakfast on Pluto coming out on DVD next week, now's an excellent time for Jonathan Marlow to sit down with Neil Jordan and talk through the fantastic and realist aspects of his oeuvre.
I've been making my way through all of your films again, which is a bit of an intense immersion.
I'd say so.
You've written novels and published short story collections. What is the significance of your writing in your motion picture work?
It's everything. If you write the film you make, it's everything.
Do you feel less connected to the films that you weren't fully involved in writing?
I don't feel less connected. It's just a totally different position to be in because, if you've written a script, you can very quickly write whatever is needed, like an adaptive change. You kind of imagine it from the roots up, in a way, whereas if you're directing a movie from someone else's script - I've only directed from someone else's script twice. David Mamet's script...
For We're No Angels.
Interview with the Vampire.
No, I rewrote that but I didn't get credit for it.
I wondered about that.
Yeah, I didn't. She'd [Anne Rice] written a script previously. In a way, essentially every time that I've made a movie, I've written the script or adapted the script [to date, the only other exception would be the short Not I, from the Samuel Beckett play]. I find it very strange to make a film without writing the script because my perspective as a director is of equal value with the producers, the principal actors or the designer with someone else's script. Whereas, if you've written it yourself, the director and the script are indistinguishable.
There's an overlap.
An overlap, yeah. You come from a different place. An entirely different place.
How did you first connect with John Boorman?
He read the first collection of stories that I'd written [Night in Tunisia, published in 1976]. After that, I finished my first script. It was called Traveller [later directed by Joe Comerford] and it was kind of a road movie about two Irish gypsy kids. John read that and he really liked it. He asked me to write a script called Broken Dreams but he didn't get that made. Then he came to make Excalibur. He had, I think, a 400-page script he'd written with Rospo [Pallenberg] and he asked me to cut through that script and cut it down to a manageable length. To do a last draft of it, basically. I didn't get a credit for it but was called "creative consultant" instead. Then, when he was making the movie, he wanted me around so I proposed directing a documentary of the film. He shaved 25 grand off the budget and gave it to me.
He stepped in as executive producer for your first film?
How did you conclude that you wanted to direct a film?
After I saw the film of Traveller! It was so unlike what I had written, I thought, "I'd better do this myself." Seriously, I suppose if I had written a movie and it had been done exactly as it was written I wouldn't have started directing at all.
If you were satisfied with that part of the experience, you would have just...
Well, I just found it very satisfying dreaming of movies. I loved it. I began to do it and I really enjoyed it so much.
You have a tendency to find people that you like to work with and work with them repeatedly.
Work them to death, like.
Like Chris Menges, the DP on many of the films, and Elliot Goldenthal, who did the score for Interview and many of your films since. Are you more comfortable in the setting where you're working with people whose work you already know?
Well, the two people you're talking about are quite unique, aren't they? Chris Menges is an extraordinary cameraman.
You used Declan Quinn on Breakfast on Pluto and I think he's quite talented.
And Elliot Goldenthal is a great composer. I don't know. If I get on with somebody and I like the results, I want to do it again. People generally want to work, if they work well. Like this movie, Breakfast on Pluto, actually Duncan is the only person I haven't worked with before. All the actors, I've worked with before, so it's kind of your privilege if you find that you can do that.
In the mention of actors, Stephen Rea has appeared in nine of your films. What is the attraction that you have with him particularly? Obviously, he appears in your first film, Angel [otherwise known as Danny Boy]. Is there something in particular about him that keeps you going back, using him in considerably different parts?
I think he's an enormously subtle actor. He's an intelligent actor and, every now and then, I write a part that seems "unplayable" in a strange way, you know? For example, the part in The Crying Game, I wrote that scene with him in mind. In Interview With the Vampire, we had this figure, this vampire called Santiago, I imagined straight out of the Parisian theater of the 19th century. I'd written all these little theatrical interventions to perform on stage and I'd written in little rhyming couplets. I couldn't think of anyone who could do that and could actually deliver the theatricality and the flamboyance and yet make it evil in the way that Stephen did.
When it came to The End of the Affair and, early on in the film, the wife has an orgasm and her lover says, "What if he heard us?" She says, "He wouldn't recognize the sound." It's a terribly damning thing. To get someone to play that role, a lot of actors would be kind of offended. I give it to Stephen and he can make it into something marvelous. I can't think of many people who can do that. So, you know, I've worked with him a long time.
And will probably continue to do so.
I hope so.
You don't tend to work in any one type of genre. Your films are varied but they do fall into areas where they are things that you originate or novels that you adapt or films that you've remade. You mentioned The End of the Affair, which is a remake. What made you decide to remake Bob le Flambeur as The Good Thief?
I was asked to! The End of the Affair was different, because I just liked the book. I didn't even see the Edward Dmytryk movie and I didn't regard it as a remake, really.
You went back exclusively to the Graham Greene novel?
Oh, absolutely. I saw the original movie after I made the film. If I had seen that movie, I wouldn't have wanted to make The End of the Affair!
But you were, of course, familiar with the Melville film.
Of course. Warner Brothers owned it and my producer, Stephen Woolley, said, "They'd really like you to remake this movie." I thought, "Why?" I ended up talking to Warner Brothers and they commissioned me to write it, really. The movie has a lovely story, actually. But it's very small. It's very short and very fragile. I didn't know whether I should write the script. Did I want to do it? Then I began to make the script about a robbery. I'll have an apparent robbery and a real robbery. The apparent robbery will be a decoy, and the actual robbery will be the robbery that the movie's about. I thought that was interesting. The actual robbery was to rob a collection of paintings of which there were fakes of the actual painting in the casino, so it became a thing about what's real and what is fake.
Melville's movie was in there somewhere. It began to sprout. I normally wouldn't spend two or three years trying to remake a film but I don't see why people shouldn't. There's nothing necessarily wrong with remaking a movie. They remake them all the time.
Yes, they do. Sometimes more successfully than others.
"I just found it very satisfying dreaming of movies.""It was everything in a nutshell."
back to 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