I want to talk about Fear X.
It never played theatrically in Seattle. It played in New York, it played in LA, and it even got some good reviews but it didn't really take off.
It wasn't a big money-maker. It's the kind of film [about which] you usually say, "It got great reviews in the US and made money in France." That basically says what kind of film it is.
What was the inspiration for the story?
I had this idea about a man who wants to find out why his wife was killed, a classic genre film, which is what I really like. And then I had all these ideas of mixing all these film genres that I've liked. Everything from David Lynch
to Fat City
. There's a lot of social realism. I mean, combining all these different kind of ways to tell a story, and that is what I like about the film, that it very much has a combination of all different kinds of ways to tell a story. And then I believe that art should challenge and I did challenge a lot of people, which is good.
What was the genesis of collaborating with American novelist Hubert Selby, Jr. on the screenplay?
Last Exit to Brooklyn
made a very big impression on me and I think, with Fear X
, I indulged in people that I just wanted to work with, everyone from him, to Brian Eno,
to [cinematographer] Larry Smith
[who was lighting cameraman on Stanley Kubrick
's Eyes Wide Shut
]. It took me and Selby two years to write, even though the film is very simple. And then I structured it very much as a film between two different points of view. Half the film is about how Harry Cain sees it, John Turturro
, and then the other half is how James Remar
sees it. And in the end, those two views parallel.
The scenes where Harry Cain, John Turturro's character, is obsessively watching these video tapes... and the closer you get into these images that he's staring at, the more frightening and distorted and vague they become. They stop becoming anything but just a figure in landscape. Was Antonioni's Blow Up an inspiration?
I never thought about that. I like Blow Up
a lot. I liked the idea of this obsessiveness, you know. I thought The Conversation
was great. It's kind of like Fear X
is a combination of all these things I liked about other films, and also reaching out and working with very big artists. But the thing about Fear X
is that it's very much about the things that you don't see. Unfortunately, that's not very common nowadays because we're so used to seeing everything. Films nowadays have less and less subtext, which is a problem because that usually makes an audience stay away. You can see that by the way people consume films. They are looking for more subtext and the more they look, the less they get.
In Blow Up, David Hemmings's character is trying to put together a story from these pictures he's taking. Turturro's character, Harry Cain, has already lived this story. He's looking for the meaning in it. He's looking for an answer and the harder he looks, the less there is there.
That's what I like about the reactions. It made a lot of people very angry and unsatisfied, but the whole point was to make the audience become Harry Cain. So in the end, everything is so perplexed that, like him, you can only just let go. The audience wanted an answer and didn't get it, but that was the point. It was meant for them to become like him.
We have suggestions of an answer, although I'll admit I'm perplexed about what actually happened in the last scene. I think that's one of the reasons that film has stuck with me and haunted me.
Sometimes there's a lack of curiosity when it comes to cinema, which is a shame because that's where it actually has the strongest points. I think you have to engage the audience's curiosity, and curiosity is not always a satisfying result to begin with. But it is also what leaves you thinking, and art is meant to make you think, not always to satisfy you. On the contrary, I think art should never satisfy you. It needs to be the opposite. It needs to stir you up.
The style of Fear X couldn't be any more opposite than the three Pusher films. Where those were all handheld and jittery, full of nervous energy. I don't think there's any handheld camera work in Fear X. It's quiet and austere, with a very still visual quality, like ice about to crack.
Very meditative. And you have Brian's music, which is even more meditative.
New York Times film critic Stephen Holden wrote that it was John Turturro's best performance in years and I agree. It's intense and exacting and powerful. What kind of commitment did he put into that film?
I shoot all my films in chronological order and that's an extremely helpful method for the actor because they can really indulge emotionally, not always have to think logically or technically or things like that. They can just really go with the flow. And, you know, having only five or six weeks to make a movie, he didn't have a lot of time to think. He just had to react to everything. And John Turturro is a very good actor. I think that I was very lucky to get him and that he was willing to do the film. He asks very precise, very interesting questions. We could spend a lot of time talking about very detailed elements. That's also what made it more clear because it is a kind of a journey film. It is very much entering one's own mind at the end.
You can say the film is about a man who is so obsessed that he begins to reach into his imagination to find logic or an explanation. So it became very subdued and very, very linear, which became the organic feel of the film. When you shoot in chronological order, the film also very quickly begins to dictate itself. It begins to have a life. It's like having a child. At some stage, the child begins to dictate its own life and that is the only right way. Like painting a picture, really. It's the only way I can make a film, the only way I can understand it, and it's the only way I can find it exciting. I always say to the lead actor, "Well, I made this film in my mind, so now we're going to do it again, but this time your going to play the lead and we're going to see where this will end up."
Remar's performance is also excellent. You can see that this is a man who really believes in what he's doing, but he's finally faced with the collateral damage of his actions and he's really tormented by it. When Turturro comes to him, he starts to feel very guilty about his actions.
I think that's a very human approach to everything. We're so used to seeing people on television and on films committing violent acts and for some reason we never see the remorse, and there always is remorse. And I don't know why we don't do that because it's dramatic; it's always the most interesting. The physics is easy but the remorse is what's dramatic.
Brian Eno does not work with a lot of people. How did you get him to collaborate?
I sent him an email. I sent him a letter and a copy of my films that had some success in the UK, so he was aware of them. I never expected to hear from him, but I got an email from him a couple days later saying he'd love to. He was very, very nice and very, very pleasant to work with and very supportive, but so was John Tuturro. People really gave a lot because it was very difficult, very much a learning experience, both good and bad. I mean, I learned international financing the hard way, coming from Denmark, where everything is subsidized. Suddenly I'm making international films, where it's more about business and recoupments than I was used to. And also making a film that was very experimental and realizing that those kinds of films have a very limited audience. I also learned the heartache of distribution the hard way.