When you look back on all your years in the movie business, what do you see as the major changes?
Most of the directors have gotten a lot younger. [laughs]
I don't know. A couple of things have changed. We have a lot more light. In '75, when we were shooting Don't Look Now, it was the first time we used a 200 degree Panavision camera which had 15 degrees more shutter, instead of what used to be 185. That let in a lot more light, because the year before, Stanley Kubrick had been shooting Barry Lyndon and he'd had to use candles with six wicks in them. He was shooting with an Arriflex and Zeiss lenses, and the shutter didn't let in enough light. But this new Panavision did. So that revolutionized the way people lit.
Then you were able to shoot in natural light. The Kodak film got faster. It used to be 64, I think, and now it's way up there. Then Francis Ford Coppola got Vittorio Storaro to shoot video on high definition in Venice and then transferred it from video to 35mm film. And then projected it, and there was no fluttering around the periphery, which you usually have with video. So that was a revolutionary moment.
But the big thing was the computer. Avid just changed everything. You used to have a white glove and work on editing tables like the Steenbeck with two or three reels of film running through and two or three screens so that you could match or mix and edit your film like that. Then, when you got to the Avid, you had everything. The editing got to be really quick. It took some of the life out of filmmaking because it got to be too quick. A lot of writers won't use a word processor because it's so easy. You become overly verbose and you end up writing more than you should. You don't get to the gut of it, the heart of it.
But the worst part, the part that has really wrecked a lot of stuff is the video take-off. Because now you don't have directors sitting beside the camera listening to you and looking at you. You've lost your intimate relationship. That started with Francis Ford Coppola, too, when he made One From the Heart, which wasn't from the heart, because he was sitting out in a bus looking at everybody on a video. And video was not the same, I can tell you. It's not the same as feeling what's happening between the two of us and seeing it up on film. They don't see rushes anymore. They look at it on a videotape or on a DVD.
Have you ever contemplated a career as a director?
No, no, no, no. Never.
But you're interested in all these techniques --
No, no. It's part of my life. I mean, I'm not a mechanic but I know how my car works. I know what effects me, and what effects me is when I see everybody running away. You do a scene, and you know, it's like making love or something. You're going to kiss again, and somebody says, "Wait a second. Let's talk about that kiss." And they go off and say, "Ok, let's look at that kiss again," and they come back and, bleah. You lose it. You have to keep in the rhythm of it. It's making love, it's wonderful. It gets wrecked by this thing, and worse than that, it gives producers -- not that I have anything against producers -- but it gets people who are really not part of the creative process an opportunity to sit back in some tent, isolated from everybody else, and then they get on a radio and say, "Now shoot that again." It's not really any of their business.
So why not take things in your own hands?
Oh, I'm not a director. I wouldn't know how to do it.
You mentioned Don't Look Now. Did you get the feeling you were creating a part of movie history?
Making that love scene? No, not really. It was just a love scene.
I read that somebody added my dick on a photo -- no, really. Well, actually, they didn't add my dick. Worse, they added somebody else's. I didn't like the look of it at all. Neither did my wife. Seriously, it's true. You can go on the Internet, I can't remember where the site is, but I pulled it off and printed it out and said to my wife, "Is that me?" And she said, "No!" Doesn't have my pubic hair, either. They'd added it on and said it was the first scene with frontal nudity. Which is not true, because there was no frontal nudity in that thing. You can't see anything. Because part of my contract, literally from the beginning, has been no frontal nudity. Because it's... it's different for women. A little bit. I don't think it's that much different, but it's different. But for men...
I mean, I remember watching Bobby De Niro and Gérard Depardieu running behind a fence because it was cold and they were having this fight naked, and they were running and pulling out their dicks and trying to make them longer because they'd shrunk up because it was so cold! [laughing] And all they were thinking about was that, because a man's sexual organ... You know, people don't look at that and think, "Oh, that's the character's sexual organ." They say, "Oh, look, there's the character and that's Donald's dick there."
In that sense, it was the first time that I had been nude in front of a bunch of people I didn't know. That's a daunting experience. And it was daunting for Julie, too. It was hard. It was a hard day's shoot. And it was done with unblimped Arriflex cameras. Both Tony Richardson and Nick Roeg were there.
It was all little things, you know? There would be the noise of this camera, RRRrrrrrRRRR, and Nick yelling, "Ok, Donald, kiss Julie's breast!", RRRrrrRRRR, "Ok, Donald, move your head down across Julie's stomach!", RRRrrrrRR, "Ok, Julie, come!", RRRrrrr.... It was like that, all the time. And after about four hours or something, you just left, you know? Couldn't make love for a week. It just destroyed you.
But: When you look at the scene, you say, Nick Roeg was a brilliant filmmaker. Because you don't see people making love. What you see is a little bit of a marriage, then people getting dressed. Then, a little bit of a marriage, then people making love. But you're only there for, like, 15 seconds. And then, people getting dressed. And then, you're back there. So you have this whole montage -- and people have forgotten about montage, this wonderful thing that Nick Roeg used so that people remember that, not as seeing Donald and Julie on the screen. They look at that and they remember themselves, having made love. And it takes you back into a personal experience and it was perfect. That's why the scene is memorable. Because they remember themselves. That's what's really wonderful about good filmmaking. If good filmmaking can take you into yourself, and enrich yourself, and reembody a part of your own past experience and bring it into the present every time that film exists for you, then it's wonderful.
Would you like to have a funeral like the one in the film?
I've decided not to have a funeral.
You'll just go on living?
Exactly. I do not wish to die. I have a wonderful life.
You played a corpse in End of the Game (Der Richter and Sein Henker), based on the novel by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Do you enjoy playing corpses?
No. It was for Maximilian Schell. He said, "Listen, this is the corpse of a very important character, and I'm lost if I just put an extra in there as the corpse. It won't mean anything." And he made such a persuasive argument that I agreed to do it.
But back to not wanting to die.
I have a very happy life and a wonderful family and a very beautiful wife and we grow old nicely and we have a pretty good time. So, I won't plan on a funeral per se because I was thinking, you know, I don't have a lot of friends and a funeral is a time of celebration and I don't think a lot of people would come.
Oh, come on.
No, I don't think so. No, I think maybe it'd be better not to die.