Friday, 23 April 2021

Theo Angelopoulos’s Philosophy of Film – Part Two

This is the second part of an interview by Gerald O’Grady with Theo Angelopoulos in Athens, 1990. Translated by Steve Dandolos and Ste­fanos Papazacharias.

GO: It seems to me that, more than any other director on the world scene, your characters inhabit not only a distinct place, but also a distinct time. There is no question but that your screen vibrates with a physical presence of Greece-the stones, the streets, the walls, the roofs, the skies, the rain, the fog. You have few, if any, peers in conveying this sense of place. But I think your feeling for time, for history, is what makes you different. Your first film, Reconstruction, is a reenact­ment of a real murder, based on newspaper accounts and court records; the histori­cal trilogy speaks for itself; and even Spyros, as he travels from the north to the south of Greece in The Beekeeper, remembers, in almost cinema-verite-like flash­ backs, scenes of his earlier life. You really bind the mind to actuality, to history, even if you acknowledge that it is a reconstruction, and, of course, you continually refer your characters to heroes in earlier Greek history, through allusions to the classics, mentioned above. How do you explain this acute sense of history, this "documentary" thrust in your films?

TA: I wouldn’t call this sense of history "a documentary thrust." I rather think it is a Greek tradition. If we recall the Greek classics, we notice that most of them work with myths referring to much older periods, and in this context history is used as a continuous backdrop, independent of any the­matic concerns. My attachment to our history derives from the fact that I am Greek, from the overall relationship of history with Greek art and specifically with literature, and in this century, with Greek cinema. For many years, in my country, no unconventional approach to history was conceivable; the general consensus was the only acceptable attitude. But after the collapse of the dictatorship in 1974, there was a real explosion in Greece in terms of historical-political films. These films should have been done years ago. I am not referring, of course, to my own films, because I was exploring this terri­tory already during the dictatorship. I mean the Greek cinema in general, which started discussing these things only after they were gone, and by then it was too late. At the same time, one has to concede that the Greek cinema, due to lack of resources, was dependent on comedies or star-studded tearjerk­ ers, thus bringing forward mostly farces and melodramas for domestic con­ sumption. Once in a while, there was a film that contained elements of real tragedy, like Cacoyannis’s Stella, Drakos by Kondouros, based on folklore, or Paranomi, by the same Kondouros, based on history.

If we are to speak about time, we must divide it into historical time and "timing." Usually, a move in time is achieved through flashbacks, through a cut that never attempts to manipulate historical time. In an old American film by Laszlo Benendek the movement from present to past takes place within the same space through a simple change in lighting. In a Swedish film, Miss Julie, time moves through the personal reminiscences of the char­acters; in other words, every time one of them recollects something from the past, we are taken back to it. What I did was something that was achieved for the first time in the history of cinema. My own work is based on what we call collective memory, and more than collective individual memory, on col­lective historical memory, mixing time in the same space, changing time not through_a flashback that corresponds to a person but to a collective memory, and this was accomplished without a cut. The change was made within the same shot in such a way that three or four different historical periods coexist within the space of this shot, a series of frightening leaps into time. For example, in The Travelling Players an actor is talking about Asia Minor while the train is travelling in the year 1940, the beginning of the war. When the train stops, the actor gets off and looking straight into the camera he goes on talking about the war in Asia Minor that happened in 1922. But when he looks into the camera saying all these things, that moment is now, now being each time one sees the film. In this manner three different historical times are being juxtaposed, the present, 1940, and 1922. In another scene, the new cast of the travelling players are seen walking down a street in the year 1952 until they vanish, and in that moment the shot becomes panoramic and we see a Ger­man vintage car entering the same shot in 1942. As the camera refocuses on the spot where the travelling players had vanished, we now see German sol­diers, as the shot is pursued without any interruption. This becomes a con­tinuous, dialectic presentation of different historical moments, but at the same time preventing any factual relationship between them. Therefore, while watching this scene, a second emotion, provided by the cinema lan­guage, is added to the initial one. I mean that in the way I use time, time becomes space and space, in a strange way, becomes time. I don’t know if what I say makes sense, but there exists an accordion of time and space, a continuous accordion that lends a different dimension to the events being shown on the screen.

GO: Let’s try to discuss now what has become one of the defining visual characteristics of your work, the long take, the tracking shot, the 360 circular shot, all strate­gies to allow or "make" the viewer "really" see the shot and its specific duration. How did you hit upon it, what is your purpose, does it have anything to do with space or time, or their interaction? Is this at all related to the fact that some of your films are particularly long, and with your choice of placing contemporary characters in the context of the cultural history of your country?

TA: The characteristics of my own work derive, first of all, from my many years of viewing cinema. For years, I watched every type of film around me and absorbed things I found interesting, and when, later on, I attempted to write and to make films, it all came back to the surface and became style, writing, personal writing. If I have to explain this, I would say that my prefer­ence for the long shot, the sequence shot, stems from my rejection of what is generally referred to as parallel editing, for I consider it fabricated. For historical reasons I accept the work of all those who resorted to this type of montage, like Eisenstein, but this is not my kind of cinema. In a certain manner, for me, each shot is a living thing, with a breath of its own, that consists of inhaling and exhaling. This is a process that cannot accept any interference; it must have a natural opening and fading.

In today’s cinema, the so-called dead time-silence and pauses-has be­ come obsolete. This undefined time that functions between one act and an­ other has disappeared. For me, even silence needs to function in an almost musical way, not to be fabricated through cuts or through dead shots but to exist internally inside the shot. I have used fast and slow internal rhythms in the long shot in order to project a ceremonial element. Megalexandros is structured like a Byzantine liturgy containing this ceremonial element in the form of a theatrical gesture that needs to be completed in a specific timing. The term choreography has been often used in relation to my films. I would not call it that because faces cannot be choreographed. The space is being choreographed by the continuous action that forces this space to open and close like an accordion. The editing is internal and a sequence that might require ten shots in the conventional system of editing is now conveyed in one, which contains all ten because it can literally be cut in as many shots. I did this by not excluding the so-called dead time, the silences.

Contrary to the American model that demands multiple angles for every single scene, I believe that for each shot there is one angle and one angle only. This, for me, is a basic rule of the game. Something we have not dis­ cussed is the way I use the fixed shot. For example, the rape scene in my last film (Landscape in the Mist) is a fixed shot where the sound has more meaning than the image we see. In this fixed shot, the sound functions in a way that gives rhythm to the space, while simultaneously it creates a second level of meaning outside the film. It is like a painting that does not end inside the frame but continues outside of it. Likewise the power of suggestion is exer­cised dynamically in order to free the imagination of the audience, so they can create for themselves a picture inside the picture. The audience exists dynamically and not passively, when they add their imagination to that of the director. Of course you know very well that in Greek tragedy all the im­portant events take place on stage and never behind the stage. For me, the tracking shot creates an accordion of space through the travelling of the cam­ era. The space expands or shrinks depending on the proximity of the lens to the filmed objects; there is a continuous flow that brings incredible flexibility inside the shot, like the flow of running water.

For the filming of The Travelling Players the camera was always on a mov­ing track even if it had to move ten centimeters in order to create a flow. The 360-degree shot is used to emphasize the meaning of the circle that already exists as a concept inside the film. In Megalexandros, it is obvious the circle is part of all forms, and it evolves from the circular stage of the ancient theater where all action was being performed. Look, today when someone begins to make cinema, cinema is his starting point. My generation began differently. My development was influenced by literature. I began by writing poems and short stories and only then did I move to film. Therefore I am influenced by a different space, where the act of writing is the dominant rule of the game. Consequently I sought the same in cinema.

GO: Your New York retrospective opens with The Beekeeper, and I would like to pose two questions about that film, both relating to icons or images. It is the first film in which you have used a major international "star." Marcello Mastroianni offers a very distinct icon, developed over many other works, to any film in which he acts. How did you understand that icon, and how did you used it and, at the same time, refashion it? The other question involves the relationship between the written script and the actual process of shooting. Every aspect of the mise-en-scene- Spyros’s house, the hotels he stays in, his boyhood home, his destination itself, not to men­tion jukeboxes and soda pop stands-take on aspects of a beehive. Is that very complicated iconographic presence already designed at the outset or does it develop as the film is being shot, and how does this process take place?

TA: My intention was to use Mastroianni but to reverse the image he proj­ects. I was looking for an actor who could carry the film on his shoulders. The role excluded any display of virtuosity and demanded a style of acting that is esoteric and silent, and this, I think, is the opposite of the image Mastroianni has been projecting. I was afraid that any other actor and mainly the ones I know here in Greece would have been crushed by the weight of this role. Mastroianni, on the contrary, carried the film not only because he is a good actor but also by using this weight as an image.

Sometimes my films are the exact mirror of the script; other times, the script is in the form of notes and then the filming process is very dependent on improvisation. In some cases, there is a dynamic that allows you to use improvisations, while in others you have the feeling that you have to follow exactly the written script. This depends entirely on the material you have to work with and does not depend at all on the circumstances surrounding the making of the film. The circumstances I have encountered until now vary from the very good to the very bad, but it did not prevent me from doing what I intended to do. For example, Landscape in the Mist is an exact copy of the script while The Travelling Players began from notes. Voyage to Cythera is very far from the original script and The Beekeeper very close to it.

I write the scripts and try them on the various people I have conversations with, like a game of Ping-Pong, where they act either as devil’s advocates or as catalysts. This dialogue with other persons becomes essential to the writ­ing of the script; it is a process of continuous inventions that occur only during the time I converse with them. The image from which I began the Voyage to Cythera was of the two old people on a raft in the middle of the sea. For Landscape in the Mist the first image was that of a city covered in fog and a hand that dissolves it.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Theo Angelopoulos's Philosophy of Film – Part One

‘Theodoros Angelopoulos’s considerable achievements in cinema during the 1970s and 1980s have made him not only the most important Greek filmmaker to date, but one of the truly creative and original artists of his time… If his style shows some influences—particularly Jancsó’s one reel-one take methodology and Antonioni’s slow, meditative mood—Angelopoulos has nevertheless created an authentic epic cinema akin to Brecht’s theatre in which aesthetic emotion is counterbalanced by a reflexive approach that questions the surfaces of reality. The audience is not allowed to identify with a central character, nor to follow a dramatic development, nor given a reassuring morality.’ - Michel Ciment (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 2000)

‘The main body of his work is the impressive triptych of Days of 36 (1972), The Travelling Players (1975) and The Huntsmen (1977). The films are long (often over three hours), slow moving, rather impenetrable but ultimately rewarding allegories of Greek history and politics of this century. Using pauses, slow pans, long sequence shots, he attempts to give the spectator time to assess the films rationally.’ - Ronald Bergan (A-Z of Movie Directors, 1983)

‘Angelopoulos' elegant, epic meditations on the crisis of personal and political identity in the Balkans tell of futile odysseys, both through a frequently grey, rainy, unglamorously industrialised Greece and through time itself: myth, rumour and history hang heavily over his characters as they seek somewhere to call 'home'.’ - Geoff Andrew (The Director’s Vision, 1999)

The following is extracted from an Interview by Gerald O’Grady with Theo Angelopoulos in Athens, 1990. Translated by Steve Dandolos and Ste­fanos Papazacharias.

GO: Your films are well known and have received many awards throughout all the countries in Europe and Japan. But, here in the United States, only a very few have ever been shown and then only sporadically, before your complete retrospective at The Mu­seum of Modem Art in February. And it is only this month that two of your films, one made fifteen years ago and the other your most recent, are finally being put into commercial distribution. Despite the international consensus that you rank with such masters as Antonioni, Mizoguchi, and Tarkovsky, your work is almost com­ pletely unknown to the American audience, including its film critics and its aca­demics. Our first task, it seems to me, is to indicate how different your approach to the cinema is from our American model, though I know that you, on the other hand, are very familiar with all of our popular genres and directors from the 1940s to the present. What I would be most interested in is a descriptive account of your im­pulses and methods in comparison with those of a typical American director. You might, I hope, talk about why, over a six-year period, you made three films, Days of ’36, The Travelling Players, and The Hunters, which explore the twenty years of Greek political history starting with your birth. No American does that kind of thing.

TA : First of all I don’t think anyone could say with absolute certainty that there is a clear distinction between American and European cinema. But in any case, during the first years after the liberation, from ’44 on, the American cinema was the only kind available in Greece, and therefore this was the first cinema my generation could see. I know that older directors such as Anto­nioni, Fellini, or Visconti were influenced more by the French than the American cinema or maybe I should say they began their careers having knowledge of both.

In any case, the impact of the American cinema was felt in Europe for the first time after the war. Its tendencies for detective stories, musicals, social drama, and melodrama and its use of a certain type of narrative to tell these stories were very much favored by mass audiences. As such, it influenced the first postwar generation, namely my own, perhaps the generation after mine and possibly the next one as well. When, by the end of the fifties, the New Wave exploded in France, it represented for people like myself the discovery of another option.

The film that really moved me was Godard’s Breathless, a detective story in disguise, written in a completely different manner. There is a tremendous disparity in writing between John Huston’s classic detective stories and Go­dard’s, but for us, Godard offered the appropriate stimulus by revealing an­ other type of discourse. Of course he was not absolutely original and his option was not the only one. Before him there was the Italian neo-realism and a different approach to writing as it relates to "timing," in the films of Antonioni. In addition, for those of us who managed to follow it, there was also the Japanese cinema. All these kinds of cinema revealed for us a variety of alternatives for writing films and for film making in general. Without real­izing it, I found myself making certain choices, though I must say that my initial intellectual experience derived from literature. Therefore, I was pre­ pared for a completely different discourse, as far as texts are concerned. I read mainly the great European writers, but also the Americans we knew so well in Greece, from Whitman to Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, and DosPassos. It is interesting that historically American writers have been always trying to relate to the Europeans. But this did not happen in cinema. Euro­ pean and American literature are much closer related than the European and American cinema.

Of course, Greek literature and specifically Greek tragedy, which repre­sents my first encounter with theater, had an enormous influence on me. Trying to make my own choices in light of all these experiences, I soon reached the conclusion that the story and its writing process are of equal importance. By the way, many times the process of writing ends up becom­ing the story of the film. Therefore, not only the stories I narrate but also the way in which I narrate them are equally important to me.

Being born shortly before WW2, I could not avoid being marked by his­tory, particularly that of my own country. The dictatorship before the war, then the war and everything that happened after it: the civil war and then another dictatorship. It would have been impossible for me to escape from my own life and experience. In my attempt to understand I make films based on history or reflections on history. It is only natural for me to delve into my own past in order to define my own story within the history of a place. Dur­ing the ’67-’ 74 dictatorship in Greece I suddenly underwent this shock. Ev­erything I had experienced as a young boy with my father, his being jailed and later sentenced to death, and a lot of other things, all these events came back to me and became the material to review my personal history in the context of my country’s history.

GO: Our audience is quite familiar with the work, for example, of Ingmar Bergman, who, like yourself, writes all of his own scripts. But while you use, just like him, a regular cameraman, in your case Giorgos Arvanitis, for all your films, and you also have the tendency to work with the same ensemble of actors and actresses, I sense there is a major difference between the two of you. He seems to write his scripts with his performers in mind, but you don’t. Also, while his fictions express his own personal psychic stresses, even neuroses (and I don’t mean that in a critical way), your work centers more on the contemporary political history of your own country and is also mediated through your own cultural history, Homer, Aeschylus, Euripi­des and Sophocles, and Alexander the Great. I think it might be useful if you would define your modus operandi in relation to Bergman’s, so that we can use the known to prepare us for the unknown.

TA: I don’t find any similarities between my work and Bergman’s. My cin­ema is not psychological, it is epic; the individual in it is not psychoanalyzed but placed within a historical context. My characters assume all the elements of epic cinema or, if I may say so, those of epic poetry, typically featuring clear-cut persona. In Homer, Odysseus is a shrewd conniver, Achilles is brave, loyal to his friends-and these characteristics never change. The same with Brecht whose characters are larger than life; they serve as carriers of history or ideas. My characters are not being analyzed, they are not tormented, like Bergman’s. They are more humane. They search for lost things, all that was lost in the rupture between desire and reality. Until not very long ago the history of the world was based on desire; the desire to change the world one way or another. Now at the end of the century we realize that whatever was desired never really happened, and it did not happen for reasons that I am unable to explain. Perhaps it was impossible to change things using the spe­cific methods that were employed at the time, but in any case, we are left with the experience of our failure, with the ashes of the disappointment of dreams that never materialized. My last three films reflect this taste of ashes, leaving the desire to be pursued in some future time, in the next discourse. My writing and Bergman’s do not relate. In his films there is a strong meta­ physical element which identifies the search for the father figure with the search for God or the denial of God. I think that in my own work, the father figure does not represent a goal in itself; the purpose of my films is to find a reason to exist. My films are not as metaphysical. They are, in a strange way, more existential than Bergman’s. This is certainly the case for the trilogy Voyage to Cythera, The Beekeeper, and Landscape in the Mist.

GO: In between your historical trilogy, Days of ’36, Travelling Players, and The Hunters, and the second one, there is Megalexandros. While still partially based on actual history, an event which took place in 1870 when a group of English tour­ists was kidnapped by Greek bandits from Marathon, it is largely concerned with elements of the fantastic, even the surrealistic. It retells a popular legend that de­ rives from the fifteenth century, about a country waiting for a liberator, a sort of messiah, but once he emerges, he turns into a tyrant. At the same time, the film seems to be an allegorical meditation on modern dictators. Is this really the pursuit of history by other means, and is this tension between realism and surrealism more central to your work than it first appears to be?

TA: Megalexandros is a philosophical-political reflection on power, on the problems of authority, and as such it represents the bitter end result of my previous three films. Whatever could be identified as human hope in my earlier work tends to shrink in this one, dissolved as if from within, and this is tragic. Megalexandros addressed the concentration of power long before the changes in Eastern Europe took place, and in this respect it was a prophetic film on the failure of the socialist experiment in this part of the world. I could not have spelled it out in any other way at the time. I had to use the form of a myth. I did not want to make use of authentic facts because it would have imposed a departure from a poetic language, and I believe that a film must be, before anything else, a poetic event, otherwise it does not exist. This is true for the work of directors I admire, like Oshima and the Tavianis, who are using similar methods, going back into the past in order to speak about the present.

Friday, 16 April 2021

Clint Eastwood: On Realism in Movies

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Directed by Clint Eastwood)

Clint Eastwood frequently refers to an aspiration for “realism” in his films. He was attracted to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil [1997] because it was about “real people, people whose differences make them interesting.” Savannah, where the film is situated, is depicted “realistically, as if a character in the story.” The actors and the camera perform in tandem to capture “immediacy and spon- taneity,” discovering rather than imposing a view on the film.
Norman Mailer once said of Eastwood, “You can see the man in his work just as clearly as you can see Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.” What Hemingway sought to achieve with language, Eastwood similarly endeavors with unobtrusive camerawork—that is, to address the world as it is, clearly, with the least mediation...

As the shot unfolds, Eastwood determines if it is satisfactory or not—that is, what is revealed by and through the shot itself, not according to an inflexible predesign. “I think a film is seeing it,” Eastwood says, “when you see it there live, when it’s happening right there in front of you.” Video assist, used by other major directors in Hollywood to view the shot afterward on a monitor, is not used by Eastwood. He is fully at home with and trusts his senses. Ultimately, Eastwood is a naturalist in the truest sense of the term, faithful to the moment and the environment but idealizing neither.

Unlike Hemingway, Eastwood obviously has the advantage of encountering the quotidian, or physical world as he records it—this is the special prerogative of the camera. As such, one might imagine the envy of an artist like Hemingway or Eastwood the filmmaker when the former identifies the three most difficult impediments to writing: “knowing what you truly felt rather than what you were supposed to feel”; putting “down what really happened in action”; and then find- ing “the real thing, the sequence of motion and fact which made the emotion.” The idea is to reach beyond precedent to one’s inner reserve of instinct and feel- ing to address the new experience with authenticity—for instincts and feelings, like Nature itself, do not lie: they are the truest part of a person. Again, Eastwood’s way with the camera may very well comprise the logical extension of Hemingway’s own ambitions with prose.

Eastwood’s characters, often peripatetic riders or drivers, men without homes and rarely with families, escape the usual restrictions of routine, conventional education, dogma, mundane responsibility, and society itself so that, keeping their own counsel, the true impulses of the self beneath anything artificial may emerge...

The independence of Eastwood’s characters as well as the man himself draws from within but corresponds with the seclusion and purity of life outside, beyond ordinary borders, both physical and psychological. Eastwood is quintessentially American, a pioneering spirit that goes ever forward into “unchartered territory.” As Mailer writes, “There is perhaps no one more American than Eastwood.”

– Ric Gentry.

RG: How did you become involved with the Midnight project?

CE: Well, about a year and a half ago the writer—this was before Absolute Power [1997], as a matter of fact—John Hancock was here on the lot (at Warner Brothers) working on the screen adaptation of the book [by John Behrendt]. He’d written the screenplay for A Perfect World, which I made a few years back [1993]. And John came to me one day and asked if I would have a look at the Midnight adaptation and tell him what I thought. I hadn’t read the book, though I knew it was a bestseller. John said he thought it was an interesting story and that he had the feeling they were going to take him off the project for some reason and put another writer on. He was developing it for the studio and wanted to get it going as a project, not for any particular producer.

So I said, “Sure, I’ll have a look at that.” I read the screenplay and I really liked it. I called John and said, “I think you did some very good work here.” So I called the studio; I think I spoke to [president] Terry Semel, and I said, “This is a very good screenplay. Are you unsatisfied with it in some way?—because I think I’d be very interesting in directing it.” He said, “Well, that’s great. We’d probably be interested in that. Let’s see what we can do.” I said, “OK, let me know. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and read the book itself.”

So I did, and I liked the book, too, but I appreciated the screenplay even more because I saw how difficult it was to translate all that material from the prose. There were a few things omitted from the book that I thought might go back in as well as a few other changes but once we all agreed that I would direct it we did a rewrite and then got ready to shoot.

RG: What were some of the changes you recommended?

CE: The protagonist was originally an attorney and I thought it should be changed back to the writer. I thought that was a bit more faithful to the book. Since part of the story would involve the courtroom, an attorney’s background and allegiances might muddle the point of view.

And then I wanted a few more of the characters back and a bit more detail in general about several of them. It seemed to me that the idiosyncrasies of the characters were important to the book’s appeal and that those who had read Midnight would feel more satisfied if they encountered some of those characters on screen. Obviously, when you’re working with material that’s so popular, you don’t want to tamper too much with what made it that way. At the same time, 90 percent of the movie audience isn’t going to be familiar with the material at all, so it has to be something that will attract them, too. Though presumably, if it was compelling to the readers of the book, why wouldn’t it be to movie viewers as well?

RG: And what was it that most attracted you to Midnight? Was it the characters?

CE: It really was. There are so many action-adventure films these days, and I’ve done my share of them, it’s just rewarding to do a story about people—people who are unique, who aren’t like you or me, whether it’s a woman who practices witchcraft, or a guy moving from place to place who wants to open a saloon or another guy who takes his pet flies into town on miniature leashes [laughs] or an antique dealer, eccentrics some of them obviously, but people in a very interesting and unique region of the country as subjects in themselves for a movie. The fact that they were all real people, people whose differences make them interesting, people from recent Savannah history attracted me. Most of them are still around. Some of the characters are composites but in the composites they still seem real...

RG: There tends to be idiosyncratic, even eccentric characters in many of your films. Bronco Billy [1980], High Plains Drifter [1973], The Outlaw Josey Wales [1976], Escape from Alcatraz [1979], Bird [1988], Unforgiven [1992] come readily to mind.

CE: I like individuals. I’m drawn to that, I guess. And I encourage actors to bring themselves into the performance, go for the take and try to be instinctive with their characters. I often like to be surprised by what’ll occur before the camera.

RG: John Cusack mentioned that there was a lot of improvisation on this film.

CE: There was. Quite a lot. There was a lot between his character of the writer and Chablis, for example, who were really great at just amiably provoking one another and really getting the most out of a scene. But there always is improvisation to some extent. I really like the actors to find their characters as we go along, not so much the dramatic direction but the soul of the character and in that respect what they’ll reveal in a given moment or situation, something ideally only that character or personality would do or express. Not think it out too much, but make discoveries as they happen right there in the scene, often as we’re doing it.

RG: You mentioned that you like to be surprised and John said that at one point he started to tell you what he was going to say to Chablis in a scene, something that wasn’t scripted, but you promptly told him not to tell you what it was he wanted to say but just to do it once the camera was rolling.

CE: I think a film is seeing it, when you see it there live, when it happens right there in front of you. Say John walks in and then Chablis walks in and the scene just goes, right at the instance of the first take. You know, a lot of times it’s a shock. You think, “Jesus, that worked terrifically.” At other times it doesn’t and you have to work until it does happen. You might have a little scene you think you’re going to get done in no time, with very little effort and before you know it you’ve spent a good part of the afternoon on it. But I like to keep everything moving and keep the actors from tiring and I think the best takes are usually the first ones, before the actors fall into a pattern. You see and feel the energy and immediacy of the first takes.

After Meryl Streep had a look at The Bridges of Madison County [1995], she said, “You know what I really like? You used all my mistakes, too.” And I said, “Yeah, but they were genuine mistakes.” In other words, they were human mistakes, not an actor’s mistakes. They’re more like how people really behave.

RG: As a director you don’t like to overplan. For instance, in terms of your camerawork, you don’t decide what the angles and composition are until you come to the set and to accommodate that, Jack [Green, the cinematographer] will light the set virtually 360 degrees so the camera can go in any direction. There’s never any fixed shot list or storyboards.

CE: No, because it’s a similar thing from that side of the camera, where you size up the moment as you encounter it. I come to the set knowing what we need to do and with very clear ideas of what I think will work, but I don’t like to walk in and impose on the setting with a lot of preconceptions. I like to see what we’ve got on that day, what the lighting is like, what’s in the environment, what’s interesting or can be made to become interesting and then to see where the actors are going to go. You size it up and work it out and figure where all the coverage is and I’ll confer with Jack [Green] and then shoot.

A lot of times I’ll have thought something out when we scouted the location, which may have been a month before, maybe just the night before. Sometimes all you’ve seen of the location are photographs the art director has brought in, a house maybe for a minor sequence. But nothing is ever the same the day you go out to shoot and so I like to be open to what I find. The light is never the same. You’ve got actors in the environment now, and they are going to be influenced or stimulated by the environment and they’re going to be doing the scene as a character or as characters they’ve been developing for the first time in that situation. I like to respond to all that, work with it and bring it into the film.

RG: Is there a certain heightened awareness that occurs while you’re shooting?

CE: Yeah, I think so. I think you become hyperaware as you work, as a director especially. I think you do see in a heightened way, with the adrenalin going, coming to terms with what’s in front of you and around you, kind of coming together with it all while you’re out there. I think that’s one of the virtues of working with film, really, that immediacy and that interaction.

– Clint Eastwood. Interviewed by Ric Gentry. In Gerald Duchovnay (ed): Film Voices