Monday, 23 April 2018

William Goldman: “Nobody Knows Anything” – Part Three

The Stepford Wives (Directed by Bryan Forbes)
This is the third part of an in-depth interview with William Goldman (screenwriter of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hot Rock, The Stepford Wives, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride among others), offering a glimpse into the writing process of one of Hollywood’s most experienced writers.

You’ve had an amazing run in Hollywood all these years. To what do you attribute your longevity and survival?

I’m always amazed…I’m amazed that I’m still employed, and thrilled, because they’re very ageist. I think one of the reasons that I’ve survived is that I’ve lived in New York. No one gives a shit in New York; in LA, it’s such an obsessive place in terms of who’s in and who’s out and who’s hot and who’s cold. I think it helped me that I was a novelist for so long because I had something else to do, and it helps that I’ve written non-fiction about the entertainment business. Listen, it’s been a terrific run, and it surprises me, and I’m thrilled! And if I knew what I was doing…

With all the experience under your belt, are certain things in the writing process easier now or harder now?

It’s the same. I write on a computer now instead of on a portable typewriter, so I’m faster. Certainly no better. It’s tricky. You’re trying to figure out the fucking story! And that’s all it is in a movie. It’s not like writing a book. It’s not like a play. You’re writing for camera and audiences. One of the things which I tell young people is, when you’re starting up, go to see a movie all day long. See whatever is a big movie that’s opening on Friday in your town. Go see the noon show and the 4:00 show and the 8:00 show. Because by the time the 8:00 show comes, you’ll hate the movie so much you won’t pay much attention to it. But you’ll pay attention to the audience. The great thing about audiences is, I believe they react exactly the same around the world at the same places in movies. They laugh, and they scream, and they’re bored. And when they’re bored it’s writer’s fault. I had a great disaster I wrote about [in Which Lie], The Year of the Comet, which was a romantic adventure comedy thriller about a chase after a legendary bottle of wine.

The Hot Rock (Directed by Peter Yates)
I saw it in the theater, because of your name.

You’re one of them! My kids haven’t seen it! [Laughs] It’s not that bad! The fact is, the first sneak, I’m sitting in the theater. I always sit, if I can, in the rear left by the wall so I can hide there. And I’m sitting there and your nightmare is that people are going to leave. You might lose five, six people. We had 500 people in a free preview. And I’m sitting there and fifty people left! Just in the first scene! I can still see them leaving the theater! They just hated it! And I just thought, “My God! They’re leaving a free movie!”

The line that will be on my tombstone is “Nobody knows anything.”
That caught on out there [in Los Angeles]. And it’s true. It’s not just that people don’t know what’s going to work commercially. The fact is, you don’t know what’s going to work in a movie. You don’t know. We don’t know…You have no idea if people will enjoy it, and you have no idea if people will go to it. And that’s one of the great crapshoots of the movie business.

The opening scene was a wine tasting. It was in London and everybody was very like they are at wine tastings, they sound very phony. So we quickly wrote a new scene in which the hero did not want to go to the wine tasting because all the people were so phony. We thought we were being clever. Well, they hated that, too! They didn’t want to see a movie about a bottle of red wine. There was no interest in that particular subject, and we were dead in the water. But you don’t know that.

Marathon Man (Directed by John Schlesinger)
As you’ve said, there aren’t any rules in Hollywood.

There aren’t. It’s bewildering. I look at movies and I think what works and what doesn’t work, and
it’s got nothing to do with quality. But there is something that they can’t figure out how to manufacture: word of mouth. That’s the great problem the studios have. If they could figure out how to manufacture that, they could all be relaxed about the world. But you can’t figure out why people say, “I want to see that,” and, “No, I don’t want to see that.” They try, but they can’t do it. I wrote a movie based on a fabulous piece of material, called The Ghost and the Darkness. It was a disappointment. After the first sneak preview, the studio asked, “Who’s your favorite character?” The Michael Douglas part was the fourth most popular. And when there are three people who the audience liked more than your star, it’s not going to work. You can’t make someone likable. When I was thirty, I got to work doctoring a show on Broadway for George Abbott, who was the most successful director in the history of American theatre. He said, “You can’t tell anything until you get hot bodies out there.” And I said, “What are hot bodies, Mr. Abbott?” He said, “People who don’t know your mother. People who want to come to the theatre and enjoy themselves or not and if they don’t, they’ll leave.” And that’s still true. They spend all this money hyping all these movies that open on Friday and they’ve gotten very skilful, but you still don’t know what’s going to work.

Do screenwriters get more or less respect today? Or did they ever get respect?

Oh, I don’t know. I think every time anybody makes a killing as a screenwriter, anybody who makes a huge sale, that’s a huge plus for everybody. Because when they watch the Today Show or they watch Letterman, what the audience sees is the stars being adorable and saying, “Yeah, well I wrote that part.” And I want to say, “Fuck you, asshole! Show me your script!” I’ll give you my theory. One of the reasons that screenwriters are never going to get what they should is because people who write about the entertainment business want to be in the movie business. They believe that screenwriters don’t do anything, so they can do it too. The director is in charge of all visuals and the stars write all the classy dialogue. So what does a screenwriter do? His position is very small in the public’s mind. And I don’t think that’s going to change.

The Princess Bride (Directed by Rob Reiner)
You touched a little on this earlier: have you ever felt ageism in the industry?

I was a leper, but I was younger. I had the five years I wrote about [in Which Lie], 1980–85, when the phone didn’t ring. And that will happen again. It happens to everybody. But I had a lot of energy then, and I wrote all those books. I couldn’t do that now. I think it happens. Absolutely. It’s certainly true for stars. If directors are forty and have had a lot of hits and have a flop they’ll say, “Great.” If somebody’s sixty, “Maybe he’s lost touch.” Studio executives have every right to hire who they want to, to try to have a successful movie so they can keep their jobs. That’s what all of this is about. I have never been hit yet by ageism because I’m still working. But you hear a lot of stories. Executives get younger and younger and we get older.

In ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’, you said that comic book movies were starting to take over. Now we’re thirty years later.

Yes, and they are. And sometimes, like The Matrix, they’re wonderful. And sometimes they are not. I wish there were answers. Billie Jean King, the great tennis player, said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.” That’s true of making movies.

In your section on ‘The Ghost and the Darkness’ in ‘Which Lie Did I Tell’, you had a quote from a lion tamer who displayed a terrible scar and said, “I made a mistake once.” What dealings with Hollywood have you had where you say, “I made a mistake once”?

I’ve turned down a lot of hits: The Godfather, Superman, The Graduate. But I should have because I wasn’t the person to write them. It’s thirty-five years now and I’m still here. I have very little to bitch about. Period.

Lastly, what’s your favorite lie?

When people ask me to read scripts, I always say, “Do you want me to tell you you’re wonderful? Do you want me to be honest?” And everybody always says, “Oh, I want you to be honest!” When I discuss the script with them, I’ll take a scene and say, “This scene here, I have a couple of questions.” And they’ll say, “Oh my God! That’s my favorite scene in the movie!” And then you know they don’t want to know what you think. The best thing to do is tell them how wonderful they are and get on to the next. I’ve always liked to know how horrible I am. Because I need all the help I can get.

Part One of this Interview (Here)
Part Two of this Interview (Here)

This article first appeared in Creative Screnwriting Volume 8, #5

Monday, 19 March 2018

William Goldman: “Nobody Knows Anything” – Part Two

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Directed by George Roy Hill)

This is the second part of an in-depth interview with William Goldman (writer of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride, among others), offering a glimpse into the writing process of one of Hollywood’s most experienced screenwriters.

Lack of confidence seems to be an ongoing issue for many writers. Have you met many writers who were confident?

It’s an odd life. It’s not a good life. It’s been wonderful for me, but I don’t recommend it as a way of getting through the world. It’s weird! You intentionally closet yourself from everybody else, go into a room and deal with something no one gives a shit about until it’s done. It’s a strange world.

What are the tricks you’ve learned that help you survive “the pit”?

You’ve gotta get in there and do it. There are so many things on the planet that are more fun than writing. I know a very gifted young writer who said to me, “My problem is never writing, my problem is sitting. Getting to my computer is like a mine field: I’m remembering chores I have to do, and all of a sudden the day is gone.” I think that happens to a lot of us.

One of the things that young writers falsely hope exists is inspiration. A lot of young writers fail because they aren’t putting in the hours. I had a great, great editor, Hiram Haydn, who had many children and was a novelist. Toward the last years of his career, the only time he could write was Sunday morning. He would write four hours every Sunday morning. And he would get books done. It would take him years, but I think it’s crucial that we have some kind of rhythm. Whether you can write all day every day, or whether you can write four hours on Sundays, whatever it is, you have to protect that time.

The whole idea of a rhythm is crucial, almost the most crucial thing for a young writer. Also, treat it like a real job and be at your desk. I don’t necessarily stay there but I think it’s very important to have [a place to work].

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Directed by George Roy Hill)

What is your rhythm now?

I’ve been doing it for so long… my rhythm now is, I have coffee and I read the papers. And then I go on my computer and the first thing is that I see what Calvin and Hobbes is that day; that’s crucial. And then, if I’m writing, I’ll be there all day. I will be there every day, pretty much all day, until I finish the draft—whenever that is. Then I’ll take some time off. I’m not writing novels anymore. I used to alternate novels and movies, but I haven’t written a novel in a disgracefully long period of time.

Why haven’t you been writing novels?

It’s funny. I don’t know why. I wish it weren’t the case. I wrote novels for thirty years. When I was a kid, when I was in my teens, until I was twenty-four, I used to write a lot of short stories. And they were all rejected. It was so horrible. I remember the fuckin’ New Yorker, once, I think rejected a story the day I sent it out. It was the most amazing thing. I go in my mailbox and there was the rejection slip, and I thought, “I just sent it to you this morning!” They were always the same printed form. Never a note. You’d pray that some editor would say, “Well, let us see the next thing you write.” Nothing. Then I wrote “Temple of Gold” and I don’t think I ever wrote a short story again. I stopped getting ideas for short stories. The last novel I wrote was a not-veryterrific book called Brothers [the sequel to Marathon Man]. I haven’t had an idea for a novel that excited me for fifteen years. I think if I got one, I’d write it. But I wrote a lot of novels. I just ran out of juice.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Directed by George Roy Hill)

None of the news clippings that you included in ‘Which Lie Did I Tell’ spoke to you as a short story or a novel? Not the seventy-eight-year-old bank robber or “the dolphin” [a ten-year-old autistic boy lost in an alligator-infested swamp who swam fourteen miles to civilization]?

Oh, I think if I were younger. Those are marvelous pieces. My God. If I was younger and had all that energy, I don’t know that I’d write another original screenplay. The dolphin is just breathtaking. I just love that piece. Don’t I end the book with the dead guy they found in the subway? [The clipping tells of a corpse that rode the subway for three days before someone noticed he was dead.] Well, come on! That’s a great start or middle or end of something! When you’re young and you have all this energy and you want to write and write and write, you can do that. But I’m older and dumber, and I don’t know if I have the energy to follow that through. My God! How old was the guy? It wouldn’t have worked for a movie, because they wouldn’t have made it. They would have made him young. But I just thought what a great thing. How old was he, seventy? This is an amazing story!

I read a terrible thing in the paper. There’s this crazy lady, Andrea Yates, who killed her five children. Terrible, terrible, terrible. I mean, Jesus, she’s fuckin’ nuts! Don’t tell me that she had any kind of depression from having too many children. She’s not what interests me. What interests me is, there was another woman down south who killed three of her children because [they think] she had been influenced by the woman in Texas. If you are a poor, miserable, half-crazed woman down south, and you read about this Yates woman and her husband saying, “Oh, I love her,” you think, “My God! How wonderful it must be to be famous!” I don’t know that we should do that. I think there’s a book in that.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Directed by George Roy Hill)

In ‘Which Lie Did I Tell’, you touch on the story structuralists like Robert McKee. Do any of the classes or books mean anything to you? Do you use any paradigms or strategies when you write?

I think McKee is good. I went to his class. Anything that makes you do it, is worthwhile. And if going to a course makes you do it, I think that’s terrific. The problem is that girl who said that thing at Oberlin, “Do you always begin your second theme by page seventeen?” I’ll never forget that. Ever. Because I knew she’d been reading some structuralist who had told her that. It’s just wrong!

It sounds like you don’t use any particular formula or paradigm, you just get in there and write.

Yes. That’s the deal. Thank you very much for saying that. What I try and do is, find the story and then write it. My problem is, it takes a while to find the story. George Hill said a great thing to me: “If you can’t tell your story in an hour fifty, you’d better be David Lean.” Movies are wildly long now. Movies are boring; you want to think, “Cut that! Cut that!” It’s a complicated thing. You’re trying to do something that’s going to please an audience all over the world, and you don’t know what it is.

In both ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’ and ‘Which Lie Did I Tell’, you open yourself up to criticism from film professionals when you say, “Take a look at this short story adaptation or original screenplay [‘The Big A’] and give me your notes.”

Oh, that was the most heavenly experience. When I had The Big A, I read all their answers at the same time, and I was praying that they’d be negative. [Goldman sent the partially completed script to the Farrelly brothers, Scott Frank, Tony Gilroy, Callie Khouri, and John Patrick Shanley for a critique. There were few kind words.] If they were positive then it’s all Hollywood horseshit, and it doesn’t do anybody any good as a teaching exercise. And they were so horrible. I still speak to all of them. But, my God! You just read them and think, “My God, they’re so full of shit! Why are they wrong about this?” But you’ve gotta listen, because when you’re doing a movie, there’s no way of knowing.

Part One of this Interview (Here)
Part Three of this Interview (Here)

This article first appeared in Creative Screnwriting Volume 8, #5

Monday, 19 February 2018

William Goldman: “Nobody Knows Anything” – Part One

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Directed by George Roy Hill)
From Marathon Man and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, to the much-loved The Princess Bride, Academy Award-winning screenwriter and novelist William Goldman has lit up the big screen for over half a century, winning him a special place in the hearts of many. He has also written several works of non fiction, including two books about his experiences in Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade and Which Lie Did I Tell?

This is the first part of an interview with William Goldman, excerpted from Creative Screenwriting, that offers a glimpse into the writing process of one of Hollywood’s most experienced writers.

What’s your adaptation process? When you look at ‘Low Men in Yellow Coats’, for instance, how do you break it down?

The first thing is, I read it the first time and decide, “Do I really care about this project?” Because one of my great breaks is I have only done work I wanted to do. I’ve been very lucky and it’s true. The other thing is, “Can I make it play? Can I figure out how to do it?” Once I do, once I say yes, and the agents fire their guns across the waters with the studios, then what I do is, I’m not going to start writing for months. What I do is I reread the source material with a different colored pen for each pass. For instance, in Hearts in Atlantis, I made a mark by, let’s say, the Ferris wheel scene, in red. And I read the book and then I’ll put it away and then about two weeks later I’ll read it again.

If you had the Hearts in Atlantis that I had, you would see there are these incredibly stupid marks in color and circles in the text. They look bizarre ’cause the last reading, when there are all these colored marks, I begin to circle pages that I know I’m going to use. I knew I had to go back to the Ferris wheel sequence: ‘It was the kiss by which all the others of his life would be judged and found wanting.’ That’s marvellous! The great scene when Ted resets her arm, that business, pain, writhes, bite the belt, that marvelous scene. Every time I came to that, I knew that was going to be in the movie, so I would mark that.

Hearts in Atlantis (Directed by Scott Hicks)
So about two or three months later, I’ve read the book five or six times— this is why you better love what you’re doing. I’ll then go through it and I’ll look at what I’ve marked a lot, because I know pages with no marks are not going to be in the movie. I’ll try and figure out, “Have I got a spine? Have I got a story? Is there a way of telling it, using these scenes?” If I do, then I write a shorthand thing that I tape to the wall. In Hearts it might have been “baseball glove.” That would have meant the first sequence when he’s doing the picture taking and the baseball glove comes and he goes home. But I would just write “baseball glove.” Then there was a long sequence, which has been cut, during the credits of driving from wherever he lives to Connecticut and I would have written “drive.” And then I would have had “funeral.” For the entire scene at the Ferris wheel—the Ferris wheel, the cotton candy, all that stuff—I would just have “fair.” I can’t do that until I have the story in my head. But when I’m done, what I have on my wall is twenty-five or thirty snippets of one or two words.
What I’m trying to do is have twenty-five or thirty sequences—it could be one sentence or it could be ten pages—that hook onto the next so that at the end I have what I think is a story. And then I’ll write that. I tend to write quickly. I think one should. When I start, I won’t quit the first day until I’ve written three pages. And that seems like a lot if it’s a book, but with all the white space we have on screenplays, like “Cut To,” and double spacing and all that, it’s not that much. I won’t quit until I’ve written three pages. And I’ll go that way and then gradually it begins to up. It’ll go to four, and then to five. This is only about building up confidence. And then once you get halfway through, you think, “Holy shit, I could make it to the end!” And then you have more energy and you write it more quickly and then you’re done.

If I say, “Yes, I’ll make a movie out of this phone call,” you would get the first draft in six months (I’m compulsive about deadlines) but I wouldn’t start to write for four. I’ll write it in three weeks or four, and then I’ll fiddle with it and give it to you. But the whole thing is building up confidence that it’s not going to stink this time. If you decide you want to write, you magically have people in your head that drove you toward that life decision, to whatever you read when you were a kid, or whoever you saw when you were a kid. And you know you’re not that good. You realize you’re not going to be Chekhov, you’re not going to be Cervantes, you’re not going to be Irwin Shaw, who is the crucial figure for me. And so you go into your pit alone, hoping, trying to fake yourself out that this time you will be wonderful. And that’s hard and that’s why the building up of confidence is so crucial for me.

Hearts in Atlantis (Directed by Scott Hicks)
In ‘Hearts in Atlantis’ you changed the scene where Carol gets beaten. In the second draft she gets hit several times on screen, but in the third draft she gets hit once. Why?

That was intentional. In the book, all three bullies beat her up. They club her with a baseball bat. First thing you have to be careful of, this is in a movie now. You’ve got to be clear [to the movie audience] that they don’t molest her sexually. The second thing is, how much do you want to see? There’s a marvelous shot that Hicks has: her book falls in the stream, there’s a sound of birds flying away, and you hear the bat hitting something. Then Bobby comes in and she’s dazed and she says, “He hit me.” If you go more than that, it gets tricky. I’m sure I wrote it tougher.

There’s a wonderful legal phrase in the music business called the “money part.” If you’ve written a song and I sue you, the money part of the song will be the part that’s famous. [Sings] “Some enchanted evening…” Pardon me for singing, but you know what I mean? That’s the money part. I’ll use that very often. When you read Hearts in Atlantis, clearly the beating was one of the money parts. That’s something you know is so important that it’s going to be a major part of the movie. But it’s one thing when you read it in King. It’s something else when you write it for the screen. How much do you want to see a girl get beaten?

When you are adapting a story, do you look at the characters as people or as functions of a theme? When you write Carol, do you write her as person or a representation of hope?

As I’ve gotten increasingly longer in the tooth, it’s more and more and more the story. When the mother comes back [and has the confrontation] with Ted, that’s a plot point in the story of Ted’s betrayal, and that’s what it should be. But I know what you’re saying about character. It all mixes up. All I’m thinking about is how can I make this story interesting for me. How can I make this story work for me—if I think it’s a decent story, people around the world will. You don’t know if it’s going to be true. You don’t know if the studio’s going to make the movie. But that’s what I go on.
I believe when people leave me—when people walk out of a movie I’ve been involved with—it’s my fault. I believe we [screenwriters] have fucked up somehow on the storytelling. We’re telling you stuff you already know, stuff you don’t want to know, the wrong person’s talking.
The same scene, if it was on page ten or 110, would be totally different. Because once you’re running for curtain—as you are when you’re fifteen, twenty pages from the end—once you’re running for curtain, you want to speed up as much as you can because there’s a whole excitement that’s building, and you don’t want to have people in those last twenty minutes who are not of great interest to the audience. It’s an odd skill, an odd writing thing. I don’t know quite what it is yet after all this time.

Hearts in Atlantis (Directed by Scott Hicks)
What is the secret to writing great child characters?

First of all, there are no secrets to anything.

Okay… What is your approach to writing characters like those in ‘Hearts in Atlantis’?

Go with King. It’s one of the great things about King. Bobby and Carol are pretty much King. I don’t think I did much with them. Some of the dialogue is me but most of it is King, as much as I could make. Were there any big changes? No. A lot of it is just taking out bits and pieces and making it play. But I think that’s all King.

I believe when you decide to do a movie about something, there’s something in it that moves you. Whatever that is, you’d better protect that. Bobby and Carol, unrequited love, whatever you want to call it, I found just heartbreaking. I thought they were so great together and finally they got together again, at least in the book. So I wanted to protect that. The other thing is Bobby and Carol and Bobby and Ted. So you want to protect that. You want to stay with as much as you can that moves you. In the novel you get into all kinds of stuff as to who the low men are. I was talking to King on the phone and he had read, that to fight communism, Hoover began hiring people who were telepathic or had certain mental skills, which is fairly insane. I didn’t want to go there. That’s swell for the book, and that’s swell for King, but [I thought] that’s not what this movie is going to be.

Part Two of this Interview: (Here)
Part Three of this Interview: (Here)

This article first appeared in Creative Screnwriting Volume 8, #5


Friday, 26 January 2018

Pedro Almodóvar: How To Make a Film

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
It’s very difficult to explain the origins of everything in a film because it’s very mysterious and many things happen by chance. You have to be writing all the time and in my case I make notes all the time. l am always working on four or five ideas and there comes a time when I decide to just write one.
You never ever really feel that you are going to be able to pull off the project that you are working on. You never have complete confidence. But of course there comes a time when you feel that you have learnt the trade and the craft of making films, so I feel now that I know the language and how to use it to get a particular emotion. But even if you know all the elements of the technique, you need something else. You need vision, a lot of honesty, strong imagination, and control of that imagination. Language is something quite easy to learn, but the most important thing in a film is your point of view, your vision, and how you look at the world around you.

You never feel absolutely sure about the final outcome because all the different components that make up the film are alive as you make it. One of those elements, of course, is the people. In a film you’ve got forty, fifty or sixty people working with you and the most difficult thing is controlling them, not because they are trying to rebel against you or not obeying you, but because the material you are using to make the film is alive and they are interacting with it as well. So sometimes the end result is not the one you are looking for. The stamp or style you put on your films is extremely personal and there really aren’t that many rules governing it, because what might work for Orson Welles or for David Lynch doesn’t necessarily work for me at all. So you have to seek out your own preferences, the way you would like to use language, and it’s something you just get over time, little by little. I still haven’t discovered it fully yet. I am still working on it.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
I remember that all through the 1980s, I was developing my own filmmaking style with a very specific aesthetic stamp on it. So in the late eighties, from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, everything the people in the decor department brought me was over the top. It was almost too Almodovar-y which is exactly what I didn’t want. It was almost as if the Almodovar style had become a cliche.

I battle against cliche. If you give a dramatic role to an actor who is suffering in their personal life, it is very easy for that actor or actress to cry. But I don’t want those real tears. For me the movie is always a representation of reality in every sense, from the actors to the lighting. I want their tears to be artificial as well.

When you’re a director you have to have your own language, you have to be in possession of that language and the vision of the story you want to tell through the film you are making. On top of that you also have to have bags of common sense and be very strong because you are a boss in the best and worst sense, and you have to demonstrate this all the time. You have to make 100 decisions every moment.

When you’re shooting a film—and this is something Francois Truffaut said—it’s like a runaway train. The brakes have failed and the director’s job is to ensure that that train doesn’t go of the rails at all. Some directors, even though they’re extremely talented as filmmakers, just don’t have the resilience to be able to cope with that process. And I really think that there are too many directors around who have that authority to be able to cope with the filmmaking and too few really talented ones who haven’t been able to last. Because you have to deal with the human factor and that human factor can destroy you.

Dark Habits (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
I remember when I was making Dark Habits (1983). there was one actress who was playing her first leading role, and as the days of shooting went on, I realized she wasn’t up to what the role demanded of her. So what I did was pass a lot of the dialogue on to actresses who were playing the roles of the nuns. I stripped her of the things she was supposed to be doing and during production that all went into the community of nuns in the film. Their roles got richer and richer. When you are shooting you discover things like this that you cannot discover during rehearsals; because in rehearsals you don’t have the props or the action.

How do I control all these elements? I repeat myself to the crew over and over again. If I want a specific blue color on the wall I get them to paint the whole spectrum of blues from gray to blue and then I point out exactly which one I want. It’s almost like being a painter gathering materials. but this time in three dimensions.

If I want to set up the scene with a table and two chairs and an armchair, I already have an idea in my mind of the colors, the composition, and the form of it all, so what I do is give photos to the design team to go off and find it for me. They bring me examples of the different tables and I try them out. It’s all through trial and error, moving things around, changing their position and checking what works together.

This process makes my filmmaking more painstaking than it could otherwise be, but I must also work in this way with my actors. It takes an awful long time to get the hairstyles right or the way they will dress. I take a long time trying things out with the actors because they never feel they are in character until they know what the character looks like. Just simple decisions like the length of hair that an actress should have take ages to work out. I come along with lots of fashion and hair magazines, and photos of ideas that I have with exactly the length of the hair the actress should have, but everyone’s hair is different, so you still have to see if it works with their hair.

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
For instance, it took ages to get that very natural, unhairdo-like style that Penelope had in Volver. It was supposed to look like she had just put it up, but the amount of time it took you would think we had constructed some elaborate hairdo. But it worked and was incredible. What is important is not to give up on the small things.

Of course, Volver had a strong relation to Italian neorealism, and, unlike the women in Spanish neorealist films, the women are very attractive. So I saw in my mind that I wanted a very attractive look. Then you have to take into account the social class of the character and how women from that class would look and you have to add a touch of humor. I did lots of research going into the homes of that type of housewife from that social class and picking out the little, funny details that I could replicate in the film. There are all sorts of color schemes you see in these homes. but by that point I had already made up my mind of exactly the range of colors I would be working with. I always do that through intuition when I finish a script and just before I start shooting. I have already made up my mind about the spectrum of colors in the film that I will be making. Before all this I always have a very clear idea of the whole narrative process itself as the film goes on. For me writing and directing are symbiotic, complementary. While I am writing, I am working out the moments when you are giving information to the audiences, and the moments when you are withholding information. How that works is the narrative flow through the film, the way the characters are built up, and how they react or interact with each other. This is all very clear in my mind when I am writing the script. The script also includes the atmosphere I want to feature in each scene, and the songs that each have a dramatic function and are integral to the script.

The importance of arts in general in my films can’t be underestimated, When I am writing the script, l am always going out because everything you see, everything you hear, every movie you see, you watch it and it informs the sensibility of the story you are writing. So I was writing The Skin I Live In when I saw an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois at the Tate Modern, and Vera is looking at a book of her work in the film, It is a way for her to survive.

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
Songs also very important. Cucurrucucu Paloma is a very famous Mexican song and there have been thousands of versions, but when I heard the Caetano Veloso version I was amazed because the song became something completely different. It became a dark lullaby, very moving. Then in Talk to Her, I present the character of Marco as a man who cries at certain times, so I needed a song to play in the party scene that was moving enough to make him cry. This is very risky because there is no way for the production to declare that at 1 am we will have deep emotion. But I needed that emotion because otherwise the audience wouldn’t understand that this was a man who cried with emotion. Then I tried to think of things that really move me a lot and one of those things was Caetano’s song, so I called him and asked him to perform it in the film. I was right because he was amazing and the situation is intriguing.

Likewise, a song gives Volver its title. Volver is all about this great Spanish tradition of the dead coming back to settle unsettled accounts. So Volver is coming back from beyond.

Sometimes I have things in my mind that aren’t visible in the final film, but they are important for me because they give me a basis from which I can jumpstart the story. I had a whole back story in my mind for Penelope’s character in Volver—she was a beautiful young girl who her mother adored, and she wanted her to be a singer and a performer and taught her this song Volver so she could go and perform it in auditions for little girls—which is exactly the same story you see in Bellissima [the Visconti classic featuring Anna Magnani in the mother role]. There’s a part in the film in the kitchen where Carmen Maura says to Penelope, ‘Did you always have big boobs like that?’ and she says ‘Yes, mummy, ever since I was a little girl.’ So for the auditions, the mother puts makeup on her and puts her in amazing dresses. Her father sees all this and it must have been quite a vision for him, so much so that he couldn’t resist the temptation. There was always a lot of incest within the family in these households in La Mancha.

So when Penelope sings the song that her mother taught her in the film, she is remembering her mother very tenderly, even though she thought the mother didn’t do anything about the father raping her. And it is very moving for the mother, who is listening from the car on the street, because the song is talking about the passing of time. It is almost like the daughter is sending an unconscious message to her mother that she doesn’t really hate her, despite the passing of time. None of that is actually explained in the film at all, but my movies are all about secrets and the secret intentions I have that give me the reason to work. Of course they are not visible, but the audience can feel that strength.

— Extract from ‘Interview with Pedro Almodóvar’ in Filmcraft: Directing by Mike Goodridge.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Jim Jarmusch Talks The Vampiric Charms Of ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

Only Lovers Left Alive (Directed by Jim Jarmusch)

‘Iconoclastic filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been living outside of the mainstream for his entire career, so it’s perhaps only fitting that for his 11th feature-length film, Only Lovers Left Alive, the writer/director turns his attentions to the outsiders that live in shadows.’
The following excerpt is from an interview from Indiewire in 2014 with writer-director Jim Jarmusch prior to the release of his vampire-genre film Only Lovers Left Alive.

Vampires seems like an unlikely subject for you given their position in pop-culture right now. What drew you to them?

I just like genres, it’s one that I’ve always liked. I really like the whole history of vampire films that are more the kind of marginal, the less conventional ones. Starting with Vampyr by Carl Dreyer in the ‘30s, and many, many interesting films – Shadow of the Vampire with Willem Dafoe, then in the ‘80s The Hunger with David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve. I liked George Romero’s film Martin a lot, Katheryn Bigelow’s film Near Dark, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction, Clair Denis’ Trouble Every Day, Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. I loved Let The Right One In—that was from like five, six years ago, beautiful.


That’s a good list of films.

Yeah, I’ve always loved all of those films, that type of approach. Rather than the sort of more obvious one and I wanted to make a love story for quite a long time. It’s had different variances to it, but somehow it got merged maybe eight years ago into my vampire film. So, I wanted to make a love story that involved vampires. Why, I can’t really tell you… It interests me. And I like genres too sometimes because they imply a kind of metaphoric element. Just by the fact that they are a genre. So you can work within [that genre] and do something different inside of that frame. So, that always appeals to me, or not always, but in the case of the few films where I’ve referred to genres, there’s something attractive there for me too.

I imagine the ideas of immortality and all that they entail were an appeal as well?

The possibility of having a historical overview was really interesting to me, because there’s a point where [Mia Wasikowska’s character] calls them snobs, when they’re throwing her out of their house, which on a certain level they are. It’s important it’s in the film, in a way. But who wouldn’t be considered a snob if you’d been alive for a thousand yeas and had all of this knowledge and accumulated experience? That’s ten, twenty times as much as any normal person. The idea of seeing history in a timeline by having lived through it, but from the margins, from the shadows: observing it half in secret is very interesting to me. I’ve always been drawn to outsider type of characters, so what more perfect shadowy inhabitants of the margins are there, than vampires? Who are not undead monsters, by the way, they’re humans that have been transformed and now have the possibility of immortality, but are reliant, like junkies, on blood.


One of the themes that struck me, presented from Adam’s [Tom Hiddleston] perspective is the decay of civilization, and the decay of culture.

Adam is a kind of romantic character. He maybe is a bit flawed in a way, whereas [Tilda Swinton’s character] Eve is very happy to just have a consciousness and be in awe of all the things, phenomenal logical things in the world, or in the world of ideas.

Adam, I mean, I carefully layered in that he was a friend of the romantic poets or hung out with Byron and Shelley and Scott. I really think of him as a tortured romantic. Is he really going to kill himself? I don’t know, maybe he’s just a drama queen, I’m not sure. But just the fact that it would occur to him, that kind of dramatic action is very insightful somehow.

He’s hurt by things he sees people do that he doesn’t understand or why does the world acts the way it does—what I like to think of as an operating system. Out of all of the potential operating systems we could have, why is it this one? It’s a system based on greed and power, manipulation, subjugation and colonialism, which obviously isn’t good. I have a sort of closeness to Adam on that level of, “Wow, I find that very kind of sad,” and him it really bothers him. That’s part of his character, that he’s an emotional, complex creature that is affected by these things. Eve has certainly been affected by them too. I think she’s a bit more resilient and maybe she’s just more centered as a person. They’re a bit different. I don’t know if I’m answering your question.


Is it meant to have any commentary on males and females? Adam being flawed and insecure and Eve being a more divine figure?

That’s interesting that you say that because to me what was most inspiring for me to make this film was the last book by Mark Twain, The Diaries of Adam and Eve. That’s why I named them Adam and Eve, not the direct Biblical thing, but via Mark Twain. That book is very funny, beautiful and kind of slight. It’s just diary entries of Adam and Eve’s vastly different perceptions of the world, via the fact that she’s female and he’s male. It’s a hilarious book and it really inspired me to want to make a film with two characters named Adam and Eve that sort of represented on some level the sun and the moon, but certainly very different perceptions of things.

So that was a big inspiration. It’s not even referred to in the film, the book. But it’s very important for me as a background for this.

There’s a temptation to see Adam as a surrogate for you; because of your similar taste and the similar artistic heroes on his wall…

Certainly there is, but it’s a bit reductive because I think there are qualities Adam has that I don’t have. And qualities that Eve has that I hope I have, or would aspire to have: that sense of wonder of the world and everyday there’s something else you could learn that you didn’t know before. But it’s very hard for me to analyze that because it’s not a self portrait in any intentional conscious way and yet there’s a lot of personal things in there that I would agree with them. So it’s hard to know those things.

It’s funny my friend Claire Denis had a Q&A after her film, Bastards, at the New York Film Festival a few months ago and someone asked her why she killed this character and she said, “I didn’t kill them, the other character did. I didn’t do it.”


You operate that way then. The story takes the characters where they want to go.

Yeah, when you make these films they do walk on their own after a certain point. Often when I’m writing dialogue in a script, it’s always whatever’s on paper for me is a sketch until you film it. But often they’re just talking and I am just writing it down. It’s not like I’m making them say words. I feel like I’m just transcribing what they’re saying. So there’s a funny disconnect where I can’t analyze, but to me it’s not autobiographical in any way. Of course I placed a lot of things I believe in, or even the photos on the wall, some of them are even my friends.

Those portraits on the wall I had five or six times as many people originally. The art department said, “Look after a certain point you have to clear all these images, so after a certain point we’ll just stop, we have enough, don’t worry.” But I could have kept feeding them more and more and more. I could still be giving them names of people I admire from the history of humans.

– Rodrigo Perez Interviews Jim Jarmusch. Full article via Indiewire here



Thursday, 26 October 2017

‘Stronger Than Reason’: Interview with Alfred Hitchcock (part two)

Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
This is the second part of an interview with Alfred Hitchcock from 1963 prior to the release of The Birds in which the acclaimed director discusses his recent films, his use of special effects, working with writers, and tension in narrative. 

In ‘Psycho’ you presumably intended the audience to identify with Janet Leigh.

I wouldn’t say Psycho was necessarily the best example. Because I felt there that the characters in the second part were merely figures. I was concentrating much more on the effect of the murder and the menace and the background of the boy/mother situation, rather than the other people. But in the case of The Birds, I think three of the four characters do go through a process which ties them directly in to the bird attacks.

In ‘The Birds’ you have worked without stars—or without big stars. Why?

I felt that one should have anonymous people, not too familiar, because the subject matter itself is not quite so facetious as that of other films: although the Birds do attack, it is treated quite realistically. One of the most—to me—satisfying scenes in The Birds is where there are no birds seen at all. You have a room which is boarded up—it comes toward the end of the picture—there are four people in the room: a child, young man and woman, and a mother, mother of the young man, sitting there in silence just waiting for them. I just keep that silence going for quite a bit until the first sounds come, then you begin to hear the attack outside and you don’t see the mass of birds at all. And it’s that kind of thing which permitted one to have comparatively unknown people because the thing belonged as a whole. It wouldn’t have looked good to have had a familiar film star sitting there waiting, you know; it’s hard to describe why; but this is quite an interesting sequence; to me it’s really satisfying because there I threw everything to the audience to use their imagination; to help them along a little bit, I had one shutter blow open. The young man has to pull the shutter to and then you see just the close-up attack on his hand and the seagulls biting and drawing blood.

North by Northwest (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
The atmosphere sounds similar to that of the sequence in ‘North by Northwest’ where Cary Grant waits at the road-side for Kaplan.

That was, I would say, an amusing approach. This thing in The Birds is not. We’ve shown the audience sufficient samples—I had one sequence where 300 crows wait outside the schoolhouse for the children, and when the kids come out they are chased down the road: montage sequence of individual crows attacking each child on the back, pecking at them and so forth.

Little menacing bits of dialogue—do you write these yourself: ‘Crop-dusting where there ain’t no crops’ in ‘North by Northwest’?

Oh that’s my line, yes.

How much of your scripts do you in fact write yourself?

Oh, quite a bit. You see I used to be a writer myself years ago. The difficulty is that one is working in the visual so much—that’s why I so rarely use film writers—I always use novelists or playwrights, definitely, not people working in the mystery field. They’re no use to me at all. In The Birds, I opened the film with the shot of birds in their nicest—what we think are their nicest—surroundings: in their cages. They’re chirruping away, and they’re all beautifully set—all very happy, ostensibly, and there’s a little light-hearted sequence. I treat the film in the beginning as a light comedy and there’s some byplay with the girl and the young man where a canary gets out of a cage, and the girl is a rather rich society girl, and she is not aware that the young man knows her identity—when he gets the bird from under his hat he says, ‘Let’s put Melanie Daniels back into her gilded cage, shall we,’ and that’s his way of telling the girl he knows who she is. The pay-off on that one line comes much later in the story when the centre of the town is attacked by seagulls and the girl seeks refuge in a phone booth—it’s glass-walled and she can’t get out. I take high shots and you see birds beating all around: The gulls are the people now you see and she’s the bird. So I have to write these lines in myself because I know it’s going to help appreciably later on. There’s no comment made about it, but it’s very clear that she’s in a cage but it’s no longer gilded.

The Birds (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
You expect quite a lot of your audience.

For those who want it. I don’t think films should be looked at once. I think they go by too fast. But the critics sit in there at their 10:30 a.m. sitting, and they see a film through once and that seems to be sufficient. But I don’t really think it is. Most films should be seen through more than once.

Why is ‘The Trouble with Harry’ a comedy rather than a thriller?

I think it was a nice little pastorale, you know. A typically English piece of humour, though it was set in America. It was an English novel and we followed it pretty closely. I laid it in the autumnal setting to counterpoint the macabre of the body, but I even tried to photograph that in an amusing way.

How do you choose your subjects?

I don’t probe particularly deeply. If something appeals to me... I think instinctively one would go for a subject very often that would lend itself to one’s treatment. I’m not terribly keen on just taking a stage play. As far back as when I made Juno and the Paycock I felt very frustrated about it and kind of rather ashamed when it got terrific notices. It wasn’t anything to do with me. It belonged to Sean O’Casey. My job was just to put it on the screen. I think that’s the job of any craftsman, setting the camera up and photographing people acting. That’s what I call most films today: photographs of people talking. It’s no effort to me to make a film like Dial M for Murder because there’s nothing there to do. On the other hand, you say to me: why do you make a film like Dial M for Murder? Because I run for cover when the batteries are running dry: You know, I might be engaged in a subject which is abortive—I’ve done that many times, I’ve been half way through a subject and found it didn’t work out after all—so immediately, instead of waiting, to keep one’s hand in you go for something which is fairly routine while the batteries are recharging.

In ‘North by Northwest’, Grant seems to want Eva Marie Saint dead: he’s happier when she’s an enemy or in danger than when she seems to be an available wife or lover.

What’s that old Oscar Wilde thing? ‘Each man kills the thing he loves’. That I think is a very natural phenomenon, really.

You don’t find it somewhat perverted?

Well, everything’s perverted in a different way, isn’t it?

North by Northwest (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Was the falling body at the end of ‘North by Northwest’ a superimposition?

Yes, that’s a double printing job. You photograph your background first and then you get a white backing and a large arm sticking out of the backing and you strap the middle of the torso to the arm and then with a side worm gear men can take that body and do that (twisting gesture) with it—Jimmy Stewart’s done it as well. Now you take the camera close and whip it back on rails and then also by making the movement slow you can undercrank it too, so that your whip back can be taken care of that way. Then it’s superimposed on the background. We’re working in The Birds on the sodium light system. We’re having to double-print a lot of birds over existing birds, where we have a small quantity of birds, trained ones, moving in and out, or whatever they’re doing, then you print over that scene a lot of other birds. And we’re using a sodium light process, which is a background which is lit by sodium—those yellow fog lights, you know—so that the camera picks up just the images, the background goes back, you get your colour image. And in the camera is a prism and that prism also makes the silhouette matte at the same time on a regular b/w film so that it doesn’t register colour. The filter in the prism turns the image black and the sodium background plain. So you make your travelling matte at the same time as you’re photographing: we use an old technicolour camera for that.

You must have been very thrilled with your ‘Vertigo’ effect.

I’ve been trying for fifteen, twenty years to get that effect. I first tried it in Rebecca. I wanted to get, in an inquest scene, Joan Fontaine to start to faint and see everything receding from her. I tried everything—I even thought of printing a photograph on rubber and stretching the middle.

Vertigo (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
You obtained the stretching of the perspective by simultaneously tracking in and zooming out, didn’t you?

Yes.

We have an argument about ‘Rear Window’. One of us says that a good deal of the suspense comes from one’s not being sure whether James Stewart is right, whether he’s making a fool of himself. The other says that you’re meant to be certain that he’s right and the suspense comes from whether he will prove it in time.

I would say that it’s the latter, because it’s frustration you see. The audience are with Stewart, the identification is direct and therefore they must feel superior to the other characters with him, but the frustration is there all the same. The interesting thing I think about Rear Window is that there’s more pure film there, even though it’s static, than in many films I’ve made. After all you get the famous examples that Pudovkin experimented with—where you get Stewart looking, what he sees, and his reaction to it. And there, after all, is the most powerful thing of film. You’ve got three pieces of film. Let’s assume, for example, Stewart looks, you see a mother and child; then you go back to Stewart and he smiles. Now you see he’s rather benevolent or benign, call it what you like. Take the middle piece away and put a nude girl in there and he’s a dirty old man.

Would you say that your films now are rather more thought out than instinctive, and were more instinctive in the thirties?

I would say so, yes. Well, I think you can have a bit of both really. But I think I got that (i.e. more intellectual) when I was aware of the global implications of audiences. That’s one thing that you do learn in America, because America is a polyglot country. I often tell people, there are no Americans, it’s full of foreigners. You become very audience-conscious because there are so many different types of people. Axiomatically you’re appealing to your Japanese audience and your Latin-American audience as well.

Rear Window (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
The idea of ‘Stage Fright’ intrigues us a great deal. Do you like it?

No. It wasn’t well done. You remember I said I liked to work with playwrights and novelists preferably. I went a bit overboard—I had James Bridie and he was too careless for me, structurally. He used to say, ‘Well, what does it matter?’

Whose was the basic idea of the flash-back that wasn’t true?

That was mine, but that was probably an error. That was going a bit too far because I suppose people are so accustomed to flash-backs being true that it was just confusing when it was untrue. It’s like the boy with the bomb in Sabotage. I should never have let that bomb go off. It was a cardinal error to let that bomb go off. If you work an audience up, it’s obligatory to relieve them, to release them from that.

Having built them up, the explosion didn’t release them?

No, of course not. It got them mad.

What next?

I’m going to do the Marnie picture next. The story of the compulsive thief that I was going to do with Grace Kelly.

Who’s taking the Grace Kelly part?

I’ve got a girl in mind, but we’re not letting on yet.

You’re going back to big stars?

Not necessarily. Sometimes I think big stars are useful but today they don’t help a picture any more. They help it if it’s good, but if it’s not good the public won’t go.

And ‘Psycho’ showed you could get along without them...

Yes.



The interview by Ian Cameron and V. F. Perkins with Alfred Hitchcock originally appeared in Movie, No. 6, January 1963.

Friday, 22 September 2017

‘Stronger Than Reason’: Interview with Alfred Hitchcock (part one)

The Birds (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
The following extract is from an interview with Alfred Hitchcock from 1963 prior to the release of The Birds in which the master of suspense discusses his recent films, his use of sound and the primacy of emotion over reason in the film-making process. 

Can you tell us something about ‘The Birds’?

It’s taken from a well-known short story by Daphne Du Maurier. It concerns the attack by domestic birds on a group of people living in a community; the film is laid in northern California, northern San Francisco. The series of attacks start very mildly and increase in seriousness as it goes on.

What would you say was the theme of the film?

If you like you can make it the theme of too much complacency in the world: that people are unaware that catastrophe surrounds us all.

The people are unwilling to believe that the birds are going to take over?

That’s true, yes.

What particularly attracted you to science fiction?

This isn’t science fiction at all, not at all. It’s treated quite naturally and quite straightforwardly. Many of the incidents in the film are based on actual fact. Birds have attacked and do attack, all the time. As a matter of fact, one of the incidents we have in the film was based on an actual incident which occurred at La Jolla, California; on April 30, 1960. A thousand swifts came down a chimney into the living room of some people. These are birds that nest in masonry rather than in trees, in roofs and chimneys and so forth. And the people were completely swamped with them for half an hour. Another incident occurred in the very place we were working, in Bodega Bay in northern San Francisco, where a farmer reported to the San Francisco Chronicle that he was losing a lot of lambs due to crows diving and pecking at their eyes and then killing them. So there are precedents for all these things. That’s what makes it more or less accurate, in terms of facts rather than science-fiction.

The Birds (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
There are also precedents. in your films for birds, aren’t there? Particularly in ‘Psycho’.

Oh yes.

Is this any particular fondness for birds?

Not particularly, no.

Do you find them threatening in some way?

No. No, not at all. I’m personally not interested in that side of content. I’m more interested in the technique of story telling by means of film rather than in what the film contains.

As far as telling this particular story goes, had you a lot of problems?

Oh, I wasn’t meaning technical problems. I was meaning the technique of story telling on film per se. Oh no, the technical problems are prodigious. I mean films like Ben Hur or Cleopatra are child’s play compared with this. After all we had to train birds for every shot practically.

You had some trouble with the American version of the R.S.P.C.A. . . .

Not really; that was a technicality. You’re allowed to catch so many birds. I think the bird trainer had about four over his quota, really.

The Birds (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
Did you restrict yourself in the bird kingdom, or did every sort of bird take over?

Oh no. No birds of prey at all. Purely domestic birds. Seagulls. Birds you see every day. Seagulls, crows, ravens, finches, and canaries and that sort of bird.

You’re not using music?

No music at all, no. We’re using electronic sound, all the way through. A simulated sound of actual things. For example the sound of birds’ wings and birds’ cries will be stylised to some extent. And that will occur all the way through the picture.

You have used music a lot in your previous films. This is going to fulfill exactly the role of music?

Oh, it should do, yes. After all, when you put music to film, it’s really sound, it isn’t music per se. I mean there’s an abstract approach. The music serves as either a counterpoint or a comment on whatever scene is being played. I mean we don’t have what you call ‘tunes’ in it at all.

The shrilling in ‘Psycho’ is rather of that sort.

Yes, you see you have the screaming violins. It was a motif that went through the murder scenes.

You will use your strange sounds as motifs in that way? 

Yes.

Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
I hear ‘Psycho’ made a lot of money.

Yes, that was a secondary consideration. Psycho is probably one of the most cinematic films I’ve made and there you get a clear example of the use of film to cause an audience to respond emotionally.

It was primarily an emotional response you were after from your audience?

Entirely. That’s the whole device. After all, the showing of a violent murder at the beginning was intended purely to instil into the minds of the audience a certain degree of fear of what is to come. Actually in the film, as it goes on, there’s less and less violence because it has been transferred to the minds of the audience.

The use of Janet Leigh to be killed early in the film is to upset one’s sense of security because the star is expected to survive to the end.

Oh, no question about it. The ordinary person would have said ‘Janet Leigh, she’s the leading lady, she must play the lead.’ But that was not the intention at all. The intention in that early part was to portray average people and in this particular case to deliberately divert the audience’s attention into a character in trouble, you see. And you follow the adventures of a girl deliberately detailed to keep you away from anything that’s going to turn up later on, you see.

Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
‘North by Northwest’. Near the beginning, in the mad car chase, one knows that Cary Grant can’t be killed this early. So why is one excited?

That again is purely the use of film in terms of the substitution of the language of the camera for words. That is the most important function of film. As a substitute for words. I wouldn’t say substitute. I don’t think that does film even sufficient justice. It’s the mode of expression. And the use of the size of the image. And the juxtaposition of different pieces of film to create emotion in a person. And you can make it strong enough even to make them forget reason. You see when you say that Cary Grant can’t possibly be killed so early in the film, that’s the application of reason. But you’re not permitted to reason. Because the film should be stronger than reason.

Above all of your films the one that seems stronger than reason is Vertigo.

There you get, in a sense, a remote fantasy. In Vertigo you have a feeling of remoteness from ordinary worldly things. You see the attitude of the man, the woman’s behaviour. Of course behind it lies some kind of plot, which I think is quite secondary. I don’t bother about plot, or all that kind of thing.

You got rid of it very early in the film.

Yes, that’s, what shall I call it? That’s a necessary evil. But that’s why I’m always surprised at people and even critics who place so much reliance on logic and all that sort of thing. I have a little phrase to myself. I always say logic is dull.

Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
You seem rather to distrust the psychiatrist’s explanation of Norman Bates in ‘Psycho’. It isn’t given all that much weight.

Possibly the details would have been too unpleasant. I think that there perhaps we’re skimming over... You have to remember that Psycho is a film made with quite a sense of amusement on my part. To me it’s a fun picture. The processes through which we take the audience, you see, it’s rather like taking them through the haunted house at the fairground or the roller-coaster, you know. After all it stands to reason that if one were seriously doing the Psycho story, it would be a case history. You would never present it in forms of mystery or the juxtaposition of characters, as they were placed in the film. They were all designed in a certain way to create this audience emotion. Probably the real Psycho story wouldn’t have been emotional at all; it would’ve been terribly clinical.

Psycho is, though, very honestly presented. There is a very striking shot of Norman Bates swinging his hips as he goes upstairs. When one sees the film for the second time, one realises one could have solved the mystery the first time.

Well, I’m a great believer in making sure that if people see the film a second time they don’t feel cheated. That is a must. You must be honest about it and not merely keep things away from an audience. I’d call that cheating. You should never do that.

Was this shot meant deliberately as a clue?

Well, you might as well say that the basic clue was in the feminine nature of the character altogether.

Psycho (Directed by Alfred Hitchcock)
The very complex montage of the murder of Janet Leigh was not just intended to avoid showing some things you couldn’t show . . .

Well, I did photograph a nude girl all the way through. In other words I covered in the shooting every aspect of the killing. Actually some of it was shot in slow motion. I had the camera slow and the, girl moving slowly so that I could measure out the movements and the covering of awkward parts of the body, the arm movement, gesture and so forth. I was actually seven days on that little thing; it’s only forty-five seconds really.

Is there a sexual reference in the compositions? It seemed that you were consciously cutting between soft round shapes and the hard, phallic shape of the knife to suggest copulation.

Well, I mean you would get that in any case, with any sense of intimate nudity those thoughts would emerge naturally. But the most obvious example of that is in North by Northwest, the last shot with the train going into the tunnel.

One feels of your later films that you have got much less interested in the mystery thriller element, much more interested in broadening things out.

Well, I think it’s a natural tendency to be less superficial, that’s Truffaut’s opinion—he’s been examining all these films. And he feels that the American period is much stronger than the English period. It’s a much stronger development. For example, I think it’s necessary to get a little deeper into these things as one goes along. For example The Birds—you see usually in these films, which I call an ‘event film’ you know, like On The Beach, or one of those things—I felt it was much more necessary to intensify the personal story so that you get, as a result, a greater identification with the people, and therefore the fire through which you put them is much stronger.

The interview by Ian Cameron and V. F. Perkins with Alfred Hitchcock originally appeared in Movie, No. 6, January 1963.