FILMMAKER FLASHBACK: SPRING, 1996
1996 will witness the inauguration of prerecorded films on CD-sized Digital Versatile Disks or “DVDs” (you and I will call them Digital Video Disks). DVDs not only doom VHS but also CD-ROMs as we know them for the mere reason that single-sided DVDs store 8.5 gigabytes compared to the puny 680 megabytes of CDs while manufacturing costs are the same.
Also in this issue was filmmaker John Landis (yes, that John Landis) interviewing James Mangold. At the time, Mangold had a small, character-based indie, Heavy, at Sundance. This summer, of course, he’s at the multiplex with the Tom Cruise-starring Knight and Day. Christine Vachon published her production diaries from the making of I Shot Andy Warhol, which was our cover film. Rose Troche interviewed its director, Mary Harron. At the time, she was trying to make a bio-pic about director Dorothy Arzner. The interview is worth reading today for anyone attempting to develop a film based on biographical material.
From the piece:
Troche: Arzner was just this character who was in Hollywood but also outside of it. She was a real lesbian, a dumpy dyke, not the glamor puss bisexual that everyone wanted, like Garbo. She wasn’t beautiful enough for that.
Harron: I think that keeping an open mind is really important when doing your research. When I say you come up with an internal structure, I don’t mean that you start off knowing the meaning of it all. Because the information you find might change your story. You might find out terrible things about Dorothy Arzner, that she was dreadful to another partner, and that will make your story more complicated. You can’t shut it out. For example, I found out that Valerie had slept with men, in fact had lived with a man, even though she identified herself politically and emotionally as a lesbian. Sexually she was more of a bisexual. That’s why I put in the scene where sleeps with a revolutionary.
Troche: Well, you’re not making a documentary. You use the facts as you have found them, and they make a story.
Harron: I have to credit [co-writer] Daniel Minahan for steering me away from clinging to the facts. You have to make things up. He had this brilliant idea for the way Valerie meets her publisher, Maurice Giordias.
And then there’s this good closer:
Troche: I wanted to talk about the state of independent film. You are seen as a first time director, but your film does not go into the mindless cynicism that marks many independent films.
Harron: You know what, you have to be young to be that cynical –
Troche: – or does it come from a complete lack of experience? The obvious draw of Arzner for me is that I am so interested in the Hollywood system, and now what has taken over that. Stars are no longer owned by the studios anymore, but they are sort of owned by the media.
Harron: You can’t control your image. And that is always something that I thought about when presenting myself. It is always better to be underestimated than overestimated. If you are a director, you don’t need too much personality. That’s one of the advantages of being a director. I feel like I am so lucky to have Christine.
Troche: I feel the same way.
Harron: When the purse is empty, the heart is full.
Troche: Too bad you can’t make a film that way.
I interviewed Jim Jarmusch for the first time, which was a thrill. Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp, was about to be released. The interview isn’t online here but you can read it at FilmInFocus. It includes this little riff on the industry.
Filmmaker: You are someone who is making films not only outside of the Hollywood system but also outside of this new mini-major system — Miramax, Fox Searchlight, Fine Line, the Polygram companies—
Jarmusch: —I’m still broke and a lowlife, I tell you.
Filmmaker: But Dead Man, you sold it blind to Miramax—meaning they couldn’t see it even though you had a print—for a good amount of money just before Cannes. That testifies to a strong interest American distributors have in your work. Yet, look at the credits of the movie and it’s all European financing.
Jarmusch: Mostly European, there’s some Japanese money in there and some bankers finished it but I don’t want to go into that.
Filmmaker: My point is, if you wanted to make a movie with one of those American companies, you could have. You wouldn’t have to mess with stitching the financing together from all over. Yours is a more complicated method of financing but I suspect it offers you more freedom and autonomy.
Jarmusch: Exactly. The only thing that matters to me is to protect my ability to be the navigator of the ship. I decide how the film is cut, how long it is, what music is used, who the cast is. I make films by hand. I’m there every day in the editing room. I’m there in the financing. I write the script. I collaborate with a lot of great people. I don’t believe in the auteur thing but somebody has to step up and say, look, a filmmaker should make the film, not businessmen. My films are ghettoized by being called art movies. When people describe a rock-and-roll group as art rock, I want to put on Motorhead. And then I wonder, why is that? What is wrong with art? But they will make anything a dirty word to make commerce and corporate control the priority. That’s Hollywood. Who has the most powerful agent and how much money can the lawyers suck out of the above-the-line? It’s one of the most overpaid of any field in America, entertainment. The Academy Awards—why don’t we have awards for short order cooks or bus drivers?