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With famed Academy Award winning actress Helen Mirren receiving a special honor from the World Jewish Congress in front of Gustav Klimt’s The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1 -- now housed at New York’s Neue Galerie and the basis of the film Woman in Gold — her role as Maria Altmann comes full circle.
The event featuring speeches by Mirren and Lauder, celebrates Mirren’s portrayal of Maria Altmann, the Austrian-American woman who won headlines for her legal battle against the Austrian government to reclaim five Klimt paintings including the painting of Altmann’s aunt, stolen from her family by the Nazis during WWII.
But then, British director Simon Curtis has an uncanny and outsized skill at revealing history — judging by the two theatrically release features he’s directed. The first, My Week with Marilyn, collated Colin Clark’s two diary accounts about his time with Marilyn Monroe— The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn — into an award-winning film.
The second, Woman In Gold, follows the travails and triumph of Jewish survivor Altmann, who resolves to recover family possessions seized by the Nazis, among them Klimt's famous painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I — a painting of her beautiful aunt.
When the Nazis shipped off her family and friends off to the death camps, they confiscated their property; she fortunately fled Vienna during World War II before they caught her as well.
Sixty years later an elderly Altmann starts a quest with her inexperienced but plucky young lawyer Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) which takes them all the way from battling Austria’s establishment to the U.S. Supreme Court, and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past.
In both films, the 56 year Curtis starts with two high-profile scenarios that people understand only through broad strokes and personalizes them through carefully rendered characters. Maybe his experience in directing British actors for theater and dramatic BBC series lends itself to creating such subtle portraits.
Appropriately first screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival, the film has gathered fans steadily and deliberately. But now that the Woman In Gold DVD has just been released, audiences can bring the film home for repeated viewings.
Q: Didn’t you used to work as an assistant for Helen Mirren a while back. What was that like?
SC: Well, she said I made a very good cup of tea [laughs].
Q: It’s been quite a while since you last worked with her. How did you manage to cast Helen Mirren in this role?
SC: Well you don’t have to be a genius to go off the edge and [commit] murder when you’re casting this part of Maria Altmann. There [just] aren’t as many actresses of her stature at her age .
We believe her as this woman that’s like herself, who has lived in Europe and then lived in California for the second half of her life. She’s an incredibly smart, talented actress, and I was ecstatic when she said she would [do the part].
Q: You have two great leads with Ryan Reynolds uncharacteristically playing this character of Rnady, but there a lot of other great actors in the film as well. Was it hard getting everyone on board and onthe same page?
SC: People just responded to the material. I called in a lot of favors, like getting [the classical British actor] Jonathan Pryce to play the Supreme Court judge. Tatiana Maslany is one of the greatest actors I ever worked with; she’s just phenomenal in [the Candian produced, BBC America series] Orphan Black. And it was thrilling for me working with all these great German actors who I hadn’t worked with before like Daniel Brühl, Moritz Bleibtreu and Antje Traue.
Q: You made such great choices in these German actors; they were a great pick.
SC: I was determined to have their parts played in German as well.
Q: How was it working with writer Alexi Kaye Campbell?
SC: Alexi did a brilliant job with the story, we had to cram a whole century into the story and Alexi did a job that fulfilling that while making an accessible and entertaining film. He was a playwright very well known in the U.K. and had done a lot of work that spanned different time periods. He was brave enough to take on what is quite a dense and complex story and turn it into something hopefully accessible and entertaining.
Q: It must have been hard to get a script with this complicated premise and narrative strands in different time periods and places to come together?
SC: I would say it was very hard. We went through a lot of drafts over a lot of years. It worked as it usually does. We met. I’d give notes. He’d go away and do another draft.
Q: With shooting in three different countries, were there difficulties in raising the finances?
SC: It was expensive to make for that reason, but both the films we made were developed by BBC Films and when I cast the leading actress, Harvey [Weinstein] and the Weinstein Company became involved. So that really took care of it. This film meant a great deal to me personally, but it also meant a great deal to Harvey personally as well. He was incredibly supportive all the way through.
Q: As the story goes, you saw a BBC documentary on Maria Altmann and that led to you making this film. What was the fascination with her?
SC: I don’t know. I’m from a Jewish family myself, and that idea of leading on with your life but still honoring the past, and the idea of this couple, Helen and Ryan, taking on the campaign, taking on the whole government, it means a great deal to me.
I was so lucky with the casting of Helen and Ryan because they adore each other. They brought some humor and wit to the film that it needed.
Q: How did your own background influence your approach to this film? How did you approach the Jewish community in order to tackle this project?
SC: My family was in Britain before the Holocaust, so I don’t have any Holocaust stories in my family, but I obviously identify with that family and community in Vienna, that powerful, happy community that was, literally, destroyed overnight, so that meant a great deal to me.
I suppose there are certainly women in my family who remind me of Maria or the other way around. I feel connected to my family’s past but don’t know too much about it. I was very struck when I read about it that Maria’s wedding was the last big Jewish social event before the Nazis arrived in Vienna. I felt that was very powerful, that sense of this mighty family and that its days were numbered.
Q: What did you discuss with Helen about the psychology of being her character being a survivor?
SC: Obviously neither of us met Maria, because she died before we started making the film, but there’s a lot on video tape and at the Holocaust Museum she is interviewed talking about it as part of that documentary Steven Spielberg made (Shoah). But also, like a lot of people that have been through something horrific, they don’t talk about it all the time. We tried to get that ambivalence. In the film she’s sometimes very keen to pursue the case and sometimes she’s keen to let it go. We wanted to get that real sort of inconsistency which would be psychologically true to that experience.
Q: Was that prickly personality we see in the movie at all in the videos?
SC: Not so much, but Randy Schoenberg, who was an advisor on the film [and grandson of the famed Austrian Jewish composer Arnold Schoenberg who escaped the Nazis], knew her pretty well and it clearly was her modus operandi.
Q: What influence did you had on the visual style of the film?
SC: I was very lucky with my Director of Photography, Ross Emery, and we talked about it a lot because the film was in three time zones, but we caught the golden period that Klimt is painting in, the past in 1938, which is dark and desaturated, and the modern journey for Helen and Ryan to California and back; we wanted each to have a slightly different pallet.
Q: What were the challenges in finding the right place with the right look?
SC: More of the interiors were shot in London and none of the film is shot in London, so that’s quite a challenge. Vienna is like a dream place to film, they were very welcoming to us. It was phenomenal to be on the actual streets, it’s a very beautiful city. We filmed them on the steps of the actual art institute where Hitler was rejected, so it all has great meaning. Then we did a week in Los Angeles, and I wanted it to be non-showbiz LA, which I think we pulled off.
Q: How was it working with Oscar-wiining composer Hans Zimmer?
SC: Zimmer and [co-composer Martin] Phipps had never worked together before, but they’re geniuses. They identified with this story. We didn’t want it to be a sappy score, we wanted it to sound like a thriller to drive the film on. It was a great honor for me to work with Hans Zimmer.
Q: You have a unique relationship with one of the actresses in this film, Elizabeth McGovern given that she’s your wife. Were there hesitations in casting her in this film — she plays Judge Florence-Marie Cooper — or did you think that would keep the budget down?
SC: It was actually very problematic, because she’s in a show called Downton Abbey, and we had to make the schedule work for both. She’s the daughter of a law professor in LA, playing a judge in LA, where she’s from, so I can’t think of anyone in the world better to cast.
Q: Did you have a conversation with Helen about the fact that she’s married to a director — award winning Taylor Hackford — and you’re married to an actress?
SC: We did, actually, and we agreed that a director and an actress working together while married is a wonderful and difficult thing.
Q: It must have its daunting moments.
SC: Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s unpredictable.
Q: Does Elizabeth ever give you advice? Or do you give her advice?
SC: Well you can’t go home and slag off your leading lady and she can’t go home and slag off her director. Well, she can, but I rather she didn’t.
Q: And do you have a favorite painting by Klimt?
SC: I have to say, The Woman in Gold, since we’ve [all] been looking at it for so long.
No one expected legendary sci-fi artist H.R. Giger to go in such a way — dying due to injuries from a fall. After all, he seemed immortal, if only for his iconic images of an air-brushed bio-mechanic merger that became the beastly berserkers of the Alien film series.
Yet in mid May 2014, the Swiss-born and based visionary suddenly died after years of obsessively building a world around him that expressed his unique ideas on paper, canvas and in whole rooms full of his furniture and wall constructs. By focusing on this vision, he built up a fanatic following of collectors, viewers, filmmakers and fellow creators influenced by his core idea.
And though there has been ample documentation of his life over the years, a new documentary, Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World, fortunately was being made of his more recent years which thankfully captured a more current Giger not long before his untimely demise.
Besides this doc's release, the Museum of Arts and Design (at Manhattan's Columbus Circle) marks the one-year anniversary of his passing by presenting The Unseen Cinema of HR Giger -- a weekend-long event which presents rare and never before seen films made by and about HR Giger.
Partnering with the HR Giger estate and the HR Giger Documentary Film Festival, Giger’s personal archive was sourced for these films which reveal his behind-the-scenes practices. Here's a rare glimpse into his personality, process, and vision.
Born in 1940 to a chemist’s family in Chur, Switzerland, Hans Rudolf Giger moved to Zurich in 1962, where he studied architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts. By '64 he made his first works, mostly ink drawings and oil paintings, garnering him a solo exhibition in '66, followed by his first poster edition being published in 1969.
Once he discovered the airbrush, Giger developed his unique freehand painting style, leading to the creation of his most well known works -- the surrealistic Biomechanical dreamscapes -- which are at the cornerstone of his world. To date, 20 books have been published about Giger’s art.
But it was Giger’s third book, 1977's Necronomicon, which served as the visual inspiration for director Ridley Scott’s film Alien, earning the artist an Oscar in 1980 for the Best Achievement in Visual Effects for his work creating the film's title character designs and the stages of its lifecycle, plus its otherworldly environments. Giger's other film work includes Poltergeist II, Alien 3 and Species.
Giger also produced album covers for Blondie's Debbie Harry and Emerson Lake and Palmer; they have been noted as among the best in music history. Giger has made sculpture as well, and in 1988 created his first total environment space, the Tokyo Giger Bar, and a second one in Chur in 1992.
Inaugurated in 1998 in the Château St. Germain, The HR Giger Museum fills a four-level building in the historic, medieval walled city of Gruyères, Switzerland. It houses the largest collection of his paintings, sculptures, furnitures and film designs, from the early '60s until the present. On the museum's top floor is Giger's own private collection of more than 600 works by artists such as Salvador Dali, Ernst Fuchs, Dado, Bruno Weber, Günther Brus, Claude Sandoz, François Burland, Friedrich Kuhn, Joe Coleman, Sibylle Ruppert, and Andre Lassen, among many others.
In its adjoining wing, The Giger Museum Bar opened on April 12, 2003. Giger’s designs emphasize the pre-existing Gothic architecture of the 400 year old space. Giant skeletal arches cover the vaulted ceiling, and together with the bar’s fantastic stony furniture, evoke the building’s original medieval character, giving the space a church-like feeling.
During his last four years, Giger was honored with a series of museum retrospectives. 2004 saw the opening of a six-month exhibition at the Museum Halle Saint Pierre in Paris, France -- the largest exhibition of his work to take place outside of Switzerland.
Thanks to his Alien creature designs, Giger had been established as one of the word's best known artists.
So Dark Star became a cinematic marker that the 74-year old creator left behind for audiences to contexualize and comprehend his life and legacy. Though Giger’s no longer here to share either his museum or environments, director Belinda Sallin's intimate documentary did elaborate on his creations and offer insights into who he was in his later years.
Born in 1967, this Swiss German studied German literature, philology and communication science, worked as journalist/editor and, in 2009, co- founded an independent production company. Currently she lives with her husband and two sons in Zurich.
Though Sallin made films before, this feature doc is her real international debut -- and what a debut it is. She discussed all this recently in an exclusive phone interview conducted from her Swiss home.
Q: How would you contrast the young Giger from the old Giger?
BS: I like them all very much. I’ve seen the young Giger in the archives. But I really appreciated the older Giger that I knew for two and a half years before he died. I was very surprised when I met him the first time. I don’t know what I was expecting. I was expecting a man that was more dark and distant and he was the opposite.
This was a great experience to meet him because he was so nice, friendly, and charming. I don’t know how he was when in the '50s or so, but the older Giger is like the young Giger in the films, a shy person. Somebody who retired, who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight. For me, they went together well, the old Giger and this young one in the archive.
Q: When did you start shooting this? It seemed like it would be a process to get him involved. It’s hard to interview him.
BS: I had the chance to meet the museum’s director, the former life partner of HR Giger, and she opened the door.This was a good step for me. She introduced me to him. When I entered his house the first time, I was overwhelmed. It was a great house where he lived amidst his art.
Then I met him, we got along very well from the first day.I had the chance to live near his house in the same time, so I paid him many visits and shot or came without camera and visited him a lot. He saw that my research was serious and knowledge of his work profound and he appreciated that.
We got along. I accepted some circumstances that he didn’t like to talk a lot anymore and he realized that I was looking for other ways to do this film and he appreciated that a lot. We had a good base of trust. I could do some interviews, even if I said at the beginning of the process that I wouldn’t do interviews for hours and hours because he didn’t like that.
But we had a few times where we could speak together. You see it in the film now where he talks about Li, his life partner, when she died in the 1970s and you can tell how he felt about it. That’s the first time he spoke about Li in this way and I was very touched by that.
Q: It helps that you’re a woman, he has a very strong bond to women. All his subjects are women.
BS: It’s possible, I don’t know because I didn’t ask him if he talked to me because I was a woman. I don’t know. Of course women are very important to his life and I think it’s amazing that he kept in contact with Mia, for example. They didn’t break and fight. They were friendly together until the end.
Women are important in his work, of course, but he shows a lot more. He shows everything, he shows birth and life, and mortality, and death, and male figures, and female figures all together. That’s what makes his work strong.
Q: Like in a Jungian collective unconscious sort of way, was he influenced by Karl Gustav Jung or other psychoanalysts?
BS: I asked him once what his influences were and he said, “My influence is life. Everything influences me.” I know he read the books of Jung and Freud. The books you see in his house, he reads them. Of course he was influenced, but he never liked to talk about his work.
He said it very clearly at the beginning of the process of filming, “Don’t ask me about my work. I don’t like to explain it. I can talk about my influences but I can’t explain my work.” Giger himself didn’t know how it happened.
Q: Did Giger talk about the people he has influenced and how important it was to win an Oscar? Did he talk about his legacy taking away from his work?
BS: Giger made what he had to do. It was not Oscar winning or yes or no. This had an impact on him as a human being, as a person, but not as an artist. He stuck to his path. That’s what I really like about him and his biography. What impressed me most was that he followed his dreams and he followed his path, regardless of what people thought of that.
His art is quite provocative. I can only imagine what people thought about it in the 60s or the 70s about his art. He didn’t bother. He stuck to his own path.
Q: Imagine how powerful his work was in the early ‘80s.
BS: It’s incredible. And still now his art is very provocative. You have to do that over decades and decades and it’s still provocative.
Q: Did you feel he fulfill his ideal of bringing together machine and flesh or was he still seeking a better way?
BS: I don’t know. He didn’t work a lot anymore in the last two years when I knew him. He would draw, and in the film you see at the beginning when he draws because he started with a pencil in his hand. Airbrush and design and sculpting came later, but he started with a pencil in his hand. He had it filmed, so I like it very much. I didn’t know if he fulfilled his wish for the biomechanical.
I don’t know if you know the sculpture he created it in 1968 for the film Swiss Made. It’s quite a weird creature. It’s a creature with a camera instead of a face and a recording machine instead of a chest. It was so visionary and incredible and he did this all his life, completing this vision from 1968 of a human-machine hybrid.
Q: His work would alter space. I remember the Giger Room at the Limelight and it was like another universe.
BS: His house where he lived is exactly like that. You have the feeling that you entered another universe, another world. And not just the house, but also the garden. I wanted to show that when I was shooting with the drone flying away from the house. You see all the new buildings around him, but he stayed there and it’s like a nest from another world.
Q: I interviewed Alejandro Jodorowsky and the director of the documentary, Jodorowsky’s Dune. They were disappointed that it didn’t get made. Wasn't Giger also disappointed that he didn’t get to work with David Lynch when it was handed over to him?
BS: I know Giger was disappointed. He did a lot of things for this movie, his furniture, for example. He made the Harkonnen chair for Dune. But I don’t know why Lynch didn’t want to work with Giger. Giger didn’t know it, but he was disappointed.
Q: He also suffered night shock syndrome where he wakes up screaming. Did he talk about it?
BS: Yes, there was a time when he had many nightmares. He said life influences him, but also his dreams. Nightmares influenced him. There are many pictures of them. There are monochrome pictures he did of what he saw in his nightmares while he painted "Passages."
Q: In light of what we see in the house, I didn’t realize the extent to which he had strange things everywhere. How did you decided what you could and couldn’t show? It would be a nightmare trying to pick and choose. How did you define the movie?
BS: This is the most difficult work in the process of filming for me, when you’re in the edit room and you have to choose, you have to select the material. I can’t explain to you.
It took days and weeks and hours and hours but finally you have to make a decision. I hope I have chosen best. I hope.
Q: Did the curator and museum director -- who is also his ex-wife -- help in the process since they knew him at an earlier time? Or was it important to show him as he is now looking back?
BS: Nobody had influence on the editing. They didn’t help me in choosing the material. I did this with my editor and my producer. For me it was important that Hans Rudi like the work I do. I did a teaser while I was shooting and I showed him this teaser and he liked it very much. He thought it was nice and I explained it to Rudi that I didn’t want to make a conventional biography. I can’t just say, “This is HR Giger and he was born in Chur in 1940.”
I wanted to go further. We were in the middle of editing when he died and it was a huge shock. Carmen Giger was the first to see it in the editing room before it was released and she sort of approved it.
She said to me after the screening, “This is true, this is honest. This is the Hans Rudi I recognize, I see him.” This was important to me. I would have a problem if she said to me after the screening, “I don’t recognize my husband here” but she said the opposite. She said it was deep and true. So that was important to me.
Q: Giger had an impact on the Japanese and did designs for the film Teito Monogatari. The impact his work had in Japanese animation and in Asia, they have these meldings of machine and man. Did he see that connection or discuss it?
BS: I know he liked Japanese culture, but I don’t know if he was aware of the huge impact he had on artwork in Japan. I know they liked his bar there. It was not so easy for him to work with a Japanese director. I don’t know if he was satisfied by those films made because I didn’t ask him, but I know the huge impact in Japan and in Japan they admire a lot his airbrushed work. They say he’s the master of the airbrush.
Q: Did he sign anything for you or give you any art?
BS: He signed some drawings for me, and I really appreciate that a lot. I didn’t ask him, I would never ask him for something like that. But he signed something for me.
Q: Did he do a sketch before making a painting? How did he design them?
BS: It’s really amazing. I don’t think Giger himself understood the process of his work. It’s coming from somewhere else. This is not Giger deciding. Giger didn’t understand where the paintings were coming from. This is why Giger said at the beginning of the project to not ask about his work, I don’t think he understood it.
Q: Sometimes he sketched and other times he just started airbrushing?
BS: For the airbrush paintings he didn’t sketch at all. Nothing, not at all. He would sketch with pencil, but no sketches for the airbrush work. It’s really out of his mind. The airbrush is the perfect tool for work like that. You don’t even touch the wood or paper you’re working on. It’s like…
Q: In a way, it’s like a mystical experience.
BS: Exactly. I like that he remained enigmatic. It’s cool. We don’t have to explain everything and I like that in this film.
Q: I’m glad he spoke about that experience with Li, his sexuality in his youth had an impact on the work. Would you agree?
BS: After Li’s death, his work became a little darker. Only a few times later he painted the Necronomicon which is a monster and it started the Alien career because Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien, had the book Necronomicon, and that’s what he showed to Ridley Scott who said, “Wow, that’s my monster.”
Q: We don’t realize how many ways in which the ideas came from Giger instead of the other way around. It wouldn’t be the same without him
BS: I absolutely agree. This movie happened because of HR Giger.
Q: One of my prize possessions is an Alien toy that were made when the film was first released; it was pull off shelves because it was too scary for kids. But those figurines are incredible. Did the movie scare you?
BS: Oh yes. Someone once asked me what scared me the most in the house of HR Giger and I can tell you it is his cat. It is unpredictable and she liked to jump on the shoulder of visitors.
Q: It’s funny you say that. He’s definitely a cat person. Did he ever suggest that his work was influenced by Egyptian mythology and art?
BS: Absolutely. This is a subject in the film, when he’s in the museum with his older sister and saw a mummy for the first time and was terrified. This is a great moment too, when Carmen explains that when he was afraid of something, he would visit this mummy on and on and on until he was not afraid any more. Until he could master his fears.
It's very inspiring too, to master your fears and engage with them. He was very influenced by his art. It’s not shown very well in the film, but he has this door to the room of his wife, Carmen, and he made this door in the shape of a sarcophagus. This influenced remained with him until the end of his life.
Q: I liked the stories about his lion skeleton and the skull in the bathtub. Are those skeletons still there?
BS: I filmed it. It's in the film. There are no skeletons of animals anymore though. They might be hidden somewhere though.
Q: What’s the next step for you? Do you see yourself continuing your relationship with the Giger folks or focusing on your own artwork or going in a completely different direction?
BS: I have a lot of projects in my mind, a new film project, but it’s too early to talk about, there’s nothing to share. But of course I have a relationship now with the Giger family. I see Carmen regularly because I want her to know what’s going on with the film, and what we're doing. I see Tom and the mother-in-law who works there. I still pay them many visits.
Cast of Boyhood. All photos by B. Balfour except Patricia Arquette at Golden Globes
Far too much of the buzz and ballyhoo about this season's indie awards darling Boyhood has focused on the fact that the film was made in real time -- sort of. Director Richard Linklater took his core ensemble — Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane and Lorelai Linklater — and reconvened them once a year for a few days over a 12-year span to shoot this family drama of a divorced couple and their two kids going through life’s ups and downs. Shot intermittently from 2002 to 2013, it depicts a young boy in Texas growing up with divorced parents, ending with adolescence and the advent of adulthood.
This native of Houston, Texas, told a common story about an ordinary family in a relatively conventional place, which might not have merited all the attention had not media and tastemakers seized on its unique process of construction. The reaction has been so arch that it’s overshadowing other, more subtle but equally important, qualities of the film.
Yes, if this 2-1/2 hour story had simply documented a family's disarray and aftermath with its eye-opening dissection, it might have earned as much praise. But the film did something far more essential when it changed focus from the family dynamic to Mason’s (Coltrane) personal evolution: he takes up photography, which helps define himself beyond the family’s trials. That move distinguished the movie from being just another domestic drama.
Creating Boyhood seems perfectly in character for a such a unique creator as this distinctly Texan director. His second film, Slacker, established his approach to filmmaking. Linklater worried less about plot and action than taking his audiences along a voyage into his consciousness, whatever it was into at the time.
As Linklater has moved along, his storytelling skills evolved while his films have retained a certain signature tone and attitude. Often working with the same actors such as Hawke (who has done the Before series with him), Linklater has put his faith in his actors and they in him.
The 44-year-old Hawke — one of his most veteran collaborators — helped anchor this project as he took risks with the two younger actors who played the kids. Both he and the 46-year-old Arquette have done the breadth of work in acting from television series to a range of indies and major studio movies.
Of course all have been rewarded for this unique venture. The film was then nominated for five Golden Globe Awards, winning Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Arquette. It has also received six Oscar noms, including Best Picture, Best Director, and acting nominations for Arquette and Hawke, which Arquette took home.
After Boyhood’s 2014 Sundance Film Festival premiere, it competed in the 64th Berlin International Film Festival’s main section where Linklater won the Best Director Silver Bear. Once it was released in July, 2014, it was declared a landmark film by many notable critics, who praised its direction, acting and scope.
This Q&A is culled from a press conference held at The Crosby Hotel in 2014 just before the film’s initial release.
Q: Has Boyhood changed the way you think about cinema, what cinema could and should be?
Linklater: Embarking on this, I had never seen this type of film before. I kind of figured that by this point, people would be pointing out to me how this type of film had in fact been made before in some country, but it’s never has happened. No one came forward with the film that felt original to me that I had never seen before. It felt like a huge idea — very simple — but an idea I had, based on years thinking about it.
Cinema in general, narrative storytelling, the possibilities of it in, relation to time and structure — I had spent my for my adult life thinking about that kind of stuff. With this film, I was solving a particular problem, so I liken to — it sounds arrogant — a scientist who goes to sleep at night and then dreams of the formula for his whatever that solves his problem.
If you’re a scientist and you’re thinking of a problem, o you get the answer that’s obvious. I’m kind of in that same boat, but I’m a storyteller who was trying to figure out how to tell the story, given the limitations I was confronted with. I think about this all the time in cinema: boundaries of narrative and filmmaking. I was excited about it.
When I first got involved with film, it had all these really unique storytelling possibilities. I loved the medium so much. I think film is still a wide-open frontier for storytelling.
Arquette: As far as cinema goes, I feel like I’ve watched a really strange shift over the course of my career. I’ve seen it become the business of bankers and spreadsheets. I feel like with the restraint in which Rick directed this movie — the structure couple with the collaborative openness and the balance of those two things — he didn’t tell the obvious dramatic story. Most people would say, “You’re not following the formula of storytelling. You’re not catering to this demographic.”
There’s a philosophical element to the human connection and communication and space for the human relationship. If this movie does well, first of all, financers will have to re-examine and be a little more supportive of exploring. I also think young film audiences actually enjoy this. I think the more we move towards technology in our human communications, the more of a need as human beings to see movies that are about humans.
Coltrane: I think there’s this tendency or need to gravitate towards hyper-dramas as the only thing that makes a story worth telling — these big, fantastical moments that don’t happen to most of us. I think it’s powerful to dwell on the little things.
Hawke: It’s interesting that the movie actually does get a lot of power off our pre-conditioned experiences at the cinema of thinking something big is going to happen. There’s unbelievable attention to the minutia of the movie because we’re so conditioned to think, “Something horrible must happen. We wouldn’t just be watching some people drive to this university if there isn’t going to be a car wreck, right?”
But what I love about that is that’s actually how I feel about my life. A lot of my life is wasted worrying. The movie actually captures the feeling of, “Well, he’s spending the night camping and it’s so scary.” But how do any of us survive those nights? But there’s something about how the movie works, in its relationship not just to its own storytelling but the storytelling doesn’t live in its own vacuum. It’s in response to other things.
Q: Despite its 12-year spread, there’s a really consistency to the arcs of the four main characters in the film. What did you see as the subtle and big changes to these characters?
Hawke: It depends on how you define big or small. They’re certainly small, by any normal standards of storytelling. My character goes through some pretty significant changes of who he is and the end, versus who he is at the beginning. Certainly we all do, but they’re very humanist changes.
Coltrane: There are a lot of small things after 12 years. Like, you age 12 years, but day-to-day, you’re just one day older.
Hawke: If he wanted to do a movie about transsexuals, he did a bad job [laughs]. I was trying to be funny, but that really wasn’t. Now it’s going to be all over the Internet. Please forgive me. Delete that comment.
Linklater: The whole movie is this little collection of intimate moments that probably don’t fit into most narratives. They’re not advancing the character or story enough or the plot that it would all add up to some things that are much bigger. That was the feel to the whole movie — but that mirrors our lives. Everything has a life corollary in that way.
Q: What was the experience of meeting over the 12 years to film Boyhood? Did any of you ever have any doubts about making this movie? Apparently, Lorelai Linklater reportedly had her doubts…
Linklater: That was kind of a fleeting thing. Had she not been my daughter… She approached the director and asked if her character could die. I explained to her it was a little dramatic for what we were trying to do. But that was a fleeting thing. She really enjoyed the movie.
It was special for us to work on it. It was special to get together every year. The crew felt it and the cast. We all committed. It was a life project. It never felt like anyone wavered, ever.
Hawke: I think I can say that we collectively grew to love it more and more and more. At first, seemed a little bit like a fun experiment, and then it turned into something I love so much. I remember years ago being in a rehearsal room with the great Tom Stoppard, and he was talking about how plot is this unfortunate device that the audience just needs. And what’s funny about plot is that over time, you don’t even remember it.
He talked about the obvious example of Lawrence of Arabia. You can watch that movie and 25 years later you still remember him [Peter O'Toole] standing on top of that train, expressing this feeling of power and what happens as he was becoming fully actualized of who he wanted to be in this kind of close-up.
I couldn’t even tell you where in that story that is, or what’s going on. I just remember that I was moved by it. He cited Gena Rowlands in a certain movie. He couldn’t remember the plot.
Rick was kind of daring with this movie to forego what [Tom] Stoppard thought was necessary, a bogus plot. Our lives don’t have plot, but he felt the narrative does. And this movie skirts around that.
Linklater: I replaced the plot with structure. I think it’s much more innate to how I think. We’re more adept to think, “Structure is plot.” Humans put structure in everything, [such as] time.
Hawke: Structure often doesn’t have line to it, whereas plot often does.
Linklater: It’s not so much a construct. It’s innately human.
Q: Do you see Boyhood as an intimate character study or something more sweeping than that?
Linklater: Both. It’s very specific and intimate to this family and to Mason and all that. It is intimate and but it’s very common, and I always thought it is very universal, within that specific world. This could have been made in any country, at any time. There’s such a commonality there. I’ve always thought of as a very universal, big story about life and time and all that.
Arquette: But also, Boyhood was not the [original] title.
Linklater: No, we didn’t call this “Boyhood” for 12 years. It was a name on our call sheet.
Arquette: Sometimes it was “The 12-Year Project.”
Linklater: Or “Growing Up.” We thought that was a little too vague. It was from a boy’s perspective, but it could be everything.
Hawke: This question even illuminates the answer, which is: it’s an epic about minutia. That’s what it is. It’s difficult to title because of that. But it’s a family seen through one boy’s eyes, so that title makes as much as sense as any other.
Linklater: Titles are difficult.
Q: While the title of the movie is Boyhood, there could also be secondary titles, like Motherhood and Fatherhood. What was going inside the heads of Mason Sr. and Olivia? Was that something you set out to do?
Linklater: It was always going to be a portrait of growing up and parenting and aging. You never stop growing up, especially when you’re a young parent. Their characters are still growing up still. I saw it as bumbling through parenting and also growing up. As adults, we have our own childhood experiences to draw on, we had our relations to our own parents, and we had ourselves as parents.
While filming, we had five children born between us, and that was an ongoing part of life. As kids, you have that perspective in that moment and thinking about your parents, but you’re not a parent yourself. It was this multi-generational collaboration always.
Life was all around. I really wanted to see the parents’ perspective. That scene at the end when [Mason Jr.] is leaving his mom — we all did that at some point. I remember the inability as a teenager to totally comprehend my mother’s point of view at that age. You’re so self-absorbed.
You can be the most empathetic person, but you don’t have the life experience at that age to fully understand what they’re going through. You can acknowledge, but you can’t fully feel it. We see that contrast in that scene so well, I think. We spent a lot of time talking about, all of us.
Q: You mentioned before that Boyhood is an epic of minutia. Does the vastness of this movie allow for those powerful moments of silence more than other films because it intertwines realism?
Linklater: I hope so. The playing field here was real in that way. I didn’t want anything to feel like it wasn’t earned or tethered to some kind of reality. I don’t think there was anything in the movie that didn’t come out of my life or their lives or something real-world-based.
So within that, once you get people accepting it as real, it really opens you up to an incredible realm of possibilities of your experience of the movie, because it just relates to your own life and looking at that emotional spectrum. Once you’re hitting some people’s own lives, that’s an incredible area. It was designed to do that.
You can’t specifically say what anyone can experience at any given moment, but once you get to thinking about life in general and your own life and your lives of loved ones and your own experiences, it’s triggering all kinds of wonderful things, I hope — painful and wonderful, maybe. Who knows?
Q: Was it difficult to get back into character every time you met up for Boyhoodover the years? Did you watch any dailies?
Coltrane: I wasn’t acting in other movies. I get asked that a lot. It was a very long buildup every year. We always had a couple of months to think about what we were doing, and then a solid week of workshopping and building the character and figuring out where the characters were that year. By the time we got to filming, we were just already there.
Hawke: We had a very good director. My father is a mathematician. Usually, mathematicians have their breakthrough ideas really young.
[He says to Linklater] It’s interesting that you were in his 40s when he started this, but I don’t think your style of filmmaking has changed that much, but you’re a lot more experienced. If you had done this movie when you were 26, working with Ellar was different than the way you worked with Lorelai which was different than the way you worked with me and different from the way you worked with Patricia.
I’ve worked with [Richard Linklater] eight times now. I’ve watched Rick learn how to speak to people the way they need to be spoken to. And that’s what helps you be ready to play. We were always prepared to play.
You brought up something that I’m surprised that people don’t write about more, which is how awesome it is to see Patricia’s character in this movie, and to see a woman who is a mother and a lover and more than one thing in a movie. I’m so proud to be a part of a movie that respects her character in the way this movie does. It’s so real and it’s so true.
It’s true in life — we see it all the time — but I don’t see that woman in movies. [A woman in movies] she’s in the background or an ancillary element to give some encouragement in some way to some studly guy. But this [Olivia] character is a real, three-dimensional human being, which is so exciting. The women in my life who have seen the movie so appreciate it. But she’s also not just good. She does stupid things and smart things.
Linklater: There’s a complexity to Olivia.
Hawke: I just love her… We’re used to people in movies being one thing all the time.
Linklater: She’s a great woman at the end. She’s worked toward that. There’s so much complexity to her. We’re all human. There are flaws. To work with someone like Patricia, who’s so ferociously real, it was super-inspiring.
Q: Mason Jr.’s interest in photography changes his life. Was that a conscious decision to have him pick up photography? Did that parallel any of your ownexperiences when you decided to become an artist? Frankly I feel the is the crux of the film far more than the time-span concept or a simple study of marriage, divorce, and its effect on families. Without this development the film would have been far more pedestrian.
Linklater: I always thought that we’d see Mason get into some kind of art, some form of expression by junior high/high school. Somewhere in there, he would start to express himself. I didn’t know exactly what form that would be.
I thought maybe it would be writing or maybe music. If I had to bet, I thought Ellar would be in a band. But he actually did become a visual artist. He was very interested in photography. I personally liked that. I thought, “That’s great!” I was taking pictures at that age, and I thought that was a perfect segue and a perfect thing for his character to get into.
Coltrane: Absolutely. I think being lost in the artistic process is a very therapeutic thing and an outlet that’s incredibly valuable, no matter what it is, to throw yourself into creating something.
Hawke: The most beautiful experience for me about making this movie is watching Ellar become this creative entity unto itself. If the movie didn’t work, it would’ve been a stunt or gimmick around time. It’s Ellar’s performance and his creativity and passion in the movie that elevate it. It makes it more than structure.
The structure is working, but it requires a certain level of inspiration.
Watching [Ellar] survive adolescence and let the movie not just be Rick’s expression, but also [Ellar’s]. That was happening in the movie, and it was happening on the set in different. Ellar is not Mason; they’re different people, but there’s a similar development.
[Patricia] and I discovered the arts young. Much has been said about how transformative and healing that can be. But there are other ways to be creative. You can be creative in athletics. You can be creative in a lot of different ways, if you find a passion for it. You can express yourself with baseball. You can manifest your personality with your team and with your coach in the same way that you can in the arts. I could wish for two things for my kids: decent friends and a passion that’s so exciting.
Arquette: The beautiful thing about art, whether you’re getting paid for it or not, it is a little spark of a life force, whatever that it. It’s miraculous, some of the great biblical art in churches. Some of our greatest musicians may have been flawed humans, but were somehow connected to something beautiful.
In acting, you have to get past your own head and your own ego and all of these f*cking barriers and walls, and get to a place where you can hopefully be present enough to be in a scene in someone to get out of your own way, to listen to a director who has a beautiful vision and just be there.
Chilling out with these people every year, meeting each other, building on each other… It was collaborative and built upon itself. I felt safe with everyone, and I trusted their process. And it was jumping into the void from the get-go. When you’re in the right hands and you jump into the void together, really great things can come of it.
Q: Boyhood is a movie about growing up -- one way or the other. Ethan and Patricia, what do you remember about your first kiss?
Hawke: Our first kiss? My first kiss was with a girl named Cindy at the Hamilton Roller Rink, during the slow skate. And she said to me afterward, “Do you like Jack Daniels?” And I said, “Yeah, too bad he died.” I didn’t really know what Jack Daniels was then. I think I thought it Jimi Hendrix.
Arquette: I do not remember my first kiss. That doesn’t mean I’ve had a lot of kisses. I think I was pretty young. I’m sure it was a peck.
But I do remember one kiss. I don’t know why, but I really didn’t like the way this guy kissed me. He was a friend of a friend. He was a pro skater, and he was the only guy I ever gave a fake phone number to. And years later, he murdered his girlfriend.
Boyhood is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray
Of all the issues I had with A Walk in the Woods (our review) - the telling of Bill Bryson's failure to complete the Appalachian Trail - Nick Nolte was not amongst them. In fact, he was the solitary beacon of hope shining through a film that otherwise stank of mediocrity. After the screening, the infamously crazed actor looked older than ever, shambling to a chair with the help of friends and family. You see, following the filming of Woods, Nolte had a full hip replacement. His spirits, medium-high, he sat to ironic applause and answered a few ambling questions with surprising tact and clarity. For such a wild man, Nolte has an astute, somewhat rambling outlook on nature, film and the great American trail. And nothing can beat out that gruffalo growl of his.
Read more: Nick Nolte Goes For "A Walk in...
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