Author Topic: Canadian Filmmakers  (Read 5255 times)

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Canadian Filmmakers
« Reply #30 on: September 17, 2004, 12:41:10 AM »


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Canadian Filmmakers
« Reply #31 on: May 17, 2005, 02:03:41 PM »
Canadian directors see violent, star-struck U.S.
Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg look south with two new films. Source: Los Angeles Times

CANNES, France — Canada. The United States looks different from there. Ask Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg, Toronto residents and good friends who have films in competition here — films that turn out to share a potent point of view vis-à-vis the United States.

It's not just that Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" and Egoyan's "Where the Truth Lies," both based on novels and both changes of pace for their directors, are set in the U.S. It's that their north-of-the-border attitude has given them a different take on two pervasive American problems, our culture of violence and our fealty to celebrity.

Both directors refer to media guru and fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan when discussing their own work in relation to the U.S. "Does a fish know about water?" Cronenberg asks metaphorically. "Living in a tributary, not the ocean, McLuhan had a different perspective. The insights he had into America would not be possible to anyone living in America. Stepping away has a lot to do with it."

"A History of Violence," written by Josh Olsen from John Wagner and Vince Locke's graphic novel, is, at $32 million, easily Cronenberg's most expensive film. More to the point, for a director whose previous work, from "Scanners" to "Naked Lunch" to 1996's "Crash," has usually played out on reality's farthest shores, this one deals with a convincingly happy family (parents Viggo Mortensen and Maria Bello and their two children) in Millbrook, Ind., "a Middle American vision of Eden."

"I enjoyed that aspect of the film, it was kind of a free gift," the director says, looking calm and collected despite very little sleep. "When you're inventing weird stuff, you have to start from scratch so the audience gets it. The dynamics of family are so understood you can start from a higher level and go further. You get the gift of emotional intensity, people relate and are drawn in in a way a bizarre fantasy never could accomplish."

Not that what happens to Tom Stall (Mortensen) isn't more than passing strange. The film begins with his killing two homicidal psychopaths who attempt to rob his diner, and the resulting publicity brings some equally tough hombres into his life, two of whom are splendidly played by Ed Harris and William Hurt.

"Give me great actors every time, they solve so many problems," Cronenberg says, smiling and referring to his entire cast. "When you get on a racetrack, you want a Ferrari. The whole Svengali thing is not for me, I don't want to help them figure out how to act. I'm looking for collaborators. It takes a big burden off of you." Hurt, for one, was so excited by his role he promised the director, "I've got some afterburners I haven't used," and Cronenberg replied, "I'm going to ask you to fire those."

"Violence" has ended up a particularly fruitful collaboration, a forceful, riveting film about the pernicious effects of violence that easily combines an absorbing and disconcerting plot with underlying societal concerns. "It has a simplicity, such a transparency, that you can see through it into something else that is underneath," the director says. "And that something else is quite disturbing."

"You can't pick up a newspaper or go online without seeing violence close to home," Cronenberg explains. "In a way, every act of violence in the movie is justifiable, it's set up deliberately so that anyone would have done it or wanted to. But killing is killing. As a kid I remember watching something on TV that brought home the horror of state-sponsored execution. If you're an American, you have a current administration that says killing under certain circumstances is very desirable, and the more wonderful at it you are — 'shock and awe' — the more you can congratulate yourself."

The violence in "Violence" comes in brief, intense bursts — "nasty, brutish and short," Cronenberg calls it, quoting Thomas Hobbes — and was intended by the director to reflect street fighting techniques. In researching those he found more evidence of the kind of malaise the film is addressing.

"You can find places that send you tapes and DVDs about how to kill on the street. And they show a guy our age from Florida, in golf pants, saying, 'I feel much safer knowing I could kill three guys with my bare hands.' You should see this guy, he's like your father or grandfather, and he's blossoming, talking about a situation he's certain is going to come. The reality the media creates is a terrifying one. It's selling fear, and it wouldn't be able to sell it if people didn't want to buy it."

Like Cronenberg's film, Egoyan's project also began with a book, but this was a mainstream bestseller by Rupert Holmes that dealt with a young reporter circa 1972 (Alison Lohman) who investigates the mysterious murder of a woman 15 years earlier that led to the breakup of the great comedy team of the age, Vince Collins (Colin Firth) and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon).

It was a book so unlike the projects Egoyan ("The Sweet Hereafter") usually takes on that the filmmaker admits even his own agent was surprised. But the energetic and articulate director says that "sometimes I get taken into a world so completely outside my own I get excited by the possibilities, by something latent in the material that provokes and engages me." One of those things was what the film depicts as the potentially corrosive and destructive effects of Hollywood-style show business celebrity.

"As a filmmaker who works in Canada, I'm both inside and outside that world, and I love the distance I have from it," Egoyan says. "The entertainment industry is clearly America's major export, it's something that we as Canadians have a profound respect for as well as an awareness of its mechanics. It was exhilarating dealing with the rhythms of American culture; one of the film's most exciting aspects was being in the belly of the beast."

As the child of interior designers who has himself "always been intrigued by how interiors are constructed," Egoyan was especially fascinated by the notion that "so much of celebrity is about being able to project an image of who you might appear to be, which has very little to do with who you are. That creates tremendous pressure, a dilemma that my two actors understand way better than I do."

When he's taken meetings with major stars about roles, Egoyan says, he's come to "understand the pressure they're under to make the right decision, how vulnerable they are in that position. If they commit, they have to be able to defend that decision, because ultimately a whole battery of people have to follow them through the process of making that film.

"In most artistic pursuits, one is aware of having a set of creative standards, but here people find themselves in a lifestyle that presupposes everything they are going to do will be successful. That is completely different from what their artistic plans might be."

As to Egoyan's artistic plans, he might be speaking for both directors when he says that he's trying to create in the viewer what he calls "the transgressive feeling of not being sure you're supposed to be watching, of being in a place where you shouldn't be but you can't get out of it. Something dangerous might happen, things might go too far. You don't fear for the characters, you have a very distinct sense you yourself might be affected."

Then there's the matter of this film festival, and the place of films like his and Cronenberg's within it. "From the English-speaking Canadian perspective," Egoyan says, "this is an incredible year at Cannes."
“Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” - Andy Warhol

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