Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome back, Philip Ridley! Jim Sturgess shines in his strange new film, HEARTLESS; Q&A with the filmmaker and star


Philip Ridley (shown below, left, with his star, Jim Sturgess) is back to theatrical movie-making after nearly fifteen years. In HEARTLESS, he's come up with something so strange and frightening, marvelous and moving, apocalyptic and chilling -- and perhaps undecipher-able (but you probab-ly won't mind) -- that all TrustMovies can say is: See it.  The man who made The Reflecting Skin and who wrote The Krays is an artist, and I don't think that it's so much that he won't compromise his vision, as it is that he can't. Just as well, too. In person, the fellow seems utterly gregarious and warm, delighted to be speaking to us and getting his new work
out and about.

When, during our interview I remarked on how Sturgess (shown near left and below), who was also present at our short conversation this week, did a superb job of making sense of something that doesn't seem to make sense on any literal level, the actor laughed and said that, yes, it was rather difficult, when members of the press asked him to describe what the film is about, to sum it all up in a sound bite.

Part horror/slasher movie, part sci-fi/apocalyptic doomsday scenario, part fractured family saga, on one level, the movie tells the story of a young man, Jamie (Sturgess, above), a photographer with a large facial birthmark, who, in his travels, comes upon a group of... what?  Kids in Halloween costumes? Alien life forms? The next generation of some strange DNA mixture? Whatever they are, they're vicious and frightening. Danger hangs over everything in this movie, sometime obvious, sometimes not.

And this is just the beginning.  Jamie appears to have been hand-picked to serve a very dark, devilish presence, Papa B (the bizarre and sensual Joseph Mawle, above), who offers our hero a deal by which he can rid himself of that unsightly facial blemish.  This is one literal way in which the title figures in, but, trust me: You don't want to know specifics.

Family figures into this mix in a monumental way: a dead father (Timothy Spall, above, left, with Sturgess) and a loving mom (the priceless Ruth Sheen), a younger brother and more. And a beautiful foreign girl (Clémence Poésy, below).

There's a neighbor (Noel Clarke, two photos down), a luckless male hustler (below), the little-girl acolyte of Papa B, and -- in a very funny, scary single scene, Eddie Marsan (three photos down) as one of Papa's underlings who pays an explanatory visit to our soon-to-be non-hero.

The strangest, most horrible and vicious things happen, and yet it all seems somehow acceptable, even bizarrely reasonable, because of the blend of psychology, culture, politics and economics combined with science-fiction, an end-of-times scenario and the sheer need for love and acceptance demonstrated by Jamie. (Sturgess gives a powerhouse performance, but it's the kind that almost always goes unrecognized at awards time -- in movies that stretch the boundaries of cinema while going, for the most part, unseen).

Heartless, from IFC Films, opens today, November 19, at the IFC Center while simultaneously playing via IFC On-Demand.  Click here for theatrical screening times and here to learn how to get the film On-Demand.

TM wishes he had time to transcribe the full interview with Ridley and Sturgess, but if he does, this post will not make it online in time for the movie's theatrical opening today. Below are some highlights, with TM's questions in boldface, and Ridley's and Sturgess' answers in standard type.

(To Mr. Ridley) You should make films more often -- or is that easier said than done? 

Ridley: Much easier said than done. Ask the people with the money.

With only three films as writer director in almost 20 years, all of them good films, I am wondering: Were there a lot of other things besides making films that you wanted to do in the meantime?

Well, nothing was planned.  I never have any plans about what I'm doing -- at all. I'm like a ball in a pin ball machine. Just doing whatever I think should come next, really. It's just really difficult to get my films off the ground. There's no easier way of saying it that that. My films don't fit into any category. They need a bigger leap of imagination to understand, I think. In my opinion, the best scripts don't necessarily make the best films. I think something else happens between the script and the film -- which is the important thing: that alchemcy that lifts it off.  For example, I think the script for Jaws was probably not as good as the film Jaws. It's what Speilberg brought to that.

I've never heard anyone even refer to the script of Jaws!

It's that gap between the script and finished film. There has to be a huge kind of alchemy to create that cinematic experience: color, composition, light, shade, texture. All of these things are what tell the story and you can't get that into script. There's got to be a huge leap.

It's like the shower scene in Psycho: In the script its just, "She's gets into the shower and is stabbed to death." But that's not what we're seeing. Instead it's something that changes the course of film history for the next 50 years and invents a whole genre of slasher films. When I do a script, it's visual experience. and most people cannot lift that visual experience off the page.

I've only seen your first film, The Reflecting Skin, one time, but it sort of blew me away and I could not compare it to much else. Which is also how I feel about Heartless; It doesn't compare to anything else. It has elements of horror, sci-fi, slasher, elements of father/son bonding. All kind of things. It just the strangest movie, and yet it works. 

It's always hard to talk about my films as narratives.  But I really do think there's a shift in how younger people are perceiving narrative. They're used to choosing and picking and mixing.  Barrier are breaking down. When I was in school, there were so many arguments about different types of music.

Sturgess:  I recently went to hear a band called Gorillaz: They are basically a combination of so many types of music. This was not so apparent to me until I saw them live. There is everything here: gospel music, reggae, electronic, Arabic, Mandarin -- and it is all put into something that's really popular. To me they are the greatest pop band in the world today.  I am just backing up what Phil is saying -- that there is this hunger for all these different influences from around the world.

(TM asks about the fact that Heartless has been playing On-Demand for awhile, and what thus might mean to the movie, but neither Ridley nor Stugees knows anything about this.)  This may not be that important, expect to indicate th kind of box-office the movie might take in.  This shouldn't matter that much, but of course it does because the box-office take seems to dictate to much about what we're allowed to see.

Ridley: Yes and it really dictates too much  This has got to start breaking down, and it will. It already has in music. I remember a few years ago how some people said, "Oh this will be the end of music: Downloading! But then the industry began to find a way to make this work for them. And the movie industry has got to find a new way, too.  Otherwise, what you're going to see is only three movies released in a single year, costing billions of dollars and each having Leonardo DiCaprio in it, and opening on 5,000 screens.  We're almost at that point now -- with Avatar and Harry Potter. There used to be outlets for other types of films.

But there are these outlets now. We're seeing so many different films, small little films, tons of docmentaries. Opening for just one week of theatrical in one theater. People are trying.

(We turn our atention to Sturgess.) Now, Jim -- this is such as odd film, but yet you seem to have understood it very well.  It must have been a strange experience making it.

It was a riot, yeah. I had an amazing time making it. We had to move really fast -- which allowed us to get into this place that made us go so fast. We'd come into work each morning charged up. We had some amazing experiences with it. I had an incredible time making this film.

I was talking to your agent, outside, telling her that I admire you so much fro making these little films. Because you could be making the bigger films.  Sort of like Bruce Willis did after making it big -- dividing ihs time between smaller movies and blockbusters. Certain actor seem to do this. 

Well, I love films and I love art and artisttic integrity, so to me it made perfect sense to do this. After 21, it really seemd to make sense. After that movie, which was the big film that made people assume that I would move to L.A. and make mainstream movies...

We did have our fears...

I had a horrible interview the other day. I was promoting Legend of the Guardians, the animated film, and several people asked me, "What happened to you?  Where did you go? We all thought you were going to be big, but you haven't done anything since 21."  And I was like, Oh, god...

Did you hit them?

(He laughs) No, but I wondered where they had been.  (Sturgess has made several film since 21, including the upcoming The Way Back.) I just shot a Peter Weir film, and I think, in casting me, he was responding to some of the other work I had done.  

We get the high sign that our interview time is over, so we thank Sturgess and Ridley and wish them very well on their latest endeavor.

(All photos -- except that featuring Mr. Ridley -- are from the film itself.)

2 comments:

Joseph said...

The birthmark looks exactly like the one on Jacob in "12 And Holding" directed by Michael Cuesta

James van Maanen, said...

Interesting, Joseph. I didn't realize this, though I've seen 12 and Holding (but not for some years now). You've got a good eye for detail, I should think.