Q: You seem to make movies only about very troubled people. Why?
It would be very uninteresting to make movies about characters who are having a good
time because there's no story. So, and I don't mean to make pretentious comparisons here,
but if you look at all the famous playwrights, Eugene O'Neil, Tennessee Williams, these
people write about characters that are going through many, many unpleasant crises and
that's the only way that I can think to make them interesting or funny, so I'm always
making up extra problems for the characters in my movies.
Q: Most of the time you don't care much about awards and ceremonies. Why is
I've learnt that the reward for one's work has got to be in the only possible way that
you can have it, which is the actual work itself. Anything that happens after, if it's
film we're talking about for example, whether the film is critically or financially
successful or not, or whether it's a film that wins awards or not becomes completely
irrelevant if you don't enjoy the actual work that you're doing on the film. So once I am
finished working on a film I put it out, I don't follow up on it to see how well or how
poorly itís doing, I don't want to hear that I am a genius or a fool from anybody,
none of that. I just want to go to work on my next film.
Now this comes with awards as well: I never believed that my films are works of art but
I believe that any creative thing shouldn't be in competition with any other creative
thing. I think it would be silly to think that my film is the best this year and someone
else's is the best next year. So I avoid all of that and I never participate in it. I
don't mean to denigrate it to the people that take it seriously. That's their choice, but
personally I've been productive over the years by being very strict about finishing a
film, putting it away, not seeing it any more, not following up on it and just getting to
work on my next film. That has worked for me and I am too old to change it now.
Q: The characters in Celebrity seem to be quite shallow and superficial.
They're only concerned with things that had no importance once, but now seem to. Are you
telling us that we have reached the point of nothingness, of zero?
I can only speak for my own country because I am so familiar with it, living there day
to day. My culture has reached the point in which the characters in my movie and the movie
itself is really a cry for help. The culture in the USA has become so immersed in
celebrity and entertainment that there's no more line between show business, political
system, our President, the Congress . . . people who are on trial for their lives have
become show business in the USA, and everyone deserving it or not have become a celebrity
In the movie Celebrity I have used the line that 'somewhere along the line the culture
has taken a wrong turn,í and I am not deep enough, or smart enough myself to figure
out exactly why this is or what to do about it, but I know that something has gone very,
very wrong with the culture in the USA, when what occurs with our President and our
Congress becomes such a joke all over the world. This is very typical of where our culture
has gone, and something has got to be done at some point to reverse this trend.
On our television you see people who are on trial because they have killed their
children and their wife and the pieces of the trial are shown between advertisements for
deodorants and toilet paper. And these criminals end up having their own television show,
having talk shows every night. All the lawyers from the O.J. Simpson trial, for example,
have their own TV show. Hostages come back to the USA as major celebrities.
Q: Why did you shoot Celebrity in black and white, when it is such a
Because I find black and white very beautiful and I don't like the idea of abandoning
it as a way of making films. Many of my favourite films have been in black and white and
after all these years they remain beautiful. In fact some of my favourite films are the
Italian black and white films that came to the USA after the war. This is probably the
fifth or sixth film I have done in B/W; I know that you get a smaller audience for B/W
pictures for some strange reason, but I just feel that more filmmakers should make films
Q: Why do you think your films have been better received and appreciated
outside the USA, and in Europe in particular...?
This has been a big mystery to film companies for years and years now. You can only
think of two possibilities: one is that when I was at my most impressionable period of
life, as a young man, the films that were most meaningful to me were made by European
filmmakers. At that time, after the war, the USA was flooded with European movies. Up
until that period we had only seen American movies which you know, can be wonderful but
mostly are entertaining and escapist and aimed at a lower common denominator. Then,
suddenly, we started getting all these European movies that were works of art. We got the
best films from Sweden, France, Italy and these were overwhelming to me, and it's possible
that over the years of seeing them so many times and loving them so much, without
realising it, they have become a part of me, And I started to make films that sort of
reflect the kind of sensibility, the kind of feelings that European audiences were used to
and American audiences not. For instance the tempo in a European comedy is very different
from that of an American comedy. The other possibility is that ... my films gain something
in the translation...!
Q: What do you think is the role of cinema nowadays? To promote national
cultures or to entertain within its own culture? And why is there still a feeling of
crisis in cinema?
I think that cinema, like literature, is very varied and there's definitely a place for
all of it. What bothers me the most is that there seems to be no place at this point for
fine cinema and serious cinema. And that's the big problem because while the market should
be diverse and cover any type of cinema they structure it financially and it's only
lucrative and viable for them to work with a profit motive all the time; this is a sad
thing and this is the crisis.
I don't believe that cinema should have any preconceived function except to express
whatever the artist has in mind. One artist may have in mind to impact on the culture in
some socially beneficial way and that's fine. Another person may want to do something
different. But the problem with cinema today is that there's no diversity, and certainly
in the USA, it is almost all trivial. Itís not only the Studios; there's little
demand for [fine films] even from very educated young people, who patronise very foolish
films and they think they're wonderful and they have no knowledge, no literacy in films
whatsoever. And this is what the sad crisis of cinema is all about.
Q: How did you decide to cast Leonardo di Caprio in Celebrity?
When I first saw Leonardo in a movie was in Marvin's Room, because Diane (Keaton) is a
very close friend of mine and I didn't know who he was but I thought he was a very fine
new young actor. So I called Diane and she said I should go and see a movie called What's
Eating Gilbert Grape and that he was very nice and a wonderful actor. So sometime past and
when I was casting for Celebrity, Leonardo was on the list that my casting director gave
me. So I said why don't we get him? He is a wonderful actor and he's not just handsome but
very professional. Then, about six months later, Titanic came out and it was gigantic and
he became a huge star, and I thought to myself "Oh, I am so lucky because now
everyone will come and see my movie now", but it didn't happen and instead of me
pulling him up, I pulled him down. He's not just an empty celebrity at all. He's a very
fine actor and if he keeps his hands on the wheel he will have a very wonderful career,
like Robert de Niro or Al Pacino. He's authentic.
Q: And your next film?
Iíve just finished shooting a film starring Sean Penn, Uma Thurman and an English
girl called Samantha Morton and Anthony La Paglia. I don't have a name for the film yet,
but it takes place in the 30s and it's funny (at least I hope it's funny!) but also
serious, about a musician and what happens in his life -good and bad things - being
involved with these two women. And the cameraman, Lun Yang (Raise the Red Lantern, 1991),
is Chinese and he's never worked outside China before. It's interesting because in the
last 15 years I have only worked with foreign cameramen. I can't say if it's a great film
yet because I am still editing it. But I can tell you that it's beautifully acted and
photographed, so if it doesn't come out any good, it's all my fault!