Is art just a futile attempt to cover up trauma and an
illusory substitute for loss? Is the internet, like cinema, a reflection of the
subconscious processes of the mind? Sometimes I wonder how these people have
the patience to put up with me, asking questions like that.
PK: I was reading Roger Ebert's review of
your film "Ararat," and he's saying that it's a very powerful story, but why do
you have to make it so difficult, , why not just tell one of the stories
instead of having it a film within a film and so forth. How do you respond to
criticism like that?
AE: It's funny when critics' tell you what should have done
as opposed to what you have done. I think the other extreme reaction I had was,
oh, it should have been a documentary. And it's like, well, , no, it shouldn't have.
That's not the story I wanted to tell. So the question is, given what I did
want to tell, I mean, what's the feeling about the actual telling? You could
say that it's too complicated for it's own good, maybe. My own feeling about
that film with a bit of distance is that it's wildly ambitious. I'm really
proud of it, I think it's probably, it's not the best film I'll make, but I
certainly think it's the most important one in terms of what it's actually
trying to deal with.
I think it's quite
unique, , it's unwieldy for sure. I mean, I think it's actually a film that
probably should have been written as a novel first and then adapted, but that
wasn't the way it evolved. And it's still seven years later, a film of mine
that's really discussed a lot. There's some seminars about it. It's dealing
with a really important issue, which is:
how do we deal with the legacy of trauma through generations? And how
does that distort our entire relationship to history? I had a specific agenda
with that, and it wasn't about trying to present the Armenian Genocide. I
wasn't trying to make the film within the film, the film within the film
actually is not for me to make.
It's weird that my
wife [Arsinée Khanjian] starred in a version of that film that the Taviani
brothers made, called "The Lark Farm." It
was made three years after "Ararat." It's dealing with the Armenian Genocide
based on a very successful Italian novel and it's just not my interest to make
that type of a historic epic...I wrote the film that I had in mind and I think
with some distance people can appreciate it for what it is. Or not, again, time
tells. I think the wonderful thing about films is that, unlike theater, they
last, they persist.
Sometimes things, especially in this very accelerated kind
of culture we live in...some things that need attention may find that they get
attention after the fact, that they don't necessarily think up to a particular
moment that they have. But, the tragedy is when those films are not even
available for distribution. I mean the great thing about a film like "Ararat" is
because it had Miramax and it's available through their output deal that they
had with Disney, so, that film is widely available. And that to me the triumph
of a movie like that, that it's accessible to people and they can make their
own choice. I think what's really sad is when a film doesn't even have that
opportunity to enter into people's consciousness.
And then finishing going back to what you were saying, with
the Internet being kind of a source of a collective subconscious, so you could
say that maybe it can find it's way somehow, through YouTube or some other
alternate way of distributing it. But I wonder whether or not that that really
gives some work its fair due. It's interesting, I wrote a piece for "The New
York Times" on summer films - I don't know if you read it, about a week ago, or
ten days ago - and I was talking about Frank Perry, who is actually one of
these forgotten figures of American independence cinema. He made films like "The
Swimmer" and "David and Lisa" and there was this film called "Last Summer,"
and I tried to find it.
It was never released on DVD, it was never released on
VHS, but someone has posted scenes from it on YouTube. And you go, ok, well, I
guess it's there somehow. It has a few hundred hits...people, somehow, have
exchanged it. So then it becomes this other product, right, it's not really the
film, it's this sort of composite of scenes so the rest of it exists in
people's imagination. And that's fascinating, isn't it? That's a new type of
cinephilia, right, constructed of these particular moments people wish to
download or have access to and share.
PK: Sort of like with the modernism, like T.S. Eliot or
something, taking these broken fragments of past culture and making them into
AE: Yeah, and , that's a very fascinating process to me. And
in a way that's what Simon's doing, right, he's taking these items and these
objects and he's kind of breaking them down, right, and fracturing them, and
kind of creating a new culture around them that's relevant to himself. Because
the old one certainly doesn't work anymore.
PK: I read a quote that you had about film, "film grammar is
similar to dream grammar" and then you suggested that's why it caught on so
quickly not only with film makers but also audiences are able to adapt to the
language of film so readily. It's natural. What do you think the internet is, I
mean, that caught on as quickly as film did, certainly. Is that another form of
dream grammar or dream structure?
AE: Hm, that's a really good question. I don't think in the
same way, no, because it's not as hypnotic and we're not as spellbound just
because the nature of how we receive a video image. It's not made for the same
concentration, and I'm talking about it as the whole. I think there are
individual images that are obviously made that way, and you can find an
individual image maybe on YouTube that is made that way, but as a collective concept
the internet is so open., the thing about a film is that it unspools, or it -
again that's an old concept - but it is being played in a certain way, that, in
a way, there's an inevitability about it. I mean, it's going to end at a
certain point, and so there's a fixed chain of images which have been
predetermined. And in that sense, we are in it's thrall. In a way that we are
not in the thrall of the internet. It's by it's nature...There are so many other
possibilities that are open for us to explore at any given time that we commit
ourselves to the idea and that becomes part of a ...It's very much rooted in our
conscious world, I think. Because it involves us, it requires us to make very
clear, strategic choices in terms of how we navigate it. Film allows us to
drift a lot more, and that's its beauty, I think, and what makes it so
PK: There seems to be a catastrophe or some sort of trauma,
as you put it, at the center of most of your films, and it's sort of a pearl
affect; you get more and more layers covering it in order to make it something
beautiful and also to make the pain something far away. Do you think that's an
AE: Well yes, and often those are layers that have been
constructed by people to either hide or to protect, right? I mean, and maybe, a
grandfather thinks that he's protecting his grandson from certain realities [as
in "Adoration"], but doesn't really understand that he's also harming him. I
don't think that necessarily these things are done maliciously, but they end up
being very damaging.
PK: He wasn't a nice man though, you have to admit that.
AE: He was not a nice man, no.
PK: Your recent film, "Chloe..." something traumatic happened during the making of that. [the death
of Natasha Richardson, the wife of that film's
star, Liam Neeson, in a skiing accident].
AE: That was crazy, that was an insane thing.
PK: Has that every
happened to you before while making a movie?
AE: No, I think it's happened very rarely, I mean, I've
talked to film makers and it's a very rare situation where a whole production
comes grinding to a halt, , and where it's as traumatic as that was. Yeah, very
sobering, and it also really affected the crew, because I think, , we're in a
profession where people are away from their families sometimes, so the idea
that something like that could happen of that scale, that you wouldn't be
there. We ended up making it...but it was just so freakish. I mean, the whole
thing was just so...and it also alerted us to [the fact that] we all fall, and we
all know the situations where someone says, "are you sure you're ok?" And we
go, "Oh yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine."
PK: You took a couple weeks off, was that right?
AE: Yeah, and then he came back, which is so amazing. He was able to resume.
PK: It's also probably a way to cope too, is to focus on
AE: Yes, and I think it would have been more difficult for
him to come back now, say. There was a great, for him, this moment where his
whole family was there, and the boys were being looked after and he knew that
he could come and finish it, and that would be with family while he was able to
come for the four days that he had.
PK: And you've worked with him a lot in the past. You did "Krapp's
Last Tape" with him, the Beckett play.
AE: That's right, yeah.
PK: Beckett seems...I mean, the sort of starkness of Beckett
in this and the almost rococo structure of your films seem, like, along
diametrically opposite lines...
AE: I don't know if you ever saw the film version if "Krapp's
Last Tape?" That to me was one of the most amazing projects
I ever had, with John Hurt, and it was like, again, this idea of using
different sort of structures, but in that case, in that play, it's all within a
linear, sort of real time. You have a 69 year old man listening to his 39 year
old self on tape, referring to his 24 year old self.
PK: Right, that is a little convoluted.
AE: Yeah, but beautiful, and so carefully wrought.
PK: When is "Chloe" coming out?
AE: It'll be ready for the festival [Cannes]
PK: And you didn't write this?
AE: No, no. This is the first project I've done where I
didn't have any say into the writing. I mean of course, what am I saying...I
spent a year working on it, but it was with Erin [Erin Cressida Wilson, the
writer]. I mean Erin did all of the
PK: And you're working on something else now?
AE: No, just editing "Chloe."
PK: Well, it's always rewarding to see a new film of yours.
AE: Thanks, Peter.