Interview With Tilda Swinton, part 3

PK: I have to ask you this question. A friend of my told me once that you are a duchess, is that correct?

TS: Umm no. But don't tell them. Let them dream on.

PK: But you are a member of one of the oldest families in Scotland, correct?

TS: Yes.

PK: Is that something that doesn't mean anything to you, or is it something you've rebelled against at one point? How does that fit into your metamorphosis?

TS: Well, it's very much a part of who I am. I don't know what you look like, or what your story is Peter, but it's like asking you what your shoe size means to you. It's part of who you are and you are built around it. Rebelling against it would be absolutely ridiculous. I don't think I've ever rebelled against it. I've negotiated it my entire life. But I'm very happy to embrace it. It's who I am. I'm a twig on a great big tree. But it would be very silly to try and deny that I come off that tree.

PK: But no duchess.

TS: I'm no duchess, no. She is no duchess, but don't tell your friend.

PK: I won't. I think he was putting me on anyway. One other thing. There's a much abused word in the United States right now and people use it as a term of derogation and they don't if know what it means, which is "socialist." You actually are a socialist. Can you explain to people what that means? You're a member of the Scottish Socialist Party, is that correct?

TS: I'm not actually a member of any political party to be honest. But from a very early age, whenever I read about socialism, I felt very drawn on a human level to the idea of fairness. So I would say that, were there a fairness party, I would possibly be a signed up member. But no, I'm not a member of any political party.

PK: But do you see film as having sort of political or social, I mean, it's clear from your description of the Eight and a Half that you feel it has some sort of societal impact.

TS: I believe that cinema is an art form. But cinema is a social project, absolutely. The very fact that cinema as an art form, what it invites you to do and allows you to do is to put yourself in somebody else's shoes. If it's a figurative sort of cinema that you're looking at, it can put you into the shoes of the person that you're watching or even if it's not a figurative cinema, it will put you into the shoes of the filmmaker that is directing the camera. Shoes other than you own: that makes it a supremely humanistic and, I think, supremely social project. For that reason, I'm truly dedicated to it. I think it's really, really good for people, cinema.

I think it can be wasted. I think that some film wastes the possibilities of cinema. But I think that it is a really powerful medium and as a medium for keeping people company it's unsurpassable.

PK: Do you remember the first film you saw that inspired your love of cinema?

TS: The first film I remember seeing was a very, very strange experience because, for many years, I thought it was a dream. I saw a film on television which I kept asking people for years whether they'd seen it and they hadn't. So I sort of talked myself into believing that it was a dream. Recently in the last two years, I mentioned it to someone and they said, "Oh I know what that is, that's Charles and Ray Eames' film ‘Powers of Ten.'"  And I found it and I watched it and, in fact, I showed it a film festival last year and there was a child in the audience who was the same age, he was eight, the same age that I was when I saw it. And, I could see that it blew his mind. I saw him after the screening and he had the same look on his face as I did when I saw it. It's this extraordinary film of, I had always remembered that it was somebody lying on a rowing boat, but in fact it was someone lying on a picnic blanket, and from above, the camera comes out by tens, by the power of tens. And then you see that they are by the shores of some lake in the Great Lakes. And then you come out and see the state that they're in, and then you come out and see the United States, and you come out, and out, and out and out into the universe, into the galaxy, out, out, out, out, out. And then you come back in. In, in, in, in, in you see the globe, you see America, in, you see the Great Lakes, in, you see the blanket, in you see the person. Then you go onto their hand, and then you go into their blood. It's the most amazing film. It's like a hallucinogenic experience, a very existential experience. And that was the first film I ever saw, and I saw it again last year. And that's going to be on our list of films 8 year olds see.

PK: It sound a little bit like "Wavelength." The Michael Snow film?

TS: I don't know it. I'll have to look for that.

PK: Was it at the San Francisco film festival that you did an address on dreams?

TS: A few years ago now I was asked to give the state of cinema address and in, I think it was 2006 or 2007. That address, if you read it, was the starting point, the inspiration for our foundation, Eight and a Half. It was my son who asked me this extraordinary question. The San Francisco film festival asked me to deliver this address and I was going to write them an e-mail saying, "no thank you very much," because I didn't really feel like saying anything. I also had this feeling that the State of the Cinema address might be expected to be something about the current situation of the industrial state of cinema or something, and I didn't feel that I had anything to say about that, because I'm not really interested in that. And I thought, before I write the e-mail, I'm going to go up and say goodnight to my children, and I was saying goodnight to my son and I blessed him on his forehead and said "Have a beautiful dream." And he asked me this question. He said, "What were people's dreams like before cinema was invented?" And it really spun me out, this question. I went downstairs, and instead of writing the San Francisco Film Festival and saying that I wasn't going to do the address, I wrote the address based on this question. And it was out of that that the idea of the Eight and a Half Foundation came. It occurred to me that, when you're eight and a half, you have an access to the kind of possibility in cinema that slowly, if you're not lucky, you get beaten out of you. If you can be encouraged to hang on to that, you're going to have access to all the great filmmakers and all the great film poets that there ever were and will ever be.

PK: Did dreams shape how films are made, or do films shape how dreams are made?

TS: Well there's the question. It's useful to know, I think, that cinema and psychoanalysis were both sort of invented at the same moment in history. The unconscious, the way in which cinema has the capacity to work with the unconscious and to express the unconscious. If we read cinema properly, if we sit before it with the right attention, then we can learn about ourselves. We don't have to interpret it, we just have to recognize it.

PK: Freud would have made a better film critic than a psychoanalyst, I think. One last question. You were going to make a movie, some film involving Lewis Carroll?

TS: With Marilyn Manson? Yes, again that's another seed in the ground. Watch the space, but don't hold the breath, is what I would say.

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