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Hello and welcome to The Culture Show
from Ealing Film Studios,
the world's oldest working film lot.
Tonight, we celebrate the films and filmmakers
that have entertained, intrigued and confounded audiences in 2012.
Coming up, Robert Pattinson impresses in Cosmopolis...
William Friedkin talks twisted fairytales
with his jet-black thriller Killer Joe...
..Tasmanian tiger-tracking with Willem Dafoe in The Hunter...
Gotham's caped crusader rides again in The Dark Knight Rises...
and Ben Affleck proves fact is stranger than fiction
with his blockbuster, Argo.
But first, back in June, veteran helmer David Cronenberg
offered his typically intelligent take
on Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis,
featuring a glacial performance from rising star Robert Pattinson.
The director and his vampiric leading man
joined me in an airtight stretch limousine
to discuss their unashamedly alienating film.
Once dubbed the cinema of extreme, David Cronenberg's films span
the heartbreaking body horror of The Fly...
You've got to get some help. I think you must be sick.
..to the glacial chill of Crash...
You bought yourself exactly the same car again.
..each work exploring some of the most profound aspects
of the human condition.
Cronenberg's new film, Cosmopolis, is an intense psychosexual thriller
from the post-modern novel by Don DeLillo.
It follows Wall Street tycoon Eric Packer
and his chauffeur-driven limo ride across town to get a haircut
at his father's old barber.
During the course of his journey, the world outside descends
into financial and civil chaos,
triggering the personal and professional disintegration
of Packer, played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson.
You know what the anarchists have always said.
The urge to destroy is a creative urge.
As always with Cronenberg, subtext is super-text.
The limo becomes Packer's exoskeleton,
a capitalist carapace in which to exert his wealth, power and control.
And whilst the casting of blockbuster front man Pattinson
as the quasi-psychopathic playboy may be a surprising move,
he delivers a magnetically credible performance.
A report from the cops. It's a credible threat not to be dismissed,
which means a ride across town is...
We've had numerous threats, all credible. I'm still standing here.
-Hello, welcome to The Culture Show.
-Thank you very much.
Thank you for having me... in your limousine. Very fancy!
You said that you were worried about being overexposed and typecast.
The interesting thing about this character
is there is an element of vampirism about him.
When I watch this, I think it's like a science fiction movie.
-It is like a horror. It has all those elements in it.
-It's like a ghost story.
That's kind of what I thought about it. Everybody's dead in it.
Everyone's dead. The whole world is dead.
The vampire aspect of it, I don't think...
He's not trying to take anything from the world.
He's trying to create a new world,
he's trying to create a new reality,
which is the opposite of being a parasite.
You look gorgeous today.
For someone who's 41, and finally understands what her problem is.
The most difficult thing about watching the film
is the silences between the words,
because you're so used to hearing music or sound effects in those gaps.
Yeah, and also the structure of the limo as well.
When we were shooting it, especially the early scenes,
you're trying to be confident and your voice sounds so dead.
There's nothing, there's no reverberation.
Everyone sounds like, you know, you're in shitty headphones.
Cronenberg's films make you feel uncomfortable.
-They make you feel uneasy. It is the cinema of unease, isn't it?
You have to be incredibly sympathetic to the movie,
to a movie that's not sympathetic to you at all.
Sure, absolutely. A movie that doesn't present you
with a likeable character for most of the rolling time.
There was a review of it which said it was aggressively unlovable,
which I thought was like the perfect... It should be on the poster!
I think it really is that. But I think that's so much better.
It's not pandering to an audience. It's not trying to, you know...
-it's respecting an audience.
And so, I don't know, hopefully that works.
Show me something I don't know.
Robert, thank you very much.
Thank you very much.
-Hello, David. Welcome to The Culture Show.
Thank you, thank you.
In terms of what the central character represents,
when we were talking to Robert about it, he said he's not quite human,
he's somebody who he described as a ghost.
How would you describe Packer?
Well, of course, that's Rob talking after the fact,
because I think no actor really wants to play
an abstract concept, you know.
He doesn't want to... It's impossible to play yourself as the symbol
of American capitalism, for example.
An actor would freak out if you said, "You're playing this symbol,"
because actors have to use their bodies,
they have to use the reality of the other character,
the reality of the dialogue.
So I think he's a real person.
You dealt previously with the idea of cars, both in Fast Company,
and, most famously, Crash.
Tell me about the philosophical idea of what the car means to you.
I know you're a car enthusiast.
I am a car enthusiast, but this movie is not a car enthusiast's movie,
because the car isn't really even a car.
Yeah, it's a spaceship.
But it is a spaceship.
It is also a prison, it's a coffin, it's a seat of power,
and it makes this his limo spaceship but kind of a vacuum too.
-There's no air in it.
And he lives this sort of bubble life that begins to suffocate him
and frustrate him
to the point that he wants to escape from the life that he has created.
Where's your car?
We can't seem to find it.
-David, thank you very much.
-Thank you, thank you for the wild ride.
One of the highlights of my year was interviewing director
William Friedkin about his creepy southern noir, Killer Joe.
As always, Friedkin, who called the shots on crime thrillers
like The French Connection and Cruising,
proved an excellently forthright sparring partner.
It will come as no surprise to learn that I'm a huge fan of William Friedkin,
director of The French Connection, Cruising,
and the movie which I have been telling everyone for decades
is the greatest film ever made - The Exorcist.
But if you think that means that I just unconditionally love
everything he's done, you'd be wrong. One of the things I admire most about Friedkin is
his ongoing ability to confound, infuriate, surprise
and sometimes just plain disappoint me,
with films like the frankly silly killer tree yarn, The Guardian.
And then, in 2006, something happened.
Having turned 70, Friedkin rediscovered his mojo.
The paranoid thriller Bug
was adapted from the stage play by Tracy Letts.
-Can you tell what it's doing?
-Feeding? On what?
-It's feeding off my blood.
-So you're saying it...?
Jesus! I'm saying it's feeding off my blood. It's a parasite.
Now he's re-teamed with Bug writer Letts to make Killer Joe,
an uncompromising and provocative jet-black comedy about a family
of rednecks who hire an assassin to knock off their estranged mother.
My payment is 25,000, in cash,
in advance, no exceptions.
I asked you once, about ten years ago, you said,
"I don't really have interest in doing stage plays."
And yet, with Bug, it was like you rediscovered something
from your earliest, angriest days of filmmaking.
What is it that you rediscovered in Tracy Letts' plays?
He and I both believe that there's good and evil in everyone,
that it's a constant struggle for our better angels
and our demons to prevail.
We both see a lot of human behaviour as absurd.
Are you going to kill my momma?
Central to Killer Joe is a mesmerising performance
from rising British star Juno Temple.
I don't know.
-I was just curious.
My momma tried to kill me when I was real little.
Juno Temple sent me, unsolicited,
an audition video of herself playing Dottie.
The minute I popped it into my computer and saw her audition,
I felt she was exactly what I was looking for.
She was a gift from the movie god.
Because she cared more about herself than her little baby.
She didn't love me like a momma should love a little baby.
I've seen every film you've made, and they consistently
disturb, confound, confuse, infuriate - all those things.
There is one particular scene involving a piece of fried chicken,
which I thought was genuinely one of the most repugnant things
I've seen on screen in a long time.
-If you want some chicken, we stopped by the K Fried C.
Sure. Help yourself, it's right here on the stove.
-Fetch it for him, would you, hon?
-Sure. White or dark?
You want a beer?
You set that on the table, please?
It's meant to be a humiliation and an act of vengeance.
It's strange, it's weird.
I swear to you it is not in the film for shock purposes.
I'm never aware that something I've done is going to have any effect whatsoever
but what I try to do with the films I make is at least have them
be cathartic in nature to the audience
because they are intense.
This is lovely.
Who would like to say grace?
What do you think are the sexual politics of Killer Joe,
in as much as what it says about the relationship between men and women?
-I don't know what the hell you're talking about!
-Well, for example...
What do you mean...? It says nothing about the sexual politics between men and women,
to answer your question. It isn't about that.
The story is about the fact that every little girl,
everywhere in the world, wants to be Cinderella, IS Cinderella,
and wants to get out of a horrible relationship with an evil stepmother
or parents that don't understand her,
and she wants to find her Prince Charming to take her away
-and go and live in the castle.
And every little boy at one time or another in his young life
wants to be Prince Charming.
And Dottie is looking for her Prince Charming
and he comes along,
-only he happens to be...
-A homicidal maniac!
-..a hired killer!
CIGARETTE LIGHTER FLICKS OPEN AND SHUT
Of course, we never discussed the possibility of a retainer.
Well, Billy, I have to say that at this point in your career,
you are as repugnant and powerful as you were, so thank you very much.
You really know how to sweet-talk a guy, Mark!
One of this year's stand-out performances came from Willem Defoe
in the existential Australian thriller The Hunter.
Regularly described as a magnetic screen presence,
Defoe didn't disappoint when we met to mull over the big questions.
Willem Defoe's career spans such diverse roles
as Blockbuster villains,
and intense leading men.
But look closely at some of his best work,
like Scorsese's controversial Last Temptation Of Christ...
..or his collaborations with Paul Schrader,
and a recurring theme starts to emerge.
The classic figure of the isolated existential anti-hero
through which film-makers can discuss big issues like life, death and the human condition
is a role which all serious actors long to play,
but the fact is very few of them can pull it off.
Willem Defoe is an exception.
In his latest film, The Hunter, Defoe explores alienation
in one of the world's most insular environments -
the Tasmanian wilderness.
Sent by an anonymous biotech company,
he plays Martin David, a ruthless mercenary whose mission
is to track down what's rumoured to be the last Tasmanian tiger.
This movie very much deals with the possibility of redemption
and that's also echoed somewhat...
in the whole thing about...
the tiger because the tiger is a piece of history that's been lost -
you know, the deep sadness of losing this beautiful thing.
Is there a possibility to go back or make it right?
That's why there's sightings of the Tasmanian tiger all the time.
People want badly for it to be...
For personal reasons, the films that stand out for me are the Schraders -
The Last Temptation Of Christ, the Lars von Trier.
This seems very much to sit in that particular thread.
I think the one through-line is... has to do with directors.
You know, I'm attracted to visionaries, mavericks, you know, auteurs,
people that aren't studio-hired guns, for example.
So that's a through-line, I think, pretty consistently.
But you have become a muse for film-makers -
I mean, you say auteurs, and I understand that -
but film-makers dealing with big questions.
-The meaning of life, God...
-OK! I think...
-You must be aware of that.
-I think I got a good answer for you!
I think my interest in movies besides kind of the adventure
and the kind of plying my craft, or whatever that is,
or just making things, the pleasure of making things, is I like movies that inspire.
You know, on some level I'm just show-trash
but on another level I'm an artist, you know,
and I get the opportunity to make things.
It's an invitation to rethink what your life could be like
or what...who you could be.
And I think that always stays with you.
-'And this just in - a woman has fallen to her death.
'Police are withholding identification pending the notification of next-of-kin...'
Obviously you've worked with Schrader. There is a similarity there
-in Schrader's recurrent character of God's lonely man, the man alone on the Earth.
And I thought of that when I was watching The Hunter.
Does that ring a bell for you?
I think I'm interested in that character, that idea of,
you know, the world would be a better place
if man could learn how to be alone in their room.
I think we are alone.
I think it's an interesting character that feels that loneliness
and reflects on what his relationship is to other people.
What do you mean when you say, "I think we are alone?"
I-I think that's true. Yeah.
I have some deep feeling for, "You're born alone, you die alone," you know.
Are you fraught in...? I mean, on a personal level.
Cos you play characters that have this extraordinary inattention and are very isolated,
but, actually, meeting you now, you seem very...
calm and relaxed. Do you go home and worry about things?
When I'm performing,
I do believe it is important to have a certain kind of tension.
And a certain kind of...
-I don't like slack, natural, relaxed performances.
In life... I've got a good life, I can't complain.
My wife always says, "Don't spit on your luck."
I must complain sometimes, otherwise she wouldn't say that!
But you're just kind of asking
whether I'm kind of a anxt... a troubled person, right?
I'm asking whether any of those things that I see again and again
in the key characters that you play are part of you?
Yeah. I think so.
For some reason, and who knows why,
maybe I got dropped on my head when I was a kid or something!
I'm able to contact a certain kind of...
and a profound, erm...
There's a scene in The Hunter which there is a sense of a man
going out and looking into the void
and seeing himself look back out of it.
If I was to describe the film, that's what I'd say it was about, but then no-one would go and see it.
-How would you describe it?
-Tell them it's a fun, action adventure!
Just get them there and once they get there, I think they'll enjoy it.
For some, the most eagerly awaited film of this summer, if not this year,
was the concluding part of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy.
Proving that intelligent blockbusters really do exist,
the man behind brain-scrambling hits like Inception joined me to talk caped crusaders, Gotham,
and pleasing rather than patronising the multiplex audience.
Christopher Nolan's brooding vision of Batman as an embodiment
of Bruce Wayne's fractured psyche
has set the Hollywood gold standard for comic-book adaptations.
Nolan takes the discipline and ethics of art-house independent movie-making
and applies them to major Hollywood blockbusters.
He's living proof that you don't have to appeal
to the lowest common denominator to be profitable.
Christopher, welcome to The Culture Show.
It seems to me the most significant thing you've done with your films
is to demonstrate that whether you're working with a small budget or a large budget,
you treat the audience intelligently?
Very much so.
I mean, for me,
the only sincerity in film-making is to make a film
-that you would want to go see yourself...
..and not treat the audience as anything separate from you.
Our expectations when we go to see a film
are different in different genres and at different budget levels,
and that doesn't mean we're dumber when we go and see a bigger film,
but we do have different expectations.
It's a different register of language, in a sense.
You see only one end to your journey.
Sometimes, a man rises from the darkness.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale is back as Bruce Wayne,
forced to bring Batman out of retirement
when Gotham comes under threat.
Tom Hardy plays his nemesis, Bane,
whose avowed mission is to raze the city to the ground
to cleanse it of sin.
I was very aware of the size of Dark Knight Rises,
and as we got to the end of the film, I heaved a sigh of relief,
and the sigh of relief was, "He's done it.
"He's got through this massive trilogy, and he hasn't let us down."
Does any part of you now feel like,
"OK, now I'd like to go and make a 1 million movie,"
in which, you know, there isn't any possibility
of letting everyone down because there's no pressure?
Well, you know, it's funny,
there is massive pressure on a smaller film as well.
Pretty much every film I've ever worked on at every scale
has had massive stakes to it, one way or another.
I think, for me, I don't think very well in terms of scale.
It's all about is there a story and a set of characters that interest me?
I think the process has been really the same process
in every film I have done.
I mean, Batman Begins, Wally and I,
from a photographic point of view...
-Wally Pfister, my DP.
He had to be extremely precise,
and it was the first time we'd done a large-scale film,
and it needed to have a certain look,
and we were trying to present Batman in a particular way.
And I enjoyed it,
but after seven months of saying to Gary Oldman,
"No, you can't look that way, you've got to stay there,"
we really wanted to loosen things up.
And on The Prestige, we threw marks out of the window.
We did everything with a hand-held camera.
When we came back for The Dark Knight,
we just brought that methodology with us.
Christopher Nolan broke onto the scene
with the head-scrambling thriller Memento,
picking up an Oscar nomination for its screenplay.
He continued to challenge audiences
with his intricate tale of rival magicians in The Prestige,
and then with the complex brainteaser Inception,
which won four Oscars, and was nominated for a further four,
including Best Picture.
Memory is a key thread throughout your films.
Do you think there is something about the medium of cinema
that particularly lends itself
to dealing with stories which deal with memory,
which deal with dream states,
which deal with going inside the psyche?
I think the way in which your mind has to be active
in putting together shots of a sequence
dictates that there's a very strong relationship
between memory and films.
And we played around with that, most obviously in Memento,
and it was an interesting thing to spend time really thinking about.
But the relationship between the way your eyes see,
the way your memory processes things,
and then the sort of linear strip of film
running through the projector,
you know, that's showing you one shot after another
and your mind is having to construct a three-dimensional reality,
an idea of the room the characters are in, putting that together -
it's a pretty fascinating puzzle.
My mother warned me about getting into cars with strange men.
This isn't a car.
This autumn saw the release of Argot -
part-political thriller, part-Hollywood satire,
The film's director and star, Ben Affleck,
came on The Culture Show
to talk about blending historical fact with dramatic fiction
in his edge-of-the-seat nail-biter
that the bookies are tipping as a Best Film favourite.
In the West, the late '70s was a time of socially progressive values,
of the increased economic independence of women,
of environmentalism...and of disco.
MUSIC: "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson
But further afield, this era of self-determination
was expressed rather differently.
In Iran, after the Islamic revolution,
rising tensions with the US
triggered the storming of the American Embassy,
putting the CIA and the American Government on high alert,
as 52 Americans were taken hostage.
Although those events are well-rehearsed,
Ben Affleck's new film, Argot,
centres on a less well-known element of the story
that sounds so absurd, it just HAS to be true.
-Six of the hostages went out a back exit.
-Where are they?
-The Canadian Ambassador's house.
I've got an idea.
They're a Canadian film crew for a science-fiction movie.
I fly into Tehran, we all fly out together as a film crew.
I need you to help me make a fake movie.
So you want to come to Hollywood and act like a big shot without actually doing anything?
-You'll fit right in.
-Ben, welcome to The Culture Show.
-Thanks so much for having me.
I'm old enough to remember the hostage crisis,
but I didn't know the story of Argot.
-And the story was classified until about...
The CIA had some sort of 50th anniversary celebration thing,
and they declassified reams of material.
The stuff sat on the shelf until somebody researched it.
Eventually, the script ended up in my hands.
It was a serpentine kind of journey,
but one that I'm really glad ended up the way it did.
What about the balancing of the threads?
On the one hand, a comedic strand,
on the other hand, a political thriller.
Did you ever find it hard to balance, "How many laughs can we get?"
in a scene which is being played off against a hostage situation?
I thought when I read the script that that was going to be the most challenging thing,
to synthesise these three tones, which were quite different.
And, you know, as you point out,
the laughter can really upend the rest of the material,
because people are having fun
and not taking it particularly seriously all of a sudden,
because, hey, it's a comedy.
Ultimately, what rescued me was that the acting,
particularly in the comic part with John and Alan,
was so real that it didn't seem to be different
from the rest of the movie, oddly.
-How about The Horses Of Achilles?
-Nobody does westerns any more.
-It's Ancient Troy.
If it's got horses in it, it's a western.
Yeah, Kenny, please.
Yeah, it's John Chambers about the office space.
It doesn't matter. It's a fake movie.
If I'm doing a fake movie, it's going to be a fake hit.
My assumption is that a good proportion of the audience
won't know how it ended before they go in.
Was that your feeling as well?
My hope was that I would benefit from two things.
One, from the fact that it was a true story.
So you tell the audience, "This is true,"
and they invest a little more deeply because they think,
"Well, if I see someone die,
"then I'll think of them and that they really died."
Two, it's not SO true and so well-known
that you can't still surprise the audience.
-Almost! Every time!
Argot is a departure from Affleck's directorial home turf.
His first two films, Gone, Baby Gone, and The Town,
were both crime thrillers based in Boston.
But for this film, with George Clooney producing,
he's broken those geographical and topical boundaries.
Look, they're going to try to break you by trying to get you agitated.
You have to know your resume back to front.
You really believe your story's going to make difference
when there's a gun to our heads?
I think my story's the only thing between you and a gun to your head.
George Clooney, when he was over here in the UK some years ago,
was talking about wanting to make movies
that had political threads but that worked as dramas,
and watching this, it seemed very much to me
that I can see that vision of his.
How was your relationship with him as a producer?
George is a very smart guy.
He is the smartest guy I've ever met in Hollywood.
Obviously understand politics, extremely winning, charming guy.
-VERY handsome, not that I noticed.
But he's very, very handsome.
As you say, this project lines up very neatly
with that description of wanting to make a certain kind of movie,
and George is smart enough to understand
you can't do something didactic, preachy,
that says, "We want you to believe this,"
and where you're an air traffic controller with the audience.
But, you know, you can have some of this provocative,
thought-provoking content in a movie.
You're getting a visitor.
-Have you gotten people out this way before?
You're asking us to trust you with our lives.
This is what I do. I've never left anyone behind.
I really enjoyed the movie.
-Thanks very much.
-A pleasure. Nice interview!
That's almost it for tonight, and, indeed,
for The Culture Show for this year.
We're back on January 23rd with an interview with Stephen Spielberg,
talking about his potential Oscar heavyweight Lincoln.
If you want more culture in the meantime, go to...
Finally tonight, we have a documentary about Bill Cunningham,
the octogenarian street style photographer
whose eye for the next big trend
inspires the movers and shakers of the fashion world
from New York to London. Goodnight.
He and I and all my team and all the rest of the world,
were all sitting in the same fashion shows,
but he's seen something on the street or on the runway
that completely missed all of us.
And in six months time, you know, that will be a trend.
You have to do three things.
You don't get the most information from any one.
You have to photograph the collections,
you have to photograph the women on the street
who have bought the things,
and how they're wearing them,
and then you have to go to the evening events.
You can't report to the public unless you've seen it all.
People just go off and say what they think.
Well, it isn't really what I think, it's what I SEE.