Film Scouts and Newsweek at Sundance 1999

Mike Figgis on "The Death and Loss of Sexual Innocence"

by Andréa C. Basora
Director Mike Figgis has come along way since the finely crafted but conventional "Internal Affairs." The usual follow-up to a successful formula is more of the same. But Figgis has become increasingly independent and experimental. Nowhere is this more evident than in his lastest offering, a bizarre but beautiful reinterpretation of the myth of Adam and Eve, "The Loss of Sexual Innocence." He first started thinking about the idea sixteen years ago as a piece of performance art, but it gradually developed into a more cinematic vision. In an interview at Sundance, Figgis told that he thinks the experimental nature of the film came from an increasingly deep dissatisfaction with what conventional Hollywood filmmaking has become. Excerpts:

On the temptations of commercial success: Everything has to do with timing, doesn't it? Looking at younger directors now, one of the things that always appalls me about young filmmakers is that I used to go in with a kind of missionary zeal and talk about 16 millimeter and shooting on video - shooting on anything, as a matter of fact, just to get your film made - that character was plot, forget about conventional narrative structure, and they always looked very blank. It is so ingrained in the younger generation, the aspirational aspects of filmmaking, i.e. a lifestyle, the fact that everybody knows a young director could be earning $3 or $4 million a picture and can achieve a kind of star status.

I think the money is something you can't dismiss. But... I did a lot of other things before I made films, that were more interesting than filmmaking, whether it was music or theater or whatever. Despite the fact that when you first come into filmmaking it's fascinating, it's not something you would want to do all your life. Intellectually it's very dull; it's a low-brow experience, it really is. As long as you make money, it's very tempting, but you yearn for a kind of intellectual stimulation, for a conversation where someone would challenge your ideas. The reason anybody paints a picture or writes a book is actually that you really want to talk to people about it; it's about communication and one aspires to the highest possible level of communication, not the highest level of money earning....[The people who make a lot of money] are all so unhappy with their cars and their five houses. I look at actors that I've worked with who have done financially very well, and it's pretty sad. You do make a pact with a kind of very low end devil.

On the costs of filmmaking: [Some of the films being made] are mind-boggling in their stupidity, and what a waste of money, considering the mess that is around us where the money could be spent. I also do have strong feelings about the morality of spending $200 million on a piece of celluloid, however much money it might make.

On film v. literature: The older I get, the more fascinated I am by literature. I do think it is something that film is destroying in many, many soft ways and I think it is a tragedy. Because I think civilization, mankind had aspired to a real intellectual height with literature. Brilliant idea, literature, being able to put something on a page that you could buy and read and have privacy with - something which a film does not give you. I think it's not necessary to destroy the one in order for the other to propagate. Actually, I think governments should go out of their way to make sure both flourish.

I have spoken to students in the last year very negatively about film...there are certain things that film cannot give you and I do actually worry about it a lot, about my own children, that they don't read and that they get all of their storytelling experiences from visual media.

On film as art: I'm amazed that given the visual power of film - I mean, there is nothing like it because it combines literature and painting and opera, all kinds of things - that it is so conventional, that 99.9 percent of all films made in America follow the rules of very, very simple novel writing, very bad, linear storytelling. And that in the sixties there were some very interesting films being made, very interesting explorations of the medium in Europe and here, and now it's become so passe. I hear people making jokes about Jean-Luc Godard, who was a genius, or even Andy Warhol, who may have been crass on certain levels, but undeniably was an original thinker. It dismays me how flippant and how silly and how uninformed a lot of that criticism is.

On good manners: There's this conspiracy amongst filmmakers: never disparage your peers, because we're all in the club together, we make a lot of money, and it's not in our interest to do that. But it's time we did all start saying [what we think], and we stood up to be counted.

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