MARKUS GRIESSHAMMER, GUEST EDITOR AND NYC FILMMAKER DISCUSSES THE INSPIRATION BEHIND HIS EDITION AND HIS TAKE ON THE CONTEMPORARY FILM INDUSTRY
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE THIS CAREER PATH? When I was a kid my mother told me that my dad would take me to see a James Bond film, it was the first time that he took me to the cinema ever, it was THE SPY WHO LOVED ME with Curt Jürgens, and I bolted out of the house and ran, and I mean ran, across town and waited for him in front of the theater for, like, two hours, pacing back and forth. I was so young I’m still surprised they let us in. Later then I saw Petersen’s DAS BOOT, and I think I sweat through my chair. And then, I must have been twenty, or twenty one, I was flipping through channels and happened upon Godard’s THE CONTEMPT and I just sat there hypnotized and wide-eyed for two hours, and when it was over I was, like, wow, what just happened?! And that, I think, at least consciously, did it for me, I wanted to figure out how he did what he did.
WHO, IN YOUR OPINION, IS PRODUCING SOME OF THE MOST EXCITING CONTEMPORARY CINEMA? ARE THERE CERTAIN COUNTRIES THAT YOU FEEL ARE CARRYING ON THE LEGACY OF EXCELLENCE IN FILM MORE THAN OTHERS? I don’t think it can be limited to a country any longer. I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but over the last ten years or so the film business has become very international, which, I think, is a great thing. There are directors from overseas making excellent English language films, and international talent is also increasingly seen in leading roles in Hollywood, which not so long ago was unimaginable. Steven Soderbergh, a celebrated American director, and this is already four years ago now, made a film about Che Guevarra, with an American in the lead, but the film is, you know, in Spanish, as it should be, given the subject matter and setting, and that’s a great thing. There are excellent foreign language productions like THE LIVES OF OTHERS which find success internationally, and international talent emerging that make their English language debut, like right now for example Joachim Trier from Norway, REPRISE and OSLO, AUGUST 31ST are fantastic. The film business is growing together, I think it’s a great thing, it creates opportunities for everyone.
“Is Bergman an era? He probably is.”
WHAT IS, IN YOUR OPINION, THE GREATEST FILM ERA? WHY? I’ll mention several: German expressionism of the 30′s, because it showed what film as an art form can do, French poetic realism of the same time for its humanism, GRAND ILLUSION was released 74 years ago and is still part of the films that set the bar, and Hollywood of the late 60′s through late the 70′s: THE GRADUATE, COOL HAND LUKE, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, BADLANDS, many others should be mentioned. Polanksi was working in the States and made ROSEMARY’S BABY and CHINATOWN. FIVE EASY PIECES and JEREMIAH JOHNSON are amongst my favorite American Films of all time. At the same time the Europeans, Fassbinder, Godard, Wertmueller, Tarkovsky, Shepitko, Antonioni, Melville, turned out amazing work. One can only hope that another era like it will come again, but now that we are mentioning directors I’d also mention Fellini and Kurosawa and Bergman. Is Bergman an era? He probably is.
WHY WOMEN IN FILM? ARE THEIR PERFORMANCES MORE ESSENTIAL THAN THOSE OF THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS? No, I don’t think performances of women are generally more essential than those of men. I think they’re more essential to the particular films selected here, because they are at the center of their stories, but I chose women, because well, heartbreaking is the word that comes to mind when I think of them. I thought it would be more moving than men.
IN YOUR SELECTION OF IMAGES FOR THIS EDITION, SOME ARE VISUALLY STRIKING AND OTHERS ARE QUITE AMBIGUOUS. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT MAKING THESE DECISIONS? PERSONAL FAVORITES? OR WERE YOU MORE OBJECTIVE AND SELECTED MOMENTS THAT WERE MOST IMPORTANT TO FILM HISTORY? The selection does not attempt by any means to be a representation of film history. It was about my connection to the films and the memories that I have about them, and the selections are entirely subjective. I didn’t try to capture a quintessential moment to represent the film, or the actress, I selected what I was fascinated with the most. The shot of Ingrid Bergman from CASABLANCA, for example, was an accident. It is taken from a moment which two scenes fade into each other, and I thought it was interesting, you don’t see that shot that way when watching the film, and I thought it was beautiful.
IT HAS BEEN ARGUED THAT YOUNGER, MORE “COMMERCIAL” MOVIE STARS HAVE LOWERED THE CRAFT OF ACTING, AND IN PARTICULAR THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN AS STRONG CENTRAL FIGURES IN CINEMA. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THIS? I feel this issue is not a question about a particular group of actresses, be it “commercial” or contemporary, but a question of the type and quality of material that is being offered to them. Hollywood has effectively stopped making dramas, and it is the choice of material that is put into production that lowers the bar, not a lack of talent or craft among actresses. If you look at, let’s say WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, or CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, those films remind us of what’s possible, and well, Elizabeth Taylor played both those parts, but I am certain we have that kind of talent among our actresses right now.
“I wish there were a Ziegfeld on every block.”
MOVIES AT HOME? OR IN THE CINEMA? I love both, but I think the theater is special, and nothing compares to it. I wish there were a Ziegfeld on every block.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE INCREASED TECHNICAL ELEMENTS OF CURRENT FILMS? SHOULD WE BE SEEING EXPLOSIONS IN 3D, OR ARE THESE GIMMICKS A WAY TO INSPIRE INTEREST IN AN OTHERWISE SUPERFICIAL FILM? I generally believe less is more, so no, I’m not always a fan of 3D. Film, by its nature, is always a reduction, the most basic act of pointing the camera this way instead of that focuses reality into a limited field of view, and I believe this distillation of reality is the medium’s strength, not its weakness. It allows for the viewer to be taken by the hand, so to speak, and to focus on the story. It’s all about the story. A silent, black and white film, if it uses the means of the medium well, can be more real than life itself. Would Fritz Lang’s M, it’s a classical and often-quoted example, benefit from being done in 3D? Probably not. The exception to this of course is a film like AVATAR, where such a stunning, immersive world is created that you cannot help but simply be in awe of what you’re seeing. Having said that, I think AVATAR is an excellent film in 2D.
Markus Griesshammer is a M.F.A. graduate of the American Film Institute and worked as a director of photography in music videos and commercials. He is also a graduate of William Esper’s professional actor training program and appeared in and directed off-off-Broadway plays. His award-winning short film COYOTE BEACH screened internationally on the festival circuit and was picked up by IFC. His screenplay BELLWETHER is a Nicholl Quarterfinalist, and he is currently working on his first feature. www.markusgriesshammer.com
COYOTE BEACH, A SHORT FILM BY MARKUS GRIESSHAMMER: