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Interview: Stuart Gordon

The Canadian Premiere of Edmond took place at the Fantasia Film Festival a few days after the release of the film in the US. Cult director Stuart Gordon came to Montreal to present the film at the festival. Despite it was his first visit to the festival, Fantasia fans are well aware of Stuart Gordon’s filmography and deserved him a standing ovation. Stuard Gordon didn’t really need any introductions with films like REANIMATOR and KING OF THE ANTS under his belt.

 The Canadian Premiere of Edmond took place at the Fantasia Film Festival a few days after the release of the film in the US. Cult director Stuart Gordon came to Montreal to present the film at the festival. Despite it was his first visit to the festival, Fantasia fans are well aware of Stuart Gordon’s filmography and deserved him a standing ovation. Stuard Gordon didn’t really need any introductions with films like REANIMATOR and KING OF THE ANTS under his belt.

While most screenings of the festival have a few dozens empty seats in the 700-something seats auditorium, the room was packed for EDMOND and almost every single seat was occupied! This is outstanding since EDMOND fits rather strangely in a genre festival line up. And … so does it fit strangely in Stuart Gordon’s filmography …

I met with Stuart Gordon the day prior to the premiere to discuss this unique and rather peculiar oddity that is EDMOND … or as I like to call it, AMERICAN BEAUTY ON ACID …

Stuart Gordon

P-A Despatis: Of course, William H. Macy has a certain aura about him ever since FARGO. He was also very unlucky in THE COOLER … and now this. How did he get involved in the project? Was it before or after the screenplay was written.
Stuart Gordon : The screenplay was written a long time ago. The play was written in 1982 and I think the screenplay was written around 1990. There has been other attempts to make this movie, but everyone was afraid of it and those productions never happened. I’ve known David Mamet and William H Macy for a long time because I had done theaters in Chicago for many years and produced David Mamet’s professional productions in the seventies. Who could better play this role ? It looks as if this role was written for him! So, I called him up and it’s the shortest conversation we’ve ever had. I asked him if he would be willing to play this part and he said that he had been waiting all his life to do it.

So, he came on board very early. So did Julia Stilles. We went to every studios in town to get financing. They were always very exited and say “of you’ve got William Macy, Julia Stilles, it’s a script by David Mamet, … we’ll read it over the weekend”. And then we never heard from them again. [laugh]

PAD : And what about you? This film seems to be somewhat of a departure from your previous horror films. What got you interested in this project ?
SG: I saw the play in 1982. It was one of those thing that you never forget. It was so powerful and so honest. It is also very different from what he has written … before or since. I just felt it would make a great film and I’ve been talking about it to him for a few years. It’s different, but in some ways it is similar to the movies I’ve done in the past.

PAD : Yes! That’s what so interesting about EDMOND … it’s different, yet it’s so similar at the same time. For instance you’ve written THE DENTIST and INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. They are two films about common fear people have …
SG: Well, I think that what is similar with my previous films is that the monster turns out to be the hero. What he discovers is that he is the monster and that the thing he’s been the most afraid of his himself. It’s true here as well. This is a man who embraces his fear. In my other films people are running away from their fears and they all end up realizing that the monster was them!

PAD : Again, to further draw on similarities between this film and your previous film, we can certainly say that there is a connection between KING OF THE ANTS and this film. Both films are very bleak, and there is a strong dark humor in both films as well. Especially during the beginning of the EDMOND, I was literally laughing out loud.
SG: Good. I think it is a very funny movie. It’s very dark but very funny. That’s one of the things I liked about it. When I was describing it to studios, I would say that it is it a very funny black comedy. They were all saying “tell me what’s so funny about it”. [laugh]

I think it has to do with the way I see the world. Sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh … things get so terrible. When he wrote the play, David Mamet was in the midst of a divorce and he was living in New York City and not liking it there. I think he was just imagining he was Edmond and what would he do. During the opening scene, the tarot card reader says to him that “he’s not where he belongs”. In the original play she says even much more. One of her line is “as you look back, you will see that you could not have done otherwise that what you did”. This is a line about faith. The very ‘Lovecraftian’ idea that your at the mercy of forces that are beyond your control. That’s what he realizes at the end of the movie ; you can’t control what you make of your own life. He doesn’t know why he killed that girl, he just had to do it.

PAD : This film isn’t a horror film per se, but it’s certainly horrific in it’s own peculiar way. I’d like to know if all the bleakness and darkness in the play as well, or is it your own personal touch ?
SG: It was definitely in the play. One of things I really liked in Edmond when I first saw it is that we never know where it’s going. You think you know, then it goes somewhere else and completely surprises you. Also, it took me a while to get a grip on this, but it has a happy ending in a sense. He does find peace and happiness. When he talks in the movie about how much we are truly alive … “2 minutes out of every year year” he says. He was able to find a way to live his live at the fullest by the end of the film. So, it’s certainly a happy ending. He seems happy at least. So, I didn’t do any changes to add bleakness to the film. I think it’s the most brilliant and powerful script he has written so I didn’t want to temper with it.

PAD : The film reminded me in a way the film FALLING DOWN with Michael Douglas. However, the motivations of the characters are very different. In FALLING DOWN, the killer kills because he’s mad. Edmond kills because is Free … he even has a certain joie de vivre.
SG: Well, it’s funny. There are indeed several similarities in the sense that both movies feature men at the end of their rope. I don’t think that Edmond is angry as Michael Douglas in FALLING DOWN. Edmond wants something good. A world where people are honest and kind which each other. And, that doesn’t exist.


PAD : Yet, he kills that girl … why?
SG: That’s the question that is never answered … [laughs]

He’s asked that question on several occasion and he has a couple different answers. One time he says he had too much coffee … while in fact he never drinks coffee. Then when he’s asked by a priest, he’s not able to answer either. He can’t put two words together. At one of the screening there was a psychiatrist and she says that it’s the typical case of someone who wants to break down boundaries between people. When you break down those boundaries, it makes other people very scared of you. Out of the fear you sometimes get angry. You’re just trying to communicate honestly and they’re afraid. This can lead to violence.

PAD : Like when he tries to talk to that black woman or when he’s having a conversation with the waitress. Especially that girl seems to be, for a moment at least, his soul mate, just like the black character at the end of the film?
SG : The last scene of the film where he talks to the black character is interesting for that. They’re like a married couple; they’re finishing each other’s sentences. He’s finally found a soul mate, someone he can talk to. There is and there is not the same kind of relationship with the girl; he gets to the point where he wants her to be honest as he his and she won’t. At one point he asks her to kill her dream, and obviously this is something no one can do. He think he has found the soul mate, but she isn’t the one.

PAD : Would you agree that this film could be dubbed as “AMERICAN BEAUTY ON ACID” or “AMERICAN BEAUTY GONE WRONG”. One of the best example of that is the scene at the restaurant where he asks to the waitress to sit down. She says she can’t because she is at work and he replies that she doesn’t sit down because she doesn’t want to because she prefers to abide by the so-called rules. Of course he makes her sit down despite of the “rules”. However, in American Beauty, when the main character decides to be free, for the most part everything goes for the best for him. While in Edmond …
SG : … it’s the contrary [laughs]. There are parts of AMERICAN BEAUTY I liked very much. However, I think it was more of a Hollywood version of life. I think EDMOND is more honest, it’s a very truthful story. And, the truth is not always what you want it to be or it’s not always pleasant, but this is the way it is.

PAD : There are a lot of metaphors for life in the film. Perhaps the most interesting one is a link between two scenes in the film. When he is at the jail, he talks to his wife through a window with a phone. There is a very similar scene very early in the film where he talks to a “peep show girl” with a phone through the window ….
SG : It’s funny. I was thing about that when making the film. Originally in the script he wasn’t using the phone at the peep show. But I went to a real peep show with the actress Bai Ling because I wanted her to see how it worked. They thought she was there looking for a job! She was able to meet the other girls, learn what there lives were like. As for the phone, there is throughout the movie the idea of walls between people. There are boundaries that we are often unable to break. Putting it in visual terms like that is great. What Edmond wants to do is remove the boundaries between people. At the peep show he keeps saying “how do we get this window to come down”.

PAD : It’s interesting that when he goes to the city he doesn’t know how things work. He thinks the glass window at the peep show will go down, he thinks he can pay a whore with a credit card. It really seems as though he has no experience of the “real world”.
SG : Yes! He hasn’t done those things before. He says to them all “this is my first time here, please be merciful…”. I found that to be an interesting metaphor for him entering the real world. He’s like a bunny in the jungle.

There are a lot of directors whose films I like a lot. With this film I was thinking of TAXI DRIVER by Scorsese. What I liked about the film is that he made the city a character of its own. You really feel like it’s a character in the movie and I wanted to do this for EDMOND. One of the things I did is that in every scene, there are some background sounds of the city; the city is with you all the time. When he’s with his wife at the beginning, everything is almost black and white. There is no color in his world. But when he goes down to the city streets he sees all that color and all those lights and sounds.

PAD : There are a lot of subtexts or metaphors like that in the film and I read that there was several weeks of rehearsal prior to the shooting. So, everything was planned in advance and there was no room for improvisation on set ?
SG : No, not really. Well, the thing about David Mamet is that he is very insistent that you say every word as written. I find he has a very interesting view about this. When I was working with him on a play, an actress didn’t understand what was going on in the scene. She asked him “what is this about?”. He says to her, “these are just the words”. Which is a wonderful thing for I writer to say I think. “The scene can be about anything you want it to be about. It’s up to you … as long as you say those words”. Which is really true. In his plays, often it’s not about what the people are saying. What is going on in the scene is really something else altogether. I think it’s what makes Mamet great. Scenes of the city are there, but people can see them through their own experiences.

PAD : Was Mamet involved at all with the shooting of the film ?!
SG : He came the very first day that we were shooting to visit the set. I said to him “it’s great to have you here. Feel free to come as much as you like” and he said “that’s like inviting someone to your honeymoon!” [laugh]. He didn’t come to the set again, but I showed him the very first cut of the film and got his note on it. So, he was still involved with the production.

Also, what was interesting is that David Mamet had written camera directions in the script. This is something you don’t usually see in a script and as a director you’re offended by that. What I realized after reading it a few time is that he was going for a dream-like feeling. It’s a very subjective movie, you’re seeing things from EDMOND’s eyes. This is why there aren’t any sweeping boom shots because you’re right there with him. Other aspects of the films were done to create this dream-like effect. For instance, one second he is looking at a tarot card and the next he’s looking down at a dinner plate; the way it is in dreams where suddenly you’re just at different place. I followed Mamet’s lead for that aspect of the film.

PAD : As a director, how can you jump from genres to genres. Doing a film like HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS, to a few horror movies, to EDMOND ? And, what is your upcoming film ?
SG : My next project is HOUSE OF REANIMATOR. It’s a new reanimator movie and it takes place in the white house. William H. Macy is going to play the president of the United States! It will be fun to revisit REANIMATOR. I haven’t touched it since I’ve done the first film in the eighties.

And as for the multiple genres, well, HONEY I SHRUNK THE KIDS is a horror movie. [laugh] It is! It’s a mad scientist and an experiment goes very wrong and there are giant insects in it. It’s a horror film. The tone is definitely different, but I think this film is a horror movie too.

PAD : So, would you consider EDMOND as a horror movie ?
SG : In some ways it is. Yeah, I think it is. … It’s horrifying! [laugh]

First Independent Pictures releases Edmond on July 14th in New York and Los Angeles with a wider release to occur in the weeks to come.

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