AXE HAPPY: GUY RITCHIE AND "LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS" Image

I met Guy Ritchie for an interview in a small conference room of the Monaco Hotel in San Francisco. He looks like the kind of regular chap you’d expect to see down in the local pub, drinking a pint and cursing heartily at a televised World Cup match. Ritchie was exhausted, still on the road for his long promotional tour for his first feature film, and was rumpled and unshaven. Yet as he answered my questions in a rolling London accent, he still managed to be lucid, sharply funny, and brightly incisive during our discussion of filmmaking, crime, and violence.
[ Tell me about your first film, your 20-minute film, “The Hard Case.” ] ^ That was a film which I made because I wanted to go intoéthere isn’t really such a thing as film schools in the UK. I mean there is, but they’re not realistically going to get you into feature films. And they cost you money. And I didn’t have the money to pay for it, and neither did anyone else. And the next option is to work as a runner — gopher — for a year, find out about the infrastructure of the business, and indeed build up an infrastructure within that business. And then make videos for a year or so — music videos, which is, you know, if you all run on the same format, if you get on the right computers, you can learn about the whole fucking nine yards of filmmaking — apart from anything to do with audio. But it’s great. It’s a great look in, and it’s horrendously stressful, and you’re working for cunts, and you’re working with no money, but it’s the perfect thing you need if your want to learn about the film business. And then after that I did one commercial which gave me enough money — I got five thousand pounds to make the short film — but I wanted to shoot somebody else’s short film because I never fancied writing. But the thing is I couldn’t see anyone else giving me a script, so I sort of asked a couple of people, but I didn’t really know what you do about going around to finance your film, so I thought, “Well, fuck it, what I’ll do is I’ll sort of come up with a rough idea, and get someone else to fill in the gaps.” And what happened was, I sort of write a few ideas down, and before I knew it, I gave myself a date that I was going to shoot this thing, which was in about a month, about two months or six weeks or something, so I started writing it. And before I knew it, I was filming it. And so I didn’t get anyone to fill in the gaps, and at the end of it I was happy with what I’d got, and I thought, “Well, blimey, now what you’ve got to do is write a bit more and you have a feature film.” So I went along the lines of that principle. ^
[ Having really never been a writer, how do you approach screenwriting, especially for a feature? ] ^ I think there are many advantages to having no formal education with this whatsoever. And indeed, the more I go on, I find I’m falling into the quagmire of becoming quite academic about it, and then you’re fucked — from a screenwriting point of view. So I’m trying as much as I can not to deconstruct what it is that makes it happen, I don’t know. I went with a very simple formula; just start fucking around, write something down, and make it. And once you demystify the whole business that’s all it’s all about. ^
[ Considering your first draft was 250 pages, I assume you learned a lot in cutting it down to a manageable length. In a sense you learn to keep what is only absolutely necessary. ] ^ Yes. In fact, I didn’t really learn that untiléwell, I did, you know, you think, “Oh, well I can get away with this, or get away with that, everyone’s going to find that interesting.” And then you think about it, and you think about it, and you think, “Well, God, no one’s going to find that interesting,” just in time. Because you’d be a cunt if you went out and shot it. And just in time you hack these things out. But even the night before my final lock-up, which was just a couple of months after editing, I suddenly panicked, and suddenly felt, “My film’s too long; it’s long-winded, and it’s going to bore people.” And I went in and I cut the fucking shit out of it. I took ten minutes out, which is a hell of a lot to take out in a night. And it is without a doubt the best decision I made. And the producer fought me on it. He said, “No, no, no, no — long’s good. You won’t get this.” And we reached a compromise. I wanted to take 12 minutes out. And it’d just mean one more scene would have gone. And I’m glad that he stopped me, because I had suddenly gone axe-happy. ^
[ So then did you start with a rough idea? You said it grew out of “Hard Case.” ] ^ Yes. That was one concept I had; I thought, you know, “Fucking make it about a game of cards.” Literally because I was playing a game of cards one night. I thought while I was playing a game of cards, “I’ve got to make a short film; fuck it, I’ll make it about a game of cards.” It’s as simple as that. So I made it about the game of cards, and then I thought, “Right, now I’ve got a game of cards; what else am I interested in? I know, a year ago I did a short film aboutédid a little documentary on street-traders.” And I was fascinated by the way they talked, so I thought, “Well, fuck, I’ll write a scene with street traders in.” So I wrote a scene with street traders in, and I thought, “Oh, yeah, I once heard that story about these guys, these toffs being robbed in Putney, ’cause they had weed and they were robbed by these guys — oh shit, I’ll stick that down.” And I once heard this idea, the “faggots fan club” idea about putting the ad in the back of a gay mag. And, “oh, I’ll put that in, and I’ll see whether that will pay off.” And all I did was throw as many ideas that I thought were funny and try and loop ’em up. ^
[ This is something that I read, and it intrigued me, because it brings up an issue that touches upon a lot of films these days. This is — and you can already guess the agenda just because of where it’s from — it’s the World Socialist Web Site, by critic Robert Stevens from September 11th, 1998, and he says, and I quote, “The violence portrayed in the film is excessive and has become the norm, and is either preceded or followed by an attempt at black humor, so we all know that this is really only good fun. Despite its pretensions to depict the life of the outsider living on the fringes of society, this film is a shallow glorification of the status quo. One is asked yet again to identify with characters that have lost any sense of humanity, and to celebrate in the ruthless pursuit of money and power.” That was said about your movie. What do you think about that? ] ^ (laughing) That is fantastic, isn’t it! I mean, that’s hot! ^
[ That’s a really thorough critique with a very strong point of view. That guy’s not just blowing smoke. ] ^ Oh, no, he sat down and he thought about it. But, fuck, socialism?! ^
[ It’s a very socialist perspective. But it’s also very damning of the shallow depiction of violence. Which is a charge that has been leveled often against filmmakers, for example, like Tarantino. ] ^ Actually, I have no problem with that whatsoever. I’m a violent fellow. I like violence. As simple as that. I find violence very visceral. Now having said that, that’s sort of me reacting to him. I think violence is part of life. And I think to ignore it is foolish. To ignore it, is to become normal, it’s to become bourgeois, it’s to become everything that life isn’t about. If someone warrants a slap, if someone’s rude and they get a slap, then fuckin’ slap ’em. That’s the way I see it, and you shouldn’t go to prison because of it. Of course there’s a line to be drawn, and where to draw it, but don’t ask me for any of that shit. But my argument would be that I don’t have a problem with violence. ^
[ My next question, then, would be where’d you get that scar (indicating a long gash down his left cheek). ] ^ You know, that’s something I picked up along the way. I’ve taken my fair share of slaps, and nine times out of ten I’ve asked for it. You know, fair enough; I don’t fuckingéI’m not crying about it. But socialism is based on idealism, so how the fuck are you going to argue against an idealist? You can’t. Not to have violence is an ideal in itself. And I celebrate the idea that my film is completely imperfect — and I want it to be imperfect. And I want life to be imperfect. I like the class structure because it’s imperfect. And I like having a monarchy because it’s imperfect. And I don’t have a problem with imperfection, and I think it’s very important to be imperfect. Because perfect is an excuse not to do anything, as far as I can understand. The amount of filmmakers I know that are perfectionists that have never fucking made anything is unbelievable. ^
[ So in a sense, arguably, if you’re depicting violence in the film, in essence, you have a certain currency in that because you grew up with it, you were around it, whereas somebody like Tarantino is just a poser because he’s never been in a bar fight. I mean, one could say that. ] ^ I’m not claiming that I’m mister fucking street tough, you know what I mean? But I’ve taken a few slaps, and I understand what slaps are and I am one to believe that some people should be slapped. And I’m dubious about the amount of things that go through courts. And a lot of things shouldn’t go through the court system, but society has to be seen to approve of the court system, and I respect that. But there’s no question that if someone comes around your house and fucking nicks something, and you know where they are, you shouldn’t go to the police, you should go and shoot the fuckers. Or whatever it is that, you know, if you know some boys, you have the boys go sort ’em out. “Shoot the fuckers,” may be a bit strong, but I’m trying to illustrate a point; it’s hyperbole, if you like. A curious thing is, is that if you spend much time with villains, is how they understand the realities of life. Because they’ve come up the hard way. Now, I haven’t come up the hard way; I sort of had it mixed. So I’m not claiming that I’m out of the gutter by any stretch of the imagination. But these guys have come out of the gutter. And you can fucking give ’em any idealism you like, mate. And all is they know, is they put bread on that table, and they don’t give two fucks for theory. All is they care about is what works. And that’s curious, and I give credence to that. ^
[ Can you tell me anything at all about “Diamonds,” the film that you’ve made a ten million dollar deal with Sony Pictures for? ] ^ I can tell you about it, from the point of view that the reason it’s under ten million dollars, is that the filmmaker manages to keep control. And I think they’ve got some kind of a negative pick-up deal, or so. They’re completely out of my hairéI can cast who I like, and the rest of it. And it’s about dogfights, diamond-dealing, obviously, but it’s only lightly about diamond-dealing. So I’m slightly nervous about calling it “Diamonds,” because I think everyone’s going to go along expecting to see fucking loads of diamonds. It’s about one stone, but again, it’s like “Lock, Stock” — there’s a load of different narratives sort of dove-tailing together. It’s about dogfights, it’s about car-stealing, it’s about bare-knuckle fights, it’s about gypsies, it’s about all sort of salubrious activities of the English underworld. Because as much as I respect Merchant-Ivory — and I do, incidentally, because I think they make films that look like they should be in the fucking cinema as opposed to the TV — I’ve got no interest in Britain’s colonial past. I’m only interested in what I find moving and passionate. ^
[ What do you want to accomplish in the long term with filmmaking? What’s your goal? ] ^ Don’t know. I really don’t. I’d like to have a long career, is what I’d like to say. I respect any of those guys who have done so. At the moment, I’m a young cocky, turk. I feel somewhat stupid getting all this attention, because maybe I should be getting this attention in ten years’ time. But it’s fun, and who wants to listen to me can listen to me. But you know, it’s a question of persistency and consistency, and whether you’re still hanging in there in 20 years’ time.
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