AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTOPHER NOLAN! Christopher Nolan’s amazing film Memento begins with the climax. Leonard (Guy Pearce) guns down his victim in cold blood. The very next scene reveals what Leonard was up to just before the killing. The scene after that explains what happened just before the previous scene and so on. Memento‘s story is told entirely backwards. It’s the most radical storytelling device used in an independent film since “Pulp Fiction” and the best film I’ve seen this year. I met Nolan during the Sundance Film Festival at the Shadow Ridge Hotel but reminded him that he and I actually first met at the Slamdance Film Festival where he and I got into an argument during a panel discussion. Not so much a fight as a “heated discussion.” We avoided a bout this time and chatted about about Memento, his first film “The Following,” the struggles involved in making an indie film and his roots. Here is the transcript of our conversation, revealed in the correct order that it happened, beginning to end…
I’ve read the bio, so I know what’s on paper. Tell me about who you really are, who is Chris Nolan? ^ Chris Nolan is half American, half English which I always mention first because I think it explains a lot to people what I’ve done, when and where. I started making films when I was a little kid, like seven years old, with my older brother. And my dad, who is a creative guy, works in advertising, really encouraged us to explore that side of ourselves. Basically I’ve spent my whole life making films in my free time, and they’ve sort of gotten bigger and hopefully better as we’ve gone along. By the time I got to university I was doing 16mm shorts. With the same bunch of people I met in college, I was living in London; put together a no budget film called “The Following.” Made that using people I’d met in college, in that area where we attended college in West London. Then, right as I was finishing that I moved to America, because my then girlfriend-now wife was working for Working Title Films in their LA office, so we decided it was a great time to move and try it in LA. It worked very well for us because we were able to take advantage of the North American Film Festival circuit with “The Following.” We would kind of get it out there before we took it back to England.
Obviously you had an early interest in movies. Did you have an epiphany movie that you saw and after you saw that film you were not the same person. Something that grabbed you and you just said, “This is now my following I have to do this”? ^ Absolutely, Star Wars. Anybody our age, our generation, that’s the movie, you might want to deny it in later years and come up with something more sophisticated, but it absolutely changed everything. What’s amusing to me to realize, because I was a little bit embarrassed about Star Wars, you know, because it’s such an obvious movie in a way to fix on. But then I remember that when I was a little kid they also re-released “2001” the same year, and all my friends and I went to see it when we were seven years old and loved it. I didn’t give a s**t about the fact we couldn’t understand the ending, it just fired our imaginations. I was talking to someone about that the other day, because that’s an extraordinary thing when you think about how abstract that movie is, how unconventional. I wasn’t some precocious little kid, I mean all of my friends went to see it off the back off Star Wars when it was re-released and loved it. Interesting for me to remember that, because I think a lot of Studio executives wouldn’t believe that a film like that could get young kids to respond to it, but we did.
I’d be interested in more of your comments on “2001: A Space Odyssey,” because this is now “2001.” We should see some kind of re-release. ^ I can’t believe they didn’t do it all ready. I heard it was going play at the New Art and then they cancelled it, so I don’t know what’s going on. I think it’s coming out in May or something.
I saw it when I was five, my dad took me. It blew me away. And I had a VCR when I was a teenager and I had “2001” on tape. Every time I’d go out to the bar I’d come home drunk and just put on that last ten minutes – landing on Jupiter, it was incredible. ^ I saw it on four or five years ago in San Francisco. I caught it at a great theater, they had a pretty good print and it’s real extraordinary. It holds up incredibly well.
This is really funny because that being the film that fueled the spirit that is in you – you made a movie that is just completely different. You know it’s shot on film, but it really doesn’t have much in common with Star Wars at all. ^ Do you know what it tries to have in common with Star Wars? It’s very important to me in films to create geography that you’re kind of immersed in somewhere. And that to me is really important in movies. I don’t like it when people tell me “it’s brilliant”, and I’ll go, and if it doesn’t create a world of some type that you’re fully immersed in for the duration of the movie – that lives on your head, and lives beyond the screen in some sense – then it doesn’t work for me. So that’s one small similarity.
That’s interesting. ^ The other thing is that I was drawn in to films not through theater or literature, but purely through the visual side, through images strung together. Ridley Scott was always my favorite director as a child. Like “Blade Runner,” I saw that when I was 12 and I thought that was absolutely extraordinary. So you sort of get into filmmaking just for the pleasure of stringing images together. You make silent movies in Super 8 you’re not thinking about dialogue. Then as you get older, you start looking for ways to use that impulse or desire you had, and apply it to narrative. Particularly as an independent filmmaker you wind up having to write for yourself anyway. So you get much more involved in that side, and then working with great actors that’s a whole other dimension that starts to come in. So I feel like with something like Memento it’s sort of like trying to combine a number of different things that I’ve been fascinated in. But you reach this point where you have to progress from just stringing images together. For a movie like Star Wars it’s all about the audio visual, and Blade Runner, all the rest. You reach a point where unless you’re going to go off and do commercials or music videos and be happy doing that, you’ve got to find a way to use that impulse in a narrative sense where you try to do some storytelling.
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