Gaspar Noe was in Hong Kong last week to screen his epic, experimental, head trip ENTER THE VOID as part of the 34th Hong Kong International Film Festival and I spoke to him about the film - its origins, influences, intentions - and that ending!
James Marsh - Congratulations on making probably the most talked about, controversial film of the last 12 months. Everyone is either loving it or hating it.
Gaspar Noe - One of the best comments I got was from, I think its called The Mormon Times - the big newspaper in Utah. It said, "This is the most technically ambitious piece of garbage ever made!"
JM - How do you react to a comment like that?
GN - I love it!
JM -Back when you were making IRREVERSIBLE you were talking about striving for an "audience of nobody". Are you still working towards that?
GN - Whether you want it or not, as a filmmaker you are playing with your audience. I know that if half the audience is shocked, the other half will feel strong because they weren't shocked and they will start fighting back. If you can create a kind of tension in the audience it's always good. I had so many girls come up to me after seeing SEUL CONTRE TOUS (I STAND ALONE) and confess that they'd had sex with their father. They'd say their boyfriend or husband doesn't know about it, but they knew they could tell me this! Because of IRREVERSIBLE, I've met so many people who tell me they've been raped. Girls, boys, big tall guys even, saying to me, "I saw your movie because I was raped by my father's best friend." With ENTER THE VOID I'm getting a lot of crazy people from mental hospitals saying they can come out of their body easily. People are connecting with the film in a very emotional way, saying how it represented their fears, their horrors or their desires. And before now they'd never seen it on screen. I got all the space junkies too! They all say to me, "Whoa, that's exactly how it is! I did DMT and I had those visuals!" And then on the other hand you get all these people who say, "I've never done drugs in my life and I'm very happy I saw your movie because now I know exactly how it is and know that I'll never ever do it in my whole life!"
JM - Where did the original idea for ENTER THE VOID come from? Did it start with the Tibetan Book of the Dead?
GN - Not really. It was a mix of these books about life after death, like Raymond Moody's Life After Life, and the desire to portray cinematically what people call an out-of-body experience. I tried a few times to have one myself, by reading all these books about how to come out of your body, but it never happened. You basically stop breathing, inhaling just once every three minutes, but at a point maybe you can die because you get kind of stoned by the lack of oxygen, but I never came out of my body. So I thought maybe the only way to really experience this was to make a movie that looks like one. Actually, all these obsessions you see in the movie were actually my own obsessions when I was 20. I guess it's more a movie for teenagers than for grown ups, compared to my other movies. Weirdly, this is the latest one, but also the most childish one. Not technically, but in its subject matter.
JM - The characters are pretty irresponsible.
GN - When I was 18-19 maybe I was hanging out with kids like Oscar, who were 100% sure they were absolute winners, while they were behaving like absolute losers!
JM - At what stage did you decide to film in Japan?
GN - Originally the script was not set in Japan. But I'd been travelling there a lot over the last 15 years and I always dreamt of doing a movie in Japan. I thought the movie would take place in France, or maybe New York or London, but mostly because I thought it was impossible to do a big movie with cranes in Japan. But the more time I spent there the more I got used to working with Japanese people and there was a point, about 6 or 7 years ago, that I decided I should transfer the story to Tokyo. I did one last location scout in New York, but I noticed that the energy, like the hippy energy of the 70s, had totally disappeared. It's a very bourgeois city now, it's not a futuristic city like Hong Kong or Tokyo can be, especially if I wanted the film to look like TRON or BLADE RUNNER...and finally this company, Wild Bunch, decided they wanted to get into the movie, they were ready to finance it and we had to find a visual effects company that would help produce the movie. Luckily the movie started at the right moment, because if I'd started this movie a few years earlier, I think technically it wouldn't look this good.
JM -Did it take a long time to get off the ground?
GN - Because there is some explicit sex - a lot of drugs and sex - and also because the movie is long and very experimental it's financially very risky. Also, it ended up costing three times the original projected budget. It wasn't a big budget, I mean I think the movie looks a lot more expensive than it was.
JM - You mentioned TRON and BLADE RUNNER, other people have said 2001. These are all deliberate references, right?
GN - Yeah, and ALTERED STATES. Actually it's weird, because before we started the movie I was contacted by a Hollywood studio to see if I wanted to do a sequel to ALTERED STATES. I told Wild Bunch about it and they said "No, no if you take the job you'll be there for three years, so OK, let's start this movie now." I feel much safer with my French producers than I would have inside a Hollywood studio anyway. They would have had final cut and they have so many guilds that actually if you want to get anywhere close to the camera they call the cops! You're not supposed to touch the camera, but for me, one of the great pleasures of filmmaking is doing the camerawork yourself.
JM -You do all your own camerawork?
GN - Yeah I operate the camera.
JM - What was Marc Caro's involvement with the film?
GN - He had just finished editing his science fiction movie, DANTE 01, and for about three months he had nothing planned and it was exactly at the moment we were leaving for Japan, so I said "I have a Production Designer in Japan but I've never worked with him and the movie relies so much on the art design - would you enjoy being the Art Supervisor to work with the Japanese team" and he said he'd love to. For example, the design of all the rooms in the Love Hotel at the end of the film comes from Marc Caro. And the strip club scene, with all the weird lights - that was all his idea. He didn't help with the Canadian shooting, but all the main stuff he was there. I was really flattered he accepted the job.
JM - This is also a big step up in terms of visual effects for you.
GN - The guy who did the visual effects, Pierre Buffin, is a master in Europe. He also did all the Visual Effects for Wong Kar Wai's 2046, FIGHT CLUB, PANIC ROOM, ALEXANDER and THE MATRIX and even some stuff on AVATAR. He has the biggest effects company in France. So even though the movie looks personal I had a huge team, where the head of each department was very talented.
JM - So the auteur theory isn't something you subscribe to?
GN - No, no, not in movies. If you write a script or write novels then ok you're an auteur, but when you're directing movies you feel more like a politician or the captain of a football team. At the end of the day you need ten or eleven good people behind you if you're gonna win the game.
JM - I have to ask you how you filmed ENTER THE VOID's climactic "money shot". Was that real?
GN - No, no that was CGI.
JM - Because for many people that seems to be the film's most enduring image.
GN - Yeah, that always gets a laugh, but also I've seen at many festivals the audience applauds at the end of the opening credits. Actually the French distributors wanted a teaser to put on the Internet and they were asking me, "Which scene should we put online?" and I said, "Let's just use the opening credits!"
JM - The other teaser is that single aerial shot of Oscar in the toilet, which reminded me of the end of TAXI DRIVER.
GN - One of my favourite moments in TAXI DRIVER is when the camera moves for no reason. It's the same in some of Wong Kar Wai's movies, people are talking and the camera just goes away and comes back. DeNiro's talking on the phone in a corridor and the camera literally pans away, nothing happens and then it comes back. That's real cinema!
JM - Who would you say are your biggest influences?
GN - For this movie there are a lot. Of course there is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, but also Kenneth Anger's INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASUREDOME - that's one of the first psychedelic movies ever made. Anger, who made SCORPIO RISING, did this experimental movie in the late fifties after doing LSD with Aldous Huxley, with people swallowing pearls, having hallucinations, it's incredible. Also ALTERED STATES, VIDEODROME and some of Brian De Palma's aerial shots, in his movies you often see the camera flying above the characters. Also as a reference was the opening shot from STRANGE DAYS, because when I decided the first part of ENTER THE VOID would be a POV shot, I tried to find all the movies with good POV shots in them - another good one was DOOM.
JM - I've heard a lot of people say that their viewing experience of ENTER THE VOID reminded them of watching a video game, because of the different POVs.
GN - Well for the flashback sequences I shot it all from just behind Oscar's head because when I think of my own past, or when I dream or when I go back to my room and think of this interview, I will reframe it and the camera will go back and I will put myself inside the frame. That's how I experience memories, it's from a different perspective, so I have Oscar as this void shadow inside the frame during those sequences.
JM - Do you believe in reincarnation?
GN - No.
JM - Are you religious? What does happen when you die?
GN - No I'm not religious. I think you do what you can and then you go. Or rather, you don't go! You stay right where you are! But of course if you look closely at the end of the movie [SPOILER] the mother who is giving birth is not his sister, but his mother. So either it means he is having one last flashback of the most traumatic moment of his life - his own birth - or maybe he has come full circle and is starting again, and all life is a loop, loop, loop for ever. [END OF SPOILER]
JM - How is distributing the film going? Is it proving difficult to find buyers?
GN - No it's going well. It's about to open in France. It will open in Tokyo and the Czech Republic too.
JM - Uncut?
GN - There is going to be a shorter version. At the Tokyo Film Festival we showed the uncut version, but there will be a version screened that includes 8 reels out of 9. That means that there is one reel, that is 17 minutes long, which is not going to be shown in some countries.
JM - One whole reel?
GN - Yes. It will jump straight from reel 6 to reel 8, which means that in Japan, theatrically they will show a shorter version. But then we will put out the full Director's Cut in theatres again later. [SPOILER] It's the section just after the abortion scene, so there are some astro-visions, an orgy scene with Linda and the Japanese girl, the scene where you see him waking up at the morgue and he thinks he's alive but he's not, and then the camera goes down the plughole where she's tipping his ashes. That's where I re-connect to reel 8, the camera goes through the gutters and comes out in the cemetery. [END OF SPOILER] That whole segment, which is not essential, in which some people feel lost - the movie works with or without that reel. Of course most people like the longer version better, but perhaps the shorter version is more accessible.
JM - So how does this longer version compare with the version people saw at Cannes last year, which was another 10 or 15 minutes longer?
GN - It was longer but it wasn't complete at all. It was still very much a work in progress. It may have seemed like a completed movie but I worked on it for another 6 months after that - on the music, the visual effects, on the print etc. There were no credits on that version either.
JM - So the version you're screening for us - that's 155 minutes - is the most complete version?
GN - Yes, that's the whole movie.
JM - How about distribution for the US or UK?
GN - I don't know about the UK, but in the States it's been bought by IFC, who'll be releasing it unrated at the beginning of September. But I think in some countries we may have some problems with the censors.
Cross-published in bc Magazine (Hong Kong)