With the release of Only God Forgives on the horizon and ScreenAnarchy's 5 Days of Refn series to go along with it, the time was perfect for a little outside-of-the-box thinking. Still, I was a bit surprised when Nicolas Winding Refn agreed to my idea of the two of us kicking back and watching a film of his choosing. To go along with my chosen theme of influences, the film was to be one that Refn considered a seminal title that had shaped him as director. After seeing (and loving) Only God Forgives a few months prior, I expected something Asian; something gritty; something particularly visually stimulating. My fingers-crossed guess was a film by Suzuki Seijin. I was even more surprised when the film turned out to be Frank Perry's famously troubled 1968 production The Swimmer, starring Burt Lancaster.
Far be it from me to argue with an esteemed filmmaker, so I tracked down the out of print DVD from my local library and drove over to Refn's temporary home in Los Angeles's Laurel Canyon neighborhood. What followed was a delightful conversation with the director about his process and many of the films that have influenced him over the years. While we strayed way off topic for much of the talk, I did get a better understanding of what he brings with him into each project and how certain films have helped shape the movies he has made throughout his career. Here are some nuggets from that discussion on the influences of Nicolas Winding Refn:
THE SWIMMER (1968) D: Frank Perry
ScreenAnarchy: So why The Swimmer?
Nicolas Winding Refn: I saw this completely by chance on Danish television a number of years ago. Since I was going to be in LA for a month, I figured it was such an LA movie. They don't make 'em like they used to. It's about swimming pools, and there is no other city in the world that has swimming pools the way LA does.
It's the kind of movie you see more and more in after multiple viewings. Do you ever think about what someone will see in your movie the second or third time they watch?
No, because then you get too calculated -- you get too mechanical. It becomes about your vanity. It becomes about your ego. The notion of you knowing how people will react or not react -- will they watch it again and again -- what will that mean to your legacy? I'm sure I started out making films with that kind of vanity because we all do.
We forget that art, like anything, is an act of expression. In order to figure out what works we need to figure out what doesn't -- which can be terrifying. A lot of times we try to bypass those choices by trying to find a formula of success -- because we all want to make something important.