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)
20 Minutes with Gaspar Noe(Electric Sheep)
Written on 19 September, 2010 • Filed in Interviews
Enter the Void
Date: 24 September 2010
Distributor: Trinity Entertainment
Venues: Curzon Soho & key cities
Director: Gaspar Noé
Writers: Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Gaspar Noé
Cast: Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta, Cyril Roy, Olly Alexander
Mark Stafford talked to French provocateur Gaspar Noé about his latest opus Enter the Void, an ambitious, sprawling ‘psychedelic melodrama’ seen from the point of view of a dead man.
Mark Stafford: In the screening I was at, there was one walkout, a lot of dark murmuring and a lot of people clearly thinking Enter the Void was something special. What’s the reaction been to the film? Gaspar Noé: It’s funny, it’s gotten the best reviews of my career, and the worst reviews too. I had so many bad reviews in my life, I’m amazed by the bad reviews as much as by the good ones. My father, who lives in Argentina, is a painter (actually the paintings you see by the character Alex in the film are by my father) and he does drawings for the leftist national paper in Argentina, so he reads that paper every morning. He comes from a generation where the written press means something. Some people go to church, or the synagogue or the mosque and believe what’s said to them there, some people are raised to believe what the press say, and that recognition by the press is important. He came to Cannes for the screening of the movie as a work in progress. The following day he said, ‘Oh, your movie’s a masterpiece’, and then he read the review in the Argentine paper he draws for, which said, ‘This is the worst movie ever shown in any Cannes film festival, everybody in the streets, everybody at the parties and bars are saying, “this is the biggest piece of crap”’ and ‘how can the son of this painter…?’ The same day there was a great review in the New York Times: ‘Gaspar Noé is trying to reinvent cinema.’ So when the biggest paper that counted for my father gave me the worst review I’ve ever had I was happy, but he was saying, ‘Hey buddy, don’t worry, give me his address, I’m going to talk directly to this man, he’s gonna pay for this’ (laughter). I just thought it was funny. I imagine this Argentine film critic, every time the bell rings he’s thinking: ‘Maybe this time it’s Gaspar’s father, here to avenge the honour of his family…’
Did I read Throbbing Gristle on the credits? Yeah, when Oscar enters the bar where he gets shot, the music is ‘Hamburger Lady’. There is also a sound I used when Oscar dies and the camera goes through the wall, which is from a piece Peter Christopherson made for a record called ‘Cold Hands’. I love his music. I met him and asked if I could use that piece, and he liked the film and gave me the rights to use it. I also asked about using ‘Hamburger Lady’ and he called his partners from Throbbing Gristle and I got the rights for not much. I was so happy because it’s so right and I’m a big fan of Throbbing Gristle.
I read the name on the credits and wondered, because of their history, if there’s anything subliminal in the noise or in the strobe. I know that people are going to drop acid and search the film for hidden messages… It hasn’t happened as much with this one but people were telling me that Irreversible had a Throbbing Gristle feeling…
It’s the low bass frequencies… Genesis lived round the corner from my sister. Weird, charming bloke, I didn’t know him, but whenever I saw him live he dived into the crowd and started dancing with me… You know he’s got breasts now? He’s still got a dick. He said he just wanted to get closer to his girlfriend.
He was supposed to go this way, she was supposed to go that way… But he always said, I think, that he’d always keep his dick on.
Well, y’know, he’s attached to it… Some people have extreme lives and straight people think they’re gonna be punished. But actually, having a very personal life is very rewarding, as long as you don’t fall too much into drugs. Some drugs open your mind, others are mental cages.
The psychedelic experience is commonly associated with feelings of euphoria. But Enter the Void is pretty much a solid bad trip. It starts as a weird trip and then turns into a bad trip. But after having done some mushroom and LSD trips what you notice is that when it’s fun, it’s fun for a while, but there’s always a point around 7am when you want to stop the trip and you can’t.
You think it’s all over, you pick up a book and the words start swirling round… The last time I did acid I mixed it with some other things. At the end of the night I was really wasted and somebody said, ‘do you want to see some colours?’ I think if I hadn’t been drunk I would have been more careful but… I took some liquid acid. When I got home it was like in Altered States, I would look at my arm and it was moving. I thought my arms were three times larger than normal. I kept thinking, ‘Don’t watch yourself in the mirror’. I was scared of seeing myself as those visions in Altered States. So ‘Don’t watch yourself in the mirror, don’t watch yourself in the mirror…’ I lay in my bed and I was watching my father’s painting, and the paint became 3D, it came out in four different layers, the colours at different distances from the canvas. I tried to make a phone call, but I couldn’t understand how the mobile phone worked, it took me two hours to work it out… I’m happy now I’ve had all these experiences because they’re all in the movie. So in the end, it was all professional research.
I’m bloody glad Enter the Void is not in 3D, you’d need a shower afterwards… There’s about 20 minutes difference between the cut that played at the last London Film Festival and the one I just saw, what did you change? The one that screened at the festival was the full-length version, we had to transfer from high definition and remix the sound. The only difference is we changed the music on the credits. In England they are releasing two versions: the French/European version that was shown almost everywhere that’s 155 minutes, and the shorter version, which is 17 minutes shorter – a whole segment, or a whole reel of the movie is pulled out. That sequence is after the abortion scene. There were some additional astral visions, and then he dreamt that he wakes up at the morgue and he believes he’s alive and then his sister and his friends say, ‘he’s a zombie, we don’t want to take care of him’, but his friend Alex says, ‘you didn’t wake up, you’re just dreaming this, you’ve been burnt, you’ve been incinerated’. And you go back to the astral vision and see his sister throwing the ashes over water into a sink. That’s where the following reel starts. So I managed to have two different versions that were edited the same way but I pulled out the whole reel.
[END OF SPOILER]
I was going to say because the film is shot to seem like one continuous movement, I couldn’t see how the hell you’d cut anything out. I managed to have a good cut between reels number 6 and 7 and 7 and 8, so you could go directly from 6 to 8 without noticing that a reel was missing. In most cinemas they’ll be showing the shorter version. And you can be sure that on DVD they’re gonna call it the ‘director’s cut’, but it’s really just the long cut and the shorter cut.
You’ve been working on Enter the Void, in different forms, for about 15 years. Were you waiting for technology to catch up with the visions in your head? I was pushing hard to start the movie for years and years, and now I’m glad it was postponed many times because when we started preparing the movie for real I think it was the right timing. I had gotten used to Japan. I had found the right actors. I had found the right partners to make my movie, the people in the Wild Bunch and the digital company that could take care of the visual effects. Working with Pierre Buffin, who’s the VFX artistic director was amazing. Being able to shoot in Japan, although it was risky for the producers, was great. Things like the floating camera make me glad the movie was held back for years. Even though my main dream as a director was delayed for so long, once I started prepping the movie and started shooting I thought I’d been really lucky that I didn’t start before because the new technologies made it possible to make it look as it looks now. If I’d waited another two or three years I would maybe have had the opportunity to shoot it in 3D…
You’ve essentially made a film in which you’ve killed the audience and re-incarnated them… Oscar dreams the whole trip. His soul really doesn’t come out of his body, at the end the Tokyo you see is not the real Tokyo, it’s the sculpture/model. The whole dream becomes more and more dysfunctional. When he sees his sister he sees the face of his mother. When he gets into the plane he sees himself as a baby with his parents. When he sees a vision of the future there are old Linda and young Linda in the same room, with the Twin Towers outside, which is not possible. At the very end, when he comes out of his mother’s womb, he’s remembering his birth, or he’s getting into a loop, he’s starting his meaningless life once again. His whole trip is based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, but the movie does not promote the idea of reincarnation. You could say it’s an atheist movie.
[END OF SPOILER]
Where the hell do you go from here? The dream I’ve been carrying for years is to do a good erotic movie. A good sentimental erotic movie.
Good luck. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie have just spent about 10 years of their lives trying to produce a decent piece of pornography. It’s weird because it’s a huge genre, pornography. And you have so many good horror movies, good science fiction movies, so many good murder movies, but sex is the closest thing to real life. And sex, whether you’re in love or not, is pornographic. It’s something that happens every week, so why should something that seems so essential to me, to most people around me, why should it be something that’s never properly portrayed on screen?
Interview by Mark Stafford
Writer and director Gaspar Noe, best known for his controversial film Irreversible, was recently in London to chat about his latest feature, Enter the Void. Here he talks with View’s Matthew Turner about out of body experiences, scandalous sex scenes and crying at Toy Story 3.
This has been a dream project of yours for so many years. Why has this film been such an obsession for you? Gaspar Noe (GN): I would say it's because my favourite movie ever is 2001: A Space Odyssey. I saw it when I was seven years old and that was my first drug trip. I was with my parents and when I came out of the movie I was totally stoned. What was that tunnel of light? What was that weird baby with the big head at the end? They told me that the foetus is a baby before it is born and I was told by my mother that before I was a baby I was a foetus inside her belly, and that was because my father put his penis inside her vagina, so maybe I associate that movie to me learning about my origins.
My whole life I was trying to reproduce the shock I had with 2001: A Space Odyssey, so when I started smoking marijuana at the age of 13 and taking acid at 15, it was because I wanted to go through the tunnel again, but you never get those images again. When I went to film school I said I wanted to do a trippy movie that could reproduce the vision and perception you have when you are stoned. The whole dream was to make another movie like the one I saw as a kid, and to put people in an altered state like I was put in when I watched 2001.
At what point did you make the decision to shoot the film from the main character's point of view? GN: Accidentally one day when I was 20, I was on mushrooms and I went home and saw The Lady in the Lake. I thought it would be great if the trippy project I had could be seen through the eyes of the main character so all of the distortion would be linked to his perception, and then I was reading books about out of body experiences. At that time I didn't know what the movie was going to be about but I started taking notes and I was obsessed with movies that were dealing with hallucinogenic things, like Easy Rider and Flatliners, and when I put all the pieces together I realised I should make a movie about someone who gets shot and then you follow his dream of coming out of his body.
Did you do any research into out of body experiences? GN: I had been doing lots of breathing exercises, inhaling every three minutes, because I read that it could lead to out of body experiences but it never happened to me. I studied hypnosis and tried lots of chemicals to come out of my body but it never happened, so I came to the conclusion that you cannot separate the soul from the flesh and the only way of coming out of my body is by making a movie. I can put a camera on a crane and film that, and that can be my only out of body experience ever.
So it's a long process and I was also buying experimental music and watching experimental videos, and while I was working on other projects I kept on working on this one. It is like a collective dream. Maybe there's something you believe in and you want to procreate that collective dream. I don't know if Steven Spielberg believed that aliens and flying saucers existed when he made Close Encounters, but there's a collective dream that you want to portray.
What were the technical challenges that you faced as you set up those long tracking shots? GN: We had to rebuild all of the locations that were shown in the flashbacks, they were real locations but we had to rebuild them in the Toho studios in Tokyo. We were shooting from above on a crane, each crane scene took a whole day, and we were doing many different shots because we knew we could not cut those scenes.
Can you explain the different versions of the film, because the current theatrical version is shorter than the version that played at last year's London Film Festival. GN: When we first watched it in Cannes the movie was not completed. The very final cut of the movie was shown in Sundance, in January of this year, on a 35mm print, and there are just two versions of this movie. The official version, which was shown in France and some other countries, that is the two hours 35 minutes version and I had to sign a contract that said if it goes over two hours 20 minutes I would do a shorter version. Instead of re-editing the movie, to make it shorter for other countries, I decided to re-cut the reels, so you could just pull reel number seven out and you can show the movie with either eight reels or nine reels.
How did you make the decision to lose that particular reel? GN: The scenes that are missing are mostly some astral visions and the moment in which the guy wakes up at the morgue and thinks he has come back to life, but people say, "No, you didn't come back to life, you are just a zombie, you can't eventalk" or whatever. But I think both versions work, and weirdly, it is not a censored version, because the reel that is missing doesn't contain any explicit sex or anything that is shocking, so it's not because of censorship.
It's mostly because they saw that the shorter version could be more comprehensible and more commercial, that's all. Maybe if someone liked the shorter version they will make sure the second time that they see the 17 minutes that were missing, like now they are re-releasing Avatar with nine more minutes, so why not? [laughs]
You seem drawn to melodramatic narratives... GN: Life is melodramatic, I cry very often. If I just think for one second of my parents' death I start crying and just by saying the words my eyes fill with tears. The moment you fall in love with someone you are already afraid of losing that person so you have these obsessions. There are aspects of the brain that are very universal, so if you put two kids in the movie who are losing their parents, that talks to everybody. I was watching Toy Story 3 and the moment you see all of the toys close to getting burned and they hold hands, I started crying, and I couldn't believe I was crying at a 3D cartoon, but anyway. Even if you want to make a movie that's as trippy as can be or as cool as can be, the thing that makes it closer to life is the fact that there is some melodrama inside.
Now that you've finally completed this dream project, what are you planning on doing next? GN: There is one thing I was thinking of for many years, I have never seen the ultimate love movie. I suppose it would be a love story, a melodrama and a porn movie. When I fall in love, I have sex, and when you have sex in real life it's hardcore, so why can't you mix love and sex in a movie? In most erotic movies there are no feelings, and in life there are feelings, but since the beginning of the history of cinema nobody ever came close to what your everyday sexual life is.
Sometimes an arty movie will include an orgy scene or a gay sex scene, or they will show a blowjob in the movie, but the point is not about showing the thing, the point is why can you not portray a loving sexual encounter between a man and woman on the screen without there being a scandal?