Oscar-nominated prosthetics makeup artist Mark Coulier says young actor Federico Ielapi spent three hours in the makeup chair each day to transform into the title role.
Carlo Collodi’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio has been adapted for the screen numerous times, but for Matteo Garrone’s 2020 film Pinocchio, the director wanted to be faithful to the original book, first published in 1883. The look of the eponymous wooden puppet who longs to be real boy thus started with examinations of the book’s early illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti and Carlo Chiostri.
Prosthetics makeup artist Mark Coulier — a two-time Oscar winner, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Iron Lady, who is nominated for Pinocchio alongside makeup artist Dalia Colli and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti — relates that the team started by creating the designs, and once Federico Ielapi was cast in the lead role, they continued to refine the look. “It has to be movable. It has to have expression,” says Coulier. “It has to conform to the actor’s physiognomy, so it did evolve and change [while] maintaining the flavor of original drawings.”
Another difficulty was putting a realistic wood grain on the prosthetic pieces. “It was quite tricky, working on how to sculpt it, to paint it correctly,” Coulier says, explaining that each silicone piece was hand-painted. That was a complex task because every piece was destroyed in the process of removing it at the end of the day, meaning that single-use identical prosthetics were required for each day of production. “You have to be able to hold them up and have them be identical. We had a master paint job, and it was painstakingly [hand-]copied, line by line, grain by grain … We had a team painting pieces during the day, [to] keep three days [ahead of production].”
Ielapi, who was 9 years old at the time, would spend roughly three hours each day in makeup, where face, hand, leg and foot prosthetics were attached. “We applied the makeup about 50 times,” says Coulier. “For the arms, “we tried gloves, but the process of making gloves makes them slightly thicker than if you have a prosthetic appliance,” he says. “If you do it as an appliance, you can sculpt them thinner and you get more elegant-looking hands. So I really wanted to change from the gloves to hand prosthetics, even though it added an extra 25 minutes, half an hour in the chair every day.”
The young actor also had silicone appliances on his legs and shoes. “We took a mold of [the shoes] on Federico’s foot, and then we sculpted our silicone boot to make it look like wood over the top of the shoe.”
Coulier admits that, as initially conceived, Pinocchio’s hands, legs and neck were going to be digital. “Matteo always wanted a prosthetic face — for performance, really,” he explains. “Slowly but surely, we realized that the neck would work as a prosthetic neck,” and then it was finally decided to go with full prosthetics. “Matteo just thought that it would work … [and] it would give him freedom on set to capture as much as possible in camera.”
Roughly 25 characters in the film involved prosthetics, including the Fox, Cricket and Snail (played by Maria Pia Timo) and others from the puppet theater of Mangiafuoco. “We built a full snail costume with a full-size snail shell that’s about a meter across and a meter tall,” says Coulier. “And we had [Timo] in a full foam latex snail suit with a silicone snail head and snail arms.”
UK producer Jeremy Thomas is back on the awards trail more than 30 years after Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor, produced by Thomas, won nine Oscars.
The founder and chairman of London-based Recorded Picture Company is a producer on Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, which has two Oscar nominations for make-up and hairstyling as well as costume design.
An independent Italian-language film, launched during the pandemic,Thomas suggests Pinocchio was not an obvious Oscar contender. “Nobody was going to the cinema and it was very hard to get any traction in terms of people seeing the film,” he says.
However, sold internationally by Thomas’ sales outfit HanWay Films, the film was released in the UK by Vertigo Releasing in August – doing strong business in between lockdowns. It was released in the US by Roadside Attractions on December 25.
Pinocchio marks Thomas’ third collaboration with Garrone after Tale Of Tales and Dogman and the producer believes a large part of the film’s appeal is that it showcases “the finest Italian artisan work… the tradition of hand-making films”, that stretches back to the movies made in Italian studios by his old partner Bertolucci and the likes of Federico Fellini.
UK craftspeople also feature strongly, notably make-up effects artist Mark Coulier, whose prosthetics work on Pinocchio has earned an Oscar nomination, as well as visual-effects supervisor Rachel Penfold and composer Dario Marinelli, who is Italian-born but has spent most of his career in the UK.
Some 50 years after his career began as an assistant editor on films including Ken Loach’s Family Life (1971) and Perry Hernzell’s The Harder They Come (1972), Thomas is moving in front of the camera for the first time as a the subject of a documentary directed by Mark Cousins.
With a working title of The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas, the film details the career of a man once described by Bertolucci as a “hustler in the fur of a teddy bear” and celebrates his work on the 70 or so films he has produced to date including Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka and Bad Timing, Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor.
Thomas says the experience has proved a nostalgic one. “It has been moving for me because Mark is a good filmmaker and we were very intimate in as much as it was just him and me,” says Thomas. “He knows cinema like me and we can rap about cinema.”
Produced by David P Kelly, the film is told against the backdrop of Thomas’ annual trip to Cannes, with Thomas and Cousins driving to the festival in an Alfa Romeo ahead of the 2019 edition. The journey includes a stop-off at the Drancy Internment Camp, where Jews were rounded up by French police prior to being sent to Auschwitz. “I talked about that because I am Jewish,” says Thomas.
Further stops along the way include Paris, Lyon and Orleans, where they discussed Carl Dreyer’s silent classic The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. Once the pair reach Cannes, the film catches the moment the staff at the Carlton Hotel greet the veteran producer like an old friend and follows Thomas as he attends screenings and meetings.
The documentary also touches on Thomas’s recovery from recent illness and his philosophy about cinema, and includes interviews with Tilda Swinton, Debra Winger and other collaborators.
Made in the UK
Although he is renowned for his collaborations with Italian, Japanese and North American filmmakers,and has been cutting deals and making films abroad since he was in his 20s (when he headed to Australia in the mid-1970s to produce Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper), Thomas has a legacy and heritage forged in the UK. His father Ralph Thomas and uncle Gerald Thomas were key figures in post-war British cinema, the former making Doctor In The House comedies and the latter directing all 30 films in the Carry On comedy series.
Thomas himself is an ex-chair of the British Film Institute (BFI) and a passionate champion of the National Film Archive. Over the years, he has worked with leading British directors including Roeg, Stephen Frears, Bernard Rose, Claire Peploe, Julien Temple, Ben Wheatley, Jonathan Glazer and David Mackenzie. He has also collaborated closely with US-born, UK-based Terry Gilliam on some of the filmmaker’s most outlandish and visionary projects such as Tideland and The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.
As ever, Thomas has several projects on the boil. These include Bernard Rose’s Travelling Light, shot in California during the pandemic, and a planned new feature from Japanese maverick director Takashi Miike, with whom he previously worked on films including Blade Of The Immortal and First Love. The producer also remains doggedly loyal to long-term collaborators such as Wim Wenders and Israel’s Amos Gitai, whose recent Venice festival entry Laila In Haifa was sold by HanWay.
“HanWay is looking after [Gitai’s] wonderful catalogue and he is a major filmmaker who is represented every year in a fantastic film festival with a great movie… of course he’s mine,” quips Thomas. “I like to support my friends and colleagues in life where I can. He has been very supportive of me over the years. I am very happy to work with Amos and Wim [Wenders] and all the other filmmakers who are part of my support system.”
Another friend who continues to receive the producer’s support is Johnny Depp. Thomas executive produced The Brave, Depp’s 1997 directorial debut, and HanWay has recently been selling Andrew Levitas’ Minamata, in which the US actor stars as wartime photographer W. Eugene Smith. Depp was also a producer on Julien Temple’s Crock Of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, also sold by HanWay.
Thomas is vocal in his support for the now-controversial actor following his bitterly contested divorce from Amber Heard, which resulted in Depp’s loss in a UK libel case during which he was accused of domestic violence. Depp denied the allegations.
“I can only say that I find him a wonderful person from my personal experience and he is still my friend,” says Thomas. “[Depp’s troubles] have been challenging. I hope Minamata gets its day.”
The film, which debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2020, was acquired by MGM last autumn for North America, Germany and Switzerland and has been secured by Vertigo Releasing for the UK.
As for Thomas, he has spent most of the pandemic in his cottage in the Oxfordshire countryside. He has chickens, vegetable gardens and a greenhouse but is clearly itching to return to filmmaking in earnest.
“I hope I can get back to moving around the world easily,” says Thomas. “What has kept my business going and my joy in it is moving around.”
After many years in which the Recorded Picture Company and HanWay Films were based in a building owned by Thomas in Soho’s Hanway Street, the producer is now operating out of offices in west London, near Ladbroke Grove.
“I very, very luckily got out [in 2019] before Covid and went into a place which is more airy in west London,” he adds. “It’s still the same idea of everybody in the building, which is a breathing thing. I am looking forward to getting back to the office, which is a living organism. I am looking forward to us all being back.”
In this guest blog, Cilian DuBock takes us through the making of Hey Pappy – a six part series of animated shorts premiering on Aardman’s AardBoiled YouTube channel every Friday.
*Note: this blog contains adult content*
The original concept came from a four panel web comic. I’ve been making these for the past five years and I find them to be an incredible way to test out ideas for short form comedy as they take such a comparatively short time to write and produce, so you can test many ideas in gaps between work. Here’s the original comic strip, created in Photoshop in January 2018:
And here are few more of my comics, if you like what you see there are more on Instagram: @foxy_duboxy.
From this original comic I generated an animatic for the first episode of Hey Pappy, and in doing so I generated a formula for how each story would be structured. The structure is very strict and resembles that of a pre-school style animation which is subverted by the style of comedy. I then proceeded to write many, many episodes – with some help from the boys down at the Hagbox3 studio, turning most of these into storyboards and then whittling them down until I had eight favourites. I created animatics for these and then picked six episodes which I thought worked best in the medium that I had created and took those forward to final episodes.
The art style was also derived from the comic strips that I was creating. I’d experimented in transferring the art style to animation whilst studying Animation at UWE. I wanted to create a visually striking, bright and unique style with a very rigid colour scheme to run throughout the show. There are literally only 6 colours used throughout the entire show (pretty much).
For the past three years I’ve been working mostly as a freelance illustrator. This experience informed a lot of the design choices, especially when it comes to background art. The character design is very flat and stylised so the backgrounds gave the opportunity to lend an illusion of depth as well as using texture, colour and shading to connote the mood.
I first pitched the series to the team at Aardboiled whilst studying in my 3rd year at UWE Bristol, so a large portion of the initial artwork and concepts were birthed on the Bower Ashton campus. Since graduating in 2019 myself and two of my course mates have set up a small animation studio called Hagbox3 based within the Jam Jar – an amazing hub for creatives, from music producers to carpenters to animators!
Here’s our charming little studio!
Writer / Director / Designer / Animator – Cilian DuBock (Foxy DuBoxy)
www.foxyduboxy.com Pappy – Rhys Salt
Rhys is an actor based in Kent. Check him out on YouTube
Boy – Anna Wodehouse
Anna Wodehouse is an actor represented by Waring & McKenna agency in London as well as a member of Fishbowl Theatre.
Hey Pappy follows the curious lives of Pappy and his boy. Each episode the boy poses a very regular question to his Pappy who responds the only way he knows how: with a rarely related, staggeringly stupid and casually criminal story from his life which feels like he was never really listening. Watch now on AardBoiled.
Aardman Academy alumni Natalie Morrison explains what to expect from the five day Sketch to Screen Model Making workshop.
As a die-Aard(man) fan, finding a course run by people working on Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run was a ‘how fast can you take my payment’, sort of moment.
From tearing open my model-making package sent by Aardman’s studios in Bristol (oh-em-gee this clay came from the same studios as Morph!), logging onto the Zoom call on the first day feeling more than a little star struck, to logging off at the end, completely wiped but elated, the whole journey was a bit of a dream for me.
But setting aside my not-so-inner nerdy fangirl, the course offers a hefty knowledge set for anyone really serious about getting into the field of animation, model making and character design. For me, it was the latter – as a (sometimes) mature illustration MA student I’m looking at my in-roads into the field, and this course really armed me with the starting points I needed.
If you’re lucky, it could also give you some new contacts and even job opportunities through the Aardman Academy platform, which you’re given access to at the end of the course. Still, there were also people on my course there not for career advancement, but for the sheer joy of it, which is brilliant. Essentially, it’s for anyone interested in animation, model making and learning about Aardman’s processes. You will get out of it what you put into it.
Three things to know about the Sketch to Screen Model Making course before you join:
This may only be a week-long course, but you will come away feeling like you have a degree’s worth of knowledge.
The tutors are there every minute of the five days – you won’t be told what to do and left to fend for yourself. Take the opportunity to tap them for knowledge (they have bucket loads!)
I repeat: you will get out of it what you put in. On my course, everyone worked incredibly hard and came out with some amazing results. Be prepared to work, work, work for the week and make the most of it.
Three things I wish I had done before the course started:
The course moves quickly. Very quickly. Having all your tools, glues, fabrics and paints to hand (ie reachable from your seat) will serve you well. Although Aardman send a lot of the materials, you do still have to buy a good chunk. As a guide, I probably spent an extra £50 or so.
Buy these materials in advance and, for the hard-to-find stuff, consider buying extra. If there is an item on the list you think you might not need, get it anyway. Chances are, this won’t be the last model you make, you will use it at some point. (Trying to source good fabric glue quickly during a lockdown wasn’t fun.)
Really think about each component of your design. Jim and Nancy (the brilliant folks from Aardman who teach the course) tell you not to make your design too complicated. I would add to this – design your puppet keeping in mind the materials could use and start to think about how each of those will move.
Following on from point 2 – consider that every component of your puppet needs to be both sturdy and moveable. The animators will need to be able to move most parts of the puppet (even the hair in some cases) but will also need the parts to stay still for other shots. Don’t choose materials which could make this difficult.
Three practical things to be aware of:
Modelling clay is much tougher to work with than it looks. Your hands will hurt! Learn to massage them.
Don’t work through your breaks. You’re taking on a lot of information – give your mind the space to do it.
It’s worth looking up each of the components on the items list if like me, you’re not entirely sure what they all are (Milliput? Never heard of it!). It’ll save time when the tutors ask you to grab the item, and it can’t hurt to familiarise yourself with everything before you begin.
For anyone interested, here’s my own personal puppet-making journey.
Two weeks before the course starts, you’re asked to submit your character designs. Since character design is a career path I am looking into once my Illustration MA at Falmouth University is complete, I went all in with a back story, designs from young to old – you name it.
My story is called The Rubbish Cart Witch, and my character’s name is Edna. She is part of a secret squat team of spies set to guard the world against a band of evil scientists who set themselves up in an underground layer in England during the last big war. The war ended, but no one told the baddies. Years later, a landfill has been cited on top of the bunkers.
The Edna you see here is elderly, the last one of her crew left, still foiling the evil plans of the last two still standing from scientist lair. Now a disheveled social pariah, she has become known in urban legend as ‘The Rubbish Cart Witch’. (Quick aside: I’m now writing the story as a children’s book!)
Some of my initial character designs for Edna (bearing in mind that you definitely don’t have to go this detailed on your own designs!) I did find having a back story really helped me to think about my choices, however.
Finally, I would say to anyone on the fence about doing the course – go for it. You regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.
For those of you about to start it – I’m very jealous! Have fun
by Natalie Morrison (Journalist, illustrator, fan girl and Aardman Academy alumni)
Natalie can be found on Instagram @nattyillustrations, at her website www.nattyillustrations.com and contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prosthetic makeup designer Mark Coulier has been responsible for some of film’s most transformative looks, from “Harry Potter’s” Voldemort to Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher. But working on Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone’s adaptation of “Pinocchio” marked the first time Coulier had been tasked with creating a human made of wood.
Garrone wanted to visually mirror Enrico Mazzanti’s illustrations in the original 1883 print edition of Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio,” and Coulier, along with fellow Oscar nominees makeup artist Dalia Colli and hair designer Francesco Pegoretti, had the challenge of reimagining nearly 30 characters, as well as the living wooden puppet.
“Matteo wanted the presence of poverty on each character,” Pegoretti notes. “He wanted each character to look believable and real, even though they were living in a fairy tale. In order to achieve this, it was important to find the right equilibrium between the animal and human worlds, to make the audience believe that a cat or a fox, for instance, could interact with a human being or even a puppet.”
“We tried to create all of the characters in the most realistic way,” Colli adds. “Farmers, breeders and masters were all people who at the end of the 19th century could not guarantee their personal hygiene or a daily meal and therefore had signs of fatigue, dirt and coldness on their skin.”
For Coulier, who worked on the prosthetic designs for 10 months ahead of shooting, Pinocchio was the biggest task. Played by Federico Ielapi — who was only 8 years old during production — the character had to be able to move easily but also evoke actual wood, both in texture and color. Garrone mailed Coulier a piece of oak, which the prosthetics team then copied. Ielapi’s makeup, which covered his face and neck, as well as his hands and feet, took three hours to apply, and each piece had to be remade and painted every day.
“It was painstaking work,” says Coulier, who earned an Oscar nomination for his work along with Colli and Pegoretti. “The paint job to re-create these things was really a meticulous wood-grain paint job, which was very labor-intensive. It took about one whole day to do a set, and there were 60 total sets of the facial prosthetics.”
Pinocchio’s wooden appearance also evolves in four stages over the course of his adventures, with the wood becoming subtly scratched and chipped. Almost all of Pinocchio’s appearance was done practically — as with most of the film — and VFX came into play only when his nose needed to grow or his feet needed to burn. Because so much was real prosthetics, a lot of attention was paid to how the makeup would sit on Ielapi’s face.
“It’s quite a fine line between making it look like wood but also making it conform to the human face and making it look appealing and friendly,” Coulier says. “We spent four or five months sculpting that makeup. It was quite a task getting all those various items together and making it work.”
The other characters, which include a human-sized snail, a gorilla judge and a tuna with a face, also required imagination and preparation. The snail, played by Maria Pia Timo, was created with prosthetic makeup, a latex bodysuit and a fiberglass shell pulled on a small trolley. Her antennae moved thanks to VFX, but everything else was sculpted and made. Even as the characters embodied different animals or puppets, the team wanted to ensure that the human aspect of each creature came through.
“It was very performance-oriented, so we always wanted to create the makeup so the actors could perform inside it,” Coulier says. “With the cat and the fox, we started with complex prosthetics, but the actors had such great faces that when we did the first test, Matteo decided we should keep them a bit more on the human side. It was important to keep them all sitting in the same vocabulary.”
The makeup part of the process is dependent on Coulier’s prosthetics. “Thanks to the perfect and invisible prostheses they had created for Cat and Fox, I was able to mix makeup with special effects makeup to achieve the results of truth that Matteo so craved, creating two dirty and evil individuals half between human and animal,” says Colli, who created more than 50 dirty fingernails for the pair of characters.
Blue Fairy, who appears as both a child and an adult, marries what Colli calls the perfect balance of “beauty and sweetness, and death and restlessness,” with pale skin and monochromatic costumes and hair. She wears a custom-designed flower crown made of real withered flowers, as well as vintage fabric flowers, and a light-blue wig. All of the wigs in the film were handmade, from human, yak and horse hair, and Pegoretti used a dying technique from the 1800s to give them a vintage look.
“Many wigs were used, and there were many techniques involved in creating them in order to differentiate the nature of characters belonging to human, animal and puppet worlds,” Pegoretti notes. “I don’t know the exact number, but everyone in the cast is wearing wigs. My main inspiration was the commedia dell’arte, which is an Italian theater genre.”
Although Coulier’s greatest challenge was Pinocchio himself, Colli spent a long time designing Geppetto, played by Roberto Benigni, a character whose aesthetic felt equally important. She planned his look in two phases: first, when he creates Pinocchio, and second, after he’s been trapped in the belly of a whale, with the goal of bringing out Benigni’s “sweetness and comedy.” Ultimately, the team wanted the makeup to feel seamless, while still telling a fantastical story.
“What we were trying to create was a visualization for Matteo of when he read the original book,” Coulier says. “It hasn’t really been made so faithfully before, with the amount of makeup and fantastical characters we’ve done. Hopefully, it’s quite a natural interpretation of the book.”
Interesting times of late for our AVOD team! 2020 was the veritable rollercoaster; with fundamental changes in how we are able to promote and monetise content, and the broad impacts felt from the pandemic. In a complex year, to say the least, I am delighted how we at Aardman have come through it all, culminating in record views and watch-time resulting in our biggest ever audience reach.
The team achieved this by mobilising and responding to new demands; from creating YouTube craft content to inspire kids at home, distributing our key titles to new markets and new platforms worldwide, working with our brilliant international brand partners; all with the goal of reaching new audiences everywhere. Our titles go from strength to strength on digital platforms showing incredible engagement, and we are on track to grow further and set new heights this year.
Along with our own IP, we at Aardman pride ourselves as a ‘boutique’ distributor; curating content from select producers that fit with our core values, keeping a consistent rhythm of shows for us to present and pitch to our extensive list of partners around the world, and using our in-house expertise to grow YouTube channels. This careful, strategic catalogue management and selection allows us to give every property due focus across all platforms, territories and rights, to help brands thrive and realise their full potential on a global scale.
It has been a great week for one of those third-party produced shows, Jungle Beat from Sunrise Productions, a show we’ve distributed on YouTube for 3 years now. This week the channel surpassed the incredible milestone of 5 million subscribers! An amazing achievement, testament to the team at Sunrise for being so proactive in making consistently strong content for the channel, and my great Aardman/YouTube colleagues for the work that’s done behind the scenes to grow audience. Next stop – 10 millions subs!
More excitement this week as we started the YouTube journey for a new content partner, Lil Critter Workshop, by launching their fabulous preschool show Hogie the Globehopper – a fun preschool series about a curious frog who loves to explore the world and learn about different cultures. It’s funny, warm and enriching content; our team have been doing a great job developing materials (do checkout the thumbnails!) and we are confident the series will resonate with kids on YouTube.
AVOD is not all YouTube of course, and there are some compelling new platforms emerging in the space that we are starting to work with and see excellent traction in the UK, US, China and elsewhere. Look out for more announcements soon.
By continuing our selective approach to content partnerships, sticking to our values, syncing harmoniously with platform principles, and learning from audience data; 2021 is sure to be another great year.
Please do get in touch if you would like to know more. email me directly, or connect via LinkedIn.
Robin Gladman, Senior Distribution & Acquisitions Manager at Aardman, is primarily responsible for distribution of Aardman and third-party content on digital platforms working with global SVOD and AVOD services and many flagship TV content buyers around the world. Robin also manages the long-term content exploitation strategy across Asia.
In addition, Robin acquires third-party series and specials for distribution, and manages the roll out across a variety of media, currently representing a carefully curated portfolio of children’s properties.
With more than 15 years experience within the industry, Gladman specialises in strategic roll-out of kids and family content across multi-territories and platforms and has been instrumental in the studio’s expansion over the years.
The first movie that Nicolas Roeg and Theresa Russell made together, Bad Timing (1980), was denounced by its distributor, the Rank Organisation, as a “sick film made by sick people for sick people,” which may sound to some like a ringing endorsement rather than a condemnation. Russell was twenty-two years old when she made it, and she was ambitious and very much her own person. She married Roeg, who was thirty years her senior, in 1982 and made four more features with him, plus a short for the movie Aria (1987), before they divorced sometime in the late 1990s.
When Roeg was conducting his last interviews before his death in 2018, journalists noted that a David Hockney portrait of Russell was prominently displayed in his home along with many other framed photos of her. This photo collage was commissioned by Roeg for Insignificance (1985), where Russell played a version of Marilyn Monroe. She is seen splayed out nude on pink satin sheets from many angles in the Cubist-style Hockney was favoring at that point, with her tongue lasciviously poking around her open mouth and her left profile seeming to merge with her full face, as if she is giving herself a kiss. This major Hockney piece expresses the deepest intent of the films that Russell and Roeg made together, which present the women the actress played from many angles simultaneously.
Russell’s character in Bad Timing, Milena Flaherty, is married to Stefan Vognic (Denholm Elliott), a man who is thirty years older than her, but the main drama here is the obsessive affair between Milena and the psychiatrist and teacher Alex Linden (Art Garfunkel), who is nearly twenty years her senior. Russell herself had been dealing with older men from the time she dropped out of high school at age sixteen and enrolled to study at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles. She was introduced to the producer Sam Spiegel, who aggressively pursued her in vain and helped get her into her first movie, Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon (1976), where she played Robert Mitchum’s daughter. Russell then played Dustin Hoffman’s girlfriend in the very bleak Straight Time (1978), where her catlike, blue-gray eyes stared out at us from a default-sullen face that held touchingly limited hopes.
“Russell is very direct. Everything about the way she behaves says, ‘This is for real, this isn’t just pretend.’ ”
The opening credit sequence of Bad Timing features beckoning, decadent Klimt paintings, which Milena and Alex gaze at in a gallery in Vienna, where the film is set. Roeg cuts to Milena being loaded onto an ambulance after trying to kill herself with pills, and there is a key moment here when a male emergency responder leers at Milena’s unconscious body and Alex jealously pulls her shirt up to cover more of her flesh. Milena is just a sexual object to men even when she is near death, and this is part of what pushes her to the edge throughout the narrative.
Roeg flashes back to the first verbal meeting between his leads at a party, and Milena comes on strong with Alex, sticking one of her legs up so that he cannot pass her in a doorway and shooting him a look that is knowing and soiled and blowsy—and angry, too. There is no separation between Russell and Milena, no signaling that she is just playing a part. Russell is very direct. Everything about the way she behaves says, “This is for real, this isn’t just pretend.” She really puts herself on the line in Bad Timing and trusts that Roeg will control her most out-there and ugly physical and emotional impulses with his framing and editing.
In interviews, Russell has spoken about not wanting to have “ego” as a performer, and she isn’t afraid of looking bad here; her most persistent urge is defiance, and that means defiance of all norms of female presentation and beauty. She will widen her eyes or stick out her tongue to express the parts of Milena that are breaking down or fragmenting, and her own insecurities feel like fair game for her work. As someone who studied the Strasberg Method, Russell was taught to find the areas of herself that would best express the character she is playing, and she does that with such iconoclastic intensity that she is that rare thing in movies: an original who cannot be quite compared to anyone else.
Russell’s victimized Marilyn in Insignificance is just as direct as her Milena, but far softer and more innocent. The steadiness of her gaze was tested by Roeg’s Track 29 (1988) and Cold Heaven (1991) with plots that made her characters wonder what was real and what wasn’t. Roeg knew that Russell’s often deadpan “thereness” on-screen would be most disturbing when confronted by people and things that might not actually be there.
But in Bad Timing, Russell’s Milena is a person who is always projecting, “Who do you want me to be?” to the men in her life. Her voice sounds low and mature at one moment and then high and immature at others, and she often seems childlike with Alex. Milena can be a lot of fun, good-humored and lively, a party girl, but Alex wants to control her, and she rebels against that like a powerless teenager yet usually collapses under the pressure of his lordly glare.
When Milena tells Alex about her past, she breezes her way through the expected tale of woe. She says her father is still alive and has remarried. Her brother was killed in an auto accident, and she says she misses her mother. “She was only forty-six when she died, have a cigarette?” Milena says, and Russell makes certain that there is no pause or break between that statement and that question; it sounds like when a little kid unashamedly jumps away from a topic an adult is supposed to linger over.
When she has been pressed to her limit by Alex, Milena lines her eyes with red and paints a red clown-mouth on, making herself as grotesque on the outside as she feels on the inside. This is the reverse of the moment where she gives in to having sex with Stefan and her face takes on a detached look as he works away on top of her. Milena knows full well that she doesn’t need to be there for this sex and that only her body is necessary for Stefan, and yet this moment of disconnection is the shot in Bad Timing where Russell looks the most conventionally beautiful. It is in capturing this contradiction that Roeg’s own love for Russell feels as genuine and total as Alex’s “love” for Milena feels false and contingent.
Milena lies when Alex asks if she is married, but her nostrils flare with the effort as they lie together in bed. “I hate these sheets,” she says right afterward, for the look of sheets and colors and hairstyles and clothes mean a lot to Milena, yet she is unable to keep any living space neat or tidy; she cannot help wanting an external representation of the mess inside herself. At the end of Bad Timing, Stefan calls Milena a “difficult woman,” but is she really? She is driven to drink and self-destruction because men say they love her when all they want to do is have sex with her, and that’s not being difficult so much as being pushed to the end of your tether.
Russell’s Milena often tries to roll her eyes and shrug off her darker emotions, but Alex is always using words to hurt her, leaving scars that cannot ever be healed. In the key scene below, where Alex confronts her yet again, Milena’s mouth tightens as her feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing well up, and she starts to cry but fights against it. Russell does not protect herself at all here; she channels what she needs to channel emotionally in a way that is both admirable and uncomfortable. Roeg blurs the people in the background of this scene because he wants us to focus only on the gradations of emotion on Russell’s face, which by the end of the film has earned a look of secure contempt for a man who has tormented her, raped her, and refused to love her unconditionally.
According to David Cronenberg, Cannes jury president Francis Ford Coppola was “totally against” his controversial J.G. Ballard adaptation.
David Cronenberg, though never officially retired, is in no rush to get back to filmmaking even after a six-year hiatus since the release of his Hollywood-skewering satire “Maps to the Stars.” Instead, the Canadian auteur, who is 77 years old, is reappraising his legacy at the moment, and in the form of a 4K restoration of his 1996 film “Crash.” To promote the new transfer of his controversial J.G. Ballard adaptation about car-crash fetishists, Cronenberg spoke with The Canadian Press (via Yahoo! News) about the film, and specifically its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival when Francis Ford Coppola was president.
According to Cronenberg, Coppola went out of his way to make sure people knew that not everyone supported “Crash,” which bowed in the main competition and received a Special Jury Award created exclusively for it, since other people opposed its Palme d’Or contention. And those people, according to Cronenberg, were pretty much just Coppola.
“Coppola was totally against it,” Cronenberg said. “I think he was the primary one. When I’m asked why [‘Crash’] got this Special Jury Award, well, I think it was the jury’s attempt to get around the Coppola negativity, because they had the power to create their own award without the president’s approval. And that’s how they did it, but it was Coppola who was certainly against it.”
Cronenberg also said that Coppola’s distaste for the movie visibly carried over to the festival’s awards ceremony. “The strange thing is that I’ve run into him several times at various festivals. Always the first thing he says is: ‘Remember, we gave you this award.’ I swore to myself that the next time he said that, I was going to remind him that he was not amongst those who wanted to give (“Crash”) a prize. In fact, during the final closing night ceremony he wouldn’t hand me the award. He had someone else hand it to me. He wouldn’t do it himself,” Cronenberg said.
Coppola at the ceremony that year said that certain jury members “did abstain very passionately,” and The New York Times reported that Cronenberg was loudly booed upon heading up to the stage.
Cronenberg told The Canadian Press that he thought Coppola’s discontent about “Crash” was petty. “Later I was president of the (Cannes) jury as well. You always end up with awards that maybe you don’t think are justified, but your team jury members do. You have to be gracious about it. I don’t think he was very gracious,” he said.
TORONTO — With a deadly virus upending modern civilization, it might seem like director David Cronenberg would be eagerly drafting a twisted cinematic vision inspired by society’s collective anxiety.
But like most of us, the Canadian filmmaker is stuck in the mundanity of daily existence.
Instead of writing, Cronenberg says he’s often distracted by emails and texts, spending time with family before venturing outside for groceries. In the midst of a pandemic, the cryptic gatekeeper of unforgettable body-horror classics such as “Dead Ringers” and the 1986 version of “The Fly,” isn’t bursting with new ideas during COVID.
“I don’t find inspiration in it at all, but I do find it fascinating,” the director said in a phone call from his Toronto home.
“In my 77 years I haven’t experienced anything quite like it.”
Cronenberg’s occasional socially distanced strolls around the neighbourhood have given him ample time to reflect on his provocative 1996 drama “Crash,” which recently underwent a stunning 4K restoration.
The super high-definition version screens in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal cinemas starting on Friday before expanding to other Canadian cities.
Adapted from J. G. Ballard’s controversial 1973 novel, the film traces a subculture of people who find a sexual energy in car accidents, and frequently act on their impulses in pursuit of pleasure.
When it debuted, “Crash” agitated film censorship boards across the world with its vivid sex scenes and was so disliked by media mogul Ted Turner that he stalled the film’s U.S. debut for months before giving it an unenthusiastic release.
Cronenberg reflected on the legacy of his divisive filmin an interview with The Canadian Press, including his awkward encounter with director Francis Ford Coppola at the Cannes Film Festival.
CP: The controversy surrounding “Crash” started at Cannes where your film won a Special Jury Prize. Coppola, the jury president that year, described your work as original, daring and audacious, but he went out of his way to note that some people on the jury didn’t support the recognition. Did you ever find out who was against it?
Cronenberg: Coppola was totally against it.
CP: Was it just him?
Cronenberg: I think he was the primary one. When I’m asked why (“Crash”) got this Special Jury Award, well, I think it was the jury’s attempt to get around the Coppola negativity, because they had the power to create their own award without the president’s approval. And that’s how they did it, but it was Coppola who was certainly against it.
CP: Did you talk to Coppola about it after Cannes?
Cronenberg: The strange thing is that I’ve run into him several times at various festivals. Always the first thing he says is: “Remember, we gave you this award.” I swore to myself that the next time he said that, I was going to remind him that he was not amongst those who wanted to give (“Crash”) a prize. In fact, during the final closing night ceremony he wouldn’t hand me the award. He had someone else hand it to me. He wouldn’t do it himself.
CP: That sounds a little petty.
Cronenberg: Yeah, I thought so. Because later I was president of the (Cannes) jury as well. You always end up with awards that maybe you don’t think are justified, but your team jury members do. You have to be gracious about it. I don’t think he was very gracious.
CP: Looking back on the release of “Crash” nearly 24 years ago, it’s easy to forget just how much intense negativity this film received both in the press and with some film exhibitors. A theatre owner in Norway refused to screen the movie, tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom regularly attacked the film and pushed for a ban, and it was edited into a somewhat nonsensical R-rated version for Blockbuster Video in the U.S. What was it like to see your film generate so much pushback?
Cronenberg: It was terrifically exciting, and a lot of fun, on one level. And then on the other level, you have made a film that you want people to see, and to have sensors jump on it in every possible country. It basically reminds you that you don’t get anything for free. You have to fight for everything. And you can’t expect to be just given carte blanche, ever. If I needed reminding, I got it then.
CP: In a video introduction on the 4K edition you suggest the film might not feel as shocking today as it did in 1996. But would a film this divisive even be financed now?
Cronenberg: I doubt it. Part of it is that everything is so politicized now, whether it’s politically correct or its opposite. It’s a tough time to make a movie that’s extreme in any way. Everybody’s walking on eggshells, for one thing. Given the Trump administration’s success of politicizing absolutely every possible thing on the planet, including grass and trees, it does make it difficult to make something that’s truly original, truly extreme, or both.
CP: You’re frequently asked if you’re retired, partly because it’s been over five years since your last film “Map to the Stars.” But considering the pandemic, are you planning any future projects?
Cronenberg: I’ve never been officially retired. There was a time when I just wasn’t interested in filmmaking anymore, but I’ve sort of come back. Part of it was the whole Netflix phenomenon. I’ve found streaming series quite intriguing because suddenly you have a more novelistic approach to storytelling. That’s brought me back to being interested in cinema of some kind, whether it’s TV series or another feature, I don’t know. I do have a few projects, but who knows if they’ll ever get made because of COVID or just the normal problem of financing difficult films.
CP: It seems like securing money for anything that isn’t a superhero film was difficult even before COVID, but with the pandemic the hurdles around safety might be even harder to overcome.
Cronenberg: Companies like Netflix have hugely deep pockets so they could perhaps afford to isolate an entire village in Iceland, for example, and have everybody tested twice a day. Most film productions can’t handle that. For an independent film to tack on like another 30 per cent of the budget just for COVID is a non-starter. I think the immediate effect of will be to filter out interesting, difficult films in favour of more mainstream, big-budget films — and that’s assuming even those could get made. Nobody can get COVID insurance. What company can afford to take that gamble? You know, the lead actor gets COVID, it’s over, the movie is done.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2020.
— This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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