Being Beta

Exercises in the higher banter with One of 26. Elsewhere called 'poet of adland'. By a whipple-squeezer. Find out why being beta is the new alpha: betarish at googlemail dot com

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Capsule: Paul Schrader and 'The Walker'

Last week, American writer and director – and possibly the last of the auteurs – Paul Schrader gave a Q&A session at the Ritzy, Brixton, following a screening of his latest film The Walker. The film itself is sinuous, with what surely should be an Oscar-nominated turn from Woody Harrelson, but ultimately lacks some bite. Some of the reasons why became clear in Schrader’s answers. He also had some interesting things to say about the film industry and the nature of writing for the screen in general.

- “The Walker is American Gigolo 25 years on; the services he offers now are social, not sexual – and he’s out of the closet now.”

- “The older the character is that your film focuses on, the harder it us to finance it.”

- "I’m interested in the drifters in society; they are in it, but are not in it. They work in metaphorical professions, and almost always wear a uniform.”

- “From Taxi Driver to American Gigolo to Light Sleeper to The Walker, this character has mellowed with each film. From angry to narcissistic and now superficial.”

- “The film became more political over time as the atmosphere in Washington became more fascistic. There was no way to ignore the vindictive nature of the regime.”

- “A character is always more interesting when there is a contradiction involved. It means that people don’t always act in their interests. So, in The Walker, the question is, ‘Why is this character still in Washington?’. DC and Salt Lake City are the last two places in the USA where sexual hypocrisy is maintained.”

- “The Walker is a character study: nothing happens to him, but around him. There needs to be enough plot to keep a sense of narrative and a sense of resolution… basically, just enough to stop people walking out.”

- “Originally Steve Martin and Julie Christie were to be in the main roles in the film.”

- “The writing starts with a problem, and something that can become a metaphorical centre to the film. As I believe that screenwriting is part of the oral traditional rather than the literary one, I tell the story to people. I tell and retell to people, and try for about 45 minutes. If you have someone’s attention for that long, you’ve got a movie. You can pretty much tell after a half hour.”

- “The script has to be paced. I know what has to happen on every page before I start writing. If I get too particular part too early, a line of dialogue on page 71 rather than 73, then I want to know why.”

- “The twentieth century was the century of movies. But now it’s over, and movies will never have the same importance ever again. Films are now mutating into new audio and visual forms, and everything is fragmenting. We’re heading somewhere new, driven by technology and what the internet is doing to our attention spans.”

- “I don’t think I’d try to be a director if I was 21 now. I’d try to figure out what was ahead of the curve. In a way, movies are just biding their time now.”

A report on Schrader's Q&A at the NFT can be found here.

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