..Gary Dretzka
..
Noah Forrest
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Douglas Pratt
..Ray Pride
..Kim Voynar
..Michael Wilmington

July 22, 2006
June 14, 2006
May 24, 2006
May 15, 2006
March 14, 2006
January 14, 2006
January 2, 2006

 

 






Tony Kaye ...

Tony Kaye spent over fifteen years shooting and editing Lake of Fire, a concerted effort to listen to perspectives on abortion in this country. During the extended production, many shifts occurred, including the killing of doctors who performed the procedure. The English-born director, 55, began as a maker of commercials, and is perhaps best known for his sustained battles over the post-production of American History X with its producers in 1998. But the elegantly constructed, complex, wrenching, unnerving, unflinching Lake of Fire is an entirely different beast, as unruly as the controversies that have continued from the streets and into courtrooms today. Two-and-a-half hours long, and perhaps still subject to revision, it's bold, even important work.

Kaye and I spoke last week before the film's New York and Los Angeles opening. We talked about what makes a film "American," the choice of black-and-white and the use of close-ups of the human face, documentary predecessors, and how his way of speaking has influenced the way he works. I'd forgotten about Kaye's pronounced stammer until we started to speak; for personal reasons that will become clear, I've left a small amount of it in the interview.

PRIDE: You're having a press day, but have you been talking about the film for hours on end?

KAYE: I've been talking about it for a bit. But I've been talking about it, thinking about it for many, many years, so it's not something that's going against the grain, y'know.

PRIDE: I have to call this one of the most "American" films I've seen in some time, in several senses. One reason is the effort to make a balanced film that might discomfit any viewer, an approach that's about the seeds of political intolerance and antagonism. That's the idealistic version. But It isn't just abortion, but there are dozens of subjects people are yelling at each other about in this country today instead of being temperate, considering the other side. Is this film that showed you a different country than you thought you knew? A lot of things shifted in that crazy 15-year time.

KAYE: Well, y'know, it's great what you say, actually, because when I came to America in 1990, I began making Lake of Fire shortly afterwards. I came here because to make American films. That was my plan. I, I, I was and will be, y'know, I am a fan of American films. It's always seemed to be that people on film should have an American accent. [laughs]. I don't know why that is, why that is with me, but that's the way I feel. I've always thought people on a stage ought to have an English accent, y'know! So I'm happy you think that it is an American film.

PRIDE: One of the fascinations of the film is the American-ness of the ideals I grew up with, where you try to listen to both sides. That you can have a pitched discussion, or debate, with someone, but not descend into the current vogue of television shouting heads. There's an avoidance of the core, the central facts behind issues.

KAYE: Right. Well, My plan and concept was to make an unbiased, non-propagandistic film about the issue, that curiously, in a journalistic way, explored what, what, what the word and what the issue and what it was, what abortion is. That's the plan of the film. It wasn't to present my own point of view or my own take, that's not what I was trying to do, and, um, it-it-it, um, about the only thing that happens in the film is tat you that a few abortions take place. Nothing else actually happens. The rest of it is talked about. And, um, I mean, that was my goal. That was the plan. It's very difficult to make a film like that, it's one of the reasons it's taken long as it has done. I was very un-unsure about it at certain times, and I'd keep on going, and I didn't really know what I was doing at other times. It wasn't my [intention] to do a film about an issue… sorry, about an incident or a person. Because that kind of stuff has walls. An issue, if you have a point of view you're trying to make, it's very difficult to make a film where's you're not to presenting your own views.

PRIDE: So this was entirely self-financed?

KAYE: Mm-hm. Yeah. Yeah. The kind of thing I was making here there would have been nobody, nobody would've financed this. This is an entirely an act of just a desire to do good, to try and do good work, y'know.

PRIDE: I'm glad there's someone out there in distribution like Mark Urman and ThinkFILM, but I can see that, financing just being impossible, this being the worst possible pitch on earth.

KAYE: Yeahhh… Mark and ThinkFILM are doing a fantastic job. It really was a terribly difficult thing. AndPiers Handling of the Toronto Film Festival kindly, kindly accepted it. It was very difficult to get this film shown at any festival or to get anyone interested in releasing it. Very, very, very hard.

PRIDE: You were your interviewer this entire time, I'd guess. Do you have a certain style? Errol Morris has a thing he's called "dog face"-you turn on the camera and say nothing, he's said, let the camera roll, people get unnerved. Basically anyone starts to confess after three minutes without instructions. Do you get to know the subjects before you turn the camera on?

KAYE: No. I interview them, I'm, I'm, I shoot my own film as well, so I'm kind of hidden behind the camera. I just tell people to look into the glass of the lens. And then I mumble the odd word now and again. When I interview, I never really have an agenda. I'm not really trying to get anything [specific]. I just turn up and see what they have to say and I mumble words now and again if something intrigues me about what they've said, or I mumble the odd word to get them to moving on about something else and the camera just rolls, and that's it really, y'know.

PRIDE: When you're interviewing, it's interesting how different things can set a subject at ease, or not. Something, um, I would observe from things I've read and from talking to you for a couple of minutes here. As a child, I had a pretty serious stammer-

KAYE: Mm-hm-

PRIDE: --And I've found as an adult and I'm interviewing people, the stammer seems to come out at good moments, where suddenly it feels like that if I'm discernibly a little ill-at-ease, just like in life, it suddenly puts them at ease, where I have a kind of vulnerability. And I… Is that something that's been tough for you? Because obviously, a little bit, you still have a little bit of that, as I do as well.

KAYE: Well… Yeah. I mean, yeah. I don't know if I… I have a lot of it, actually. It's just at times I do, and times I don't. That doesn't seem to get in the way as an interviewer, because I don't really say much. So, um… I mean, it's been advantageous in the sense, I guess I had to find a way to c-, c-, communicate to people other than with sp-, speech. Because at one point, it was very bad. Up until the point that I was about 26, I could barely even talk, y'know?

PRIDE: I have two style questions, things I like very much.

KAYE: Yeah.

PRIDE: The first would be the black and white. I'd called it shades of silver more than shades of gray, which, of course, is ironic. Is it all 35mm and why did you make that choice? The second part is the close-ups. A lot of times, the phrase "talking heads" is used as a pejorative, it's derogatory in the general discourse. But I love extreme close-ups. The human face isn't just for Ingmar Bergman. I've made some documentary shorts and always want to go in tight and watch the eyes, and how thoughts flicker across the face.

KAYE: Well, listen, you really are… [laughing] saying all the right things, y'know! I can't believe what you're saying. Yeah, listen. Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist are huge inspirations for me, and um… huge. The, the human face I find the most interesting, visually interesting thing on the planet. Without a doubt. And, and so therefore whenever I'm doing any shot of anybody doing anything, I'll always go in for an extreme close-up shot. You know what I mean? Blocking from just above the chin to just above the eyes, y'know. And, and, and, looking into the eyes is most important to me, that is what I believe, y'know, what my kind of filmmaking is about. And yeah, 35, I shot it all on 35mm, I wanted to emphasize… When I started making this, I didn't really know much about documentary filmmaking. Well, I had seen, y'know, Errol Morris' Thin Blue Line, which I thought was great, and Roger & Me, Michael Moore's film, I'd seen those. And Leni Riefenstahl, y'know, I was a fan.... [laughs] maybe not of the subject matter, but of her work. And Humphrey Jennings, the [British] documentary filmmaker. So I didn't really like the way documentaries, I mean, I didn't really want to make, I wanted to make it a cinematic experience as much as I could and I wanted it to have a certain style, so it was very important to me to use 35mm. I didn't use it all of the time, but it's 95% 35mm.

PRIDE: And black-and-white harks back to Nykvist as well as Jennings and that strain of British documentary making?

KAYE: Yes, it was an esthetic, it definitely has an esthetic appeal to me, but with this, I really did it because the black-and-white, there are sort of gray tones. There are shades of gray. I was making a film the views of the pro-choice and the pro-life, there's an area of confusion within that. I just thought that was a good, you know what I mean... I didn't mind my esthetic; I didn't feel bad about that! [laughs]

PRIDE: Black-and-white also flattens some of the ways we might discern class or regional differences. Colors and textures come across differently. It creates this uniform grayscale of "people-ness."

KAYE: Yeah.

PRIDE: Was a lot of the many years finding a way to marshal all this material? Longitudinal filmmaking like Barbara Kopple's Harlan County USA or Steve James' Hoop Dreams are usually built on spending a lot of time with a set of subjects. In this case, it feels like you probably had to spend a lot of time finding some sort of consistent tone. Is that the case?

KAYE: Yeah, as I said, it's just been a terribly difficult film to make. At a certain point, I had to go out and shoot a story, I had to find a story of a woman making a journey, you know what I mean? Through all of the, through all of the various points. That was tremendously important, to get that. The editing, yeah… Editing is the part of the process I enjoy the most, really.

PRIDE: Were you working with one or more editors over the period?

KAYE: I did work with a number of editors, but there is only one editor, Peter Goddard, who is the credited editor.

PRIDE: What kept you returning to it? What sort of frustrations, or perhaps the more encouraging perspective would be, what thought kept you persevering despite the fact that it was becoming a big chunk of a lifetime's work?

KAYE: Um… Well, y'know, when I set out to do it, my intention was that when it was finished, it would be finished. I never expected to spend as long as I did. There were other difficulties, obviously, things like the financing of it towards the end. I went bankrupt at one point over American History X, over my work on American History X. I lost the film for a while, I stopped working on Lake Of Fire, I had to buy it back. There were difficulties like that [which] I encountered, but, to be honest, I was going to work on it for a lot longer, but I thought in the end, I just have to get this thing out.

PRIDE: So there were days of depression or weeks or months away from the film, but what's the drive that kept you at it for so long? It is admirable that you did, and we have the finished product in front of us, it didn't come out an overworked shambles the way some long-in-production films have in the past. What can keep a filmmaker focused over all that time?

KAYE: [quickly] Well, that's what a filmmaker is, a filmmaker is a marathon, a marathon runner. It's not really a sprint, it's just dogged, a dogged climb up a steep hill. Any film is like that even if it's… whatever the paradigm of time is, that is what a filmmaker is. That's the nature of this beast, y'know?

PRIDE: When did the title occur to you? The Book of Revelations was a big part of my Southern childhood, the apocalyptic images and phrases.

KAYE: It just kept recurring and recurring. During the editing phrase, people kept saying that. It eventually became the title of the film.

October 9, 2007

- Email Ray Pride

 

 

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