retrospective, "In the mind of Paul Schrader," January 8th through February 2nd. Schrader will be on hand for several of the screenings. The program includes films Schrader has directed, as well as films he has written for other directors, such as
, screening January 15th (Schrader is not scheduled to attend that one). Also included are films that inspire Schrader, such as
Schrader spoke by telephone to someone in Paris (the interview is credited to DRBYOS), and the conversation, posted today at ArchyW, includes an interesting exchange in which Schrader discusses how his films are in constant dialogue with other films. He also talks about meeting De Palma and Martin Scorsese:
Because of your Calvinist education, you saw your first film at 17 years old. Having lived a childhood without cinema, does it make you different from filmmakers of your generation, early film lovers like Scorsese, Spielberg or Lucas?
I too have been influenced by films that have influenced my cinema, but these are not films discovered in childhood. This is my big difference from the filmmakers you are quoting. I started directly by loving Antonioni, Truffaut, Godard, Resnais, Rossellini, Dreyer … And you never forget your first love. I have never been seduced by films about children or directed at children. What interests me is to make the public think, to treat them as adults.
After having been deprived of cinema for a long time, how did you become a movie buff?
It started with my discovery of Bergman when I was studying at Calvin College (Protestant private establishment located in Grand Rapids, Michigan, editor's note), because he was preoccupied with the same spiritual issues that we discussed in the seminary. From there, I got interested in European cinema of the 60s and I fell in love with it. Then I went to study cinema at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).
In 1972, you just wrote a book that combines spirituality and cinema, Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.
I wrote this book because I realized that there was a connection between my spiritual past at Calvin College and my secular present at film school. But the idea of the book is that this relation of cinema to the sacred is a question of style, not content.
Apart from the obvious influence of Pickpocket and Diary of a country priest by Robert Bresson, of whom you have written or produced several variations, you do not seem to be a filmmaker who refers a lot to cinema…
I do not see what allows you to say that. Have you seen First Reformed ? It’s a film that is constantly in dialogue with cinema: the protagonist is inspired by that of Diary of a country priest, the decor by Communicants, the end by Ordet, the levitation scene by Tarkovski… And in Strange Seduction, filmed in Venice, there is a plan directly inspired by Last year in Marienbad and another oneOrpheus. There are references like that in all my films, but they are not necessarily obvious.
You seem to have been very marked by Japan. There are many references to this culture in your films, and not only in Mishima. It also shows in your taste for simplicity and refinement.
It comes from the fact that I was raised in a very austere Calvinist environment. Our churches are made up of four white walls decorated only with a cross. When I rebelled, I went to a culture that was basically very close: I fled Calvinist austerity by falling in love with Japanese austerity! It is a very human psychic mechanism: we believe we are freeing ourselves from the limits in which our education has locked us, but we are only changing cage!
Your cinema is also very marked by religion.
Yes, it's inside me, I was programmed with this software …
Are you still a believer?
I go to church every Sunday. Do I have faith? I'm not sure … Albert Camus said that you don't believe, but you choose to believe. The nuance is very interesting.
In First Reformed, you denounce a corrupt use of religion, for intolerant political ends or capitalist profits.
Spirituality and the church are two very different things. Spirituality is an intangible human need, while the church is a material organization, with rules, uniforms, dogmas … The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential corporation in the world, it is a fact.
Many people associate your name with Taxi Driver of Martin Scorsese, that you wrote, rather than the films that you made. Does it annoy you?
Not at all. It is an immortal film, which entered American popular culture and which continues to be a reference almost fifty years later. I am not sure why and how we managed to hit the bull's-eye, but we got there. It was very liberating to start my career with this film, it immediately validated my work. You know, there are artists who work without ever being recognized, I was very quickly and that is what helped me to continue, and which still helps me.
How did you meet Martin Scorsese?
After studying at UCLA, I became a film critic in Los Angeles. One day I interviewed Brian De Palma. We met again to play chess, then we became friends (Schrader will write the screenplay forObsession, directed by De Palma in 1976, editor's note). He was the one who introduced me to Marty.
By the time you met him, had you ever written the screenplay for Taxi Driver ?
Yes, it dates back to when I was still a film critic. I wrote this screenplay out of personal need, not to sell it. It was like therapy: I realized that if I didn’t write this boy’s story, I would become like him.
The character of Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, is the matrix of many of your characters: solitary beings, divided between the search for purity and the temptation of violence.
There is a character who often returns in my scripts and my films. Let's describe it this way: a man sitting alone in a room, wearing a mask and waiting for something to happen, for life to manifest … This mask is his job, but whether he is a taxi driver, gigolo, dealer or priest, the same type is below. He's like a dead man waiting to be finally alive. Everyone finds their own way.