DEMME-FYING A CLASSIC 

DeFore: You were very reverential toward Silence of the Lambs — consulting the author even about minor changes — but here you take lots of liberties with your source material.

Demme: I don't think it ever occurred to me that there was any need for such a discipline in making this movie. I think I felt that the nature of film, being much more plastic than a book is, and what have you, I just felt — first of all, I thought it was imperative to not try to do a copycat version. That could have been an enormous failure, because you can't copycat Stanley Donen's elegance, you can't copycat the unique, enduring magic of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. You can't do it. There was also a certain kind of storytelling innocence, combined with a delicious black humor, in the original, the tone of which I don't think one would want to try to duplicate. I felt that the point of remaking Charade was to have the opportunity to take a picture that dared to play so boldly with audience expectations and audience interaction, and to combine genres in such an audacious kind of way. And that it really invited departure more than demanded adherence. I was ruthlessly reverential to both Silence of the Lambs, the book, and Beloved the book; because my goal in both instances was to somehow capture the cinematic version of the incredible experience I had had when reading them. Here, it just seemed like a whole different ball of wax.

DeFore: You're talking as if that feeling might have been specific to just this film, and I'm wondering if that's something that applies to film in general, that once it's been on screen — I'm not inviting you to criticize anyone here — you don't need to do a Psycho remake, where it's pretty much shot-for-shot.

Demme: Yeah, but — Gus Van Zant's shot-by-shot recreation of Psycho, I guess is considered by most to have been more or less a bad idea or something. I get that impression. But I feel that it was an extraordinarily bold choice, to go for that, to dare to go for that. The trouble is, the casting was — in those instances, I feel gosh, Tony Perkins was just so Norman Bates, how could anybody else be Norman Bates. Janet Leigh is just so iconographically that young woman, and if you want to remake Psycho ... I think what Gus Van Zant did was extraordinary, but it had this Achilles' Heel of not having the original cast members in it. Gosh, Norman Bates is just as big an icon — not as fresh now, but in his time — as Dr. Lecter. But using Charade as a comparision: Cary Grant was an iconic actor, but his interpretation of Peter Joshua is not iconic.

So even though for some (hopefully not for everybody) we're certainly haunted by the ghost of Cary Grant — even if you didn't see Charade, you know what he is, know his indelible charm — if you're looking for what Cary Grant had to offer, you're never going to find that from Mark Wahlberg. Mark's not selling that, and we weren't trying to bottle that.

DeFore: Right; you made the only possible choice, which is never to indicate that he's a character with that kind of Cary Grant charm. There's never any attempt to sell him in that way. Whereas I think Thandie Newton does have a sort of Audrey Hepburn quality to her, though I'm not trying to say you're trying to make her fit that mold.

Demme: She has shared major characteristics, although their interpretations of the part are very different. The parts are different as written, and additionally their interpretations are different, because there's only one Audrey Hepburn, where Thandie is a chameleon, a total immersion actress. But they're both, like, preposterously gorgeous, incredibly bright, decency oozes out of them, they have that British accent that you could listen to forever and ever.

DeFore: You've said that Roger Corman taught you the benefit of well-motivated camera movement, and I wonder: In a scene like the one where Newton and Wahlberg are first flirting, and you've got the frame that's just sliding from side to side, is that a departure from that rule?

Demme: Yes. That's one of many, many — it's consistent with a decision on the part of Tak Fujimoto and myself to not adhere to any of the rules that we've been slavishly adhering to together since 1974 when we made our first movie together. Nevertheless, there's an idea behind it: I wanted to try to capture that kind of fleeting quality that a first encounter can have, an almost dreamlike kind of quality. So we were trying to get that. One of the things that I love in the movie — in fact there are many times, now that you mention it, where I'm happy to say that the camera will be on one of the characters and it'll just suddenly leave the character and go somewhere else all by itself, for no apparent reason. And hopefully, deliver us to something that was worth travelling to.

Now, as for all those little flashbacks and so on: You of course saw Run Lola Run — I was dazzled by these momentary impressions you got there about what was going on in characters' minds. So, I wanted to steal that, to pay homage and play with that. I really wanted the filmmaking itself to be an element of the audience's fun. I wanted to try a lot of stylistic departures from mainstream movies, to shoot it and use editing techniques in a way that is not often used in mainstream movies, on the premise that if these techniques are fun in the independent movies where we've seen them, they should be every bit as much fun in mainstream movies. So the two things that were borrowed /stolen/saluted from Run Lola Run were these subconscious glimpses, and also the fact of just people running. Run Lola Run showed how great it is to show human beings running just as fast as they can. I wound up stealing so much from that movie that I had to name one of the characters Lola , in case I ever meet `director` Tom Tykwer, so I can say "It was a salute to you" as opposed to "I know I stole from you."

DeFore: Well, now, you'd already had David Byrne running in Stop Making Sense.

Demme: That's true too! (Laughs) An early example of how fun running can be on screen.

DeFore: The film's press materials call the film's stylistic tricks an homage to the French New Wave — how literally should we take that?

Demme: Whatever an homage is, forget about that. The fact is, my parents started taking me to French movies when I was like seven years old — M. Hulot's Holiday — so I was introduced to the world of French cinema almost the same time I was introduced to American movies. I kind of grew up, therefore, bitten by the French movie bug. My first real intense sexual relationship in my life was with Brigitte Bardot. I went with Brigitte for two or three years, you know, saw every picture she did several times, and hungered for the next the way you hunger for your girlfriend when she goes away (the girlfriend I didn't have, except for Brigitte). And then, there was my discovery of the New Wave through Shoot the Piano Player, which opened up not just a new country, but a whole new way of thinking cinematically. So anyway, if this picture is populated by lots of references to French films, or filmmakers or actors, it's me being faced with the irresistible urge to honor all these things I love when I find myself one day in Paris France making a movie.

DeFore: The Agnès Varda cameo is especially touching. It's such a beautiful moment, where you see the sign —

Demme: You noticed the umbrellas?! You've got a good eye, man; that goes by very fast!

DeFore: So you're not necessarily expecting your audience to catch all these cameos?

Demme: No. They're for me, and, in this instance, for you. What's most important of all is that they're functioning successfully on a very immediate level that has nothing to do with my love letter to French cinema; that when Reggie is entering this kind of creepy environment, and she passes this mysterious woman with this very penetrating gaze, that's intended just to make the audience say "Are you sure you should be going back in there? This is giving me the creeps!" If Agnès Varda appears in a cameo, it's not so that I can salute Agnès Varda — it's so I get Agnès Varda's amazing face in my movie, and by the way, what a hip, "in" kind of thing.

But no — say, with the appearance of Charles Aznavour, I really had to wrestle with this in my own mind, to say "This had better be fun if you don't know who Charles Aznavour is, and had better be fun if you've never heard of Shoot the Piano Player and don't know what they're talking about."

DeFore: Speaking from the perspective of a moviegoer: If you were going to see The Truth About Charlie, would you want to see Charade again the week before going, or would you want to keep it a little hazy in your memory?

Demme: Can I answer that as the filmmaker instead? Because I have very clear views about that. I hope that people don't refresh their memory, or meet Charade for the first time, before seeing The Truth About Charlie. Because I feel that inevitably, your energy will go to comparison — comparing story points, comparing characters and performances. What I would love, though, is if people went to see Charlie and emerged from that really extremely curious about Charade, and ideally, returning to The Truth About Charlie to complete the circle.

More by John DeFore

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