So Film By Jordan Mintzer, in Belfast. Photos: Darius Khondji (photograms) and Aidan Monaghan (pictures of the plateau)Thanks to Gossipgyal for the scans and translation :)
It could have been his great movie cursed, and then not. After The Immigrant, James Gray released his great adventure movie: The Lost City of Z. And before you go turn in the depths of the jungle, the New Yorkers is to reconstruct the bloody battle of the Somme, in the green valleys of the Ireland. Feet in the mud.The Lost City of Z: this is the title of what could go down in history as "the adventure film cursed James Gray. And yet, before going to sink into the Colombian jungle, New Yorkers is thence straight into his boots, planted in the mud, in the Irish countryside, to reconstitute its battle of the Somme, with Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson. An adventure movie as it does more. Reportage.
"Forty shades of green": it is in these words which Johnny Cash described the Irish countryside in his 1959 song. Fact: when one leaves Belfast North and you will come to the surrounding hills, the explosion of emerald green, jade and olive is striking. The landscape consists almost to lush meadows separated by Oaks, of hazels, birches, and dotted with dozens of sheep that seem to have each half a hectare to feed themselves.
But after having exceeded the coastal town of Larne and continued to advance in the mountains, we discover a landscape for the least surprising, on this Sunday morning, September: on a surface that seems to cover a whole farm estate, green pastures have all been trashed, mangled, massacred in the bulldozer. A network of trenches, heaps of debris and a maze of mud and barbed wire, that is what it remains. On a sections of the Meadow, one that tilts toward the sky and brand the horizon, vaguely distinguishable helmets sharp, typical of German soldiers of the Empire, through the smoke. On the other, in the quagmire of the trenches, dozens of British troops waiting for their commanding officer gives them the signal to go on no man's land, towards a likely death.
It is the 25th day of filming of The Lost City of Z, the sixth feature film by James Gray and from what one can see, his most ambitious film to date: an impressive production '' independent '' that, nothing that today ' hui, requires 240 technicians, 10 actors and 100 extras. All have the same goal: restore the horrors of the battle of the Somme during the first world war, where more than a million men died within five months. Electricians, gunsmiths, stunt, the teams sound, machinists, assistants and at least three cameramen continually come and go in the mud, gathered around a huge 35 mm camera to watch the Brit' rushing on arid lands that separate the two armies, then fall back when the ' Pan! Pan! Pan! "enemy fire the mowing on the spot.
Amid the widespread chaos and the strong smell of smoke, Gray (in gray sweater, black scarf to the neck and thigh boots too big fisherman already smeared with mud) passes one tray to another: it gives specific guidance to each team before returning to the plateau the most important where the main team and players are preparing for the next scene. While Gray along the trenches, his longtime producer, Anthony Katagas, stopped to ask an urgent question: "James, when it will be ready for this scene, which you want first to burn: the man or the horse? '' » Gray stops a moment to think about looking at the acres of grounds massacred, covered wounded men and sprayed tree stumps. He suddenly explodes with thunderous laughter, as to underline the folly of it all. It finally gives his answer: "the horse. The horse, obviously. "Welcome to the jungle before the reconstitution of the great battle begins, the production of The Lost City of Z has already experienced a long way for the less strewn with pitfalls. Or worse: for a long time, it was believed that this would be the film that James Gray would never happen to. It all started with the publication, in 2009, the book by David Grann, journalist for the New Yorker: La Cité lost z: a legendary expedition to the heart of the Amazon. A book that tells the true story of British Explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett. Disappeared in the Brazilian jungle in 1925, the adventurer is literally evaporated (most likely to be killed by the men of a local tribe) of shipments that he was looking for a city this past hidden, named 'Z '. Fawcett was 57 years old and had a worldwide reputation for "adventurer" with yet of many critics, particularly in the high Victorian society. And for this fatal expedition, he had taken the unfortunate decision to take his 22-year-old son, Jack. There is never
heard of one or the other. Just book, the film adaptation rights are acquired by Plan B entertainment, the company founded in 2002 by Brad Pitt. Gray knew Pitt since We Own The Night: a time, the actor had been approached to play one of the leading roles. Plan B says without hesitation the adaptation and implementation of Z to Gray. One of the major changes that the Director makes is to cut out parts of the book where Grann share the footsteps of Fawcett through the jungle, between re-enactment and contemporary reflections - a little similar to the meta-narratif film written by Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation. "The book is very introspective, the author prostitute really, says Gray between two scenes. Deconstruction as a method of implementation has been fashionable over the past thirty or twenty years. But I wanted to try another route, because there is nothing more difficult than to succeed a linear narrative both elegant and moving. "In 2010, Gray completes the scenario and past two weeks in tracking in Brazil, until Amazon, to find"density and variety"of the jungle that would make account places crossed by Fawcett. With Pitt in the lead role and a budget of $ 80 million, The Lost City of Z looks like a blockbuster "arthouse" - the kind of epic films that Hollywood produced in arm circumference in the 1970s. Except that Pitt abandoned the role, and financiers withdrew. While Gray works on The Immigrant (presented for the first time in competition at Cannes in 2013), Katagas and producer Marc Butan decide their side not to drop The
Lost City of Z. They manage to find other sources of funding, thanks to the star of the moment, Benedict Cumberbatch, chosen for the role of Fawcett. Pre-production starts in the fall of 2014 and Gray decides to embark with him on the adventure the Franco cinematographer Darius Khondji, whom he had met on the set of an ad, after which Gray chose Khondji to turn The Immigrant. At the last minute, Cumberbatch decided to withdraw in turn (for 'personal reasons'), and the team of The Lost City of Z starts to search for an actor to play the main character. Quickly, they choose Charlie Hunnam (from the series Sons of Anarchy), an actor whose Gray says that he has "the intensity and the savagery" of the real Percy Fawcett. With Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller in the roles, respectively, right arm and wife of Explorer, The Lost City of Z is now carried by four production companies. The budget is revised downward, to 30 million, for ten weeks of shooting, first in Belfast (for the scenes in England and those of the first world war) and then in Colombia (for the scenes in the jungle). After six years of false starts, laborious birth of the book to the film is about to be accomplished. This is the easiest.
The film is a battleground "soldiers often say that you get bored, at the war. We spend a crazy time sitting and then, suddenly, is precipitation, "says photographer plateau Aidan Monaghan, watching dozens and dozens of extras dressed as were the troops in the trenches, the blackened faces, tattered uniforms. It is the same thing on a film shoot (Sam Fuller announced 'action' by pulling with a loaded revolver): the months, if not years of preparation, hundreds of people and millions of dollars to get, at best, a few useful minutes of film per day. As for himself complicating things, Gray refuses to use synthesis images if it is not absolutely required, so everything must unfold 'live' before the camera. He also refuses to shoot digitally - what delights Khondji, one of the few cinematographers to work in 35 mm (his only film in digital being love, by Michael Haneke). Why this
requirement to turn in film? For Gray, the answer is simple: "it does would that crap, on video. "And to top it off, the special effects team - led by David Roddham, who worked on the fall of Black Falcon, Ridley Scott - must obtain an agreement prior to any shipment of pyrotechnics on the decor and because of an old law dating back to"The Troubles"between the North of the Ireland and England, when, in Belfast, members of the IRA were explosives in contraband. Add to this the white smoke ejected by two ultra-powerful blowers, which fills the area with a thick fog (which forces many members of the team to wear surgical masks), and you now perceive the kind of reality that is looking Gray. "I want you to feel the scorched", he said at the time of the inspection of the decorations, that day, while the blue of the sky above us does not exactly match what Khondji and he hoped: more there is direct natural light, more it is difficult to assemble plans taken from different angles, with the Sun that changes position. "I came up in Ireland to find the same climate as in Miami! ", exclaims the Director joked, although he looks really anxious on the last day of filming of the battle of the Somme: it it may be difficult to get what he wants.
Arms and watermelons given the number of outlets to do before sunset the Sun, Katagas and Doug Torres, the first assistant, prepared a map of shooting with three teams working simultaneously on the battlefield. Around the "camera A" Gray directs Hunnam and Pattinson stars for a long very uninterrupted sequence inside a crowded bunker. The "camera B", that called the 2nd team turns various action scenes, with the stuntmen and extras that give the assault on this no man's land. And the 3rd team around the 'Camera C' ensures catches that others do not have time to do. "The challenge here is to move a ladder to another, made out Gray in the pause that follows an initial rather successful, time Khondji adjusts the lights in the bunker. '' Do not let fall his energy, given the enormity of the logistical difficulties inherent in this kind of shooting. At the same time, should know to stay fully human to be able to focus on details and be listening to others. "Hunnam out of the trench to speak with the Director. Gray listening intently, and then explains how this plan will be connected with one another, later. Unlike the rest of the team, the Director must always understand the way each piece will find its place in the great puzzle of the film. Must see things in close-up and plan large at the same time. They start so another socket, with just a few changes in the movement of camera, but the dollies happens not as it should. While all were put in place for a third shot, Gray begins to worry about the game of the players. "I realized that most of the time, these are the 1st and 2nd harvest the best. To regain this energy, it is expected catches 8th or 9th, when the actors arrived to resume their habits. But cannot afford to do it, on this shoot. » A walkie-talkie hums: someone asked if Gray could come to the camera B to check the plan that prepared the 2nd team. The filmmaker begins to run through the trenches and then goes back on the field of battle and joined the team ready to turn one of the many plans of cut of the scene where Fawcett and his men charge the Germans through no man's land. The smoke is already thick, it is not much, however this plan there requires the use of firecrackers (plan red blood) and, in addition, real flame-throwers. Gray attends a socket, then asked if the soldiers can drop earlier. While the stunt repeated the scene, a woman of the decoration team approaches, one arm to the hand. Or rather: half an arm, with fake veins and false exuding cartilage hanging at one end (say soldiers of the battle of the Somme was a "bloodbath". To recreate this atmosphere gore, the team was packed with explosives by watermelons and made them explode on the decor of the battlefield). Gray raises his gaze on the hand, which is an alliance on the ring finger: it finds too yellow. The daughter of the deco said that it will make a touch before shooting. At the time where the soldiers are ready for filming, an assistant called Gray: it must return to A camera, they are ready to turn the Hunnam scene from a different angle. Frustrated at not being able to watch all at the same time, he hurries back to the bunker trying to avoid deep holes and piles of debris that litter the muddy floor. And then it starts to rain.
"The meeting between this fucking Barry Lyndon and Apocalypse Now" everything this incredible expenditure of energy, all these means for probably, at best, between five and ten minutes of film in the final cut. In many respects, however, the battle of the Somme is a key to the film sequence, to understand both the life and times of Percy Fawcett, and why Gray wanted to bring them to the screen. When asked what attracted him in The Lost City of Z, initially, Director responds: "I love the idea of making a film in which the concept of civilisation is only an ersatz, the idea that civilization is that a frail varnish courtesies overhung by what makes the essence of human nature, it i.e. (so"Hobbesian"): wickedness, the smallness and rudeness. '' "There is no better illustration of this idea that this massacre mass committed during the first world war, which ended with more than ten million of victims on both sides. The battle of the Somme is one of the most deadly war conflicts (21 000 British soldiers killed there the first day). Fawcett, who was an experienced officer of the royal Regiment of artillery, was called between two expeditions to exercise his talents as leader of men on the front. He arrived in the North of France in July 1916, at the battle of the Somme started. Grann, author of The Lost City of Z, described this episode as well: "Fawcett sought where to shelter his men, but it was impossible to protect these soldiers advancing under a hail of bullets, shells of nine pounds and jets of liquids by a.
flamethrower... The injured slipped in the shell holes screaming. This time, Fawcett called "Armageddon". "If, as Gray describes it, his film is supposed to tell a"planets conflict"between the refined Victorian England world and the native land of the Amazon - or as Katagas, the encounter between this fucking Barry Lyndon and Apocalypse Now-, then the battle of the Somme would be the most important moment: this is the time where Westerners prove be far more brutal than the 'wild' Fawcett met in the jungle and which He has often defended the way of life as opposed to that of the English nobility. "At least [the cannibalism] is a valid reason to kill a man. Cannot be said for the so-called civilized wars", had written the Explorer at the height of the conflict.
To prepare for filming, Gray studied several key works, including The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, a critical literary work which reported accurately the reactions of soldiers in combat. With Khondji and Decorator Jean-Vincent Puzos, he visited the imperial Museum of the war, in London, to fine-tooth comb of the thousands of photos taken at the time. On the side of the cinema, Gray acknowledged that there is not so many movies than that which describe the first world war with the level of realism without concessions he wants for The Lost City of Z. This is why the team looked rather two very different war films, for the less influential: Ran, Akira Kurosawa, and Requiem for a massacre of Elem Klimov.
Even if Gray spent months, if not years, to design the sequence of the battle of the Somme, he does have a few days to get what he wants. "In an ideal world, I would have to go on the sets, without anything to do, revet - it. '' Image and design teams have received all my instructions and he would sit there--a little as did Hitchcock. But things shall never happen like that for me. ""Worthy of a bad horror film"at the time when the rain begins to fall, scurry under the tents of the members of the team - which many wear marked clothing Game of Thrones (the HBO series turned in Belfast and surrounding six months per year) - while background performers embodying the German and British soldiers are trying to protect themselves. Some are forced to stay down in the mud for a long time, "playing" corpses filmed shamelessly by B and C cameras.
Back in the bunker, Gray remains glued to the monitor, the camera being a little further. He expects another socket (even one), another angle, of the long dialogue scene. It also has the exhausted air. Still, it happens to keep a level of intense concentration and even his sarcastic, very New York humor: he made a comment about the breakfast that was served earlier, declaring that "the chicken had passed the test of the taste takes off successfully.
After another catch, the first assistant, Torres, asks shouting of 'check the store', which means that they are ready to move on to the next scene. Hunnam and Pattinson out of the bunker to take the air. Assistants hold an umbrella over their heads: the downpour is stronger than before. After giving a few instructions, Gray returned on the battlefield. He arrived at the camera B at the point where a new plan is installed.
This time, it is a slow movement of camera along the barbed wire: we pass in front of bodies and parts of bodies - including the hand to the alliance - and it ends with a close-up of a soldier letter attached to the tips of the wire. Gray attends a rehearsal and corrects several points: it reposition the arm of a listed including the "corpse" is too "Hollywood". the letter is not enough well folded, while it was obviously kept in the pocket of a soldier; as the hand with the alliance that comes out of the mud, it will throw a last glance and ends by saying: 'remove it. It is worthy of a bad horror movie. "Such decisions, taken in a few seconds, can secure or demolish everything that makes the texture to his films. Gray has the art of perfecting such imperfections, make things have also thoroughly bordelic air on the screen than in real life. The authenticity, as it concerns decor, acting or the underlying emotional tone that is the cornerstone of his cinema.
While the movement of ca-
MERA is repeated once again, Gray is called to the C camera to watch a scene short but crucial detail gleaned during research he was conducting during the writing of the scenario. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers French, British Indian army sikhs have also called on the Somme front. They were engaged across the field of battle, on horseback, waving their swords against the lines of German machine guns.
In the film as in reality, the sikhs and the horses wear masks gas. Gray viewing the scene with attention and realizes immediately that the masks worn by horses are not good, what he dislikes tremendously (how happens to detect this error a day also tiring remains a mystery and the team has struggled to follow all his wishes). It is too late, more time to replace the masks. Then these plans, such as those where the horses were supposed to catch fire, are pushed back to a later date.
It pours, now, and the team "lost light": the night begins to fall. -Muddy - way to the bunker, walking at full speed, Gray retains a wizard to prevent slipping. It will make the plane with A camera: a sequence shot, shoulder, who married the point of view of Fawcett, which advances in the trenches and passes in front of a long line of soldiers awaiting his command. Beyond any fatigue, extras (one wearing a mask in linen that recalls the grim reaper) watch the camera - so by extension, Director - wearily, thus providing an ultimate metaphor perfect this day which resembled more a real war to a war movie.
Sons and their fathers in the car that drive us in Belfast, Gray sprawls in his seat and long keep eyes closed. "I have the impression of having conducted eight rounds against Muhammad Ali", he said, half laughing, half seriously, before you close your eyes again, leaving silence, get over it.
Suddenly he straightens out his MacBook and opens a folder containing photos of all the scenes carried out in Belfast, this part of the shoot ending the next day. While it was difficult to see what would look like The Lost City of Z for the shots of the day, the pictures are rich in colors and materials: they evoke the work of the English landscape painters such as Turner and Constable, or even how Vilmos Zsigmond lit door of Paradise by Cimino (another film reviewed during the preparation).
"It is my small tribute to the Leopard," said Director about the photo of a plan where Sienna Miller is standing facing a window, a light white curtain blowing in his direction. Satisfied with what his team and him managed to so far, even on a day also difficult, Gray starts to talk about all the work that promises yet.
After a sequence that will be shot the next day in the Botanical Garden of Belfast, and a quick trip to London for a scene outdoors, the team will sail on Miami, hoping to take a plane to the Colombia in stride. There, they will have less than seven days to prepare five new weeks of shooting: their base camp will be the seaside resort of Santa Marta where they will leave turn inside Tayrona National Park, where the Pedras river empties into the sea of Caribbean.
If the first part of the filming of The Lost City of Z is akin to Kubrick or Fuller production, the Colombian part will be rather Coppola or Herzog. With a shortage of energy resources and the lack of roads and other infrastructure needed to ensure a quiet production, the team will have to work with what she will find on place - which, above all, natural light, to reconstitute the three journeys made by Fawcett through the Amazon unknown.
Gray was nice to be absorbed by the current construction, he knows despite all that it will soon receive a sacred premium: his family (he is married and has three young children), which it is separated for weeks, will arrive in Los Angeles and will remain some time in Colombia during the filming. With this in mind, Gray remembers a conversation he had a few days earlier: "I told someone how much my children missed me. He looked at me and said to me: "what chick! Types assumed for years previously, and children out rather well anyway."I thought, what brought me back to Fawcett and this generation of men who had gone to war, or for other reasons, and who were returned home until two or three years later. Maybe if they had spent more time with their son, well their sons did would not grow up and committed the mass destruction that marked the 20th century. Perhaps a bloodbath as the first world war would not have taken place. Who can ever say? "This will be his last comment after what has been a very long (maybe longer) day, referring us to a recurring motifs in his films: dangerous, often deadly, links between fathers and sons. The Lost City of Z will also be a story of fathers and sons. Given what has finally happened to Percy Fawcett and her child, Jack (played here by Tom Holland, the next Spiderman star), it is difficult to imagine how this film could end with a happy ending.
Belfast lights surround us, and the car closer to the city centre. Skips to other topics: the latest released movies, public school, vs. New York (Gray was born in New York but lives for twenty five years in Los Angeles). For a short time, the film has been set aside, and when the Director comes out of his car and headed for his hotel by sketching what might resemble a smile, it looks like that he momentarily forgot the journey that awaits him: a trip that will take them, him and his team, in the heart of darkness that have defied many directors in the past. Seen in this light, the war did even not begin. All interview by JM.