I admit I was wrong about the short odds for full-scale riots at IFC Center Tuesday night, when controversial filmmaker Gaspar Noe showed up to introduce the rosy double feature of his molesting-butcher meltdown I Stand Alone and Pier Paolo Pasolini's grueling fascism allegory Salo. The near-capacity crowd behaved itself for the most part -- perhaps in stunned silence or perhaps at a total loss for what to do or say in the hazy lamb's-brains-and-incest hangover of Noe's work, about which he reminisced fondly between films.
"Everybody was working for free on this movie," Noe told the crowd. "I think the total budget of the movie at the very end was $200,000 that we borrowed here and there. It started with $50,000 that I got from a television station to make a short with the same butcher, called Carne. Then I decided I would do a feature, and then I started lying to all of these people on the movie -- even to the actors and to the members in the crew, because if I told them we were doing a feature, they would ask me for a salary. I didn't want to tell them that; I just said I was doing a short, and the short turned out to be 90 minutes. And then I renegotiated with the actors and the crew."
Releasing I Stand Alone in 1998, when French politics was bottoming out on undercurrents of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia, Noe said he intended the film as something of a joke as a means to payback: The anonymous butcher (an astonishing, reticent Phillipe Nahon, below) who prowls Paris in a fit of disaffected rage is near-impotent for anyone but his own mute daughter, while the inertia of entitlement results in a succession of violence and snarling threats toward women, gays and minorities. "There was this movement where Europe was unifying," he said. "And there were all these things in the press and on TV with politicians saying there are Europeans and non-Europeans, and the first-class citizens are Europeans and the second-class citizens are not Europeans. Well, I was born in Argentina, so I was pushed to the second class, and it was kind of a revenge at the time."
But when asked what elements of his own personal philosophy inform the butcher, Noe was candid. Or joking again.
"That was 90 percent of me," he said, a smile and laugh provoking squirmy tittering in the audience. "I will not tell you where the other 10 percent is. When you're angry, you just start spitting on anything that's not you. I could become the most racist person in the world. Any person who comes to me and attacks me, the first thing I think of is, 'What's the difference between me and the other person? Is it racist? Is it religious? I am mostly very anti-religious, so if any person comes with any religious background, I will turn against them" More nervous giggles. Noe shrugged. "Anyway."
Indeed. So what else was on the soft-spoken Noe's mind? Only the sweetest stuff, naturally:
ON SEXUAL ABUSE IN CINEMA: "There are so many movies where the abuse is from the point of view of the victim. But I don't know. I've heard that in most European countries, one girl out of 10 has been abused by the father or the stepfather or the grandfather or the uncle. But among the girls I know, it's much more than 10 percent. Even among boys I know. But I don't know why we always see the victim and we never see the abuser in those movies. I think it was time to instruct the viewer that that subject in the movie was not the main subject."
ON HIS NEXT FILM: "It's set in Japan. It deals with drugs, it deals with sex. It's about a brother and a sister, and they're 18 and 20 and they're living in Japan and trying sexual things. I don't know. It's supposed to be a psychedelic movie. I wanted to make a movie that is really psychedelic from the beginning to the end. There are moments in 2001: A Space Odyssey, there are moments in Altered States, but I wanted the whole movie to be seen from the brain of someone who is hallucinating. It's shooting in February and March; it should be finished one year later, so, summer 2008? ... The whole script of Irreversible when we started shooting was three pages -- no dialogue involved. It was basically a treatment. For my next feature, I have a script with 90 or 100 pages. What can I do with so many pages? It's much easier with not much information on the set, because you can invent and come up with ideas -- especially dialogue -- that make your people humans, not characters. And use their own words."
ON PEOPLE'S STRONG REACTIONS TO HIS FILMS: "My movies are entertaining. I was watching The Departed the other day; it could have been violent, but it was entertaining. I would say this movie you've just seen is funny. There's a lot in it -- not only the joke that 'You have 30 seconds to quit the screening room,' but there are many things that are meant to make the situation more dramatic. And actually, it turns out to be funny, because in a documentary, you would not see it that way. When you see Pasolini's Salo, that's a movie where you can maybe laugh three or four times. But that movie's not supposed to be entertaining; that film's supposed to be disturbing. I have three or four projects coming up and one of them would be disturbing from beginning to end, like Salo. But I think my next movie is going to be funny once again."
INTRODUCING SALO: "What can I say? There are not a whole lot of movies in your whole lifetime that impress you. I would say that when I was 3 or 4 years old, I saw Jason and the Argonauts on TV, and it blew my mind and traumatized me in so many ways. ... The first movie that shocked me was Eraserhead, when I was 16. But not as much as Salo. My mother decided that I was old enough to see the movie. Actually, the movie was forbidden for people under 18 years old in France, and she had seen it. The day I turned 18, she said, 'Let's go and see the movie.' Well, OK. I told her, 'Not today, I'm going with my friends. I'm turning 18; I'm going to see a porn movie in a porn theater. So that was at 2 p.m. I went to see my porn movie in the theater with all these guys, and we're jerking off or whatever. And then my mother said, 'OK, now let's go and see Salo.' That was my birthday present. I asked, 'Why do we need to see this?' My mother said, 'This is a movie about torture; it's about how bad things can turn when life gets bad.' I said, 'OK. Let's go!' I went to see the movie; she was sitting next to me. ...
"For many years, I did not want to see it again. It took me like 15 or 20 years. And there's something really weird about this movie, because Pasolini was considered a gay communist humanist, but at least on this movie, you don't see anything that comes close to humanism or communism. It's mostly about people tormenting each other -- not for the pleasure of the sex they can get; it's mostly for the pleasure of cruelty. Sex is not a goal; it's just a means to achieve your own cruelty."
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