Friday, August 31, 2018

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow, Toronto, September 9, 2008

I WAS STILL IN HIGH SCHOOL WHEN I WENT TO MY FIRST FILM FESTIVAL. I can't remember any other film I saw during that festival except one - a weird, almost campy biker film starring a then-unknown young actor named Willem Dafoe and the rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, who was probably the big draw of the film for me. (I was - and remain - a huge fan.) The Loveless was the sort of film where a character would say something like "We're goin' nowhere. Fast." with just enough irony to make it both hilarious and awesome. It remains one of my favorite films.

The film was co-directed by a recent Columbia University graduate named Kathryn Bigelow. I filed the name in my mind and was not surprised when, six years later, she made Near Dark, a really clever vampire film that didn't let its intelligence get in the way of being a vampire film. I felt very proud that I'd noticed her talent early on, and felt that strange pride and almost possessiveness that a fan feels when I watched her move from one project to another, working with bigger names on each film.

Kathryn Bigelow, Toronto, September 9, 2008

So I was thrilled when I was assigned to interview and photograph Bigelow by the free daily during the 2008 film festival. Bigelow had endured a bit of a career slump; it had been seven years since her last film, K-19: The Widowmaker, but there was a lot of buzz around her new film - an Iraq war film about a suicidal bomb disposal technician played by Jeremy Renner. I was on my own at this festival because Chris Atchison had left the paper - part of a slow exodus of staff inspired by our almost universally unloved new editor. I didn't mind having the job of interviewing someone like Bigelow, though I missed being able to concentrate wholly on the portrait shoot. Still, I think I got decent quotes, like this one:
"The war is, certainly as I understand it through his eyes, searching for IEDs. That's the signature of this conflict - it's like the jungle in Vietnam. And I think it's really unique - that's the war. There's no air power or other engagements - you're constantly seeking out this invisible threat, and it's insidious and it's futile, and I think the futility of it is what kept coming across to me. And my feeling is that if I could share that without polemics, or without being dogmatic, if we could just somehow humanize the experience for an audience then we've certainly done our job."
Still, I wish I'd had more time to think about the portrait. They're competent shots - I was certainly able to do something at least competent after four years of steady shooting at the free daily - but it wasn't inspired, and I wanted to do something inspired with Bigelow, a director whose work I knew well, and who had certainly inspired me with The Loveless all those years ago, back when I was looking for art that looked like something I imagined in my own head.

In any case, this would be one of my last portrait shoots at the free daily, and my last film festival for almost a decade. For a while, it looked like it was my last one ever, which made my shoot with Kathryn Bigelow seem appropriate - a kind of closure.

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