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In honor of the 15th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s death, today a 1987 interview in Rolling Stone with the famed writer-director. Here is how the interview starts with Kubrick taking charge right from the beginning:
I’m not going to be asked any conceptualizing questions, right?
All the books, most of the articles I read about you — it’s all conceptualizing.
Yeah, but not by me.
I thought I had to ask those kinds of questions.
No. Hell, no. That’s my … [He shudders.] It’s the thing I hate the worst.
Really? I’ve got all these questions written down in a form I thought you might require. They all sound like essay questions for the finals in a graduate philosophy seminar.
The truth is that I’ve always felt trapped and pinned down and harried by those questions.
Questions like [reading from notes] “Your first feature, Fear and Desire, in 1953, concerned a group of soldiers lost behind enemy lines In an unnamed war; Spartacus contained some battle scenes; Paths of Glory was an indictment of war and, more specifically, of the generals who wage it; and Dr. Strangelove was the blackest of comedies about accidental nuclear war. How does Full Metal Jacket complete your examination of the subject of war? Or does it?”
Those kinds of questions.
You feel the real question lurking behind all the verblage is “What does this new movie mean?”
Exactly. And that’s almost impossible to answer, especially when you’ve been so deeply inside the film for so long. Some people demand a five-line capsule summary. Something you’d read in a magazine. They want you to say, “This is the story of the duality of man and the duplicity of governments.” [A pretty good description of the subtext that informs Full Metal Jacket, actually.] I hear people try to do it — give the five-line summary — but if a film has any substance or subtlety, whatever you say is never complete, it’s usually wrong, and it’s necessarily simplistic: truth is too multifaceted to be contained in a five-line summary. If the work is good, what you say about it is usually irrelevant.
I don’t know. Perhaps it’s vanity, this idea that the work is bigger than one’s capacity to describe it. Some people can do interviews. They’re very slick, and they neatly evade this hateful conceptualizing. Fellini is good; his interviews are very amusing. He just makes jokes and says preposterous things that you know he can’t possibly mean.
I mean, I’m doing interviews to help the film, and I think they do help the film, so I can’t complain. But it isn’t…it’s… it’s difficult.
Classic Kubrick. He was promoting his newest movie Full Metal Jacket. As a reminder, here is the trailer:
Brody: However, an Egyptian pharaoh…
Brody: …yes, invaded the city of Jerusalem round about 980 B.C., and he may have take the Ark back to the city of Tanis and hidden it in a secret chamber called The Well of Souls.
Major Eaton: [skeptically] Secret chamber?
Brody: However, about a year after the pharaoh had returned to Egypt, the city of Tanis was consumed by the desert in a sand storm which lasted a whole year. Wiped clean by the wrath of God.
Major Eaton: [turns slowly toward Col. Musgrove] Uh… huh.
Colonel Musgrove: Obviously, we’ve come to the right men. Now you seem to know, uh, all about this Tanis, then.
Indiana: No, no, not really. Ravenwood is the real expert. Abner did the first serious work on Tanis. Collected some of its relics. It was his obsession, really. But he never found the city.
Major Eaton: Frankly, we’re somewhat suspicious of Mr. Ravenwood, an American being mentioned so prominently in a secret Nazi cable.
Brody: Oh, rubbish. Ravenwood’s no Nazi.
Colonel Musgrove: Well, what do the Nazis want him for then?
Indiana: Well, obviously, the Nazis are looking for the headpiece to Staff of Ra and they think Abner’s got it.
Major Eaton: What exactly is a headpiece to the Staff of Ra?
Indiana: Well, the staff is just a stick. I don’t know, about this big. Nobody really knows for sure how high. And it’s… [turns blackboard to blank side] it’s, uh… it’s capped with an elaborate headpiece in the shape of the sun with a crystal in the center. And what you did was, you take the staff to a special room in Tanis, a map room with a miniature of the city all laid out on the floor. And if you put the staff in a certain place at a certain time of day, the sun shone through here and made beam that came down on the floor here… and gave you the exact location of the Well of the Souls.
Colonel Musgrove: Where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, right?.
Indiana: That’s exactly what the Nazis are looking for.
Major Eaton: Now what does this Ark look like?
Indiana: Uh… there’s a picture of it right here. [opens a book on the table] That’s it.
They all look at an illustration of the Hebrews devastating their enemy with the Ark.
Major Eaton: Good God!
Brody: Yes, that’s just what the Hebrews thought.
Colonel Musgrove: [pointing to a beam of light] Uh, now what’s that supposed to be coming out of there?
Indiana: Lightning. Fire. Power of God or something.
Major Eaton: I’m beginning to understand Hitler’s interest in this.
Brody: Oh, yes. The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it… is invincible.
– Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, story by George Lucas and
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Lecture.
Trivia: Philip Kaufman shares story credit with George Lucas because they originally dreamed up the film together in the 1970′s. Reportedly, it was Kaufman’s idea to pursue the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Originally, Kaufman was going to direct.
Dialogue On Dialogue: This is an example of taking advantage of an academic setting to use a lecture to get across some critical exposition. The government officials want information. Indiana gives it to them. The details are exposition. But they are also fascinating which is why it makes for an interesting scene.
So I’ve caught the “True Detective” bug. Created and written by Nic Pizzolatto, starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and directed by Cary Fukunaga, it is some eye-popping, dialogue-rich, mind-blowing, crazy-ass shit. As I’ve been chasing down every article and interview I could find on the HBO series, I thought I’d aggregate them into a sort of primer for readers. NOTE: This is an revised reprint of a post that originally ran February 19, so you can trace the history will all of the updates from that date.
SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT CLICK ‘MORE’ UNLESS YOU ARE PREPARED TO LEARN SOME KEY PLOT DEVELOPMENTS.
In this interview, Pizzolatto talks about the genesis of the series:
True Detective is a series which draws the viewer in with big names but the story and format are ultimately the star. How did you convince HBO to let you produce the eight-part series as essentially a single movie: One director, one plot per season?
It began around 2004 – when the Sopranos and The Wire and Deadwood were all on HBO. I was working on my graduate degree in writing prose and I began to feel that those shows were answering my need for fiction much better and with more vitality, then the contemporary novels I was reading. So, that kind of started this desire to do it but I didn’t understand how to break into movies and TV, so when my novel got optioned I asked my agents how to go about doing that and they said I needed to write scripts. In July of 2010 I wrote six scripts and one of them was the pilot for True Detective. I held onto it for about a year and a half and didn’t sell it until I knew we could make it the way I wanted and be able to attain the proper amount of creative control to make sure it turned out well.
How much of the series was completed before you sold it to HBO?
I wrote two episodes and started trying to put together a package. We looked at a lot of directors before we ended up going with Cary Fukunaga. The next step was casting Matthew [as the stoic loner detective Rust Cohle]. And immediately after we were able to cast Woody [as loose family man Detective Martin Hart] and then we took it out and pitched it. At that point we had a pretty complete package so that made sure we would be able to maintain a certain amount of control.
A thriller unlike any other, True Detective is melancholic, dense with symbolism, and features astonishing performances from its leading duo, who play a pair of detectives searching for a possible serial killer. The show feels less like a standard TV procedural, and more like a crime novel come to vivid life. Pizzolatto switches the action between 1995, when his two detectives (blustery family man Harrelson, obsessive loner McConaughey) are investigating the ritualistic murder of a young runaway, and 2012, when those same detectives, now long since out of the force, are being interviewed in connection with a new death. The big question is: why have their lives fallen apart so dramatically? “I wanted to look at the relationship between these men and how it changed,” says Pizzolatto. “I wasn’t interested in doing what everyone else was doing. The point wasn’t to write another serial-killer show.”
Two episodes into the series, True Detective dropped a reference to one of the strangest, most compelling tales in the canon of weird fiction: Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, a collection of short stories published in 1895. Knowing this book is key to understanding the dark mystery at the heart of this series.
The i09 article goes into some depth about the connection between the series and the book, so it is well worth the read.
If you go here, /film provides links to several HBO video featurettes like this one:
The /film article also provides a link to download the book “The King in Yellow”. [It was free on Monday, now you have to pay for it.]
Episode 5 is the one that is Pizzolatto’s favorite and after watching it, I can see why. Through the first four episodes, Cohle has demonstrated a propensity to wade into a particularly dark form of metaphysics, but only in short bursts of esoteric observations. In last week’s episode, he goes on a lengthy monologue that is both all exposition… and all fascination. In it, he presents a whole world view. Here is some of the dialogue:
“It’s like, in this universe, we process time linearly. Forward. But outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective, time wouldn’t exist. And from that vantage, could we attain it, we’d see–”
He crushes a can of Lone Star between his palms
– “our space-time look flattened, like a seamless sculpture. Matter in a super-position—ever place it ever occupied. Our sentience just cycling through our lives like carts on a track. See, everything outside our dimension—that’s eternity. Eternity looking down on us. Now, to us, it’s a sphere. But to them, it’s a circle.”
“This is a world where nothing is solved. Someone once told me time is a flat circle. Everything we’ve ever done or will do we’re gonna do over and over and over again.”
“So death created time to kill the things that time trapped in the endless ring of pain where there is no sound or vision only blackness.”
There are several articles dissecting Cohle’s words and potential meaning of the episode. Here are some of the key ones:
From the Daily Beast article, Pizzolatto explains Cohle’s metaphysics this way:
“Cohle describes the possibility of other dimensions existing, and he says that’s what eternity is,” Pizzolatto continued. “He says that if somehow you existed outside of time, you’d be able to see the whole of our dimension as one superstructure with matter superimposed at ever position it had ever occupied. He says that the nature of the universe is your consciousness, and it just keeps cycling along the same point in that superstructure: when you die, you’re reborn into yourself again, and you just keep living the same life over and over. He also explains that from a higher mathematical vantage point, our dimension would seem less dimensional. It would look flattened, almost.”
Pizzolatto took a bite of his branzino. “Now, think about all the things Cohle is talking about,” he said as he finished chewing. “Is he a man railing against an uncaring god? Or is he a character in a TV show railing against his audience? Aren’t we the creatures of that higher dimension? The creatures who can see the totality of his world? After all, we get to see all eight episodes of his life. On a flat screen. And we can watch him live that same life over and over again, the exact same way.”
For a guy like me who has been obsessed with theology, spirituality and the cosmos my entire conscious life, following that interest through a religious studies degree at UVA, then an M.Div. from Yale, I find all of this stuff utterly compelling… and a helluva lot of fun.
But there’s another way to look at a circle as a representation of one’s life-experience: The Cosmogonic Cycle. And that has many iterations such as these:
Leading to this:
What is startling in comparison between reality as a circle as described by Cohle and the Cosmogonic Cycle as embraced by Joseph Campbell in The Hero’s Journey is they are diametrically opposed with regard to one key dynamic: Metamorphosis.
Cohle is arguing that we repeat the same cycle over and over, there is no such thing as change. By contrast, Campbell said the entire thematic point of The Hero’s Journey is metamorphosis (he uses the word transformation). The Hero starts out in the Ordinary World, accepts the Call To Adventure, goes through all sorts of trials and tribulations that test him/her, and through that process causes their True Self / Authentic Nature to emerge from within, so that when they return home, closing out the circle of their adventure, they are a transformed individual.
Two divergent views of life as a circle.
At the end of Episode 5 in “True Detective,” we are left with Cohle staring at this:
In the External World of the plot, it is likely a clue. But what is its symbolic meaning? Is Cohle staring into the abyss of a changeless cycle, humanity trapped in a never-ending horror show? Does the darkness in the center represent the black hole that exists in Cohle’s soul tied to tragedies that have or will occur in his life? What does he see here?
Finally there’s this. Here is a photo of Cohle from the past:
Here is a photo of Cohle in the present:
The simple fact is Cohle has changed. Yes, he’s gotten older, there is nothing that can stop the physical act of aging, nor is that necessarily a sign of an alteration within his psyche. On the other hand, it would at least appear Cohle has given into the ‘dark’ side of his personal metaphysics — smoking like a chimney, getting drunk on his days off — and he has spiraled downward. And while that may not be pleasant to see, it does represent metamorphosis.
Unless, of course, he is putting on an act…
I welcome your thoughts, observations, and questions about “True Detective.”
I first heard of Ligotti maybe six years ago, when Laird Barron’s first collection alerted me to this whole world of new weird fiction that I hadn’t known existed. I started looking around for the best contemporary stuff to read, and in any discussion of that kind, the name “Ligotti” comes up first. I couldn’t find any of his books in print, and their used prices were prohibitive for me at the time. But I located a couple at libraries, and his nightmare lyricism was enthralling and visionary.
What work of his do you find the most influential? Are you more attracted to his fiction or his nonfictional writing? Have you read his nonfiction book, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race”?
I read “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race” and found it incredibly powerful writing. For me as a reader, it was less impactful as philosophy than as one writer’s ultimate confessional: an absolute horror story, where the self is the monster. In episode one [of "True Detective"] there are two lines in particular (and it would have been nothing to re-word them) that were specifically phrased in such a way as to signal Ligotti admirers. Which, of course, you got.
The philosophy Cohle promotes in the show’s earliest episodes is a kind of anti-natalist nihilism, and in that regard all cats should be unbagged: “Confessions of an Antinatalist,” “Nihil Unbound,” “In the Dust of this Planet,” “Better to Have Never Been,” and lots of Cioran were all on the reading list. This is before I came out to Hollywood, but I knew that in my next work I would have a detective who was (or thought he was) a nihilist. I’d already been reading E.M. Cioran for years and consider him one of my all-time favorite and, oddly, most nourishing writers. As an aphorist, Cioran has no rivals other than perhaps Nietzsche, and many of his philosophies are echoed by Ligotti. But Ligotti is far more disturbing than Cioran, who is actually very funny. In exploring these philosophies, nobody I’ve read has expressed the idea of humanity as aberration more powerfully than Cioran and Ligotti.
If you have any other links of note re “True Detective,” please post in comments.
UPDATE #3: A great overview on the series from Grantland [HT to plinytheelder for the link].
And I found this About True Detective featurette put out by HBO which includes Pizzolatto on camera talking about the series:
Pizzolatto: “The fundamental idea behind the series is take the populist genre of investigative procedural and use it as an investigation into the human character.”
UPDATE #4: Go here for the “True Detective” title sequence… with cats .
UPDATE #6: Entertainment Weekly interview with Pizzolatto in advance of Episode 7:
EW: Let’s cut to the chase. Should we suspect Rust or Marty of the murders they’ve been investigating?
NIC PIZZOLTTO: By episode 7, it’s clear if Cohle or Hart is guilty. I knew some of the audience would suspect Cohle strongly. I knew others would predict a more far-reaching, mind-bending game at work. I hope they are all surprised, but feel in hindsight that that the outcome was inevitable.
You’ve cultivated so much palpable dread that some are convinced that supernatural forces are at work.
Like Cthulhu is going to rise up and take control of the world of True Detective?
Ummm… is it?
I hope the audience will be pleasantly surprised by the naturalism of the entire story. If you look at the series so far, what seems supernatural actually has real-world causes, like Cohle’s hallucinations, or even the nature of the crime. It has occult portents, but there is nothing supernatural about it.
UPDATE #9: Did you like the last episode of “The Killing”, Season 1? You know, the one where nothing got resolved? Neither did I. Guess who co-wrote that episode? Yep. Nic Pizzolatto. Make you worry about the last episode of Season 1 of “True Detective”? No need. TheWrap has this article in which Pizzolatto says point blank: “…one of the reasons I wanted to do an anthology format is I like stories with endings.”
By the way, turns out Pizzolatto taught literature here at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill before he left academia in 2010. Go here for Nic’s website.
UPDATE #10: An interview with the actors who play Papania and Gilbough.