Just one more reason why we love French filmmaker Michel Gondry: not only is he constantly challenging the preconceptions of who he is as a filmmaker by moving from documentary to mainstream tentpole back to micro-budgeted indie film, he's also frank with his opinions on his on work. Maybe it's a lost in translation thing, but the Gallic director just doesn't seem to beat around the bush.
Playlist contributor Simon Abrams sat down with Gondry in Cannes to discuss his latest effort, the social/community dramedy, "The We & The I." During their lengthy conversation, Gondry also candidly discussed his self-perceived failures with his first major studio tentpole, "The Green Hornet." Made for $120 million (plus P&A costs), the film only grossed $227 million worldwide, and while that's not an embarrassing number by any stretch, the producers have already said the film didn't make enough of a profit to warrant a sequel. What follows is an interesting detour in our conversation with Gondry about "The We & The I," in which he addressed making 'Hornet.'
You mentioned that "The Green Hornet" delayed "The We & The I" for almost two years. I really liked your film and I'm curious if you were ever aware of what Kevin Smith was doing with it at one point?
I may have seen Kevin put out a comic book at the same time, but I was working on "The Green Hornet" in '96 so I had it in mind in my own version. But to start I had tons of ideas and my own vision of how the movie could look, but I like [Smith's] work. There is something in his work in the way that people are spontaneous, that's what inspired me. But I didn't need any outside inspiration, I had so much inspiration from me and also people working with me like Seth Rogen and [producer] Neal Moritz. When you put all of those people together I don’t think there's any room left for outside influence.
What do you think needs to be done for the comic book movie to reach its potential? Right now it doesn't seem that people know what to do with the characters.
Well, within the comic book world there is a huge split between the independent comic book and the superhero world. Dan Clowes [author of "Ghost World," and writer of two Gondry projects that were never completed, "Megalomania" and "Master Of Space And Time"] is one of the very unique voices who kind of bridges both worlds but he's more on the independent side [of comics]. In the superhero world the fans are very pleased with what they see on the screen, like the Christopher Nolan Batman film is something that they really praise. They didn't like my vision of the superhero from the independent side, but from the non-independent side of the comic book they had a very pre-defined vision of what a superhero should be. To be ironic with it, to be flat, serious or nobody acknowledge the ridiculousness of the situation, and that's something I like. When you embrace something and do it fully, but the fans are so serious, it's very on the edge of something undemocratic. I read comments that say "We didn't fight so hard to get comic book movies where they are now…" — meaning because of their contribution I'm talking about, the bloggers, and the people who express their opinion on blogs, they didn't work so hard to get comic book movies at this level to see a guy like me putting everything to the ground. So they had decided they would try to kill it before they had even seen anything.
"The Avengers" is being praised because it has a level of sophistication to its characters that most of them had lacked in another iterations. Since the first tier of Marvel films are out, do you think there's a chance for more sophisticated story telling or do you think people just want more of the same?
Eh, I don't care. I never liked the world of superheroes, I didn't set out to make a superhero movie. I wanted to do an action comedy movie that was a crazy idea and had effects that I think I could do, in my own way, something spectacular. In France we have this type of movies like "Fantômas," which makes the very broad comedy and some marvelous landscape and sophisticated James Bond-style equipment. To come back to "The We And The I," doing "The Green Hornet" brought me closer to the kids in it because that's the type of movie they would go and see. So I always thought of that when I was making "The Green Hornet," is that I'm interested in the type of population who would not necessarily go and see a movie I do instinctively, so it's important for me to make a movie that gets us connected.