In anticipation of his audacious 3D sex epic "Love," set for limited release tomorrow, the famous provocateur Gaspar Noé was invited to give a Masterclass at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP. The event, presented by Filmmaker Magazine and UniFrance Films, began with a rare screening of "Carne," Noé’s devastating 40-minute debut feature that inspired his next film, "I Stand Alone," and planted the seeds for the future of his bold visual storytelling.
Between explaining what drives him to do what he does best, the controversial Argentine-French filmmaker shared more than a few unbelievable anecdotes about making his envelope-pushing films, such as "Irreversible" and "Enter the Void."
Check out some unmissable highlights from the highly entertaining and occasionally shocking Noé Masterclass below.
How Noé managed to shoot in a slaughterhouse
"Carne" has one of the most unforgettable opening sequences in film history. Not for the faint of heart, the film tells the story of a horse butcher in a Parisian suburb raising his mute daughter. Wasting no time, Noé thrusts his audience into the gruesome reality of the slaughterhouse by juxtaposing a shot of a horse being butchered with the image of a wad of red meat on a plate.
Noé explained how through a little bit of deception, he overcame the immense challenge of shooting in a slaughterhouse. "There have been a few documentaries on TV about animal killings in slaughterhouses, and the slaughterhouse community made an agreement they would not let people film inside their meat factories. I called all the slaughterhouses in Paris and there are many and they said, ‘No, no, no, no.’ And finally I asked a young intern, an 18-year girl from the crew, ‘Can you try putting on a sweet, little voice? Maybe it’s going to work. Call the person over there are say, "I’m a film student. Can I come see your slaughterhouse? I’m doing this thing for school,"’" Noé recounted.
He then continued, "I think the guy got aroused by the girl’s voice so finally he said, ‘Yes, you can come, but don’t put my name on it.’ The guy actually wanted to meet the girl on the phone, so the day we arrived, of course she did not want to see any of those things, so we went to the slaughterhouse and it was me and my camera assistant. The guy went crazy and said, ‘Where’s the girl? Where’s the girl?’ We said, ‘She’s coming.’ And she never came." Noé was eventually able to shoot the sickening but potent scene he wanted, provided that he never reveal the name of the slaughterhouse.
How Noé convinced a mother to let him shoot a live birth
As if the slaughterhouse shot was not visceral enough on its own, the opening montage sequence of "Carne" remarkably features footage of a live birth. Noé shed light on how, through a stroke of luck, he was able to capture the miracle of life.
"Most people who have a baby don’t want to be filmed while they have a baby," he said. "The truth is that there’s a lot of blood and a lot of liquid coming out. And what I’ve heard is that one person out of two shits when she gives birth, so one person out of two is born in shit. So before it happens, most people know that it’s dangerous to expose yourself."
After unsuccessfully asking permission from clinics for six months, Noé remembered, "Finally one of the clinics had a midwife who was pregnant and going to give birth. Because she was a midwife, she thought the whole process was very normal, she was doing that job every day. She said, ‘I’m giving birth in three months. If you want to come enjoy yourselves, you can film.’"
"So that week, I was ready every night with my Bolex camera," he continued. "I spent a whole week drinking coffee every night, being ready to jump in a cab and go film."
On novelty and the pleasure of doing something new
When asked whether he feels a constant pressure to do something new, Noé said, "If you can make something that looks new — novelty is exciting. That’s why I enjoyed doing my last movie in 3D because even for me as a filmmaker, I had a new toy and enjoyed going to play with the toy. I enjoyed using cranes and using all these CGI images on ‘Enter the Void.’ I don’t know what I’m going to do next, but you have to be playful with the language. It’s not only for your self-esteem, it’s just for the pleasure of discovering life and whatever is around you. If you take pleasure in what you’re doing, certainly the audience might, too."
On the same subject, Noé said, "Usually, people do a new mix of things that already exist. But if you have to say how many movies you’ve seen in the last year that had something new, there aren’t so many. I am in total admiration when I see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or when I see the old ‘King Kong.’ I just don’t understand how they managed to make those movies in the ’30s or in the late ’60s."
Why "Irreversible" was an accident
Despite it being perhaps his most notable film, Noé revealed that "’Irreversible’ is almost an accident." After doing "I Stand Alone," he wanted to do "Enter the Void," but he needed more money before he pursued his costly passion project and wrote a treatment for "Danger," the story that would eventually become "Love."
After running into Vincent Cassel at a club and running the idea by him, Cassel said that he and his then-wife Monica Bellucci might be interested. Noé said, "I needed money to pay my rent once again, so I immediately called some producers and said, ‘I’m preparing this erotic melodrama. Vincent Cassel and Monica Bellucci, who were the golden couple of French cinema, want to make it.’ And once again, I was kind of lying because they hadn’t read one line of the treatment."
Noé went on to explain that, “Weirdly, the producers went to StudioCanal and they said we’re going to raise two million Euros for a movie called ‘Danger’ with Monica and Vincent. So we had the money, but no one had read the treatment yet and we had a shooting date." But after Cassel read the treatment with Belluci, he called Noé and said the film was too intimate and they would not do it. Noé responded by saying, "I understand you don’t want to make this movie, but let’s just keep the dates and keep the money and let’s do something else."
With only one night to come up with a new idea before he was supposed to meet with his producers, Noé thought, "Why don’t we make this rape and revenge movie told backwards? I had seen ‘Memento’ at the time, and I thought let’s put it backwards. So I had five weeks to write the script, prepare the movie, and cast. Five weeks later, we were shooting this movie, but it was like a bank robbery. It’s like someone tells you that you have five minutes to run into the bank, take the money and run, because after five minutes the cops are arriving."
How cocaine improbably helped him achieve "Irreversible"
Noé revealed how his experiences with hallucinogenic drugs have helped him prepare and apply visual effects for his films, but for a particularly intensive scene in "Irreversible," it was an unexpected encounter with cocaine that allowed him to overcome the exhaustion he felt as a cameraman.
Noé recounted, "Most of the movie, I was doing the camera, it was a handheld camera. And I’m not proud of this but — I’m not a cokehead, I get allergic — but there were some members of the crew that were doing coke and when the camera has to go up the stairs, down the stairs and turn around, at a point, my arms were hurting and my friends on the set were giving me coke. And you feel strong and you feel like a superhero, you run up the stairs and turn the camera. I was really happy that helped me achieve the scene."
He continued, "But after two days of shooting up the stairs and down the stairs and turning the camera, I’m not a strong man at all but the camera was very heavy. I had done such a muscular effort that the moment this spell of cocaine was over, the pain started and I could not even raise a glass of vodka." [laughs]
How Noé ended up masturbating in his own film
Before "Irreversible" was released, Noé showed his fellow filmmaker Dario Argento a preview of the same controversial gay nightclub scene that he shot while on cocaine. Argento immediately warned, "Woah, you’re in danger! The gay community is going to give you hell! You’re talking about them and you’re not a part of them. See what happened to Friedkin, you don’t know how bad it’s going to turn for you." Noé then wondered, "How can I manage to save my ass in such a situation?"
Noé continued, "So I had an idea, and we went back to the club and I added a small image of me masturbating as part of the club. It was stupid, but still everybody noticed that I was part of the club so I could not be homophobic while being excited while in the club. My camera assistant and my assistant director, it was just me and them two, and you find yourselves in such weird situations where you’re having your collaborators watching you masturbating and you have to pretend it’s not a problem. And then they were laughing, so I had problems having a proper erection."