A Conversation with the Creators of "Sunday", Part II: Place and Production
Continued from Part 1
by Anthony Kaufman
Continuing our interview, it occurs to me that Jonathon Nossiter and
James Lasdun are no ordinary couple of smart filmmakers. The
preparation, thoughtfulness and collaboration that went into the making
of "Sunday" was extremely thorough, all the way through from script to
production to finished film. Nossiter, although with little directing
experience, has lived all over the world. Lasdun is a published poet and
visiting professor at esteemed universities; these are some brilliant
guys with a passion to back it up.
In Nossiter's apartment, we turn to the TV screen again, which now shows
the inside of the shelter, and Nossiter speaking with a homeless man
Lasdun: We were never trying to make a film about homelessness.
The paths between what you do show about homelessness feels totally
authentic, without making it seem like this is a film about
homelessness. It's not, it's a film in which homelessness plays an
integral part. So, we started laying out the whole anthropology of
homelessness. . .
iW: But the woman who has a home, Madeleine, you could say, she
Lasdun: That's what we wanted to do. Find the resonance of that whole
Nossiter: Being without shelter. It's not just physical, it's
also psychological, emotional . .
iW: Right. I think it comes across. Why it works is it's a backdrop for the characters and the story. . . there is a sense of place, and the
relationships between people and place. What did Queens provide for you?
[Again, we turn to the videotape and examine Queens from a passing car.]
JN: I took James around and he looked at it and said, "It looks as if
they started to build Manhattan and after one building gave up. I guess
that's Queens." Which is exactly right. . . The thing about Queens
that's interesting to me is that it has three critical elements, three
strange contradictory elements: one is it has elements of small town
America, it feels in places, archetypical American, there are little
Hopper moments, even, in "Sunday". Not many places in the New York area
that have that feeling where it's not ersatz -- where you don't feel
it's been reconstructed for consumption. Because Queens is the forgotten
borough, and therefore it's inherently interesting to me, things that
are forgotten. . .
What also interests me is it does have a relationship to New York, but
it's just out of reach. It is now the home of all the new immigrant
groups. . . So despite its doodled into existence surface, it's
transient, sort of ephemeral makeshift, which is another James phrase,
that was particularly felicitous and apt. The third element about Queens
is the fact that under this dull makeshift surface, it has a vibrancy
and a vitality, it's also some weird comment on the American dream. . .
It's a strange transit camp for people in search of the American dream.
Lasdun: But it has that paradoxical thing. It is a transit camp, but people
get stuck there.
iW: James, once the filming was started, did you play any other roles?
Lasdun: I was there on set most days, which for me, was a fascinating thing,
in its own right. My official job was to see that David Sachet kept his
Nossiter: It was well known by the second week the only reason why James
showed up every day is he's English, you have to remember that -- a free
lunch that was actually good is irresistible.
iW: You had good free lunches? What kind of independent film were you?
Nossiter: They weren't free to us. They were free to him. You should look at
this as indicative of the spirit of the film. The sort of artificial
lines and distinctions that people draw, this hierarchy of moviemaking,
should be crap. I mean, why should James's contribution as a writer stop
when I'm on the set. Does a script stop having meaning? The point is
that it was alive and breathing. And James would see things. I would see
things. We would talk. We talk at the end of the day. We'd look at
dailies. If James talked to the actors, rather than freak out, I was
delighted - it meant one less conversation. (Laughs) If you want to make
films, there should be a delight in communal activity.
Lasdun: That said, though, you become aware as you come on a set that you're
entering an atmosphere of heightened and extremely intensified cross
(Nossiter bellows deep laughter.)
Lasdun: Anything you do or say is amplified massively, so you'd be a fool to
do or say anything that wasn't very carefully considered. You know, I
didn't say. That was the right thing.
Nossiter: Well, that's actually not. . . You're a naturally discreet presence,
but the point is you and I talked a lot.
Lasdun: Yeah, but we talked in private.
Nossiter: But our conversations had meaning, because you were observing, you
were not cut off.
iW: How was it working with David Suchet?
Nossiter: He's a master film actor. And he understood. If David was sitting
where James is, and I had the camera over here, David would just look at
me and say, "Jonathon, what lens?" And I'd tell him and he immediately
knew what the frame size was, he knew how to judge. He would then, it's
not just knowing it, it's then doing something with it. He then
understood how to calibrate the inflection of his elbow in relation to
the eyebrow, he knew where the eyeball should move, how much the pupil
should dilate. That's characteristic of very, very good English actors.
They have total control of their instrument. What makes David different,
I think, is that there's a sort of wild American streak in him. He's got
heart. There's a kind of fire in him and a willingness to take emotional
chances, to lay himself open and vulnerable. . .
iW: What tradition of filmmaking do you think the film falls into?
Nossiter: A tradition of filmmaking where the people who make the film are
interested in two basic things, human beings to begin with. . . and why
we do the peculiar things we do to each other. Then the second thing is
being concerned about how you convey those problems, being not
concerned, being interested, being excited, taking actual pleasure and
exploring how to convey that. . . .
iW: Do you think that "humanist tradition" is related to a transparent
camera as opposed to one that is invasive?
Nossiter: I do, I do. I talked about [Arthur] Penn and Penn talks about
Kurosawa and Kurosawa talks about Marcel Carne, and, you know, shit, I
mean talking about some rocking filmmakers. People who are
stylistically, spectacularly innovative. I stand by the belief that
"Night Moves" is one of the great America films, but what these people
have done, unlike our shrill contemporaries who maybe have spent too
much time in film school and not enough time living and reading and
looking at paintings. To innovate for its own sake is almost immoral. I
couldn't give a shit if I'm looking at a new technique, if it's a
technique for technique's sake, you know. . . You know what tradition of
filmmaking I think it comes out of? Actually Homer. Homer is the first