By Indiewire | Indiewire October 19, 1998 at 2:0AM
Abel Ferrara Jams with "New Rose Hotel"
by A.G. Basoli
Rough at the edges and occasionally reporter-shy (read hostile),
maverick director Ferrara is in New York for the Hamptons Film Festival,
where his latest film, "New Rose Hotel" had its US premiere last
Saturday. Ferrara's apartment looks like a war-zone. "We were editing
here," explains Kevin, one of his collaborators, "They just took the
machines out." Ferrara is hard to pinpoint on account of the mess -
he's supervising the cleaning - and on account of the strap. He's
missing the strap to one of his guitars. He's got one classic and two
acoustic, one bass, one keyboard and a harmonica. He constantly
shuffles around in between songs looking for articles and reviews he
wants to show me. (Variety called the movie "a well-made and fiercely
well-performed erotic drama.") And he's still looking for the good
strap. When he gets to the harmonica - which was hard to find - he's
ready for the blues and the interview is over.
Later that night in the quasi-neat apartment, the harmonica goes to "New
Rose Hotel" star, Willem Dafoe who's dropped by for a late night jam
session with pals Leonardo Di Caprio and Benicio Del Toro. Annabella
Sciorra also stops in. DiCaprio is unplugged at the bass, because
Ferrara ran out of cables. But with relentless commitment, DiCaprio
keeps playing, and turning to me to double check, "You can feel my
share, right?" Del Toro plays the rapt audience member while Ferrara,
at the guitar and vocals, vies with harmonica fiend Dafoe to send the
energy through the roof. The place is rocking. Really, this actually
happened. Things happen quickly in the world of Abel Ferrara.
So pay close attention to his new film, "New Rose Hotel." You'll be
easily seduced by the lush visuals and the razor-sharp pacing. And
combined with the film's rigorous form, it will send you into sensory
overload. But don't lose sight of the narrative, based on a short story
by cyberpunk pere William Gibson, or you'll miss the point of the film
which Ferrara, who wickedly turns the tables on you three quarters into
the movie, delivers at the end with a kick in the solar-plexus. Before
the jam session, indieWIRE spoke to Ferrara about flashbacks, his
previous film, "Blackout," Asia Argento, William Gibson, Katherine
Bigelow, and the rest is anybody's guess.
indieWIRE: What's the first thing you saw in Gibson's story that made
you want to make the movie?
Abel Ferrara: You read the story?
iW: I read the story.
Ferrara: If you were a director, would you want to make that film?
Ferrara: What did you see first?
iW: The challenge - because you had to navigate the cyber lingo and at
the same time you were telling the story of this man which is deeply
human and full of longing. I was wondering if the language got in the
way at all?
Ferrara: There's none of it in there. It's all bullshit. It's not in
iW: What do you mean?
Ferrara: It's not in there. People think it's there so they expect it
to be there, all the cyberstuff you're talking about, there is
none...there is none.
iW: But it is there just enough to confuse you.
Ferrara: There's none at all. The confusion is people think it's
there. There's not one cyber anything. Zaibatsu is a corporation - a
Japanese word for corporation.
iW: But the story is all broken up in the man's memory?
Ferrara: It's all in flashback which is tough to do and I chose not to
Ferrara: He gets to the New Rose Hotel when he gets to the hotel in the
order of the story. When I was writing the story I immediately
realized, first of all I don't like flashbacks, okay? They're stupid. I
was going to be the director of "Carlito's Way" which is all in
flashbacks. The problem with flashbacks is you know the guy is alive.
You're making a movie, it's an action film. Any action film the
suspense is: "is your guy - the guy you're with - is he going to live or
die," right? If he's telling the story, what does that tell you?
iW: That he's alive.
Ferrara: There is no suspense at all. You took away all the suspense in
the movie. The suspense is all gone. The guy is alive! So any situation
you put in him where you have nana-neno-nana-neno (The Driller Killer
theme) there's no nana-nene-neno-nana...the guy is alive how could
anybody with any brains do that...that's always an amateur. Marty
Bregman that did that. The minute you see Pacino at the end of the
movie on that gurney you know he's survived every event in the movie. So
there's no suspense. Even the short story starts like it's not a
suspense story, Gibson's story, he's not telling it as a suspense
story. He's just talking about a woman who fucked him over -- he's not
telling it as suspense, but you can't make a movie in America like
that. You've got to give people a movie. That was in the movie for
what twenty minutes? So he had a nervous breakdown -- they hated it.
Did you see the Variety review?
Ferrara: I showed the movie for the first time in Venice, and it was
the first time I saw the movie myself. Just so I could see the movie
in front of an audience. And as a special gift I get to read the
Variety review. It was totally amazing.
iW: So when did you decide that you were not going to do it in
flashback, was it a gut instinct?
Ferrara: As I was writing the script.
iW: Did you at any point speak with Gibson when you were working on the
Ferrara: Did you see "Blackout"?
iW: It wasn't released in the States.
Ferrara: It was released all over the world.
iW: Not in the States. I live in NY. I don't live all over the world.
Ferrara: We had a screening two days ago in NY. An incredible
screening. "Blackout" opened in 250 theaters in France it opened in
Germany, in Italy. Did you see Lolita?
iW: Yes, the Kubrick version.
Ferrara: The new version.
iW: The new version wasn't released until now.
Ferrara: You know why it wasn't released?
iW: Because of the pedophilia?
Ferrara: Because it was an X-rated film. Because of the rating.
iW: Is "Blackout" going to get released?
iW: Are you going to cut parts of it?
Ferrara: No, I'm not going to cut it all.
iW: So you'll get one rating at one point and one rating at another?
Ferrara: I'm not going to get a rating.
iW: You're just going to release it.
Ferrara: Yeah, it'll go out on HBO or go out on tape or something. It
was already released all over the world. A major release. What I'm
saying is this film is exactly the same as the "New Rose Hotel." I was
making the same exact movie.
iW: In what way?
Ferrara: In terms of the man and his relationship with the woman.
iW: Would you say that "Blackout" was a preparation for "New Rose
Ferrara: Absolutely. It's the same movie. In "Blackout" everything the
guy remembers is wrong -- the guy does drugs, therefore he's always
stoned. Nothing he remembers is straight out. So in "New Rose Hotel"
is the opposite. Our guy remembers everything straight out, he's not a
stoned out wacko. He didn't even drink...you don't even see Defoe take
a drink. He's exact, he was trained, a CIA agent, everything he
remembered was exactly the same. Sometimes it was the same take.
iW: But he doesn't want to believe what he remembers.
Ferrara: It's like the people reading Gibson and seeing the cyberpunk
stuff that isn't there. He's doing the exact same thing. When she asks
him to marry her, he says "We got a job to do, we owe it to Fox. We
have to go all the way with what we said we were going to do, when we're
done I'll marry you," and that's what he goes over and over in his mind
and he knows he lived up to his friend, that he didn't sell his guy
out. He says I'll marry you but first let's do what we said we were
going to do. So is he going to torture himself forever over that? Sure
he could have said let's get married, fuck Fox, he would have been all
right. But he couldn't have done that, he wasn't going to double up on
his guy, but his own guy would have wanted him to double him up. Fox's
authorization "stick it up my ass, take the chick, take the money and
everybody's happy, now look what happened asshole, we're both dead, at
least one of us would have been rich. You're being righteous and
everybody gets fucked." You follow? It was a big mistake. You don't put
all your heat in one kitchen. The president and the vice president are
never in the same place at the same time -- they never eat the same
food out of the same kitchen. But instead of jumping on a mistake the
chick could have been there waiting for them to come... "Come on, how
much money do you want, did we make enough money? Let's go to sleep,
yeah, let's go to sleep, big man! Let's go to sleep"...yeah, fuck you
I'll sleep when I'm dead. Defoe was trying to live like a normal human
being with a normal morality in a world where he was a... a spy with his
own reality. You don't marry those girls, those girls are used for..
those things. If we ever had used the flashback it would have ruined
the whole movie. In the end it doesn't matter if you're high or you
don't get high when you're dealing with bitches you get fucked.
iW: Okay. (Pause) But in the end we still don't know if he got done in
Ferrara: Well the question is did she kill Hiroshi - the Japanese
scientist - or not?
iW: That's what I'm asking.
Ferrara: Did she kill Hiroshi or was she an innocent and she's dead
too. So is she dead or she's a killer?
iW: That's what I want to know.
Ferrara: That's what I'm asking you and that's what I'm asking the
iW: How did you meet Asia Argento?
Ferrara: When you go down to the list, I wanted someone with experience,
when you're looking for 20-22 year-old girls, there aren't too
many...Asia has been acting since she was eight. Her father is the
Italian director Dario Argento.
iW: Why did you pick her?
Ferrara: Cause she was so special. We went through different people
before we got to Asia, we saw the girl from "The 5th element" Milla
Jovovich. She was gorgeous.
iW: Did you talk to Gibson when you were working on the movie?
Ferrara : They started off by buying the short story for Kathy Bigelow,
she then took Gibson and demoralized him. When she got through with
this guy, he didn't even know his own name. She killed him. When I
talked to Gibson, I said you want to help? He said if you need me you're
in bad shape. She had him thinking he couldn't write a script, that he
was useless. Believe me I don't know how this guy even survived that.
She wanted her way. You should read the script he wrote for this if it
wasn't called "New Rose Hotel." You wouldn't know what the Hell it
was. Then they got rid of him, they didn't want him around anymore.
Then they were going to do the version with Schwarzenegger and they put
in 300K for this Creative Artists writer out of LA and were gonna write
it as an action movie and get Schwarzenegger to play it.
How can you make this an action film? The guy, Fox, is a cripple but
they wanted to make it an action film. Then in the middle of this,
Bigelow walks. She gets the job on "Strange Days". . . So I take the
book home anyway and when I read it I knew we were fucked. Cause it was
great and I knew I had to do it. But they wanted to make a cheap action
movie. So I said guys when you make a movie totally based on the
book...it took us four years. At this point they're in 1 mil because
they had to keep the rights. I get Walken - I get Zoist to write it -
and I get Defoe. Now we're talking.
iW: Four years?
Ferrara: Yes in the meantime I did "Dangerous Game", "The Addiction",
"The Funeral" and "Blackout."
iW: What's happening with the distribution for the film in the US?
Ferrara: Yeah, we just finished it, you know, so they're seeing it for
the first time.
iW: Have there been offers?
Ferrara: Yeah. There have been offers.
iW: Can you tell me who?
Ferrara: Right now...I don't want to tell you about it.
iW: How did you finance the film?
Ferrara: Our film was financed by foreign distribution, just, you know,
foreign presales, then Germany, France, Japan, and Ed Pressman his
iW: What are you working on next?
Ferrara: Several things. I'm working on a screenplay, then there's a
story I wrote...you know whatever flies, whatever gets financed first
[A. G. Basoli is an actress and freelance writer in NYC. She writes for
indieWIRE, NY Independent Film Monitor and is a correspondent for the
Italian culture & entertainment monthly "Sipario".]