As part of the publicity tour to promote his newest film “Only God Forgives” receiving a domestic release on Friday, Nicolas Winding Refn partook in an intimate event at Videology, Brooklyn’s nifty bar/screening room. Guests met at the establishment at 1pm on Sunday afternoon for a screening of Refn’s surreal 2009 viking drama “Valhalla Rising,” followed by a Q&A with the Danish director himself, who then introduced the second feature, the 1971 erotic comedy “The Telephone Book,” which he programmed in the double feature lineup. Although “Valhalla Rising” was the main attraction for the afternoon, Refn’s talk with Village Voice film critic Simon Abrams covered an array of different times in his life and career, as well as inevitably shifting towards “Only God Forgives” and the upcoming projects he currently has in the pipeline. Below are the top five highlights of the talk.
On discovering midnight movies when he moved to New York City:
“I grew up in New York. I came to New York in 1978 when I was eight years old and I spent ten years of my life here. And that was in a period where New York it was creative and there was a lot of diversity, and there were a lot of midnight shows and old cinemas. Of course I was eight in the beginning, but when I became a teenager New York had a lot to offer. I remember going to Cinema Village and seeing double features and midnight shows, so I really like all kinds of film. And I’m dyslexic and I didn’t speak English when I came to America, so the visuals were the only way to communicate to me for a very long time.”
On his penchant for sexuality and violence:
“The use of violence… I guess, every art is an act of violence in a way, it’s a part of an emotional outpour. I don’t really know… I think that violence is a necessity in cinema towards fetish, because emotionally, our artistic expressions consists of sex or violence, it all boils down to those two very pure emotions that we have as human beings. But sexuality is not fantasy, because most of us do it. Violence, on the other hand, is fetish, because it’s fantasy. There is a sexuality to violence that I find very intoxicating. I think that’s just what turns me on.”
“I met Jodorowksy four years ago in Paris, and that was pretty groovy. And I went to his house for a tarot reading and dinner. I remember my question was, ‘should I do ‘Drive’?’ And he gave me a tarot reading and said, ‘You will travel with this movie.’ So I took that as a yes, and then we became quite close friends. I’ve always admired his work, mostly because if you’re ever in creative doubt or if you feel you’re getting too secure, just watch a Jodorowsky movie. What’s interesting about him is that he goes against all kinds of conventions of what filmmaking is supposed to be. Then he christened me his spiritual son some years ago, which was kind of bizarre. And then it became a kind of routine thing for me to go and see him in Paris. And one night he said, ‘do you wanna see ‘Dune’?’ And I go ‘Well, you never made it.’ And he goes ‘Ahh, but I did.’ And then he showed me this storybook, which had every single frame from his version. So I had him narrate it to me at midnight, so it was like a midnight screening of ‘Dune.'”
On deciding to do his upcoming “Barbarella” TV series and all-female horror film “I Walk With The Dead:”
“Well, I always set out wanting to make films about women, but it always ends up being about men. Maybe it was because I was afraid of women when I was younger, and I’ve only had one girlfriend in my life besides my wife. I certainly admire women a lot, and the way I present them they’re never tortured, never abused, never degraded. But certainly a lot of my male characters have issue with them, and there’s the sense of homoeroticism with the violence and all those things. I think after ‘Only God Forgives,’ my reason for wanting to do ‘Barbarella’ and an all-female film afterwards is basically I have to force myself to do something else. Maybe it’s because I don’t know how to write them.”
On how he stays optimistic in the industry and maintains creative control over his films:
“Because, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t survive. There has to be an optimus to what you do. You’re making these kinds of films because the film industry has changed so much in just the past ten years, because television has basically taken all genres of theatrical movies and translated it into episodic television. So it’s a struggle to make these films, but the process and the joy of it is tremendous, if you get to do what you want to do. And that all comes down to your budgets. Creative freedom, you can have that in contracts, but if your movie doesn’t make back its money, then that’s it, it’s over, you’ll never come back. So really, it’s all about how little can you make a movie? Every time I make a movie, I sit down and I think ‘What can I get?’ Not, ‘What do I want?’ And usually between one and three million dollars, you can apply for some soft money in Europe with a combination of sales, I can live in that one to three million dollar range, and then do the kinds of films I want to make. And you have to do that with joy, because if you don’t, you’ll have a fucking miserable life.”
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