Paul Schrader has had a long and illustrious career as both a director and a writer and he is back behind the camera for his new movie Adam Resurrected.
The movie is based on a sixties novel and stars Jeff Goldblum and I caught up with the filmmaker to talk about the film and what lies ahead.
- Adam Resurrected is about to be released on DVD so for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie can you tell me a little bit about it?
It’s from a novel by Yoram Kaniuk and it is about a man who survives the concentration camps by becoming the commandant’s dog and later he is found in a mental institution in Israel.
I like to describe it as a man who once was a dog who meets a dog who once was a boy because whilst in the mental hospital he comes across a feral boy and they recognise each other as dogs.
- The movie is an adaptation of the novel of the same name as you have mentioned so how did you become involved in the project and what drew you to it?
Well the producer Ehud Bleiberg had read the book during the Lebanon war and became passionate about it and had wanted to get it made. He found himself a German partner and they had developed the script which they offered to me.
As soon as I read it I knew that I wanted to do it, not because I am Jewish or that the world needs yet another Holocaust movie but because of the boldness of the metaphor of the man and the dog.
But I also wanted to do it because of the kind of black humour of it. The book was very controversial in Israel because it doesn’t take a reverential attitude towards the Holocaust - it doesn’t look down at the floor and say ’oh those poor people’ it takes a much more aggressive and at times a black comic view.
As I said this metaphor of the man, the dog and the boy is absolutely original to me and, in fact, the title of the book in Hebrew is Adam Son of Dog; Adam also means man in Hebrew so it’s actually Man Son of Dog.
- You have touched on my next question really the movie does use a lot of black humour throughout and I was wondering how much that was a draw for you or how important that was for you to tackle the project?
Without that I don’t think I would have been interested and without it would be another ‘oh wasn’t that terrible’ movie and I have seen that movie a number of times, we all have. Because this was a movie about a clown, he calls himself a clown but he is really an entertainer, it takes a clown’s point of view to these horrific events.
- The film stars Jeff Goldblum. Willem Dafoe and Derek Jacobi so can you tell me a little bit about the casting process?
Well as soon as I read the script I said to myself ‘Jeff Goldblum was born to play this role’ because he has those skills. We went to a number other actors and every time that we got turned down I would say to the producer ‘Jeff Goldblum was born to play this role’. And eventually that argument won the day.
- And Jeff Goldblum takes on the central role of Adam so what did he bring to this role?
He is by nature a kind of comic, he is entertainer but he is also a very very good actor - but he doesn’t have that serious persona, which is what I though was important here. I also liked the fact that he was Jewish of course but you so often see Holocaust characters played by non Jews.
- In an interview that I was reading Jeff said that being able to work with you was the reason that he did this movie so how did you find working him?
He was extraordinary well prepared, two years before we did it I said ‘we should read the script through together’ and he came over to my hotel and he didn’t have a script with him and I said ‘it doesn’t matter we will both have to read from mine’ and he said ‘no I got it’.
He had committed the entire role including the narration to memory two years before we started shooting.
- So what sort of research did you do as you prepared for this movie?
Well this is not a terribly realistic movie, it takes place in a mental hospital in the middle of the Negev desert but it’s an imaginary hospital as the first hospital for survivors in Israel was built in the 1980’s while this book was written in the sixties.
If you look at the names Dr Big and Commandant Little and Mr Man -the book is full of magic realism. The book is much more complex than the film, in fact there are two different characters of Adam Stein; there’s Adam and his brother and you don’t know which is which.
The ending of the film occurs in the middle of the book and Adam is having sex with the commandant’s wife as a dog and you don’t know if this happened or not - the book is much grander and more baffling that the film. To turn this into realistic images we had to diminish the book.
-The Holocaust can be quite a touchy subject so how have you found the reaction to the movie?
Yoram (author of the book) has a reputation in Israel of being a provocateur and in fact this book really wasn’t accepted by the Israeli’s until it was accepted in Europe and America. There is a whole section of the Jewish community that feels like this is sacrilege but we were prepared for that but not as much as I thought.
It was not a too dissimilar situation in certain areas to The Last Temptation of Christ as a highly imaginative novel about a subject that many people consider sacred.
- You have worked as both a writer and a director for many years now do you prefer creating characters and a story as a writer or bringing a story to life on film as a director?
I like both because they are very different pleasures. Writing you are in absolute control; the weather is always what you want it to be and the actors a re always terrific but it gets lonely.
Directing is very communal but you are at the mercy of realistic forces such as finances and human beings - so it’s nice to go back and forth between the two.
- Over the last few years we have seen a whole host of movie actors, writers and directors move into TV so how much is the world of TV something that interests you either as a writer or a director?
I just did a pilot for HBO and Scorsese. There has been a migration for talent to long form television and if you are a serious writer then that is where you are heading as the world or theatrical is collapsing and dividing itself into big budget spectacles and micro-budget intimate stories.
I don’t think you can make a film like Adam Resurrected anymore; it cost $11 million to make and today they would give you at most $3-4 million for that film.
- Penning the script for Taxi Driver in the mid seventies really did put you on the map what do you think it is about this movie and the central character that has made it endure?
I think that he was the real thing, I wrote the script as self-therapy and it worked as self therapy. Then several years later Scorsese and De Niro come to it and we all recognised this kid we knew him and there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about who he was.
So it was just the serendipity of the three of us meeting over this material and actually doing something that still strikes people as the real thing.
- During your career you have worked with a whole host of directors and actors so is there anyone in a particular that you enjoyed working with - I did read that you enjoyed your time with Nick Nolte?
Oh yeah I like Nick a lot but I also like Jeff a lot. It really comes down to the material - if the actor is doing good work and it’s good material that is the greatest feeling that there is.
If you have the wrong actor, no matter what their talent or personality, then it is a horrible experience.
- There is a whole host of new and exciting talent coming along so is there anyone who you would like to work with?
Oh yeah. Basically anyone who can help me get a film financed, I know that is kind of facetious, I was going to do a film with a young actor called Anton Yelchin - the film fell through but I would still like to work with him.
- The Oscars are just around the corner have you got a tip on who is going to win?
I think everyone knows that -it’s not that much of a mystery anymore. I don’t take the Oscars very seriously and never have and I think that spending too much time worrying about that gives them a power that don’t have or shouldn’t have.
They are not really reflective of quality in any given year - very rarely does a movie that you think is the best become the best so I can’t give it that kind of credibility. I do vote but I try to spend between two to three minutes voting (laughs).
- Finally what’s next for you?
I have got two things on the go - one is a kind of micro-budget movie and then a bigger budget film next year in New Zealand, but that one hasn’t been announced yet and I don’t want to steal the thunder of the producers by talking about.
Adam Resurrected is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw