AN INTERVIEW WITH SIMON RUMLEY (PART 1 OF 2)


Simon Rumley is a British filmmaker who for nearly two decades now has been making 'extreme dramas' in his own, uncompromising, dark, twisted, experimental style. His credits include THE LIVING AND THE DEAD (2006), RED WHITE & BLUE (2010), 60 SECONDS OF SOLITUDE IN YEAR ZERO (2011), and JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT'S LAST WORD (2016). His latest two films are FASHIONISTA (2016) and CROWHURST (2017), the latter executive produced by Nicolas Roeg and the former dedicated to him and made in his style. FASHIONISTA is a bold, experimental, supremely dark drama that gradually reveals its secrets and becomes more disturbing and poignant. CROWHURST tells the true story of Donald Crowhurst, an amateur sailor who in 1968 entered an around the world  yacht race and was never seen again. In the first part of a two part interview, I spoke with Rumley about the films he loved growing up, his early short films, and how his love of Nicolas Roeg impacted upon CROWHURST and FASHIONISTA.

What films did you love growing up? 
I was a child of the VHS revolution. In the village where I grew up there was a video shop near my Dad's office. I would go there once a week to rent a film, sometimes with my parents and sometimes alone. Back then, films definitely had certificates but nobody really cared what an 11 or 12 year old boy took out. It could be something incredibly violent or a 'video nasty'. I saw everything from THE CHAMP (1978) and KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) to THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), TAXI DRIVER (1976) and THE EVIL DEAD (1981). I had no idea what I was renting. I would just look at the cover and think ''That looks cool. '' On the other hand, I would also go the cinema and see fairly commercial fare. I was a big fan of the John Hughes films. I remember seeing HOOPER (1978) with my Dad, STAR WARS (1977), STAND BY ME (1986) and films like that. As I got into my late teens I started erring towards slightly darker stuff and horror films but not exclusively. I was into Clive Barker and films like HELLRAISER (1987), which left a strong impression on me.

When did you first start to develop a taste for darker films? 
I think I've always been attracted to the dark side. When I was about 11, my maths teacher showed the class THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) because he couldn't be bothered to teach! He also showed us ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979). Another time on a barge holiday, when I was probably even younger, I watched THE OMEN (1976) late at night on TV. My parents wouldn't have let me stay up that late to watch it at home. We watched it on an embankment in Windsor was literally a hundred meters from where someone had been murdered weeks before. All of these things affected me in various ways and I guess I was being introduced to the best horror films at a very young age. There always seemed to be a lot of foreign films on TV too, and a lot of Bunuel. Foreign films were always attractive because they quite often had a bit of nudity!

When did you begin making short films? 
When I was 19, sometime in my second year of college, I literally woke up and thought ''I want to be a film director. '' After that there was nothing else I was interested in really. I went to University and studied Law but I didn't have a burning ambition to be a lawyer, although my parents would have liked it if I had become one. I borrowed a Super 8 camera from the Film Club at University and made my first short film, which like most of my short films had no dialogue. It was about a guy ditching his girlfriend for a hairdryer. I made another short film, and then for my 21st birthday my parents bought me a video camera, which at that time was relatively unusual because there weren't so many on the market. I made a few short films with that camera, and then after I got a job in London at a post-production edit house I started making 'proper' Super 8 short films with music and some sound design, but still no dialogue. I made my first short film with dialogue in it when I was about 24, and I messed about for another five years making more short films.

Were most of these short films in the horror genre? 
They were more like dark dramas to be honest. I usually describe the kind of films I make as 'extreme dramas'. I did a trilogy called Smiles, Laughter and Insanity, which I shot on Super 8, and were all in black and white. One was about a homeless man with mental issues who was living on the streets of London., another one was about a guy who hires a prostitute to murder him, and the other was just a fairly wacky couple talking. This was around the last hurrah of the American Indie Movement, when Quentin Tarantino did RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), Kevin Smith did CLERKS (1994) and Robert Rodriguez did EL MARIACHI (1992). The filmmaker that inspired me the most was Richard Linklater. I watched SLACKER (1991) and realised that you can make a film practically without a story and still have a film. It was a big influence on what became my first film, STRONG LANGUAGE (2000). My first three films, STRONG LANGUAGE, THE TRUTH GAME (2001) and CLUB LE MONDE (2002), form a loose trilogy like his first three films do. From THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. I have been making the kinds of films I am now better known for.

Where do you think your psychological approach to telling dark stories comes from? 
I don't know, really. It's not like my Dad was a psychiatrist or anything. It must be innate. My psyche is always drawn to darker things. It's something that I am working on changing, but with little luck to be honest. I don't think Steven Spielberg grew up wanting to be a commercial filmmaker. I think he just makes the films he's interested in making.

How much would you say Nicolas Roeg was an influence on your work? You dedicated FASHIONISTA to him, and he executive produced CROWHURST. 
When I was 18 or 19 I was dating a girl who lived in Notting Hill, and sometimes I would stay over and we'd watch films at the Electric Cinema. They always seemed to have Nicolas Roeg films showing. I saw the likes of DON'T LOOK NOW (1973), BAD TIMING (1980) and PERFORMANCE (1970), and loved them. I was a massive Bowie fan, so of course THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH was also big for me. That period from PERFORMANCE to THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH was particularly jaw-dropping. His films are dangerous, very intellectual, psychological and sexual. They're beautiful to look at too. As I made more and more films, I found myself going back to his films and thinking ''I would love to make a film the way he does, but I don't know how he does it. '' That complete non-linear structure and also the subject matters he is attracted to. It was always in the back of my mind that I would make a film in his style.

How did Roeg come on to CROWHURST? 
Mike Riley, the producer on the film, knew him and it was my idea to ask him to come on board. It turned out that in the 70s, in the heyday of his career, Nic had tried to get a film about Donald Crowhurst off the ground. Before I met him I rewatched a lot of his films because it had been a while since I had seen them. I spent a few hours a couple of times in his study discussing the script with him. He gave us some good notes on the movie once he had seen it, and we took them on board.

How did FASHIONISTA come about? 
I thought my next film would be a project called Black Friday, but I got a lukewarm reception when I showed people the script I had written. I tend to get responses that are either ''Wow'' or ''That's a piece of crap'', so I was a bit concerned. I thought long and hard and decided to go back to the drawing board and think about doing a script in the style of Nic. I refashioned and restructured Black Friday into FASHIONISTA.

Did you feel emboldened going forward with FASHIONISTA after working with Roeg? 
Definitely. CROWHURST was a linear script but we did chop and change things around in the edit.That whole section at the end with all the visuals of what might have happened to Crowhurst came from our discussions with Nic. That's actually one of my favorite parts of the film. Going into FASHIONISTA, his films were still very much in my mind and as Black Friday wasn't quite working I thought ''If I'm ever going to do a Nic Roeg movie, now is the time, whilst his spirit is still with me. '' I wasn't quite sure about how to go about writing the script, though. I would have liked to have spent time asking Nic a lot of questions but I didn't want to overstep the boundaries of his generosity. Nic had said to me ''The finished film is never the same as the script'', but actually I am more like Hitchcock in that once I have a script, although we may lose a few scenes or bits of dialogue here and there, what you see on the screen is pretty much the script. If I gave you the script to FASHIONISTA, it's pretty identical to the final film. CROWHURST changed quite a bit, but a lot of that was because of the problems of filming on water. With FASHIONISTA, I sat down for three weeks and wrote it in a non-linear frame of mind. It was quite liberating writing it because I could put whatever I wanted wherever I wanted. I could use the non-linear structure to enhance the drama and the tension. In my opinion, if I had told FASHIONISTA in a linear fashion, it wouldn't have been as exciting. 

Thanks to Chris O'Neill. 

FASHIONISTA is out now digitally in the US and the UK.

CROWHURST is out now in theaters in the UK. 

Simon's website. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2018. All rights reserved.

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