fountain-tree

When Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain was released in 2006, didn’t perform very well commercially or critically. But in the intervening years, the film has become somewhat of a cult hit, thriving on DVD and online streaming as more people have discovered it and attempted to plumb its depths.

I remember my first experience seeing the film in theaters. I was blown away by the raw performances, the gorgeous space/cell imagery, and the way Aronofsky seamlessly blended these three parallel storylines together. But many things also confused me. In my attempts to figure out what was actually going on, I realized that people actually had multiple interpretations of the film, several of which I just didn’t buy due to the evidence in the movie.

What follows is a video essay that represents my best attempt at explaining the events of the film. Find it after the jump and share your own theories in the comments.
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UPDATE: On The Tree of Life and another, separate Malick project here.

Today brings a rare update on legendary director Terrence Malick‘s forthcoming epic, The Tree of Life, that is quite the internet-tickler. Tacked for release sometime this year, the film stars Sean Penn, with Brad Pitt in a flashback role originally intended for Heath Ledger, and now apparently features meditative scenes with dinosaurs. The news arrives via a print-only excerpt in the latest issue of Empire

“We’re just starting work on a project for Terrence Malick, animating dinosaurs, the film is The Tree of Life. It’ll be shooting in IMAX—so the dinosaurs will actually be life size — and the shots of the creatures will be long and lingering.” – Visual Effects artist Mike Fink (X2, Mars Attacks, Project X)

The above quote first surfaced at HE, where Jeff Wells explains that Malick, who also wrote the script, is incorporating prehistoric themes from a decades-defunct passion project called Q. The film is listed in post-production, and it remains unclear if the dino-scenes (and possibly others) were shot in the newly-embraced IMAX format a la The Dark Knight. Back in 2007, when Pitt’s casting was first announced, we described the project as…

In one version of the screenplay, the story opened with “a sleeping god, underwater, dreaming of the origins of the universe, starting with the big bang and moving forward, as fluorescent fish swam into the deity’s nostrils and out again.” Malick supposedly wanted to create something that has never been seen before, and dispatched cameramen all over the world. They shot micro jellyfish on the Great Barrier Reef volcanic explosions on Mount Edna, and ice shelves breaking off in Antarctica. special effects consultant Richard Taylor describes sections of the script as “pages of poetry, with no dialogue, glorious visual descriptions.”

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/FilmCast

In this special episode of the /Filmcast, Dan Trachtenberg from The Totally Rad Show joins David Chen to geek out about their favorite soundtracks. To listen to all of the songs that Dan mentioned during this episode in their entirety, click here to go to Grooveshark. To listen to all of the songs that Dave Chen mentioned during this episode, click here.

Like what you hear? Want to hear similar episodes in the future? Send feedback to slashfilmcast(AT)gmail(DOT)com or call and leave a voicemail at 781-583-1993. One correction to note: the last track that is played, “Fantasia on a Theme By Thomas Tallis” was composed by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Eugene Ormany, who we mention, conducts the orchestral performance.

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Update: Some people have reported experiencing audio problems with this sound file. Please try downloading the file to your computer, rather than playing it in your browser. That should fix the problem (If it does not, shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment below). Thanks!
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Interview: Darren Aronofsky Part 5

Last month, I had another chance to sit down and talk with Darren Aronofsky, the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, about his new film The Wrestler. We’re going to call this part five because it continues the series of interviews regarding The Wrestler that began at the Toronto International Film Festival (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). You can read the fourth part, which was on the site yesterday, at this link. In the fifth and final part of our Wrestler series, I talk to Aronofsky about 3D, IMAX, High Definition filmmaking, The Fighter, Robocop, Watchmen, hopes for a 5.1 audio remix of Pi and more.

Q: The crumbling ballroom, when and how did you find that place?

Darren Aronofsky: We were scouting Asbury Park. I was like Evan Rachel Wood in the movie. I looked through the crack. I said, “What the hell’s that space?” I could see it through the crack. I was, “Let’s get in there.” We actually never scouted it until we actually shot it. We didn’t have that type of budget. I saw it and  was like, “Get me permission to get in there. That’s the location. Let’s get in there.” On the day of we had permission to go in. I think actually Bruce [Springsteen] might own it. I think he’s bought up, through a corporation, a lot of Asbury Park and they’re redoing it. I don’t know. I’m not sure. You may have to fact check that. That’s what I’ve heard. It’s an old casino. It says casino on the outside. I don’t know if it was a gambling casino or what it was, but it’s just this beautiful space.

Q: It looks like a ballroom.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes. That’s why we improvised the dance. I walked in there and I said, “Mickey, are you going to ask Evan to dance?” Mickey doesn’t like to dance. I was like, “Are you going to waltz? You’re going to waltz. You’re going to waltz here.” He’s like, “I can’t waltz.” I’m like, “I’ll teach you how to waltz.” So there’s a video of me teaching Mickey how to waltz, which is a pretty embarrassing video. I said, “Let’s just give it a shot and see what happens.” I wanted something. It was very much like that scene in Requiem when they break into the building and they go to the roof and they set off the alarm and all that stuff. In the script it was actually, I think it was a snowball fight they had, something silly. I think originally in The Wrestler script they were going to go play skee-ball. Then we realized Asbury Park doesn’t have skee-ball. Then we turned it into a snowball fight. Then it didn’t snow. I was like, “Okay, they need to do something that’s kind of silly and endearing.” That night we saw that space and I said, “All right. They’ll just break in here and do something illegal and then do something touching.” I remember afterwards, Evan walked away and she was sobbing. She had some personal connection with her own life, which is her story to tell. But she really resisted at the beginning. But then afterwards really was glad that she did it. Those things happen.

Q: It seems like much of the process of making this film was you making Mickey do things that he doesn’t want to do and laughing about it.

Darren Aronofsky: There’s a certain amount of that. Mickey is definitely a coaster. He’ll put his feet up on the table and just sort of– He’s like that kid in high school who did no work and got B+’s the whole time, because he’s got so much talent that he’s able to do it. Yes, it was pushing Mickey a lot. My biggest accomplishment on the film was that he wears no sunglasses in the entire movie. Every day Mickey showed up with a pair of sunglasses and it was about convincing him that they don’t want to see the sunglasses. “Mickey, people want to look at your eyes. That’s why they’re paying money. That’s why they’re here.” He knows that. He’s so much armor and he’s so soft inside. Did you meet him yet?

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Interview: Darren Aronofsky – Part 4

Last month, I had another chance to sit down and talk with Darren Aronofsky, the director of Pi, Requiem for a Dream, and The Fountain, about his new film The Wrestler. Part of the interview was a small two-person roundtable, so some of the answers might repeat some of the material we covered in Toronto interview (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Darren decided to give up 20 minutes of his lunch break to continue our talk 1:1. We’re going to call this part four because it continues the series of interviews regarding The Wrestler. We’ll have the last one or two parts (I’m still not sure if the remainder will be split) in the next couple days.

Q: I hope this is not a stupid question. Imagine you’re a film critic and you’ve seen Darren Aronofsky’s new film, The Wrestler. It’s great but you’re not quite sure how it’s fitting in in the grand scheme of the Darren Aronofsy touch. How would you fit that in if you were in a film critic position?

Darren Aronofsky: For me, I talked to Peter a little bit about this. The first three films were definitely a chapter for me. I don’t know, maybe it’s a new beginning. Some people have sort of talked about thematic connections between them. I think they’re there, not that I was that conscious of them, but some people bring them up and I’m like hmmm… that’s pretty interesting.

Q: I think there’ a couple of shots I–

Darren Aronofsky: Not even shots, but like even themes about the characters seem to connect to people. I got a lot of characters falling at the end or something like that. I don’t know. I just want to keep challenging myself. I think that this was definitely a real big risk for me in a lot of ways. In some ways it wasn’t. It was such a small film. But in other ways I was just trying to do something completely different and working with a completely different team of filmmakers and working in a completely different way of approaching filmmaking. It just kept it interesting for me. Now I’m kind of excited to keep challenging myself in new ways and seeing what happens. I think it’s important. You’ve got to keep it interesting somehow. Otherwise, I’m going to end up just hanging out or fishing or something.

Q: Your first two films are very stylistic. Not to say that The Fountain wasn’t. But it seems like in the last two you’ve become more minimalist or possibly more traditional in your style. Was that a specific choice on your part?

Darren Aronofsky: I think the first two films were exercises in subjective filmmaking and pushing that to the extreme, trying to figure out every possible technique to put an audience member into the characters’ heads. Pi was constructed that way because I had a limited budget and that became kind of the strategy of how to turn that limited budget into a strength. It was to really cut back on cutting away to the bad guys and really making a whole visual language that was all about pushing the audience into Max Cohen’s head. Requiem, a big reason that I was attracted to it is when I read the novel, I realized that Selby’s a very subjective writer and constantly going into fantasy and to dream. It would allow me to kind of expand on the thing I was doing in Pi, but with a bigger budget and color and with more time and with four characters. So when I read that opening scene of the novel and I saw the mom locked in the closet and the kid stealing the TV, I instantly had this idea of a split screen sort of showing the audience, “Oh, we’re going to see two very personal stories here from two different perspectives.” Then eventually it opened up into four perspectives. They were really exercises and really pushing subjective filmmaking. When I got to The Fountain, it was kind of a transition. I was definitely done with that as an exploration and also the subject matter of The Fountain was much more– It was a romance and it allowed me to move more towards the objective, although I still kind of played a little bit with getting into Tommy’s head and into his reality. It was kind of a transition and kind of expanding my style, I guess. I think getting to The Wrestler was really just going in the completely opposite direction. Basically, the film is 98 percent objective. It’s like a documentary. I call it proactive documentary, because I think in a real documentary everything is reactive. If you’re watching Cops and a guy runs away and then a second later the camera chases after the guy and goes after him, we didn’t have that second delay. We kind of knew what the scene was about and we knew where Mickey or Marisa was going to go. So we were able to choreograph that. We kind of had this proactive style where we were working with the actor to give a documentary feeling, allow realism to happen, but we were ready for it. There’s no really internal sound stuff, except for maybe two or three times I used it, which was like during the heart attacks and when he’s walking to the deli counter and the crowd comes up. Otherwise, besides that, there’s never a personal sound beat. I kind of really didn’t want to do that, but I couldn’t resist. It’s actually a little weak. People responded to those moments, I think

Q: Maybe it works that there’s only two of them.

Darren Aronofsky: Yes, but I’m a very orthodox filmmaker in the sense that I try to be very strict with my rules, because I think it adds to the language. I think sometimes it’s okay to bend the rules for a good moment. It’s just a growth. I don’t know how it answers your question, but [my] style is changing.

Q: I thought you were going to say that Mickey Rourke wouldn’t let you strap a camera to him. (joking

Darren Aronofsky: He probably would have. I didn’t do that in The Fountain, because I was just kind of done with that. Every music video and commercial ended up doing it after us, so it was like enough.

More after the jump.

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In this episode of the /Filmcast, Dave, Devindra and Adam discuss their apprehensiveness about a Crow remake, ponder the cheesiness of the X-Men Origins: Wolverine trailer, and debate the choice of Chris Weitz to take over New Moon. Special guests Neha Tiwari and Laremy Legel (from the Film.com podcast) join us. Devin Faraci from CHUD also joins us to report from Butt-Numb-A-Thon and explains the use of the term “Watchmen” in the new film.

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Aronofsky’s Noah To Become Graphic Novel Before Film?

When Darren Aronofsky was 13-years-old, he won a United Nations poetry competition at his Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn school for a poem about the end of the world as seen through the eyes of Noah. And so started Aronofsky’s obsession with the biblical figure. In September we talked to Aronofsky about his idea for a film based on Noah:

“It’s the end of the world and it’s the second most famous ship after the Titanic. So I’m not sure why any studio won’t want to make it,” said Aronofsky. “I think it’s really timely because it’s about environmental apocalypse which is the biggest theme, for me, right now for what’s going on on this planet. So I think it’s got these big, big themes that connect with us. Noah was the first environmentalist. He’s a really interesting character. Hopefully they’ll let me make it.”

Now Aronofsky tells RopesofSilicon that they have a “big movie star” attached, but wouldn’t reveal his name.

“We have a script actually, it is a script but there is more work to do. We’re actually going to do a graphic novel of it right now, we’re just starting it, and we’re hiring a writer,” Aronofsky said. “Eventually we’ll set it up, but we’re just figuring it out. It’s a very difficult film to get made and we’re slowly working on it to get it put together.”

This isn’t the first time that Aronofsky has turned to the world of comics. His initial version of The Fountain was released in graphic novel form by Vertigo Comics in 2005 after Brad Pitt left the project high and dry. Speaking of which, last week Darren told MTV that he would like to revisit The Fountain, and create an alternative cut with “with the addition of unused footage from the first go-round.” We, like many others were confused. Thankfully FirstShowing was able to talk to Aronofsky further about the idea.

“It’s something more for fans. I worked on the film for 6 years and it went through a lot of versions. And there was one version that was much closer to one of the scripts that we had. And we kind of chose between which way we would go with it and they both are kind of interesting. So I was always curious for myself to see what that alternative version would be. And we cut it actually recently, it’s done.” … “It’s very similar but it’s looking at a few things in a few different ways and answers a few questions for people and raises some new questions in other ways.”

The Fountain underperformed at the box office but has been gaining traction on DVD/Blu-ray. Hopefully Warner Bros might see enough demand to warrent a special edition release complete with alternative cut.

Darren Aronofsky Wants to Recut The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky tells MTV that he would like to revisit The Fountain at some point.

“It wouldn’t be a ‘director’s cut,’” he said — more like an alternate story told with the addition of unused footage from the first go-round. This would be a complicated project on a couple of levels, though, and it’s at least a few years away.”

For those who don’t remember, Brad Pitt pulled out of Aronofsky’s first attempt at filming The Fountain weeks before filming was supposed to begin. The eventual 2006 film was created with a smaller budget and different stars. They way I’ve understood it, scenes were changed and dropped due to the budgetary reasons (you can actually see something close to Aronofsky’s original vision of The Fountain in comic form) but I wasn’t aware that any footage had been shot from that initial effort. The film was passed over when it was released, but has found a growing cult following on DVD.

A revisited cut would be awesome, but my first thought is that Warner Bros won’t put the money up to make it happen. But who knows… The current DVD is a barebones release, and as the film’s popularity grows, there will be a growing demand for a special edition (finally combining the commentary Aronofsky recorded and put online). And with the evolution into a new format (Blu-ray), it might be a good idea for Warners to explore. Either way, it sounds like it might be years away.

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