interview by Douglas Eby
for American Movie Classics
"Earlier films were telling good stories, and were less seduced by special effects" notes Susan Sarandon. "It's very easy now, and I come upon it all the time, you just special effect yourself out of a corner when you can't figure out how to resolve something, or the writing fails you" she says.
"There's always something visual to kind of save you. So I think the storytelling has turned that way, to be less character driven."
One of the aspects of both classic and contemporary film that affects audience interest is how they're categorized and identified. "We've gone into this business of labeling films 'political' and it makes it harder for people to get into them, and it's a shame" Sarandon notes."
"Something like 'How Green Was My Valley' was really the story of this family, but always in some kind of context of issues, because that's good storytelling. If that film were done today, it would probably be called a 'political' film. But it was just a good story."
Another impact on our appreciation of classic films is the style of filmed entertainment. "I've got to blame television" Sarandon exclaims. "TV has changed expectations of what they need every so many minutes, in terms of the way things are structured. And I know from reading scripts, the written word has just been devalued, in terms of the executive decision of when to start a project.
"They get the poster and work backward," she adds with a laugh. "And you end up with scripts that kind of have an atmosphere, but they don't have a hook, they don't really have a story, or nobody's really thought it through, or things don't pay off."
Some scripts, she says, can be "like an expanded video game: a lot of confrontations, really interesting kind of characters, but with absolutely no cause and effect in between things."
Sarandon thinks the approach to making films has changed over the past few decades. "Gore Vidal is a friend of mine," she says, "and he was writing in Hollywood, and some of these other amazing writers were writing. Now, you get scripts... when I'm trying to put a project together and they say, Here's your list of writers and here's their credits -- and you look at them, and like six guys all have the same credits, because it goes through so many writers on each project, you don't know who wrote what.
"Everybody's patching in little bits and pieces. You're going through a completely different kind of writing process. When they're putting the movie together, they want names. They don't care if they're the right age, or if it serves the story. They're packaging the 'shoe' that's going to sell."
She admits new films can be "original and surprising and well made" but finds "there's a struggle to get those films up. There are some great films out now. I'm not a Hollywood basher, it's just this is the way the business is. I think as the world has become more corporate, the people making decisions are corporate, as opposed to these eccentric guys that ran the studios before. Whatever their taste was, you got a feeling they loved making movies."
Referring to her children's' film interests, Sarandon finds" They don't want to watch stuff in black and white, so we have to force them, and when we do, they love them. This summer we were in Vancouver, when Tim was doing 'Mission to Mars,' and we were renting films, because the kids are not really allowed to watch TV much.
"So we looked at 'Tootsie,' and 'All the President's Men,' and 'Heaven Can Wait.' Films I hadn't seen in years and years. And we had a pretty high success rate. I said, look, just start watching them and if they don't grab you, you can leave. But I've got to say, when we watched 'To Kill A Mockingbird...' what a killer movie!
"And the kids responded to it. Wept. Of course they did. These things hold up. And here we are, the old fogies, forcing them to watch 'Tootsie.' It was hysterical. But there are a lot of those films I'd forgotten about, and it was great to revisit them. There are certain images, and very basic storytelling, that sticks with you.
"For me, a really great film is something that starts a conversation. When I took my kids to see 'The Truman Show,' we had a really interesting dinner afterwards. We were saying, 'Would you leave? What would you leave for? Why wasn't that a good friend?' My daughter thought it was like the 'Garden of Eden.'
"That's what films should do, they should get you talking, or get you to make a phone call to somebody."
Sarandon says she generally does not want to do remakes "because they're just too perfect within the context they were made, and you just can't duplicate that." As to how classic films may influence her as a filmmaker in other ways, she says, "Probably I couldn't explain it in any linear fashion. What's amazing to me is, for instance, when I watched 'To Kill A Mockingbird,' how few close-ups there are.
"That's another TV habit we've gotten into, just expecting these close-ups, and there's something that really allows you to enter in when you see two people together in a frame. Something that works rhythmically that is so great."
She says Wayne Wang, her director for 'Anywhere But Here,' was "very aware of trying to do that as much as possible. There aren't a huge amount of close-ups, because our relationships and our rhythms were so important. And the body language that people have with each other. That's one of the things that has gone out the window with TV."
Sarandon thinks "you develop an aesthetic, and a taste, from watching movies. Maybe that somehow creeps into you. I try to be as unself-conscious as possible about how things are manifesting themselves when I'm working, I don't practice facial expressions or whatever.
"But there are moments where you are just inspired. You know, it takes a lot of guts to be still in a film. You can see it with Ingrid Bergman, or with others. And I put a tremendous amount of trust in the audience. If I really believe it, and I know it, and it's there, I don't have to hit them over the head with it.
"We're so used to hammering people over the head, that we patronize audiences constantly, in terms of thinking what kind of information they can take in, and so on, but they get it. And a good picture really is worth a thousand words, you don't have to go on and on. When you look at those classic films, that's one of the things you realize."
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[originally published on AMCtv.com]
~ ~ ~bio: Susan Sarandon: Actress-Activist by Marc Shapiro
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