Captive is the kind of film that British audiences and, more especially, British critics tend not to like. A boldly provocative exercise in non-realist narrative, it clearly identifies its maker Paul Mayersberg as belonging to that select band of dreamers and yarn spinners that work in our native cinema among whose numbers one would count Ken Russell, Derek Jarman and Nicolas Roeg. The comparisons with Roeg are as apt as they are inevitable given that Mayersberg wrote the script for both The Man Who Fell To Earth and Eureka.
Captive stars Irina Brook as the rich and reclusive daughter of a wealthy tycoon who idles away her days in a forbidding. gothic mansion. One evening she is abducted by a group of terrorists who systematically torture her and force a re—examination of her hollow existence. The ultimate effect is therapeutic as she undertakes a voyage of self-discovery, progressing from a safe dependence to one of independence.
Many people have vilified Captive for its gratuitously erotic themes of sensual deprivation and claimed that it’s virulently anti-women. Mayersberg insists that they have misunderstood his intention. ‘I wanted to make a film about a woman who found herself, but not in the conventional way. I very much wanted something that wasn’t a long story. which should not be dependent on a man or change or having a job or having to decide between two men or having a baby or going to Africa with a girlfriend. I wanted to take all these options away and see whether there was a personality there that could change without recourse to all these social buttresses.’
The story may remind some of events in the life of Patty Hearst but the initial inspiration stems from the more general notion offairy tale. ‘1 was interested in origins that were more mythical or legendary rather than just that particular news item. I was more concerned with things like the princesses in the tower, a young woman who has no life, just a kind of existence. She doesn‘t understand the world at all because she is completely sealed from it.’
Mayersberg claims that his starting point for any piece ofcinematic invention is the world of dreams. His pronounced bias against the conventions of realist narrative has not endeared his maiden directorial effort to our national critics. ‘The reaction has been about 4 to 1 against.’ he explains with candour. ‘I don’t think they were expecting a film from a writer that was quite this kind ofvisual experience. They expected one. I don’t know, not more literary perhaps but more documentary-like or traditional. However, I don‘t want to waste half an hour of my screen time photographing and creating scenes that just confirm to the audience that they have come to the cinema by bus or car and they have wives and children and worries. We know that, they bring it with them. Cinema is
Allan Hunter talks to Paul Mayersburg, writer of The Man Who Fell to Earth and Eureka about his first
another experience and like any entertainment you say to the audience I want to give you something that you didn’t get at home in your ordinary life. Usually what that means is Romancing The Stone. Raiders OfThe Lost Ark or A Chorus Line or whatever. but there are things that happen to you every day ofyour life that you don‘t get at home and they happen in your dreams, only in your head. But we resist these. we don’t count them; there are 8 hours a day we just write off. That’s one third of your life. It’s that one third ofyour life that I try to tap.’
Born in 1941, the earliest and most significant influence on Mayersberg’s artistic vision was his Hungarian father. ‘The kind of things that he liked and would take his son to were not the kind of things that most schoolboys growing up in Britain in the late forties and fifties would go and see. So, I started life watching subtitled films. It was just after the war with a golden age of De Sica, Rossellini and Renoir whereas, in a way, the American cinema of that time was not very interesting. My father basically disapproved of American cinema with the exception of Citizen Kane, otherwise he really has no interest. For there were stimuli from Budapest and Vienna and that society which were
venture into film direction, Captive.
completely different from the rationbook world of post-war England and I lived two lives ifthis doesn‘t sound overly dramatic. Cinema was about strange foreign places and different cultures and I’m
sure that had an effect on me and what I write. If there was a choice between going to see La Ronde or The Dambusters. I always chose La Ronde.
Later. as a critic. Mayersberg made his own discoveries from the pantheon of American greats and. j with adult hindsight, pinpoints the I influence of Walt Disney on his work. ‘I went to see Pinocchio again g just before Captive opened and l ‘ thought how alike they were in many ways. I was struck by the strange way that people in cartoons don’t live in rooms. they live in sets. Oliver Reed’s eating into the fairy castle at the beginning ofCap'tive is straight out of Disney. although Disney would not have had the girl upstairs just finished screwing. But — running down the stairs to meet her dad the ogre who will not allow her out — pure Disney; a terrific influence.‘
Mayersberg’s involvement in the film industry stretches back quarter of a century and it has taken him a long while to achieve his directorial debut. He spent years working as an assistant to the likes ofJean Pierre Melville, Joseph Losey and Roger Corman. directing second unit on The Tomb ofLigeia 1964 before progressing to scriptwriting for Nicolas Roeg and Nagisa Oshima. The filming of Captive makes it third time lucky for his directorial aspiration; two previous attempts floundered on inadequate financing. He has been persevering and calmly pursued his ambition, unwilling to direct a film just for the sake of it. He will continue to write for other directors but is currently involved in another project ofhis own. He places such an importance on his work that he is very careful in what will be laid down for posterity. ‘On looking towards the cinema that has what I regard as a proper balance of imagination and the technique of film as opposed to the idea of a cinema that is a reproduction of a notion that has a social significance. Cocteau always said that if you have a painting and you know which way up to hang it. it’s no good. The reason that it‘s no good is that it will immediately have a place on your wall, it will have a use and you will know what it is. The moment you know what it is it dies. That’s what's happened with cinema today. Everybody knows what the films are, and within a few years they’re dead like minor love affairs. They are designed for instant response and not designed either to laugh or go on in an imaginative way. So, they don’t. To take two years ofyour life to produce something that isn’t worth two years of your experience is a bad, almost an immoral, thing to do. It should have two years of your experience in it at least. For me, a film is like entering a relationship that you hope and pray will last. You do not expect a one night stand to
last, but Captive is not a one night stand film. It took two years and I expect it to last, and ifit doesn’t I will be disappointed.’
Captive opens in Glasgow in the near future (Date to be conﬁrmed). *
The List 17— 30 October 5