FEATURE NEIL JORDAN
Words and Pictures
With the simultaneous release of Interview With The Vampire and publication of Sunrise With Sea Monster, NEIL JORDAN’s twin careers as filmmaker and novelist enter the spotlight together. He tells Alan Morrison about storytelling with pen and lens.
he interview is over and. as I’m leaving. Neil Jordan admits. as an aside, that he’s nervous about having a new novel in print for the first time in a decade. This from the man who tackled the Hollywood machine and came out the other side, who coped with the star antics of De Niro, Penn and Cruise. and who stood up to the political flak over The Crying Game’s IRA content to see his screenplay scoop the top honours on Oscar night.
Since debuting as a filmmaker thirteen years ago, Jordan’s name has become associated more with critical and popular movie successes like Angel, Mona Lisa and now Interview Wit/t The Vampire, than the delicately constructed prose with which he first made his mark. In 1974. at the age of 24. he was one of the founders of the Irish Writers‘ (To-operative, and it was this
group that published his book of short stories. Night In Tunisia, in 1976. When the collection first appeared in Britain three years later. it went on to win The Guardian Fiction Prize. Two novels followed in the early 80s — The Past and The Dream ()fA Beast — and then nothing until Sunrise Wit/t Sea Ill/IONSIUI’. a marvellously evocative book which confirms that this very good director of films is also a great. unsung writer of fiction.
‘Writing a novel is a very private thing.’ he says. attempting to explain the ten—year gap. ‘and it‘s far more exhausting than making a movie. I started writing books. I started with words, and for me to get back to that and rediscover it was very important. personally. Films are very difficult things to bleed your own life into. and every movie I make, l wonder whether I‘ve done it enough or whether l’ve
failed. With a book. the final responsibility is absolutely yours. This is the most spare book I’ve written. Maybe it’s that spare because the last time I wrote a novel was in l984, and in between I‘ve written a lot of screenplays. One tends to be very spare in description of things in screenplays and let the story dominate the proceedings rather than the use of language. The style of my writing used not to be that concise.’
It has always been. however, intensely poetic and, in literary terms. of a notably ‘lrish’ heritage. This doesn‘t just refer to the Free State and subsequent political situations that act as backdrops to both The Past and Sunrise Wit/z Sea Monster. but to the lyrical use of language and the immediacy with which he renders the lives and relationships of his characters. But just as his films range from the sexual fairytales of The Company Of Wolves to the clowning of High Spirits to the romance of The Miracle (the film that is closest to Jordan’s prose work), so too there is diversity in his fiction — The Dream ()fA Beast, with its surreal transformations of flesh and perception. is closer to JG. Ballard than James Joyce.
‘One tends to be very spare in description of things in screenplays and let the story dominate the proceedings rather than the use of language.’
Sunrise Wit/i Sea Monster details the complex relationship between a young lrishman who is an unlikely volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. his politician father and his vivacious stepmother. As in other areas ofJordan’s fiction, the difficulty of communication between loved ones is brilliantly dissected. The scenes where he describes father and son silently setting fishing lines on the local beach are supremely moving. and touch on the one obsession that runs through all of his written work — the sea. ‘lt’s a deeply neurotic thing.’ he admits. ‘I grew up in Dollymount on the north side of Dublin, I was born in a seaside town in Sligo, I bought a house in Bray. so I‘ve always lived by the sea. When I first started writing, I could only ever finish the stories if, in some way. I got the characters into the watcr.‘
The quietness that is instilled in his novel will undoubtedly be drowned out by the coverage of his new film. an exceptionally true adaptation of Anne Rice‘s Interview With The Vampire. which marks the latest in the current Hollywood horror wave. Uncompromising in its use of gory set- pieces and stomach-turning, blood—gushing special effects. the film is also the latest Tom Cruise flick, although it reveals a very different side to the actor's screen persona to date.
‘Everybody seems to have an impression of Tom, for some reason,‘ says the director of his star. ‘They think of this paranoid man who exerts control over the set through these unseen advisors or something weird like that. I didn’t know the guy. I thought. “Okay. ifthis is true. if he’s somebody who tries to change things into other things. then that’s going to affect the part and it won‘t work.” All I wanted to know was, would he commit himself absolutely to it? And. after meeting him, I knew that he would. so I didn’t have any misgivings.’
Sunrise With Sea Monster is published by C/zatto & Windus at £9. 99. Interview With The Vampire opens on Friday 20 January and is reviewed on page 22.
12 The List 13—26 January 1995