He's been favourably compared with Kubrick, Roeg and Hitchcock. Young English filmmaker CHRISTOPHER NOLAN tells The List about Memento, an ingenious thriller which unspools in reverse. Words: Tom Dawson
Christopher Nolan is clearly a filmmaker who adheres to Jean Luc-Godard’s maxim that a film ‘should have a beginning. a middle and an end. But not necessarily in that order.‘ His low-budget London-
set debut feature fol/oiling was an assured piece of
achronological storytelling. and now with Memento. his first American feature starring Guy Pearce and Carrie-Ann Moss. he has devised an even more complicated narrative jigsaw. It begins where other films would climax. with a revenge killing. although here the sequence unwinds in reverse. Thereafter. Nolan‘s film works backwards in time. tracking its protagonist. Leonard (Pearce). who suffers from short-term memory loss but who is hell-bent on finding the man who raped and killed his wife.
‘I based the screenplay on a short story written by my brother Jonathan.’ explains 30-year-old Nolan. back in London to promote the film. ‘lt contained an amazing concept; this guy looking for revenge who has this condition where he can't create new memories and he takes to tattooing himself with reminder notes. I kept the central concept of revenge and how it’s called into question by the idea that he might not remember achieving it. What I did was expand it enormously and asked how would this guy live. I started with having the character use post-it notes and writing things on his hands. I then came up with the idea of a Polaroid camera. which would be
'The point is Memento isn't a whodunnit but a whydunnit’ Christopher Nolan
.reverse in unwinds Memento
an ideal tool for replacing short-term memory.’
Crucially. the audience comes to look at the world from the distorted viewpoint of Leonard. ‘When he meets somebody in the film.‘ enthuses the director. ‘the audience. like him. doesn‘t know how he met them. You don’t know whether you can trust anybody. It calls into assumptions about who we are. and how do we know what we’ve done and how we place ourselves in the world. The point is Memento isn’t a whodunnit but a whydunnit. The film opens with a murder — you know who‘s done what to whom. the question is why.’
Memento demonstrates Nolan‘s impressive ability to extract accomplished performances from his cast: the narrative may be constantly fractured but Pearce et al invest their characterisations with emotional credibility. ‘Guy is a very focused. detail-orientated actor.‘ reveals Nolan. ‘He looks for the logic of things and questions things which were perfect for Leonard. His approach to the character is the way the character is. As for Carrie. what had impressed me most about her in The Matrix was how she could show two sides to her character — the hard. almost armoured person. and somebody who is far softer. That was perfect for Natalie in Memento.‘
Nolan appears to have made the not always easy transition from British to American filmmaking with creditable ease. Working on a bigger budget film with high-profile stars meant he felt under extra pressure. but as he points out. ‘Memento. in Hollywood terms. is still a very small. under-the-radar project that we could make in quite a personal way. Once I got started on .Memento. it was the same process as on l'olloii'ing. We had to shoot fast again. and we applied the same techniques of storyboarding and careful planning and working closely with the actors. in order to do things as efficiently as possible.’ Which. of course. would be the only way to make a film as ingeniously convoluted as Memento.
Cameo, Edinburgh from Fri 20 Oct. See review.
Lights, camera, action. . . GIRLFIGHT POSTPONED UNTIL 2001. Film-goers eagerly antiCipating the female boxrng movie, Gir/fi'ght (see IOIGFVIQW With director Karyn Kusama last issue), w.ll have to wait until next year. In keeping With The Li'st’s predic- tion that Kusama’s debut is a contender for the Oscars, the film's distributor Columbia Tristar has deeded to release Git/fight early next year to capitalise upon the potential Oscar-time publiCity.
ONE MINUTE FILMS are currently being sought by three sixty contemporary arts, the non-profit organisation established by Scottish arts graduates in 1998, to be screened at Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema on 20 January 2001. The films, or animations, should take their inspiration from the Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Proposals should be submitted to three sixty contemporary arts, 3F1, 33 Montague Street, Edinburgh EH8 905 or threesixty©talk21.com by 31 October, and the projects should be completed by 20 December.
FILM EDUCATION |S developing its web- sne (filmeducationorg), which provrdes teachers, students, home learners and film enthusiasts w:th 24 hour access to its educational and interactive reSOurceS. AlongSide features on anima- tion, world Cinema and film and Shakespeare, a new element, Open Surgery, enables teachers and students to log on and chat and qwz the educa- tion team. Teachers are inVited to e-mail their questions to Surgery@filmeduca- tionorg
IN THE NURSERY, the Sheffield- based musicians known for their live accompaniments to films such as The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and Man With A Movie Camera, are coming to Edinburgh’s Filmhouse on Thursday 19 October to perform their new score to the 1927 film, Hind/e Wakes. The film celebrates the financial and sexual independence of Lancashire mill girls in the 205; the soundtrack takes in elements of Air, This Mortal Coil and Dixeland jazz.
Meanwhile, German prog rock-Cum- avant garde n0ise pioneers Faust peform a We interpretation' of the SOundtrack to another film from the 205, FW. Murnau’s Nosferatu, at Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket Monday 30 October.
l9 Oct—2 Nov 2000 THE “ST 23