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MONAHAN, CRAIG: THE INTERVIEW

GOOD GUY, BAD GUY . . . YOUR CHOICE
In The Interview, Craig Monahan’s cinematic currency is ambiguity, something that sets film apart from television, he tells Andrew L. Urban.

“Is he or isn’t he, that’s what I was about,” says Craig Monahan in that matter of fact way of his, and although his tone is conversational, you can sense the weight of conviction behind the words. We’re talking on the phone about his film, The Interview, released on DVD with his director’s commentary and other features, in May 2001. I mention this partly for the benefit of trivia buffs who will already know (won’t you?) that it is also in May 2001 that 15 Minutes is released in Australia, the crime thriller in which Robert De Niro plays a NYPD Homicide Detective called Eddie Fleming. If you recall, Hugo Weaving’s character in The Interview (1998) is also called Eddie Fleming and he plays the arrested person . . .

The confluence is ironic and interesting only for that: Eddie Fleming is not such an exotic name of itself. But given Monahan’s wish for cinema to be less about absolutes than about ambiguities (more on this shortly) this is something that attracted my sense of coincidence.

But back to the DVD and Monahan and The Interview. We’re talking about him recording his commentary sitting in a booth with a microphone. “I just watched the film and started talking . . . I hadn’t seen the film for a while, having seen it hundreds of time I couldn’t face seeing it even while we were talking about making the DVD. But then I started talking and tried to remember … I don’t know about any rules for this sort of thing, but I just talked about it. Coverage was very important: it was vital if I wanted to capture the mood and I also found it interesting to talk about the deleted scenes. In fact, there are some deleted scenes that never made the DVD even. And then there is the alternate ending…”

"Monahan is right: it’s crap"

He didn’t like the alternate ending even when he wrote the scenes. “Look, I did really try to make it work. Nobody would finance the film with my preferred ending. On paper, the alternative ending does work. . . but when you see him walking to camera with that half smile as he leaves the court [as the film actually ends] you can see that’s the ending.”

In the alternative ending, there are a couple more scenes, following Eddie a little later. Monahan is right: it’s crap. “I wanted the ambiguity; at what point is it tv and what point cinema? If you fill in what’s missing there’s no room for interpretation. And that’s tv drama to me - or most of it. And that’s the difference between tv and film:” This is where Monahan prefers to show the person not solve the crime, as it were. To him, cinema is about interpretation, not exposition.

"Are we too concerned with the answers, not enough with the questions?"

“I’d like people in this country to see the difference,” he says. “We’ve had too many people from tv telling us what we should be making on film. That’s not meant as a criticism” he adds, “but an observation.” Maybe he’s right. Americans tell stories very well; their films are action driven. On film, Europeans prefer the ambiguity of life’s complexities and contradictions, the shadows and half truths of our existence. The English often blend both very well, forging characters (partly because for some reason their culture breeds the world’s best character actors) as well as settings and stories. What about us? Are we too concerned with the answers, not enough with the questions, not leaving room for interpretation? Discuss.

The film has earned critical praise and won the Best Film Award at the Australian Film Institute’s 1998 and Australian Film Critics’ 1999 ceremonies (among several others). Yet it was considered by many to be an Australian box office flop. This riles Monahan, who points out that the film “grossed just $50,000 less than The Boys,” an Australian drama which is considered a big success. But Monahan admits the film should have done ever so much better, and if you have a few minutes over a beer, he’ll probably tell you why it didn’t.

"it feels as though this is it"

For Monahan, The Interview’s release on DVD means that “the film is finally over…I had a whole year in the US with it, and enjoyed the great reviews we got…but it feels as though this is it.”

He’s let go; the next script (one of several in progress as at May 2001) is another contemporary drama, but it’s very different: called Peaches, he describes it as “a beautiful rites of passage story about a young girl.

Ah, but we never talked about story of The Interview: well, there is this man asleep in his flat one morning when a couple of heavy cops bust down his door and noisly arrest him at gun point, scaring his goldfish. At police HQ, they begin The Interview. We don’t really know the crime, nor can we be sure of his guilt or innocence, as the balance of power shifts from the cops (primarily Tony Martin’s Detective John Steele) to Eddie, to the cops and back and again . . .

Published May 24, 2001

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