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
"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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Photo courtesy of the AFTRS