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BENNETT, BILL : Kiss or Kill

Bill Bennett talks to ANDREW L. URBAN about the genesis and making of Kiss or Kill, his Australian outback thriller, which began with a heartstopping moment in a lonely woolshed.

ALU: The idea for Kiss or Kill was born in a barn, wasn’t it?

BB: Yes. I was out at Broken Hill in a remote shearing shed, during the making of Backlash, in 1986, and there had been a camera malfunction. The rest of the crew had gone back to town and I was in this woolshed with one other crew member. We'd worked on a "Street to Die" together and I'd known this fellow I guess quite a long time. We'd become friends. Anyway, he had been playing with this big bladed Rambo knife. I remember it was blistering hot, there was a slight wind outside and it was making a rattle on the galvanised iron roof; he was sitting in one corner and I was sitting in the other. And he was sharpening this blade on a stone hypnotically - going, joop … joop … joop … and it was really quite eerie. Then he stopped and he looked at me with this very, very steady gaze and he said: "Bill I could cut your throat, put your body underneath these floor boards and when the rest of the crew came back, I could tell them that you'd gone for a walk down by the creek. No one would ever know…" And he held that gaze - and in that moment I discovered that in fact I really didn't know this man. Anyway, he burst out laughing. The moment was forgotten for him but it stayed with me and that really was the genesis of it, that in fact somebody I thought I knew, somebody I was good friends with, could have a side of his personality that I just could not fathom.

ALU: That insightful, inspiring moment in the woolshed was tougher to nurture to film than you had anticipated…

BB: I couldn’t get it off my back. I must have done about 18 or 20 screenplays, over that period of 10 years or so. In fact, on a number of occasions I could have actually financed the film and gone into production but I pulled back because I didn't feel the story was right. In 1993 I finally just threw it against the wall and I said I can't do it. It's taken too much out of my life and I was at the point where I would say to Jennifer (Cluff, his wife), ‘I'm going to do another draft of "Kiss or Kill" and she would scream "no don't!" So I dropped it and I started work on "Spider and Rose" - I really didn't think that I would ever come back to "Kiss or Kill".

ALU: But you did…

BB: Well, yes … Pierre Rissient (Cannes film festival’s scout) had been following the thing for some time, and in early 1996 when he was here, took me out to dinner urging me to go back to it. I couldn't get the morality right within myself and Pierre said: "Bill, in this one you must not think, you must simply write: action, action, action". So I just sat down and realised that what in fact had been shackling me on "Kiss or Kill" is that I'd been intellectualising too much: so I just threw everything away. I sat down one day and just wrote the script in three weeks, not referring to anything that I'd written prior.

ALU: The script is a 60 page breakdown and contains some specific dialogue, but there is a lot of improvisation required by the actors. In "Kiss or Kill" is that any more or less than with your other films?

BB: Well "Backlash" was improvised. There were bits of a "Street to Die" that were improvised, "Mortgage" and "Malpractice", the two drama documentaries I did for Film Australia, were improvised. This is actually a very controlled film. In fact you know to shoot a picture in the number of days that we had and the value that we were striving for, you need to be extraordinarily disciplined. Very rarely do we get to a scene where the actors now have to talk about what's to be said. All of that has been discussed beforehand during the rehearsal period and also I've got some very specific dialogue in the script.

ALU: So there is a large amount of baggage which the actors bring, adding and flashing out?

BB: Yes that's right. Is it more so than a traditional script? It probably is and not so much because of the words, but because of the physical freedom that I'm giving the actors.

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Bill Bennett on the set of Kiss or Kill



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