IN CONVERSATION WITH ABEL FERRARA
“It’s a sacrament bro and I still believe that. It’s a holy thing, and you just need to make sure you are transformed on the right side” says director Abel Ferrara. For the restored 4K Blu-ray edition of his and longtime collaborator Nicholas St. John’s THE ADDICTION, a philosophical take on vampiric transformation, Ferrara spoke with FrightFest about the making of the film.
FrightFest: Why filmmaking as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?
Ferrara: Well I grew up in the 60s in the United States, and they were racing to get on the moon, rock and roll was coming out. It was a time when there were a lot of voices, from Malcolm X to John Kennedy, astronauts to The Rolling Stones and The Animals. We were inundated with creativity and then there was the idea that you could do it, that it was important, and you could make a living out of it. I loved movies and I grew up watching films at home on the television, not the way you watch them now, and it was at a time when you went to the movies too. So I had what was a perfect storm to becoming a filmmaker.
FrightFest: I recall stories that Martin Scorsese would be late to lectures when he taught at New York University because he’d be up all night watching films on television. It was a different time to today’s world where so much is on tap. At one time you had to put effort into seeing films, and when I was young, when a film was on television you recorded it as you never knew when you’d next get the chance to see it. Do you think the ease of accessibility has changed our reception to and the way we appreciate cinema?
Ferrara: It just changes with the person, and you had that experience of taping, I didn't even have the option of taping it. Some of the great films that I've seen, I didn't even see them, but a friend of mine saw them. I remember with ACCATTONE, a friend of ours went and saw that somewhere. It was in a blizzard and he hitchhiked, came back and basically acted out the whole movie for us, and that was how we saw ACCATTONE. So it is obviously changing the whole deal, and anytime I want to see that film now I just type it in, or I have a disc of it. The movie that moved you has not changed, but your relationship to it is going to constantly change.
FrightFest: Picking up on your point about how the movie itself does not change, from then to now, how has your perspective or memory of THE ADDICTION changed?
Ferrara: I saw it again because we did the commentary, but I don't really sit and watch these films. If I am at a festival or I am in the right mood I might, but I don't make a habit of it. But yeah, it has changed a hundred degrees, and I have totally changed as a human being because it has been twenty five years. What is great about films is that your life changes and the audience you are with change, everything changes. So the experience will change, but the film doesn’t change, which is what the reality of the movie is about.
FrightFest: Do you perceive the cinema to be a perfect medium for philosophical enquiry?
Ferrara: Well it is going to be how you want to use it. The writer, he knew what he was talking about - he was coming to the world through his education which was philosophy. Cinema is a very powerful tool man, and if you know what you are talking about, then that is the beginning of using it correctly. He was coming from a very poetic and clear place when he wrote that screenplay, and that was the reason why it was so important to get it made, and it was a miracle that we did. I am grateful that it exists because that film was very close to not existing. The script as a work by Nicky St. John would have always existed, which was actually pretty complete in itself.
FrightFest: What were the reasons that it came close to not being made?
Ferrara: You want to make a philosophically bent film in black and white, a junkie vampire movie, and remember, this was the 90s in America. It might have been a little bit more independent then, but Wall Street wasn’t going to be chasing you down because of these elements.
FrightFest: There is the side to us that sees films as pieces of art, and then there is the business side of cinema, the two of which have to be negotiated and a compromise struck.
Ferrara: You have to raise X amount of capital to do a movie. Even these days if you go with your phone or computer, you still need the phone, you still need a computer, and you still need to eat while you are doing it. It's one of these things and it is what it is; it's an idiard form. You don't need much, you need a pencil and a piece of paper, and you can write on the edge of a newspaper; I don't know, whatever. But I just heard this quote: “When money walks in, God walks out.” So if you are filmmaker you better be ready to replace God.
FrightFest: One aspect of the film is the visceral juxtaposition between the verbal expression of philosophy versus moments of silence. For example, the scene of Lili Taylor, who after being bitten silently surveys her injuries in front of the mirror, and how Christopher Walken holds the book and the way he moves. These silent moments or aspects of the performance are helped by this juxtaposition, and over the years the film has not lost none of its visceral feeling of angst.
Ferrara: Well I couldn't express it better than you just did; that was beautiful. You have those actors who understand what you are talking about and it's what separates those players. The actors drive the filmmaker and the editors, and it’s like we are finding these moments that are truly cinematic. I think this is what you are trying to get to, which you are not going to have on stage or anywhere except when you are experiencing it as a film.
FrightFest: Having spoken fondly of the script, how collaborative was the process during the shoot? Was it a case of honouring the script as it were written, or was the script evolved through collaboration with the actors?
Ferrara: Nicky was there on the set when we were shooting, and when you have a script like this, you are not playing around with it. He and I have a relationship that started when we were teenagers, and we were both in the editing room, and it was like that all the way through. Nobody was off on their own except in this case with the writing, where he brought that in from whatever place he started from. But from there on, we had the group with him and he was a part of that group.
FrightFest: Thematically, THE ADDICTION poses us with the question whether the desire of immortality is a dream that if realised would be a nightmarish reality?
Ferrara: Whether your life is on earth or your life is in the hereafter, you have the choice of it being in the light or the darkness; that's what it is about. There is that American Indian thing that in everyone of us there are two wolves; the white wolf and the black wolf. The one that survives is the one that you feed, and that's what this film is about.
FrightFest: Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process, and do you think the audience should have a transformative experience through the experience of watching a film?
Ferrara: You are going to be transformed whether you make a film or not, and the audience is going change whether they are sitting in the movie theatre or not. But the experience of making a film, you make it positive. It’s a sacrament bro and I still believe that. It’s a holy thing, and you just need to make sure you are transformed on the right side, and that you step further into the light, that's the key.
The specially restored director-approved 4K Blu-ray edition of THE ADDICTION, is available from ArrowVideo.
Read Chris Ward's ADDICTION review HERE
This web site is owned and published by London FrightFest Limited.
FrightFest is the registered trade mark of London FrightFest Limited.
© 2000 - 2018