5 Reasons Why Jonathan Glazer's 'Under The Skin' Is One Of The Best Films Of The Year

by Oliver Lyttelton
September 4, 2013 10:45 AM
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A brief Q&A from the "Under The Skin" press notes. Remember, this is probably the first time the director has given an interview in several years. Scarlett Johansson and Glazer discuss the film in two clips below.

Q: What drew you to the material?
I really connected with the idea of looking at the world through alien eyes. That was the spark.

Q: How did you come to shoot the film in the way you did?
The central idea was about disguising the actress and dropping her in the real world. Everything had to serve that. So we built a bespoke camera system with heads that were small enough to be hidden, and positioned them according to the action we wanted to cover. Then the crew would effectively walk away and Scarlett would step in. This way there was no evidence of a film being shot. There’s a scene for instance where she falls in the street and is then helped to her feet by passers-by. Conventionally, you’d have to lock off the street, fill it with extras, block it, rehearse it then shoot it. Here, we pointed our hidden cameras at the spot where she’d fall and waited to see what happened. Also her character spends a lot of the film driving and I didn’t want that to be simulated either. I wanted her immersed in the function of driving. So we built the cameras into the cab. This way she could drive and we could film everything she did and everything she drove past. We were photographing her and her points of view simultaneously. The cameras become an extension of her own eye almost.

Q: When she winds down her window to some of the people you see in the film, were they just people passing the streets?
Yes they were people just going about their lives.

Q: Did anyone recognize her?
Yes, there were a couple of people who did, but not so much most of the time. We were filming in a nightclub in Glasgow across two nights and Scarlett was in the thick of that and after you’ve been there for a while and she’s been doing the same thing four of five times, crossing the dance-floor, you begin to see people are aware that something is going on. But she didn’t look familiar in how people are used to seeing her.

Q: How do you choreograph a scene where most of the cast is unaware of what is going on?
Well, you have to plan where to hide your cameras and then you shoot the way you would if you had control. It made the scenes very tense and you always run the risk of not getting what you set out to but that was how I saw it, that’s the way I thought it would work best.

Q: Did you know if it was going to work?
Conceptually I knew it was going to work.

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  • Erick | March 26, 2014 2:11 AMReply

    Just saw the movie, lamest movie ever!!! That's it...

  • Erick | March 26, 2014 2:11 AMReply

    Just saw the movie, lamest movie ever!!! That's it...

  • Erick | March 26, 2014 2:11 AMReply

    Just saw the movie, lamest movie ever!!! That's it...

  • Erick | March 26, 2014 2:11 AMReply

    Just saw the movie, lamest movie ever!!! That's it...

  • Adam | September 27, 2013 8:36 PMReply

    A movie about a woman killing men.
    A movie that portrays a woman killing men with impunity with sympathy.
    There are always filmmakers who imagine this narrative trope is original and groundbreaking and speaks to a subtext of feminist empowerment, or woman's empowerment or some such rationale where the female killer of men is somehow justified on the usual grounds like men have it coming to them, or the well worn narrative thread that only serves of men as caricatures along the lines of brutes, abusers, and other amoral characters. Were there a movie about a man killing women as its main motivation there is no doubt that is such a killer is portrayed, (alien or not) with a hint of humanity or empathy, the feminist groups would be out in full force to denounce the film and the filmmakers as promoting misogyny and encouraging violence against women through a lens of entertainment.

    What strikes me about the review of this film is the casual acceptance of a narrative that has at its core a female who kills men, most likely without consequence and accountability. By implication the reviewers praise Johansson's performance because we all know how challenging it is to play a sadistic killer of men. Of course its now customary to have films where the value of a man's life is zero unless that life is in the service of mindless deference to the desires, wishes and motivations of female characters. The irony here is that the film follows a well worn narrative path that plays on the familiar, if you want to indicate a male villain have him mistreat women, and if you want to indicate a strong female heroine have her mistreat men.

    Certainly much of the contemporary audiences for this film will predictable defend the movie's premise and the man-killing protagonist because this line of storytelling is very frequent and accepted as a valid expression of artistic originality. No one questions the double-standard and I expect there are plenty of people who will ridicule those who do.

    Comically, there a people who reference great films like "The Man Who Fell to Earth" and others of a similar vein, which is odd since these films do not feature aliens who embark on gender specific killing sprees. The reviewer does state that Under the Skin is its own beast, really? A movie about an attractive female character seducing and killing men, a movie which continues the cinema trope of male characters as caricatures without value who serve only as disposable material to empower the female characters, a movie that pats itself on the back for an originality that isn't original at all.

    On a final note , let's be honest. Johansson is surely one of the most entitled, fawned over, superficial actresses of the modern era. She's constantly raised for her beauty and intelligence to near supernatural dimensions. So is it surprising critics fall over themselves to raise her to new and more ludicrous heights of worship? Personally, and speaking only for myself, I'm not interested in seeing a movie whose main narrative device is about a sympathetic portrayal of another woman that seduces and kills men.

  • Pierre | September 12, 2013 5:00 PMReply

    My body is ready.

  • TED | September 12, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    What I have read about this film not only calls The Man Who Fell to Earth to mind but also The Brother From a Different Planet.

  • MDL | September 11, 2013 9:39 PMReply

    I've been told that this film takes an element from the 24 min Twilight Zone "Black Leather Jackets" episode and stretches it over a couple hours. Just so you know, if true, it's been done before. One difference seems to be Scarlett Johansson in the nude rather than dude's on motorcycles.

  • Francesca | September 7, 2013 10:46 AMReply

    "Never, ever, ever, ever judge a film on whether or not it was booed at a festival. There's a certain contingent of European critics who'll boo anything remotely challenging".

    Actually the only movie that has been booed heavily in Venice by critics this year is this one. Tsai Ming-liang's movie is way more challenging (and beautiful) and got only warm applauses.

  • crazyxcrazy | September 5, 2013 7:09 PMReply

    "Scarlett Johansson gives the performance of her career"

    maybe but Michelle Williams would have been better

  • Greg W. Locke | September 5, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    The trailer gives off a Nic Roeg vibe.

  • triguous | September 5, 2013 3:59 AMReply

    6. It's good... ?

  • DON LOGAN | September 4, 2013 9:00 PMReply

    i just saw the trailer
    looks like a david lynch film

  • Gene | September 4, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    I met a traveller from an antique land
    Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
    And on the pedestal these words appear:
    "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away

  • Glass | September 4, 2013 3:33 PMReply

    Thanks for this writeup! I'm so happy to hear Glazer pulled it off. Now, let's see a release date soon...

  • Lou | September 7, 2013 6:59 AM

    Oliver, some times 'challenging' means 'trying'. At Venice the public seldom boos when the author is present. I feel that probably also film critics are starting to have enough of typical festival films, with blank, emotionless characters who cryptically ponder over nobody knows what and stare at the void for 15 or so minutes to signify profoundness, with no regard for the cinematic tempo. I am sorry for Johansson. She is by no means a bad actress. I think she should tackle sophisticated comedy (if they are still being made). In Scoop - one of Allen's least successful endeavours - she was the very soul of the film, much more so than in Match Point or Vicky, Christina, Barcelona.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | September 5, 2013 12:55 PM

    Never, ever, ever, ever judge a film on whether or not it was booed at a festival. There's a certain contingent of European critics who'll boo anything remotely challenging.

  • Lou | September 5, 2013 11:05 AM

    It does not seem that Glazer really pulled it off, since it was the most heavily booed film by critics and audience alike at Venice. I too, like Lyttleton, suspect the film will not attract much attention in the normal circuit, except perhaps for the many integral-nude scenes with Johansson, whose level of eroticism in the film, according to some of the critics, is next to zero. Well, I suppose, that is a feat. Probably the performance is too subtle?

  • Henry | September 4, 2013 1:29 PMReply

    I can give you one reason why this movie sucks: Scarlett Johansson. Don't expect Oscars coming her way anytime soon.

  • Gene | September 4, 2013 4:24 PM

    Though this isn't her finest, she does have some good roles when she's playing sort of an everyday person, like Ghost World. Or Lost in Translation. I liked her in The Nanny Diaries and The Avengers as well, but things like The Other Boleyn Girl, The Spirit, Match Point and this is where I feel she can't perform.

  • The Ringer | September 4, 2013 2:42 PM

    Can't agree more. She just sucks the life out of everything.

  • Frank | September 4, 2013 1:32 PM

    I concur. The only reason critics will like her here is because she hardly talks. If she did, it would probably be significantly worse than the crap it already is.

  • sorcerer | September 4, 2013 11:40 AMReply

    No write up on sorcerer yet huh? Fuck this shit.

  • fuck you | September 4, 2013 2:22 PM

    yeah totally,why would you see a movie that you've already seen. no one has ever done that. no one goes to see restored movies,fuck had no idea. thanks for you're input but fuck you.

  • Give it Up Already, Dude | September 4, 2013 12:06 PM

    Dudes, it's the exact same version only cleaned up/restored. Why would they go see a movie they've essentially already seen?

  • SHEYLA | September 4, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    Take attention to Marion Cotillard's performance on The Immigrant, it's wonderful

  • oogle monster | September 4, 2013 10:19 PM

    lol, these responses are great. Please include Sheyla in your "craziest comments of the year" write up!

  • SHEYLA | September 4, 2013 1:24 PM

    S you are a bitch, so, shut fuck up you please.

  • Co-Sign | September 4, 2013 12:07 PM

    Co-Sign. Everyone loves Marion, but but shut up already.

  • s | September 4, 2013 11:27 AM

    Holy shit are you her agent or something? Shut up about Marion Cotillard already.

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