Danny Boyle Talks The Unorthodox Construction Of 'Trance,' Going Back To The Dark Side & His Relationship With Writers

Interviews
by Drew Taylor
April 9, 2013 3:05 PM
2 Comments
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When we attended a Danny Boyle panel at the South by Southwest Film Festival last month, they played a kind of highlight reel before the it began, with clips covering his film career to date. As they flickered by, it was hard not to be impressed – this is a man who has won an Oscar for Best Director and one for Best Picture and yet, when you see images from "Trainspotting" or "Sunshine" or "127 Hours," you can't help but feel like he's still underrated. His newest movie, a twisty, turny, deliciously sexy thriller called "Trance," just opened in New York and Los Angeles, and will be expanding in the coming weeks across the country.

"Trance" is the tale of an art theft and the bloody, hypnotic aftermath, which Boyle chooses to tell in the most achingly stylized way possible. Working with his "Slumdog Millionaire" cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, he creates a world lined with blazingly bright neon, where fantasy and reality mash together in vibrant streaks (the other night someone called it a "film noir rave," which is pretty good). We wanted to ask him about the psychosexual thriller genre, what the unconventional approach to shooting and editing "Trance" was like, his relationship with writers, and whether or not he's running out of genres to tackle. And please note, there may be some mild spoilers below.

"People say the 'femme fatale' is a misogynist concept. So you try to use it in a way that it’s actually interesting and actually has an emotional truth to it."
You were talking about challenging yourself by attempting different genres. What made you pick this kind of psychosexual thriller piece?
Yeah, I love them, there aren’t enough of them. And it’s interesting doing one. You kind of go, “Body Heat”? I mean I remember seeing “Body Heat” and thinking, "Fucking hell" and you wait another five years before there’s another “Body Heat.” Now maybe there’s loads and they’re not very good and you don’t see them, but it’s wonderful… Look, I’m a guy, and I've grown and matured in cinema, and that sensual sexuality that’s used in manipulating men, so men who appear to have all of the power are just manipulatable. 

I never really made a film with a woman at the center of it, so I can’t make a feminist film. I’m just not going to do that, am I? The closest you come to that is to use the woman as the femme fatale...lots of people say femme fatale is a misogynist concept, it’s a male construct. So you try to use it in a way that it’s actually interesting and actually has an emotional truth to it instead. If you want the story in chronological order, Rosario Dawson's character is the one facing insurmountable odds because not only has [one of the characters] behaved poorly to her and not only will nobody else help her, but he comes back into her life with four other violent men, as well. So it’s like, “What is she gonna do?” She somehow succeeds by the end. So that’s the stuff I loved and attracted me to the movie and also the use of trance, the use of cinema as hypnotism. Cinema is hypnotic if it’s half-decent. We go in a dark room. We watch flickering lights. We forget about the world for 90 minutes. You forget reality. That’s hypnotism. You’ve just been taken to places you wanna go which is sort of what hypnotism is meant to do.

In the movie you see what one of the bad guy's worst fear is. Did you film the other guys' nightmares?
No, it was scripted, but we didn’t shoot it. It was interesting.

Can you tell me what Vincent Cassel’s nightmare was?
Oh my God, what was it? [Screenwriter] John Hodge wrote this sequence where they all jumped, where they all had a fantasy, like their fantasies were deeply obvious and disappointing. You know like cars and girls and coke, Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, things like that. And then there was another sequence, which was their deepest fears. I think one of them was a plane, you know, an out of control plane and stuff like that. And they kind of morphed and we replaced them into the sequence where you see Rosario's daily work was like -- she's dealing with people who are frightened of spiders or frightened of jets.

Now, you shot this before the Olympics and came back and edited it?
Yeah. We took a sabbatical from the Olympics. A lot of people speak very highly of those Olympics, and dark though it is, “Trance” was partly responsible  for keeping us sane in the Olympics, 'cause the Olympics would drive you nuts. But to be able to take a break and to make something dark and delicious really keeps you sane for your family-friendly kind of entertainment that you’re working on. For the pride of the nation entertainment that you’re working on, you need to be working on the dark nightmares at nighttime.

Did you have sort of an idea of how you were going to edit it? Because it seems like there’s a certain color motif and other things like that. Or was that something you sort of discovered?
No, it was interesting. Very few filmmakers get a chance to shoot a film and then put it away without properly editing it. The only chance it ever happens is if an actor has to change shape, like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” or [Robert] De Niro in “Raging Bull,” where you have to stop for nine months while they change shape, but even then you haven’t shot the whole movie. We’d shot the whole movie and had put it away and I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea at the time. 

Afterwards I thought it was wonderful, because when we did come back to it, which was like 8 months later, when we first watched the rough cut, I didn’t know what was going to happen and that’s as close as you ever get to the innocence of an audience. By being entrusted [to direct the movie], you know way more than anyone else is ever going to know about everything and yet they expect you to tell the story. Whereas surely somebody needs to be consulted who doesn’t know anything about what’s going on because you’re only going to see it once. Hopefully, people go and see “Trance” twice because it’s an interesting film to see twice. But I loved it, getting back to that innocence. I didn’t know what was coming, I’d be watching a scene thinking, “What comes next? I have no idea.” And that’s weird for a filmmaker on his own film.

Did you go back and shoot anything else? 
Yes, we did a few pick-ups. We did a couple of days of pick-ups, just a few bits and pieces…Woody [Allen] used to shoot and re-shoot the whole thing [ed. note, he's talking about "September" which Allen shot and then reshot with an substantially new cast], which is interesting, if you have that kind of power.

I wanted to ask you about the Olympics. Did you see the presentation in America? 
No, I heard there was gaps and things were left out and stuff like that. You can get freaked out about stuff like that, but you can’t, you just got to go with it and it’s such a huge thing anyway that you -- it’s enough dealing with it for your home audience as it is. We did some touch-ups of the DVD, so everything’s included in that. So the record of it is there.

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2 Comments

  • CarlaVanessa | April 28, 2013 8:29 AMReply

    (SPOILERS AHEAD) Wow. Boyle deserves some sort of medal for his astute observation that he can't make a feminist film. Not that he should have to - bring on the Hitchcock-esque femme fatale with all the lusty lingering male gaze shots of Rosario Dawson's Renaissance body if that's what floats your boat (and why wouldn't it?!; she's smokin'). But his use of the femme fatale is not what makes this film so troublingly misogynistic.

    Dawson as the manipulative mastermind of this flashy revenge fantasy is old-school Hollywood trope, but this is overshadowed by a more worrying (and equally common) representation of women in film - the 'victim'. And she's a sensationalised victim too!:
    Watch her battered woman syndrome scale new heights as she seduces the ex-boyfriend that beat and assaulted her!
    Zoom in on her shaven vagina (in furtherance of a really weak plot point) and not only is she disempowered but also infantilised!
    Leave her alone in a room with a bunch of angry men and they can't help but try to rape her!
    Never fear though; her long-term abuser will come to her rescue. Lets forgive the fact that he has a pathological propensity for violence against women (his anger gets the better of him and - oops! - he's strangled one to death).

    Boyle's film has a problem with misogyny, alright, and the femme fatale's not the one to blame.

  • CarlaVanessa | April 28, 2013 8:27 AMReply

    (SPOILERS AHEAD) Wow. Boyle deserves some sort of medal for his astute observation that he can't make a feminist film. Not that he should have to - bring on the Hitchcock-esque femme fatale with all the lusty lingering male gaze shots of Rosario Dawson's Renaissance body if that's what floats your boat (and why wouldn't it?!; she's smokin'). But his use of the femme fatale is not what makes this film so troublingly misogynistic.

    Dawson as the manipulative mastermind of this flashy revenge fantasy is old-school Hollywood trope, but this is overshadowed by a more worrying (and equally common) representation of women in film - the 'victim'. And she's a sensationalised victim too!:
    Watch her battered woman syndrome scale new heights as she seduces the ex-boyfriend that beat and assaulted her!
    Zoom in on her shaven vagina (in furtherance of a really weak plot point) and not only is she disempowered but also infantilised!
    Leave her alone in a room with a bunch of angry men and they can't help but try to rape her!
    Never fear though; her long-term abuser will come to her rescue. Lets forgive the fact that he has a pathological propensity for violence against women (his anger gets the better of him and - oops! - he's strangled one to death).

    Boyle's film has a problem with misogyny, alright, and the femme fatale's not the one to blame.

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