So, would that be the film that most inspired you to direct?
That, and Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai" because that was just thrilling stuff. You suddenly saw the way he used the camera, slow motion, the fights suddenly going into slow motion. He was playing with so many of the techniques that afterwards everyone copied.
But you know, growing up in the San Fernando valley out there in the hills, with friends whose parents worked in the film business, I wanted to get in there and make movies. It wasn’t about directing. See I don’t think of myself as a director, in my mind I’m a filmmaker—there’s a difference. A director makes a script that’s given to him, I just want to make this thing that is in my head, and whatever job is required to do that, I will do that job. My problem with it was that being around the edge of Hollywood and seeing how most people started out as a teaboy and worked their way up, I thought, "I’m not gonna do that, it’s ridiculous." Because I always wanted to control what I was doing.
And so as a cartoonist, it’s paper, pen, my hand, control. I backed into it strangely enough. I must have wanted to make movies, because I saved enough money when I was working in New York to buy my first Bolex camera and we’d go out and shoot things on the weekend. But it’s not like there was a clear idea: "This is what I wanna do more than anything." It was only ultimately when Python came along that we did it ... I mean when I look at people like Scorsese, all these people, I know just all they wanted to do was be film directors … I wasn’t like that.
What’s the film that everyone hates that you love?
Oh god. Well this would be back to “One Eyed Jacks.” I have occasional fights with Mark Kermode when I say it is in my top ten films ... And he’ll say “you’re crazy.” I say, “no, I think it’s a great, great film.” Flawed, but I think it’s just a great, great film. And so many people just don’t see it. It got bad reviews, but I love the characters, the situation, the whole story and I forgive it all the things that are wrong with it.
If a film captures you on some level you can forgive all the shit. Films aren’t perfect things. When we were making “12 Monkeys," Dave Peoples, who also wrote “Unforgiven,” said “If we’ve got three good scenes in a movie, we’ve got a wonderful movie. Forget about the rest.”
So can you think of a film that has won you over with just three moments?
“Fellini’s Casanova." I think there are three moments in there that make it all worthwhile and there’s a lot of stuff when you’re just, “oh, what are you doing?” But those three things are dead on, so it’s a tick as a favorite.
Tell us a film you walked out of/turned off halfway through?
There was one more recently that I can’t remember, I’ve blocked it from my mind, but I got up and walked out because I was like, “You’re wasting too much of my life.” And oh, a Nic Roeg film with Gene Hackman and Theresa Russell, up in the Klondikes prospecting for gold. What was it’s name? [ed. “Eureka”]. I walked out of that.
And I got stuck on the jury in Cannes [in 2001] and I wanted to walk out on several films, but couldn’t. There was a Godard film [“In Praise of Love”] that I managed to sleep during part of it—that’s like walking out. And everybody was horrified … Godard is of course a god, so how could that be? And I was like, "Yes, but it’s shit." Why cant people just say that? He made brilliant films, he made great films, but this is not one of them. This is crap!
And finally, is there a film you hated when you first saw but have since grown to love?
Nah, I’m pretty unforgiving, I don’t change my mind!
“The Zero Theorem" opens in the U.K. on March 14th.