It’s been a big two weeks for Christopher Nolan in New York and beyond. The admired director was feted at the Film Society Of Lincoln Center with an hour-plus conversation about his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy last week and a few days before that the IFC Center hosted a screening of a new restored print of “Following,” his debut film that Criterion is releasing later this month. To cap it all off, “The Dark Knight Rises” and the entire trilogy is out on Blu-Ray and DVD this week (surely, that is going to be one of the biggest home video releases of the year).
Last week we had the good fortune to sit down with Nolan, have some tea (naturally) and dig in deep into the creative process of his Batman trilogy and more. Our conversation casually began as Nolan mentioned the FSLC dialogue and then segued into a discussion of the the recent IFC Center screening of a new restored print of “Following.” Due to the length of our conversation, you can come back tomorrow to read part two of the interview. For more Nolan, you can check out our chat with the filmmaker about "Justice League," whether he’ll do more superhero pictures and the producing process behind next summer’s Superman film “Man of Steel.” Update: and for more from Christopher Nolan, make sure to go and read the final part of our interview here.
Well, we did New Films, New Directors with "Following" when starting out which is Lincoln Center and MOMA together. It's nice to come back to that audience, it was very important for me starting out. We screened the print because it's coming out on Blu-ray with Criterion so we did a screening of that, and it was really fun. It was fun to get back to that side of things.
Did you work closely on the restoration of that release?
I actually spent almost two years restoring the thing which makes me feel very old. But we had never been able to get it looking the way it was intended to and the way it did on its very first 16mm prints which screened at the San Francisco and Toronto film festival. So we ended up with a 35mm blow-up, but I was never happy with it. I was never able to finish it quite right so we spent a couple of years on it. I got the Criterion guys involved and IFC did it with me and Criterion got a really beautiful Blu-ray. I know it sounds like I’m selling my Blu-Ray, but I really want people to take a look at it because it is beautiful and it was really fun to be able to strike some 35mm prints that look the way they’re meant to. We screened that at IFC it was really good.
Yeah, it's odd when you look back at your own work. Some filmmakers don't look back at their work at all. I look at my work a lot actually. I feel like I learned something while looking at stuff I've done in terms of what I'm going to do in the future, mistakes I've made and things at work or what have you. I find it interesting. And with my films there's always been a lot of personal history in them too in a way, particularly a film like “Following,” where I made it with friends and family. We just shot it in places we were living.
Your uncle John Nolan appears in it and he’s in “Batman Begins” too.
Yeah, and he's in “Dark Knight Rises” as well. John, he's a real actor in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I drafted him into the role and then used him for “Batman Begins” and “Rises.”
Having revisited all the films, it strikes me that unless you have a great poker face these films were conceived as a trilogy, despite some claims to the contrary.
[Laughs] Well it's a bit of both. I'm often asked if we'll do a trilogy with relation to "Dark Knight Rises" and it's a complicated question to answer because the truth is when we took on the character, you know that there is a potential for sequels... So David Goyer and I at a very early stage, were just throwing ideas around for "Batman Begins" and just exploring the character. We did loosely talk about where you would go for other sequels, and to us, that was a trilogy because a story has a beginning, middle and an end. But very early on we shut that down and said, “Yes and no.” It was in the back of our minds, but if we said anything, or held anything back consciously we were going to be making less of a movie than we could. So with “Batman Begins,” I thought everybody just pretty much was thinking about that movie. When it was finished we said, “Okay we have the loose arc of what the trilogy would be as a story.”
The ending is controversial to many, but in retrospect, there are myriad threads planted throughout that reinforce the idea that Bruce Wayne is looking to get out of the game as soon as he can. This isn’t a long term plan and he’s been planning to quit all along.
Very much. I mean everything in the trilogy comes back to the scene of the jet in "Batman Begins" between Bruce and Alfred. It's a short scene and it's simple, but it's got a couple of little nods to this idea. It flies by, but i it's crucial to the trilogy because not all Batman fans agree with this. This is my interpretation of the character.
This is David [Goyer] and my take on it, and Christian [Bale] as well having his input. We said, “Okay, when you look at how you make the incredible extraordinary actions of an individual, who's going to reinvent themselves in a theatrical persona in order to right the wrongs of the world and exorcise demons”....
The only way to me that made sense was in a more realistic tone, and taking on the idea of symbolism. The take on the idea that [Bruce Wayne] would see himself as a symbol who would motivate the good of Gotham to actually start working on their own, so he would be a catalyst for change, and tip the scales. And that's always going to be a temporary process. To me it only made sense if you were looking at going okay, “I’m going to do this until the point where it's not needed. So we followed it through very much into “The Dark Knight.”
Oh yeah, a big reason the three films are one big film. I'm just being honest with people when I say we never intended to make a trilogy. What I'm being honest about is we never sat down and wrote a trilogy. Because I feel that to do it that way, you would be limiting the possibilities. What I wanted to do was live the trilogy with the characters, grow them, and take the time to develop the thing over years from the inside. I talk about his writing from the inside -- we're changing and growing with the characters and the world is changing with the characters. We're trying to reflect that in the storytelling but always knowing that in loose terms, this is Bruce Wayne’s story. It has a beginning, it has a middle and it has an end. And we essentially knew what that was upfront.
As much as it’s Bruce Wayne’s story, it seems to be the story of a city, almost the battle for the soul of Gotham.
Yes, it is. I think that was very relevant when we first looked at what constitutes Batman. What is the character of Batman? In looking at the comics and the history of the comics, really Gotham, his relationship with the city is a very defining feature of why Batman exists and who he is. In terms of the canvas of the film, we went outside Gotham. We did that in order to suggest the idea to the audience that Gotham is not a village. That you're subtracting, as sometimes in the TV show or the Tim Burton movies, there was this slightly claustrophobic nature of the world.