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Walter Salles Talks The Influence Of Fathers In 'On The Road,' Working With Jose Rivera, Writing A Book About Jia Zhang Ke & More

Photo of Erik McClanahan By Erik McClanahan | The Playlist December 20, 2012 at 12:26PM

On the fifth floor of the Hotel deLuxe in Portland, Oregon, Walter Salles seems content to talk at length about cinema. But alas, two publicists, worried the loquacious “On the Road” director will miss his train up to Seattle for another round of press and screenings of his latest film, a long-in-the-works adaptation of the seminal beat novel by Jack Kerouac, had to cut the conversation off. As I packed up my recording equipment, Salles took the opportunity to politely discuss the proper sound levels for projecting the film to the two publicists.
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On The Road Kristen Stewart
Shooting the film in black and white was deemed too obvious.
Though he’s been quoted as saying he planned to shoot the film in the more classical, colorless style, Salles said he was citing a friend that said it always had to be filmed in black and white. Though he did mention that he “would have liked to do that,” noting that it would have been simpler to shoot in 16mm black and white (like his second film “Foreign Land,” which you should check out if you have the chance), he discussed this at length with DP Eric Gautier, who said they’d be replicating what photographer Robert Frank did with his book "The Americans."

They ultimately determined they would never reach that palette, because it wasn’t out there anymore. Other crew members, whom Salles has a long working relationship with, also chimed in with their opinions. Production designer Carlos Conti, for instance, suggested that shooting in black and white would be an “obvious path.” Instead, they looked for the colors in every specific moment and set off on the visual scheme you can see in the finished film.

His very underseen, previous film, “Linha de Passe,” was offered U.S. distribution, but Salles ultimately decided against it.
We’ve always been curious why this excellent film was never distributed here, but now we have our answer. Salles was offered distribution “at a time when ‘On the Road’ became ripe” but t didn’t make sense to him to launch a film without being able to support it.

So, unfortunately it’s been distributed everywhere else in the world, but the excellent “Linha de Passe” never got a proper

Linha de Passe

 U.S. theatrical release. The film made the festival rounds, where this writer was lucky enough to see it at TIFF ’08 (read one of our reviews here). It’s a real low-key gem of a film, akin to Luchino Visconti’s classic “Rocco and His Brothers.” It’s never been released on Region 1 DVD either, but anyone with a region free DVD player can find the film out there.

Salles said he carries a lot of affection and heart for the film, which he made after his most commercial (and weakest, in this writer’s opinion) film, the J-Horror remake “Dark Water” starring Jennifer Connelly. The crew on "Linha de Passe" was young and inexperienced. “It was a very urgent and fruitful collaboration,” he said. “The experience will never be replicated by us.” He noticed a similar passion for cinema and creation when he saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild” earlier this year.

He said “Linha de Passe” was a breath of fresh air coming off of “Dark Water.” “It’s important to try new things and stay fresh, and I also like to keep my passport very close to my body.” Every time he drifts away from Brazil, he wants to go back, saying it’s fundamental he go back to Latin America after he works outside his home. “So get ready for something in that vein next,” he said, smiling.

What about those other three collaborations with screenwriter Jose Rivera?
In October, we wrote: “Though the public only knows ‘[The Motorcycle] Diaries’ and now 'On the Road,' Rivera said he’s written three screenplays for Salles that have not been produced. One of them is an adaptation of Junot Diaz's 'The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao' for producer Scott Rudin.”

On The Road Cannes

Though he was a bit obscure in his answer to the question, it appears that Salles is through working with Rivera. Here’s what he had to say: “I always start development with the aim of finding the film. You’re imaging it on the screen before the writing process begins. There are times when you have the impression that you have attained a certain degree of maturity, and the screenplay is ripe to be reinvented on the set, and there are some times when it drifts away from you. So I think 2 out of 5 is a pretty good average (laughing).”

Salles said he’s a fan of Rivera’s work. “I think he’s a great theater writer. He’s interested in directing himself. Maybe one of those stories we weren’t able to do together, maybe Jose will take on as director.”

Salles is more interested in original stories after “On the Road.” He also loves and misses books about filmmakers, written by other filmmakers. He wants to write a book about Jia Zhang Ke (“Still Life”) in 2013. “We kind of started it a couple years ago. One of my plans next year is to go to China and dive into that exchange and conversation. Maybe you’ll see that book. He’s the most important filmmaker alive. You can learn more about China by watching one of his film then reading ten different issues of the Economist.”

“On the Road” opens on December 21st in limited release and will continue to roll out to other cities through January.

This article is related to: Walter Salles , José Rivera, On The Road, In Search Of On The Road, Zhang Ke Jia


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