I love a good Ethan Hawke interview, but they are a chore to cover because the man has more riffs than a jazz pianist. He can talk and talk and talk in circles and digress and make a great point, then bring it back to the original subject. He’s a great talker and, frankly, an oddity in the current era of Hollywood, where getting a good quote or soundbite from a movie star is often like pulling teeth. Ethan will give you a million good soundbites and he’s only answered one of your questions. Ethan sat down with The Film Stage to promote his appearance at the Locarno Film Festival (he’s being honored with a lifetime achievement award). He honestly would not shut up – you can read the full piece here. Here’s only a fraction of some of the interesting stuff he says:
A Christian Bale story: “It’s also strange to be 47 and also have been making movies for over thirty years. It’s a little rare actually. The other day I saw Christian Bale in a movie and I felt this sense of pride for him for how talented he is, what a good actor he is. I realized that the first time I was jealous of Christian Bale, I think I was 19. Because I had been the youngest client at my agency until they signed Christian Bale. There was this huge list. They represented Robert Redford, Paul Newman, blah blah blah, you know, Warren Beatty. And I was really proud to be on it, I was the youngest one. And the next year there was this other guy, younger guy, “Christian Bale,” who the hell’s that?! And I was like: aw sh-t, I’m never gonna forget him.
This is an interesting observation on ageing and storytelling: “One of the problems with contemporary culture is that there is a tremendous amount of energy put into trying to help 18-year-olds be 35 or, you know, 22-year-olds be 40. But there’s not a big amount of energy put into helping 40-year-olds become 80. You know, there’s no university for it.”
On how the film industry works now: “I’m always astonished, I’m sure you are too, you can go on Apple TV now and see that Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow made a movie together that I never heard of. What? And like, Matt Damon’s in a Clint Eastwood movie I never heard of? So many things get lost in the cracks and if those big names are getting lost, where are the Gattacas of right now? It might be like other art forms where it might take 50 years to curate what’s happening right now. That’s why film festivals have become so important because you guys at film festivals are like curators of, like, what does the world need to be paying attention to. What should be seen? If we didn’t have these festivals, big business would crush all these smaller movies.
On superhero movies: “Now we have the problem that they tell us Logan is a great movie. Well, it’s a great superhero movie. It still involves people in tights with metal coming out of their hands. It’s not Bresson. It’s not Bergman. But they talk about it like it is. I went to see Logan cause everyone was like, “This is a great movie” and I was like, “Really? No, this is a fine superhero movie.” There’s a difference but big business doesn’t think there’s a difference. Big business wants you to think that this is a great film because they wanna make money off of it.
There was some pushback online about Ethan’s comments about superhero films, but it came at the end of an extended riff about how the industry has changed and how those big-budget superhero films are destroying people’s taste for thoughtful, studio-backed dramas, art films, what have you. Plus, I sort of agree of him, even though I’ve never seen a Bergman film in my life. But there IS a delineation between “this is a good movie” and “this is a good superhero movie.” Logan is a good superhero movie and arguably a good movie overall, but also: it’s not Citizen Kane and that’s okay. The industry should be big enough and inclusive enough to support Moonlight AND Black Panther, Captain Fantastic AND Captain America. Ethan isn’t ghettoizing superhero films, he’s merely pointing out that our standards have been warped by the takeover of superhero films.
Photos courtesy of WENN.