Tuesday, October 16, 2007

5 Off The Top Of My Head - Haneke Q&A

So as I mentioned yesterday, I got to see Michael Haneke in person last evening at MoMA, where they were finishing off their retrospective of the man's work with a screening of his 1997 Funny Games; a film which he's just remade in English with stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Shitty Casting Decision, and Brady Corbet, that will be released in February. Joe R. was kind enough to accompany me, and he eloquently wrote up the experience of what turned out to be his first Haneke viewing right here.

This was maybe my third or fourth time seeing Funny Games, and it is a film that falls more and more into my favor every time I see it, even while I do still see the inherent problems Haneke mires himself in, what with making a film so outwardly concerned with, well, fucking with us. "Fucking with us" (I could use a nicer descriptor here, but "fucking with us" is the essence, vulgar though it may be) is the film's - most of his films, really - basic concern, and whenever I read or hear Haneke speak on his intentions I am glad to see the man reiterate that fact with basically a shrug and a nod. Yup. A lot of people leave Funny Games angry - the word "cheating" figured prominently into a piece of the Q&A afterwards - and it was nice to see that I'm not totally reading his films wrong, and that "cheating" doesn't really mean anything to him, and sorta misses the point.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here are five things I learned from Michael Haneke's Q&A:

1 - First and foremost, I've embarrassingly been pronouncing Haneke incorrectly. It sounds exactly like the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, and does not end with a "key" sound. Huh.

2 - He's a slippery mofo. There were several questions which he simply said he couldn't, or rather wouldn't, answer. These Q&A things are always a mixed bag of decent questions mixed with crap that makes me cringe; as Joe called it, the:

"'Look at how smart I am!' posturing of most of the questioners, the best of whom managed to ask Haneke a question about Bergman that had no point other than to allow the questioner to tick off how many Bergman films he'd seen."

. Do not fear knocking the New York Intelligentsia, Joe; they richly deserve their knocks. One question that had a real point with regards to Haneke's films - and especially with regards to Funny Games - but that I was still glad to see Haneke shrug off an answer to was for him to "define reality." He said his philosophy teacher told him never to define anything, and he sticks by that game-plan. Thankfully. It made for a... difficult... Q&A, he wasn't all that forthcoming on much, but I'm so glad he's of the "the film speaks for itself" school, rather than tell me what I'm supposed to think about said film, or for him to paint himself into a corner with explaining exactly what he believes and how we're supposed to read it.

3 - My favorite non-committal answer of the night came about Arno Frisch, the actor who plays the main villain in Funny Games - to be played by Bad Casting Decision in the remake, UGH - and played the similarly, um, damaged character of Benny in Haneke's film Benny's Video five years earlier. Haneke was asked if Frisch was an older version of Benny in Funny Games, something I'd wondered before - all we got from Haneke was a big wicked grin and a shrug.

4 - The rock music in Funny Games - by the experimental band Naked City - was the suggestion of Haneke's editor. Haneke admitted he knew little about rock or pop music and was extremely thankful to his editor for the recommendation. This drew what I found to be the most interesting comment of the night from him, when he said he found Naked City's music to be not straight-forward rock music but rather a "parody of rock music, just as Funny Games is a parody of the thriller." "Parody" is the word that's escaped me in trying to sum up Funny Games in the past, but it's dead-on. Just minus the "ha-ha" element that "parody" often implies.

5 - The most contentious portion of the Q&A, at least from my perspective, was the questioner who harped on, and seemed very agitated by, the notion of the film's "cheating." I was glad someone asked about it - it's a valid point and reaction that many people have to the film, but at the same time, I think that it's also one that's, well, falling right into the trap that Haneke sets with the film. He wants you to be pissed off that he does it. He wants you to recognize the manipulation; that's the very subject of the film itself. The whole notion of "cheating" - of breaking down the fourth wall, having the characters speak directly to the audience, giving the bad guys the power to rewind the very film we're watching and change the outcome of what has occurred - and the anger, the betrayal, that seems to bring forth in an audience is precisely what Haneke's getting at. He doesn't want Funny Games to be a straight-forward thriller in which the "rules" of the usual narrative are just slightly tweaked and played with but in the end reinforce, well, anything. He's fucking with the audience so the audience thinks about how they're being fucked with. The ability of a passive viewing audience to submit itself to endless manipulation, and to take them to the breaking point and beyond that, where they're only thinking about how film itself is a medium to manipulate you, is what he wants you to think about when you leave one of his films. Haneke seemed most amused by the notion that people feel as if he makes the audience suffer; he said that anyone who sits through the entirety of Funny Games needed what it was giving them. I think the highest praise Haneke might find is for someone to walk out in the middle of one of his films - to say enough to his manipulations, since what he's really, always, driving at is making us aware of those manipulations in the media that surrounds and effects us in the first place.

There was one questioner who seemed disappointed that Funny Games was the film he'd chosen to remake for American audiences when so many of his other films deal with, according to her, "important" international and political issues like immigration and race-relations - Haneke's answer was blunt - that media manipulation is political, and he obviously felt really strongly about attempting to discuss the issue in reference to the US in particular; hence the way Funny Games has always felt aimed squarely at us, and our violence-saturated culture, and his desire to remake it in English, with recognizable faces to American audiences; to get as many Americans to see the ideas this film posits as possible. He was asked if he saw the remake as a "moral obligation" or if there was anything that was driving him from an artistic stand-point to get it done, and while he balked at the phrase "moral obligation" he did reiterate his desire for more Americans to see the film, as well as that he was most definitely curious to face the technical challenge of remaking his own film shot-for-shot and to see how close he could have the two versions be. He had his editor compare raw footage from the original Funny Games and the remake and, apparently, there was an eight second difference between the two, which seemed to amuse him.

BONUS - Speaking of the remake, a friend of a friend that I spoke with after the screening was given the opportunity to personally interview Haneke earlier yesterday, and she said he was just as slippery one-on-one as he was with an audience. She'd also seen the remake and said there were small differences between the two versions - slight things to make the remake seem more American - and pointed out something that had never occurred to me that does make a real difference in the ten years since the first film and in making it explicitly American now: that the father and son pair in the original and the remake of Funny Games are named "George" and "George Jr."

When she asked Haneke about this he refused to comment, but grinned.


Joe Reid said...

Another of the "look at meeeeeee!" questioners that I'd forgotten to mention was the guy maybe 6 rows behind us, who managed to ask a question about fascism, using the words "subversion" and...I want to say "dynamism"? Now I can't remember. He didn't say "paradigm" but he might as well have. It was awesome.

Anonymous said...

There's something funny (ha-ha and peculiar) about getting lectured about your inherently violent country by a German.

Glenn Dunks said...

I'd say Haneke is the exact same of intellectual wanker who would recite the films of Bergman as a way of feeling superior to everyone.

...but that's just my thought.

Joe mentioned Straw Dogs though. Funnily enough, I gave that movie an F. Hmm, I sense a patern with and these sorts of movies.

Jason Adams said...

Sean - I love our culture of violence. At least entertainment-wise, that is. And he's technically Austrian! ;-)

Glenn - Haneke ridiculed the Bergman questioner, and told another guy who asked who his influences are that it was something he couldn't answer, that there are 100 years of film and he's been influenced by all of it; he came hardly off as an intellectual wanker. He spent most of the Q&A simply trying to keep the conversation from getting too grandiose.

I didn't "like" Straw Dogs either, but it's still a fascinating, angry film that I'll probably watch again. Just because a movie pisses you off doesn't mean that it's worthless; perhaps the filmmaker wanted to piss you off. It's as valid a reason for art as any.

Glenn Dunks said...

My hatred for Straw Dogs runs much much deeper than it merely pissing me off and making me angry as an ordinary bad movie. I flatout object to that movie morally and personally and it deeply depresses and saddens me. And as not only a film fan but as a man I am offended by everything that movie offers. Men = Violence isn't a theme that I take lightly, quite frankly.

But as I've said before my dislike for Funny Games isn't because it makes me angry for anger's sake. There are aspects of the movie that make me angry but that I also think a detrimental to the film's success for me. I am entirely aware that the things I don't like are what others do and that I don't think it comes down to me merely "getting it" or not. For the most part I do "get" it, I just ain't buying it.

Does that make sense?

Glad to here Haneke (who I had also been pronouncing with a "key" at the end) mocked the Bergman idiot. I still love Hidden if that means anything!

Blah. I really need to just stop commenting on your Haneke posts!