The Beautiful and Damned Q&A with Candace Grissom

March 19, 2011

I got sent some questions originally posted here on my new feature film, The Beautiful and Damned:

https://ideafix7.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/cassavettes-and-knightley-go-the-beautiful-and-the-damned/

I have responded.

I’ll reprint questions and answers here.

From Candace Grissom:

Richard,

I completely agree with your statement that Fitzgerald’s works are very appropriate for translation into the 21st century and that he had an almost prophetic visionary sense about the future of youth culture.

I attended the screening of your adaptation of The Beautiful and Damned at the Fitzgerald Festival in Baltimore, and am including a study of it in my PhD dissertation, which discusses the evolving ways in which Fitzgerald’s works have been adapted for film as part of a larger discussion on how the status of how literary celebrity affected his writing.

I get what you were going for by including the sexual and substance abuse issues from the original text, by updating their excesses to maintain the same level of shock factor that Fitzgerald’s original must have had for a 1920s audience.

However, I continue to be puzzled by the political implications of your film, especially since Fitzgerald studies tends to focus specifically around how very “American” his conception of the wasting effects of capitalist excess can be on those young people who aspire to progress through achievement, only to find that, after they reach a certain plateau of wealth, there is no goal left for which to strive.

After reading your blog and statements about a new sort of fascist political system, I find myself wondering whether any of your ideas on this topic found their way into the film as political commentary and if so, do you see any cultural differences related to capitalism in America versus Australia that influenced your opinions? (Personally, I read it to be more of a universal, global issue that is indicative of postmodern society as a whole.)

Also, I find it fascinating that you have written a Manifesto for Ontological Cinema, and I was wondering how the ideology for the goals of this style guided your creative process for The Beautiful and Damned in particular?

Last, I noticed that, although there was a good bit of Fitzgerald’s original dialogue included in the film, there was also a very 21st century mannerism of inserting “fuck” and various other profanities into conversation in a seemingly random fashion, and I was wondering whether you simply intended their inclusion to mimic today’s speech patterns, or if they had any deeper sociological implications?

(I tended to include them in the overall sense that the film conveys to me, which is that modern society has made a saleable commodity out of the sexual act, making it less emotionally meaningful for individuals like Anthony and Gloria who are trying to maintain a relationship. Thus, I interpreted the profanity as mirroring a devolution of linguistic sensibilites in youth culture that parallels the devolution in regard for the maintenance of meaningful sexual relationships.)

Sorry about all the questions, but I thought that you would like to know that your film has been a really interesting piece of cinema to work with as I attempt to contextualize it within the larger history of Fitzgerald film history. It truly does represent a completely new path in the field which I think, given the upcoming major studio projects currently in the works, will be well-trodden by other filmmakers in the future.

My response:

Dear Candace,

Thank you for your letter. I will attempt to address some of your questions and the issues raised by them in this letter.

It was a great pleasure to adapt F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. I was inspired by the Ken Russell adaptations of DH Lawrence, the cinema of Lars Von Trier, the contemporary writings of Bret Easton Ellis (who I have subsequently met up with a few times) and JG Ballard. The later two I dedicated my new film too.

There has been a cinematic resurgence of interest in Fitzgerald and I think I had my finger on the right cultural pulse to make this film in the late 00’s. I felt adapting the book was like working with a contemporary, albeit one of great genius.

To your questions:

Regarding American-ness it seems in our globalized world that today everywhere is America. So Fitzgerald’s America and critique of the American Dream can apply to where ever globalization/later day Capitalism has had an impact. This covers a vast swathe of the planets surface and population. Capitalism is now the worlds number one religion and is a positive and at times negative phenomenon that can have negative effects on the soul of a people. This is becoming universally evident. So, to me setting the film in Melbourne Australia in the 00’s (though it could be ‘anywhere’ in the West) was an easy and non contradictory decision. Many things held up and adapted perfectly. Fitzgerald has always struck me as a timeless author whose work can survive moving from his milieu like Shakespeare and others.

RE: Politics in book and film. Many writers consider Fitzgerald to be a Left Winger and I had an interesting discussion with Scott Donaldson at the conference who is of that opinion. I gave a copy of my film to him as well! But I beg to differ. As research in the texts I studied, like many modernists, I found in Fitzgerald an attraction to many Right Wing/fascist ideas. One of the major clues is his interest in Spengler, a major Right Wing/fascist writer. Same his attraction to conservative poet TS Eliot. Fitzgerald also mentions the likes of outright racists like T. Lothrop Stoddard and others who is obviously familiar with. While Fitzgerald is critical of the upper class and Capitalist elite in many ways like Bret Easton Ellis he clearly admires them, also. He is a romantic idealist and elitist in essence from my reading and I think such ideas lend themselves to fascist or other Rightist discourses. My interest in Right Wing and Fascist politics did attract to me to Fitzgerald oddly enough. He spoke admiringly of Mussolini in an interview I read and never lived to see the major human rights atrocities of fascism. So, much like say Lawrence, Eliot, Pound or Yeats I detect a reactionary Right Wing vein in Fitzgerald. This can also be applied to Fitzgerald’s alleged anti Semitism. I naturally left the reference intact from the book in the film. Though it is a minor issue in The Damned and I did it so as to remain true to the novel and the Bloekman character. I think Anthony’s anti Semitism shows his weakness at that moment and that overall I find Fitzgerald is not really a racist or anti-semite. Though he has some Southern sensibilities, I would suggest…

The Manifesto for Ontological Cinema I wrote around the time of shooting The Damned and it comes from my reflections on making this film. It’s often what is left out in a film that makes it good, as much as what is put in. Kubrick is a master at this. So, too, Lars Von Trier. I am merely following in the footsteps of my cinematic idols to distill a new kind of 21st century digital ontological cinema. A lot of the thoughts come from my study of Martin Heidegger. A major figure in 20th century thought and the most important philosopher of our epoch, in my humble opinion.

In updating the book I tried to bring a level of shock to it that the book must have had but not be too excessive as to be an orgy or depravity and debauch which was not Fitzgerald’s book. Whether I went too far, or got it right, often depends on ones sensibilities. The use of “fuck” and other curse words stems from that as does other sexual scenes and the drug use, etc. I do feel I got it almost right. Some friends say I didn’t go far enough!!!… which tells me so. It’s not that bad given the scenes of sex and depravity on our TV every night but neither does the film shy away from portraying upper class decadence, debauch and entropy.

I hope these answers address some of your concerns. I am happy to answer any more if you have them?

Best Regards

Richard Wolstencroft

PS. The book on Anthony Patch’s lap (below 2nd photo) is Thomas Malthus’s famous treatise on population control.

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