- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s “The Hurt Locker,” the new action-thriller about Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Squads at the heart of the Iraq war, is dedicated to delivering both an exciting time at the theater and a rarely seen glimpse at some of the conflict’s most important soldiers.

“The information to the public at large is not as well-known as it could be,” Ms. Bigelow says of the EOD techs and their role defusing improvised explosive devices and other roadside bombs. “Keep the film reportorial; keep it kind of raw, immediate and visceral; and give the audience a real boots-on-the-ground life of a bomb tech,” and the story will tell itself: “There’s so much inherent drama in that that, as a filmmaker, I didn’t have to truss it up.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a few directorial tricks up the sleeve. Ms. Bigelow, who has directed action-packed features including “Point Break” and “K-19: The Widowmaker,” often shot the suspenseful bomb-defusing sequences in one go rather than breaking them up into their component parts to make them more manageable.

“We would literally do [a] sequence from beginning to end again and again rather than break it down into its more antiseptic, compartmentalized elements,” she says, noting that it adds to the immediacy that the audience feels during those tense moments. “They were actually arriving at the scene and disarming a bomb. Four units, moving sometimes in tandem, and sometimes countering them, never knowing where a camera was going to be; [the actors] had to be in the moment and not actually ‘performing,’ thinking, ‘This is my medium, this is my wide.’”

Aiding that realism was Mr. Boal’s script, which was informed largely by his time as an embedded journalist with a group of EOD soldiers, about whom little has been written and less shown. “Whether the movie turns out good or bad, you have this element of [the film] being slightly revelatory to people, because you’re showing them a side of the military that they’re not familiar with,” he says. “It’s a side of the war that, in a way, is the symbolic heart of the conflict.”

That commitment to revelation complements the movie’s narrative drive to create a realistic, gripping thriller. “It’s not a documentary,” Mr. Boal notes. “This shouldn’t feel like spinach; it’s meant to be entertaining, and it’s a summer movie. Nonetheless, it’s pretty faithful to what some of those guys went through.”

40 years of ‘Z’

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, filmmaking came to be dominated by features with a distinctly political bent: Directors absorbed the tumult surrounding them and channeled it into their motion pictures.

“Z,” one such picture, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with a newly struck 35mm print and limited theatrical engagements around the country. Speaking from his home in France, director Costa-Gavras expresses both surprise and pleasure in the fact that his movie continues to strike a chord with audiences four decades later.

“I saw the movie with an audience in New York, and I was surprised to see how the audience was reacting,” he says. “I had a chat with them after it, and it was very moving, because people were speaking very nicely about the movie, how they received it. … There were a lot of young people, and they were very interested about everything: Some say ‘Oh, it’s the situation around the world today’ and so forth.”

“Z” tells the story of an anonymous country in political turmoil whose world is rocked after the murder of a leftist politician by a shadowy rightist cabal. The movie is a thinly veiled attack on the military junta in Mr. Costa-Gavras’ native Greece, but his skill in fashioning a thrilling film first and a searing political indictment second lent the picture added relatability to audiences around the globe.

Mr. Costa-Gavras says he is unsure whether or not such a film could be made now.

“Today, the situation has changed drastically. At the time, the position you had to have, it was very easy: to be with the Western world or the Eastern world, or somewhere in between them,” he explains. “Today, it’s much more difficult. The political situations around the world are so complex … today, all of the political situations come to the economy.”

“Z” has endured these 40 years because people can relate to what’s at stake. “It’s the need we all have for justice,” Mr. Costa-Gavras says. “Where there’s no justice, we become very aggressive, and people, like the judge [protagonist] who risks his freedom and his job and everything just for the justice, I think people like very much to see that again. I think that’s the whole thing.”

It also helps that the story at the heart of the movie is so gripping; Mr. Costa-Gavras understands that audiences need to be entertained, not lectured to. “People don’t go to cinema to listen to speech or political speech or a kind of university lesson, they go to [be] entertained,” he says. “So I’m trying to create situations which are entertaining.”

Sonny Bunch

Inspiration in an icon

Let’s get this out of the way immediately — Duncan Jones, whose feature-film debut, “Moon,” opens here today, is the son of rock star David Bowie.

Mr. Jones, a congenial conversationalist, makes it easy on reporters who must stop asking about his own work to find out what it was like to grow up with an icon. In the midst of talking about how he got a filmmaking apprenticeship, he casually mentions that he was introduced to director Tony Scott by his father.

“I’m not sick of it. I totally understand it. I’ve made one feature film, so there’s a limited number of things you can talk to me about,” he says later about having to answer questions about Mr. Bowie, who was born David Jones. “Maybe in two or three films’ time, that will be done. I don’t think anyone asks Michael Douglas anymore what it’s like being Kirk Douglas’ son.”

“Moon,” starring Sam Rockwell as a lonely worker who begins to break down at the end of a three-year contract to man an outpost on the moon, received raves at Sundance and marks the arrival of a talent who will have no trouble making his own name for himself — although he only began using it as an adult.

He was born Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones, and tabloids pounced on the chance to give him the rhyming moniker of Zowie Bowie. It stuck, though he found being called Zowie at home had too many Bowies answering. He then went by Joe. “When I went off to university in America, I thought, ‘It’s time for me to play my proper name back and be Duncan,’” says the director, whose surname has always been Jones.

It seems fitting that Ziggy Stardust’s son’s first film is a sci-fi flick. Mr. Bowie and Angela Bowie divorced in 1980. “I was unusually, for that period or even today, given into custody of my father. So I was brought up with him and surrounded by all of the things he was interested in and creatively was investigating,” Mr. Jones says of their shared interests. “My first feature is so similar in themes to what his early work was. I can’t help it.”

That doesn’t mean he’s his father’s biggest fan, though. “He made a real impact on his part of the arts. That’s something really to be proud of. I think he made music more interesting,” Mr. Jones says but then admits he doesn’t really like Mr. Bowie’s music. “That’s so unfair. I don’t dislike it. I just always have felt uncomfortable listening to it because I’ve always wanted to distance myself from it. I appreciate it; I know how good it is.”

Mr. Jones admits that his father’s larger-than-life persona long inhibited him from pursuing his own creative impulses. “There’s no way I can ever do anything that would be good enough,” he recalls thinking. He adds, “That’s why it took me decades before I made that move and said I’ve got to go for it because that’s what I want to do.”

He attended the College of Wooster on an academic and soccer scholarship, and then went to Vanderbilt University as a graduate student in philosophy. He eventually left to direct music videos and commercials, gaining experience for a long-sought career in feature filmmaking.

His academic years weren’t completely wasted time, though. He wrote his undergrad thesis on “applying ethics to potentially sentient machines” and says philosophy “gave me a great pool of ideas to draw from, on the creative side.” He counts among his influences the philosophical novelists Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and William Gibson.

Having a famous father doesn’t open every door, though. Kevin Spacey voices “Moon’s” computer character Gerty, but the actor wasn’t easy to get. “He wouldn’t agree to be involved until the film was finished. It was $5 million, and trying to pull this film off for that money was very ambitious,” Mr. Jones says and then adds with a laugh, “He obviously wanted to make sure the sets weren’t made of shoe boxes and didn’t look cheap.”

Kelly Jane Torrance

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide