Interview: Rowan Joffe Talks BRIGHTON ROCK

His thoughts on the difficulties of adapting Graham Greene's classic novel and where he feels the film fits in a four quadrant-dependent culture.

While the Brits got to take in Rowan Joffe's (who penned scripts for 28 Weeks Later and The American, among others) Brighton Rock early this year, us Yankees only saw the film drop in theaters last August. WhatCulture! got to speak to Joffe during the UK release HERE, where we also reviewed the film HERE. Now, this writer's had a chance to speak with Joffe about the difficulties of adapting Graham Greene's classic novel and where he feels the film fits in a four quadrant-dependent culture. WC: For starters, we were wondering, why an adaptation, and in a way, a remake?
Rowan Joffe: I don€™t know, I must some sort of suicidal instinct. I mean, its one thing adapting a classic novel €“ it€™s another thing adapting a novel, it€™s another thing adapting an enormously popular novel, it€™s another thing still adapting a classic novel, something of a literary talent, and it€™s another thing entirely adapting a classic novel that€™s also been adapted into a classic film. It is in fact sheer lunacy and the only explanation that I can come up with is, it really is like falling in love with someone you shouldn€™t fall in love with, no matter how many people tell you it€™s going to end in tears, you go through with anyway, because there is some confounding attraction €“ even if my debut film was trashed by a lot of angry critics and my career never recovered, I€™d still wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it because I fell in love with the idea.
OWF: Do you think your version of €œBrighton Rock€ is more influenced by the 1947s adaptation or the novel itself?
RJ: I didn€™t want to inflame the sensibilities of any already inflamed critics, it is my experience amongst British critics that it wasn€™t the I was competing with, it was their memory of the film. I don€™t believe a single critic sat down and watched my movie back-to-back with the Boulting brothers movie and objectively compared the two. What happened was, they watched my movie and compared that with their memory, their recollection, their nostalgia for the original movie. Which is a little bit like comparing a current wife with the ghost of a diseased wife €“ you can€™t compare because the unreal one, the memory, the abstraction, the fantasy, become perfect €“ it becomes the most perfect movie ever made. In fact, the truth of it is, the Boulting brothers movie is long-winded, complicated, boring and dated €“ and the reason why it has such popular place in, especially, British critic€™s minds is that it was a landmark performance by Sir Richard Attenborough and that is certainly true, no one had really delivered anything like that in British film. Britain was making shit films at the time, it was making post-war sucky romantic films in 1947, and €œBrighton Rock€ really stood out. That€™s really what I was up against, I realized, I was up against not the original, I was up against the perceived original.
OWF: How do you feel your film fits into the current filmmaking climate?
RJ: Oh boy, well, that€™s a good question. The current filmmaking climate seems to me to be more four-quadrant oriented that it has ever been in my lifetime. When I was a kid, the idea that there would be a movie called €œCowboys & Aliens€ - that would be a serious cinematic enterprise, would have felt like a joke, it would felt like something that harked back to a B-movie in the early 60s. And I understand from that €“ I haven€™t seen that movie, it may well be a fantastic movie, I€™m not criticizing it, but I€™m just saying I feel that it€™s a perhaps a more commercial climate in my lifetime. So I€™m not sure where €œBrighton Rock€ fits. My hope is this €“ it€™s a thriller, it€™s got some great action sequences in it, it€™s a very visual movie, it€™s got a great score, it€™s got a good cast, and also its part gangster thriller, part love story €“ so in my tiny head, it€™s four-quadrant . But whether or not the public see it that way, I€™m sure I€™m being hopelessly naïve.
OWF: One more question €“ the film features some impressive cinematography €“ what were some films you watched as reference? One film that jumped into our heads was €œNight of the Hunter€.
RJ: Wow, well, I€™m certainly a fan of €œNight of the Hunter€, but I€™d say that the more obvious references to €œBrighton Rock€ were a lot of film noir, I read about film noir, and actually, in a sense, we didn€™t have any complicated or particularly highfalutin noir references, what we actually did at the end of the day is we decided to shoot the movie with some of the equipment that the movie would€™ve been shot on in the 60s in Britain, so John Mathieson got hold of a range of equipment, and it immediately gave the film a period feel. Really, the main visual influence is the novel, a thriller but also a gothic fairy tale, we wanted everything to feel a little larger than life, a little more intense and colorful and surreal and perverse and dark than real life, and that€™s what John Mathieson and production designer James Merifield really managed to put on the screen is a gothic fairy tale for a kind of contemporary and ultimately, a love story between a demon and an angel, that€™s what we€™ve thought about it all, is a love story.
OWF: Thank you very much for your time. Brighton Rock is available on DVD in the UK NOW.
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The best of the five boroughs is now represented. Brooklyn in the house! I'm a hardworking film writer, blogger, and co-host of "It's No Timecop" podcast! Find me on Tumblr at Our Elaborate Plans...