Paul Schrader in Conversation
To celebrate writer-director Paul Schrader’s 64th birthday, Faber & Faber’s Walter Donohue presents an extract from Schrader on Schrader.
Raised as a Calvinist and so forbidden to partake of “worldly amusements” such as movies, Paul Schrader defied his upbringing to become first a leading film critic (David Thomson says of his critical work: "No one studying films should overlook the wealth and slyness of his quotes and references"), and then one of the formidable members of the American “movie brat” generation of the 1970s: writing the coruscating screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, and directing such provocative pictures as Blue Collar and American Gigolo.
Kevin Jackson spoke to Schrader about the 70s generation – and about the future:
Kevin Jackson: There was a certain moment in the 1970s when the studio system weakened to the point that a bunch of wild young men, and a few wild women, could run in.
Paul Schrader: Yeah. And it's happening again right now – a new generation is running in.
Kevin Jackson: So, in one sense, it's just the eternal story of a generation growing up?
Paul Schrader: Well art, for the most part, is a relatively young man's game. You can list all the exceptions to that rule throughout history, but you've often done your best work by 40. Then you work on a little bit, for the next two decades. People say what they have to say, they get older, they get richer: that's just the circle of creativity. The technology turns around, and all of a sudden the social fabric has been ripped and torn and you need new voices to address it. And what voices are those going to be? Usually, they're going to be the young voices.
Kevin Jackson: If there's a kid out there now who has a background similar to yours – harsh religious upbringing, intense reading, seeing some visionary films – do you think that kid would want to go into cinema today? Or has it lost its appeal as a medium for self-expression?
Paul Schrader: I don't know if it's really the cinema that I went into. I went into storytelling. Some years earlier, it probably would have been traditional fiction. At the time I came in, it seemed like movies were the logical thing. Today? In terms of movies as we have known them for the last hundred years, there are changes afoot, and it may well be that we are in for some rocky years, where it all appears to be rather ridiculous.
I believe that audio-visual entertainment is about to undergo a big change: it's falling apart both internally and externally, the distribution is changing, the technology is changing. And movies will come out in a different form. I won't predict what they will be, but it's safe to predict they will be different.
Whether or not the existential hero of the twentieth century – which is where I have my investment – will be relevant any more, I can't say. He might be a much more deconstructed cyber-hero. Because deconstruction, which has been part of the other arts for the last 30 or 40 years, has now finally come, fully-formed, into the movies. Movies used to be an irony-free zone: well, not any more. So you are getting de-constructed protagonists, and a movie like Being John Malkovich is now Oscar material. And it is kind of scary, particularly for those of us who were raised on the existential tradition and find these deconstructed characters very un-nourishing.
But you have to be careful not to rush to judgment, and just step back a little bit and see how the thing will evolve. This book Nonzero is all about, “Take the long view, see how things are going to shape.” There are a lot of people making a living by acting as if what's happening today is the definitive thing. It's not.”
Extract taken from Schrader on Schrader edited by Kevin Jackson (Faber & Faber, 2004)