Joanna Hogg’s EXHIBITION plays tonight in the Discover strand at Picturehouse cinemas across the UK. Programmer Jo Blair discussed some of her influences for this film, which has been lauded as ‘challenging, sensual, brilliant filmmaking’ (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian) and ‘total artistry….a work from the forefront of our new national cinema’ (Tim Robbey, The Times).
JB: You suggested Liam Gillick read Bresson’s Notes On Cinema as preparation for his acting role in EXHIBTION, and of course you’ve also been involved with the Chantal Akerman retrospective taking place at the ICA through your involvement in film collective A Nos Amours. Would you cite these artists as major influences in EXHIBITION and if not, who were your main sources of artistic inspiration?
JH: When I began thinking of EXHIBITION, Chantal Akerman was not yet under my skin. Now having presented and discovered her work over the last few months at the ICA – I would say I’m astonished by her individual body of work and how its built consistently over the years from the 1970’s. Right now there is no other filmmaker that fascinates me in the way she does. But her films are uniquely hers and no-one else’s.
I like to keep my work as a curator separate from my filmmaking. A Nos Amours is my refuge from the sometimes tiring and stressful business of being a filmmaker. It is a joy to arrive at one of our screenings and the present work of another artist. Akerman should be much better known in the UK and to give her this slow retrospective over two years is giving her films the attention they deserve. Adam Roberts and I have fun with the programming and now that we are starting to build a following, we have ambitions to take this project of ours much further.
Bresson is always, in some way, on my mind when I make a film. He gave me the confidence, through his Notes, to stick to my guns and cast non-actors in the roles of H and D in EXHIBITION. Books are my talismans more than an actual film is and I find reading about psychology and film theory often gives me the key to the emotional centre of a story. Eric Fromm’s Fear of Freedom helped unlock some ideas, as did Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film. I re-watched Godard’s LE MEPRIS and was inspired by his depiction of Casa Malaparte and also his representation of the instinctive female versus the rational male within a relationship. I looked at Louise Bourgeois’ Femme Maison series, and I tried to find ways to turn my film into the embodiment of an idea about home as refuge and temple but also prison. I saw the house in EXHIBITON as a house of projections or even a house of cinema itself. One that forces you to look inside. This house/film has a fluid relationship between interior and exterior but also between man/woman and house. Most of all I think it was Gaston Bachelard’s book Poetics of Space which encouraged me to think about the house as a living and breathing organism, a container for my characters memories and dreams.
JB: Martin Scorsese has been a great champion of your work, describing you as a ‘uniquely gifted filmmaker’ after seeing Archipelago. It can’t get much better than that! But which of his films do you most admire and why?
JH: NEW YORK, NEW YORK often gets left out when people discuss Scorsese’s films. It is a deep, dark and complex film and one of my favorites. I have had a long relationship with this film since I first saw it at film school in the early 80’s – when it was re-released in its longer version. I had a strong reaction to it – I was involved in a very destructive relationship and seeing the struggles between Francine and Jimmy painfully reminded me of it. Yet the film seduced me too – I had grown up loving Hollywood musicals and Scorsese’s homage satisfied my love of spectacle and colour. I would soon embark on my own homage (in miniature) to Hollywood with my graduation film CAPRICE – no doubt inspired by NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Years later it was again on my mind when I was writing EXHIBITION. Scorsese brilliantly depicts the turbulent relationship of two artists trying to live together – I haven’t seen this done so well before or since.
JB: With just three films, you’ve already built up an outstanding body of work. Would you like to tell us anything about your hopes for future filmmaking projects?
JH: I’m superstitious about discussing new films. I can talk about the themes but less about the specifics of a storyline. I’m currently interested in horror and the 1980’s and creating a sense of place in a studio. These ideas don’t necessarily roll into one film though, and I have a habit of saying I am going to do one thing and then doing the complete opposite.