Interview with director MARK KIDEL
Why another film about Cary Grant?
With this film we have benefited from new and original research by the film historian and biographer Mark Glancy, who has advised us and contributed to the film. He has reached further than any of the earlier biographers and brought to light material (letters, documents from the psychiatric institution that Cary’s mother was locked up in, photographs) that enables us to have a deeper and more subtle sense of the journey from Archie Leach to Cary Grant.
When I decided to focus on the LSD therapy that Grant undertook in mid-life, the home movies suggested themselves as ideal material to help evoke the actor’s inner world. In this way, I have made a film that attempts to go inside Cary Grant’s head and to have him tell his story in the first person. The script is entirely based on his unpublished autobiography, the interviews he gave from the late 1950s onwards and from reports of his answers to questions asked by the public during the “An Evening with Cary Grant”. This is a more intimate view of Cary Grant, rather than a conventional biographical documentary that goes primarily for objectivity.
The private films used in the documentary are almost all filmed by Cary Grant himself. How did you approach them and what do they reveal about his personality?
I vividly remember my feelings when I first watched over three hours of the footage Cary shot around 1938-41. Most of it is in 16mm colour, with that characteristic washed out quality that gives it a dream-like aura. I immediately sensed that this unique and very personal footage would help us evoke the inner journey he undertook while on LSD: rarely used literally, so that the people that appear in the individual shots and sequences need not be identified, but used to evoke his inner world and the images thrown up by his memory and his unconscious. A number of recurring motifs suggested the things that drew him and resonated with something in his own imagination, or spoke to his soul. The women, clearly charmed by the man with the movie camera, opened up to his cinematographer’s gaze and spoke volumes about his own presence. No-one points a camera – especially when it is used as a kind of note-taking or journal-making device – without revealing unconscious thoughts and desires. Apart from the ever-present women, there are many shots of boats, as if the boats that made him dream of escaping from Bristol as a child, remained in some way a symbol of the possibility of re-inventing oneself on distant shores.
The most challenging task was finding ways of integrating not just the ‘home movies’ but extracts from his cinema features, so that they speak to each other and resonate in a way that reveals something about Grant’s psychology. It is the case, though, that great actors are often cast in parts that resonate with their inner life- sometimes just because the director or producer has an intuitive feel for this kind of resonance. For this reason, there was no shortage of moments in Cary’s films that could play perfectly well alongside the very personal content of the footage he shot himself.
Last but not least, Grant was not just an aesthete when it came to clothes or buying art. He shot film with an unerring sense of framing. Just about every shot in the over 3 hours of movies we found is beautifully framed from the start, and when he pans or tilts he knows just where to start and when to finish. This was a great gift to us!
What about the soundtrack?
Music is incredibly important to me as a film maker – and as a film-lover. So many soundtracks, especially for documentaries provide little more than a kind of sound filler, used excessively and without any sense of how music affects mood as well as emotions. Becoming Cary Grant is a film about a man’s deep emotional journey in mid-life.
I have known Adrian Utley of Portishead, and his friends Bob Locke and Tim Norfolk, commonly known as The Insects, for some time. We all live in Bristol, a city not just famous for the music that emerged in a wildly creative surge in the early 1990s, but because of a love of cinema. I knew that Adrian was a real connoisseur of film soundtrack, from Bernard Hermann and John Barry to Ennio Morricone and that he had written a new score for Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc”. The Insects have a considerable record as creators of soundtrack music for fiction, animation and natural history documentary.
In evoking the acid trips that Cary Grant had taken in the 1950s, I was keen to create and use images and music that would avoid the psychedelic clichés of the 1960s. I guessed that Adrian and the Insects would easily find a way of making film music that was dreamy and dramatic. In his top-floor studio in Kingsdown, Adrian created a range of highly evocative drones, which are used throughout the film, in conjunction with the Insects’ swathes of sound, only slightly narrative in feel.