If you wish to go to the current Fangoria site, you may click the top logo, "Home" or "News" links. Or click here.
In his 35-year career, director Abel Ferrara has explored
everything from a driller killer and a female vigilante to body snatchers and
an addiction to blood. In his latest film, 4:44 THE LAST DAY ON EARTH (opening
in limited release today from IFC Films), he tackles no less than the
apocalypse itself—but in an intimate, rather than bombastic, manner. Fango
spoke to this unique filmmaker about 4:44, what became of his take on DR.
JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, etc.
4:44 posits that Al Gore was right: Global warming has
doomed our planet, which will see its demise at 4:44 in the morning EST. The
film’s focus is on New York City dwellers Cisco (Willem Dafoe) and his artist
girlfriend Skye (Shanyn Leigh) as they spend their final night together, while
the reactions of others to the impending catastrophe—from calm to suicidal—are
seen in the margins.
FANGORIA: You’ve engaged any number of genre subjects and
dark themes in the past, but this is the first time you’ve taken on the end of
the world. What inspired you to tackle that subject now?
ABEL FERRARA: I don’t know; maybe I’m getting old [laughs].
Maybe it’s 2012, and all the shit that’s happening—volcanoes that strand people
all over f**kin’ Europe, an earthquake in Chile that almost actually puts the
Earth off its axis…I guess there’s something in the air, you know what I mean?
FANG: What led you to tell the story through these
FERRARA: Well, you know, Shanyn and I have been living
together for seven years. So it’s like a love poem to her in one sense. But
then, on the other hand, it’s basically a film about a relationship, and the
trials and tribulations of two people making a commitment to each other, and
really being in love, once they get past the veneer of it.
FANG: So is this autobiographical in any way?
FERRARA: Well, I’m a filmmaker—everything’s
autobiographical, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously. Certain things
are obviously more biographical, more real. It’s set in New York, with an older
man and a younger woman. But, you know, every film we make is autobiographical,
in terms of the soul.
FANG: Is Willem Dafoe playing you in any way, or is he a
completely separate character?
FERRARA: Well, I mean, Willem’s Willem. [In this movie]
Willem is him, Willem is me, Willem is Cisco, who is someplace between him and
I, someplace beyond him and I.
FANG: Was any of 4:44 improvised, or was it all totally
FERRARA: It’s all scripted, and then we take the script… The
screenplay is a starting point, it’s not an ending point. When you say
improvisation—I mean, you can’t just make a film up as you go along. But which
specific scenes were you talking about?
FANG: I was thinking in terms of the many intimate scenes,
like the love scene early in the movie. How much of these were scripted, and
how much was the actors responding to the emotion of the moment?
FERRARA: We were trying to get a certain kind of love scene.
We’ve done love scenes, Willem has done love scenes in films—he and I have done
’em together, you know [laughs]? So this was about working toward the
characters’ specific approach to it, so they could be as free as they could,
they can get as emotional as they could. Because in the end, you have to
physically film it; it has to be focused, it has to be lit, it has to work
within the context of the location.
FANG: Did the actors contribute their own
FERRARA: It starts off scripted; we begin there and
rehearse. And when we get on set, we start going at it. I’m not just standing
there making sure—I mean, directing’s not just making sure they say the words
on the page. But directing’s also making sure you don’t leave something on the
page, you know what I mean? You aim to get beyond the page.
FANG: There’s a certain amount of political subtext in the
movie, in terms of what we see on the TV screens—the clips of Al Gore talking
about global warming, etc. According to the movie, his theories are
correct—were you attempting to make a political statement there?
FERRARA: Well, I made it, right? You got it [laughs]. It’s
not so much he’s right, though. [It has more to do with] the statement of the
Dalai Lama, that as human beings we are not above nature, we’re not controlling
nature; we’re part of nature. And we have to find our harmony, our place in
nature, or we’re not gonna have any nature or any humanity left. And if anybody
is egotistical enough… You know, they say if you don’t understand the past, if
you don’t understand history, you’re doomed to relive it, right? People don’t realize
or don’t want to realize or are too egotistical to realize that there were
civilizations far more advanced than ours that disappeared off the face of the
Earth because of that exact reason.
FANG: I’m also wondering if there’s a message in certain shots
where, in the background, we see people in a gym working out, walking on the
street and driving on the highway, not looking at all panicked even though the
end of the world is coming.
FERRARA: Well, the thing about the film is, it’s not about
the moment when everybody finds out the world is gonna end. That has happened
already. So this is about what they call the stages of grief—you know, denial,
FANG: So those people in the background have accepted it,
and are living out their lives as usual until the end comes?
FERRARA: Well, some do it that way, others do it another
way; some people jump off the roof [laughs]. Other people are trying to get
high, other people don’t want to get high, some people go the gym to meet
friends, or maybe that’s how they work out their anxiety, you know?
FANG: It is a slightly more optimistic view of New York City
than in your early films, like DRILLER KILLER and MS. 45.
FERRARA: Well, we kill everybody on Earth. Is that
FANG: That’s true, but DRILLER KILLER and MS. 45 make New
York look like a very dangerous place to live in terms of its inhabitants,
whereas 4:44 is a little more optimistic about their behavior when there’s a
greater force threatening everybody.
FERRARA: That’s the way New York is. In 1977, it was like
TAXI DRIVER—I mean, New York was basically bankrupt. They couldn’t even pay the
police. Now it’s the financial center of the world. Back then, New York was a
much more dangerous place.
FANG: What’s happening with your new version of DR. JEKYLL
AND MR. HYDE?
FERRARA: It’s not [laughs].
FANG: That’s a shame.
FERRARA: Yeah. They’ve never really told that story right
[in a movie], because when one actor plays both those roles, you’re basically
making a werewolf movie. The real story Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, which I
was going to do in the modern day, is a father/son metaphor. It’s the story of
an older, elegant doctor, very distinguished, and then he takes the potion and
becomes this young, maniacal, murderous guy—kind of like the Hunchback of Notre
Dame, almost. So Forest Whitaker was gonna play the doctor, and 50 Cent was
gonna play Mr. Hyde.
FANG: Which is great casting.
FERRARA: Yeah, it would’ve been awesome. But I’m not really
giving these things up. There’s a prequel to KING OF NEW YORK we just wrote the
script for, possibly to do with Willem Dafoe.
FANG: What else are you working on right now?
FERRARA: We’re working on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story,
with Gerard Depardieu playing Strauss-Kahn and Isabelle Adjani playing his
wife. And we’ve got a web series up on Vice.com called THE PIZZA CONNECTION. We
just put up episode one—check it out!
JOIN OUR COMMUNITY AND BE THE FIRST TO KNOW ABOUT NEWS, CONTESTS, EVENTS AND MORE!
All contents © 2011 Fangoria Entertainment