Interview: THE ACT OF SEEING with Nicolas Winding Refn – FANTASTIC FEST 2015

Before his screening of Goodbye Uncle Tom on Sunday at Fantastic Fest I got a few moments to speak to one of my favorite auteurs currently working today Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives). The main topic of conversation was his excellent poster compilation The Act of Seeing which streets October 5th from FAB Press for those not lucky enough to be in Austin to pick up a copy at the fest. The book collects some obscure gems from the Grindhouse era curated by Refn’s from his personal collection with some insightful blurbs on each film by Alan Jones.

We discuss not only the how he chose the posters to feature in the book, but the current state of poster art and how his love of collecting birthed the project. You can pre-order or purchase the book here.

I loved the book and I personally felt its going to be the closest many ever get to having that experience of seeing a poster on 42nd street and not knowing what lay before them, what was the process like for you curating what posters to feature in the book?

Well I think that was really it, in that I was really too young to experience Times Square, the grindhouses and all of those things. I felt by making this book it would be the closest thing I would get to the experience of going past the posters, not having seen the movie, dreaming of the promises it would fulfill.

Did you purposefully stay away from some of the traditional films folks would associate with these collections? I mean I love that I consider myself a fan and I haven’t heard of some of these films?

Yeah the collection was about 1000 posters and there were some more conventional things, Corpse Grinders, Gore Gore Girls; which have been seen so many times. Anything that was too recognizable, that didn’t have any artistic measures was eliminated.

That had to have made the research process difficult for your co-hort who did all the excellent blurbs in the book, Alan Jones?

What’s great about Alan is he lived through that period, physically. I tasked him with doing the research for each title and some were close to impossible to find because they didn’t exist anymore. So that was part of the fun, it was like going into a treasure box of lost memories.

Even some of the crudest posters in the book still have a beautiful artistic aesthetic and craft to them. Being a collector yourself how do you think poster art has changed over the years?

Most posters have gotten very generic, very photoshop, not as diverse or dangerous. There is still some great ones being made, but I love the retro, like Mondo and all of those where they are making their own interpretation. That I find much more interesting, I mean there are still artists out there doing great work.

Have there been any recent posters that wowed you?

Only God Forgives in the US was amazing.

When you have a poster created for one of your films what is your one thing you want to invoke in the person that sees the poster?

Well I think its more about finding a poster that is an image of what the movie is, but I tend to make very diverse films. There is no right or wrong, its just about can you penetrate the mind.

Now this is the second project that has come about because of your fascination with Andy Milligan and you relationship with Jimmy McDonough. How did you meet Jimmy and what is it about Milligan’s films that intrigues you as a director?

Well I met Jimmy on eBay actually, of all places. (laughs) He was selling his Andy Milligan archive, I bought it and when I realized who he was we started to become friends and we correspond frequently. It was also because he knew what it was like back in the 70s and early 80s and of course he experienced it very first hand.

My Andy Milligan fetish (laughs) is mostly based on Andy because he was such an obscure filmmaker making films out of a deeply sexual frustration. It was very personal and I tend to find things personal more interesting, than good.

At the same time he was so obscure to find this stuff, it was a real treasure hunt. The thing about collecting is 70% is trying to find it. Once you have it, it almost loses its value in a way. But trying to collect stuff from Andy Milligan, which I knew most of it was lost, was just a side door to entertainment and I think Jimmy’s bio on Andy really touched me. It was a very sad story.

Being a huge Milligan fan myself I have to ask what’s your favorite film of his?

I guess Fleshpot on 42nd Street; it’s a wonderful era to see New York and also a wacky melodrama.

I just caught that on 35mm a few months ago at an Andy Milligan triple feature, it’s still a lot of fun.

I actually own the original camera negative to that film.

Wow, so the poster for Farewell Uncle Tom is featured in the book and you used a song from the film in Drive why is that film important to you personally as a filmmaker?

It’s probably the ultimate of the artsploitation films and it’s such a strange film. But I really like the song Oh My Love, it was like I knew I wanted that in Drive before I even started shooting it. But I have always liked Jacopetti and Prosperi, because their genre, documentary combined with fiction is a very interesting genre that no one has been able to do what they did. It’s really a progressive flow of images and situations that have no purpose other than to portray.

Its amazing the film still to has the ability to shock up almost 43 years later.

Well that’s going to be so fun we are screening it today in Texas of all places. I have no idea what the reaction is going to be but I am looking forward to it.

Finally do you plan on doing another book?

Yeah I want to do a book about the Omens.

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the author

When Dan is not watching movies, planning screenings of movies, writing about movies, he is often busy trying to write and direct his own. Dan is an award winning filmmaker hailing from Rocky’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA where he also writes for Geekadelphia and functions as their Arts and Entertainment editor. His film obsessions range from regional exploitation films of the 70s and 80s, to oddities from Italy or Japan and anything by Lars Von Trier. Dan is a lover of the lowbrow and obsessed with seeking out the films most folks have the good sense to not watch on repeat and is always on the hunt for the next “unwatchable” film.