Love Is the Devil

By John Maybury and Ben Gibson


On the eve of the Cannes world premiere of this Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, the director John Maybury and executive producer Ben Gibson talk about the creation of the film, the art world’s expectations, the Hayward’s 1997 ‘Spellbound’ exhibition, careers in independent film, Derek Jarman and British cinema.

John Maybury began work on Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon in 1996, when Ben Gibson of the BFI and George Faber of the BBC (who had collaborated on the commissioning of Maybury’s film of Manfred Karge’s Man to Man) introduced him to the writer/producers Don Jordan and James Cohen, who had optioned Daniel Farson’s irreverent memoir The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon. The film, starring Derek Jacobi, Daniel Craig and Tilda Swinton, played in the Cannes Film Festival and will open in the UK in September.

Ben Gibson: Before making Love is the Devil you made two feature-length projects, Remembrance of Things Fast (which won the Independent Spirit Award in the US), and Man to Man. Now you’re in an odd position where many people around the world know your work, while in the “official” feature film business here you’re a total newcomer. Yet you’ve been making your own films, as well as promos, for a long time.  

John Maybury: Officially, films like those, and maybe this one on paper, shouldn’t exist. You know, no-one should be interested in them, no one should bother to make them, and no one should bother to see them. Of course the exact opposite is true. On Love is the Devil the elements were right at the right time. The combination of forces meant that it could become something more. This is an organic thing that couldn’t happen that way in any other situation. However crappy the BFI might be in some ways, it was possible because there was an environment which had some kind of remit – and recognized that I had a track record of sorts. They didn’t say “yes he can make a feature film,” they said “yes, he couldn’t possibly make a feature film – but let’s see if he can.” There was no commercial point to it. Even now there is no commercial guarantee, apart from a star name of sorts in the lead role. And an interesting film. It was a big risk for everyone to take.

love-is-the-devil-john-maybury-2.jpgLove is the Devil, 1998

BG: There are people, like you, who come from the borders between fine art and filmmaking who have pushed- or been pushed – in the direction of more literary and more ‘official’ cinema and TV. Mostly, they have then retreated and second films haven’t happened. I already have the feeling that you’ve been able to move more easily...  

JM: Isaac [Julien] is a good example of that. He’s a very interesting film maker with a really interesting approach. My impression is that once they were actually making his feature Young Soul Rebels, the thing got rail-roaded out of his control, and of course in the end it is in some way a film that doesn’t know what it’s meant to be. As a consequence Isaac has to go back into the documentary, arty cross-over area, and I am sure he will make feature films – but I would be terrified after that experience. And there are endless numbers of people with less talent and many more chances to make films.

BG: Another thing for some British filmmakers has been the hidden expectation that once you got to make your feature you may not get to make another – therefore somehow the first five features you’re going to make get combined into the single film. On a literary level, because as a piece of visual filmmaking, like Isaac’s other films, Young Soul Rebels is very singular. But what’s interesting looking at your background and especially your work with Derek [Jarman], is that there is definitely only the one film here. Yet the script initially had a few possible films about Bacon in it...

love-is-the-devil-john-maybury-3.jpgLove is the Devil, 1998

JM: The script I ‘inherited’ from Don and James I had actually worked on with them, of course. The interesting thing was that Don – whose ideas are very strong – was coming, compared with me at least , from very much a television point of view – in a sense his agenda was to expose Bacon, however lovingly, as some kind of a charlatan. I thought what he was trying to do was interesting, but was also conventional. I think perhaps what appealed to them when we were first introduced was the idea that I had this ‘off the wall’ visual sense which they thought they could harness, maybe to ‘pretty-up’ a more conventional approach. When I read that script, as it was being typed onto the computer, I saw the page and recognized immediately that I couldn’t make that film. ‘This is someone else’s movie – it is not what I am about.’ Also I understood Bacon’s language, his way of dismissing people, and trying to lead people on with red herrings, but ultimately I believed in the truth of Bacon underneath all of that. That’s what I could give, some substance and some truth.

BG: As well as making films you’re a painter, and you’ve spent a long time thinking about Bacon, debts to him, an identification with him. Apart from Farson’s book and the circulation of contradictory stories from hand to hand, he’s been cleaned up a bit in retrospect, maybe to be a great British artist, and you’re doing a job of exposing that...  

JM: I’d say investigating rather than exposing. It is interesting how cultural gate-keepers try to suppress something that is entirely in the public domain. Even in the grandest of monographs or the swishiest of biographies, it is impossible to deny what are facts. They are facts, and yet there is an attempt to somehow divorce his life from the canvases, which I find completely bizarre.

BG: I’m interested in Love is the Devil as a gay film because, as you say, it is not a gay film: it is a homosexual film. People call each other ‘poofters’, and that’s the way they talk. And the Bacon-Dyer relationship is very particular, not one from a liberal movie that transposes a straight relationship and just changes genders. And there’s a special hunger in our confessional culture, where there’s lot of telling and everything is supposed to be permissible, for something which really doesn’t try to update history.  

JM: Yes, I am told to do that by Bacon. Bacon and his gang hated ‘gays’ – that is a point that which comes out not only in the stuff I’d read but in conversations with the people who were around him at the time. They come from that covert homosexual culture, you know, that harbours a spite for rallying ‘homos’. These people said ‘So-and-so is away at Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ when friends were busted for cottaging – stuff like that. They got off on the secretive, covert culture they were part of – and so once that was removed they all felt kind of cheated. Farson was deeply unhappy with his homosexuality. He couldn’t stand it and it made him furious with his father. I got the impression that this was the general malaise, but at the same time a badge that they wore. Then suddenly in the 1970s, with rainbows and dungarees, pink triangles and clogs everywhere, they were horrified, because the notion ‘gay’ meant nothing to them. All my own work has this ‘homo’ reference, celebrating difference and decadence – a romantic idea of decadence, which is very far from the politically correct and all those healthy, happy people. I never wanted to get married and adopt kids...I find it completely offensive. Gay marriage, gay armed forces, to me they are major contradictions in terms.

BG: Kind of like the wages for housework campaign?  

JM: Yes, sort of. ‘Gay’ to me is like an extension of punk. It is another way to annoy people and get up their noses. So for the Bacon crowd ‘gay’ was never an issue. They hated the whole thing, particularly in the eighties when the cappuccino culture moved into Soho, they found that really offensive. Again it’s creating a ghetto...

: Wasn’t there a cappuccino culture in the Fifties and Sixties?  

JM: That was rough trade and it was glamorous. I think it was the aesthetics of ‘gay’ that they found offensive, and the idea of something being specifically ‘gay’... I loved that row over Love is the Devil playing at the London Gay and Lesbian Festival. They were pissed off that they didn’t have my film in their festival. The irony is they generated more press coverage for a film they didn’t show than for any they did have. I called up one of the organisers: ‘Hang on, if you had the choice of showing your film at the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival or at the Cannes Film Festival, which would you take?’  

BG: And yet there’s that expectation to deal with – that somehow you’re going to reclaim something for ‘gay history’. (And it takes us back to Isaac and the crazy problem he faced of compounded issues. ‘He’s black, he’s gay, he’s an artist.’ And he doesn’t need to be categorised, of course, that’s the issue. The real filmmakers seem to be doing something quite different. They’re more interested in Gus Van Sant movies.) That was a problem of perception for [David] Sylvester and the people from the art world we talked to and about so much when preparing the film. You are very much in their camp, really.  

JM: Yes, the real irony was: the very thing I wanted to do was the exact opposite of what they thought I was doing. They thought I was preparing some sexaholic camp romp or something. (Laughs) I mean there is a thread of that in my film, but it’s so not about that – my film is about a relationship. Straight people recognise all those arguments and the horrors of them just as much as any gay person does. It is not peculiar to a particular sexuality – it is peculiar to people.  

BG: There is something that you know yourself from the art establishment – a style of ironic self-promotion Bacon was used to: the idea that what you are talking about can be fake and it can be real as well. People can be promoted by false stories and true ones. Which says something about what it is to be an artist and to be asked to account for yourself. The public and the private, and their uncomfortable combination, are all parts of Bacon’s world. Already the film has a huge book of press cuttings, complete with good stories that may be true or not, in a very contemporary art mould. But the project’s also had – until now – plenty of problems getting accepted by key people in the art world.

love-is-the-devil-john-maybury-5.jpg Love is the Devil, 1998

JM: Strategically we went about it the wrong way. The deal between the BBC, the BFI and the project meant we presented it to them as a ‘fait accompli’, saying ‘this is what we’re going to do’. Of course there is a politic in the art world which says they should have been spoken to first – they have to be treated like the kingpins in the game because they are the gatekeepers of that culture. Bacon had good friends in very high places, who feel that it’s their territory and theirs alone. And with a public figure like him it’s a ridiculous idea. But that’s the language of the art world. That and the language of the film world don’t really have a meeting point... You can see that with someone like Matthew Barney. In the art world the films are highly regarded, and they are very useful. They seem to me like ‘new romantic’ cinema but with massive budgets, and the backing of big art galleries. But if you take his film and show it for five minutes to a cinema audience, they say ‘it looks lovely, but what’s going on?’ If you lift this up there’s nothing there. And Douglas Gordon with Slowed down Psycho over twenty four hours - yes that’s a masterpiece, but hang on a minute, Psycho is a masterpiece!  

BG: Yes. One extraordinary element of that story is that Gordon is supposed to have approached Janet Leigh for the rights to slow down Psycho, and not Universal Studios. In a way that says it all about the two languages. The possession of an object by an individual isn’t exactly ‘exploitation’, yet it is completely commodified – in the way that Japanese trusts are supposed to have bought Impressionists for the vaults. You’ve got it, but then if you show it to anyone it belongs to the entertainment business.  

JM: There’s a big shift in the art world’s attitude to images. The last two Turner Prizes have been won by video artists. And there’s a sense that film and video has to be drawn in somehow. Without a doubt it is the art form of the century, and presumably can only become more important over the next one. But there is still that huge divide between cinema and art. We all exist, exactly, in that gap in between.  

BG: And now it seems a very artificial divide. I can’t decide what I think about the ‘Spellbound’ exhibition at the Hayward gallery last year, which seems to start from the idea that artists aren’t already involved in cinema, it’s an art-free zone – and therefore that it might be interesting if artists were asked to address filmmaking.

: Absolutely. Now we’ve had a hundred years of our cinema. When I won that LA Critics Prize for Remembrance, I did a speech on stage – in front of Danny DeVito, John Travolta, Quentin Tarantino, all the others winning awards at the ceremony. The star of my film was porn star Aiden Shaw – who was recognised by many people in the room. (Laughs) I said ‘A hundred years ago all cinema was experimental, and I hope that a hundred years from now some of it still is’ I thought it was a radical speech to be making in Hollywood. (Laughs) They thought it was a funny after-dinner joke. But the big art films of the last hundred years have consistently fed the commercial cinema, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 to Man with a Movie Camera, which has become the language of pop videos. It’s interesting that people like Richard [Heslop] and I survived the eighties by doing promos. In a way that became the alternative film school, for better or worse. But, you know, at that time the government agencies and the Arts Council weren’t supporting the people that they might have been – in a way they held back and put heaps of money into Malcolm LeGrice, into the traditional avant-garde. It was possible for young kids to get a sense of craft and a sense of working with crews, in a commercial way, and earn money. Actually I got to do a lot of experimenting on pop videos that I could never have done with an Arts Council grant. 

BG: You said that really that there is no relationship – in terms of text or technique – between a rock video and a feature.  

JM: Pace was the lesson for me about promos. A day where you had to get ‘x’ number of shots done and at the same time finding the best possible people to do all that. And those people are just as good at features as they are at promos – they like promos and commercials because the money’s good and it’s over in a minute. But in that currency of images, Love is the Devil is very restrained.  

BG: Plus Love is the Devil doesn’t use repetition in the way that your earlier films do, or refer to the experience of the image so much. The others are very challenging, especially in the way that they ask you what experience you have the second or third time. This time there’s a script, and a sense of too much to tell, really.  

JM: Film itself is repetitive, just because it is repeating something that happened in real time. So that is a kind of experimental angle, a justification of repetition. The thing that replaced that idea was the problem of trying to tell a story – how much of that story you had to tell, how much you could leave out and still communicate. I discovered quickly that what you leave out is what makes the communication freer – the audience gets to do some work themselves. The script work helped plan timings and alternations.  

BG: There’s a tension between preparation and improvisation which for me provides some of the magic in Love is the Devil. The management of that tension is the bit that relates it to Derek [Jarman]’s work for me – rather than the choice of a subject or a vague idea about the ‘painterly image’.  

JM: Something I learned from Derek was that you had this thing called a script – and in Derek’s world that was a very tenuous thing. Everyone had a vague idea of what was going on and Derek retained the room to completely deny the very thing that was there on paper and say ‘I will do the exact opposite’. Because he knew all the elements were in place, so that if he switched the ‘on’ button and let everything go, something would come out, usually something interesting would come out. He let people get on with it. It infuriated Tilda [Swinton] and Nigel [Terry] on Caravaggio, because they wanted to rehearse, and Derek said ‘No I don’t want any rehearsing here’. So Tilda and Nigel would sneak off and have little rehearsals to ‘pull it together’. In fact we caught them one day rehearsing, and there was a big row – ‘How dare you rehearse this scene before we film it? You are taking the energy away!’ But that madness that Derek had about getting images shot is why there is all that amazing energy. It’s also where the infuriating quality comes in. There was always that extra minute that he wanted, that no-one else wanted. Often it was the extra minute that actually added the value. What I found myself on Love is the Devil was that I was never convinced by my script, through all the stages of the work. There were always things, whether it was the dialogue or the drive of the plot, which didn’t convince me. There’s a sense of danger until you can see the way all the elements come into play – the performances of the actors, alternative angles... and bring it to life. All that script work with Miriam [Segal] and the stacking of time, trying things out, coming back to things, built a skeleton – and then we could pretty much pile on any kind of flesh and build the body we wanted. It was very satisfying.  

BG: Talking about Bacon himself you said ‘Perhaps to achieve things you have to be monstrous’. And yet we’ve been talking about the ‘anti-auteur’, a paradoxical and rather beautiful tradition we both identify with Derek Jarman, that touched a lot of other filmmakers, of freeing people to be part of the same team, working on their excitement as the only true route to authority....  

JM: I worked on Jubilee and The Last of England and we worked very closely. What Derek taught me was that he could give people that freedom to do what they do best and then he would get the best back. I am not a shouty, dictatorial person anyway, but I can be very passive aggressive. I will submit completely to somebody but then when I start to feel inflamed I will point them in the directions I wanted to go in. All of these people who worked on the film are artists in their own right, and I’m saying ‘show off’, show me what you can do. This is what I want to see, and if you can take it somewhere else then let’s go there.’ My real job was to keep everybody happy, which under the pressures that we all felt was essential. That has to be the way to work because if you are at all rigid - it has to be this, it can’t be that - you are cutting out all the other avenues open to you. Of course that’s based on work. Alan [MacDonald]and I spent weeks and months together looking at different possibilities, making decisions. And then I have the confidence to let him take it where he wants to, because I actually know he’ll surprise me. When I first walked onto the studio set I was freaking out because it was so perfect. Actually people who have been to Bacon’s studio asked ‘Did you go in and film it?’ because it is so like the real studio. Of course not. Alan worked from some photos from a catalogue and then we spoke to one person who had been there, who told us that there had been a bath in the kitchen – and we just took it from there. That’s just Alan being extraordinarily gifted.  

BG: You seem to be immune to the disease, which I’ve seen often, where the filmmaker’s preparation is tied to the producer and somebody says, ‘fine, this is financed’, which means that because somebody else has approved it, the filmmaker has a mad confidence that all they have to do is show up on the day. They stop working, really.  

JM: Each day that we shot I would go away and think ‘Maybe on that shot tomorrow we’ll try this.’ The thing that did inhibit was the three or four scenes a day to do. And of course ‘conventional shots’ - pickups, reaction shots, you have to be tight enough that you can actually get them. But there were days when we invented. We had Derek [Jacobi] sitting in a chair in front of the canvas in the studio and I thought ‘God, I need wardrobe – go and get three other tops’, and I told Alan we needed three other paintings. We literally put a different canvas behind him, chucked another top on him and shot a new scene against that background – just because I knew when we came to cut I’d need these additional bits. There wasn’t much room along the way to do that, but wherever I did it, each of those things ended up in the film. It was essential to give it the breathing spaces that weren’t in the script. Really it would have been fantastic to have had an extra four days to just shoot, but those four days didn’t exist.  

BG: One anxiety at the beginning of the process, for me, came from thinking of great films about painting – and my love for Victor Erice’s film El Sol del Membrillo, a film in which a painter paints. It’s a very high art movie. And you haven’t seen it... The point was that Love is the Devil wasn’t Lust for Life. It was to be closer to those rare films which deal with what it is to be an artist, and with creation as physical work. The problem was dealing with ambitions like that without having Bacon paintings to show.  

JM: Any kind of barrier put in front of the film became a huge advantage, somehow. A key advantage came when we knew the Bacon estate might say ‘No, you can’t show paintings’, and we had to give them Polaroids of the key compositions we were using. We even made changes to scenes. Every time someone threw a spanner in the works it forced us to be more inventive. I like the solution of having just the backgrounds of paintings which you see in mirrors, and figures standing in front of the mirrors becoming figures in the paintings. At times it’s so subtle that you can’t instantly recognise them. It’s much more interesting than having dodgy facsimiles of real pictures. If you want to see one there are galleries all over the planet, go and have a look, go and get a book. That debate helped make a decision I had already been thinking about. It isn’t a film about painting, it is a film about a painter and his life. And it’s a huge bonus that when you do see bits of pictures, at the same time you are actually looking at the action in front of them. Some people think they have seen a Bacon painting.  

BG: Yes, people said to me ‘Oh, it’s great to see those paintings, too’.  

JM: It is weird. But it sums up the nature of the film. The wonderful thing about the illusion of it is that so much of what you think you’re looking at isn’t necessarily on the screen. I was told after the screening in Berlin that some Americans were sitting there, and after the scene where Dyer is scrubbing his fingers frantically, they got up and left – because they thought it was the prelude to a fist fucking scene. I never made that connection. The scrubbing of fingernails was one of Dyer’s psychoses, and is actually a textbook sign of a mental breakdown, apparently. But the fact that someone would go in with such a pre-conceived notion of what of what they were going to see, that they had to get up and walk out, is extraordinary.

: Isn’t that discouraging, though? It takes years to prepare, years to deliver, and then a long time dealing with people’s first expectations, so that they can just look. Now Derek [Jarman] is gone, and now just a few people are beginning to say ‘Oh, maybe he wasn’t only trying to shock or surprise me – maybe he really had something to say about Marlowe, or Wittgenstein’.  

JM: Derek is a good example of someone who always turned people’s expectations upside down. If you follow the trajectory of Sebastiane and The Tempest, it looked for a while as though he was moving toward a period of relatively sustained filmmaking. And then he hit the brick wall of Caravaggio, the project collapsed and took four or five years to get re-started. In the intervening period he went off to do The Angelic Conversation and The Last of England, a sort of territory which was his solution to a problem that seemed insurmountable. He wasn’t going to do another feature, and he had to carry on doing work of some kind or other. And so he adopted the influence of the kids working around him, and saw another route. And he saw that there was something to be taken from all that and fed it back into other kinds of filmmaking. Of course, those other films end up being much more interesting, and they free him up to make stuff like Edward II and Wittgenstein – which walk a tightrope between two styles, between The Tempest and The Last of England or The Garden. So Edward II is a semi-conventional film which suddenly uses a language that is completely nuts, with a gay protest march storming through a historical battlefield. Only nutty old Derek could get his head around something like that...  

BG: Derek said to me, and it now feels like a kind of parting shot now, about my BFI job, that any time you give a filmmaker more that £200,000 to make a first feature film you betray a talent ‘And don’t forget it’...  

JM: I don’t think Derek ever got that much... Isaac got a million in 1990, and I got it in 1997. Anyway, either way we’re still talking about the publicity budget for most films...  

BG: The idea of an artist receiving a commission and finding a way of making accidents and difficulties into strengths, harnessing their imagination to deal with huge constraints, seems a long way from the official idea of filmmaking in Britain, doesn’t it? Creating an industry, to me, calls on us to think about the environment of the work, the studios at every level – a word borrowed from fine art. And it’s hard to live with the paradox that bigger filmmaking tries to provide for continuity and creative environments, while those making low budget films are always supposed to operate with very temporary structures and so little to carry them forward – as though by nature they’re all neo-realists who detest studios, who are just dying to get out on the street and do some semi-documentary work...  

JM: That is exactly the kind of territory I’ve been manipulating. Remembrance is an example. I got twenty five grand from the Arts Council, and they were expecting me to make a ten minute piece maybe. Because of my previous work on promos I was able to go to post-production facilities and say ‘I can give you ten grand but I need a hundred hours’ when ten grand would normally buy me five to ten hours. I was able to blag my way and produce an hour-long piece, and get it transferred to 16mm. I used their £25,000 to make an interesting, albeit difficult, hour long film. And that was only possible because of my arty background, combined with some commercial savvy as a promo director. At that time I thought I had given lots of ideas away in promos, and I wanted to reclaim them.  

BG: You’ve walked the line we’ve talked about – between the art world and independent film, successfully, and it looks as though you’ve arrived – in independent film. Don’t you have the feeling that the art world is going to say ‘Actually there is too much dialogue with the spectator, of a conventional kind, here’ and therefore somehow you’ve left the iconic behind, for the dramatic and the verbal?  

JM: I will be very interested to see about that because this film is my attempt at a move towards conventional cinema, but that’s all it is, a move towards. The elements involved – actors, sets, costumes, – all the conventional aspects of the film conspired to bring it nearer to the conventional than I had expected. But at the same time I brought a lot of my own language to bear on it, and I hope I have proved that it is possible to employ an expressive visual language and maintain a strong narrative structure. What interests me is that combination. These art worlds break up into smaller ones, and the film art world, or the film and video art world, is actually quite marginalised within the conventional art world. The amusing and ironic thing about the ‘Spellbound’ show was a Hundred Years of Cinema being celebrated at the Hayward gallery entirely on video. There was no film projection, which says an awful lot to someone like me who’s had to struggle for years against the idea that ‘if you are not using 16mm then you are not a filmmaker’ ‘Oh my god, he’s working on video!’ All these notions artists have got about film, about the texture of it, up to Brakhage and the idea that you have touch the fucking stuff, breathe in the chemicals, is all out the window – it’s all running on VHS tapes.  

BG: From the film side, then, this film flirts with the danger of being condemned by the critics - and then by audiences and distributors – as formalist. Yet the attack doesn’t hit. Here’s a film of extreme formal clarity, which you might think interrupts the experience all the time, telling you how it is formal, and yet doesn’t feel pretty in that way. You don’t go out ‘whistling the cinematography’ as Tony Garnett says of art cinema....  

JM: That is the subject dictating how the image should be made, whether it is the photography or the world those people inhabit, or the painting. Painting is what goes on in the film. What is exciting to me about Bacon’s work is that it is extraordinarily beautiful on the one hand, texturally – purely in terms of the manipulation of paint – and on the other hand there is an ugliness which many people find horrible, or horrifying. Of course there is an enormous beauty in the ugliness, and I’m trying to capture that. The poor actors, when they saw rough cuts for the first time, were pretty horrified because they’d never seen themselves looking so revolting. Derek was completely disgusted by what he saw – himself looking more grotesque than he had ever looked – but when he saw the film projected he understood what was going on and realised the value of it.

: I’ve talked to people who think they’ve seen period detail, they’ve seen old cars in Dean Street. They are not in the film at all, of course. The economy of the period setting is very charming, something about that kitchen and the fried egg and bacon; reading the stars column of The Daily Mirror...  

JM: There is nothing so revolting as your archetypal English film where the penny farthing of that day is exactly the right penny farthing for that day. How abysmal that kind of authenticity can be. It’s about economy.  

BG: Britain’s interesting filmmakers are the ones that feel they’re part of an international community. That is another advantage of the fine art culture. But when this film is well-received and you move on, is there a route that will sustain you and provide you with material?  

JM: The only kind of thing I can believe in is my ability to take a relatively small amount of money and make it do the work I want it to do. Of course this sort of stuff is whetting my appetite for other moves towards ‘conventional’ cinema. But I’m not going to do a Full Monty – I am more interested in the ‘full montage’... I’ve have considered myself to be international for quite some time. From the very early days of super 8 work, I had a much bigger audience in Italy, Japan, and Germany than in England. England, in those days, meant London, and actually it meant the ICA Cinematheque and sometimes, if the feminists didn’t kill me, then the London Film-makers Co-op (laughs). But I know I will make another film. What is interesting to me at the moment is this territory of digital video cameras and complex video post-production and the beautiful quality you can now achieve transferring that stuff back onto film.  

BG: There is a terrible shock when you go back to 35mm film. Don’t you find working on non-linear editing equipment very disorienting in terms of rhythm...

JM: I learnt about that when it came to the step printing and the grading. There was an artistic policy on my part to not be interested in that part. I love the immediacy of super 8 or video 8. Having control over something from the beginning. In the early eighties there was kind of super 8 called ‘SM’ that you could get processed while you wait. Often I would have a show coming up at the ICA and I would shoot the film two weeks before and edit it. And if I didn’t like it I would shoot another one. I came to understand how important a good print is. I think what we achieved in grading was fantastic and takes the film that little bit further. It looks fabulous: grotesque and ugly with still an inherent beauty. I also think that the combination of video and film is that much more sophisticated now, so that the manipulation can still take place. Some subjects warrant a certain kind of process, a technical treatment, and others warrant other approaches. The things that I learned on Love is the Devil are forcing a new economy in how I approach much more abstract work. I still see lots of flaws in the film but I think I was successful in bringing some other languages into play in a relatively conventional narrative – I think I can go a lot further with that. Storytelling is really quite satisfying.  

BG: Supposing there is a distinct group of what I’d call ‘non-conformist Anglo-Saxon’ artists. In the context of cinema, from Humphrey Jennings to Michael Powell to Derek Jarman and so on, but outside that I’m including Blake and Bacon (even if he’s Anglo-Irish). Do you think that Love is the Devil is going to be seen as, in some curiously subversive way ‘Anglo-Saxon’, to be a kind of minority report on a culture?  

JM: Yes, we have made a little slice of Britannia – unfortunately. I wouldn’t promote it as that, but essentially that’s what it is. Although it is about the sixties and seventies, it will be seen as another part of this imaginary thing called Cool Britannia, Boom Town London or whatever. And the fact that I’ve got a whole bunch of YBAs [Young British Artists] and fashion designers and writers appearing in the film, would help. New Labour is buying into this idea of ‘Cool Britannia’. I am so anti-jingoistic. I was watching the Oscars and Barry Norman is sitting there saying ‘The Brits aren’t doing very well, are they?’ Well fuck off, get over it, that kind of parochialism is so depressing, especially in film which is the first international language. This century has a global art form called cinema and until the talkies the English, the Europeans, were all producing work on an international level until language comes in. The poor Dutch guy who won best foreign film said ‘I am really thrilled with this Oscar but sorry the film is subtitled’ because he knows having them is going to kill his film dead.  

BG: But Love is the Devil, in English, still isn’t the easiest thing in the world to sell. I’m constantly surprised by the minimum expectations of the American mini-majors, which are now parts of studios. I shouldn’t be because they release so few films now.  

JM: Exactly. Some of those mini-majors were ultimately terrified of the film. Of the subject matter, and by the whole approach. They didn’t think they could find a way of marketing it. And we’ve ended up with a smaller but more interesting distribution company [Strand] in the States. It seems as if British filmmakers are being forced by American companies into making kitchen sink dramas. They want Room at the Top, or Merchant Ivory or gritty realism – because to them that is England. At the same time many of the big American directors idolise Powell and Pressburger – beautiful, exotic, bizarre cinema. The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life or Death, and Peeping Tom aren’t British or English – they are international. They have essentially British content but they compete perfectly on an international level, and stand as classics of cinema – not British Cinema. British Cinema, which I love, is Meeting Miss Marple (which of course is produced by MGM), the Carry On movies and Hammer – Carry On and Hammer have informed my filmmaking immensely – I watched them on TV. I always said to you about Love is the Devil that I wanted it to be a Powell and Pressburger/Carry On movie, and I think I have achieved that – in part.