Five Favorite Films with Bruce Robinson
Plus, The Rum Diary director on adapting Hunter S. Thompson, returning to Hollywood, and how Johnny Depp lured him out of retirement.
If British writer-director Bruce Robinson had only made one film -- 1987's inimitable comedy Withnail & I -- he would have been assured a place in the annals of cult movie history. And it very nearly became the case, too. Having finished his follow-up, 1989's overlooked but frequently brilliant satire How to Get Ahead in Advertising (again starring Withnail's Richard E. Grant), Robinson took his talent to Hollywood and had such a wretched experience on his first studio picture, Jennifer 8 (1992), that he vowed never to direct a film again.
When the combined forces of Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp came calling, however, Robinson found himself being made an offer he couldn't refuse. The result is The Rum Diary, a long-gestating passion project for Depp instigated when he and Thompson unearthed an unpublished manuscript from the late gonzo icon's early years as a writer. Functioning as a companion piece -- and a prequel, of sorts -- to Terry Gilliam's (screw the critics) classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary explores Thompson (via his proxy, journalist Paul Kemp) in his formative period as a journalist, as he begins to find his authorial voice in a haze of barmy booziness.
We sat down with Robinson to talk about the challenge of bringing Thompson's novel to the screen, the weirdness of being back in Hollywood, and how Depp -- who previously tried to bait Robinson to direct Fear and Loathing -- finally lured him into taking on this job. But first, kick back with some lighter fluid and enjoy Robinson's five favorite films.
The first one is The Gold Rush, by Charlie Chaplin. It's the apogee of his genius. I saw that film when I was 11 or 12 years old in a cinema in Ramsgate, Kensington, and there were three people in there with me. Nothing has ever made me laugh as much as that. I remember, literally -- in those days they used to have a velvet kind of cover over the balcony -- and I remember hanging over and laughing at the sheer f--king brilliance of the comedy in that film. The one I saw was just black-and-white, too; this was before Chaplin put a voice-over on it, which I don't enjoy -- I don't think it serves the film well. There are certain things in there, you know -- around cooking and survival and stuff -- that kind of are in my soul now, as someone who tries to tell stories too.
The second one is Bicycle Thieves, by De Sica. That was the most moving film I've ever seen. The scene in there where the dad has lost his bicycle and he takes his kid out for a pizza in 1948 Rome, and the kid is eating it but he's not 'cause he can't afford to pay for it, is one of the all-time most moving scenes I've ever seen in a cinema. It's an amazing film.
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960; 99% Tomatometer)
The third is Psycho. The reason that Psycho is the most extraordinary film to me is the mood in that movie and the fact -- and it's kind of a cliché to say it -- that we're following this woman's story and suddenly it's ruptured and she's dead: What the f--k have we got left? I don't know a moodier or better kind of horror film. It's the darkest movie ever made, for me. It's quite remarkable.
The fourth one, which is kind of a weird one, is Dog Day Afternoon. Because of Al Pacino's performance. He has a line in there -- maybe it's his line, maybe it's the screenwriter's line -- he says "Kiss me, kiss me," to the cops, "I liked to be kissed when I'm getting f--ked." It's one of the all-time great lines in cinema.
Next, we have a wide-ranging chat with Robinson about The Rum Diary, adapting Thompson's book, his return to directing and working with star-producer Depp.
All the President's Men, because of my hero, William Goldman, who wrote that film. Here we're sitting in the dark watching a movie and we all know what the denouement is -- we all know how this film's going to end up; they're going to bust Nixon's ass -- and yet we're on the edge of our seats all the way through that movie. Of course, it's Pakula's fantastic direction and these fabulous actors at the height of their career -- Hoffman and Redford -- but primarily it's William Goldman, who managed to write a film where we all know what's gonna happen, and yet we're compelled to watch this process. Imagine if, in Psycho, the title sequence was Perkins putting on his wig and robe, so we all know it's him -- that's the problem Goldman had to deal with. We all knew it was Nixon. And yet he managed to pull it off. Blew me away, that film. The performances, and the writing... who was that actor who played the editor? Jason Robards. He tells them to go after it. I wish the press would behave like that today, you know: "Go after these f--kwits, and nail them."