Five Favorite Films with Alex Proyas

The director of Knowing also examines the idea of a "generous filmmaker" and shares his appreciation for film critic Roger Ebert.

During his film career, Australian director Alex Proyas has always displayed an affinity for science fiction. He is, after all, the filmmaker who followed his post-apocalyptic feature-length debut (the Australian picture Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds) by breaking into Hollywood with 1994's The Crow, a dark comic book adaptation whose production was marred by tragedy. The tale of a supernatural avenger risen from the grave went on to become a hit, and Proyas turned his sumptuous visual style to another fantasy tale: Dark City.

Dark City, released in 1998, was a sci-fi noir opus about philosophy and romance -- Proyas, his visual flair on display, created a vast alternate world in which, at the chime of midnight each night, time stopped and entire cities transformed. The film grew a devout cult following years after release, and was named one of the "Great Movies" by film critic Roger Ebert. After a detour back to Australia to make the rock 'n roll flick Garage Days, Proyas returned to Hollywood to adapt one of the great Big Idea mythologies of science fiction: Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.

This month, Proyas returns with a new film for sci-fi audiences: Knowing, in which a professor (Nicolas Cage) discovers that predictions sealed 50 year prior in a time capsule had accurately predicted a series of disasters in modern history. Below, we continue our talk with Alex Proyas, in which he discusses Roger Ebert's idea of "generosity" in a filmmaker, and demonstrates his appreciation of the film critic's efforts to seriously analyze his 1998 film, Dark City).


Your citation of Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather reminds me of the Dark City Director's Cut DVD, in which Roger Ebert describes you as a "generous" filmmaker -- meaning, a filmmaker that puts so much more onto the screen - production value, complex compositions, even ideas -- than they need to.

Alex Proyas: Well, thank you so much for comparing we two. But I think you're certainly right in terms of Coppola; I think there's a lusciousness to his work, there's a sensuality to it. And I think that's kind of another expression perhaps of generosity as well. But yeah, there's something so enjoyable about being inside that movie and enjoying that movie. And sensuality comes to mind. I don't know why, but it does, you know? It's a spectacular achievement. Sometimes it's hard to even pinpoint why you like something. You have to like them from so many perspectives to sort of classify them as your greatest, most favorite films.

I did like the idea of generosity in a filmmaker; do you feel like that is a characteristic that you have in your films?

AP: I guess. You know, it's very nice that people see that aspect and certainly nice that Mr. Ebert saw that aspect. I know what a supporter of that film he was; I very much appreciate it. For me, I guess, like most filmmakers, you kinda just do...you want to make movies that you want to see, and that you think are gonna be cool, basically. You know, you're your own principal audience, I suppose. So I keep wanting to do stuff that I think would be enjoyable, that I would enjoy, you know? And hopefully there's enough people -- others that sort of conform with your tastes and opinions -- that you can keep making them. I think in the case of Dark City and what Roger Ebert was saying was, there's a detail in the texture of the movie, and a kind of an enjoyment of the visual. There's a lot of effort put into that side of some of my films that it's always nice when people respond to that, when people see that care that's gone into it.

I mean, it can be somewhat a brutal business because you spend years creating these things, and some of them are embraced and some are not -- and it's very painful when they're not, when people kind of miss the point or ignore the effort that you've made, and don't even see the effort that's been put into it. And it doesn't just happen to me, it happens to everybody. So it's always nice when someone appreciates the detail. I remember when Roger Ebert was helping support Dark City, he actually did a master class in Chicago, at a university in Chicago, sort of analyzing the movie, and someone video'd it and sent it to me, of him doing that master class. It was really wonderful, the level of detail that he went into over a few hours with this group of students, the thought that he put into it. If you, as a filmmaker, poured a great level of thought into something and care into something, if someone else can put an equal amount into viewing it and enjoying your film, there's a great sense of satisfaction.

And that's one of the reasons why Roger Ebert is one of our greatest living critics, because he takes that level of interest in films.

AP: I agree, I think he's truly passionate about the medium, you know? He loves films. He's a very special person in that respect. I had the pleasure of having dinner with him once years after Dark City. I actually met him at the Sundance Festival and we just had dinner and it was just a great pleasure to sit down with him and just talk about stuff.


Catch Alex Proyas' Knowing in theaters this week. For more Five Favorite Films, visit our archive.

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