GORE IN THE STORE

REVIEW INDEX

IN CONVERSATION WITH NICO MASTORAKIS

 

Nico Mastorakis’s THE WIND centres on mystery novelist Sian Anderson (Meg Foster), who arriving in the remote Greek town of Monemvasia, is warned by her landlord Elias Appleby (Robert Morley) of two dangers: the howling wind that becomes dangerously strong at night, and Phil (Wings Hauser), his sleazy and suspicious American handyman. As night falls, she witnesses Phil burying Elias’s body in a shallow grave, that begins a deadly game of cat and mouse as he seeks to silence the inconvenient witness of his crime.

 

In conversation with FRIGHTFEST, the filmmaker reflected on the experience of making the film, the influence of Hitchcock, and the conflict within the evolution of the filmmaking and storytelling process.

 

FRIGHTFEST: Why cinema as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally?

 

NICO MASTORAKIS: I was always fascinated by the visual element. From turning my mother’s suburban living room into a camera obscura, to building a makeshift projector and throwing blurry images on the wall, imagery became both my entertainment and my work. It was photography first, where the old processing ritual bathed in red light and the mysticism of a negative turning positive gave their place to moving pictures.

 

I have traversed through an amazing technical evolution, which inevitably affected my creative approach. I used the first 8mm fixed lens cameras, I held in my hands (sometimes shaking with anticipation) a Bolex with the first zoom, an Auricon with sync mag sound, a CP, an Arri 16mm, a 35mm Arri, and several Panavisions before crossing the barrier to all forms of digital. Cinema of any form, even in today’s non-poetic digital instantaneity, is undiluted creative expression, sometimes too loud for people to realize the underlying subtleties, but boy, always a mesmerizing and guiding light.

 

FF: How do you look back on the making of THE WIND and as your memory of the experience changed with time?

 

NM: Looking back to making THE WIND is a look through the viewfinder. Making a film on a B-movie budget, but honestly wanting to show A-film qualities was a constant struggle, from concept to final print. Being the producer/financier and the writer/director only boosted the pressure of the creative vs pragmatic conflict. Shooting in Monemvasia, with all its restrictions as a location, transformed the conflict to a challenge, and those memories are so deeply imprinted that I remember every minute detail. So my memories are as good, clear and precise as the master negative we used to bring the film to its new digital form.

 

FF: The premise of witnessing a murder recalls Hitchcock’s classic film REAR WINDOW, and I remember speaking  with an editor who rhetorically asked, “Who hasn’t been influenced by Hitchcock?” Having written and directed suspenseful genre films, what are your thoughts on Hitchcock’s contribution to the cinematic language, and how he has personally influenced you?

 

NM: Through years and years as a cinemagoer, I felt Hitch’s impact on my bone watching movies like VERTIGO, and it was impossible not to carry that infection to my endeavors as a suspense film director. I’m one of the hundreds of filmmakers who shamelessly stole from Hitch, calling their artistic freedom, “homage”, and later on, “fair use.” Admiration for what you’ve seen on the screen influences the way you see your story, and it deeply affects your cinematic approach. The constant paralyzing fear when setting up each shot is, “What if Hitchcock did it before and I don’t know about it?” I believe that many great suspense thriller directors were driven by the irresistible challenge to surpass Hitch, and that sometimes led to them ridiculing themselves.

 

 

FF: One of the themes of the film is entrapment, which offsets the ferocity of nature with the cruelty of man. THE WIND is an example of how the premise can be a tool for the storyteller to create suspense, because from early on the feeling of claustrophobia is conveyed to the audience. What are your thoughts on the value of using the premise as a tool to not only tell the story, but use it to create a richer experience?

 

NM: We rarely realize the levels and/or depth of our story when writing the script. If that is an intention from the very start, then you probably end up with a seemingly complex, but also boring script. Writing on impulse with clear characters and geography (John Huston’s technique), brings you closer to even subconsciously creating the levels and the depth, what you call a richer experience. In other words, I trust instinct as a driving force, more than doing a dozen rewrites with the intention to bring a seemingly shallow script to intellectual depths. As for the claustrophobia element, I’m sure that we took the term to a different level, using a whole town with only one exit, instead of the confines of a cabin in the woods.

 

FF: I’m interested in how cinema has changed from decade to decade, not only the changes of the technology, that can evolve the look of a film, but the way writing and directing, performance and editing has changed and affected the aesthetics of film. If you were to have made THE WIND now rather than in 1986, how dramatically would that alter the film the audience would experience?

 

NM: The way you see those dramatic changes in filmmaking varies on your position. It’s different to diagnose from the seat of the viewer than it is sitting in the chair. If I were to make THE WIND today, given the luxuries of digital, I would have probably strayed into making a more “tech” rich movie, with more setups, inventive angles, a faster pace and even more frantic, albeit with gimmickry editing. I would have made a visually different movie, that would look almost like a clone to a hundred other movies of directors who succumbed to the same technical temptations. I believe that using bulk movie cameras, huge lights, cranes and steadicams kept us at a distance from visual excesses - a more Spartan-like form of storytelling. And so did the fact that we spliced 35mm film instead of clicking on an Avid. The longer process and the shorter list of facilities made it more difficult for us to retreat to cheap tricks for fooling the audience. It looks like today’s audiences are getting tired and fed up with the formulaic frame-frenzy, over-colored, wide-angle and narrow-impact cinematic storytelling, hence the demand for Blu-Rays of older, more simplistically clean thrillers.

 

FF: Has the audience changed in the time since the film’s original release?

 

NM: Basically, no. The audience then and now has the same fundamental expectation, especially from a thriller. They go to the theater anticipating a good scare, and to achieve that you have to suspend their disbelief, by creating believable characters and then turning ordinary situations into extraordinary scenes. The percentage of your success in such an attempt also determines your effect on the audience. It’s strange though, that as audiences of newer generations become more demanding, and as the “been there, seen that” axiom prevails, even subconsciously in the audience’s mind much before the lights are dimmed, the more effective is the use of the old formula of storytelling. The recipe of keeping it simple, keep it honest and don’t try to impress them with artificial bells and whistles, thinking that you’re smarter than them, is to me the easiest way to a solid, good scare.

 

 

 

FF: From my research, THE WIND was the first film you edited, and interviewing filmmakers, they have told me that editing is the best training ground for a director. How did the experience of editing THE WIND impact your approach to writing and directing the films that followed?

 

NM: You’re right and you’re wrong. THE WIND marked the first time I gave myself an editing credit. My work on the bench goes back as far as 1972, when I filmed CHASE, a made-for-TV movie in 16mm, that I also edited with my great, late editor Yorgos Triantafyllou (he used the pseudonym George Rosenberg in my films). Film itself was a valuable (and expensive) commodity, and editing it, throwing away costly feet of film in trash basket, teaches you many precious lessons as a director – the method of “what-not-to-do” vs “what to do” in a director’s greedy mind.

 

So, to answer the question, my Steenbeck tortuous splicing, frame-trimming nightmares made me not only a more conscientious director, but also a more conscientious writer. Every scene I wrote went through the editor’s filtering process in my head, and the question, “Do I really need that?” flashed in every creative decision I made. Strangely enough, that didn’t change in my transition to digital, and the speed and ease of the operation of using a Media Composer and clicking instead of splicing. If I was teaching a film class today, I’d start them from editing.

 

FF: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?

 

NM: Sure do. Evolution is an unintentional process affected by time, space, people and most of the times it creeps at a lethargic pace, so you don’t really notice. In the filmmaking process, all evolutionary elements are terribly accelerated and compressed. Time and space take a different form and dimension, and people are the richest dose of the transformative chemical reaction. You work with wonderful people, crazy people, insane people, boring people, exciting people, those who live with the illusion that they’re all the above and perhaps the navel of the universe. You are in a constant struggle with the passage of time, and when it’s all over, a part of you is relieved, a greater part misses it, but your whole existence has been delicately altered. You think you made the film, but also the film has made you a slightly different person. A change that affects your creativity in a positive, or many times a negative way. True, you’re not the same person as you were before.

 

Arrow Video’s restoration of THE WIND from a 4K scan of the original negative, is approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis and is available for the first time on Blu-Ray 13 April 2020.

 

Paul Risker.

 

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