Recap: Darren Aronofsky Talks About His Movies and Love for Chinatown at New Museum Event

Posted on: October 1st, 2014 at 9:22 am by
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“There were two types of Brooklynites [growing up],” Darren Aronofsky noted. “People who stay in Brooklyn and people who wanna get to the ‘big city.'”

Last night, the beloved Brooklyn-born director crossed that river and participated in a candid discussion with novelist Lynne Tillman at the New Museum. The intimate affair was actually the public coronation of Aronofsky as “Visionary Speaker” in the museum’s sixth annual Stuart Regen Visionary Series.

The seventy-minute conversation was straight-forward and surprisingly honest. Donning a three-piece suit (sans tie), Aronofsky followed the conversational lead towed by Tillman, which touched chronologically on his six-film oeuvre. Everything from Pi (1998) to Black Swan (2010) and Noah (2014) was fair game for critique. Sitting in the basement theater room of the New Museum, it felt like an undergrad film appreciation course.

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Pi, Outside East Broadway station

Paralleling the themes in his movies, the discussion centered on biblical notions of beginnings, tragedy, and light versus dark. Indeed, Tillman evoked the book of Genesis to kick off the evening. While centered on Pi, we learned about the struggles of filmmaking on a shoestring budget in and around the Lower East Side; about the black-and-white reversal film used to shoot and the angles employed to tell the story; about his inexperienced gaffer who walked in the flooded basement of an East Village synagogue with hot wires. This “arts and crafts” project (as his parents called it) was admittedly a perfect “snapshot of who I was in my 20’s.”

(Bonus: the “staring at the sun” monologue was not in the original script. Added in post-production to “get deeper into Max’s head.”)

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“Requiem for a Dream,” Coney Island with Thunderbolt visible

The conversation naturally flowed to Requiem for a Dream, which we feel is the most effective anti-drug advertisement out there. Tillman eloquently quipped that, “in terms of enjoyment, [Requiem] is really a question.” That elicited some chuckles. His transition was a bit difficult, though. There was now a four-person character arc and full color (not to mention top-notch actors). A huge change, especially coming off a film that costed approximately $57,000 to make.

In fact, of all his movies, this one was dissected and referenced the most, from its brilliant split-screen to “hip hop” cuts of drug taking. Aronofsky mentioned how, with the film adaptation of the Hubert Selby-penned novel, he wanted to spotlight the narrative on the tragic decline of Sara Goldfarb (the mother).

It was also acknowledged that “Hollywood doesn’t do tragedies that well,” precisely the arena in which Aronofsky thrives. This theme of tragedy is an undercurrent in the six films, and was born from his upbringing outside Coney Island. He spoke of inspirations, such as the then-dead amusement park of his youth, and how something destined for enjoyment and happiness (light) had become so sullen and bereft (dark). How video stores were eye-opening in terms of easy access to foreign films. Or how most of his heroes – on celluloid or otherwise – “were always from that direction [of breaking rules].”

We personally found it interesting the he spoke about cliche, even admitting that “most of my plots are cliche.” It just doesn’t seem that way at all, but he maintained that it all really depends on the storytelling. Whether the audience can believe the world presented to them without sensing that rote-ness.

For the film gossips out there, know that a new movie is in the works. Aronofsky let slip that the “hangover” from Noah is cured, and that he’s now “spending a lot of time [in nursing homes] for another idea.”

And, as a fitting postscript …

At the end of the public portion, we asked Aronofsky about the experience of filming Pi around the Lower East Side:

Sean Gullette [who played Max] lived on the Bowery and Grand. He used to have magazine down there called KGB. It was a magazine they had in college.

I always loved Chinatown as a kid. It’s just such a special neighborhood. And I liked it as a place that really stood out for my character [Max]. It was just very distinct. I still love it and would still love to shoot down there.

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