The next mission

Jeremy Thomas on Nicolas Roeg, Wim Wenders, Billy Wilder, Matteo Garrone and fairy tales

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Jeremy Thomas with Anne-Katrin Titze on his next mission, Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s Mr. Wilder and Me to be directed by Stephen Frears and starring Christoph Waltz as Billy Wilder: “We’ve got all the locations in Corfu and Paris where the drama is set. Now I’m looking for eight million dollars more …”
Jeremy Thomas with Anne-Katrin Titze on his next mission, Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s Mr. Wilder and Me to be directed by Stephen Frears and starring Christoph Waltz as Billy Wilder: “We’ve got all the locations in Corfu and Paris where the drama is set. Now I’m looking for eight million dollars more …”

In the first instalment with producer extraordinaire Jeremy Thomas we discuss his work and admiration for Nicolas Roeg (Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession, Eureka, Insignificance), Wim Wenders (Don't Come Knocking, Palermo Shooting, Pina on Pina Bausch. Every Thing Will Be Fine, Anselm on Anselm Kiefer), and Matteo Garrone (Tale Of Tales, Dogman, Pinocchio).

Jeremy Thomas with Glenn Kenny and Michael Almereyda at the Posteritati Gallery reception
Jeremy Thomas with Glenn Kenny and Michael Almereyda at the Posteritati Gallery reception Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Karel Reisz’s Everybody Wins (written by Arthur Miller) came to Jeremy’s mind; the connection between Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (winning nine Oscars), Paul Bowles and The Sheltering Sky; Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) plus Glazer’s Martin Amis adaption of The Zone Of Interest (a Main Slate selection of the 61st New York Film Festival); meeting Walt Disney as a child, and Stephen Frears (upcoming Billy Wilder & Me, adapted from Jonathan Coe’s Mr. Wilder And Me).

Mark Cousin’s The Storms Of Jeremy Thomas (Cohen Media Group) opened at the Quad Cinema yesterday. In addition, upcoming screenings in the Jeremy Thomas Presents series include Nagisa Ōshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (starring David Bowie with a pre-recorded introduction by Takeshi Kitano); Bob Rafelson’s Blood And Wine (pre-recorded introduction by Stephen Dorff); Jerzy Skolimowski’s Shout (pre-recorded introduction by Skolimowski), and Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (pre-recorded introduction by Jarmusch) at the Quad.

The Cohen Media Group and Posteritati at their gallery hosted a reception for Jeremy Thomas on Wednesday, September 20, before The Last Emperor post-screening Q&A with Jeremy and Julian Schnabel at the Quad Cinema. All of the poster photos were taken at the Posteritati Movie Poster Gallery on the night of the reception.

Il Lenzuolo Viola (Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession) Italian poster
Il Lenzuolo Viola (Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession) Italian poster

From a Manhattan hotel room, Jeremy Thomas joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on his career and some of his favourite filmmakers.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello Jeremy! You are in New York for the series?

Jeremy Thomas: Yeah, I’m here in Manhattan in a very nice room - I can see the Empire State Building from my terrace, so I’m very happy. And very happy to be here for this retrospective at the Quad Cinema. It’s nice. People don’t know anything about producers. Now they have to get a face full of it.

AKT: People don’t know enough about producers, that’s very true. I like very much your selection of films and I’m especially happy that Bad Timing is in the spotlight again. Art Garfunkel has a line in it, saying: “I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to understand what normal means.” In a way, I feel, your entire career has expanded what normal means.

JT: Well, you know, we’re all made up from various things that happened to you. I must have been like that when I started in the film business. I was very recalcitrant as a boy. And I became quite recalcitrant as an adult. In terms of not wanting to be - not angry or rude - I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. And I managed to find a way within the framework of the cinema business to pretty much do that most of my career. In terms of taste. And I used that as my main weapon. It became clear, it’s not clear in the beginning.

When I made Bad Timing it was my third or fourth film that I produced and was just desperate to work with Nicolas Roeg. I was still in my learning process about producing films. That film was a very emotional experience for everybody involved. It was like a method film in a way, because everybody was deeply affected by what’s happening on the screen and the extreme behaviour and where relationships can get to. That was the human condition.

Jeremy Thomas with Ludovica Barassi at the Posteritati Gallery reception
Jeremy Thomas with Ludovica Barassi at the Posteritati Gallery reception Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And Nic Roeg was a great observer and exposed all that to us in his way. That film was very unique. Certainly I grew up a lot making that film. Working with Nic Roeg two more times - it was very very educational and informative.

AKT: Bad Timing holds up so well; it stands on its own visually as it depicts, as you say, the human condition. And Theresa Russell is reading The Sheltering Sky! And ten years later - there you are!

JT: That’s very good! That’s very observant! Paul Bowles was a touchstone all through that time and Nicolas Roeg, he wanted to make The Sheltering Sky very much! And the book - well, it was Paul Bowles and a special book for us. I was unable to get the rights. It was owned by Robert Aldrich Company and Warner Bros. No way. Cut. Last Emperor. Nine Oscars. What do you want to do next? Well, I really want to do The Sheltering Sky! So it became. We got the rights because the Oscars for The Last Emperor opened up for a moment a time when those in charge thought you knew something.

AKT: Perfectly put!

JT: It’s always like that. Nobody knows anything. But there’s a moment when people think that you know something. And then you get covered in money. At those moments in your career when people think you know something that they don’t know. I look at some of the successful filmmakers and I think, well, he or she knows something that I don’t know because they make incredible contact. Sometimes you make contact with a gigantic group of people. No idea why, but it happened and you can’t repeat it. I never look to repeat anything. It’s a disease of the film business - a lack of originality.

The Dreamers and The Last Emperor posters
The Dreamers and The Last Emperor posters Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When it is successful let’s just do it again - that’s why we have so much remaking and remaking of things that shouldn’t even be remade. There’s a lack of original ideas out there when you see these classic films being remade. They’re always tragic whenever they try to remake a master’s film. I don’t think I can think of any really of those films that are remade that are better than the originals.

AKT: Leo McCarey’s An Affair To Remember! I think the second Affair To Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr is better than the first.

JT: And the same with the films of His Girl Friday. That was remade three or four times. The first couple were very good, I have to say.

AKT: Speaking of remakes - with Nicolas Roeg there is always a fairy-tale element to his work. Walkabout is a retelling of Hansel and Gretel, children abandoned, every child’s worst nightmare. Don’t Look Now has a Little Red Riding Hood. You are no stranger to classic tales - you made Tale of Tales, based on Giambattista Basile and Pinocchio. Italo Calvino quotes a Tuscan proverb that a tale is no longer beautiful if nothing is added to it. I think there are many classic tropes in the films you have made, but they are always new, always fresh.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence poster
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence poster Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JT: When I see the films again - sometimes I haven’t seen them for thirty years - I get drawn in, like Point Blank by John Boorman, which was on the telly the other night. I couldn’t stop watching it. Sometimes a film can just take you, even when you’re ready to go to sleep. I really really love movies, as is clear, and I’ve just been trying to make decent movies for everyone. It’s a little bit reduced for me now.

I can’t do quite the scale of films that I used to make, because they’re not made anymore. I couldn’t think of mounting Sheltering Sky or even Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. Those films were shot without any digital help. They were such a super experience because you were really living the film - you had to be there for months and shoot the little bits every day. They are very very strong those memories.

I try not to go back to the locations. Funnily enough, I was driving from Toronto here. I shot a film that has gone out of the consciousness, called Everybody Wins, directed by Karel Reisz, written by Arthur Miller, starring Debra Winger and Nick Nolte. It’s a wonderful film. It’s not in distribution, you probably haven’t even heard about that film.

AKT: No.

JT: It was shot in Norwich, Connecticut. And I saw the sign that said Norwich and I thought: Shall I look at it again? The last time I was there was with 150 close people and I don’t want to go back. It was so sweet, the memory was so good.

AKT: There’s a film I am looking forward to being made! During the summer I spoke with Jonathan Coe and also earlier with Volker Schlöndorff, with whom you made The Ogre, about it. Mr Wilder And Me - where does it stand? What’s going on?

Insignificance poster
Insignificance poster Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JT: I’ve prepared the film. The screenplay has been written by Christopher Hampton. We have the cast, which I’m not going to tell you.

AKT: Besides Christoph Waltz?

JT: Beyond what’s been announced. Stephen Frears is directing the film and we’ve got all the locations in Corfu and Paris where the drama is set. Now I’m looking for eight million dollars more to fill up what I haven’t got. I’m on my trail now. That’s my next mission, is to find a partner for this wonderful project about a director who made us happy. More than probably any other. He was so funny, especially with Izzy Diamond. This film is about them both with a young girl seeing them. A young girl witnessing these old guys - very funny but really having not lost contact with what was going on.

AKT: It’s wonderful. I loved the novel.

JT: It’s a good book, it’s a wonderful novel by a wonderful writer.

AKT: It is a traveling book as well, and when you think Road Movie, you think Wim Wenders. I just had an email exchange with Wim and am very much looking forward to Anselm.

Anselm Kiefer riding his bicycle in Wim Wenders’ Anselm
Anselm Kiefer riding his bicycle in Wim Wenders’ Anselm

JT: It’s a very good film. It was very appreciated at Cannes. Kiefer came; it was lovely seeing it in 3-D. It’s going to come out here soon. Kiefer and Wenders are a similar age and had similar experiences. It’s a film about Kiefer but Wim really made a film about himself as well. It’s a shared growth in post-war Germany, very interesting.

AKT: You’ve worked with Wim on Pina and Don’t Come Knocking before, right?

JT: And other films. I’m a constant in his life. We’re old buddies and I spoke with him this morning. He’s someone very special to me. We’re the same sort of group who shared knowledge and experience.

AKT: Jonathan Glazer - you did Sexy Beast with him. I’m seeing Zone of Interest this Friday.

JT: You’re lucky! It’s shocking, but he’s a wonderful filmmaker and it’s a wonderful film. It’s very, very, very, very strong. It’s an unusual portrait and a new take on the whole thing.

AKT: I read the Martin Amis book and I’m very, very curious. In the documentary we see a Mickey Mouse drawing dedicated to you when you were a child! From Walt Disney! Tell me about that!

Anselm Kiefer's Uraeus at Rockefeller Center in 2018 recalls Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire
Anselm Kiefer's Uraeus at Rockefeller Center in 2018 recalls Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JT: It’s all true. I’ve had an incredibly lucky life. My father was a movie director and he directed 40 films. My uncle was a movie director as well. Before my father was a movie director, he was a film editor and before my uncle, Gerald Thomas, was a movie director, he was editing a film for Walt Disney. And my sister and I met Walt Disney and he gave us that.

AKT: Which film was that?

JT: My uncle was editing Rob Roy. It was a live-action film. Walt Disney was charmed by these two blond children. He gave my sister Peter Pan. He gave me Führer’s Face. I went oink oink in the Führer’s Face. Later I got to see, but I didn’t know it was a cel from The Führer Face.

AKT: Wow! Did you have a favourite fairy tale as a child?

JT: Favourite fairy tale? Well, I liked Pinocchio. I always loved Pinocchio.

AKT: That fits. Being a pirate [Tilda Swinton calls Jeremy a pirate in Mark Cousin’s The Storms of Jeremy Thomas], trying to become a real boy.

JT: And then eventually you lie and your nose will get big. And there’s still the boy inside me - very much. I’m getting an older guy now, but I like Pinocchio and I was happy with [Matteo] Garrone to make a great Pinocchio. [Carlo] Collodi and Italy! I love Italy, I made lots of films in Italy. It’s a wonderful place to make films. Japan and Italy I like a lot.

Jeremy Thomas on Wim Wenders: “He’s someone very special to me. We’re the same sort of group who shared knowledge and experience.”
Jeremy Thomas on Wim Wenders: “He’s someone very special to me. We’re the same sort of group who shared knowledge and experience.” Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

When somebody studies art, music, photography, architecture - all the history of that is crucial to your work. If you are to become an architect, you study architecture from the past. And the same with music. Film? It’s the least popular course at film school. Nobody cares about the past or to begin at day one. I understand that, of course, but it’s so brilliant when you work with filmmakers who can quote from cinema. And you can talk about films.

That is something I really want to try and keep. That’s why I restore my films - because I want to try and keep them alive. I want people to watch - which is romantic to try. Dreamland, but I’m here trying to promote that right here at the moment in New York.

AKT: I’m trying to help you with that! I’m all for that!

JT: We’re a secret society. When you get it, it’s like an agreement. You are in a sort of secret society, you know. And you understand the communal viewing and you are in a special club. And as soon as you meet somebody, you know, okay, they’re in the club. They know.

AKT: Thank you so much, lovely meeting you!

Posteritati Gallery owner Sam Sarowitz’s Basset Hound Harry resting on Anne-Katrin Titze’s feet
Posteritati Gallery owner Sam Sarowitz’s Basset Hound Harry resting on Anne-Katrin Titze’s feet Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

JT: Pleasure, pleasure! Very nice to meet you, nice to talk!

Coming up - Jeremy Thomas on David Cronenberg, William Burroughs, and Naked Lunch; Cronenberg, JG Ballard, and Crash; Martin Scorsese, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Christopher Marlowe, Jim Jarmusch, Sara Driver, and Only Lovers Left Alive; Susan Minot and Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers; Mark Cousin’s The Storms of Jeremy Thomas, and being a free-thinking person.

Jeremy Thomas Presents runs through Thursday, September 28 at the Quad Cinema in New York.

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