The Hothouse loved Matthew A Brown’s brutal revenge thriller Julia which has just been released in the UK. Julia is Matthew’s first full length movie as a writer and director and the Hothouse was lucky enough to get the opportunity to find out what makes the South African born filmmaker tick.
.So how did Matthew get started as a filmmaker?
‘I started off as an actor (did leads in a couple of indies, like God’s Army and Brigham City, but I was always writing. In fact, while still acting, a feature script I’d written got produced with me in the lead role—this was back in 2002—and the director botched the vision to such an extent that the film never got finished. I think I was only 24 at the time, and had no conscious desire to direct then, but this definitely played a part in my journey to becoming a director.
The other thing—that in retrospect I understood—is I was always more interested in the entire story than just my own performance, and I found myself ducking out of auditions staying up all night drinking coffee writing these mad psycho-demonic pieces of material that were all about suffering for your art and these crazed journeys of awakening that obsessed me back then. My influences were mainly literary then, and probably that’s lodged itself firmly in my subconscious, writers like Rimbaud, Milton, Blake, Henry Miller, Kerouac… I also then became obsessed with the work of John Cassavetes and, actually, reading Ray Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes literally sent an electric charge through my being and less than a year later I was shooting my first short in France with an Italian actress friend of mine, Maya Sansa. The moment I said ‘action’ on My Father’s Garden my first short, was the moment I knew I’d never act again, and I i knew that all my experience as an actor-training at Guildhall in London as well as at Lee Strasberg in New York and on set, was simply preparation for my work as director. But it took me several shorts before I began to really feel like a filmmaker.
Without having made all four of my shorts, there’s no way I’d’ve been prepared to do what I did with Julia. With my first, my focus was entirely centered around the actors, and I chose a ‘dogme 95’ type approach visually, having been heavily inspired by Cassavetes, but basically I didn’t really know what I was doing with the camera, and didn’t know enough to understand what worked after the fact, why it worked, what didn’t, and why it didn’t. It was on my second short, Having at this point started to delve into cinema with a more directorial eye, that I started to have a sense of the camera as storyteller, and the camera as means to tell the story outside the picture and what the film is really about beyond the surface narrative—but the way I learned on my second short was actually by NOT getting what I wanted,
Now I was able to understand what hadn’t worked and why. My third short, Victim, is when I started to become a filmmaker. In the interim, I’d also attended the Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam, so that too helped-but by the time I came to Victim, I’d had two features come painfully close to getting made and then collapse, and I’d been preparing by doing all of the above and watching movies religiously, so when the features all collapsed, Victim came out of me, Victim weighed more heavily on the stylistic / tonal aspects, but still I wasn’t satisfied with Victim. It was something I just had to shoot coz I hadn’t been on set for a couple of years and I was going insane after having put so much work into the two films that collapsed, while living in Berlin and feeling isolated. In a way it was more of an experiment for myself, an experiment that really paid off as in fact it was Victim that led directly to Julia. Victim is the short on which Julia is based, but it was only with my final short, Crush, that for the first time I felt I’d successfully married content and form to tell the story in precisely the way that I’d intended.’
Julia is a pretty intense ride, we wondered what attracted Matthew to the story?
‘I’ve always been drawn to stories of profound transformation. As I’d had my own ‘crisis’, or whatever you want to call it, around the time the two films that I mentioned collapsed, of course it wasn’t only about the films collapsing, but a lot of anxiety came up, I couldn’t get any rest at all, I went into therapy and got heavily into meditation. Through the meditation, I had quite a radical awakening, and for the first time since I was a kid, found myself actually able to ‘play’ again.
Everything, literally everything and anything, took on this striking light… even things most would associate with ugliness, I only saw extreme beauty. Also at this time, I’d become fascinated with Asian cinema, Japanese and Korean revenge thriller/horrors (like Miike’s Audition, Jee-woon Kim’s I Saw the Devil) and Hong Kong gangster noirs, as well as the work of Melville, Le Samourai, and his ‘cinema of process’, and this notion of existential genre cinema… So when I was approached about: turning Victim into a feature, it was like this explosion went off inside me… I saw the possibility of fusing all my own then cinematic-and life-obsessions into this narrative in which a woman, who, through intense suffering, undergoes a profound transformation into this empowered being of light—Twisted I know, but also ecstatic, and perfect for what I felt ready to explode onto the screen at the time.’
That’s interesting, but there also seems to be a very Northern European vibe to Julia was this intentional ?
‘My influences ranged from the work of Melville and the Asian filmmakers’ referenced above to the work of Michael Mann, David Fincher and even Tony Scott’s True Romance. Those were the films / filmmakers I referenced early on with my cinematographer Bergsteinn ‘Besti’ Bjorgulfsson. We also discussed the Swedish version of Let the Right One In,.But then of course Besti himself is Northern European, from Iceland, so I’d say the Viking blood is alive and strong in him and will naturally spill out into anything he lays his hands on. All puns intended hehe.’
Matthew Thank you very much.
Julia is out now in the UK on DVD and download, but we have two copies of Julia on DVD for the first three readers to email us at email@example.com with their name and address