ESQ&A: David O Russell Explains Why It's The Perfect Time For His New Prada Film
The star-studded Past Forward feels like a post-election fever dream.
BY scott christian | Nov 23, 2016 | Fashion
For her Spring/Summer 2017 fashion show, which ran this past September in Milan, Miuccia Prada wanted something more ambitious than just a line of models walking down a runway. She wanted something that would appropriately communicate her vision of feminine identity—with its complex intersection of history, experience, love, and drama. So she turned to her friend, filmmaker David O Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter), to create a multi-platform film project that would bring that vision to life. The resulting short film, titled Past Forward, is a surrealist dreamscape of mystery, suspense, paranoia, romance, love, conflict, and beauty, all of which unfolds beyond the strictures of linear time.
Devised over a string of conversations between Russell and Prada, the finished film—parts of which were screened during the September fashion show—feels somehow both new and old, familiar and foreign. Along with references to Hitchcock and surrealist art, there are also elements of classic sci-fi movies, romance films, and suspense thrillers, not to mention a lot of cool clothes. The full version of the film is on Prada's site. On the evening of the release, we spoke to David O Russell about how it came to be, how he wrangled such a cool cast (Freida Pinto, Allison Williams, and Kuoth Wiel all play a version of the lead character), and how its paranoia and disorientation feels way too appropriate in today's political atmosphere.
ESQ: How did this project originally come about?
Russell: Just from having a conversation with Miuccia about art—contemporary art—that she was looking at for her museum in Milan. I think it's just from our friendship, and having conversations. She's a very specific, meticulous person. She reminds me of De Niro in some respects. We were just talking about what she personally looks for in art, or responds to. She responds in a very pure, no bullshit way. That's how she is. And that turned into a conversation about layers of identity, and experience. Layers of cinema memory and layers of personal memory. She just kept inviting me to do something, and I couldn't really believe it was going to happen.
It wasn't for money or anything; it was just to do it. I didn't even know which actors were going to show up. We just did it to create something that was a pure silent film, that is associative like a dream. I'm a fan of surrealism. I believe in letting the unconscious speak and guide you, like in a dream. Now, in retrospect, I think this dream is filled with feelings and identities and shifts and uneasiness, but still very appropriate to this time right now.
"I believe in letting the unconscious speak and guide you, like in a dream."
The film has a really cool cast. How did you get everyone on board?
It was all serendipitous. Allison Williams and I have crossed paths many times. Michael B Jordan introduced me to Freida Pinto, and Freida and I hit it off. John Krasinski and I happened to be talking about other projects at the time, and I said, "Would you want to do this?" I didn't know if he would show up, I didn't know if Sacha Baron Cohen would show up. He said he happened to be in town, and I happened to pay him a visit, and the next thing we knew we put him in the picture. It was all sort of fortuitous like that. I'm working on a project with Robert De Niro that has a family that reflects the colour of our families, which is mixed, so I wanted to meet new actors of colour. Sinqua [Walls] and Kuoth [Weil] were great for me to meet and work with.
The film's three female leads: Kuoth Wiel, Freida Pinto, and Allison Williams.
Were you tied at all to Prada's designs for the film? Or did Miuccia give you free rein to do whatever you wanted?
No, she just told me to do whatever I wanted to do. And I happened to be watching North by Northwest a lot.
That's interesting. I was going to mention that many of the scenes feel like a Hitchcock film.
Yes, and we actually got a Bernard Herrmann score [Herrmann composed scores for North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Psycho among other Hitchcock films], which we got from a couple of different films. [I wanted] to have a pure visual experience like that, though—that's like a dream, that is emotional, that feels almost like a Kafka experience, but is also romantic, and has all these different colors that life or a dream can have, or a movie can have, without words or explaining it. To me, what I loved about those [Hitchcock] films is the dignity of the people and their clothes. No matter whether they're falling down a mountain or climbing across Mount Rushmore, there's something dignified about their clothing.
Freida Pinto and Jack Huston.
That was also important to me in American Hustle, that there's a sort of beauty and a love of their clothing. In American Hustle, they're always trying clothes on, they're loving clothes, trying different identities on. That kind of element is something that I like. Cary Grant's tailor told him to sleep in his suit, which is why it's in [North by Northwest]. I like someone having to go through the rain and the fight and everything, and they're still in this clothing that wouldn't be made for that.
"I like someone having to go through the rain and the fight and everything, and they're still in this clothing that wouldn't be made for that."
You've mentioned Hitchcock—were their any other cinematic reference points for you?
Probably just surrealism. And also, I love something that feels like a fever dream. Whether it's Mulholland Drive or Hitchcock, where you aren't exactly sure what's happening, but it's emotional, and there are moments of beauty in it. Those were my references, I think. Other than that, I was just sort of operating from my own unconscious. I have dreams, and I have dreams that I have thought a lot about since my childhood that were in there. These big things that I have experienced in recurring dreams. Images I've had in my mind, or shots I've wanted to do in many movies.
I've had filmmaker friends who say, "If it's great, don't talk about it a lot," because it is what it is. That's the thing about this film. It's interesting to hear what other people say about it. I've had some people tell me, "It's like you took all the different stations or experiences one can have—medical, security, the airport, being a teenager, fighting, love, romance, and the uncertainty of being a loner—and put them together in one story."
David O Russell on set.
It makes sense, then, that the film feels so much like a fever dream.
I felt that's interesting, because when you just follow your unconscious, you're not sure how or what it's going to apply [to]. It's like automatic writing; you just let your unconscious speak. Then, the application of it presents itself at another time. I think in today's context, the film does look like a great feeling of unease and uncertainty. Uncertainty regarding security people, who are either there to treat you right or not, and you can't be sure. The fact that there were three races in the picture was something I was drawn to instinctively. It has kind of a different meaning today [after the election].
It gives the film an interesting context given that so much of the driving force in America today seems to be subconscious fear.
I know. The movie feels like a dream I had two nights before the election.
Yeah, it felt like that. Like I'm living in an uncomfortable moment and I don't understand it. And it's an uncomfortable regime and I don't understand it. A dream can feel like you're a captive in some place. Right now, what are we in? We don't know what we're in right now.
"The movie feels like a dream I had two nights before the election."
You talked earlier about all of the colours of life and of dreams, yet the film is in black and white. What was the decision behind that?
Well, I love black and white. I think it's very beautiful. There's something about black and white that, for me, makes it in another timeless state. It's in a different state. It's like movie time, or dream time, or it's the past, but it's the future. We got to shoot in the Broad [art museum in LA], which we used as an apartment building in the future. To me, it's the past, but it's also the future, and there's something that feels classic about it. I feel that way about my favourite films from 60 years ago. There's something timeless about them.
From: Esquire US