Writer-director dares to tackle heady literature project, despite his own beliefs about film adaptations
"Everybody wants to make serious movies or movies about novels with rich themes, but they always mess them up, don't they?" Neil Jordan asks rhetorically.
Having just adapted and directed a film version of Graham Greene's acclaimed religion-and-adultery drama "The End of the Affair," he is perfectly aware of the irony in this statement while sipping tea in a San Francisco hotel room a few days before the film opens.
"There's no point in making a film out of a great book," he continues. "But in this case, there was something embedded way down in this novel that was really..."
He can't find the words and his voice trails off.
But he's right, there is something about this story's stormy, gray and passionate atmosphere that lends itself to film -- and atmosphere is what Jordan wanted to tap into, as he has done many times before in mood-driven movies like "The Crying Game," "Interview With the Vampire" (another adaptation) and "The Butcher Boy."
The spiteful memoir of a jilted London writer (Ralph Fiennes) during World War II, "End of the Affair" is an obsessive, first person account of how the love of his life (Julianne Moore) abandon him just after witnessing his brush with death during a German bombing raid that destroyed their love nest, where the met to copulate while the rest of London -- including her milquetoast, upper-crust husband (Stephen Rea) -- hid from the rockets in air raid shelters.
A sense of danger and heightened emotion permeates film like an English fog (or a San Francisco fog for that matter), as two years after these pivotal events, each corner of this love triangle is still consumed by their feelings of jealousy, loss, regret and mistrust.
"I didn't know why at the time, (but) I thought it should have the texture of an erotic ghost story," Jordan explains, absentmindedly folding and unfolding a paper clip. "But of course (now) I realize...these three characters...are haunted by something that's no longer there. That's what I was responding to."
He laughs slightly at his blind trust in his own creative process. "Directing is a strange thing. You get a picture in your mind and you don't know where it comes from, and in many ways, you probably shouldn't know where it comes from, because it has an instinctive level to it. So everything we did was actually to reinforce the haunted nature of the film."
A ruddy, seasoned Englishman with an air of experience reinforced somehow by every proud line on his face 49-year-old face, Jordan describes with quiet vivacity how he was inspired by the idea of employing a diary stolen from Moore's character to tell the story from both lovers' points of view -- first through Fiennes' angry memoir, then through her eyes, revealing a crisis of faith and other secrets and motives that have escaped the embittered hero in his blind rancor.
"That was the reason I thought it could be a movie, really," the director says, justifying his breaking with his own observation about motion pictures making a mess of the novels that inspired them. "Her diary is just a tiny little piece of the book," he continues, now revealing what that "something" was he found embedded in the novel, "(and) in the diary she doesn't recount the same events you've already see with him. It's not that sense of the clock just going around again."
Jordan was also inspired to film "Affair" by the background he shares with the his heartbroken hero. "I wanted to build a portrait of a writer," he says. "I started as a novelist, so I know that world of typing out an obsession on the page."
Jordan's crew often teased him about the potential monotony of filming that lifestyle. "They say, 'All you writers do is type and shag,'" he laughs. "(I'd) get up in the morning, and say, 'What do we do today guys?' And they'd say 'Well, we could do a bit of typing, sir, or we could do a bit of shagging. We could do typing first then shagging, or we could do shagging first then typing. Or perhaps we could do both at once, sir,' they'd say."
But behind-the-scenes hijinks aside, the director says he was extremely earnest about this endevour to tell a tragic tale of desire versus faith.
"When I was making the film, I felt very priveleged. It's deeply serious stuff," he says. "It's about whether he believes or not, (and) the more he hates, the more he brings it into existence. That's the great irony in it...that's Greene...that is the novel."