Interview with Armando Iannucci, conclusion


Sorry for the long delay for part three. I was on vacation!

Since my mind is continually spinning new and specious ideas about movies, however, it did occur to me during this down time that maybe we're seeing the development of a new mini-genre: the Iraq movie that isn't about Iraq. Like "The Hurt Locker;" it's a war movie that just happens to be in Iraq. Likewise, "In the Loop" is a black comic political satire about incompetent, craven and corrupt politicians inexorably pushing us into a war that just happens to sound like the Iraq War. In fact other critics have responded to the apolitical point of view of  "The Hurt Locker," [here and here ] and maybe someday I'll add my two cents to the discussion.

Anyway, here I pick up this discussion right after Iannucci says that maybe there will be trials eventually for some of those responsible for our current fiascos...

PK: ...Well that's something to look forward to. The film reminded me of other political satires, going all the way back to "Dr. Strangelove," which is a similar film because you get people bumbling on the way to horrible cataclysm.

AI: Yes. And also screwball comedies, I mean the structure of it is very much based on fast-talking screwball comedies of the 40s and 50s.

PK: Like Howard Hawks.

AI: Howard Hawks, and also I'm a big fan of Robert Altman and movies, like "M*A*S*H and "Nashville," where you just let the story unfold through the characters, you know.

PK: The advantage of this movie is that you can hear what people are saying, for the most part. Altman felt sound almost shapes the movie. The sound of the dialogue almost shapes the movie as much as the narrative.

AI: All of the actors are radio-miked, and I do tell them even when they wander off camera, you know we're still hearing them, so they should keep talking. And then you find in the end that you can pull up - even if they're not physically in front of the camera - you can pull up a moment that they actually said several minutes later as they were walking away. And the sets have no marks. So I tell them they can wander wherever they like. We have two cameras all the time, so if they improvise something  it's being shot on two different sides. So I can cut it in the edit, rather than asking them to do it all again on a different side of shot.

PK: So it's kind of like the real world.

AI: You know I try to keep it as much like that as I can. We just set up the whole scene and then just do the whole scene and let it run. And once the scene is over I don't say cut for another few minutes just to see what else happens.

PK: It's a little bit of a Mike Leigh type thing.

AI: There's an element of that, yes, without the six months of trying to live the character.

PK: Yeah, he does all of that and then he writes the script based on it.

AI: Yes, what we do is slightly different. We have the script to start with, we spend a lot of time on the script, and then we open it up to make it feel spontaneous, as if it's unfolding in front of you.

PK: Here's a glib phrase I was thinking of using in my review:  "Wag the Dog" by way of "Spinal Tap."

AI: Oh right, well I'm a big fan of "Spinal Tap."

PK: How about "Wag the Dog?"

AI: "Wag the Dog" is great, yes, but that's much more conventional scripting. "Spinal Tap"...I mean the first time I saw "Spinal Tap" I could tell it was comedy, but it was that sense of hearing a different kind of joke that you hadn't heard before. And I know I didn't...

[Publicist enters encouraging a wrap-up]

PK: Uh, well, how are we doing? I have like ten pages of questions. Multiple choice. Get out your number 2 pencil.

AI: Multiple choice I always put ‘C.' You've got a one in, you averages out. Just put ‘C, C, C, C...' all the way down you'll probably end up with a decent...

PK: You'll probably end up in the White House.

AI: Well, yes.

PK: What is your educational background? Did you go to Oxford or Cambridge or...

AI: Oxford. I did a degree in English Literature at Oxford, and then I stayed on and tried to do my PhD..

PK: And you grew up in Glasgow?

AI: In Glasgow, yeah.

PK: Two blocks away from Peter Capaldi [who plays the corrosive press minister in the film], I guess.

AI: My parents knew his parents in the 60s. It was very funny, yeah. And he grew father, did all sorts of things. But at one point he did our kitchen units, so at one point, Peter grew up in one of my dad's kitchens.

PK: And you're both similar backgrounds, because growing up Italian in a Scottish area. I mean, here everyone is from a different country, but...

AI: Well in Glasgow there's a big Italian community so it's not that unusual.

PK: So you didn't have to put up with fighting with the Polish kids the block down.

AI: No...

PK: Sorry, that was my life.

AI: No, in Glasgow at that time the Italian community was one of the most, one of the biggest communities.

PK: Are you still a practicing Catholic even though you're not a priest?

AI: No, no. Although I'm still interested in theology and stuff. But I...

PK: How about your children, do you raise them in a faith?

AI: No, no. Always happy to answer their questions though. Well I think actually, people do make up their own minds when they're 18 to 25 or so.

PK: So you went from school to BBC sort of?

AI: That's right.

PK: Did you ever do stand-up yourself?

AI: I did some as a student, and I was all set to try and do that professionally. But the job came up for a producer, and I applied for it and I got it. So I went into production really early on. Radio production, you know making comedy programs and directing stuff and writing.

PK: There was a profile of Steve Coogan in "The New Yorker"  a while ago. I couldn't find a copy of it, but I think your name comes up quite a bit in it?

AI: John Lahr was writing it, and I spoke to him about it. And then it was great then, about two months later - because these things are all done way, way ahead - getting the famous "New Yorker" fact checker to ring up. Because they're so famous for their know, being asked questions like, "Was it 1981 or 1982 that you finished work of the second series of..." and I can't remember.

PK: So much for the glory days of print journalism.

AI: I think "The New Yorker" is one of the few that held onto their fact checkers.

PK: You have the media depicted in this film as sort of being the patsies of the powers that be.

AI: I just felt that big, basic questions that the media could have asked in the whole lead up to Iraq just weren't asked.

PK: And they were distracted by gossipy crap

AI: Well yes, but also I don't know what it was like here, but in the UK the consensus was  forged on the basis of one guy saying, "I've seen the evidence. Trust me, I've seen the evidence." And they answer, "Well if he says that, let's go for it." And behold, there was no evidence.

PK: But also you write a column for a conservative newspaper?

AI: Yeah, I was on "The Telegraph" during Iraq, but the editor was good, actually, he kind of encouraged debate so I was allowed to venture my opinion.

PK: I guess we have to get out of here...

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