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Talking Trash 

Wednesday, Feb 25 1998
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British filmmaker Nick Broomfield has made feature films (Dark Obsession), monologues (Spalding Gray's Monster in a Box), and a 1981 movie about young women entering the Army (Soldier Girls). But the director is most known for a more recent series of startling and lurid documentaries, including Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam, Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, Fetishes, and now Kurt and Courtney. I spoke to Broomfield by phone shortly after the S.F. screening of his new film. Excerpts:

Stark: Do you like Courtney Love?
Broomfield: You know, I really don't have any feelings about Courtney Love.
Stark: You're kidding.

Broomfield: Yeah, I really don't. I went into [Kurt and Courtney] really not knowing very much about her at all. I knew about Kurt, who I liked enormously. ... I remember actually calling up her manager. I said, "I really want to like Courtney." He said, "Are you threatening me?" Which kind of set the tone.

Stark: How did that affect the filmmaking?
Broomfield: What I really am is a documentarist. If people want to be really defensive, that's just as relevant as if they are cooperative.

Stark: Love goes on the defensive by going on the attack. You've really benefited from her attack.

Broomfield: Now let's qualify "benefit." I've got a lot of publicity, [but] I've got no distributor, and I've probably spent 10 weeks of my time defending this film when I should have been making another one. So financially I've done nothing but lose on it. And timewise I've lost on it. And in terms of having a nice easy life and sleeping well, I'm not doing too hot in that direction either.

Stark: Looking at your other films, and this one in particular, I wonder if you're doing something like what D.A. Pennebaker has talked about -- trying to make a commercially unsuccessful medium, documentary filmmaking, successful by attaching well-known people, stars, or celebrities.

Broomfield: Yeah, I guess to a certain extent that's true. Unfortunately we live in a society that is so star-struck, we're all victims of it to some extent. I think with all of these films, what you try to do is raise questions and tell a story that is worthwhile. In other words, I think you can take a story that is somewhat tabloidy and spin it in a completely different direction.

Stark: What's the story here that you are trying to spin?
Broomfield: It is a story about Kurt, who is a brilliant artist, but whose life patterns came back to haunt him, destroyed him. It's also a story about the difficulties thrown up in one's way trying to tell it. It's a story about journalistic freedom and lack of it in this particular area.

Stark: While you're talking about journalistic principles, I wanted to twist it around. In your previous films you're regularly on camera with a big wad of cash paying people for their stories, which is extremely controversial.

Broomfield: In the two films that I do that it was about -- it was a film about prostitutes. And the other person [I paid] was the chief of police. That's a very specific point I think.

Stark: Did you pay anybody for their stories in Kurt and Courtney?
Broomfield: No.
Stark: Not the nanny, nobody?

Broomfield: I mean, you know, if I take somebody's time up for a couple of hours, I might give them 300 bucks.

Stark: So you did pay certain people 300 bucks?
Broomfield: Yeah.
Stark: So there are smaller payments. Did you pay the nanny at all? The reason why I ask is that she was really the pivotal character in the film.

Broomfield: You know the nanny didn't ask for money. I mean, what I usually do is I normally give people 200 to 300 bucks anyway.

Stark: Why?
Broomfield: Because I think they've given me their time, they've been extremely inconvenienced.

Stark: Does it seem like that might tamper with the outcome of the interview?

Broomfield: No, not really. Not if the whole interview is not predicated on that. In the situations where the money has somehow dominated the interview, I will make that a feature.

Stark: Do you script scenarios?
Broomfield: I never do. I basically do my research on camera.
Stark: You go onstage at the ACLU awards and you're just as droll and British as you ever are. How do you keep a straight face?

Broomfield: I was beyond terrified. I had a complete out-of-body experience when I was up there.

Stark: You say something like, "Hollywood has a hard time understanding the difference between myth and legend." And there seems to be a real fine line between truth and fiction in your own films. Are you muddying that distinction between myth and legend?

Broomfield: What I always say about my films is that they are entirely subjective. At the end of the day I ask myself whether I think that film represents an accurate representation of my experience and what I believe to be the situation. I feel that's about as truthful as I can be.

Stark: A number of the people in your films seem like parasites. Do you consider yourself a parasite of parasites?

Broomfield: I guess to a certain extent one's whole role as a reporter or a journalist is somewhat parasitical. If you write an opera or you build a house you've made something of your own. If you're commenting on somebody else's work, or on them, or on a situation -- that relationship, its essence -- you are dependent on them. ... I wouldn't say I was any more or any less parasitical [than anyone else]. But that's certainly the role.

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Jeff Stark

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