By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
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?
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?
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.
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?