Two new interviews from Manifesto‘s press junket. Read below!
She’s Every Woman: In Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto, Cate Blanchett Proves It’s All in Her (Interview)
Cate Blanchett is every woman in Julian Rosefeldt’s feature film Manifesto, based on the German artist/director’s multi-screen video art installation, a hot ticket back in December where it lived at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan.
A conceptual art piece that features monologues culled from 20th-century declarations by artists about their visions of life and art: You probably don’t expect that to be very cinematic. But when it’s Cate Blanchett in the persona of 13 distinct, charismatic yet generic individuals in different accents and hairstyles, the effect is so hypnotic she nearly pulls you through the screen.
Her characters spout and sometimes rant actual philosophical and artistic declaration. They are the words of artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers, ranging from Karl Marx, Wassily Kandinsky, André Breton, Claes Oldenburg, Sol LeWitt, Werner Herzog and Jim Jarmusch. The artistic movements include the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists and Situationists. (The last two movements most people, including me, have never heard of).
Because Blanchett is so busy—she’s just wrapped Ocean’s Eight and Thor: Ragnarok, and also just announced she will star in the stage version of All About Eve in London—a major challenge for Rosefeldt’s team was that they only had 11 days to shoot with her, all in Berlin and its environs. Sometimes, for organizational reasons, they covered two roles in a day, which meant additional costumes and makeup changes for the star.
Some of the scenes are shot in desolate industrial spaces evoking a not-so-distant dystopia. The movie opens with three old women setting off fireworks. Then an unrecognizable Blanchett, as a homeless man in sooty clothes and a scruffy grey beard, traipses across a concrete jungle quoting Marx: “Capitalism, the economic machinery is in decay… Role of the artist is the revolutionary.” Blanchett then transforms into a corporate Wall Street drone in a red wig and dead eyes, reciting from the Futurists: “The suffering of a man is of the same interest to us as the suffering of an electric lamp.”
Featuring 13 vignettes, the 95-minute film concludes with Cate in a school room, quoting Jim Jarmusch to her impassive students: “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination… And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: ‘It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.’”
Manifesto is by turns artsy, pretentious, profound and funny. Humor helps, but it’s also eerily prophetic. Rosefeldt’s movie lands itself in a zone between creating art and relating it to today’s political and cultural landscape. He first started shooting the art installation in December 2014. The video installation first opened at the Australian Center for the Moving Image in Melbourne in December 2015 and then moved to Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnof museum in February 2016. The film version of Manifesto first screened at Sundance this year.
Since the art installation’s inception, the political and cultural landscape has shifted seismically. When Blanchett quotes Kazimir Malevich—“art requires truth, not sincerity”—it’s a reminder that art taps into energies of truth. This makes it particularly timely today, as the president, a kind of performance artist himself, creates alternative facts and calls them realities.
Last month Blanchett and Rosefeldt attended the New York premiere of Manifesto at the Tribeca Film Festival. They participated in roundtables and interviews all day, and by the time we spoke to them it was nearly 7 p.m., with the premiere still ahead. They must have been tired, but they gamely spoke to reporters for nearly 25 minutes. Blanchett’s Manifesto characters express themselves loudly and insist on being heard. In person, the actress speaks more softly and has a lot to say. She wore an exquisite suit, almost architectural in structure, that was pastel pink, a color that makes most people look washed out but had the opposite effect on her. Following are highlights from the roundtable.
Paula Schwartz, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): When you created Manifesto as an art installation, was it also always planned as a film?
Julian Rosefeldt (JR): The reason there is a movie is the simple fact that I needed to finance the installation… I was approached at the same time then by two wonderful women who do art on TV. One is now directing the Munich Film School, and she was collaborating on [Michael] Haneke’s [films]. I asked them if they could help in the financing of the installation and they said yes, they were willing to do that, but they needed a linear version in order to show it on TV. But the basic interest was to work with Cate on the installation, and now I’m very happy we have the film.
Cate Blanchett (CB): And so is the one that’s on the German television the same as this one?
JR: It hasn’t been shown yet.
MM: Cate, to your thinking were you making a film, an installation or both?
CB: It was definitely an installation. It was a 13-channel work that the audience can self-direct. All of the manifestos were abandoned at one particular point and the common points, the points of connection, were made very clear for the viewer because of this pitch, where all of the persona characters, whatever you want to call them, face the audience and intone it. At first I must admit I was a little skeptical of the functional decision of having to make a linear version. But when Julian showed it to me, I could see it had a need to exist in and of itself. And it’s very, very different experience. But also I think it’s a provocation in and of itself to an audience that is used to dealing with a narrative with a first, second and third act. When you see a movie in the cinema, you immediately search for a certain type of meaning, and this really subverts that experience… You have to give over the need to make sense, which is ironic given how much intellectual rigor and application there is to not only the way Julian’s made the work, but to the manifestos themselves.
JR: Adding to what Cate just said, in the art context, you’re ready for any kind of experience. Almost no scandal is possible anymore in the art world, at least not in the Western context. Of course it’s not about scandals, but it’s certainly about encountering something that surprises you. In the movie context it’s all the opposite; you really want the story to be told… That’s the reason we love stories in books and movies. We desperately want stories to be told because we don’t live them ourselves. This filmic version is very experimental, while in the art context it is an almost classic presentation, ably filmed, beautifully shot filmic images. I’m very interested in the mechanics of filmmaking, the myth-making machine that cinema is, and deconstructing it.
MM: How did you decide on each accent and each costume and visual to go with each character?
CB: It was very “night before” random. Because we had to shoot so quickly, there’s obviously an incredible amount of preparation that went into the planning of the work. There was one point when Julian and I were both in New York. We sat down and he’d come up with about 50-60 characters and scenarios. Then we saw which ones would both align and which manifestos would lend themselves more to conversation, to monologue or to an inner monologue. Obviously they all had to be in English because I can’t speak Mandarin, unfortunately, and that might cross a culturally sensitive boundary anyway—but once we found those points of intersection between those three elements, it was like, “OK, why don’t we make this one from here? Why don’t make this one from there?”
JR: Sometimes it was just kind of natural. For the teacher character, it seemed to me we could create a character quite close to Cate herself. So she’s Australian. The stock exchange [scene] of course happens on Wall Street. For the funeral, [we thought] why not have a light Canadian accent? Or the homeless character in Newcastle, and so on? So it kind of evolved organically, although we gave up on many beautiful ideas for scenes. When I’m asked, “Can you tell us about the scenes you didn’t realize,” I have a hard time remembering them all, because once you start doing something you live with what you have. I wanted to do at least 10 [characters]; I asked Cate to do 20, and she said, “Could we do seven or eight?” We ended up doing 13.
CB: But I was frustrated as an actor. There was an exercise in drama school where you did a neutral mask: You tried to get to a point of neutrality from which you could go in any different direction, so that you don’t impose your own energy. You don’t impose your own way of thinking or certain approaches upon on a character, so that the character can be a thing separate from you. I was very frustrated because the inner voice and the connective tissue that’s really clear in the linear version is, “This is my voice. This is my natural accent.” I found that very frustrating. It’s almost like I wanted to make it more neutral, and unfortunately you can never truly eradicate yourself.
MM: In the production notes, it says on certain days you would shoot multiple characters and switch in between them. How challenging was that?
JR: Twice, I think, we had to do that. It was because we had such a short time to shoot this and we were location-jumping for each character so the scenes would consist of seven or eight locations. They’re all in different spots in Berlin… It was a beautiful trip, and we had a lot of fun although all this pressure of time and circumstances. I remember meeting every morning in the make-up wagon with a completely new character and accent, and she was of course already rehearsing the accent. We had about six or seven pairs of different teeth in the film. It was a bit like Alice in Wonderland. From day to day you encounter different worlds, and sometimes you go back to the world that you already encountered. It was very electrifying for the whole team. Sometimes we had only one or two takes. We lost a lot of time in the morning on the funeral scene where DP Christoph Krauss and I wanted to shoot, because we found some beautiful gravestones in the back of the scene. That scene didn’t even make it in the film. Then after the lunch break we just had an hour and a half to shoot the whole thing, and Cate just did it.
CB: In one take.
JR: It just happened. Sometimes the time crunch can be very productive and push you to creativity.
MM: About your singular approach to the characters, did it change from monologue to monologue? How did you adapt to each character?
CB: Having encountered many of the manifestos when I was studying art history at university, I’d sort of had an intellectual, historical response to those… I expected that to be reignited. But given that I was having to make them manifest—to physically manifest the manifestos—the response I had was completely non-intellectual. It was energetic, it was physical. And so I very much saw them not as being characters. This wasn’t a decision I made. It was just something that evolved. It was more about what they did. What was the situation they were in? Often, the way the manifesto was delivered was sort of in a contrapuntal way to the actual meaning of the manifesto, so the content was completely subverted. You were saying something as dialogue that was either nonsensical or completely out of context, and it would never be said as dialogue, so I didn’t have an intellectual response to it at all.
JR: Also they are, as you said, not really characters. There was neither the wish nor the time within the framework of the film—90 minutes and no narrative—to create real characters, so they’re all almost caricatures which together build this portrait of society, these extreme archetypes of society. Some of them are more believable, like the single mother, maybe, or the teacher… others are exaggerated, and all of them use words that sometimes are nonsensical. Sometimes they’re very controversial, but they keep on speaking within the scene with the same attitude… The starting point was to on the one hand [pay] homage these artists as writers and poets, and also to see if their texts could be actually applied or be sensible today in our society. All of a sudden, two years [after the film was made], we as viewers can actually be scared by the texts’ visionary, seismographic energy!
MM: Cate, you’ve always mixed it up. You’ve done big films, indie films, plays, experimental projects like this. How important is it to you to not get in a rut and to mix it up every time?
CB: It must be very important to me [laughs]. I get very restless and bored with myself every second of the day. The sound of my own voice, my physical limitations… and so it’s always the surprise that I’m always drawn toward. If you want to keep growing as an artist, as an actor, whatever you want to call yourself—or whatever you get called—you have to keep risking failure. You have to bite off more than you can chew, and this was certainly that.
But I’m also excited when you can speak to different types of audiences. The idea that the children get offered, through their education, an art experience and they might encounter this… they might never have heard of a manifesto before. That’s what public art galleries should be and why there’s got to be greater access to those places. Film festivals are so important because often films like this that defy definition can find an audience, albeit small.
But yes, to be in dialogue with someone like Julian is really exciting because your frame of reference is so interesting. And the questions that you [Rosefeldt] ask and your ability to see is so open. I also admire how clear your eye is, so I find that really inspiring to be around. So the process is as interesting as the outcome. You’re not necessarily outcome-focused, which sometimes you can feel in a film because everyone’s aware of the money they’re spending.
MM: The political landscape has changed considerable since you began this project in December 2014. How does it feel to see the manifestos and the current political situation seem so aligned?
JR: Very early when we started to write a concept to raise money for Manifesto, I often discussed the artist’s sense of the universe, the fact that they can foresee things and can feel something without being able to prove it yet. Some of these texts were not conceivable then as they are now—like the conceptual art piece, where she’s a news reader and a reporter and she says, “All current art is fake. All of art is fake.” The audience at Sundance was laughing. I was shocked when that laughter happened, because I thought it was… funny, but not that funny. Of course, everybody was thinking about Trump. It took me a second to realize that myself, so I was overrun by the actuality of the piece. I keep saying it is an anti-populist piece par excellence because it’s all about meaning and about sensibility and creativity and thinking, risking thoughts and inspiring everything that populism doesn’t have because it’s just about loudness and volume and noise and nothing in it.
MM: In the scene where you’re a suburban housewife with children, are those your kids? They have the most absolute, innocent look on their faces. Did they understand what was going on?
CB: Yes [they are my kids]. I know, they’re so sweet. I was on a family odyssey through Europe with my extended family and so they were in Berlin a couple of days before. Julian said, “Do you think Andrew [Upton, Blanchett’s husband] and the three boys would be up for being in the film?” I asked them—I thought it would be in a museum context—and they said fine. We did sort of try to quarantine from them [some of the text] but they were great. They were really good sports, and I probably couldn’t have done it any other way.
MM: Cate, was there one of the characters or manifestos that most resonated with you?
CB: One of the greatest, most provocative sentences in the entire thing for me is written by a female, [Mierle Laderman Ukeles]: “After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?” Which I think is a really provocative thought. But I really relished playing the news reader and the reporter. I love doubling; the whole thing is an act of doubling, I think. What resonated for me, what I found most compelling, was that these are assertions of artistic individuality, but yet there are so many points of connection between them, which I think given the political polemic at the moment is really interesting. What are the points of connection? It’s very easy to divide and destroy, but how do you actually connect? Artists are very good at connecting things. MM
Manifesto opens in theaters on May 12, 2017.
Cate Blanchett and Julien Rosefeldt On ‘Manifesto’ And Their Faith In Audiences
The superstar and her director discuss their fascinating new art project
Critical theory is not just for the dusty classrooms of higher education anymore. Filmmaker-artist Julien Rosefeldt and actress-deity Cate Blanchett have liberated the dense seminal texts of Dadaism, Situationism, and 10 other -isms from the stifling context of academia with their new work, Manifesto. Neither narrative film nor video art piece, this collection of sketches casts a chameleonic Blanchett in 13 roles and uses her as a mouthpiece for missives from an assortment of luminaries including everyone from Marx to Werner Herzog. At once a whirling hurricane of truth and a one-woman showcase (Blanchett morphs into a salty punk rocker, a Slavic choreographer, a homeless man, and a peppy pair of newswomen, to name a few), it’s wholly unlike any other film that has come before, or is likely to come after. And it’s a testament to Blanchett’s star power and the sheer ambition of this project that it’s ended up in select theaters across America nonetheless, beginning this Friday.
Following Manifesto’s screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, Rosefeldt and Blanchett sat down with us to discuss the growing cult of Carol, taking in Martin Scorsese’s latest as a spiritual experience, and the faith they have in intelligent audiences.
A great spirit of collaboration runs through this project. Julien has the director credit, but how would you two split up authorship of Manifesto?
Cate Blanchett: I had seen a few of Julien’s works before where he’d used physical performers, actors, landscapes, pieces of architecture, and dancers. And when someone works in different mediums, they must inherently collaborate with people, to paint with all of the different colors and textures they offer. But in terms of the genesis of this idea, the minutiae of how the work came together, that’s absolutely Rosefeldt.
Julien Rosefeldt: I’d say differently. It started with curiosity from both of us; we felt it would be exciting to do something together. I saw Cate for the first time long before we joined for this project, more as an artist than as an actor. Because what she does involves so much more than moving your arms and tongue. This was a meeting of two artists, using architecture and dance as instruments. You bring this all in and shake it up, then pick one theme, this project’s being language. People ask me when I will do my next feature film, and I tell them I’m not even sure if this is a feature film. This is an experiment.
Do you consider Manifesto to be a work of video art, then?
JR: I don’t think it’s very interesting to even think about that distinction. But the industry that is behind movie releasing demands categorization. Everything either has to be a feature film, a short film, or a documentary. That’s why they’ll show this work with the machinery of narrative film and in an art film context. It narrows the world. But I see it as equally interesting to do an opera, or an endless performance or something.
CB: It does shake up an audience to see something that has a very different ambition than the majority of things they consume, or rather, that are served up to them. I recently saw Scorsese’s Silence, and I was struck by several moments that require a very particular type of attendance to them. I bemoan the fact that most audiences are either too restless or perceive themselves to be too time-poor to attend to a masterwork like that. There were many, many, moments in that when I thought, I could watch this on loop in an art gallery. The works that have left-field ambitions, works that break new ground, the distributors and exhibitors have very little patience for them.
Manifesto will have to play in theaters alongside any other movie, but it’s not driven by mechanics of plot or character development. As an artist, you lose control over your labors once they’re released, but do you still wonder how a wider audience will perceive this, as opposed to museum crowds?
JR: From the few experiences I’ve had at film festivals, I can see that in the first minutes, there’s irritation. Like, “What the fuck is going on?” Then I observed a certain sort of magic in the audience.
CB: It’s a letting go.
JR: Something happens, and they become very committed. Extremely focused, curious with very sharp senses. I wasn’t at the screening at Sundance, but I was told the atmosphere was one of intense focus. This is probably due to the fact that, when you come to a movie theater, you don’t count on a non-narrative installation. And the heavy overdose of text is quite intimidating at first, but then you find it’s totally digestible. You can follow these texts, and even understand them. Writers, even critics, want to make every script as simple as possible, and I say to them, “Your audience is much smarter than you think, my friend.” It’s a disease of our time that things are condensed. Because we are afraid of loneliness and boredom, we speed up everything and only have edits, nothing in between.
What is added to these theoretical texts by putting them in the context of a scene and in the mouth of a person?
CB: They’re liberated from their historical context, so their contemporary relevance is up for grabs. I didn’t really think about these people as characters, but more like conduits. Part of a mechanism that serves a function. You want them to be believable, but some of them are more extreme, which they need to be to match the energetic level of the writing.
JR: All this has the same aim, which is freeing the original text from interpretation in an artistic capacity. You’re able to look at the text itself instead of someone’s read of it. That was a very satisfying experience, learning that these theorists were also great poets and writers.
The writings you cite present a lot of overlapping, sometimes even contradictory viewpoints. Are we to understand that these don’t express your personal philosophies?
CB: I didn’t think about that. The desire to be part of this—I don’t mean to sound so prosaic—was to work with Julien. I’d read the manifestos, and not all of them either, back when I was studying art history at university. But that was very much in their historical and academic context. In a way, the works that were supposed to result from these manifestos were thrown out the window for [Manifesto]. In putting this writing in domestic situations, or situations contrapuntal to the actual drive of the work, you can find new points of similarity between these great bastions of contemporary thought. The world is in a state of flux, grasping for basic human values wherever they sit in a time of capitalism gone crazy, and the political context of what’s said now has begun to rise to the surface.
Cate, in the year and a half since its release, Carol has really struck a chord with the gay and lesbian community. Are you aware of the second life it’s taken on?
CB: You’re very dislocated from an audience, working in film. You don’t know if anyone’s even seen it. [Director] Todd [Haynes] had kept me abreast of the responses that he got, which was really gratifying for all of us. But I was on stage recently here, and people from many, many different cultures would wait at the stage door to tell me what the film had meant to them, or how it had changed their lives or given a voice to something they hadn’t seen in mainstream cinema. That was very, very rewarding.