Garth Jennings on “Son of Rambow”

I interviewed Garth Jennings, director of “Son of Rambow,” for the “A Moment With” series in the Seattle P-I. You can find that short feature, a selection of choice bits from the 20-minute phone interview, here. Here is the complete, edited interview.

garth_jennings_03.jpgThe film premiered at Sundance in 2007 and opened the Seattle International Film Festival last year. What took so long for it to get released?

We had things work out in regards to the licensing of the “Rambo” clips and it just took a while to… It was all very amicable, and it’s all worked out great, but it just took a while to go through that procedure. It’s just one of those things. You’ve seen it now and you know that there are quite a lot of clips in there. Anyway, it’s done now and we’re quite happy that it’s coming out.

The film opens with Lee Carter bootlegging “Rambo” with a bulky home video camera. Will you put a disclaimer on the film reading: “We do not condone the bootlegging of movies”?

Or don’t touch any live wires, don’t drive cars unnecessarily into walls… There’s quite a lot of things we could actually pre-warn people about. Hopefully they’ll work it out for themselves.

Will shows the resilience of a cartoon character when he executes the stunts for Lee, being launched into the air from a catapult and such, but as it continues they become more vulnerable. Like when Will jumps into the lake and then it turns out he can’t swim and he comes close to drowning.

That was always the plan, was to start off very much like Singin’ in the Rain, where Gene Kelly is trying to make it as a stunt man, like “I’ll do anything,” and it’s all great, he doesn’t get hurt, but gradually he goes along and by the end most things turn out to be disastrous.

They become a little more mortal by the end.

Exactly.

son-of-rambow-will-proudfoot.jpgTo me, they are protected by this innocence as they start enacting these stunts.

Yes. I think that’s the thing. We wanted to try and capture that whole idea of when you’re young, you don’t consider the consequences too much. So at first they get away with it, it’s only later that… You can’t keep doing that sort of thing and not get hurt.

I love the way you hand-draw the effects when Will runs home from seeing “Rambo.” It works over the world with his imagination, with the same images and style we see in his drawings.

Yes, yes. It was lovely doing that. It was a young chap called David O’Reilly, who we met through our work on the film Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. He did some of the animation on the guide book. He was very talented. No only is a good animator, he’s a brilliant illustrator. He was able to do everything, whether it was a book or a flip-book or a sketch book or explosions in a field, he did everything.

When Will confronts the scarecrow in the middle of the field, it made me think of “The Wizard of Oz” for a moment, the idea that he’s taken “Rambo” and reworked it into his own “The Wizard of Oz.”

That’s true. I’ve never thought of that, but yes, I could see the comparison for sure.

It’s not like he meets all these people along the yellow brick road, but he does in fact find quite possibly the very first close friend he’s ever had.

That’s for sure, yes. And it comes as a bit of a jolt, it’s not all perfect.

Will and Lee transform all the frustrations and yearnings of their lives into a tale of triumph and loyalty in their film, they create their fantasy life. My reading of Didier, the French boy, is that he does the same thing simply by remaking himself in a new place, where he’s no longer defined by the baggage of his old life.

You’re absolutely right. That’s exactly what we intended.

new-wave-cool.JPGYou don’t make a big deal of it, that’s a subtle little point you make on the end when you get on the bus. Watching the film, it never occurred to me that he was anything but what we saw onscreen, but when the other kids look at him on the bus with that attitude of almost disgust, it’s marvelous because it’s obvious that they have never, ever considered him cool in any way.

Yes, exactly. I think that was one of the things we liked about writing it, because when we looked back upon our childhoods, we remember things very differently to how we saw them at the time. We knew a kid that didn’t have parents around that often, they were always away, so he was the coolest kid as far as we were concerned. He could stay up late, do whatever he liked, but when you look back you realize, ah, it wasn’t quite the bed of roses we thought he was laying on there. There was always more to it than we realized at the time.

I love the conceit, but I have to ask: why “Rambo” as the film that inspires Will and shapes the story that pulls together all his ideas and art?

Mainly because that’s what happened to me. I’m not from a religious family at all, my next door neighbors were Plymouth Brethren, but that was the first film I saw that inspired me enough to want to go and make a film and I made my own little action film with my friends inspired by it, a little Rambo-esque movie. And actually it was just talking about that with Nick, who I work with, that we thought that there was a film there. So it was born out of that, really, those early experiences of home movies.

Was “The Wolf” (Didier’s character in Will and Lee’s film) in your original movie?

(laughs) No. There were always ludicrous characters but no, The Wolf is just in this one.

What’s the name of the religious sect that Will belongs to?

They’re called the Plymouth Brethren. They’re quite common in the U.K. Not common, but there are communities all around the United Kingdom. I grew up next to a family of Plymouth Brethrens for about 25 years and my wife’s uncle Pete teaches at an exclusive Brethren school.

They seem similar to the Amish community here. They avoid technology and media of all forms.

That’s true, but the Plymouth Brethren don’t cut themselves off with regards to all technologies. They have cars and other things, they just keep a very plain existence and they do regard everyone else as the outsiders. They’ll say hello and they’ll wave and it’s all very pleasant, but there’s nothing past that.

In one of the opening scenes, we see a young woman in Will’s house washing clothes in the kitchen sink.

Yes, that was just a period detail that we realized, when we were doing our research, would have been how at that time they would have dealt with it.

sonoframbowkids.jpgWill’s revelation of his father’s death, dying of an aneurysm, is unexpectedly funny as well as terribly sad.

It’s done in a way that it’s not labored over and they start laughing about it, it seems so ridiculous that he would go while mowing the lawn.

Not that this has anything to do with the movie, but when I saw that scene, I flashed on “Blue Velvet.”

Really?

In the opening scene of “Blue Velvet,” the man is watering the lawn and then he suddenly keels over.

I had completely forgot that!

I’m sure it has nothing to do with your movie, but it does illustrate the way movies and culture bounce off of one another, whether it was intended to or not. One of the things that “Son of Rambow” celebrates is the idea of movies as movies, not as stories and plots but in the experience of losing oneself in a movie and how you can filter your life through that experience. Movies have a powerful impact on our lives, especially when we are young and they seem so new and magical.

I think you’re right. I think that was very much what we were going for. It’s one of those things that can have a striking impact, especially when you look back to that age when you’re impressionable.

This being the very first film Will has ever seen, he imagines his whole life through that movie.

Yes, that’s the only thing you’ve got to go on.

And I have to ask this. Here it is, 1985, and a small town British movie theater projects a video movie on a theater screen. That’s kind of technical stretch.

We did have video projectors at my school when I was growing up and we did watch documentaries on them. They were the three-color cannon projectors, do you remember them? They were huge things. So we just took that idea. Obviously it would have never looked as good as that, it would have looked terrible, but we also felt that, like many things in the film, we did them in a more heightened way rather than a realistic way.

I wasn’t holding you to any measure of realism on that point…

Do you forgive me? (laughs)

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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