Darren Aronofsky on the films behind 'The Wrestler'
Greetings, grapple fans. As well as seeing the return of Mickey Rourke, Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’ is part of an American cinema tradition, as the director explains to David Jenkins
Here, Aronofsky explains how ‘The Wrestler’ fits into that last strain of American cinema by discussing some of the ‘fight films’ that influenced him.
‘Angel Heart’(1987)/‘Homeboy’(1988)‘I became aware of Mickey Rourke through “Angel Heart”. I was backpacking in Europe when I was 18 and went to see the movie because I was a big Lisa Bonet fan (I was from Brooklyn and they filmed “The Cosby Show” down the street). I remember being blown away by his performance. He was so cool, so tough and so soft at the same time. I got to know “Homeboy” (above) when I started working with Mickey. He asked if I’d ever seen this boxing film he’d written, and he gave me a tape. Not many actors have armour like that. Then you look into his eyes and he’s got a jelly heart.’
‘Raging Bull’ (1980)‘Well, “Raging Bull” is masterful in many different ways. I think it’s a very different type of film to “The Wrestler”, but, you know, it’s been a major influence. I feel it’s more of an impressionistic film. I think Scorsese was using the camera as a paintbrush, especially in the fighting scenes. I watch that film and I question whether it’s possible to make something like that today. “Raging Bull” is an art film, and it’s harder to get money for those kinds of projects. For a film like “The Wrestler”, we had one financial backer on the planet who was willing to make the movie with me, and because of that we had a very limited budget.’
‘Rocky’ (1976)‘For me, “Rocky” is a sports movie, but it’s also a performance movie. Wrestling and wrestlers err more towards acting and theatre than towards sports. There was a film of John Osborne’s play “The Entertainer” (1960), which interested me: Olivier plays a vaudeville performer who can’t say goodbye to the stage. And relating to the idea of “Rocky”, there’s a song written by Charles Mingus called ‘The Clown’, a jazz song with lyrics, and it’s about a clown who has to do more and more extreme stunts. One day, he gets hit in the head with a prop and the crowd goes crazy, so he has to keep putting more and more of himself at risk. That was a big influence.’
‘They Live’ (1988)‘I think that with “They Live” John Carpenter was trying to lampoon fight scenes as, you know, they were clearly fake. And what’s interesting about the hardcore wrestling in “The Wrestler” (where Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson is beaten with broken glass, barbed wire and staple guns) is that the audience are not idiots – they know wrestling is fake. I think one of the reasons that hardcore wrestling exists is because the cat is out of the bag and everyone’s knows that what they’re experiencing is a theatrical number. People in that bloodthirsty world are looking for men and women who risk themselves and their health by doing more and more dangerous stunts. In “They Live” – it’s not about who wins; it’s about how much can people hurt each other.’
‘Kickboxer’ (1989)‘I am a fan of those movies. I used to love the Van Damme and Steven Seagal films when they came out. They were fun. They’re not making those kinds of movies in America any more; they prefer legitimate superheroes: middle-class, medium-build guys who become these pumped-up superheroes like Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Van Damme and Seagal from the 1980s. We don’t have many of those guys any more. Maybe Gerard Butler or Jason Statham, but it’s different. Then it was about body, now it’s about costumes. With our film, I don’t think we were commenting on those movies, but I’m sure it was floating around in my subconscious. There’s a lot about bodybuilding culture in “The Wrestler” and I’m sure that derives from all the early Schwarzenegger stuff like “Pumping Iron”.’
‘Fat City’ (1972)John Huston’s ‘Fat City’ was something we drew on, especially the atmospheric vibe, the poetry and the naturalism. There was also another film called “North Dallas Forty” (1979) with Nick Nolte, and even though it’s an American football movie, a lot of the themes apply. Then there’s “Wanda” (1970) by Elia Kazan’s wife, Barbara Loden. It’s a great film. I was interested in the realism. My previous films, “Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain” were stylised. I missed being in the gutter. I wanted to go back there with “The Wrestler”.’
Author: David Jenkins
Director Tom Hooper and his cast tell us how they turned the super-musical into movie blockbuster.
The Time Out film team weighs in on the nominees for the 2013 Academy Awards
Get ready for the big guns… Spielberg, Tarantino and Bigelow
Daniel Craig’s 007 comeback, a genius indie romcom and all the mysteries behind ‘The Shining’ unravelled.
The results of our study on the state of films and filmgoing in 2012.
Read 'Time Out film debate 2012 highlights'
'The Hobbit' actor tells us why he wouldn't have a pint with Bilbo Baggins.
Dave Calhoun speaks to the director of 'Skyfall' about the latest film in the Bond franchise.
The genre-hopping director tells us how he invented a new genre with 'Life of Pi'
The twice Palme d'Or-winning director discusses 'Amour'.
Read our interview with Michael Haneke
The Danish director talks about his powerful new drama 'The Hunt'.
Read our interview with Thomas Vinterberg'
Time Out looks back at the impact of the 'Twilight' saga.
Discover what 'Twilight' has done for us
Time Out heads to the Lake District to visit director Ben Wheatley on set.
Read about our visit to the 'Sightseers' set
The director talks about 'Frankenweenie', which he describes as 'the ultimate memory piece'.
Read our interview with Tim burton
Our pick of the best films showing over the festive period.
Read 'The top ten Christmas films of 2012'
Mean Girls? Dirty Dancing? Tell us your favourite film guilty pleasure.
Read 'Film guilty pleasures'
What will Disney do to 'Star Wars'?
Read about the new 'Star Wars' trilogy
Ten young actors come of age on the silver screen.
Read 'When teen stars turn serious'
From Connery to Craig, we revisit all 22 Bond films.
Read '50 years of James Bond'
The director talks Scientology and working with Joaquin Phoenix.
Read the interview
Ten funny horror movies which went spectacularly off the rails.
Read 'Hilarious horror films'
The director talks psychopaths and theatre – 'my least favourite artform'.
Read the interview
We round-up the five best horror movies of Autumn 2012.
Read about this Autumn's best horror movies
Time Out visits Istanbul to see the latest Bond movie being made.
Read 'On the set of Skyfall'
Does Skyfall refresh or rehash the James Bond franchise?
The British director explains why 'Ginger and Rosa' is her most mainstream film yet.
'I’m almost as in demand as Brad Pitt’