Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Master and Commander. Peter Weir and the filming of Master and Commander, the far side of the world.

He's keen to stress though that while technology has developed in the cinematic world, opening all sorts of possibilities to film makers, the greatest cinematic invention to him is more obvious “the close up remains the great discovery of Cinema. To be able to study a face so close up on the big screen is and remains phenomenal, and the primary difference between Cinema and Theatre. I mentioned seeing here Volcano, which I had not seen, and looking at Anna Magnani's face – it's like a country, she looks different from every angle, in every shot. The play of the emotions across her face I just couldn't get enough of”.

Weir in fact seems to have an obsession with faces, going to Poland to cast for extras – not through some globalizing scheme to search for the cheapest labour market, but rather to choose faces that would fit with an early 19th Century battleship. “There's something about what was Eastern Europe, under the Soviet Empire. Such different experiences produced different faces. They didn't grow up with the same diet, and more importantly with the same expectations. They didn't grow up with the same home movies or Kodak, what I call the Kodak moments. They didn't, I found, project in the same way to the camera. To this extent early photographs were my inspiration, particularly from David Octavius Hill from the 1840's, and you look at these faces, as with early photographs of tribal people, and there is no projection, there is no sending a message to the lens. It's just a box. I wanted faces that could, in a sense, look down the barrel of the lens and remain truthful. I had a crew of just under 200 aboard this ship, and so just one face that was wrong would give a false feeling to the film”.

From listening to Weir you constantly get the impression that this particular film challenged a lot of his established notions about film making, something quite extraordinary for such an accomplished director. “I'd read all the books about making movies at sea, particularly informative the book on the making of John Huston's Moby Dick, Jaws by Stephen Spielberg, and you could only come to one conclusion, which was ‘Don't film at Sea’. And yet it was very difficult for a director of my generation. We were the generation that turned away from the studio, and went to the real locations. There's something about being in the real place. If you're filming about a volcano, you go to a volcano. It was the reality that we were looking for in my era, and the era before me, to get away from the artifice of the studio. But I made the critical decision, that despite having this ship, fully rigged, ready to go to sea, that I would only risk her for second unit shots, and some main unit shooting, but that we would replicate it and put it in the tank in Baja, in Mexico.

One of the worst things that happens at sea is that kind of soporific feeling, that lassitude, maybe it's the sea air; you think you're getting fantastic material, because you're at the real location, but the dailies are merciless. The feeling you have at sea is not reproduced. Sometimes therefore in going to the volcano, or going to the sea, in going to the real location, you think because you're there you're recording the real emotion of the place, but after all the camera is just a machine and doesn't pick up that emotion“.

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