Susana foi um dos raros filmes de Buñuel exibidos em Portugal nos anos 50, ao que parece sem qualquer objecção por parte da censura (que nessa década proibiu Los Olvidados, Subida al Cielo, El, Cela s'Appelle l'Aurore, Nazarín e La Fièvre Monte à El Pao). Que se saiba, nenhuma censura de nenhum país levantou problemas à exibição deste filme. Ora, paradoxalmente, esta é das obras mais subversivas de Buñuel, e Susana a primeira figura da linhagem erótica que, no futuro, daria La Joven, Viridiana, Le Journal d'une Femme de Chambre, Belle de Jour, Tristana, Cet Obscur Objet du Désir.
Esta tolerância com Susana não se deve a qualquer liberalismo de momento ou a qualquer distracção dos censores. Deve-se à suprema habilidade de Buñuel no uso da antífrase, ou seja em construir um filme cujo texto diz exactamente o contrário do seu contexto. Para o espectador desprevenido ou inocente (e os censores não costumavam ser particularmente argutos) não há filme mais moral: uma não casta Susana (Susana, a Perversa, foi o título do filme em França) tenta fazer o mal numa santa e unida família. Consegue fazer vacilar muita gente, mas, no fim, a sua perversidade é descoberta e castigada e a paz e a harmonia voltam a reinar. O bem triunfa sempre. A moral também. Só que todos os substantivos e adjectivos de conotação ética usados no período anterior (moral, casta, perversa, mal, santa, unida, castigada, paz, harmonia, bem) são a colocar entre todas as aspas possíveis, porque tudo é o contrário do que parece ser. Talvez não haja na história do cinema, ou na história de qualquer arte, muitas fintas à censura tão hábeis como Susana, outra das obras culminantes de Buñuel. É conhecida a admiração que Buñuel tinha por Sade, que expressamente evocou em L'Âge d'Or, com o episódio das Cento e Vinte Jornadas de Sodoma, representando o chefe das orgias sob os traços de Cristo. Entrando no sistema, Buñuel já sabia que não se podia permitir graças dessas (só nos anos 60 e 70 voltou a poder ser tão livre e tão explícito). Mas Susana é uma obra que me parece relevar especificamente do universo de Sade, concretamente de Justine ou les malheurs de la vertu. À sua maneira (que evidentemente censura alguma toleraria), Sade também praticou nessa obra a antífrase: na dedicatória inicial a Constance, "a sua boa amiga", diz-lhe que o livro é "à la fois l'exemple et l'honneur de ton sexe (...)""Ce n'est qu'à toi qu'il appartient de connaître la douceur des larmes qu'arrache la vertu malheureuse, détestant les sophismes du libertinage et de l'irréligion" (...) e que a sua finalidade é alcançar "une des plus sublimes leçons de morale que l'homme ait encore reçue".
Quem conheça o livro e as "lições de moral", percebe a antífrase de Sade, já que os "malheurs" da "virtuosa" Justine só existem para permitir as famosas descrições eróticas do autor, erotismo acentuado pela "inocência" e pela "virtude" da protagonista ao contar a sua vida ou como, tantas vezes, se teve que tornar "catin par bienfaisance et libertine par vertu". Quando esses "malheurs" terminam e Justine pode viver em paz no seio da família, tornou-se "sombria, inquieta, sonhadora" e acabou por ser fulminada por um raio.
A "virtude" de Justine é o equivalente da "perversidade" de Susana, filme que bem podia ter como subtítulo "les bonheurs de la perversité". Tudo começa como Justine acaba. Leia-se a descrição da tempestade final em Sade e tem-se a descrição da assombrosa sequência inicial de Susana: "L'éclair brille, la grêle tombe, les vents sifflent, le feu du ciel agite les nues, il les ébranle d'une manière horrible; il semblait que la nature ennuyée de ses ouvrages, fut prête à confondre tous les éléments pour les contraindre à des formes nouvelles". Só que a tempestade inicial na cela do reformatório onde prenderam Susana "para a ensinar a ser boa", não termina com um raio que a parta, mas com o "milagre" (primeira das supremas ironias) que lhe permite a fuga. Invocando Deus, de quem é criatura, e cujos desígnios são impenetráveis, Susana vê as barras da janela partirem-se e permitir-lhe a liberdade. Com fundo de arsenal demoníaco (trovões, raios, chuva) arrasta-se como a cobra bíblica, empapada em chuva (e, assim, com as formas mais ostensivamente sublinhadas) até à quinta paradisíaca onde a irão receber.
Ao inferno sucede-se o céu, e o espantoso décor exprime claramente que Susana, anjo exterminador, passou de um a outro. O mundo dos santos não lhe irá resistir. A imagem do paraíso (a quinta evoca-o expressamente) começa a perder-se quando ela se aproxima. Inexplicavelmente, o potro morre à nascença. O "mal" chegou. No final, Buñuel procede à antífrase contrária: quando a vida na fazenda se tornou um "inferno" (devido à presença de Susana); quando Jesus, pai e filho (não estou a falar da Santíssima Trindade, mas não juro que Buñuel o não estivesse) se sucederam à porta do quarto de Susana (ou dentro dele); quando a própria e virtuosíssima D. Carmen espancou Susana; quando todos estiveram quase a assassinar-se uns aos outros; a polícia chega, prende Susana e, em cinco minutos, o inferno volve-se no paraíso inicial. A mãe repreende suavemente o filho por começar a comer antes do pau (noutro sentido, também começara, sem que com tanta doçura o censurassem) e a família reúne-se amorosamente à mesa, sob o olhar contente da criada, como se nada se tivesse passado. Patinhos e cordeirinhos voltam a passear e a égua restabelece-se, por encanto. Cinco minutos, disse eu. Em termos de filme é talvez menos, o que torna mais inverosímil tal desfecho que só funciona pelo contraste implacável com tudo o que aconteceu, desde a fuga de Susana até à segunda prisão. Ninguém, com o mínimo de juízo, pode tomar a sério tal desfecho e, menos do que todos, Buñuel, que só o utilizou por redução ao absurdo, para implacavelmente desmontar aquela farsa de "paraísos" e "infernos", tão contíguos e tão afins. O realizador lamentou, em várias entrevistas, não poder ter sido mais irónico no final. Ainda bem que o não foi: essa implacável secura é o efeito mais subversivo, o "quantum satis" deste conto imoral transformado em conto moral (ou vice-versa).
Muitos anos depois, Pasolini, no Teorema, serviu-se de uma figura análoga para dizer o mesmo. Mas o seu ambíguo anjo é muito menos explosivo e subversor que Susana, a das aranhas, dos caldos e do nome casto.
E, já que falei de nome casto, por aí começo na breve análise do filme de que ainda apenas se citaram os "parágrafos" inicial e final. Na sequência da sedução de Alberto (entre livros e referências culturais) este explica-lhe o significado do nome de Apolo e exemplifica com o dela que quereria dizer castidade. Será extrapolar, pensar que se chama Jesus o primeiro seduzido (entre galinhas, como em Los Olvidados), o que a vende por trinta dinheiros e o que a denuncia à polícia? A pergunta fica, mas é de bom tamanho.
Mas, se aí se pode estar a fantasiar, não o estamos certamente quando pensamos nos lugares de sedução (galinheiro, poço); quando vemos Guadalupe de arma na mão ser igualmente seduzido; ou na inadjectivável (ó céus!) sequência em que os ovos se esmagam e a gema escorre pelas pernas de Susana, manchando-a a ela e a Alberto. Ou na simbologia religiosa (cruzes, santos) tão subversiva com a erótica (a oração ao crucifixo!). Ou no chicoteamento de Susana pela doce D. Carmen. Ou no súbito beijo que o marido dá à mulher, perfazendo a posse por interposta pessoa. Ou nas mãos entaladas nas portas. Mais uma vez - repito: para uma erótica assim é preciso remontar a Sade.
Dois parágrafos finais: o primeiro para Rosita Quintana, absolutamente genial. Houve quem risse (e talvez ainda hoje) dos seus trejeitos e do seu permanente gesto de baixar o decote. Quem ironiza, esquece a importância da figura da repetição na imagética surrealista e esquece o que o crítico mexicano José de La Colina observou a Buñuel na "entrevista-fleuve" que com ele fez: "De cada vez que Susana abre o decote para seduzir um homem parece parodiar a frase de Goebbels: 'Sempre que oiço a palavra moral, tiro as mamas para fora'". Boa ou má actriz (pouco importa) Rosita Quintana, entre as aranhas, os galos, as éguas e o bando de perús, é uma das mais extraordinárias presenças eróticas não só da obra de Buñuel como da história do cinema.
Por fim, há que notar como o estilo de Buñuel muda neste filme, em correspondência com o que faria em filmes futuros de sentido análogo: abandonando a fixidez da câmara (tão típica, por exemplo de L'Âge d'Or ou de Los Olvidados), cortando com o plano-sequência (são raros neste filme), a "respiração" da objectiva é um rodopio constante, saltando de personagem em personagem, de plano em plano, e ligando-os a todos no vórtice comum deste "abismo de desejo". Vórtice que é ainda o equivalente do final da narração da Justine de Sade: aí se fala do "voyageur égaré" que "voit en tremblant les sillons de la foudre". Neste filme tudo é viagem, perdição e visão fremente. Por muito que pareça o contrário, ou precisamente porque parece o contrário.
interview conducted by Peter Nicholson in January and May, 1975, from questions formulated by Harry Ringel and Richard Hogan. The interview incorporates and makes use of material from an interview conducted by Chris Knight in 1973.
One day Chris Knight stopped by Terence Fisher's cottage home in Twickenham to drop off a copy of a magazine. Meeting Chris at the door, Mrs. Fisher informed him that her husband was taking a bath, but that she would announce his presence anyway. To Chris' surprise, he was shown right through. There on the bath ledge, he had his chat with Terence Fisher.
Perhaps it took a man possessing so natural, unpretentious a view of life to initiate a cycle of fantasy films as caustic and brutal as those made by Hammer studios in the late fifties. Variously describes as "gentle", "quiet", "very charming", and "a true gentleman" by fans who've met him, Terence Fisher utterly belies the guignol image of his films. It is one of the industry's lesser know ironies that the man who filmed Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula saw fit to name his home Holly Cottage.
Like most other artists who have made their names working in fantasy films, Terence Fisher did not set out with this goal in mind. Far from it. Born in London in 1904, Fisher - an only child whose father died when he was four - left school at 16 to join the Merchant Navy, because "my mother thought that a period at sea would give some direction to my life." The experience hardly awakened the fantasist in him, however. "You can write my sea experience down to my sexual education, " he says today. "Also intellectual, because I saw places and people I'd never seen before. There's nothing macabre about the sea, for God's sake. It's the most wonderful thing in the world!"
Wonderful or not, life at sea captivated Fisher for scarcely five years before he drifted into another profession: the rag trade, where he spent another five years largely because "we happened to live near the shop at the time."
Also for the first time in his life, he started going to the movies. Lots of them - particularly the dreamy, escapist love story fairy tales of Frank Borzage, whom Fisher was later to acknowledge as his spiritual master. The more he saw, the more he was attracted to a career in the film industry. Finally, he grabbed a job as clapper boy with Shepherd's Bush studios, and the classic clim began - from clapper boy to tea boy to third assistant director to assistant editor to chief editor; his chief ambition at the time, and one he was to practice for over a decade.
He directed his first film, Colonel Bogie, in 1947 - still ten years away from The Curse of Frankenstein. During this decade he was just at home directing musicals (Song for Tomorrow) and melodramas (Stolen Face) suspense films (To the Public Danger) and science fiction (Four-Sided Triangle). The Curse of Frankenstein might have turned into just another stop on this journeyman's merry go-round, had the public not known better. And if they didn't, Hammer executives did. Since 1957, Fisher has directed 23 fantasy or fantasy-related films (18 for Hammer) straight: a record unparalleled in the genre.
This string of films reflects the man more closely than one might imagine. Like his van Helsing, Fisher tends to be a stubborn, crusty rationalist - as impatient with distortions of the truth as the most typically Fisherian common sense hero. Yet he is a left-handed humanist as well: a man who advocates the depiction of a stake slamming through a human breast in one breath, then draws the line at showing a little girl masturbating with a crucifix. No paradox could better epitomize Terence Fisher's contributions to fantasy films. For every ounce of grisliness in his films, there is a pound of calculated innocence; a tacit insistence, filtering through the material, that no evil go unquestioned.
He also possesses a lively commitment to the past - and enough understanding of its limitations to have made the Victorian settings an organic contributor to Hammer Horror, not just a luxury. The gentle order of Holly Cottage telegraphs Fisher's own unostentatious resistance to "progress" immediately. And as one writer observed, after visiting Fisher's Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell set in 1972: "It was almost as if I were reliving a bygone era - that I shouldn't have been at Elstree but at Bray Studios simply because of the atmosphere..."
Last January we visited the Fishers at Holly Cottage where, for the better part of two afternoons, we discussed the fine points of stakings and brain transplants. Fisher's constant referring to the importance of "emotions" in films could not have been more consistent with his personality. He let his own show throughout the interview - whether digging into the excitement the Frankenstein obsession has obviously brought him, or chastising us for our attempts to make an auteur out of him. Always, however, his replies were vigorously honest and complete - and delivered with an uncompromised commitment to his craft, his themes, and those who were discussing these matters with him. Indeed, our most lasting impression of Terence Fisher is that, in an interview or on a movie set, he doesn't know how to do otherwise.
Cinefantastique: Did The Curse of Frankenstein and its success affect Hammer Films immediately? In other words, how soon did the studio become aware that its future - and therefore yours - had been drastically altered by the film?
Terence Fisher: I knew a third of the way through the shooting of the film that it was going to do something. Hammer, I don't think, knew until later. Like any commercial company they counted the money, which was coming very quickly. Theirs was a commercial assessment. Mine was a different assessment. I wasn't interested in how much money it was going to make. I was interested in the achievement of the film itself. Hammer became aware, I think, at the end. Well, sooner than that, because they took parts of it to America before it was finished. Warner Bros got excited, so they got excited, and this is fair enough: no commercial company is going to get excited until the money starts.
CFQ:The Curse of Frankenstein "sidetracked" your career permanently. Fisher: It didn't sidetrack my career at all. Up to that moment, my career had been attempting to find a line of direction which I was good at. The Curse of Frankenstein culminated what I had been attempting to do. It put my career into perspective.
CFQ: What earlier ambitions did your "new" identity prevent you from realizing?
Fisher: None at all! I didn't have any earlier ambitions other than to know film craft and film art to its complete potential. There always comes a point in anybody's career when they decide to focus on a particular direction that it will take, and this may be a conscious choice or it may happen by pure chance. Indeed, in my case, the decision came by chance.
CFQ: Your themes remained remarkably the same. Spaceways, for example, with its strong "love vs. work" angle, plays like a space age The Curse of Frankenstein.
Fisher: My themes remained What I was given to translate from the written word into a visual form. You see, I'm only a working director. I'm not a director who can pick what he wants to do.
CFQ: How far has a Hammer project usually progressed before you join in the decisoins?
Fisher: It varies from picture to picture. It depends on how soon they've got a script before they decide to make it, and who you are working with. One uses one's influence as far as one can within the context of the story and to the extent time allows. Pure chance, isn't it? You can't lay down any rules!
CFQ: You chose Dracula as a project. What other films have you nursed along from the point of conception?
Fisher: I didn't choose to film Dracula. I didn't choose to film the first Frankenstein. The idea never entered my head until they offered it to me. They owed me a picture. I owed them a picture, under contract. And it wasn't until then that I started thinking about Frankenstein.
I've nursed along one or two subjects from the point of conception, but I've never been able to make anything that I wanted to make that's been my own conception yet! That's the luck of the game. It's dependent upon what sphere of film-making you're in. I've always been in small budget films. As a director, I have never been in the big budget films. When you get into that class, you have influence in being able to promote a subject you want to do.
CFQ: In the September, 1963 issue of Midi-Minuit Fantastique you claimed to have proposed the Dracula project yourself.
Fisher: I must have expressed myself badly to Midi-Minuit Fantastique. What I intended to convey was that Hammer decided to make another version of Dracula and I was more than delighted when they offered it to me. I accepted with great excitement, because I really appreciated its potential as a film subject.
CFQ: You have a liking for Dennis Wheatley's The Haunting of Toby Jugg, haven't you?
Fisher: I'd love to make it. I have a deep love for it. I'd far rather make it than Wheatley's To The Devil A Daughter!* I think it's far more self-contained, far more emotional. It goes far more into characterization, and how the characters relate to one another. Anything Wheatley writes is good, but Toby Jugg I particularly like. The characters aren't puppets dancing to the plot, but real people with feelings of their own.
* Currently planned for filming as a co-production between Hammer Films and Christopher Lee's Charlemagne company.
CFQ: Your version of Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out (The Devil's Bride) didn't really have that quality either.
Fisher: It lacked that, didn't it? The love angle was very superficial. I don't know why, probably my fault. The relationship between Nike Arrighi and Leon Greene never develops as it should have. The film would have been much stronger if it had. You see, it's easy to put characters into a situation. It doesn't matter whether it's black magic or cops and robbers, it doesn't matter a damn. You can out them into so many situations. But unless those characters have emotion in their interrelation within the situation they are put into, no audience in the world is going to be interested. The important thing is the emotional relationship they have, apart from the situation itself. And the worse the situation you put them into, the more excited the audience will become because they understand their feelings apart from what they are faced with.
CFQ: In many ways, The Devil's Bride is similar to The Exorcist, the latter's contemporary setting and explicitness notwithstanding. How would you compare your achievement to that of William Friedkin?
Fisher: I haven't seen The Exorcist. I did want to see it, but I only got worried about a... young girl of that age acting in certain sequences. You probably know what I'm talking about. There are certain sexual scenes which he indulges in which worried me. I believe they used doubles or something or other. But really, to be quite honest, that is the reason I didn't want to see it. I shall see it eventually, to see how they got around that technically. But the idea of that - and I'm being quite honest about it - put me off seeing it. Having read what was involved in the film, I thought that this was taking things to such an extreme expression. I'm a fairly broad-minded person. But there are certain things which... however, I'm sure they didn't make her do that.*
* Fisher subsequently went to see Friedkin's film and wrote to comment: "I found The Exorcist a brilliantly made film from the technical and directorial point of view. From the standpoint of story content, I am puzzled that anyone should wish to make it into a film." CFQ: In 1964, you stated that you worked more closely with your cameramen and set designers than with your screenwriters. Has ten more years in the business changed this preference?
Fisher: My preference has always, number one, been to work as closely as possible with the screenwriter. For God's sake, the script is your Bible! It's the guts that you start with. All a director is, please, is an interpreter of the written word, or translator of the written word, into a visual form. Consequently, if the written word is no bloody good, no director in the world is going to be able to put it into a visual form which is going to be done ably. In my career, I've never been lucky enough to work with the writers sufficiently far in advance.
Cameramen are terribly important, but one doesn't work with them because they are either brilliant or not brilliant. I work most closely with the camera operator, shot by shot, where to put the camera, what he is going to do in the movement of the camera which we work out together. Once you have the written word, what you do with the camera is one of the most important things in translating the script into a visual form. Where you move the camera and why you moved it, if you have a moving camera - this is the craft of film.
CFQ: One of the reasons your films remain so memorable is that they possess a strong, resolute moral tone.
Fisher: I would say that certainly the strength of Hammer Films is that the writing - this question of vampirism, and even with Frankenstein - emphasizes fundamentally a conflict between the power of good and the power of evil. Which, I love to say, has to be strong within a story for it to succeed. I have endeavored, in the actor's performances and in the interpretation of the material scene by scene, to underline, wherever possible, that conflict, to bring to the audience's attention this conflict between the power of good and the power of evil. I've seen other people's films along the same lines and with the same fundamentals as those I have made, and I've always found that there was a tendency to discard this aspect of the story and concentrate on the - what can I say - the sensationalism of the story. I've tried to underline within the scene. And if you search for it, you can always find within the writing of these subjects a chance to underline or throw away a certain angle or approach of the writers. I've always pushed this fundamental of the story - the fight between a power of good and a power of evil - tried to emphasize that and get away from the sensationalism as being the prime factor.
CFQ: Some films seem to be all evil. All sensationalism.
Fisher: This is true! In fact, it's often carried to a point where you become rather surprised that the power of good is triumphant in the end! You shouldn't be surprised by it. You should feel it all along, that good will triumph in the end.
CFQ: There is a qualitative difference between your portrayal of women in a Sangster script like The Revenge of Frankenstein, and such non-Sangster scripts as The Curse of the Werewolf and Frankenstein Created Woman. Did you feel entirely comfortable working with Sangster's subtle brand of mysogyny?
Fisher: I think the difference is that the writing put the emphasis off the women in the first and, thank God, put more emphasis upon the women in the second two. The Curse of the Werewolf I liked even more than Frankenstein Created Woman, because it was fundamentally a very tragic love story. The young man was in this awful situation of knowing his potential for evil and what was overcoming him. He did his best to push the girl away, which was the tragedy of the love story. She didn't realize the full implication of what she was involved in; he did. One hopes that audiences were more interested in werewolves because of that core of a love story within the horror tale. I liked for that reason.
CFQ: Religion often plays a vital role in your plots. Yet one can't really say that he leaves Horror of Dracula or The Devil's Bride feeling ready to convert. How do you approach the subject of religion when it comes up in your films?
Fisher: I don't think religion "often" plays a vital role in my plots. It's played a vital role only once, when Andrew Keir played the Parish Padre in Dracula, Prince of Darkness. His was the vital role, because he went right through the film counteracting the power of vampirism and power of evil until it culminated in his finally - temporarily - destroying Dracula beneath the ice. But up to then, the appearance of any clerical religious angle has been incidental, I think, in most of the stories. That doesn't mean that the whole basis of the power of good and the power of evil warring against each other hasn't been just as strong in every one of them. It has, of course.
Because vampirism is the power of evil. Many people claim that the superstition of vampirism started in Eastern Europe, that Bram Stoker picked it up as a superstition. Didn't at all, of course. You could go back to the allegory of the Garden of Eden and the first appearance of the vampire as a serpent... with the teeth... with the temptation... with the charm of the power of evil tempting Adam and Eve and succeeding. So this is not a superstition at all. It's a fundamental thing which has gone on for all time. And I think the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden exemplifies this. It is only the story of the existence of the power of good and the power of evil, which has always been with us and always will be. And that's the first time vampirism rears its ugly head in the animals of religion, I think. In the allegory, of course, the Glory of God defeats the serpent.
CFQ: Sangster gave up his period pieces for more contemporary horror. Yet you have maintained your preference for things past.
Fisher: The reason I like a period piece in preference to more contemporary horror is that there is enough bloody horror going on in contemporary life already! I would rather go into the past, into superstition, into legend, into anything, than to delve into actual events which people are seeing and experiencing in a lot of cases in their ordinary life. I like period, legend, and allegory because they take you out of your personal present-day experience. After all, let's face the fact: this is entertainment. And entertainment is escapism. And it's very difficult to get escapism if you are going to portray all the trials, troubles and tribulations - shit which is going on in the world today - in a fictional form. Make it, for God's sake, escapism in some shape or another. Take it in the past, as a fairy tale if you like. Period vampire stories - even Frankenstein - are fairy tales. It is fantasy - grim fantasy, and grim fairy tale. that is a pun. But it's a good pun, because Grimm wasn't a gentle storyteller, was he?
CFQ: But that's what everyone need, isn't it? Just something to shock the wits out of them? Fisher: Oh yes! No quarrel with their being shocked. But don't shock 'em, for God's sake, with something they may have experienced the night before at home! I don't think people really want to pay money to be shocked with something they can read about in the papers the morning before they go to the cinema - or something they may have experienced in their ordinary, everyday life. Take it to its logical conclusion: it could have happened to them! CFQ: You are absolutely against putting Dracula into a contemporary setting, then?
Fisher: You can't translate Dracula into a contemporary setting. He is a period idea, and a period excitement. You can certainly make black magic and vampirism contemporary, but not by putting the father of them all into King's Road, Chelsea. I've said this before, and I think Hammer would agree because I don't think their attempts in that direction were terribly successful financially. Not that financial success is the ultimate. But it is important in order that you can continue to make films.
CFQ: They put Dracula A. D. 1972 in King's Road, and a few weeks later, we hear of graverobbings.
Fisher: And not only graverobbings, but all the paraphernalia of desecration - and desecration of themselves, in what they perform and do. No, please! Let's keep it fundamentally to superstition or allegory. That would do less harm, I think. It might make people who were, perhaps for a moment, tempted to indulge in it think: what did it come from? What is its origin? Not: now this is going on today, which will probably encourage indulgence.
You see, the other important thing is that in practically everyone I meet - I think in everyone - the ultimate triumph of the power of good over the power of evil comes about. Again, I think it's a truism of experience that we will find, in the end, the ultimate, inevitable triumph of good over evil. Because, of course, we shall find in the end that evil is merely a mistaken concept for the absence of the good. You see, there aren't two powers. There's only one. The power of evil is what we give to it. Of course, it is self-destructive in the end, because it is only given power by its victims, or its opponents. It doesn't have any powers of its own. So its power will cease eventually. You know, this is the ultimate millenium. But it is important to realize it will come to pass.
CFQ: A common denominator in most horror films today is explicitness - a trend for which you, more than any other director, are responsible. Did you consider the explicitness in a film like Horror of Dracula to be anything more than a commercial device?
Fisher:Agree entirely. I am the great exponent of explicitness in horror. I have been accused by critics from the moment I started making these films of dealing in blood and gore and every sort of brutality. This is quite untrue. In most - in fact, all - the vampire films, the explicitness has only been in the most important moment, which is the destruction of the vampire by staking. You can't do this by implication or by shadows on the wall. You've got to show the actual act of staking which is not, of course, destruction in any shape of form. It happens to be release, which most of these people who say that I deal in explicitness don't understand. And it has always been expounded by Van Helsing that this is release, as he puts it. You've seen it again and again. Immediately after the staking, with all the gore, the so-called victim - which is not a victim at all, but a person who has been released - changes visuall, facially, into peace and quietness. The person may change into a woman who is 200 years old, but there is peace within the face. Everyone seems to be far more interested in saying that I deal in blood and gore.
CFQ: Yet in the climax of Horror of Dracula, good has a sensational, almost evil effect on evil itself. The disintegration of Dracula is not a morally triumphant spectacle to behold. Release or no release, one can hardly say that the expression on Dracula's crumbling face is one of peace.
Fisher: What you're really saying is that the destruction of evil by good is a contradiction in terms. My answer to that would be that evil is a self-destructive force anyway. I'm not interested in the expression on Dracula's crumbling face as one of peace. Of course it's not of peace because he's being destroyed by the power of good. Or not destroyed by the power of good, but destroying himself. So why should he look happy in that?
CFQ: Can you elaborate on the special effects used in this disintegration sequence?
Fisher: For that you must ask Les Bowie who worked on the special effects. All I did was shoot what was necessary on the studio floor and then the special effects department took over.
CFQ: On the subject of explicitness, you have come out strongly against films like Peeping Tom. Where does one draw the line?
Fisher: I have nothing against them. I merely said that Peeping Tom is not a film I would like to make myself.
CFQ: In other interviews, you have mentioned the effect of censorship on your film The Curse of the Werewolf. Has the British censor ever made other cuts which upset you?
Fisher: No. The answer is uncategorically no. Of course not. I've had practically nothing cut except that one thing. And that didn't matter a hell of a lot because the implication was there. No. I have no quarrel with the censor at all. Because I never shot anything in a way to give the censor a chance!
CFQ: You have called yourself an "intuitive" director. Does this mean you totally avoid such preplanning devices as storyboarding?
Fisher: I've said I am not an intellectual director - I am an emotional director, and "intuitive" is a good word to use with "emotional." My pre-planning is knowing the story completely and absolutely, knowing the set I am going to work in completely and absolutely, knowing the content of the scene which I am going to direct within the context of the story. The intuition comes from physical rehearsal. In other words, you cannot say before you have physically rehearsed with artists on the set that the camera is going to be exactly there, or just what I'm going to do with it. This comes out of the physical rehearsal. What the actors give to it. It isn't a pre-planned thing.
CFQ: You have stated that your interest in the project The Curse of Frankenstein snowballed, the deeper you got into the filming. Do you ever find yourself surprised by the depth an idea you once thought shallow gradually assumes?
Fisher: One is never satisfied with the depth that one achieves in anything. As I've said, with the first Frankenstein I was suprised. One third of the way through, I knew we had something highly exciting. I got excited with the first Dracula - for the very reason that you say. I thought I had achieved something. I found it when eventually I saw it all together, in the first rough cut. I found that, emotionally, it had achieved more than I had expected to achieve.
CFQ: Have you ever detected a structural flaw in a film before you began filming? I'm thinking of The Phantom of the Opera, where the flashback structure destroys the suspense of the second half of the film?
Fisher: I don't agree with the fact that it destroyed it. You never have a "perfect" structure before you start any film.
CFQ: On the set, do you ever find yourself identifying with one character in particular - either naturally, or as a means of amplifying your own awareness of the drama?
Fisher: No - no indeed. O think what one achieves is an emotional relationship to all the characters within the stories as it goes. One gets involved only to the point where, in the scene, on the floor, you want to underline what is written more in one direction than in another. I give greater emphasis to a particular content of the scene as written, rather than giving emphasis to one character or another.
CFQ: Audiences were surprised by your "gentle" Phantom of the Opera. How could so uncommercial an idea come out of as commercial as Hammer?
Fisher: You are again coming back to this business of undelining: underemphasis or overemphasis in interpretation of the written word into the visual form. You can overemphasize or underemphasize for a purpose certain angles of your story. I may have underemphasized some things I wanted to in The Phantom of the Opera and overemphasized others. I emphasized the tragedy of the film which was the important thing to me: this man who had his music stolen, his association with the girl.
Oh, there can be a vast difference from the written word of the script without varying from it a bit. You could take three directors with the same script and say, "Go away... don't talk to each other and make this film," and you would find a totally different result from each, wouldn't you? According to the emotional feel of the particular director who was working on it. It would be the same written word, but you would have a totally different result, emotionally.
CFQ: In one, the emphasis might be love.
Fisher: That's right. In another, the love might be thrown away to nothing. With the same written word, taking the same script, one emphasis could neglect the personal relationships and concentrate on the story. The emphasis pivots on, "God, are they going to survive or not?" rather than, "Oh dear, how can they stand it?"
CFQ: Would you group The Gorgon among the latter? The mood seemed one of sadness and defeat, not horror.
Fisher: Oh please. These analytical questions! Of course The Gorgon was a frustrated love story from the moment it started, wasn't it? It was planted at the beginning, when Barbara Shelley and the hero first meet each other. And she was the obsessed one.
CFQ: In The Mummy, Kharis also comes across as sad, pathetic, driven by forces beyond him.
Fisher: Oh yes.
CFQ: Yet the mood is not as well integrated as it is in, say, the Frankenstein pictures. Were you completely satisfied with the potential for underlining in that script?
Fisher: Look. I'm not a writer. I don't write scripts. I take the written word I am given. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I'm a working director. But, I will see implications or what should be the implications within a script.
CFQ: So often in that film, your direction seems to be providing dramatic tensions lacking in the script.
Fisher: Of course! You always try to extract more than is in the written script, unless it's a brilliant bit of writing. And who writes brilliantly without understanding transferring the written word into a visual form? Very few people. I don't believe in a high degree of interpretation of the written word. But by God, I've extracted every inch out of what I've done. This is what directing is all about. It isn't just sitting down and saying, it's written there. You drag it out because you find within a script that which should perhaps be more accentuated, but isn't.
CFQ:The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll has drawn little of the attention that your other films have. To what do you attribute this?
Fisher: There was not one redeeming character in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Only one person had any semblance of good in him, and that was Jekyll's friend who said, for God's sake be careful about what you're doing. And he didn't do very much stopping. They were basically a shoddy lot, weren't they? Jekyll, who allowed himself to become shoddy. Chris Lee, who was shoddy. A wife who was no good anyway. God - raped by her reconstructed husband! It was an exercise, rightly or wrongly, badly done or well done, in evil. You didn't have a single character in that story who was worth tuppence ha'penny.
I liked the script. I think Wolf Mankowitz wrote it partly from the point of view that Victorian England was corrupt. But it wasn't fundamentally a very deep script, was it? Its strength, I think, was that Wolf Mankowitz realized that evil wasn't a horrible thing crawling about the street. It's very charming and attractive and seductive. Temptation! That was the only strength of the script, and the only interesting thing too.
CFQ:The Stranglers of Bombay has also been overlooked by history. Yet of all your films, it seems the most contemporary in terms of its ritualistic portrayal of evil. Are you still "appalled" by that film as Raymond Durgnat says you were?
Fisher: I wasn't really appalled by it. But it was a fairly straight portrayal of what the thuggees did at that particular time. I didn't enjoy doing it a helluva lot because I didn't think there was the opportunity of developing enough the emotional relationships between the characters.
CFQ: Your forces of good always win - yet you make both Dracula and Frankenstein very attractive as anti-heroes. Do you find yourself approaching both myths with "their" side of the story in mind?
Fisher: I've always been fascinated by Baron Frankenstein. He is either an atheist who doesn't believe in God and believes he can really create man better than God ever has, or he is a deep religionist who sold his soul to the Devil, forsaking the fundamental religious belief that God creates man. I'm not sure which he is. I've argued about this, and I like people to tell me. Either he's been tempted, like Christ was tempted - bow down and worship me and you will have power and everything you want - or else he never believed in God at all. He sees misshapen people with bad minds and deformities and concludes: "I could create. I could do far better than people believe God could do. I could create the perfect man in a laboratory."
Baron Frankenstein is a complete idealist. He is consecrated to one thing and one thing only, and that is to perfect the human body, the human mind. Like most consecrated people, he is single-minded and completely ruthless in what he does. But he is governed by an idealism, he is not inhuman. He is not doing it to achieve evil in any shape or form, or to achieve riches for himself. He is not out to do anything but perfect what he considers God has not done. Either this, or he has discarded any belief in God.
CFQ: Have you and Cushing ever discussed a fitting end for Baron Frankenstein?
Fisher: No we haven't. But I have discussed with Peter the implications and the motivations of Frankenstein. And I've argued with him as to whether Frankenstein was lacking what Hitler was lacking, since both had an ideal which said: I am going to create a master race. The important thing with both is whether they were mad. Whether they had the greatest ideal in the world and sold their ideas to Hell and Gone. Frankenstein did, to the extent that he said, "The end justifies the means." And I suppose that people would argue that Hitler did the same thing. Were they both mad, or were they both highly idealistic people who had their idealism switched in a strange way to evil? I don't know. Hitler started with this idealism of a perfect race, which allies itself in a way with Frankenstein's idealism. They both did the same thing in different ways. And in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell the Baron verbalizes his ideal when he calls himself the creator of man. That's what Hitler said, didn't he, in a different way? It's interesting, this. It's taking fictional characters and finding a parallel with true ones.
CFQ: How do you reconcile your "idealist" definition of Baron Frankenstein with the sickeningly cold-blooded figure we see in the last scene of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell?
Fisher: Let's take Frankenstein stage by stage, from the moment he started. He started with a great ideal - an ideal to produce a perfect being. He went through many failures - because he's always got to fail - and at the end of Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell he says, and I quote, "I am the creator of man." You've had so many monsters by then that at last you say where this monster has come from. He comes from Hell, from Evil, from Frankenstein's mistaken belief that he is the creator of man, which os course he isn't, and will never succeed in being.
CFQ: In a previous interview, you said that you'd put more thought into Frankenstein Must be Destroyed than into any other film. Can you explain more specifically what you meant?
Fisher: That was probably the first time within the Frankenstein series that you had a really emotional, character approach to brain transplants, which are fast becoming scientific reality. For once within our experience - nor in fiction, not in Frankenstein's world - we are talking about a brain transplant. And a brain with its own memory of a life which it has led, its loves and its hates. In the film, Freddie Jones plays a man who has his brain transplanted to a new body by Frankenstein, and he goes to visit his wife who fails to recognize him and rejects him. I loved that subject, which I think was a most difficult one to portray, and I thought about that film more than any other I've done because of this element. It is something I'm not going to face, but you are, you're young.
CFQ: Critics have long read atheistic overtones into both your work and Sangster's. The Promethean tone of Revenge of Frankenstein seems to have sparked most of this. Do you think this line of analysis is misleading?
Fisher: Yes I do. I am uncertain in my own mind as to whether the Baron is an atheist in his outlook, which ultimately is to say: "I am God which doesn't really exist;" or whether he has sold his soul to the Devil to the extent of saying, "I can improve upon God's work." Within the films I don't think there is any atheistic emphasis at all. There is an emphasis, I think, on Frankenstein's idealism in taking humanity as he finds it. We can argue whether it is atheistic or non-atheistic forever. But it's really the old question: if there is a God, why does he create a misshapen body, or a body lacking in certain qualities which it ought to have? Or have we, in our nonwisdom, reduced this human body which isn't perfect, by not understanding what God's work really is?
Frankenstein is an idealist and a great idealist, I think. No matter from where the incentive comes.
CFQ: In the Frankenstein series, good never really puts its foot down because Baron Frankenstein always returns. Evil outwits good at the start of each sequel. Doesn't the audience feel tricked by Frankenstein's fraudulent exits?
Fisher: What do you mean good never really puts its foot down? I think good puts its foot down through the whole series. Because he never achieves what he's after. He's faced with failure every time, from the first to the end.
CFQ: Can there really be a catharsis in a film containing only partial defeat?
Fisher: We're talking commercialism now, not ethics, aren't we? It's an arguable point, please.
CFQ: Has lack of character interest dictated your dropping the Dracula series, while continuing to make the Frankensteins?
Fisher: I make what I'm offered. I make them as well as I can.
CFQ: Can you say how Hammer chooses its directors? Why do you get a Frankenstein picture while Freddie Francis is offered a Dracula sequel?
Fisher: You must ask Hammer how they do or did choose their directors. I think the first Dracula film Freddie did was because I'd broken my leg. Just after finishing The Devil's Bride I was knocked down by a car crossing the road and broke my right leg. This was in 1968. When I had recovered I made Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. I had just finished it in 1969 when I walked out of Richmond Station, started to cross the road and the same thing happened! I broke the same leg in the same place! I am very careful now to look for pedestrian crossings.
CFQ: Would you have carried on the series if you hadn't had your accident?
Fisher: I don't know, you must ask Hammer that.
CFQ: How much did you have to do with the casting of Horror of Dracula?
Fisher: I had nothing to do with the casting of Dracula at all. All I did was accept the script, the actors and actresses as they were. And they were very, very good. One of the strengths of that film, I think, was the strength of the two ladies in it, the two victims. Of course I directed them to draw out what I felt to be implicit within the script, or if it wasn't implicit, what I thought ought to be implcit. The whole basis of the story of the first Dracula wasn't particularly Dracula himself. It was the effect that he had upon his victims, particularly his female victims.
CFQ: You worked with Christopher Lee many times after Horror of Dracula. How did you find him as an actor and did you enjoy working with him?
Fisher: The emergence of Christopher Lee as the new Dracula was an instant success. His performance was superb in every respect. It is not a part that is dependent upon dialogue. Its interpretation relies largely upon physical movement and facial expression, in other words, on a very real understanding of the art of mime. This, Christopher Lee possesses. He knows how to project mood and inner feeling - particularly the supernatural quality of Dracula. I have great respect for his professionalism and always enjoy working with him.
CFQ: Besides the cast you had an excellent script. Of all the Draculas, it had the best storyline to work from.
Fisher: I've always had very good storylines from Hammer, but you don't always work entirely within the storyline. Both female characters in Dracula were so loosely written that it didn't mean a thing. To a point, it didn't mean a thing. I had to emphasize that these two women who were involved with Dracula were under a special influence. His attraction, sexually, to both of them was a different sort of attraction. But it was working the whole time. That's why the picture's survived, because people understand that. I think what I dragged out from between the lines was a little more than possibly was ever implied within the script. That may be pompous, but I believe it's true.
CFQ: In your interview with Midi-Minuit Fantastique you compared Browning's Dracula unfavorably with your own.*
*In two separate interviews he states: "I honestly believe that my Dracula is superior to that of Tod Browning." And: "To me, Browning's Dracula is too theatrical. I think people believe more readily in my characters. They're only stylized by their period costumes, not by their actions or feelings..."
Fisher: I gave this interview a long time ago and honestly had completely forgotten my comment. I always try to avoid any comparison between my work and the work of other film directors, particularly contemporary ones! This is sometimes difficult when you make a new version of a film done previously.
CFQ: How would you compare your Frankenstein series to James Whale's?
Fisher: I wouldn't dream of comparing them! I don't compare my work with anybody else's work. Please. His was made some time ago. He did what he considered best. Everybody's right is to express themselves in the way they want, and I wouldn't dream of making any comparison. His was probably a greater achievement in that it was the first one. I think they are totally different mind you, and I am not going to say whether I thought one was better than the other.
CFQ: You have stated your antipathy toward working in the science fiction genre. Has the recent intellectual coming of age of science fiction films modified your stand?
Fisher: The only reason I don't particularly want to go into the science fiction field is that the reality of what science is achieving far exceeds anything that you can fictionalize. I think science fiction has progressed, thank God, from dealing with beings and creatures from outer space, and it is now beginning - because it is being driven to it - to deal with the power of the mind. This is the important development in science fiction. And indeed, it is becoming more interesting to me.
CFQ: The horror film has yet to attract the total critical respect that science fiction has received. What's holding it back?
Fisher: I have been abused, from the moment I made the first Frankenstein, by practically every critic and every newspaper, except The Daily Times, which gave a very good notice to the first Frankenstein. But that doesn't worry me at all. It worried me at first - but the films have survived and still create interest. I've always felt that the object of filmmaking is not a self-indulgent one. It's not to please critics, it is to please cinema audiences. You're not making it for your own self, or for the critics, for a moment. No! The critics are important, but in the end, the people you've got to interest and please are the cinema audiences. It's communication between you and the people who pay money to see it. And the fact that a film, particularly an 'X' film, survives and interests new generations of cinema goers over a period of fifteen years says something. To me that is a sign of achievement.
CFQ: You spoke earlier of some films being all evil, all sensationalism. Would you include in this category the late Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General, in which the power of good is never given even a chance, and whatever good there was at the film's outset turns to evil?
Fisher: I have the greatest respect for this film, which is basically a factual representation of what was going on at this period in time. You don't take a moral from it. You merely express - or he did, God bless him - what happened at that particular time. Please, I don't think that Michael Reeves had any great moral lesson to point to. He was reporting and interpreting historical events.
CFQ: Of all the films you've made in your long career, which are your own favorites?
Fisher: The two I am most proud of are Dracula and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, the more recent of the two, and one which nobody else seems to care for. Freddie Jones was in that and he is someone for whom I have the greatest respect as an actor. At the time I made Dracula I was excited because a new cycle had started, but the film I most enjoyed making was Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed.
CFQ: You can now look back on a career which David Pirie calls "the most distinguished and coherent in the history of fantasy cinema." What stones have you left unturned?
Fisher: I think with each film you do turn another stone. As far as subject matter goes, I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I would be content to stay with fantasy. I like to call it fantasy. I don't call it horror. I would like the stories to be deeper in personal emotional involvement in the characterization. And maybe that will happen. I don't know. I used to think that I would like to make a love story. I am not sure I would, really...