By Helen Adkins | September 2012
The Director chats exclusively to Junsui Films about the challenges of capturing the man behind the artist, finding truth in the silence, and reveals all about her latest documentary, ANTON CORBIJN INSIDE OUT…
Junsui Films: What inspired you to make a documentary on Anton Corbijn?
Klaartje Quirijns: He was, and hopefully still is, a friend. We met when we were both involved in an exhibition in Holland. I had a video installation showing there and he opened the show. We reconnected in London, just as he was going back to Holland after living in England for thirty years. It was a time not long after he’d done Control (2004) and had sold his house to finance it, but I think he also wanted to live another life in Holland, by the sea, a healthier life.
It was around this time that he showed me a film that had been made about him and asked for my response to it. I thought it was a superficial portrayal and didn’t really do him any justice, so a conversation started about making another one. It was a producer on Control who suggested we make a film about Anton.
I didn’t know his work that well at the time. We had both been at the Toronto Film Festival and had been sitting at a party. Anton was surrounded by people, models and such and he said to me, “I’m not here because of who I am but because of what I do”. I thought that was an interesting way to look at yourself.
Although we were friends, I knew the minute I started working on the project I’d have to go into professional mode and in general I was quite critical of him, he thought I was too critical at times, but I felt that was important.
JF: He comes across as such a naturally quiet and private character in the film. Did this make it hard to capture and analyse him as a person?
He is a very private person, but in my view he really opened up in the film and worked hard to do so. But, I’ll admit, it was hard at the beginning when I didn’t really know where the film was going. I’m used to making these dramatic films about war and politics and I worried this had no drama. He’s never angry or happy so I thought, “how can I make a film about this?”
I was also working on my next project, a film about therapy, at the same time, and talking to people about it, they pointed out that this was still very much a film about war – only the war in the mind. Suddenly, I knew what the film about Anton should be – the war in his head, because he’s so contradictory: one minute he doesn’t like the limelight, the next minute he wants critical acclaim, then he worries about getting enough commercial acclaim, and all that doesn’t necessarily go together.
At that moment, I knew the film was about a human being struggling with identity, art, commercial success and going from being an observer to being observed. It was all very interesting, but in a quiet, subtle way, much like Anton himself. One compliment I got was from someone who said the documentary was like a Bergman film: very little emotions on show, but dealing with big emotions.
JF: How did getting access to the Corbijn family enhance the film and did they shed more light on Anton as a person?
I felt very lucky to have such great access to the family, especially Anton’s sister who I got on very well with. She, particularly, was very honest and authentic and I can see how her appearance in the film brings on such strong reactions in the audiences who have seen it.
Anton was very supportive of the film throughout so he was always introducing me to the people around him, including his family. What was fascinating was that this was a world that was so different from the one he works in, so it was moving to see him involved with his family and his mother in particular. You can see, again in a subtle way, how affected he is by her, particularly when she revealed secrets from the past.
His relationship with his family is very interesting to observe as it was the opposite to what I experience in my family, where everyone is talking at once, arguing, but with a lot of love behind it. Here was a family who were all used to a lot of silences, who were only polite to each other. It shed a lot of light on Anton as a person.
JF: The film covers Anton travelling around the world, working on various photo shoots, directing his feature film The American, opening art shows. How does he handle balancing so many projects?
I filmed Anton over four years and travelled around with him to various locations and it was always fascinating to see him with different people and how he handles the different projects he works on.
The moment he was around musicians, he turned into a seventeen-year-old boy. I felt his emotional outlet was, and still is, the music. I could really see that. He’s at ease when he’s photographing, it’s what he knows he can do. When he was shooting the film, The American with George Clooney, it was different. It’s still a relatively new area for him so he was less confident.
It was interesting to witness his different moods and how aspects of his character appear at different times for different people. I think what Bono said about him was true, that when he’s photographing he’s always trying to capture himself. He’s still searching for his identity.
JF: What has the reaction been to the finished film and do you feel that you’ve managed to capture the real Anton Corbijn?
Anton told me that it was a beautiful piece of work, which was such a compliment. His family said they totally recognise him, and I just had a screening at Curzon, Soho in London, where old friends of his came and they too said my portrayal was absolutely Anton.
There are others who don’t agree. He has a girlfriend now, who doesn’t see Anton in the film I made, doesn’t see him as a loner, but for me, this is the person I observed, it’s how I saw him and got to know him. He is a social person but still in my view I see a loner and I have to stick with what I see or my work would be compromised.
I think the only thing Anton said to me was that he felt his sense of humour had been missed. He does make jokes, and I think there is some humour in the film, but I didn’t want to portray him as a clown.
Overall, reactions to the film have been so positive and audiences seem to have been deeply moved by it. I was worried about showing it in the UK because I have always thought it was such a Dutch film, so I had no idea how British audiences would react but people have really responded to it.
Of course, I’ve had a few bad reviews which say that I didn’t manage to open Anton up and that I should have tried harder, but I feel they are missing the point. I felt what was more interesting was showing him walking away when I asked him a personal question rather than push him so much that he shut down, which did happen a few times.
JF: Having previously focused your attentions on more politically driven films, such as The Brooklyn Connection (2005) and The Dictator Hunter (2007), what next for Klaartje Quirijns?
It’s true, I normally make political films that are a lot different to Inside Out. But working on this film gave me a new way of looking at things. I became so very interested in the world where Anton came from – the world of silence almost – which was so different to the one I’d grown up in.
Anton has a specific way of looking at things. He’s focussed on forms and frames and I feel I have learnt a lot from that. My next film is about therapy, which I’ve been working on for ten years, but I realise now that a lot of the themes from this film will undoubtedly turn up in my next one.
Anton Corbijn Inside Out is out now and reviewed here.