Friday, March 29, 2013

The Conversation

Click for Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

It is rare that I read or watch an interview and feel that I've been left with something useful. Every month a glut of interview features amass the shelves of newsagents and supermarkets and bookshops and yet they mostly lack any wisdom or thought-provoking nuggets. The work commitments of actors, creatives, business people and musicians who have albums, books and records to promote seem to be viewed as separate from an opportunity to have interesting conversation. It is understandable, I've watched Notting Hill, I know how these tedious press junkets work. But it is disheartening to buy a glossy magazine and to always read the same formula. Female subjects are usually wrapped up in an oversize mohair jumper, looking natural and wearing little make-up and talking about things that ultimately aren't massively interesting in a self-deprecating way. Or maybe the problem is that so many of these subjects aren't massively interesting to me in the first place. So you have a slightly bland star dominating the interview feature for 4 pages and then someone who really is interesting- Tilda Swinton, say, who is featured in the 'My Life in Books' feature, with something a little more meaningful crammed into 300 words. It is frustrating but also a practice that I shouldn't expect mainstream glossy magazines to move past anytime soon.

If I want something really satisfying I have learnt to bypass the usual titles (even those fashion magazines that parade as different and as promoting strong women but ultimately don't) and stick to some tried and tested formulas. Jessica Stanley's blog is one of my absolute favourites and I always feel satisfied after reading one of her compilation posts of interesting articles and interviews from across the internet. She has a knack of finding opinion pieces or articles, from random blogs I would never have found, or maybe something from the Paris Review archive. Maybe it will be about the romance of being single, or the creative process or a really touching and well-written piece about a memory of living in New York. Either way it is the sort of thing I'll read while I eat my porridge in the morning and it will stay with me for the rest of the day, or maybe even longer. Magazines like The Gentlewoman and Apartamento also hit the mark for me in terms of insightful encounters with subjects and I remember enjoying this interview with Sheila Heti on KCRW via 10.17.

When I read an interview I'm ultimately curious about how people live their lives, because if we're not making it up as we go along, then we're quietly watching others for clues. I want to know about their routines or their self-doubts or what they've recently watched or read or thought about. I'm a big fan of 'isms' and maybe my requirements of interviews are ultimately selfish, by wishing to be left with something for myself at the expense of a subject revealing something about themselves. Really though, I know it isn't selfish, more a wish to be left with something more meaningful than the release date for a film.

Last weekend I spent 45 minutes or so watching a 4-part interview with Nick Cave on Youtube and it is absolutely an example of the 'satisfying interview'. A conversation between the interviewer and the subject rather than a personal portrait laden with a heavy portion of flattery. The interview is from 10 years ago, and very informal with the conversation between the two men starting with some memories of the last time they met and Nick Cave asking "Are we doing this? Are you filming?" about 3 minutes in, after their conversation has become the interview but without a cue to indicate it. I would really recommend sticking the kettle on for a cup of something hot and watching the 4 parts which are broken into the topics of discussion 'Habits and Routines', 'The Creative Process', 'The Love Song Lecture' and 'Self Image'. A lot of the brilliance of this interview is down to the interviewer himself, by asking interesting questions and knowing what Nick Cave has to share. Nick Cave, cigarette in hand, is all the time speaking very much within himself, and using his energy to find the right words rather than channelling it into being self-deprecating and fun and liked. This is definitely something I notice a lot in a majority of interviews and I think it is something we do on a daily basis in our conversations with each other and sometimes it takes away from what we're actually saying. Not that we have to always be serious and thoughtful, but the very British habit of being self-deprecating is one that sometimes becomes draining in social situations. Either way, I recommend all 4 parts to be enjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey and a slice of Banana bread and a blanket over the knees.


Lily said...

I'm with you fully. I tend to usually avoid interviews in the fashion glossies all together...It's like these celebs are talking and talking, yet not saying anything at all. The obvious PR plugs are unnerving and obvious also. It's frustrating as I too love reading interviews, especially with creatives in fashion or art. I much prefer the 'isms' you favor and the quiet, but endearing revelations that come about.

"When I read an interview I'm ultimately curious about how people live their lives, because if we're not making it up as we go along, then we're quietly watching others for clues." SO TRUE. You just captured something I've always naturally felt and thought, but never actually realized.

Anonymous said...

although i'm not a particularly big fan of his music, i do find nick cave to be a very intriguing & articulate man...he did a great aussie film a couple of years back called 'the proposition' - it's well worth a look in my humble opinion.