Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Few Words with Antonia Quirke, author of CHOKING ON MARLON BRANDO

London film critic and author Antonia Quirke is interviewed in New York's arts weekly The Villager. Her memoir Choking on Marlon Brando, has just been released in paperback. Here's an excerpt from Will McKinley's interview:

WILL McKINLEY: Can you explain your book's title?

ANTONIA QUIRKE: When I was 10 I came downstairs in the middle of the night. My parents were watching "A Streetcar Named Desire" and I had a little collapse.

WM: Brando's performance made you lose control of your body?
AQ: Yes. It was just the full-on sex appeal, his charisma. I can remember very clearly being entirely overcome by his physique, his voice, his face. I was very young and wasn't entirely sure what to do with those feelings. I just wigged out.

WM:What was the first movie you ever saw?
AQ: I had never seen a movie before that.

WM: How did you manage to live 10 years without seeing a movie?
AQ: My parents didn't have a TV. They didn't believe in it. I was aware of television, but I wasn't aware of movies at all. I had wound myself up quite a lot that night before I came downstairs, listening to the drama that was going on in our living room and then realizing that it was happening on screen, rather than in real life. All of that blurring of boundaries just overwhelmed me completely. The wonder of cinema hit me square between the eyes.

WM: The technology that exists today— where kids can see everything on demand, or make their own movies and post them on the internet—is that a good or a bad thing?
AQ: I think its bad. The other day I was swimming and there was a group of schoolgirls. They spent the whole day taking photographs of each other and uploading them to Facebook. They weren't actually living their life; they were commemorating it as if it were a movie they were in.

WM: Maybe the next generation's rebellion will be to throw all of this aside and just live.
AQ: I doubt it. Everybody is performing to a certain extent now. Phoniness is overtaking us. People use phrases about breaking up that they've seen in movies to break up with people in real life. And they don't even realize they're doing it. It's like a virus that's going through the culture.

WM: Speaking of phoniness, you developed this idolatry toward actors as a kid. But then you grew up and dated one, and the result was not pretty. Did that change your view?
AQ: Yes. He didn't like to be in a room filled with known people. He preferred to be with strangers, people he could win. because it was a performance. It was a constant performance. I watched him and I became a sort of archivist of his great performances at the dinner table. I became a storyteller because of him. I would never have written the book if I hadn't been with him and learned to tell stories in that kind of way. It was as dangerous as it was terrific.

WM: What's your favorite movie?
AQ: Oh my God, I don't know. "Serpico," probably.

WM: Don't the New York movies of the '70s make you hate today's movies even more?
AQ: Yes. I love the chaos of the streets in those movies, like "Serpico" or "Shaft" or "Dog Day Afternoon." New York was a mess. It was a frightening place, where you had to be really careful. You couldn't step out the front door without being mugged. The way that Giuliani cleaned up the streets was great for New York City but terrible for cinema.

WM: So what's coming up next for you?
AQ: Well, it looks like they're going to turn the book into a movie and, if it happens, I'll be writing the screenplay.

WM: Congratulations. Is it safe to say the character of Antonia Quirke will not be played by Barbra Streisand?
AQ: Yes. I think you can safely say that.

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