'Zero Dark Thirty' director Kathryn Bigelow has Andy Warhol to thank for her interest in making movies

By Daniel S Levine,

While most of Kathryn Bigelow’s interviews for Zero Dark Thirty have covered the controversy surrounding the film’s torture scenes, Bigelow recently revealed that a conversation with pop artist Andy Warhol sparked her interest in films.

Bigelow appears on the cover of Time magazine this week and she does cover Zero Dark Thirty in depth, but writer Jessica Winter asked about her early career. Bigelow was first an artist, then transitioned to films in the early 1980s with The Loveless.

“Part of the big pivot from art to film was embracing the narrative, because what I had been doing thus far was either analytical or non-narrative,” the Oscar-winner said. “I think I had a conversation with Andy Warhol somewhere in all this, and Andy was saying that there’s something way more populist about film than art—that art’s very elitist, so you’re excluding a large audience.”

When the interview turned to Zero Dark Thirty, she described the difficulty of making those torture scenes that everyone keeps talking about and praised star Jessica Chastain for her work.

“On a personal level, those scenes were really hard to do,” she said. “The audience wants to look away but knows they shouldn’t. It’s wrenching and difficult, and that is acknowledged in the cues we see in Jessica Chastain. She looks away; she covers her mouth. That is how many people in the audience react, or how they would react if they were in that room. It’s the kind of thing we instinctively rebel against. That says something about the larger issue here, too, which is that it’s easier to turn away from it than face it. It paints an honest picture of what was happening, and we are only beginning to come to terms with it.”

Like in her interview with Stephen Colbert this week, Bigelow again stressed that the scenes are based on firsthand accounts.

“Those are firsthand accounts,” she replied when asked if she took any artistic license. “But perhaps a film can’t be held to the same level of scrutiny as a Senate report. It’s a film. So it’s got actors. It’s got sets. And editorial choices, composite characters, compressions and ellipses—10 years compressed in two-and-a-half hours.”

Zero Dark Thirty is currently in theaters and is up for five Oscars.

image: Time

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