Provocative French-Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) might be the first to admit that his new horror-dance movie Climax isn’t necessarily something audiences haven’t seen before, but you might beg to differ.
In Climax, Noé introduces moviegoers to a large group of dancers who are celebrating a successful day of rehearsals with an after-party at their studio. The evening begins with the dancers enjoying each other’s company – gossiping, drinking, and dancing – but spirals out of control when they realize the sangria they’ve been consuming all night long has been laced with LSD.
From there, Noé’s scriptless dance party transforms into a nightmarish scenario where the dancers slowly lose their minds and find themselves participating in some of the most deviant behavior imaginable, including extreme violence, self-mutilation, and sexual perversions.
During an interview with me last week, Noé discussed where the idea for Climax originated, how shooting without a script was a liberating experience and why he decided to flip the camera upside down for long stretches of the film.
Where did the idea for Climax come from?
I was thinking of a disaster movie or a zombie movie. Some of those movies look so realistic when they’re shot in documentary style. I was thinking about a community that builds up something and then everything goes wrong. It could be a cult movie or a disaster movie or a horror-zombie movie. I started watching videos online of dancers in Paris and decided to mix these stories together. Even if [Climax] starts as a sort of musical comedy, it turns into something like a realistic horror movie.
I really like the idea of creating something beautiful and then destroying it in a horror film.
Yeah, if you’ve seen the movie Shivers by David Cronenberg, it’s about a perfect building that has been constructed for all the richest people in town and then something goes wrong. It’s like The Towering Inferno where the fire starts in the middle of the building. Human creations take a long time to build up and then it can all be destroyed. In this case, there is a substance (LSD) that is put into the sangria and everyone turns crazy and paranoid and aggressive. It’s about a whole community turning into reptiles because of their fear.
How difficult is it as a director to make a film as demanding as this without a script?
I’m lucky because [Climax] is produced by the best producers in France. They like cinema and they wanted the movie to exist, so they invested their own money. Without them, this movie would never have happened. I heard that [legendary French filmmaker Jean-Luc] Godard could get financing for his movies with just two pages of a script. I always dreamt of being as free as Godard could be at that time. He was allowed to do movies in a way that weren’t usually done.
As a filmmaker, is it important to you to make audiences feel like they’re watching something on screen that they’ve never seen before?
Yeah, but there’s nothing new in this movie. You’ve seen many movies with crane [camera shots] over dancers. You could look at movies like La La Land or Fame. There are movies about dancers in a school where things go wrong. There’s been disasters movies where rich people are dying. There’s nothing new in this movie. It’s just kind of different, but I did not invent anything. The only thing I hadn’t seen before that’s in this movie is an upside down title card. I liked that idea.
Well, you also turned the camera upside down for long stretches of the film, too, which I don’t think I’ve seen before.
For a long time, I wanted to see a movie with the camera upside down. There are some painters who exhibit their painting and portraits upside down, but I had never seen that in a movie. I always wanted to see a whole scene in a movie upside down, so in this movie I finally did it. As a director, you get bored, so if you can find any new idea that makes you feel like you’re not replaying your own movies or someone else’s movies, it’s very enjoyable. I also had never seen a movie with the main credits in the middle [of the movie], so I did that, too. You have to have fun and amuse yourself.
I have to admit, during the long upside down scene, I cheated and turned my head upside down to watch for a while until I realized it was going to go on for a while.
(Laughs) Did it look better? If you put it in the right sense, there is less going on than if you put it upside down. Upside down seems scarier because you can’t really read the images.
How else did you keep yourself from getting bored making Climax?
For the first time I used a drone! We improvised the opening scene. Probably now I’ll be addicted to drones.
Was it ever an idea to allow your cast to become method actors and actually drop acid to shoot this film?
Nah, because we had such a short time to shoot it – 15 days. I didn’t want anyone to be drunk or wasted in front or behind the camera. We were all being very professional. We couldn’t fail. And to tell you the truth, most of these dancers are between the ages of 18-23 and when I asked them about drugs, none of them really used or tried any. They were all clean by choice because when dancers are wasted or drunk, they turn into bad dancers.