Act 1: Take 8... On Love

Style Observer

Sunday, February 13, 2011

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Arranging a mid-week photo shoot and meeting to discuss romantic films with eight of The Rock's most prolific and talented directors is no easy task. Planned schedules must be cleared, filming projects reassigned or postponed, and not being the ones actually directing the action for the photo session proves to be a tad frustrating (though suggestions for camera angles and positioning are offered) for this motley crew of brash, loud, opinionated, super-brilliant guys.

Assembled by SO for a rap session at Kingston's swankiest enclave, the Spanish Court Hotel, are writer/producer/director Ras Kassa, editor/director Joel Burke, lifestyle designer Ard Jarrett, writer/director Jay Will, editor/director Michael Cushnie, producer/writer/director Storm Saulter, his brother Nile, a writer/director, and Chris Browne, a writer/producer and director. As noon draws nearer, they all begin to stream in, styled in ultra-casual ensembles that reflect their individual personalities. They're hip up-and-comers and established lensmen whose résumés are highlighted with music videos, films and advertisements featuring a selection of the world's who's who... and this moment finds them in a collectively reflective mood, pondering the romantic movies and characters that have left indelible impressions on their creative psyches.

These artistic gents gather in a chic space, to the left of the hotel's ultra-modern lobby, that has been fabulously converted to a screening room, thanks to subtle décor touches by ace design specialist Ardelle dalla Costa. Seated in plush red bucket chairs, bowls of salted popcorn at hand, and in an interesting twist - the guys' flick Takers showing on the projector - the directors share their thoughts about love on the big screen with us. While their easy camaraderie was refreshing and expected, their picks of romantic-themed films turned out to be as surprising and edgy as their talents behind the camera.

Kassa's Love Theories

Ras Kassa isn't sweet about Valentine's Day and tells SO he doesn't buy into the commercial hype. In fact, he's proud to declare that he has never bought a gift on V-Day. On the subject of love, he needs to ensure his point is not only made, but clearly articulated, so he pulls us aside, away from the noisy conversation among the directors about the plot machinations and character motivations of men and women on the screen and in real life. "I don't believe a man should marry because he's in love," Kassa says. "He should marry when he's ready." The lanky, dreadlocked director is a fan of the 1993 romance/crime film True Romance. He appreciates that the film celebrated a carefree view of love, which he attests to abiding by in his 20s. Things have since significantly mellowed now that he's older and a father. "It's not your straight Shakespearean or romantic comedy, it had drugs, guns, people dying," he reveals. "You can watch that film right after football and still walk around with your balls."

Kassa's favourite line from True Romance: "I'm trying to keep the whole thing in perspective. You just said you love me, now if I say I love you and just throw caution to the wind and let the chips fall where they may ... if you lie to me, I'm going to f-g die."

Art Imitates Life

In between munching on popcorn, Joel Burke picks Legends of the Falls as his favourite romance-themed film. The flick is a period film spanning the World War I era through to 1963, and tells the tale of three brothers being in love with the same woman. "It's beautifully shot and such an intertwining love story and showed how love can come between brothers but also keep them together," Burke offered as his explanation for his love of the 1994 film that starred Brad Pitt, Henry Thomas and Aidan Quinn -- siblings who pine for Julia Ormond. "I've experienced it myself," he admits in a surreal case of art-imitating-life-imitating-art. He recalls as a 17-year-old teenager fresh out of high school, both he and his elder brother had a crush on the same girl. Big bro won her heart but Joel bore no ill feelings.

Sci-Fi Love

"I love the setting, the way it's understated and leaves a lot open for interpretation," says the brooding Nile Saulter of his affection for the 2002 science-fiction drama Solaris. Lead actor George Clooney portrays a recently widowed psychologist sent to a space station to work with the crew but still hasn't emotionally reconciled the death of his wife. Saulter likes that the planet the space station orbits mirrors the crew's thoughts, and love happens to be the most powerful emotion it reflects back. "It says a lot about the romantic experience. He [Clooney] gets a second chance to be with his true love and emotionally it feels real because you can analyse love through different angles."

Nile's favourite line from Solaris: "Don't mess this up."

Jay vs Michael on Closer

When they both discovered the 2004 drama Closer happened to be their favourite genre film, a friendly war of words erupted between Michael Cushnie and Jay Will as they debated the whys and hows of Cushnie finding favour with Natalie Portman's prostitute character in the movie. Cushnie, more of the wistful romantic type, sums up that the film "is the story of my life". It's an intersecting tale of deceptive lovers who secretly cheat on their mates and are found out. "I love the story and the characters and relate to these people's inability to make decisive decisions and stick with them," Cushnie further adds. He said Portman's character, the young idealist in love, resonated the most with him. "Even though she's a stripper, she's emotionally innocent," he explains.

Jay Will objects to Cushnie's citing Portman as his favourite character and jokingly ribs him about it, finding back-up support for a few minutes with Kassa and Burke. Will loves Closer for completely different reasons. For him, the movie is unforgettable for a defining scene that comes when Julia Roberts' husband (Clive Owen) confronts her after learning of her affair with a writer (Jude Law). "I like how real the two were. It wasn't playing on a fantasy like romantic movies and books. He was questioning her about the affair and she answered him and they were both so real in their dialogue. It was the most romantic thing I've ever seen," Will raves.

Michael's favourite line from Closer: "I would have loved you forever. Please, now go."

Old-School Browne

Browne is the elder statesman of this group of twenty- and thirty-something directors, and he's excused for being the last to arrive for the Spanish Court photo-call, as he's breaking from working on a documentary. Sporting a black fedora and a graphic tee, Browne says Casablanca is his absolute favourite romantic film.

"I like old-school and black and white," he shares. "It's an amazing love story and I love that it's about loving someone so much you have to set them free." The director, who is also nephew to the late Perry Henzell, who helmed The Harder They Come, admits to having watched the classic Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman film at least 20 times. "Everything about it is so well done. I've seen it many times and I could still watch it again."

The Exploration of Self

Self-analysis is a key element in finding love, and for Ard Jarrett, it's the main reason he's a fan of the 2010 movie, Eat, Pray, Love, which starred Julia Roberts." The bespectacled Jarrett, who momentarily scoffs, in typical guy fashion, when asked about the love-themed movie that stokes his interest, relents long enough to explain. "I liked that Roberts' character found that love needed to come from self-exploration. Without understanding yourself truly you can't love anyone else since by nature we are selfish beings," says Jarrett, who can make some connections between the Julia Roberts character and himself. So, what's the biggest lesson he's learnt from the movie? "We tend to create our own worlds and we need to become vulnerable if we are really going to find love," the architect-cum-director notes.

Storm in Barcelona

Ever the bohemian, Storm Saulter's naturally curly hair is plaited and he's wearing cargo shorts as he steps into the lobby of the Spanish Court Hotel, walking briskly alongside his brother Nile. Taking in the scene of the artsy yet minimalist screening room, he's pleased with what he sees. "Very nice," he utters, making immediate enquiries about whether the hotel has a permanent room to show films. He selects 2008's romantic comedy/drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona as his favourite genre movie. He assesses the Woody Allen-directed movie as "a very modern-day love story that looks at the nature of what love means". Storm likes the contemporary touches of the film, explaining that a duality concerning romance is at play in the movie. "It's a movie about passion and lust leading to short bouts of love," the Better Mus' Come director says. He concedes that intense short-term passion is very much a reality, as is long-lasting love. "Who's to say love has to be one specific thing? There's love in all the various spectrums."


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