It’s hard to pick just one label for David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Pete’s Dragon, The Old Man & The Gun), a writer and director who quite often produces and edits too. For the long-awaited, Arthurian-inspired fantasy film The Green Knight, he does all four, and his vision for the movie looks undeniably big and bold. So we were curious … What films did Lowery reference and revisit on his epic Green Knight journey? Read his wide-ranging, personal and somewhat surprising list of movie influences below.
The Green Knight arrives in U.S. theaters on July 30.
This Ron Howard classic has long been a major influence on me, in spite of the fact that it took me years to see the whole thing. I was about 7 when it opened, had already set my sights on a career as a filmmaker, and my hero was George Lucas; hence, I was very excited to see it. I also, crucially, had an extreme phobia of vomit. So when my grandmother took me and my brother to the cinema on opening weekend, and adorable little Elora Danan barfed in Burglekutt’s face 20 minutes in, I fled the theater and refused to go back in. In spite of this, Willow quickly became one of my favorite movies. I got the toys, the sticker book, the novelization, the book-on-tape, the Kraft Jell-O tie-in recipe collection and the amazing James Horner soundtrack; by the time I finally saw the rest of the film on video some years later, I pretty much already knew it by heart. This movie was probably my main point of inspiration for The Green Knight.
These are technically three films, but they fit together so well that it’s impossible not to think of them as one. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s adaptations of The Decameron (1971, pictured above), Arabian Nights (1974) and The Canterbury Tales (1972) are hilarious, sensual and delightfully scatological; they are also fairly faithful adaptations of three literary classics that are often read alongside Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in college English classes. I watched these right before we first went location scouting for The Green Knight, and I like to think there’s a little bit of [Pasolini star] Ninetto Davoli in our depiction of Gawain.
This is one of my favorite Tim Burton pictures partially because it represents an undeniable apotheosis in his career; everything that defines the Burton brand is at its absolute peak here. On a sheer technical level, it is hard to beat. This was the first and only time Burton worked with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and they really bring out the best in one another. Their gorgeous distillation of the Hammer Horror aesthetic was a key reference point for [Green Knight cinematographer] Andrew Palermo and me when we were figuring out how to shoot the St. Winifred sequence. And, of course, all those marvelous beheadings were on a regular loop at our production office.
Marie Antoinette is such an underrated masterpiece, and it contains one of my favorite handheld shots of all time. Its approach to period affectations was something I considered pursuing on The Green Knight—in fact, at one point, I actually planned to shoot an insert of a record player in Gawain’s bedroom, and I definitely tried out some anachronistic needle drops. None of that made it to the finished film, but if there’s one element of Coppola’s movie that held sway over mine, it was the fact that heart and conviction trumps historical accuracy.
When I was 10 or 11, I went through a period where I watched this movie almost every day. Looking at it now I think: what a debut for Branagh! This is Citizen Kane levels of prowess, right out the gate. The St. Crispin’s Day speech is a histrionic high point, of course, but it’s the post-battle interlude set to Patrick Doyle’s “Non Nobis Domine” that impresses the most. We used this as a technical template for our battlefield scene with Barry Keoghan, but ran out of time, good weather and corpses before we could accomplish even a fraction of what Branagh pulled off in that one shot.
The greatest of medieval films; we tried to use it as an inspiration, and we failed. This movie is untouchable. That being said, there’s a kiss in Tarkovsky’s film that made it to my lookbook, and from there into the finished cut of The Green Knight.
This oddity from John Boorman wasn’t really an influence on us—primarily because I didn’t see it until about two months ago! We of course watched Boorman’s Excalibur in prep for The Green Knight, and even shot in a lot of the same locations—but if I were to screen our film on a double bill alongside one of Boorman’s, I think I’d choose this one instead. I don’t think anyone would call it an entirely successful film, and it’s not the easiest watch, but its ambition is next-level, and Boorman was clearly reaching for something strange and profound and new. The final series of images, set to Beethoven’s 7th, feels plucked from the same realm of ether as the ending of our movie, and I immediately felt a sort of cosmic kinship between the two.
This Scorsese film seemed like it was forgotten before it had even opened, which is a real shame. It is a slow and challenging inquiry into the nature of faith, and the way in which Scorsese interrogates this abstract concept came to mind when I was trying to get a grasp on honor and chivalry in The Green Knight. The rigor of the filmmaking here is exceptional; the restrictions of perspective, the power of a good insert shot, the incredible use of visual effects (several examples of which we used as reference for some of our own VFX shots). I also love the leap into the future that occurs at the epilogue, as the film unexpectedly adopts the voice of a new character to offer one final insight that, like the film itself, almost feels like a secret.
This is one of my all-time favorite films, and has been since before I even saw it. As with Willow, I knew the film intimately before I ever actually saw it. I was 11 when it opened, and my parents wouldn’t let me see it, so I decided to just remake it myself. I pored over the published screenplay at the local Waldenbooks, absorbing it down scene by scene, memorizing the incredible costume designs by Eiko Ishioka, digesting the references like Klimt and Goya that Francis Ford Coppola cited. I wrote a script, built costumes and prosthetics and a model of the Demeter and Castle Dracula—but I didn’t have a video camera, so I never actually made it. I suppose, in a way, The Green Knight is as close as I’ve gotten to fulfilling that promise. The use of practical effects, dissolves and old-fashioned cinema tricks never ceases to inspire me, and we pay deliberate homage to its magic when St. Winifred first approaches Gawain in her cottage.
Jordan Peele’s second film opened towards the end of our prep, and a big group of us went to see it at the Light House Cinema in Dublin. I loved the movie, loved wrestling with it and arguing about it afterwards; but at some point in the process of watching it, something onscreen unlocked an issue I’d been having with the script for The Green Knight, and a solution presented itself to me, there for the taking, clear as day. It was the most beautiful thing. Would I have come to that realization without Us? Who knows! That’s why I always watch movies while I’m shooting. The most unexpected things will jar loose a good idea.