Director John Madden got his start helming Star Wars radio dramas in the '80s and '90s, before breaking out as a filmmaker with the 1998 romantic comedy-drama Shakespeare in Love. The film received a total of thirteen Academy Award nominations, including one for Madden for Best Director, and ultimately won seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress (Gwyneth Paltrow).
The decades since have seen Madden offer up wide-ranging work, going from the Shakespearean romance to the spy thriller The Debt to the romantic comedy adventure The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. His latest film is the World War II drama, Operation Mincemeat, starring Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen and Kelly Macdonald.
More than gravitating towards a specific genre, Madden wants to feel intoxicated both by his own work and by the work of others. "'Intoxication' is a word that I often use about films that simply enclose you and push you through an experience," Madden tells A.frame. "You can't escape the experience until it's resolved at the other end, unlike the experience of a book or the experience of plays. The immersion in films is just extraordinary."
Below, Madden offers up five films that have most impacted him as a filmmaker. "It's quite fluid, so I wouldn't necessarily offer them in an order of importance," he caveats, "so in no particular order..."
Directed by: Arthur Penn | Screenplay by: David Newman and Robert Benton
Bonnie and Clyde exploded on my consciousness in a way that's permanently imprinted on my mind. In the old days, when the only way of experiencing a film was to go to a cinema, I went to see that film literally six times in the week that it appeared. I simply went back to it again and again and again to the point of actually knowing large parts of the dialogue -- some of which I can still remember even now. I love the screenplay. The way the lines were delivered just lodged in my head. And it was the first time I thought, 'Wow, this is a space I would like to be in.' It had never occurred to me at that point that I would be a film director, but I couldn't think of anything more rich.
To me, it was a movie that immediately enclosed me in a story. And, despite the fact that it was famously and ultimately a very, very violent film, it somehow was a world I wanted to go back into as soon as I'd finished. I was completely bound up in the characterizations and the way the five principle characters interacted. It's an extremely funny film, because of Blanche and C.W. Moss [Estelle Parsons and Michael J. Pollard, respectively] and these completely brilliant performances, and how that played off the danger and the jeopardy and the darkness of the film. Cinematically, it's hard to forget the impact of the last five minutes of that film, which was overwhelming in its own way.
That's unique, that one. It was a time when my moviegoing grew up and I started to become aware of the French New Wave, which, of course, had a significant influence on Bonnie and Clyde. It might well have been directed by François Truffaut. Really, a whole world and a certain era of American moviemaking just suddenly exploded on me at that point, and I've never forgotten it. That's the one that began my infatuation with movies.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Screenplay by: Francis Ford Coppola
The Conversation is another one that made an enormous impact on me. It's about an obsessive, which, in my mind, is always a great subject for a film -- and Gene Hackman is common to both films. Again, it's a film I saw several times. Not as many times as I saw Bonnie and Clyde, but it is actually, paradoxically a film about espionage and the act of zooming in and zooming in and zooming in and zooming in.
I'd always grown up with radio drama, so the whole idea of listening was a very significant feature of my upbringing. The radio was always on in our house, and I actually began my career directing radio drama in America, though, of course, I hadn't reached that point at the time that I saw The Conversation. [Still], the processes of the way that it unfolded and the extraordinary scene on Union Square, I found it all completely fascinating. I found it an extraordinarily interesting basis for a film.
I think it stands up now as an extraordinary piece. I was reading recently that it still stands, amid a fairly extraordinary oeuvre, as Coppola's favorite movie. There's something about it that it's like disappearing down a wormhole, which is, of course, exactly what the character does. And that just resonated for a very long time for me.
Directed by: Nicolas Roeg | Screenplay by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
Nicolas Roeg had an enormous effect on my generation of filmmakers, simply because it was the first time I was really aware of how cinematic grammar was being used to tell a story. His contributions have so much to do with the way he manipulates time and the way in which emotional information is mediated through an editorial intervention that alters the emotion and qualifies it in a very, very interesting way.
Like everybody else, I was gobsmacked by the now-legendary lovemaking sequence between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. For the sheer breathtaking surprise of it, that it's two people who are making love in the context of a traumatic bereavement, and obviously what's famous about it is that it was both explicit -- that was what was supposedly controversial about it at the time -- but that it was crosscut so tellingly and surprisingly with the rather sober business of getting dressed and going out to dinner, a dinner which, of course, triggers the rest of the story.
But that's just one part of what was going on in that film. And the way in which it moved backwards and forwards in time is something I've never forgotten -- and certainly informs the way I put films together even now. It's a horror film, I suppose, but a horror film that burst beyond its genre. It was the first time I was aware about what the possibilities of cinematic narrative construction could be, and it certainly informed everything I did thereafter.
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski | Screenplay by: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
If you're looking for [the work of] a director who really was his own person and expanded the form of storytelling in a way that is unmatched, it's Kieslowski's The Double Life of Véronique, the film before he made the trilogy of Blue, White and Red. That film occupies a different space because it is essentially almost metaphor. It is cinematic experience as metaphor and a film whose impulses are poetic and elusive in a way that the conventional narratives are separate from.
Particularly the effect of music and the way in which it becomes an essential part of how the film communicates itself -- you literally couldn't unravel it from the film -- that's the space that I've always wanted to get into, anytime I make a film. We used Zbigniew Preisner, who wrote the score for that and all of Kieslowski's films, in the temp score for Shakespeare in Love, I remember, which was very, very effective. The relationship with the composers I've worked with have been influenced by that.
It's an extraordinary film that won't, in the end, yield up its literal secret. It's something you simply experience in a different space, and the images just remain scored on your head. It's one of those ones I return to periodically to watch again, just to have the same experience because it's one you can turn over forever without trying to provide a narrative that makes total sense. In that sense, it's communicating itself as poetry.
Directed by: Hirokazu Koreeda | Screenplay by: Hirokazu Koreeda
The final one is not so widely known a film, but it's just extraordinary. It's about two people who work in a facility where people arrive, and they've actually all died, and they're there in order to go through a process that clears them to step into an afterlife. What's involved in that process is that they have to distill the most important memory to them, at which point the other people who are waiting in the place are asked to collaborate in putting on a rather low-fi amateur dramatic version of that memory. That memory is recorded, which releases the owner of the memory to move on into the life beyond. It's such an extraordinary idea for a film, and it doesn't treat itself as being metaphorical at all. It's very literal in the way it talks about these things.
And it tells a very interesting story of two people who are working in the facility and processing the applicants one by one. You realize they are themselves in a state of suspension, because they haven't yet been released into their own afterlife. The man doesn't have a memory he wants to hold on to, because he was in a loveless marriage which was arranged, and he's given time and help in trying to reevaluate that process. There's an extraordinary moment where he finally finds his way to a memory which involves him and his wife sitting on a bench and the strands of the story flow together. And you suddenly realize that there was something about that memory he didn't understand, but, in the process of working it through with his guide, he did understand it.
And then, when the scene is recorded and shown, you cut to a shot of them sitting on the bench. And suddenly the bench is empty, and those two people have vanished. It's the most extraordinarily simple moment that is completely overwhelming, as their memory is enshrined, but the owners of the memory have now been lost forever. It's just the most simple thing, but it's so redolent of so many things beyond itself. It's told very simply, and yet it was just the most unforgettable piece to me.