The­honey trap

Her first short film won an Os­car, and Arnold has been as­tound­ing ever since. The fire­brand Englishdi­rec­tor talks to Don­ald Clarke about her lat­est (long) fea­ture Amer­i­can Honey

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

“I saw a woman the other day walk­ing aheadof me,” An­drea Arnold says. “Her shirt was too short. So her back was ex­posed. She was walk­ing slow and looked tired. I see some­body like that and I won­der why she is tired. Be­fore I know it, I’ve made a whole story. I’ve al­ways done that.”

This makes a kind of sense. Over­the past decade, since the re­lease of the abra­sive Red Road, the Ken­tish di­rec­tor has be­come the UK’s most in­ter­est­ing teller of or­di­nary tales. Fish Tank, re­leased in2009, ce­mented her­rep­u­ta­tion as a neo-re­al­ist of note. A wild, bat­tered, un­kempt ver­sion of Wuther­ing Heights in 2011 then proved an abil­ity to sur­prise.

But Amer­i­can Honey an­nounces the di­rec­tor’s big­gest swerve yet. Clock­ing in at more than two-and-a-half hours, the film fol­lows a bunch of kids sell­ing mag­a­zine sub­scrip­tions across the Mid­west .( It still hap­pens, ap­par­ently .) Scored to bel­low­ing hip-hop and con­tem­po­rary pop, the film has a loose-limbed en­ergy that could fit any sized pack­age. It could be 20 min­utes longer or 20 min­utes shorter.

“It could be 20 hours. It al­most was,” Arnold says, laugh­ing. “But, see, I don’t think it could be 20 min­utes shorter. What would you cut?”

That’s not a fair ques­tion. I haven’t got the film in front of me.

“You cut and you lose some­thing that makes sense of the next piece. Peo­ple talked about it be­ing long. A lot of cin­ema slots are two hours. But why are we al­ways think­ing films have to be a cer­tain length?”

Arnold has been known to not suf­fer fools with un­qual­i­fied glad­ness. But she is in sparkling form this af­ter­noon. Amer­i­can Honey has done well for her. Star­ring Shia LaBeouf as the most ag­gres­sive hustler, and stun­ning new­comer Sasha Lane as a new re­cruit, the film pre­miered at Cannes this year to largely pos­i­tive no­tices and went on to win the Jury Prize.

Arnold thus be­came the first per­son to win that award – es­sen­tially the bronze medal – on three oc­ca­sions. “Yes, I think I have the record,” she says. “What do you call ‘get­ting three things’. There must be a word for it.” Triple crown? Tri­fecta? Hat-trick, surely. “Yeah, let’s call it that. Ha ha!”

Un­con­ven­tional route

Arnold did not get to this point by the con­ven­tional route. Raised by a sin­gle mum in an outer ring of Dart­ford, she first en­tered the pub­lic eye as a cast mem­ber – op­po­site Sandi Toksvig – on the zany BBC kids show No 73.

She re­mem­bers no am­bi­tions to be­come an ac­tor or a presenter. She liked films, but she wouldn’t de­scribe the young An­drea as any sort of film buff.

“I loved films, but no, I wasn’t a buff,” she says.

So how on earth did she end up on No 73?

“I went for an au­di­tion be­cause I had just left home and I was 18 and didn’t know how to sup­port my­self,” she says. “I had three or four au­di­tions and couldn’t be­lieve it when I got it. It just dropped out of the sky. I was never very com­fort­able in front of the cam­era.”

Arnold pre­sented TV shows through­out the 1980s and early 1990s be­fore throw­ing it all in and lung­ing to­wards film school. She stud­ied di­rect­ing at the Amer­i­can Film In­sti­tute in Los An­ge­les and screen­writ­ing at the PAL Labs in Kent.

Glass­ily se­duc­tive

The Arnold sen­si­bil­ity came to­gether in her stun­ning short film Wasp. Star­ring Natalie Press and (no, re­ally) Danny Dyer, the film fol­lowed a group of chil­dren en­ter­tain­ing them­selves while their mother drinks in a nearby pub. The act­ing is ut­terly en­gaged. There is a hint of men­ace. The images, shot in her trade­mark academy ra­tio, are glass­ily se­duc­tive. Few part­ner­ships in re­cent cin­ema have been quite so fe­cund as that be­tween Arnold and Ir­ish cin­e­matog­ra­pher Rob­bie Ryan, who also shot this year’s Palme d’Or win­ner I, Daniel Blake.

“Oh, I love Rob­bie,” she says. “From the first mo­ment I worked with him, I re­alised we were very much in tune. I re­mem­ber, on Wasp, the first thing I asked him to do was her run­ning down the stairs. I sud­denly re­alised that meant he had to run back­wards down the stairs. He did not flinch. He just did it. And he’s still run­ning down the stairs.”

Wasp went on to win an Academy Award for best live-ac­tion short and Arnold’s sec­ond ca­reer was prop­erly launched.

She seems very much in charge of her pro­duc­tions, but there is also a sense that an im­promptu fam­ily, work­ing in noisy har­mony, is helping the films to­wards com­ple­tion. Es­tab­lished ac­tors such as Michael Fass­ben­der, star of Fish Tank, are treated sim­i­larly to fresh faces such as that film’s hyp­notic lead, Katie Jarvis.

None of Arnold’s dis­cov­er­ies has been quite so im­pres­sive as Sasha Lane, the young Texan who sets the screen aflame in Amer­i­can Honey. The story goes that she was plucked from the street.

“Sasha and I de­cided we’d tell a dif­fer­ent story at each in­ter­view. But we couldn’t keep it up,” Arnold says. “We were at the beach look­ing at girls. Sounds du­bi­ous, doesn’t it? Ha ha! She was mess­ing about with her mates and she just stood out.”

What does Arnold make of the con­tin­u­ing un­der-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women be­hind the cam­era? We’re still ask­ing her this ques­tion af­ter 10 years. We shouldn’t be.

“Well, I’m not hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties,” she says. “I know plenty of women in the in­dus­try. I know writ­ers and pro­duc­ers. I even knowquite a few di­rec­tors of photography. But they’re not get­ting to di­rect. You can be at a fes­ti­val and 80-90 per cent of the films are by men. That’s a shame. Be­cause women have a dif­fer­ent sen­si­bil­ity and it would be nice if that were re­flected.”

It’s hard to ar­gue with that.

Amer­i­can Honey is out now on lim­ited re­lease and is re­viewed on p10

Peo­ple talked about it be­ing long. A lot of cin­ema slots are two hours. But why are we al­ways think­ing films have to be a cer­tain length?

An­drea Arnold “You cut and you lose some­thing that makes sense of the next piece”

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