This week started on a high for director Jonathan Glazer, after his Cannes Grand Prix-winner The Zone of Interest took Best Film and Best Director at the 44th London Film Critics’ Awards on Sunday. Glazer has been sparing in his appearances since the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, presumably keeping his powder dry for the BAFTAs and the Oscars, where his film is seen as a dark horse in the International Feature Film category (being a rare submission from the UK).
Last week, he broke that silence at great length, in an extensive interview conducted at London’s BFI Southbank by four-time Oscar winner — and 11-time nominee — Alfonso Cuarón.
During the chat, which preceded a last-minute UK preview screening of Zone of Interest on Thursday, Cuarón frequently praised the film, describing it as “probably the most important film in this century, both from the standpoint of his cinematic approach and the complexity of its theme.”
Of particular interest in the sprawling conversation, which lasted 90 minutes and would probably still be going on had the BFI not staged an intervention, was the opening section. It’s well known by now that Glazer, who turns 59 in March, was a big name in music videos (Radiohead, Massive Attack, Blur) and commercials (Guinness, Nike, Stella Artois) before causing a stir with his 2000 debut, the gangster film Sexy Beast. But, guided by Cuarón, Glazer went further back, discussing the roots of his interest in film and revealing a surprising piece of trivia: “I was the first kid in the UK to watch Star Wars.”
“I have a certainty [about this] because my dad designed TV Times, which was a listings magazine, many years ago,” he explained. “He got a ticket to see this new film, Star Wars, and he took me along. I was 12 years old or something. I remembered looking around. It was all adults. I was the only kid there. That was the first and only screening, so I was the first kid in London to see it. The other thing [I remember] is, I hated it. I mean, I know Star Wars fans are militant in their love of it, and I respect that, but I got nothing from it, weirdly. And, as a 12-year-old, you would’ve thought I would.”
Glazer credited his father as being a big influence, growing up. “My dad was a big film fan,” he recalled, “and he had lots of film books. He used to read about directors. He’d read about actors, too, but he always said to me, ‘Directors more interesting than actors.’ He would sit in his armchair, watching movies, and I would sit on the floor next to him watching the movies he was watching. So that’s how I started.”
Quizzed by Cuarón, Glazer acknowledged that these home-school film classes didn’t quite explain how he came to conjure up the kinds of envelope-pushing experimental films he’s known for making. “My dad was quite conventional in his taste,” he said. “[He liked] David Lean, Sidney Lumet, Sidney Pollack, Lindsay Anderson. Absolutely great filmmakers. So I had quite a classical film education through his interest in those films. I didn’t sit there with him and watch Pasolini.”
Glazer’s interest in more experimental fare came later, while living in Nottingham and studying for a degree in theater design. “I started watching world movies then,” he said, “and I started seeing films that were shocking to me. I think, because I’d had this kind of classical education sitting next to my dad, when I saw these other films — films that he wouldn’t have liked or watched — there was something so illicit about them. They felt so dangerous. I just couldn’t believe that people could make films like that, or say things like that in films. I was introduced to a sort of radicalism, and that appealed to me.”