James Gray: Cinema In ‘Utterly Perilous State’

James Gray Cinema In Utterly Perilous State

The Venice Film Festival has kicked off and one of the highlights of the upcoming slate is “The Lost City of Z” and “We Own the Night” director James Gray’s new big-budget sci-fi epic “Ad Astra,” a Brad Pitt-led film which seems to straddle the line between broad commercial appeal and arthouse cred.

Gray spoke with Deadline this week ahead of the film’s premiere where the discussion at one point turned toward the future of cinema and what scares him most. His answer is that he’s decidedly worried about studios becoming less risky with their product not just in terms of creativity but in terms of marketing and releasing films that fall outside familiar IPs:

“Well, I’m alarmed about what I see. Because for me, the cinema – at least the mainstream commercial cinema – is in an utterly perilous state. It’s very frightening.”

He goes on to say if you talk to somebody who writes about movies eloquently and touching upon the works of Lav Diaz or Elia Suleiman, it’s a ‘somewhat unfair’ thing to talk about

“If I’m living in Tucson, Arizona, there’s no chance I can see a movie directed by Elia Suleiman. I mean, maybe I can go five years after it comes out to some museum, you know, in Phoenix, or something, but that’s not really an option…So, you read, sometimes, very eloquent people saying, with great authority, that cinema’s not dead, that it’s as alive as ever, because you have all these new voices, and all of that is true. That’s not to deny though, the fact that most people can’t get that.”

He’s also worried about how the current generation of directors, amongst which he includes himself, are looking at it as a business and in the process “lose what I’m talking about, what Spielberg had”:

“That thing you’re talking about, where it’s just a business decision, versus a movie that’s successful, but that also endeavors to be a work of art, that’s really what we’re talking about. There’s a big difference. I think the audience needs something where there’s an attempt. Whether [‘Ad Astra’] is successful or not is for you to decide, artistically, I mean. But, certainly, something that delivers thrills in an interesting way, and we were certainly making it our business to do that. You know, zero-gravity fights, and climbing up rockets, and flying through the rings of a planet. All that’s there, and that’s great. But it’s just not immediate IP, you know? And that’s a huge risk now. That’s unfortunate.”

The comments come as a new festival trailer for the film has gone up and can be seen below. Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, and Donald Sutherland also star in “Ad Astra” which is set to arrive in cinemas on September 20th.