Some filmmakers shoot car chase scenes with visceral shock. Others treats cars like myths, filming them like ballet dancers. I'm trying to work out how in, Baby Driver, director Edgar Wright somehow manages to do both.
You may know Wright from his work on the seminal UK comedy show Spaced. Or perhaps his much-loved comic book adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs the World. Or maybe you're a diehard fan of his Cornetto Trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End.
After this string of instant cult classics, Wright's Baby Driver tells the story of a young getaway driver reluctantly drawn into a criminal world because of his preternatural skills behind the wheel. Like all of his films, it's energetic, imaginative, and insanely funny.
From the film's opening car chase, your foot is grinding into the cinema floor as the film's quiet hero Baby (Ansel Elgort) executes the most insanely thrilling stunts to evade authorities. Every spin, every manoeuvre is all the more gripping because we can see it's real. These are real people driving real cars, and there's no CGI in sight.
You can't direct a chase scene like this if you don't have a genuine love of cars. So that's my first question for Wright:
VICE: Where did your love of cars come from?
Edgar Wright: I guess it probably came from film. Because I liked movies with car chases in them before I'd even driven a car. I didn't start driving until I was 17, and certainly by that point I'd already become enamoured of Bullitt and French Connection and Blues Brothers and The Driver.
Every country's cinema has its own take on car culture. Have you noticed any differences in Australian films, UK films, US films, in how we depict cars and car chases?
I'm an English person, but I would assume because the Australian country is a little more wild that driving and road trips has a little more of a pioneer spirit to it.
A little bit. There's a lot of "try not to hit a kangaroo because that will kill you" to our road trips.
Looking at the James Bond films vs Mad Max, one seems to be about speed, the other about bulking up cars to use as destructive instruments. Not only Mad Max, but also The Cars That Ate Paris.
Also, adapting your car as well, making your car your own, that's something that's key in The Cars That Ate Paris and the Mad Max franchises, these—I don't know how you'd describe them—sort of Pimp My Ride, 35 years early! It's interesting. James Bond is the much more about aspirational cars, he's driving the sleekest sports cars of the day. James Bond is never really driving an everyday car, except for the 2CV chase in For Your Eyes Only. For the most part he's driving top-of-the-range cars. But in Mad Max and The Cars That Ate Paris, it's about muscle cars.
You mentioned recently that you'd be up for making a James Bond film. Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino both said they'd do it but only if they could restart the series fresh. Would you want to reboot it, or would you be happy to jump in on the Daniel Craig iteration? Well, I don't know. The fact of the matter is that the franchise is [producers] Broccoli and Wilson, so it's really their decision on what's happening. I don't think there's any auteur that has the muscle to come in and say, "This is what we're doing, and this is how we're starting again." Those guys have lived with that franchise for 50 years and have a good idea of how it works. I don't know, I'm a fan of that franchise anyway. Obviously some movies are better than others, but there are several I could cite as favourites. Daniel Craig is a good Bond, I think he's one of the best Bonds we've had. So I have nothing against him returning, I would like to see him do one more.
You recently put out a list of your 1,000 favourite movies of all time . It's a great list, and if we had an hour, I'd just talk about that… What were the weirdest ones you found on there that you were surprised by?
I thought there were very few surprises overall. But a few choices jumped out, like The Big Chill, which these days seems to be dismissed by a generation of film critics. I feel like The Big Chill is quite well liked. Maybe because it's dated? People need to be less snobby. When they make their film list, they should choose what they really like and not just make the perfect Sight & Sound list. Usually when you get directors writing top 10 lists, they're thinking: What makes me seem very intelligent?
When I put Ron Howard's Willow on my own list, you'll have to answer for that…
The thing is, I've had to change my list a number of times. I did one for Empire and one for Sight & Sound, and on the Sight & Sound I thought I should put in more acknowledged classics, so I literally did five like that and five like favourites. And I thought: Fuck it, I'm gonna put American Werewolf in London on my Sight & Sound list, and I don't care. It's a very strange thing to ask a filmmaker because it's so subjective. I think you ask a critic, "What is the best movie of all time?" But I think when I write a list, it's always got to be about favourite movies. Do I think Citizen Kane is one of the greatest movies of all time? Yes, I do. Is it one of my favourites? Not really. I think it's amazing, but it's not something I necessarily watch over and over again. I will not deny its brilliance, it just will probably never be on my list of favourite movies.
Your films are so rooted in the genre and movements that inspired you. Given you grew up watching Mad Max films, do you have an Australian film in you?
I also get inspired by locations: Shaun of the Dead is set in the neighbourhood where me and Simon were living at that time in North London. Hot Fuzz is set where I grew up, it's shot in my home town. The World's End is sort of an amalgam of my and Simon's experiences. On the flip side, Scott Pilgrim was in Toronto, and the thing that makes shooting a movie in a different city fun is completely giving yourself over to that city. Use real locations, use everything that makes that city what it is, and make a movie that when people from that city watch it they go, "Wow, this really captures my city."
Baby Driver is no exception. As soon as I knew that we were going to Atlanta—I'd originally written it for Los Angeles—I spent my time doing everything I could to make it feel like a great Atlanta movie, and make as many real locations and road names and restaurant names and local brands. Lots of things in the movie, like the coffee brand and the restaurant they frequent, are real things. I like the idea and the creative challenge of when you go to a city you use that city, so if I came and did something in Australia I would want it to feel very authentic.
Baby Driver is in cinemas now.
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