The Director's Chair Interviews

An Interview with Director & Co-Producer John Hughes

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Australian director and co-producer, John Hughes, pads gently across the hotel room of the Marriott Hotel and extends his hand in welcome. His gait suggests a sense of ambiguity, much like the characters in his big-screen cinematic debut What I Have Written. There is a sense of uncomfortableness and caution that rests on his shoulders as he sits back in his chair and appraises the situation.

It is the eve of the release of both Hughes and writer John A. Scott's film What I Have Written that beautifully encompasses and transcends an ecliptic sprawl of human emotion, uncertainty, error and betrayal with all of the lush, poetic prowess of Leonardo Da Vinci pouring paint onto his opulent canvases. One moment the celluloid canvas vibrates like a piece of erotic, classical music, the next it plummets into a chasm of human emotions, torment and the inaudible scream of people in pain.

Sexual imagery and infidelity are woven tightly between the many complexities that present themselves in Hughes' narrative feature while allowing both himself and the characters an air of mystique. Hughes, who confesses, early on that he himself is not fond of intense scrutiny, and that the glare of the spotlight leaves him either traumatised, tortured or just plain stressed articulates with the resonance of a mathematician who enjoys solving the most complex puzzles of all.

"There is a sense of concealment about this film," he begins. "The characters are all quite ambiguous and it's hard to know who they really are. We never quite know who any of them might be and thematically a key thing for me is the way the work takes on some of the confronting questions of male sexuality and the way it explores differences in a male and female's gaze; differences in modes of reception or ways of reading.

"And I think the reaction has been very positive to this. It's actually been a broader, positive response in some ways that I anticipated," he confesses. "I guess because it's quite an odd film."

With a background in production, writing, documentary for cinema, television and gallery exhibition, Hughes has captured many people's imaginations with works that have crossed boundaries of television, cinema and art gallery exhibitions. Film such as Traps (1985), his All That Is Solid (1988), One Way Street (1992)and now with What I Have Written.

But what Hughes is quietly proud of today is the fact that he has managed to reconcile many different artforms and professional expressions in one film. He nods, "Well, there is a dialogue between them. I suppose in other ways they are simply different functions of a tradition of independent filmwork, which is by it's nature a low budget practice in which one is usually required to engage in disciplines that becomes more complex.

"People sometimes tend to concentrate their expertise on one or another of those areas. But in this case we worked with co-producer Peter Sainsbury and of course, John A. Scott (a highly-acclaimed award-winning writer of poetry and prose) has written both the film and the book, and those kinds of collaborations have always been present, more or less with these kinds of projects," he concludes.

Ask Hughes what part of the film-making process he derives most pleasure from and he visibly relaxes onto a subject that fascinates him. "It's a very privileged job," he replies, "because you've got the opportunity to study something over a long period of time. In some ways a really exciting moment is when a project is first formulated, because it's open territory. It's like a design, designing a number of elements that you hope you're going to be able to implement, and from that point on it's about solving problems that one sets oneself.

"It's the most fascinating thing about discovering What I Have Written and being aware of the project's degree of difficulty both artistically and also from a production point of view."

There is a sigh of relief as John Hughes steps back into the shadows, much more comfortable behind the lens of the camera of life. It suddenly strikes me that Hughes, like the characters of his film, values above all his own concealment and ambiguity. Perhaps this will ensure that What I Have Written is but a precursor for all that is to follow.

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