Alfonso Cuarón remembers lessons learned on 1998's 'Great Expectations'

Posted by · 8:17 am · September 18th, 2013

Another day, another nibble from an interview with Alfonso Cuarón leading up to a larger piece dealing specifically with his work on the space spectacle “Gravity.” Yesterday it was a quick take on his buddy Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pacific Rim.” Today, given the scale and high level of difficulty of a film like “Gravity,” I found myself curious about the lessons Cuarón learned on 1998’s “Great Expectations” and how they might have shaped the filmmaker he’s become.

The modern-day adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel was a very troubled production for the director, one he has called a “bitter lesson” in the past. Script issues in particular wreaked havoc as the film clumsily took shape, producer Art Linson bringing on an uncredited David Mamet to write voiceover to counterbalance Cuarón’s hyper-stylized take on the material. But regardless of it all, I’ve always found the film to be a touching vision of my favorite book. And Cuarón, for all his disenchantment with the experience, doesn’t want to take that away from anyone.

“I’m the worst judge of my films,” he says. “I don’t want to trash anything. What I’m certain of is that Chivo’s cinematography is stunning, but maybe it was a bit over the top the way we were doing stuff, you know? We were a bit too precious, lighting too much, maybe, over-stylizing some things. But also it has these amazing paintings by Francesco Clemente. I mean, that’s worth the ticket.”

Cuarón says he has never learned so much from an experience in his entire life. “Probably everything is projected in the material, but I guess that I entered filmmaking with the innocent naiveté of Pip,” he says of the story’s protagonist (who became “Finn” in the film). “When I did ‘Great Expectations,’ I was a Pip who got arrogant and corrupted by a fake idea of success. And I came out the other side with the maturity to move on, hoping that I would move on from my mistakes. In other words, one of the things that I’m grateful of with ‘Great Expectations’ is that I learned what never to do again. It was not a happy experience.”

When Cuarón finishes a film, he says he watches it with an audience once and then he never watches it again. “For me, the aftertaste, a lot of it is the experience of making the film and my impressions,” he says. “So let me put it this way: ‘Great Expectations’ is probably not my favorite.”

It was all part of a collective build to the filmmaker he is today, however. So if it took the lessons learned on “Great Expectations” to yield the discipline that gives us “Gravity,” then it’s all for the better. And, again, I’m a big fan of what he accomplished on “Great Expectations,” however harrowing the experience must have been for the artist.

“Gravity” opens nationwide in 3D and in IMAX on Oct. 4.

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