Julien Temple on Future Projects, More City Films, and Biopics on The Kinks and Marvin Gaye

From the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, Christopher Campbell interviews Julien Temple.

Julien Temple London The Modern Babylon

This two-part interview with Julien Temple was originally published on the Documentary Channel Blog on September 10, 2012, during the Toronto International Film Festival.

Last night I brought you the first part of my interview with Julien Temple, whose latest documentary, London – The Modern Babylon, is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this week. In the previous section of the conversation, we focused on the new feature, which was already released theatrically in the UK last month. Given that Temple is such a prolific filmmaker, the discussion naturally turned to what he’s working on now and what he’d like to be working on in the future.

In addition to other city films, including one about Rio de Janerio titled Children of the Revolution, he has narrative works in the pipeline on Marvin Gaye and The Kinks, the latter of which will join docs he’s made on the Davies brothers. Additionally, Temple talks about working with his family (his daughter is young actress Juno Temple, in case you didn’t know) and the importance of a certain punk band he’s filmed a number of times.

Our continued conversation, in full:

Christopher Campbell: You’re doing a similar documentary about Rio now. Has it been a more difficult project since you’re not from there?

Julien Temple: It is obviously very different. I did make a film about Detroit (Requiem for Detroit?) before doing one about London, so I have experience making a film about a city as an outsider. I got very inspired by doing that. I hope I can get inspired in the same way by Rio. I have spent quite a lot of time filming there over the years, and I love the culture. I love the sense of excitement in that place right now. It’s changing so fast, not all for the good, but there’s an incredible energy being in that culture now.

And there’s a great story to be told through the music. That’s one of the key things for me in the idea of approaching a film about the city is that it has to have a musical soul and a musical culture that has connected it to the rest of the world. So people from all over the world can kind of enter into the story through the music. That’s certainly the case in Detroit, and certainly the case in Rio, too, as well as London.

It goes back to the whole idea of the city symphony genre, treating the space very musically. These films are more like city mixtapes. There are so many different parts to the music of these cities.

It’s always puzzled me why there was that genre, in the ‘20s particularly, but it’s kind of died out. So I guess I’m trying to reignite that.

What is a city you’ve never been to that you’d like to make a documentary about? Maybe one where you like the music but just haven’t been?

Ooh. Wow. You got me on the spot, there. Where would I really like to go? Maybe South Africa. I know nothing about South Africa, but I do love the music. Also, there is a story to tell about a city like Capetown, for example, or Johannesburg. That just sprang to mind. In a way, I don’t know. Where are the great music centers that I haven’t been? I tend to seek them out because I’m drawn to cities that make great music.

So what’s one you have been to, then?

I’d love to do a film about San Francisco, for example. I’m talking about doing one about New York, as well, possibly. Glasgow would be good.

The idea for South Africa makes me think about the recent documentaries Searching for Sugar Man, which deals with a Detroiter whose music is suddenly popular in South Africa, and also the Paul Simon Graceland film, Under African Skies. And it’s weird because each is about an outsider.

I haven’t seen Searching for Sugar Man, but it’s a great story.

I should mention I was trying very hard to make a film about Tijuana, and I still would like to revisit that. It’s an extraordinary place at this moment in time. It’s half-American and half-Mexican, and it’s in incredible creative upheaval. And there’s great music coming from Tijuana. There’s this collective of musicians called Nortec. It’s electronic music with a strange hybrid soul, half-American, half-Mexican. I like borders. That kind of border city is always interesting.

Can you talk about the way you work with your family? You’ve long collaborated with your wife, but now with this documentary you’ve got your daughter doing some voiceover work, and your son is an editor on the film. It seems like a big family project in a way.

I like to think of them as slightly hand-stitched, these films. Like a Savile Row suit. They’re very finely stitched. And they’re slightly kind of outside. I like that about these documentaries. You’re very free to work in the way and rhythm that suits you. The freedom you have with doing something with no script and no plan. often, it makes more hard work in the edit room, but it is a great freedom. And I think the more you can work with people who are on that same ride with you the better it comes. Not just family but friends I work with. My editor, I’ve worked with a lot recently.

What I dislike about fiction films of that sort of marshal [structure] – in the sense that you’re an army with some kind of top-down general – that can get a bit oppressive. And certainly making films like this you avoid that hierarchical organization.

Are documentaries your big focus these days, then, or are you working on any narrative films? I know you were working on a Marvin Gaye biopic.

Well, I hope it’s not a “biopic.” I think it’s about a moment in his life more than a biopic. Hopefully, it does show windows into Marvin Gaye’s whole journey, but it’s not a kind of A to Z biopic. I’ve also got a drama about the two brothers in The Kinks, the Davies.

I knew you were making a Kinks documentary…

I’d done a documentary about Ray, and because of that I had to do one about Dave or he would cut my balls off. So I’ve done one on each, and now I’m doing one of them together.

I kinda like doing more than one film about the same subject, actually. I’ve just done another film about Glastonbury, that festival we have in England, as well. Called Glastopia. There’s something interesting about revisiting the subject with a different take. There are many, many ways to make a film about even a band like The Sex Pistols, let alone a city.

Yeah. I was thinking about how you make The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle with them early on and then later made The Filth and the Fury.

I’ve got an ongoing relationship with them because really working with them is where I started getting some creative momentum. They mean a lot to me, that band.

This is re-printed with the permission of Participant Channel, Inc. © Participant Channel, Inc. 2014.

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.