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Nicolas Winding Refn: our times need sex, horror and melodrama

Bad-taste cult movies can save us from the dystopian nightmare of Trumps America, says the Drive director

This is a frightening time to be alive. For the past six months, Ive been shooting in America, and it seems increasingly clear were now living in a dystopian reality TV show. America has always had a tendency towards the operatic but, fuelled by the hand grenade of insanity that is Donald Trump, its reached new heights of hysteria. This means even the smallest developments are heralded as either the end of the world or the second coming.

Its terrifying. It is also thrilling. We are appalled by what we witness unfolding each day essentially, the destruction of the American way of life by its own administration but were also inescapably gripped by it. This is a very exciting time in our history.

Certainly, we have to embrace such an apocalyptic time, because the alternative is hand-wringing inertia, and thats perfect for those in power. Whenever theres any kind of enormous global shakeup, theres bound to be paranoia and insanity, but out of earthquakes come opportunities. Even Trumps fierce arrogance and distaste for his fellow man is good. Its revealed how many people and politicians share such a view, and our exposure to such hypocrisy is healthy.

We need to be pushed out of our comfort zones of complacency, and, for most of us in the west, an easeful life. Im not advocating physical pain, but I do believe mental pain can be a way to stimulate and reset the brain.


Whats needed is art: good, challenging art, not good-taste art, which is the chief enemy of creativity. Problem is, most of our culture comes to us via a small number of conglomerates whose sole purpose is the bottom line. Our entertainment industry is trivial and banal: glitz, glamour and an illusion of perfection and enjoyment thats very far from the truth. Cinema has become like Chinese food: it gives you cheap, instant pleasure, like an orgasm, but its not very healthy or interesting.

The future must be different. I want it to be an uncontrolled place of beautiful chaos, where everyone can create their own universe and is free to speak their own mind, without being overseen by big business. A place of free speech and free access.

Over recent years, Ive bought and had restored scores of old movies as a hobby. I wondered what to do with them. Then I realised I should share them for free, so I set up a website where they could be streamed. Theres no catch; youre not being sold anything. Take it or leave it.

Why these particularly movies? I knew director Curtis Harrington, who passed away in 2007, so Night Tide was a very personal choice for me. Curtis had been so disappointed with his career, and yet he had made what I consider to be one of the most important films of the pre-counterculture movement. And the film was rapidly disintegrating because of the condition of the negative. I had to rescue it. It reminds me of a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale: its almost naively adolescent in its expression of falling in love, being obsessed with something delicate and fragile.

Bert Williams The Nest of the Cuckoo Birds proves a movie can be the impossible, lonely burden of just one person. Berts name appears in the credits more than even mine is in my films and I admire such obsession and megalomania. Maybe, like Bert, you only need to make one movie in your life. Bert an artist who created the outrageous poster for the film decided to paint on film instead of a canvas. Cuckoo Birds is a strange, singular example of an unidentifiable genre, because its a bit of everything: horror, sex, melodrama.

Ron Ormonds The Burning Hell. Photograph: PR

Ron Ormonds The Burning Hell is a fantastic marriage of extreme propaganda and lowest-common-denominator pandering. Its so aggressive in selling you the Bible, its practically an attack on your senses. Yes, its laughable, maybe even terrible, but this only serves to make it more unique. Its almost an installation art piece. And some might consider the star of the show, Reverend Estus Pirkle, to be a bit of a Trump precursor.

Dale Berrys Hot Thrills and Warm Chills is a prime example for the argument that art doesnt have to contain a single drop of good taste. My fetish for Berry is so great that I not only bought all of his films, I bought all of his clothes a collection of Nudie western suits. Low-budget regional cinema fascinates me. These were movies made by people who had no ideas of what a film was supposed to be, and feel more as if they were made for the people at the bar on the corner or the cafeteria down the street than for Americans at large.

I hope my site will inspire people to see the world a different way. Setting it up has helped me reconcile myself to a different concept of culture than the traditional, romantic one I was raised with. People of my generation Im 47 want tangible tokens of mortality to cling to. But nostalgia is artistic suicide. You have to accept the fact that everything disintegrates in your hands.

Donald Trump was elected on the promise hed make America great again. Older voters rushed at the chance to return to a comforting fairytale. But they are not the same people who will inherit the US and have to heal its divisions. And the past was rarely this scary.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jul/04/nicolas-winding-refn-apocalyptic-times-cult-movies-can-save-us-bynwr

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