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‘Armageddon Time’ director James Gray on the film’s tragic backstory – The Hollywood Reporter

Armageddon time is James Gray’s eighth feature and by far his most personal – right in the movie, built to exacting specifications based on family photos he provided. for the production design team. Born and raised in Queens to a family of Holocaust survivors (his grandfather changed his last name from Greiszerstein when he came to America), Gray attended USC, where he turned his initial passion for painting into movies – 5 of which have grown up. for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Writer-director, 53, recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter discuss bittersweet memories unlocked in Armageddon time.

Your last movie, Ad Astra, is an austere, meditative film. This is quite different.

Ad Astra is a difficult film on a logistical level and for other reasons and seems to last forever. I wanted to try and rediscover my reasons for loving cinema. [On Armaggedon Time,] I don’t have a fight about cuts or anything like that. I cut the last.

What sacrifices to not have that?

Look, there’s a lot Ad Astra that can still be recognized as mine, but there’s a lot of things that aren’t, and it’s a compromise I’ve made to get the film done to a certain extent – and that’s what that I won’t go through again because that’s just not who I am. to be.

In Armageddon time, a self-reliant character convinces an African-American friend to help him steal an Apple computer. You are freed from scot-free, while he remains in custody. Does it really happen like that?

That is our final plan. But I stole Star Trek blueprints from Bloomingdale’s, and we got caught. Very expensive blueprints from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And it was like $50, in 1979, 1980 was a fortune.

And then he ended up in jail?

It ended up with us in this room in Bloomingdale’s with their security guys and he basically stayed. My father got me out of there. I never saw him again. [Revisiting that moment] is a way of using the past to reflect problems of the present. And on a personal level, the loss of that friendship was painful for me.

Have you ever tried to track him?

Characters in the movie [played by Jaylin Webb] mainly based on one person, with some aspects of another friend interjecting. [The main subject] died in a drug bust in Jamaica, Queens, probably around 1986. And I didn’t find out about that until much later. Probably the year 2000.

Where is the title? Armageddon time from?

It’s from the Clash song “Armagideon Time.” I was heavily involved in Clash in 1981, so it seemed appropriate. Then I remember Ronald Reagan always talking about Armageddon. He always mentioned the end of the world. It’s cultural trauma. That weighed heavily on the kids in 1980. In [Reagan interview] the clip you see in the movie, he’s actually talking about Armageddon due to homosexuality, that’s crazy. He’s talking about Sodom and Gomorrah.

Young James Gray with his grandfather, the inspiration for a character in Armageddon time.

Courtesy of JAMES GRAY’S PERSONAL COLLECTION

The characters are very critical of Reagan in the movie. And Donald Trump’s parents appear as threatening presences at your school. Are you worried that your film might alienate people outside the United States?

I don’t get to the Democrats or the Republicans. In some ways, I made it for Republicans. When you’re fighting pay for pay, it’s easy to say, “What do you mean, white privilege? I don’t feel any damn privilege. “

But you will certainly see how the current media landscape weaponizes culture.

My only answer is that I don’t really care. It’s like saying, “Do you care that Joseph Goebbels has a real problem with your movie?” It’s like, “No, I don’t care.” That’s a great enemy to have. I don’t care that Donald Trump doesn’t like it. That man is a vile, destructive force in the country and in the world. And if he hates it or if his friends hate it, if Ron DeSantis, damned Mr. DeSantis-Education-Destruction DeSantis wants to hate it on my movies, that’s fine with me, too.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter September 28. Click here to subscribe.

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