Christopher Nolan has by now inspired at least a couple generations of young viewers to dream of becoming filmmakers. For my own age cohort, the touchstone work was his breakout picture Memento, with its reverse-ordered story featuring a protagonist unable to create new memories. Others may have felt a greater impact from the reality-bending Inception or the dystopian sci-fi vision of Interstellar (to say nothing of all those Batman movies). But whether at the turn of the millennium or today, with Nolan’s latest feature Oppenheimer riding high at the box office, the best advice for such aspirants is the same: watch as many movies as possible.
‘The problem with Chris,” says Oppenheimer star Cillian Murphy in the video above, “is that he’s seen every film ever made.” “Not every film,” Nolan replies, a hand-waving denial that only bolsters the accusation. This takes place amid the shelves of JM Vidéo, one of the last two video stores still standing in the cinephile capital of Paris.
Nolan and Murphy paid a visit there to shoot an episode of Konbini Video Club, a Youtube series that has also brought on such auteurs as Wes Anderson, David Cronenberg, and Terry Gilliam. JM Vidéo feels like an especially suitable space for Nolan, given his advocacy of physical media. On the definitive Blu-Ray and 4k versions of his films, he explains, “there’s much less compression,” and “we control the color and the picture and the brightness,” whereas streaming is “like broadcasting a film: we don’t have much control over how it goes out.”
Nolan pulls off the shelves There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love, the work of his contemporary Paul Thomas Anderson, as well as classics that shaped his own directorial choices: Citizen Kane, Foreign Correspondent, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove. That last was forbidden viewing during the development of Oppenheimer: “I’m a big fan of Strangelove, but I stopped watching it for a couple of years while we were making the film, because it’s too daunting” — and because its blackly satirical take on how the men in control of the bomb decide the fate of the world couldn’t possibly have been improved upon. “I’m glad you didn’t mention it,” adds Murphy, who may not have seen as many movies as Nolan, but whose range of reference nevertheless demonstrates his own cinephile credentials. “No fighting in the war room.”
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.