NEW YORK — For the first woman ever to be awarded the Best Director Oscar, and who most recently has set out to make a film about the biggest triumph in the war against terror, the killing of Osama bin Laden, Kathryn Bigelow certainly is humble.
DARK EDGE Bigelow was happy to talk about her early films, but she cut off any discussion of her bin Laden project with military precision.
Appearing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last Wednesday (under the threat of tornado, no less) for the opening night of a mid-career retrospective ("Crafting Genre: Kathryn Bigelow," continuing through August 13), the statuesque filmmaker approached the podium before a screening of her two earliest films, 1978's TheSet-Up (a short she completed while a master's student at Columbia University) and 1982's The Loveless (a feature co-written and co-directed by Bigelow with Monty Montgomery).
"I'm honored to be here in this extraordinary museum," she said, complimenting the space that has dedicated both of its theaters, along with two floors filled with storyboards, script pages, production art, props, film posters, and paintings produced by Bigelow (who began her career as a visual artist) to celebrate her achievements. "I'm not sure it's deserved," she continued, "but I'm enjoying it!"
She said much the same thing when she appeared less than two years ago at the Harvard Film Archive, who were ahead of the curve when they mounted their own Bigelow retrospective, "Filmmaking at the Dark Edge of Exhilaration." She was deserving of the praise back then, too, her Ivy League honor falling on the eve of the release of The Hurt Locker, which would win her not only the directing prize, but the Best Picture honor and a handful of others as well.
Leaving Iraq behind for Afghanistan for her next project, Bigelow has taken on the hunt for bin Laden, something she's been developing with Mark Boal (Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Hurt Locker) since 2008. Has the script undergone any changes since, well, the real-world script changed with the killing of the elusive Al Qaeda leader?
"I can't talk about future projects," commented Bigelow, cutting off any further questions on this topic with near-military precision.
She was more than happy to speak about her past films, though, and despite her recent trend toward covering the military (beginning with the Russian submarine crew in 2002's K-19: The Widowmaker), most of the discussion was centered around TheLoveless, a '50s-set meditation on machismo in the guise of a biker movie.
"This was my first feature, and Willem Dafoe's first feature, and I often say, it's kind of like the blind leading the blind," she mused. "Hopefully, it's a little better than that."
While earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the San Francisco Art Institute, Bigelow also attended the independent study program at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
"Coming into New York in the early '70s," she recalled, she was completely immersed in conceptual art, "which was very non-narrative, very sort of ideologically based. So, transitioning into feature filmmaking, making that transition from non-narrative to narrative" with The Loveless, "you'll see kind of the gears trying to turn, and yet trying to stretch that narrative as far as we possibly can, so it's almost nonexistent. So you'll see it — hopefully, you'll see it as a transitional phase, and be a little bit forgiving."