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Mark Romanek Returns: But Is He Still Relevant?

Remember Mark Romanek? Let’s re-phrase that. Are you familiar with the music videos for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” Michael Jackson’s “Scream” or Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut”? Well, that’s him. He was one of those sought-after music video directors that emerged during the ’90s. Back then his officemates were David Fincher and Spike Jonze. Today, Romanek is all about making features. In 2002, he showed Robin Williams serious side in One Hour Photo, and his sophomore project, Never Let Me Go, based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel of the same name, barreled into theaters earlier this week after successful screenings at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals. We sat down with Romanek just prior to the film’s opening and got his take on a few things.

On the film:
“It’s a love story about three young people that grow up in a boarding school in England in the ’70s, but the film has this kind of slightly strange science fiction tone to it because the world that Ishiguro posited is an alternate history.”

On lowering sci-fi fans’ expectations:
“I feel like if people go in expecting to see a science fiction film they will be very disappointed. There are science fiction ideas in it but the science fiction aspect is more a delivery system for these bigger themes that Ishiguro is exploring.”

On turning Japanese:
“It seemed like the book was a hybridization of a Japanese sensibility and a British sensibility. I read that Ishiguro loved the films of
Japanese cinema of the ’50s and ’60s and that he felt it influenced his writing more than other authors, so I immersed myself in a lot of Japanese cinema. I met with a Professor of Japanese poetry and aesthetics in London and we talked a lot about various concepts of Japanese aesthetics like mono no aware, wabi-sabi, and yūgen.

“The basic idea of wabi-sabi is that things that are worn, frayed, rusted, old, misshapen and imperfect are much more beautiful that things that are perfect and new. It seems obvious but it isn’t always obvious to some people. So I tried to imbue the film with this quality of wabi-sabi because the film is about our mortality and the preciousness of time, I felt that if everything showed the effect of time, it would be right.”

On making the film:
“It was a very joyful experience making the film. I think all of us felt really privileged to be involved with something like this because we loved the book so much and we knew that it had the potential to be something sincerely expressed.”

On Twitter:
“It dwarfs the idea of network television or traditional publishing. It’s kind of a fascinating phenomenon so I wanted to dip my toe in it and see what it was like. Initially I only wanted to communicate through images. I didn’t want to say, oh, I just had a cheese sandwich and my foot hurts. But then I guess as people started to get interested in the film I thought it was a good way to sort of stay in touch, so I’ve started tweeting actual text things and letting people know about the movie.”

On Facebook:
“Facebook I don’t enjoy so much. Facebook feels like a responsibility that you kind of have to keep up with, I have enough of those.”

Reflecting on the music video days:
“Fincher and I had dinner and he was like the Propaganda and Satellite days were sort of like Dogtown and Z-Boys. It was like this thing going on where all these guys and women came together and there was a sense we were in the right place at the right time. We were doing something culturally relevant to a degree.”

Romanek has romanced us. We feel he delivers a moving and beautifully crafted adaptation. It made Ishiguro weep. What do you think? Is Romanek still culturally relevant?

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