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DIRTY OBSESSIONS: NICOLAS WINDING REFN


Nicolas Winding Refn

Alright, here it is fellas: It’s Saturday night, I’m out, with a bunch of friends. I sashay into this new Silverlake-neighborhood-joint that’s supposedly good with all sorts of organic veggies on the menu, and their own farmers market attached.


Our waitress leads us to our table when it hit me. My legs gave in. I wasn’t going anywhere anymore! Right there, not more than ten feet from me, sat NICOLAS WINDING REFN. Yeah. That’s right. That happened!


I was freaking out! I mean, what is one to do?? What do you do?? For the first time in my life I was starstruck. It was incredible. Completely laming. Time stood still.

As my friends tried to figure out what was going on with me and the waiting staff tried to make their way past the traffic jam I created, I was just locked in on this guy. Hours must have passed.


I imagined myself on his set of TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG, currently in post, handing him a coffee and discussing the current shot choice before he heads in to whisper one last note to the actor.


And then it ended. My friends pushed me forward, we took our table but I still couldn’t take my eyes off of the back of his head.


As the waitress offered their homemade sparkling water with organic cucumber in it, I pulled her down to me and I whispered: “I need you to bring to glasses of Champaign immediately to that table over there!” She was so confused. As I was in the middle of explaining, Mr Refn’s hand went up, his waiter promptly appeared, a credit card was handed over and before I knew it, he was out the door. Without hearing about all the great projects we should be doing together next!


All this brings us to right now and you reading this very article. If you made it this far, then you are part of a few people who will know why and how I started this new blog category: DIRTY OBSESSIONS (‘DIRTY’ simply for the effect of the word on the reader. There is nothing dirty about questioning ones sexuality when coming in vicinity with ones idols).


Sorry for the long introduction and welcome to the first DIRTY OBSESSIONS: NICOLAS WINDING REFN.

Ryan Gosling and Nicolas Winding Refn on the set of DRIVE

A QUICK OVERVIEW OF THE PERSON


Mr. Refn’s work spans over ten feature films, commercials, and his latest TV show for Amazon Prime. His first film, PUSHER, was released in 1996 and his greatest commercial success, DRIVE, was released in 2011. Before DRIVE he namely directed VALHALLA RISING, BRONSON, and the PUSHER TRILOGY. Since 2011 he has directed one more feature film, THE NEON DEMON, and the Amazon Prime produced TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG TV Show.


The Danish filmmaker is famously color blind as well as dyslexic. According to him, he didn’t read until he was fourteen years old. He had his first girlfriend at the age of 24, according to him, the year he rose to fame. Today, she is his wife and mother to his two children.


In his mid 20’s, Mr. Refn suffered huge losses through the release of the first PUSHER movie. The film was a financial, and as Mr. Refn claims, a creative disaster. He owed millions to his financiers. The only solution he saw was to make PUSHER II and PUSHER III which were more successful and gave him some breathing room. All this cumulated in a huge consciousness that making films is an industry and financial returns are an important part of the process.


Fast forward 6 years and the filmmaker releases DRIVE in 2011. The film was considered a disaster by the financiers, before it was released. As it came out, it was a huge success in the mainstream world and the film brought Mr. Refn into the Hollywood spotlight. The film also marked his first collaboration with Ryan Gosling to be followed by his next film, ONLY GOD FORGIVES.


ONLY GOD FORGIVES artwork

MY FASCINATION WITH MR. REFN


To me, the more accurate description of Mr. Refn, is to call him an artist. And yes, he expresses himself through film, but watching his work, is about seeing development in a creative person more than anything else. It’s not about liking or disliking him and his creations, but it’s about appreciation and dialogue with the observer.


Nicolas Winding Refn on the set of THE NEON DEMON

Mr. Refn’s art is about conversation with the viewer. It’s about stimulation of the viewer. The questioning of beliefs and thoughts. Setting up and breaking comfort. These core driving forces cumulate in one thing: films for the future.


Mr. Refn makes films for the future in the sense that his films transcend the idea of entertainment and send the viewer themselves on a journey. Film and TV have been geared toward the idea of entertainment but Mr. Refn creates work that surpasses this. By creating a cinema that is immersive for the viewer.


“ART IS AN ACT OF VIOLENCE. IT’S MEANT TO PENETRATE YOU. IN REAL LIFE VIOLENCE IS DESTRUCTIVE BUT IN ART, VIOLENCE CAN INSPIRE. THE ACT, THAT YOU SEE SOMETHING THAT CAN VIOLATE YOU, IS WHAT I’M INTERESTED IN. THIS CREATES A TWO WAY EXPERIENCE.”

Nicolas Winding Refn


Nicolas Winding Refn setting up a shot, THE NEON DEMON

For example in DRIVE, characters are not so much about depth but about place holders. The place holders exist so the viewer can paste themselves into their positions. It goes so far as to not even give Ryan Goslings’ main character a name. He is simply called, The Driver.


The dialogue supports this concept as well: there hardly is any. Especially from Refn’s main characters. If there is not much dialogue the viewer is challenged to fill in the emotion, get invested in what might be going on with the character at that moment. The viewers’ brain automatically fills in the missing information.


An additional tool that Mr. Refn uses extensively is color. He admits himself, to using bold colors so he is able to see them in the first place. But past that, the use of color is suggestive of the mood and situation the characters find themselves in. Often used is the color red. If we look at THE NEON DEMON, the main character played by Elle Fanning is experiencing a key shift in her characters perspective, of herself: it’s a love scene with her own mirror image. She’s captured in deep red light supporting the idea of a beginning passionate love affair with herself. Simple but effective.


Elle Fanning, THE NEON DEMON artwork

Nicolas Winding Refn, to me transcends the title of filmmaker. He’s not trying to entertain you. He’s not trying for you to have a good time. He’s trying to communicate with you. He wants you to get involved. Let the master tell you himself:



As always, thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think about Mr. Refn's work below!


All my best,

Thomas

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