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GdT: I feel it’s a strange synthesis and reformulation, because it’s the first vitalist movie that I’ve made. All the other movies have a sense of loss and melancholy, with the exception of the big ones like ‘Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy,” y’know? But this is the first of the smaller, more personal, stranger movies that I’m talking about leaving the theater not with a sense of crushing beauty, but with hopeful beauty. By the way, the other part of that answer is that it requires 25 years as a filmmaker to pull this off. The ever-shifting genres in the movie, the tonal difficulty of a piece like this, there are 50 reasons why it shouldn’t work. I’m pretty sure that if you get 49 right, it still doesn’t work, you need to get all 50. It’s a triple somersault with a very difficult landing.
Q: The genesis was your affection for the 1954 monster movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” right?, GdT: Since age six, yeah, You know, everybody has a moment in their life, they see a movie or an image, at which they understand adult love, It’s a mystery when you’re a kid, but you understand it in an instinctive way, pointe shoe wings For me, that moment was when Julie Adams and the Creature are swimming in the river, I thought it was an extraordinarily beautiful image, It made me really ache for them to end together, and they didn’t end together..
I don’t think “Shape of Water” is that idea anymore. Obviously, I’m not trying to riff on that particular Creature. But the DNA of it is there. What I tried to do is a movie about the otherness, and embracing it rather than fearing it. It seems to be the moment to talk about that. The subtitle of the screenplay from the beginning was “A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times.”. Q: Yet it’s very deliberately set in 1962. GdT: Because ’62 was the last year of the American fairy tale, when it was finally about to converge and it didn’t. It was post-World War II affluence, cars for every suburban home, TV, self-cleaning ovens, obsession with the future, we’re going into space, the Cold War and Kennedy’s in the White House. Shortly thereafter, Kennedy’s shot, Vietnam escalates and skepticism settles. Nevertheless, that negative space that is left in the American imagination is when you can say “Once upon a time in a kingdom, a princess reigned.”.
What happens with that is, it allows you to relate to the issues today because they were alive then, That perfect time was not so, it was a perfect time if you were the right race, the right credo, the right position economically, So it dismantles a little of that and makes you think about today in a parable, fable-like way, It disarms your everyday arguments about today’s politics and allows you talk about pointe shoe wings the subjects, Q: Yet your heroine, Sally Hawkins’ Elisa, can’t speak, nor can the amphibian man she falls in love with, Obviously another deliberate choice on your part..
GdT: I thought it was really important on many levels. The first one, the two characters that don’t speak communicate far better than all the other characters that do. Octavia and her husband, they both speak, they don’t communicate. Giles and the Pie Guy, they talk but they don’t communicate, they mix their signals. Shannon and his wife; they talk, but he wants to dominate and silence her. And the Russian spies have everything upside down except the scientist’s principles.
But these two characters that don’t talk understand each other perfectly, She says, “When he sees me, he never sees I’m incomplete, He sees me as I am and for who I am.” And that is the essence of love, Love renders you speechless, Q: Sally learned American Sign Language for the role and seems to express herself – well, Elisa – perfectly well with that, body language and looks, And Elisa may not be able to talk, but we find out she can sing, GdT: The beauty of it is, the silence makes her emotions more urgent, When she’s doing the monologue, her eyes are already burning with her need to communicate, Then the only way she can communicate her love is by singing, and there’s that beautiful moment when she is so desperate to say what she feels that she sings, Then that falls into the dance sequence, which is organically presented as part of her character since Scene Number One, She lives above a theater, she is watching musicals all the time – but even this is not in a meta pointe shoe wings way, She’s not watching the great movies, she’s not watching ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ or ‘Citizen Kane.’ I think the movie is as in love with cinema as it is with love, but not necessarily just great cinema..
Q: Are there any tricks to directing a speaking actress in a mute role?. Gdt: What I talked to Sally about very early on was, I said, “You should be second nature with the language so that you can do inflections. You have to be able to sell it with the sign language; emphasis or lack of emphasis, you have to be able to get it all across.” And in her eyes, I needed to have the way the character was feeling. So you have multiple signals in one. So those were not challenges, those were opportunities, and then the rest of her acting was profoundly cinematic. When I met her, I gave Sally a Blu-ray set of Stan Laurel, Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Chaplin. Stan Laurel has a way of doing nothing and everything, and I said, “You’ve got to move like that.”.
Q: From that to the period recreation to the weird science to Doug Jones’ fish man suit to those unique underwater love scenes and throwing in that dance number and all the other of the 50 things (and, I think, more), does anything stand out as the hardest aspect to get right?, GdT: I tell you – I’m going to sound like a press kit – but nothing was easy, Especially when you consider the movie looks $70 million and it was done for $19.5, Not only that, may I tell you, with great pride, as of today, we’re pointe shoe wings closing, doing the DVD and Blu-ray transfer, and we’re over $100,000 under budget..