Christopher Nolan has long been considered the “wild man” of modern filmmaking. Often arriving to work in unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts, cutoffs, and oversized skate shoes, he's become almost as well-known for his on-set pranks as for the scatological, stream-of-consciousness comedy that pervades his films. Said Kenneth Branagh of his process shooting Dunkirk: “the guy's a fucking maniac, mate. We partied more days than we shot. Ordinarily, that would be outrageous, but I think you really feel that warm buzzy vibe in the film, you know?”
So it's surprising, then, to hear reports that Nolan at home does not exhibit the freewheeling, bong-ripping persona that's made him a cultural icon for the world's disaffected youth.
Speaking in a panel at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Nolan explained that he and wife/producer Emma Thomas took their children to see the Paul Thomas Anderson period piece Phantom Thread, which prompted them to nickname him after the film's lead character:
My wife and I made the strange decision to take our kids to go see it and, ever since, every time I do anything vaguely what they would call dictatorial, it’s, “Oh, Mr. Woodcock, are you a spy? Get out your gun. Do you have a gun?” I’ve been hearing that for weeks. And every time Emma cooks mushrooms now, there are huge hysterics.
The notion that Nolan could possibly be seen as “dictatorial” may come as a shock, but what shouldn't surprise anyone is his appreciation of Phantom Thread's craft, especially in the 70mm format he once described as “the kind of shit you just want to unspool and rub all over your nude, oiled body”:
I’ve seen the film a couple of times, and seeing it in 70mm was such a pleasure. The thing I found out about it, as it opened up on its photo-chemical version, is that I was suddenly very aware of how the use of sound in the film is extraordinary. It’s simple and gritty, and then extremely loud, like with the spreading of the butter on the toast. You feel it, up and down your spine. It’s amazing.
The director's comments on the Paul Thomas Anderson film came amongst other lavish praise to and from his Academy Award competitors. It's strong stuff, and the panel is worth watching in its entirety.
Nolan is currently nominated for an Academy Award for directing Dunkirk. He is expected to attend the ceremony flanked by his usual posse of glowstick-draped hype-men, who will announce his presence with air horns and a rousing chorus of “They See Me (Nolan), They Hatin’”.