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Director James Mangold On Finding Inspiration

Catch Girl, Interrupted on Sunday, May 13 @ 5:30P | 4:30C, and stay tuned for the enhanced version at 8P | 7C!

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Director James Mangold likes to look for inspiration from classic movies when writing screenplays. “Writing and making a movie is an act of searching for answers – at least for me. Very often you can draw upon great fables for answers about how to solve problems, and they can offer you guidance.”

“When I sat down and started writing Girl, Interrupted, certain things started to click into place,” Mangold continued. “I started looking for models, films that could help me, plays, stories – but not necessarily of this genre.”

“I always think of template films,” Mangold said. “When I made Heavy, I was thinking of silent films and making a kind of wordless romance. In Cop Land, I was thinking about Westerns – I watched 3:10 To Yuma two dozen times. With Girl, Interrupted it was several films, including George Roy Hill’s Slaughterhouse-Five – I’m a huge George Roy Hill fan. His films are very underrated.”

Read more about the Slaughterhouse Five connection after the jump. 

Mangold explained, “In Slaughterhouse-Five, ‘Billy Pilgrim,’ who’s the
hero, is living both on a planet far away in a bubble…and in the
middle of a very intense battle in Dresden in World War II, and also on
Long Island with his family, and he keeps snapping back and forth
between these different pieces of his life. One thing I noticed about
that film is that clearly ‘Billy Pilgrim,’ by any normal standards,
would be insane… but we don’t think he’s crazy. We think he’s our hero
and he’s got a problem. Time has come unglued for him.”

“And I thought that could really work for Susanna’s character, because
the last thing I wanted was the audience to push her away,” said
Mangold. “What clued me into this whole idea is something Susanna
Kaysen describes in her book about how when she was in the throes of
whatever kind of fog it was that landed on her in adolescence, time had
become fluid. It seemed to move backward and forward and what goes up
did not necessarily come down… And since movies are all about time and
the chronology of things, it seemed that a really cinematic way to try
and relay some of that disorientation was by kind of putting time in a
Cuisinart and letting it get a little mixed up for Susanna.”

James Mangold avoided some of the more obvious role models for Girl,
Interrupted. “It’s too easy to call this a Cuckoo’s Nest with women,”
Mangold believed. “In many ways, this story is so different. The
atmosphere is so different. It just happens to be a period piece and it
happens to involve mental health in a mental institution, but every
Western isn’t High Noon and every cop movie isn’t Prince of the City. I
think you can make a movie about a mental hospital and make it about
completely different things.”

Instead, James Mangold saw similarities
between Kaysen’s story and what ‘Dorothy’ encounters in her “parallel
universe” in The Wizard of Oz. “Susanna and ‘Dorothy’ are both
depressed and disaffected adolescent girls yearning for someplace
better, not understanding what is going on, hurtled into this
circumscribed universe where they meet the best friends of their lives,
each of whom is also missing pieces of themselves, is unsatisfied with
what they are. They go on many adventures together – the adventures add
up to nothing on a plot level, but the greater sum of these parts is,
they all grow up. In the course of these adventures, they become more
whole as people. In the end, ‘Dorothy’ finds out there is no secret –
she could have clicked her heels and gone home anytime. And in our
film, the journey is the secret, as well.”

Girl, Interrupted producer
Cathy Konrad applauded this script direction. “Jim’s brilliant
conceptual notion about The Wizard of Oz really threw us into a good
mode of how to navigate the screenplay. It was how we could identify
Susanna as a girl trying to find her way back home, her way back into
life. It was the idea that along the road to discovering who you are,
you often find yourself surrounded by others who are missing pieces of
themselves as well… So they all go down the yellow brick road together.
Some make a wrong turn down a dead-end street like Lisa, some run out
of gas like Daisy, and some just end up lost without a map like
Susanna.”

Sources:

Mitchell Sacharoff, “James Mangold’s Girl, Crazy,” Venice, Jan./Feb.
2000

Girl Interrupted DVD: Director Commentary

Girl Interrupted Production Information, Columbia Pictures Press Release

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