issue 7, vol 100 -- October 19, 1998 this issue | past issues | contact | search


       Cyberpunk on screen - William Gibson speaks

ben lincoln

Last week, I had the privilege of being part of a roundtable interview with William Gibson, famed science fiction author of Neuromancer and Idoru. Gibson's short story "New Rose Hotel" was the basis for a haunting film of the same name at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, and Gibson discussed this, the past film Johnny Mnemonic based on his work, and other issues in his affable, proffesor-esque manner.

Peak: How involved were you with the production of New Rose Hotel?

Gibson: "My actual involvementŠ was not too much. I had a couple of long conversations with Christ Zois, the screenwriter, before he started writing, and I talked with the director [Abel Ferrara] extensively when he was cutting it.

It's very complex structurally, in terms of how the narrative is presented, andŠ the original story is just a nightmare in terms of cinematic presentation, because it takes place completely in flashback in the head of a character who's stuck in a tiny little box somewhere in TokyoŠ It's the end of all the events and it's the end of his life.

I can't imagine a better solution [with the direction], but it was a tough thing. It actually feels to me as though I've been very involved in it, becauseŠ ten years ago I wrote about five drafts of a "New Rose Hotel" screenplayŠ and I could never get it going. That flashback thing stopped me, my emotional investment in the material stopped me, and soŠ for me it feels like the end of a very long process, althoughŠ I can't take any aesthetic credit, or responsibility, for the finished product."

Peak: How close would you say it is to the original short story?

Gibson: It's amazingly close to the original short story. I can't think of too many films that are as true to the material, and consequently it's a very dark and somewhat claustrophobic experience.

Peak: How would you describe the cinematography?

Gibson: Well, it's very beautiful. Abel is that rare thing -a full-on auteur. He does exactly what he wants to, and seems to work over and over again with the same peopleŠ It's kind of an odd comparison, but he's kind of like Woody Allen. He's like a New York guy who's got his own people, and he tends to work with the same actors, and he has his own editors and his own camera-people, and he gets what he wants. It's a very sterile world, the world of this movie, because there are these human beings trapped in a world that consists of nothing but hotel suites, night clubs, and boardrooms, and there's no exterior worldŠ These guys never get to the streetŠ in the end they just go there to die. They're like specialized organisms who live in hotel suites. I think there's one scene in a department store, in a mall, that's kind of like the wilderness for these guys.

Peak: The two main characters from "New Rose Hotel" seem very similar to those from Count Zero; both are involved in forefully extracting researchers from one corporation and taking them to another. Do do you just like to write about that sort of person?

Gibson: "It doesn't have that kind of internal coherence for me. It's not, as some board game publishers once said to me, "It's not game-able." These guys were talking to me about making board games out of some of my books, and they were asking me questions about, like "how does the banking system work?" And I said "I don't knowŠ I'm making this shit up!" And they looked at me, and their eyes got really wide and they said "you mean it's not game-able?"

The real relationship is that the whole culture of corporate extraction in Count Zero [The sequel to Neuromancer] is just borrowed from the culture of corporate extraction in "New Rose Hotel." That was where that came from, so in Count Zero I develop it more, and you get to know more of the background, and these guys have agents, in the sense that Hollywood actors have agents who enlist their services. I just sort of build on it.

Peak: How do you feel about the the role-playing game systems out there that are obviously based on your work?

Gibson: To the extent that there was a Cyberpunk movement-and there wasn't, really, but to the extent that there was, the five or six people who I knew in 1981 who were doing this stuff and had a Š radical aesthetic agenda, at least in terms of that pop-art form of science fiction, [and] one of the things that we were really conscious of was appropriation. Appropriation as a post-modern aesthetic and entrepreneurial strategy. So we were doing it too. We wereŠ happily and gloriously lifting all sorts of flavours and colours from all over popular cultureŠ and putting it together to our own ends. So when I see things like ShadowRun, the only negative thing I feel about it is that initial extreme revulsion at seeing my literary DNA mixed with elves. Somewhere somebody's sitting and saying 'I've got it! We're gonna do William Gibson and Tolkien!' Over my dead body!Š But I don't have to bear any aesthetic responsibility for it. I've never earned a nickel, but I wouldn't sue them. It's a fair cop. I'm sure there are people who could sue me, if they were so inclined, for messing with their stuff. So it's just kind of amusing.

There's kind of a whole shelf of really low-budget sci-fi movies thatŠ I look at them and think "Yeah-I know what they've been reading." And I kinda like that. It's kinda cool. Each one always has one really great moment. That was really kind of what I wanted Johnny Mnemonic [the film] to be. I wanted it to be like all of the really great moments in all of the really bad science fiction movies that I've watched over the years. A dangerous strategy.

Peak: So, what actually hapenned with Johnny Mnemonic?

Gibson: Basically what happened was it was taken away and re-cut by the American distributor in the last month of its prerelease life, and it went from being a very funny, very alternative piece of work to being something that had been very unsuccessfully chopped and cut into something more mainstream.

Peak: Do you have any other new films or books coming out in the near future?

Gibson: I'm writing a novel that sort of wraps up the sequence-I hope it wraps it up-that began with Virtual Light, and more recently with Idoru. It's called All Tomorrow's Parties. I hate to call it a trilogy, because everything in commercial science fiction is a trilogyŠ when this is done, I'll be guilty of having done three of them, and people do call them trilogies, so I should quit complaining.

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