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Julien Temple - 'Glastonbury' film maker

05 April 2006

Four years in the making, more stressful than filming the Sex Pistols, and one near nervous breakdown later, director Julien Temple emerges from the shadows of his most ambitious project to date, the film 'Glastonbury'...

The Gibson Guitar Showrooms in central London isn't the most obvious setting for interviewing an esteemed film-maker, but then Julien Temple's career has always been about riding the subversive crests of popular music. Having shot two documentaries about the Sex Pistols ('The Great Rock N Roll Swindle' and 'The Filth And The Fury') and filmed music videos for the likes of Blur, David Bowie and Scissor Sisters, Temple now presents his biggest project to date, the long awaited film 'Glastonbury'.

Released on 14 April, the film charts the history of Glastonbury Festival from its inaugral outing in 1971 up until the present day and features performances from the likes of The Velvet Underground, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Primal Scream, Alabama 3, Billy Bragg, Cypress Hill, The Scissor Sisters, and Radiohead interspersed between on-the-ground footage of every corner of the festival, from the Green Fields to the Left Field Tent. The project relied on amateur film footage as well as what his crew shot at the four festivals between 2002 and 2005.

A pretty fun job you may think, but it hasn't been all fun and games. It's maker had to sit through a years worth of footage before deciding what to do with it - and it nearly killed him. The scars may have long healed but today Temple still looks knackered. He's been up all night filming for his next project (a documentary detailing the life of his late friend Joe Strummer) and is now having to endure back-to-back interviews to promote 'Glastonbury'. Shunning a zillionth cup of coffee from his doting PR, the legendary film director sets himself up for yet another interview and begins to tell VF about his most challenging and wrought work to date. The enthusiasm and passion he exudes throughout, in spite of the obvious lack of sleep, goes a long way in explaining why it is also by far his most important...


Virtual Festivals: What was your driving motivation for making a film about Glastonbury?
Julien Temple: I was asked to do it, it wasnít something I was dreaming of for years. I went to the festival in 1971 after running away from school to see it and got into lots of trouble, so I always had that connection with the place without it ever really affecting the way I saw things. And I never went back until 1997 when I went with Joe Strummer. I didn't think about making a film at the time as I was enjoying it too much and the funny thing is that when you go back in with a camera you donít really enjoy it. Everyone thinks Ďgod thereís some c*nt with a camera walking around like an idiot filming everyoneí.

VF: So what was the reason for doing it?
JT: The festival asked me to do it because in 2002 Michael was forced to put the fence up and didnít know if the festival would survive being cooped up in this huge metal ring, so he wanted it to be documented in case it was the last one. We went in with ten crews and caught a lot of stuff from all areas of the festival. So we had all that footage but then I thought that because weíd put in all this effort, why not make a fuller film, not just of 2002, but of Glastonbury's entire history. I wanted to make something that gave a sense of the journey throughout the last 35 years, showing just how much our lives have changed in every way, in terms of how we think about ourselves, from the Ď70s right up until now, the way we relate to other people and how much more self-conscious we are. Thereís been a huge amount of change thatís taken place in a small amount of time and a big event thatís constant, like a spaceship travelling through, is actually quite a good way of measuring those changes. You can see the social history unfolding, not things like man landing on the moon, but things interlocking, like social change, body language, body shape, advertising, t-shirts, and lots more Ė almost every facet of life. 

VF: In order to get suitable material to span the festival's history, you asked the public for amateur film footage. You were absolutely inundated. How difficult was it going through it all?
JT: Going through it was ok, you just had to grin and bear it. There were miles of jugglers and stilt walkers but then youíd find one moment that was funny or moving or historically significant and itíd make it all worthwhile again for a while. That took about a year and was all about logging things properly, but that wasnít the hard bit. It was when I got to the edit that I really freaked out. I thought I had all these ideas about how to put the film together and I tried some that didnít work. There was so much stuff and so many options that it became a nightmare finding ways of telling the story, so I did struggle and I got quite fucked up by it actually. I just thought 'someone else should do this, I cant do it'.

VF: I read somewhere you thought you had some kind of nervous breakdown?
JT: I think I did. I was virtually editing it all in my head at night and hours of stuff was going through my mind as I lay awake trying to find ways of putting it together. I got quite obsessive. I couldnít sleep and got really depressed about not finding a way forward. My editors were sitting around thinking Ďthis guyís lost ití. I donít know if it was a midlife crisis or what.

VF: Do you think the difficulties you encountered structuring the film were due to the festival itself being so chaotic, vast and indistinguishable?
JT: Yes, part of what made me come to terms with what I was doing was accepting that. Itís a random event and you donít know what's going to happen. Everyone who goes to Glastonbury has different experiences. You never know what's round that corner or that corner and thereís a sense of things just coming up and passing by. The more I thought about that the more I realised that you can be quite random and things donít actually have to be overly organised and explained. I felt much freer after that discovery really.

VF: So was that the turning point?
JT: It had a big part to play because just by relaxing that little bit enabled me to try different things and soon I was on a roll. I didnít know what was coming next but I felt more in control. I always enjoy the fact that itís a risky business making a film like this because itís not scripted, itís not worked out in any way. Itís just plugged in.

VF: Is there one bit of footage that to you epitomises the festival?
JT: I donít know really. Thereís a scene that looks at the guys who clear up all the shit and I was going to use part of that for the film's trailer but that didnít happen in the end. There are so many parts and in a way thatís what itís all about, lots of bits put together to make it whole, so itís difficult to pick out one. However, I do really like the scene where Michael Eavis is talking to travellers about paying them for work they've done. It shows how he dealt with them in 1971 and then how he dealt with the same guys again in 2005. It needs to be seen really to understand it.

VF: The film is interspersed by some classic Glastonbury performances. Any personal favourites?
JT: I didnít choose the music because it was my favourite music. Rather it was because of how it would impact on the film. So I think the Pulp thing is something special. Itís a real moment because thatís when that song ĎCommon Peopleí really broke through. Itís a beautiful performance and you get the sense of the crowd really getting into this guy in a big way. And the song title and lyrics seem to resonate with my approach to making the film through the people and the crowd, which was important. I liked putting David Gray in there because I know it will annoy people. My aim with any film is to generate a kind of Rocky Horror effect, where people in the audience will be laughing or cheering or just talking to each other about whatís going on, to get them interactive with the film and create a kind of live experience. It makes it more enjoyable if people can chat to other people about it. So things like David Gray are in there to try and encourage a bit of baiting and some angry shouts from the audience!

VF: Is there anything you learnt about Glastonbury while making the film that you hadn't picked up from the two festivals you'd previously gone to?
JT: I did overcome my aversion to hippies in a way. I grew up in the whole punk thing and I never really had any time for hippies. I laughed at them for years and I think the last few years have helped make me take them a bit more seriously. The guy in the film in the tipi is a very impressive voice and figure, one very committed to what heís doing and believes in, and I found that very powerful. So I liked the idea of reconnecting the hippy thing in some ways with the punk movement. Despite being violently different on many levels, theyíre not totally dissimilar because they reflect the continuum of the counter culture which I think is one of our best qualities as a society, certainly since the war anyway. It's in part a history of the counter culture this film, and I learnt to step back and think about it a bit more in an expansive continuum, rather than it being confined to any one group or time. So it was done in snapshots. I love 1977 and I love 1982, I love the idea that you can ride through these years and twirl them around and enjoy them.

VF: Where does the future lie for Glastonbury? Will we need another film in ten years or have the best years already been had?
JT: Itís tough for a festival to survive these days without a big corporate influence and thatís the biggest threat to Glastonbury now. Its already happening but I think while Michaelís alive it will never dominate the event. I mean itís there, youíve got all these sponsors, but you just donít really realise theyíre there. I think itís important that the festival is protected from too much corporate involvement but I think itís even more important that the whole world doesnít get swallowed up by all this corporate greed. Itís too late in some places and in that sense Glastonbury is like a kind of model for society. If we do destroy the planet and thereís no water left and food is scarce, people will have to start living in different, more simple ways and weíll have to give up the idea that you need more and more and move towards the notion that you can do it on less. Glastonbury has been pioneering that idea all the way since its conception and the ideas that resonate from that festival should not be confined to Michael Eavisí farm. You need to keep a free space where human beings can come together and just be natural with each other, without a computer in site. We all need to fight strongly to keep it just the way it is.  

Glastonbury by Julien Temple is released at cinemas from 14 April. If you're a graphic designer, would like your work permanently seen on Virtual Festivals, and would like to win tickets to the film's premier CLICK HERE



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Article by: Ross Purdie

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