All right, let’s use this Tumblr for its intended purpose. Here are some additional details from The Movie Set That Ate Itself that didn’t make it into GQ (and perhaps shouldn’t have, given that the first draft was over 7,000 words).
KHRZHANOVSKY FINDS DAU
Ilya’s first cinematic idée fixe, says a friend, was organizational: he wanted to create a “Center for Young Cinema.” After taking a workshop at VGIK, the Russian state film school, however, he wrote a script that would soon become his first film, 4 – an abstract meditation on storytelling and ritual that culminates in a scene of village crones dancing topless around a suckling pig. It got great reviews. As he was finishing 4, he discovered Lev Landau.
Khrzhanovsky didn’t know anything about physics, but the story, with its rich currents of sex, genius and doom, mesmerized him. He promptly optioned the scientist’s life rights and formed a production company, Phenomenon Films. And then something amazing happened: in the February of 2005, 4 took first prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival. All of a sudden, European producers were asking what’s next.
Khrzhanovsky began by commissioning famous novelist Vladimir Sorokin, with whom he had worked on 4, to write the script. Sorokin is a provocateur whose fiction periodically features people eating excrement and/or each other, so no one expected a straight-up Hollywood biopic - yet the first draft of his script still managed to shock nearly everyone who read it. The main character spent half the film masturbating; a later scene showed the comatose physicist, dribbling spittle and all, being molested by hospital nurses. The team tried a couple of rewrites. Finally, Sorokin amicably handed the reins over to Khrzhanovsky, saying, the director recalls, “I gave you clay. You mold whatever you want.” From here on out, Dau would be one man’s vision. And it would only get weirder.