SXSW: Joseph Kahn Talks ‘Detention’ And The Failure Of ‘Torque’

Friday, March 25 by

Detention is totally my kind of movie, with tons of references and meta structure going layer after layer through the narrative. I know other people won’t feel the same way and Joseph Kahn knows it too. He explained to the audience at a SXSW screening that he made Detention for the generation that now consumes culture and entertainment by multitasking on their computers, phones and social groups.

Kahn stepped outside the theater as the next screening piled in so we could talk privately about Detention. He actually remembered my review of Torque back in 2004. If only I’d known I made an impact, I wouldn’t have missed out on all this quality time with Joseph. But we can make up for it now as I hope you’ll follow Detention to a wide theatrical release.

Q: Is this a multitasking movie?

Joseph Kahn: It’s definitely a multitasking movie. That’s why it’s multi-genre, multi-emotions, multi-color, multi-everything. It’s made for a new sensibility that is more modern.

Q: Some people lament that we’re losing a relaxed form of focus. Are you exploring a positive side of it?

JK: Yeah, it’s out there. We’ve been trained, especially the younger generation, to process imagery so differently than an older generation, and unfortunately people that are in their 30s and 40s are a part of a previous generation of processing.

Q: I’m 33, I’m hanging in there.

JK: You’re hanging in there, absolutely. I think babies are born with a cell phone now. The funny thing is, I think that film bloggers like you are always going to be young at heart. You have an unfair advantage over every 31-year-old guy out there or 33-year-old or whatever because you’re wired into it. So I think someone like you can appreciate a movie like this on a much more natural level than a lot of people.

Q: Could it get any more meta than we are now? What could the next level of meta possibly be?

JK: No, I think Detention is testing the very end of meta.

Q: I love movies that reference other movies. Why is that such a bad word?

JK: I think it’s because the concept of originality is changing, because imagine growing up in the ‘80s and trying to imagine doing research in the ‘80s. For instance, say you’re a fashion designer in the ‘80s and you want to go and update the bellbottoms or something like that. In order to do that, you’d have to go open up books, buy the books, find the books, go to the library, maybe they don’t have it. It takes a lot of time and a lot of research to go and do that, so essentially, a lot of times what people end up doing is they just sort of start from scratch which is good, but they might end up unconsciously repeating something that someone’s done before. As they say, everything’s been done under the sun. Now with the internet, today if a fashion designer goes and decides to update the bellbottom, they can say bellbottom and click on a million websites. You can have a million files at your fingertips and they’ll know exactly if they’re going to make an accidental reference or not. I think that now whenever you have creativity, the reason why there’s so much referencing going on is we as the consumer have a longer memory of pop culture because we’re connected to. On top of it, the filmmakers then have to be very aware of what they know.

Q: What do you anticipate for the ‘90s nostalgia movement?

JK: I think ‘90s nostalgia is inevitable because the people that grew up in the ‘90s are going to miss it, period. And there’s a lot of people that grew up in the ‘90s. The ‘80s came in when the consumer was people that grew up in the ‘80s and were making a sh*tload of money and they wanted to buy their products. They had the income to spend on things like that. Well, you know what? Those people that grew up in the ‘90s are now getting to an age where they can start spending money because they’re making an income. They’ll want to relive their childhood too. That’s what it comes down to.

Q: How did Hollywood treat you after Torque?

JK: Oh, they hated me.

Q: Why? Even if it didn’t do well, you just made a movie.

JK: Because I did the cardinal sin. I fought really hard for my ideas. Here’s the reality of Torque. We all know that a lot of people didn’t like that movie. I personally liked it, I know other people did but the parts that everybody thought were bad, you can’t blame the studio. Those were the parts that I fought for. The 70% of the movie that people think are bad is the 70% I like about the movie, the kung f fighting, the humor, the super bright colors, the chase on a train, the frickin’ 300mph chase and all that hyper reality. That’s what I wanted to make. I wanted to make that over the top winking piss take of a movie and it failed. I realized many, many years later the reason why it failed is because I think it was a wonderful piece of creativity, but what’s the market for a Japanese animation Ice Cube biker flick with a meta message? Nobody.

Q: Haven’t the Fast and Furious movies gotten there at this point?

JK: I think eight years later after Torque, I think things are going more in that direction obviously. It seems like a lot more movies are more hyper real anyways but maybe I just put it out too early. Whatever, that’s not the reason why I didn’t work. There’s two reasons. One is that I fought so hard and got in so many fights with the studio, I became difficult and quite frankly, I’m always going to be that way. That’s just the way I operate. I’m sorry, I can’t change myself. The second thing is that I purposefully, and no one will believe this, I didn’t want to fuckin’ do another movie. I had such a rotten experience. I didn’t want to spend two years of my life getting kicked around and bitched at and fuckin’ blamed for everything and then no one even fuckin’ respects what I do at the end of the day. And I make a shit load more money fuckin’ doing commercials and music videos anyway.

Q: What I love about movies is the Neal Moritz movies exist, you bust your ass for this and they’re all there.

JK: Look, I like Neal movies too and I like all sorts of movies. I just don’t want to make them. I’m a consumer and I’m glad that these movies exist and I consume everything, but the reality is the reason why I made this movie is because I literally wanted to see this movie for myself. I didn’t see it out there. It was an itch that I wanted to scratch and since no one else was going to make it, I just spent my own money and made it myself.

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