Toby Jones as Carl in Kaleidoscope (Courtesy of Pinpoint Films)

Forget (and Transform) Yourself: Director Rupert Jones on ‘Kaleidoscope’

When an audience isn't fidgeting, says Jones, that's a sign that they've forgotten themselves and that's a good thing.

Outside of the innocent and internalised changing patterns of a cylinder that delight the child’s mind, Rupert Jones’ directorial feature debut Kaleidoscope (2017) conjures up a more ominous visual pattern. These are comprised of distant and recent memories, the conscious and the unconscious mind distorting the sense of realism, truth, sense of self, and spatial awareness that sees shades of horror bleed into Jones’ psychological thriller.

Kaleidoscope tells the story of Carl (Toby Jones) whose discovery of a body in his bathroom just happens to coincide with the unexpected arrival of his mother (Anne Reid). Carl’s life starts to become unhinged, his reality and his distorted memories tormenting his already vulnerable mind.

Yet it is the subtle touch that leads to an appealing admiration for Jones’ unassuming debut feature. The film possesses a nightmarish presence through an insinuation of threat, accentuated by the turmoil of its central character and his claustrophobic apartment that is effectively juxtaposed with an external world that almost exists in the shadows.

In conversation with PopMatters, Jones discusses the flexibility of the filmmaking process as one defined by questions and epiphanies. He also reflects on the disassociation between a filmmaker and their work, the coincidental thematic inclinations of Kaleidoscope, and the quandary of human existence that is positioned between opposing realities.

Director Rupert Jones(Courtesy of Pinpoint Films)

Why filmmaking as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

I was at art school when I became interested in film, and at the same time I was interested in a number of other things, such as music and drama a little. Film is so multifarious that as a director especially, you get to think in all sorts of creative ways about words, actors, colour, music and the visuals. It’s an all encompassing medium, and that’s what I like about it, because I like to think in all those different ways.

What was the genesis of the film and how do you approach developing the initial seed of an idea?

I started looking for an idea that was affordable to make. I had written two or three things that as a debut feature felt a bit expensive. Probably like most writers who write lots of ideas on bits of paper or wherever, one of those was about a man who finds a body in his bathroom but doesn’t know how it got there. Wanting to write something that was contained, that sounded like an idea that could be containable, and so I started thinking about that.

For me the process of writing is you chip away and every so often you get an epiphany — the idea that the axe has fallen. The various big moments in the development were that his mother would be a quasi-detective, and then later on there is the big epiphany that maybe she wouldn’t even be real, she’d be internalised. At this point it became a psychological thriller, rather than just a thriller.

I can’t recall who told me this during an interview, but it was the idea that storytelling is the process of answering questions. You use the word ‘epiphany’ in place of ‘answer’, but would you agree with this idea?

Yes, I think that’s definitely the case and the more you write the more you have an understanding of the questions to ask, and the more intuitive or instinctive those questions are. I suppose it’s about making those questions habit, so that you don’t even know you are asking them. So yes, I would agree with that, and you can learn the questions, but not necessarily the answers.

There’s a perspective amongst filmmakers that there are three versions of the script: the script that is written, the script that is shot and the script that is edited. As a writer/director, the latter of which involves you in the editing process, is this a perspective you would share?

There are probably more versions than that, but I’m not sure they are versions in as much as different stages of the same journey. There’s a point at which you conceive a film, which is at its most perfect in a way, because in the conceiving of it you are also conceiving of its effect, the feel of it. You haven’t even started writing it, but you will have a feel of something, and the process from then on is trying to live up to that early optimism.

The first stage of writing the script sort of exists in your world, your sphere, and the externalising of it onto paper or screen feels like a compromised perfection of the initial idea. Then everyone else gets involved, and it’s from that moment that you are trying to marshall something as it manifests before you. And no longer are you the owner of it. All the people who create it become the owner, and however much someone might say they conceived of the entire film, I don’t think that’s possible.

If the costume designer comes up to you and says: “I think in scene 31 he could be wearing this pair of trousers for this reason”, you can’t have conceived of the trousers. It’s impossible that you could of conceived of everything. So everyone gets involved in that and as a director you are answering a hundred questions a day, and in your answers you are trying to preserve something of that original thing.

Then in the edit you again start realising that a scene you felt was pivotal, you don’t even need. And scenes that seemed negligible suddenly become important — you are going to drop scene 22, but you are going to use that shot that was in scene 22 after scene 78. So that feels very much again like scriptwriting.

The film ends, you finish the sound and then it’s a life in the world. As the filmmaker you can’t see it at all, and you then get to start seeing it through watching it with audiences. It’s funny because if you write a comedy, you can gain how successful it is by the amount of laughter. But with something like Kaleidoscope, you have to try to get a sense of an audiences absorption in another way. The one thing I’ve perceived happily over several viewings with audiences in different countries is that there is a stillness. They don’t fidget too much, and when an audience isn’t fidgeting, that feels like a good sign to me.

The thematic drive of the film is the question of what is real. If cinema can be described as the art of manipulation, here there is the inherent psychological self-manipulation of the actors as they become the incarnation of their characters, and then the audience who are manipulated by the thriller narrative, yet perhaps a mix of consensual and non-consensual manipulation. The film can be viewed as an intricate look at the ontology of truth.

This is a big question, but I want to compress my answer by saying that I’m very keen that the meaning of the film is understood in the watching of it, rather than in the dissection. So when I have been asked questions is this that or is that this, the assumption of some of those questions (not your questions) is that it is better understood by talking about it, not by watching it.

I think that people spend a lot of their time not where they are, which is a real theme of our time, and is exacerbated by modern communications and devices, and all the rest of it. Often the borders between the life of our minds and this journey our mind is going on is distracted. The borders between that and where we are is not very clear. They don’t have lines and cuts between them, and we spend a lot of time being haunted.

There’s a great phrase in psychology that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. Kaleidoscope is a story of a man who is deeply traumatised and clearly his way of viewing women has been corrupted in some way by the early relationship with his mother. How we come to see things is through how we have learned to see things, and as the Buddhists tell us, there is a conventional reality and there is an ultimate reality. I suppose we exist between the two, and it seems there is our perception and then what is out there beyond our perception. Those are things I am most interested in in life anyway, and somehow the film, not by design I should say, is maybe dealing with that subject.

The construction of narrative is the construction of a sense of feeling. Speaking with Palestinian filmmaker Maysaloun Hamoud, she spoke of how everything should be connected to the senses. Therein it’s about understanding film on a sensory level, which embraces art as living in the senses while it may not always conform to logic or reason.

Yes, though there should be a sense of form to it. I try very hard to make it feel like something that has a shape to it, and as a sense of an ending, however open that ending might be. People have called it an open ending, but I don’t think of it as such.

I’d agree with you, but picking up on your point about form, what I would say is that narrative can be a structure to encompass the heart and soul of the film, which are the characters and the ideas. What lives in that form or structure is what makes a film, the essence we can feel and connect to.

Yes, and the thing that film deals in is trying to sell you the reality of seeing something that happened, or the reality of things happening. So unlike theatre where you never sit in the theatre… maybe you do, maybe that’s not true. Maybe great theatre convinces you that you are in the light of the people on stage. Obviously the obstacles there are more considerable, but in film you are looking at something that has the resemblance of reality, and therefore what is important to me is that the audience forgets itself. That is one of the joys of film.

As I was saying before, it’s another example of our compulsion to not be where we are. We want to disappear into something other than where we are, and I think that absorption is important.

I hope Kaleidoscope is not boring. I don’t like being bored in the cinema, I like being absorbed in a way that doesn’t require too much work.

Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?

Well personally I feel like every experience is transformative, and maybe it’s particularly transformative because you are alert to watching something. The person I will be when I arrive home will not be the person sitting here now. So I think it is transformative, but I wouldn’t trumpet that! The short answer is yes.

Kaleidoscope is released theatrically in the UK on Friday 10 November 2017.

(Courtesy of Pinpoint Films)