Natural-Born Filmmaker

A brief chat with lama Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche

Robert Coe

Bertolucci cast Keanu Reeves as the Buddha! Exactly! And it didn’t work! For me, I don’t think casting a star would work. It’s about how authentic you want to be. For instance, the film The Last Samurai works as an entertainment. I think it’s wonderful. But for someone who really wants to be authentic, it doesn’t work. Because in our very limited knowledge of Samurai, there were no “fluffy hair” Samurai! But if you let Tom Cruise shave his head, fifty percent of the audience will be gone! So Hollywood always tends to break these kinds of historical rules. If I make a life of the Buddha, maybe I will do a sort of surrealistic claim at the beginning— make my face appear on screen and say, “This is my own interpretation” Which would be really, really tough.

I read somewhere that you have Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers in your video library.
Yes. That for me is the most powerful romantic film.

I found the violence of that film so over the top that I couldn’t begin to take it in.
I guess we need this kind of exaggeration. For instance, Robert De Niro’s The Deer Hunter. That film made me not eat for a few days, because I can plainly see that I have the complete potential to be like his friend, Christopher Walken.

Who becomes an opium addict because of the horrible trauma he suffered in Vietnam.
Yes. As strong as I look or appear to be, I can get into that Russian roulette game, yes.

You mean if something so black or demonic happened to you?
No. I can always start today, even though my life is complete and perfect—begin with the small thrill of shooting myself, and then slowly get into that. I think everybody has that potential. Those types of messages are really important. Films can deliver them.

Do you think it’s possible to speak of a style of filmmaking that combats and tricks the tenacity of ego and helps our minds to stop clinging? Do you think it’s possible that there could be Buddhist filmmaking?
I haven’t mastered it yet. I guess so. Also, it depends—for that, the audience is equally responsible for how they watch it.

Yes. There can be a single moment in a great film, or even on a TV sitcom, where something simply...
Clicks. And lets people think.

Image 1: © Manuel Rodriguez

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