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Paul Schrader, '70s cinema icon, is still out here swinging

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Photo: Jamie McCarthy (Getty Images)

Paul Schrader’s role in crafting the transformative cinema of the 1970s and perpetuating its influence can’t be understated. As a writer, Schrader collaborated with Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ, and his directing credits—Blue Collar, Hardcore, Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters—are similarly distinguished, if less ubiquitous. A pair of colossal misfires earlier this decade nearly curdled his legacy, however: 2013's Lindsay Lohan-starring The Canyons was a fiasco, and 2014's Dying Of The Light was mangled by studios before being, in Schrader’s words, “dumped.”


No one quite saw a comeback coming—Schrader is 71, after all—so it was a welcome surprise when critics praised his new film, First Reformed, when it began hitting the festival scene. The story of a crumbling, small-town reverend who veers into extremism after meeting with a troubled parishioner, the film embraces quiet and contemplation before everything roiling beneath the surface pours out like corrosive acid. Our own critic called it “something of an update of his landmark screenplay for Taxi Driver.”

A new GQ profile of the filmmaker views First Reformed through the lens of his career, pointing out how perfect of a final film it would be for Schrader if Schrader himself didn’t want to make more movies. The thing is, he does. “There was something that needed to be done,” he said of the film. “It took me a while but I did it. And I just couldn’t see giving up until I felt that. Now it’s kind of spooky. Because I’ve been quoted on this film as saying I hope it’s not my last film, but if it is, it’s a good last film. So what do I do now? I’m not sure.”

Most touching, perhaps, is Schrader’s contemplations on how the film industry has changed. It’s no secret that he’s had trouble getting financing for his bizarre vision, one that doesn’t quite fit into the modern studio system like it did in previous decades. When you see First Reformed, you’ll see roughly a half dozen different production companies checked in the opening credits, a symbol of how hard it is to finance and distribute an original, independent film in this age. It’s all testament to how difficult promotion is these days:

“When I first went to Cannes, with Taxi Driver, you did maybe 30 interviews over the course of the week, and you covered the world. And apart from that you hung out. You hung out with filmmakers. You’d sit at the terrace of the Carlton—I remember one night with Fassbinder, Leone, and Marty and I, and then Francis came along and you know…” He trails off. “Now you never have time to sit down with another filmmaker. And you’re not actually reaching more people than you did forty years ago. And you’re doing a hundred times the work.”

Since we’ll apparently never know what happened after “Francis came along,” you may as well go see First Reformed.

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