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ABOUT THE MARQUIS ON THE MARQUEE
By Doug Wright
When the Marquis de Sade died in 1814, he made a surprising last request for a man so wholly devoted to scandal and sensationalism: to be buried anonymously in a thicket, so that "all traces of my tomb will disappear from the face of the earth, just as I hope all trace of my memory will be erased from the memory of men."
No such luck. For almost two centuries, scholars, critics and fellow artists have been rooting about in Sade's grave, in an effort to form a conclusive portrait of the man. Opinions are wildly divergent. Some heavy-duty thinkers - Artaud, Nietzsche, Kraft-Ebbing, Angela Carter and Camille Paglia among them - rank Sade as an overlooked genius; a professor emeritus of Evil. A few even praise Justine as a work to rival the satire of Jonathan Swift. The Surrealists adopted Sade as their patron Saint, citing him as "the freest spirit who ever lived."
Others - like Louis Bongie and Roger Shattuck - are far less generous; they're loath to see Sade resurrected at all. His writing is attacked as monotonous, his philosophy sophomoric, and his impact on the world of letters merely toxic. They claim that his sole contribution to world culture is entomological at best; the term "sadism"' is derived from his name. Shattuck even calls Sade a "vicious evangelist," and suggests that he is culpable for inciting the Moors murders of 1965 and the serial killings of Ted Bundy.
Whose assessment is correct? Was Sade a vile pornographer or an oft-maligned genius? Or...more troubling still...was he both at once?
Sade's fiction is more extreme than anything we might find in contemporary culture. His prose is scathingly funny one minute, repugnant the next; it careens from acute social satire to masturbatory fantasies to scenes so depraved - so preposterous they set a new benchmark for perversity in literature. In Sade's 1795 novel Philosophy of the Boudoir, an elderly dowager is forcibly infected with syphilis. In Justine (1791), a vampiric husband ritually bleeds his wife to death. And in Juliette (1797), Sade's most monstrous heroine performs a black mass with the Pope, disemboweling a pregnant waif on the Vatican's altar. Coprophilia, mutilation, necrophilia and pederasty are staples of Sade's oeuvre. Intercut with these prolonged sexual escapades are philosophical diatribes more nihilistic than Nieztsche; Chaos reigns supreme in a Godless universe, brute strength trumps morality at every turn, and violence is the only sure route to pleasure.
Read in sequence, Sade's novels do, in fact, offer a compelling - and unintended - profile of their author. It is impossible to separate the writing itself from the circumstances in which Sade wrote; a fallen aristocrat who weathered the French Revolution, he spent over thirty years of his adult life in prison, for crimes ranging from rape to pornography. His tales were hatched in dungeons, prison apartments, and mental asylums throughout late-eighteenth century France. The stories seem to spring like gorgons from a vast, ever-replenished well of rage. Sade writes to vent at the hypocritical forces which oppress him; to stave off his own madness; and to gratify himself carnally in the confines of prison, in fantasies which escalate with the correlative length of his interment. All his volcanic emotions - entombed within four walls for almost half his adult-life - erupt onto parchment with the force of a natural disaster. One moment, he is grandiose; the next, infantile. Like many of his characters, Sade registers as an amalgam of our basest appetites, stripped bare. He is grotesque and seductive at the same time.
Because Sade so completely synthesizes the romantic notion of "writer as madman," he's been a potent Rorschach for many other artists: Peter Weiss, Yukio Mishima, Nobel prize winner Octavio Paz and the filmmaker Pier Paolo Passolini have all forged work based on Sade's canon. (Unsurprisingly, most of Sade's fellow artists tend to adopt a comparatively sympathetic view.) And given the extremity of his prose, Sade raises inevitable and necessary questions about the very nature of art. What is its true function in a culture? To uphold society's tenets, or to challenge them?
To reassure, or to agitate? To buttress those institutions which shape civilizations - the government, the church - or to expose them? Does political oppression actually breed - rather than stifle - provocative art? What happens when we silence our extremists? What happens when we give them voice?
As I began to write QUILLS, these questions were more important to me than a literal, biographical account of Sade's life. (Real lives rarely have narrative and thematic continuity, and they can seldom be compressed into two hours. Furthermore, I could never claim the Sade I conjured would be "'accurate." Inevitably, he would be a jumble of assorted facts and my own suppositions.) So I gave myself a gift; that liberating concept known as "poetic license." I knew that if I truly wanted to convey Sade's spirit - not the raw data of his life, but his own dark, venomous aesthetic - I would need to draw as much upon his fiction as I would upon the ever-growing pile of biographies upon my desk; to write with the same malicious glee Sade himself must have felt as he catapulted his way through 120 Days of Sodom or Justine. I've re-ordered facts, forged composite characters, and created new ones. Many of the film's climactic moments are purely fictitious. I've even put words in the late Marquis' mouth, composing stories in his style rather than plagiarize his novels.
I hope the film reaches beyond the notorious man at its center to speak to a twenty-first century audience. I've endeavored to follow the example of my betters, plucking Sade from the musty pages of history in an attempt to address critical issues in our time. I pray that he doesn't mind the intrusion, especially in light of his last request. Suffice it to say, I'd hate to be on his bad side.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
"Imperious, choleric, extreme in everything, with a dissolute imagination the like of which has never been seen... there you have me - in a nutshell, and kill me again or take me as I am, for I shall not change."
- From the Marquis De Sade's Last Will and Testament
Meet the Marquis: The Origins of QUILLS
Every once in a rare while, a human being comes along who questions all the basic assumptions of society, who probes the very limits of morality, who negates the old, comfortable ideas of what it means to be human. Throughout history, such people have always been viewed as dangerous - and have, ironically, prompted the most extreme and morally questionable responses. At the turn of the 1811, century, in the wake of the bloody French Revolution, one such dangerous maverick was undoubtedly the Marquis De Sade, the originator of the term sadism. Sade was so scandalous he continues to shock us in the 21st century - and his legacy continues to raise the debate about just what to do with those who gleefully explore the most sinister taboos.
QUILLS boldly enters that debate by imagining the final days of the Marquis De Sade as a blistering black comedy thriller, a battle between lust and love - and between the brutality of censorship and the unpredictable consequences of free expression.
Featuring a cast that includes Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, rising star Joaquin Phoenix, and Academy Award winner Michael Caine, QUILLS playfully turns Sade's story into a sexy, sinister and at once shattering tale he himself might have written.
The motivation at the core of Doug Wright's scathingly witty stage play and subsequent film adaptation: to channel Sade's blasphemous and morally challenging sense of mischief, eroticism and creative triumph into a moving tale of madness and love. And it was this provocative tone - part scandalous entertainment, part bold inquiry - that Philip Kaufman hoped to capture on screen.
Kaufman -- whose filmmaking has always had a daring literary bent to it, leading to adaptations of Milan Kundera ("Unbearable Lightness of Being") and Tom Wolfe ("The Right Stuff"), as well as the story of Henry Miller and Anais Nin ("Henry and June") - had long been intrigued by the Marquis de Sade. "I have always been fascinated by extreme literature," he admits, "because it expands on our concept of what is human. And Sade more than anyone seems to demonstrate how extreme behavior can bring out hypocrisy in those who claim to be moralists."
Kaufman found in QUILLS an opportunity to explore both sides of the censorship debate - and the delicate symbiotic interplay between evil and innocence, extremism and freedom. "It's a provocative film," he admits, "but the Marquis would have it no other way."
Despite the depths of the story, from the outset Kaufman decided to keep the emphasis on fun, visceral, Gothic-style entertainment, bringing out the comedy and suspense of the story and letting the ideas beneath quietly simmer to a boil. As Geoffrey Rush explains: "Philip Kaufman turns this taboo material into something exhilarating and cleansing. Underneath the surface, there is always the sense that he may be consciously and waggishly pulling the audience's leg."
From Play to Screenplay: Doug Wright Adapts QUILLS
"Is it for you, mankind, to pronounce on what is good and evil?" - the Marquis De Sade
Doug Wright first encountered the Marquis De Sade in a biography given to him as a gift - a gift that began a decade-long fascination and creative journey. "I was so compelled by the insane drama of the Marquis' life that I started to voraciously read everything he'd written," explains Wright. "I found his works to be among the most disturbing and extreme works I'd ever encountered - from any era. We believe we live in a time with so much shock-media culture that we're inured to sex and violence - but here I found writing that was still a jolt to the senses. Here was writing that remained at once exhilarating and deeply terrifying."
Digging deeper into the Marquis' life, Wright also encountered the story of Dr. Royer-Collard, the physician charged by Napoleon with providing a "cure" for the Marquis' wicked pen. "When I came across this detail, I immediately thought that expanding upon it would make for an intriguing story - a story about what happens when you deny a really volatile imagination its only means of expression," explains Wright.
This was the jumping-off point for Wright's play QUILLS, which drew as much from the Marquis de Sade's fiction as from the facts of his life. "I wanted the story to be full of melodrama, terror and Sade's incendiary sense of humor," says Wright. "I wanted to represent not so much the fact of his life as the spirit of his life. And at the same time I wanted to explore all the arguments for and against censorship, to show the ongoing battle between extremists and moralists - and the humanists who often get crushed in between." Producer, Peter Kaufman, adds "I remember Michael Caine saying that the great thing about the story is the way it wrong-foots you. You think you're going in to see a film about the evil Marquis de Sade and it turns out that it's surprisingly funny. Of course, there is a dark side to the story, but the film never loses its fun or wicked sense of humor."
The play drew widespread critical acclaim and garnered Wright an Obie. It also wound up in the hands of independent film producers Julia Chasman and Nick Wechsler, who immediately saw its cinematic potential. "The play was very, very moving to us," explains Julia Chasman, "because it was about someone who in many ways is still shocking and revolting but whose story has a powerful resonance in the world today. What we saw in this beautifully written tale was a chance to say something about freedom of speech in the arts - and about the remarkable idea that thoughts are inherently free; that no matter how hard you try to imprison them, they can't be stopped. And Doug Wright did all that in an entertainment that runs the gamut of true human emotions."
Chasman and Wechsler also saw in QUILLS a rare opportunity for the right filmmaker and cast to go to daring extremes of creation and performance. They were thrilled to learn that Philip Kaufman had an interest in QUILLS. "We knew it needed a very special director because it was such risky and complex material and it demanded someone of the highest intellectual and artistic caliber," observes Wechsler. Kaufman decided to take on the challenge. He and Doug Wright began a process of intense writer-director collaboration that would, in a rare demonstration of respect for the writer's contribution, continue throughout the entire film's production.
Explains Wright: "When Phil and I met I immediately recognized that he had understood the tone and the humor of my work in a profound way. He very rapidly became a Marquis scholar himself. As I continued writing, he developed a way of looking into my soul and seeing what was there, pushing me even further to the edge than I thought I could go. He helped turn my speeches into visual rhapsodies, and constantly expanded my sense of possibility. At first, I feared I would be asked to compromise on the story in order to appeal to more delicate sensibilities. But on the contrary, the play's heart was left very much intact and Phil allowed me to go even deeper. He completely embraced and included me in the filmmaking experience, and it was an extraordinary and rare experience for a screenwriter."
Adds producer Peter Kaufman: "'Doug and Phil's remarkable collaboration really started the production off with incredible energy. We were all inspired by Doug's verbal acrobatics, dexterity with language, love of ideas and ability to get to the emotional heart of matters."
On Becoming Gothic: The Cast of QUILLS and Their Characters
"If it is the dirty element that gives pleasure to the act of lust, then the dirtier it is, the more pleasurable it is bound to be." - The Marquis De Sade, 120 Days of Sodom
By all historical accounts, the real Marquis De Sade was an astonishingly complex and contradictory person - at once brilliant and blasphemous, at times loving and seemingly sensitive, at others filled with evil impulses and raging egoism. To play such an inimitable character, Philip Kaufman wanted an actor who could at once scare, shock and move the audience. He found his Sade in Geoffrey Rush, who garnered international acclaim and an Academy AwardÒ for the almost polar opposite role of stricken pianist David Helfglott in "Shine."
Says Doug Wright: "'I though Geoffrey Rush was an incredibly inspired choice because the Marquis was such a theatrical character and Geoffrey is a man of the theater. Most of all it gives us a chance to see him at every extreme, from the caustically amusing to the deeply touching, to the truly diabolical."
For Philip Kaufman, it was Rush's ease at slipping into the provocative skin of the Marquis de Sade that clinched his utter faith in the performance. "'He was able to literally strip the character naked and remain completely natural and at ease. He doesn't let you off the hook ever," notes Kaufman.
Like Kaufman, Rush was drawn by the script's fearless exploration of moral divides. "I saw it as a debate about the forces of repression," says Rush. "You ask yourself is the Marquis De Sade genuinely subversive and seditious or is he challenging deep, mysterious impulses in his readers?"
Rush was also excited by the opportunity to recreate such an imposing and flagrantly unconventional personality. "As a performer, you have to love a character who is all at once extraordinarily vain, arrogant, confrontational, difficult, smart ass, lonely and desperate," notes the actor. "He was a man with a sharp mind in a wildly sexual body. He was full of deep anger and resentment, but it was manifested in this scathing sense of humor."
Rush notes that the Marquis continues to wield a certain amount of creative influence, thus making the character highly relevant to our times. "There continues to be a mystique about Sade," he observes, "and I think people are sort of re-discovering him because he was one of the first people to go where nobody else was willing to go."
To prepare for the role, Rush worked with a psychological adviser who had studied the Marquis' life from childhood on, probing the sources of his unusual predilections. "I began to see that the Marquis needs to gain control of the people in his life, and he attempts to do this whether by wit, by terror or by sexual outrageousness," comments Rush. "He tries to do it with everyone at Charenton. He wants both Madeleine and Coulmier, he wants both of their bodies, because that's the way he communicates."
Although most of Rush's scenes take place in the confinement of an asylum cell, he found himself able to draw out the always colorful, eventful and erotic world raging inside the Marquis De Sade's mind and soul. "There are scenes when I was able to just let rip," he acknowledges. "The Marquis can be deliciously charming, but when he throws a tantrum, it's more intense than a two year-old in a supermarket!"
Summarizes Julia Chasman: "Geoffrey brings an essential humanity to the role that lets the audience into the heart of a man who otherwise would be considered nothing more than evil. His portrait seduces you into curiosity about the Marquis and then he unleashes his full complexity." Peter Kaufman reaffirms that "Geoffrey Rush was the perfect choice to play the Marquis de Sade. Geoffrey understood not only the Marquis' narcissistic personality, but reveled in the role of a man imprisoned for his ideas. I think that especially in the scene with the Marquis' wife, we see the genius of Geoffrey as the Marquis: he is at once funny, brutal and tragic."
Some of Rush's most intimate scenes take place when he seduces the virginal laundress Madeleine, played by Kate Winslet, into his chamber. Winslet had the challenging task of thrilling to the Marquis' ripping yarns while dodging his physical advances. "The wonderful thing about Madeleine is that while the Marquis imagines himself this sinister and savage guy, she just brushes him off. She sees right through him," explains Philip Kaufman. "Kate Winslet brings all this to life with an extraordinary believability. To think Kate is just 23 is amazing because she has such worldliness, such articulateness, such an astounding ability to express the depths of feelings and ideas. And the word beautiful isn't nearly strong enough to describe what she brings to the screen."
Adds producer Julia Chasman: "We were truly fortunate to have Kate as the moral center of the movie because you empathize with her completely. It's hard to imagine the film without her."
To Winslet, Madeleine provides the true middle ground between the extremes of the Marquis and Dr. Royer-Collard, and is the one true tragedy of the tale. "Madeleine is a simple girl, who grew up knowing the difference between right and wrong," she explains, "and the Marquis can't change that. She admires and respects the Marquis as a fiercely intelligent man, but she isn't in love with him. She loves the Abbe, this wonderful man who gives so much. The Abbe is the reason she stays at the Asylum, despite everything."
Winslet spent weeks reading texts about the lives of working class women in post-Revolutionary France to learn more about her character's struggles - and strengths in a time when such women were generally invisible to history. "I love doing that kind of research," she admits. "'It was really fascinating and gave me an insight into what Madeleine's life would be like, how she would talk and what she would dream about for herself."
Madeleine's dreams of love and adventure come to a crashing halt with the arrival at Charenton of Dr. Royer-Collard, the only physician supposedly capable of changing the Marquis de Sade - although his cure might be worse than the disease. Royer-Collard is played by Michael Caine, fresh off his Oscar-winning role as a far more benevolent doctor in "Cider House Rules."
"Michael Caine is so much against type in this role that he gives it a charge," explains Philip Kaufman. "We spoke of his character in terms of being a Kenneth Starr-like man who believes he's doing a wonderful thing by ridding society of Sade's writing, a man who pursues virtue unaware of his own lack of it. Michael took the idea that Royer-Collard feels good about himself and his actions and played that to the hilt. His Royer-Collard is truly, as Sade says in the script, a man after Sade's own heart. I think the Marquis would have loved this depiction of hypocrisy perfected."
"I like playing characters who are sinister, but I look for a way to give them some kind of redeeming qualities," continues Caine. "I play villains on the principle that no man is a villain to himself. All villains think they are nice people."
But this method almost met its match with Dr. Royer-Collard. "I was attracted to the project because it had a great script, a great director, a great cast. But when I first read through my part, I thought this man is so evil, there is nowhere to go with it.' Then I read it again, and I began to find the way," he comments. "Fifty percent of my character is made up in the spaces between the words."
Often interjecting himself into that space is Joaquin Phoenix as Abbe Coulmier, the progressive young priest in charge of Charenton Asylum, who vehemently disagrees with Royer-Collard's methods, until he falls victim to them. Although in real life, Abbe Coulmier was a dwarf and a hunchback, Doug Wright refashioned him as a charismatic yet devoted man of God whose own sexuality and morality is drawn sharply into question by his friendship with the Marquis and the beautiful laundress.
To play the Abbe, the filmmakers wanted someone fresh yet sophisticated enough to reveal all the aspects of the character's heroic journey from idealist to one of the oppressed. It was, in fact, Kate Winslet who first mentioned Joaquin Phoenix to Philip Kaufman, stating: "I think he's one of the best actors of my generation." This was confirmed by Ridley Scott who had just worked with Phoenix on the acclaimed "Gladiator."
Phoenix was immediately compelled by the story. "Reading the script, what interested me is that we are still having the same debates about sexuality, religion and freedom," he says. "I thought it was the best screenplay I have ever read." He was particularly taken by his character's complicated, back-and-forth dance with the Marquis De Sade. "They have a wonderful relationship," he comments, "one of differing views, cordial debate and great banter between them. But where they start and where they end up are two totally different worlds." Phoenix continues: "This film has so many dimensions. Coulmier is caught between a rock and a hard place as it unfolds, trying to cope with Dr. Royer-Collard and his own moral beliefs."
In addition to the Abbe's relationship with the Marquis de Sade, Phoenix enjoyed the Abbe's taboo attraction to Madeleine, the cherubic laundress. "Abbe's relationship to Madeleine is key to what happens between him and the Marquis," he observes. "In a sense, I'm trying to extract the soul from the Marquis and he's tying to extract the man from me. That's the core of our relationship. Madeleine brings forth a desire that is foreign to Coulmier. "He doesn't understand it, but the Marquis does. Because of course that's his specialty."
Screenwriter Doug Wright explained to Phoenix that he sees Coulmier as the audience's guide into the terrifying bowels of Charenton. "Coulmier has to represent us all - because he's trapped between the grinding, ferocious powers of government as exemplified by Dr. Royer-Collard and the very real threat of chaos as embodied in the Marquis. He's the good soul in all of us, crushed by forces we are not large enough to control," explains Wright.
Phoenix, also intrigued with playing a chaste but sexually charismatic priest, used Montgomery Clift's nuanced performance as a man of the cloth in Alfred Hitchcock's "I Confess" as a model. But the minute he put on his simple priest's frock, he left his own reality behind. "I would come in wearing my jeans, but by the time I put on the costume, walked on the set, and saw burning candles, I was transported back in time. Charenton really began to feel like a breathing, vibrant place and the Abbe came alive."
Producer Nick Wechsler says of his performance: "Joaquin stunned us all by getting to a very raw place with this character, he takes us all the way through to the end of the story as a man whose world view has been shaken to the core of its foundations."
Completing the cast is a large ensemble of lauded British actors and actresses as the French aristocrats, asylum employees and asylum inmates who cross paths with the Marquis De Sade. Among some of the most delicious roles are the latter, featuring George Yiasoumi as Dauphin the arsonist; Danny Babington as Pitou, who is obsessed with grooming his imaginary, feminine locks; Michael Jenn as Cleante, who believes himself to be a winged member of the bird species; and Stephen Marcus as Bouchon, a former executioner whose job has taken its toll on his sanity. Several of the smaller roles are played by actors with real disabilities.
"I wanted to present the asylum inmates as strong, interesting, passionate human beings," explains Kaufman. "I was intrigued with the idea that these were the Marquis' companions, his acting troupe. 'Even in these corridors of horror, I think there was always a kind of human beauty."
Once Kaufman had assembled his cast, he continued the spirit of collaboration that pervaded the production. Despite the film's budget, Kaufman insisted on several weeks of rehearsal, during which the actors were encouraged, even entreated, to bring their creative ideas and suggestions to come to bear on their roles. Doug Wright also sat in on the proceedings, quill in hand, ready to capture moments of spontaneous brilliance. "I thought it vital that everyone discuss everything with each other and work out all of the relationships and cross-relationships," explains Kaufman. "It was the sum of these contributions that made for the tremendous enjoyment and creative spirit of the production."
Once filming began, Kaufman shot QUILLS almost entirely in sequence to allow for further natural development of the characters. "When you create one scene after another, the relationships between develop organically, changing subtly from what has come before," explains Kaufman. "The one place Phil never compromises is on his work with the actors," adds Julia Chasman. "He built the movie layer by layer in a very dynamic process."
Imagining Sade's Pleasures: The Design of QUILLS
"How delightful are the pleasures of the imagination! In those delectable moments, the whole world is ours; not a single creature resists us, we devastate the world." - The Marquis De Sade
QUILLS creates a world that comes right out of the vivid imagination of the Marquis de Sade, a world of both sordid and beautiful images, of both excess and stark oppression. To bring his vision of the Marquis' universe to life, Philip Kaufman brought in a design team including Oscar-winning production designer Martin
Childs, who most recently brought Old England to new life in "Shakespeare In Love," and costume designer Jacqueline West. As with the actors, Kaufman worked with the team in a collaborative atmosphere, holding large meetings in which everyone was encouraged to participate, often debating even minor details, such as the curve of particular handrail or the fluff of a particular wig. He also joined them in further research, as they hunted up the original blueprints of Charenton, pored over paintings of the era and delved into the history of 19th century asylums.
Early on, Kaufman and director of photography Rogier Stoffers decided to literally go against the grain of most films of the period by avoiding a palette of typical blue or sepia. Instead, they opted for something right out of the paintings of the masters - a greenish, antiqued patina, that gives as Philip Kaufman notes, "a moldy halo to the proceedings."
Meanwhile, Martin Childs went to work on imaginatively capturing the extravagance of 18th century France - entirely in England! Childs was taken by a script he describes as "quite unlike anything I had ever read before, as fantastic as 'Shakespeare In Love' yet entirely different" and by the daunting creative challenge of riding the line between reality and fable. "I wanted to create a world in which people believe this story could have happened," he explains. "I wanted to show visually how Charenton changes from an idealistic place to one that takes on a very dark and haunting tone under Dr. Royer-Collard."
He continues: "I've tried to create a rich atmosphere rather than an authentic reality. Because the story doesn't stick definitively to history, I had creative license to really create something out of the imagination, yet informed by reality. At the same time, I've tried to reign in any tendency to play to the absurd. The scenery should enhance but never take over."
Childs used Luton Hoo, a sprawling English country estate to stand in for Charenton Asylum. Fortunately for Childs, certain English estates of that time imitated French styles, so he had few alterations to make, save for a few false chimneys. But it was in the interiors that Childs really stretched his artistry, creating the dank, degraded laundry room, the curving central corridors, and the cells themselves, from scratch at Pinewood Studios. His piece de resistance was the Marquis de Sade's apartment, a lavish, quixotic affair that pays homage to wine, literature and, of course, the sensual arts. Many of the sexually explicit dolls, tantric statues and phallic object des arts came from private collections of authentic eighteenth century erotica, which Childs and his staff had the unusual task of scouring. "We went as far in our designs as we dared," he admits.
Another of Childs' favorite creations for QUILLS were the chilling dungeons of Charenton, where Dr. Royer-Collard tries out his cruel "cures" on the Marquis de Sade, among others. Oscar-winning set decorator Jill Quertier hunted down historical medical equipment that did indeed seem to occasionally cross the line into, well, sadism. Although Royer-Collard's "calming" chair, a metal contraption into which a patient was strapped securely then dunked backwards into a tank of frigid water, was born in the imagination of Doug Wright, similar monstrosities were all the psychiatric rage of the day. In fact, the filmmakers hunted up an 1811 engraving from the Philadelphia Medical Museum of a chair known, ironically, as "Rush's Tranquilizing Chair," which was reputed to "assist in curing madness." "It binds and confines every part of the body," the chair's creator wrote. "By keeping the trunk erect it lessens the impetus of blood toward the brain...and favors the easy application of ice. It acts as a sedative to the tongue and temper...in some cases the most refractory patients have been composed." Fortunately, there's no evidence to suggest Geoffrey Rush's forbears had anything to do with this device.
Over all, the effect of Childs' Charenton design was to create "an interior that could exist in the universe's lower depths," observes Kaufman. Kaufman and Childs worked closely together to keep the physical and emotional spaces of QUILLS utterly intertwined. Models and storyboards helped to carefully plot out the action, especially the extraordinary scene in which Sades writes one of his final, and most devastating, stories via an elaborate game of "telephone" through holes in the cell walls.
Other locations in QUILLS include the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, England, which serves as a room within the Palace of Versailles where Napoleon himself becomes familiar with the literature of Sade. Here, Childs and his crew were struck by the overwhelming sense of history, in a place designed by Christopher Wren and where King Henry VIII signed Queen Anne Boleyn's death warrant. In addition, Mentmore Towers, built by the Rothschild family in the 18th century French style, became the mansion of Dr. Royer-Collard and his child-like bride, Simone.
But one issue persisted throughout the production: how to create Revolutionary Paris in the middle of England? "We had thought we'd have no problems finding the big stones used in French buildings of the era but everything in England was brick!" comments Kaufman. "Finally, in Oxford we were able to piece together exterior France. Martin brought in wonderful craftsmen, including a painter who had a magical brush stroke that could instantly antiquify a building." Later, a larger-than-life guillotine was assembled on Oxford Street for the shocking opening sequence of the film. In a rare coup, the production scored an unusual find for the scene - the model head cast from the actual head of Marie Antoinette, loaned out by Madame Tussaud's waxworks in London, which sits in the basket of aristocratic victims.
For costume designer Jacqueline West, who previously collaborated with Philip Kaufman on "Henry and June" and "Rising Sun," QUILLS also was a chance to explore fashion's individual extremes. "The Marquis De Sade's era was an interesting time with many fashion changes taking place," she explains. "Wigs were on the way out, because too many of them wound up in decapitation baskets covered in blood. The dresses, which had been very ornate, became very free flowing. It was said that they became so skimpy, women started dying of pneumonia because they were wearing too little!"
But West relied less on historical veracity and more on the nature of Doug Wright's characters to forge her creations. She explains: "From the beginning Phil and I discussed this as being an anti-costume drama, the opposite of staid and proper. He wanted me to design the clothes from the inside of the characters out, to really express who they are and this was very exciting - especially because the characters are each so remarkable."
Although she began with extensive research into paintings and museums of the era, West also began to think about how each character would approach dressing in the morning. In the case of the Marquis de Sade, choice of course has been obliterated. He wears the same outfit he had on the day he was brought to Charenton, although in different variations, throughout the film. "The Marquis was the biggest challenge because we wanted his clothes to look like they had aged 25 years yet to also express his flagrant personality. We needed them to be elegant yet also to be able to become as parchment for the scenes in which he writes on them," explains West.
Ultimately, West designed a suit that was the height of 18th century elegance then utilized the services of a London artist who specializes in aging clothing to bash the beautiful suit into a wrinkled reminder of suave. Nevertheless, she says, once the suit was on Rush, it seemed transforming. "Geoffrey is already long, rangy and fluid but in the suit his body became even longer, straighter, taller - he became the Marquis."
For Madeleine, West worked closely with Kate Winslet, sharing her research about working class women in France. "I found a picture of a girl ironing, which became a kind of inspiration for Kate," notes West. "It's rare to find pictures of working class people doing things so it was quite a find." West and Winslet both agreed that although Madeleine is poor, she is profoundly individualistic. Unable to afford the latest fashions, she dresses in a slightly behind-the-times manner, with a corseted 18th century waist, instead of the more fashionable Empire waist. Yet Madeleine also bends the rules. "Instead of wearing her corset on the inside, she wears it on top of her frock," notes West, "and instead of wearing a cap she wraps her head in linens. She's different from the other servants and her dress is more compellingly romantic."
Madeleine also gave West one of her primary personal challenges on QUILLS: she set out to make "the most perfect corset ever created." The corset, featuring more bone than any in existence, was so fantastic that an English historical costume society purchased it and to this day has it on display. As for Madeleine's main dress, it is made of linen purchased just outside the French village where the real-life Marquis had his castle.
West also found the key to Michael Caine's character in the details. His suits change in tone as the story progresses, growing ever darker until they are "almost Darth Vader black." West also gave Dr. Royer-Collard a distinctive touch - a pair of dark-rimmed glasses that recall not only Caine's rascally "Alfie" but also bring to mind more contemporary moralists. Says Caine of West's work: "When you put her costumes on, you almost don't have to act."
Joaquin Phoenix's costume was the most deceptively simple of them all: after all, as a priest he is beholden to wear a frock. "Obviously he had to be in a cassock but we made it as sexy and fluid as possible," comments West. "When we walks down the hallway it billows with gentleness, not strictness. It echoes Coulmier's more liberal, avant garde manner." But even West was surprised by the power of her costume. "When Joaquin put it on, he left his own personality behind and became Coulmier. They couldn't be more different, and yet the costume really seemed to help him make that leap."
Finally, West designed a series of alternately shocking and moving rags and half-outfits for the inmate asylums - each expressing something about the character. She began with the reality that inmates of the day tended to be incarcerated in their street clothes, continuing to wear them until they disintegrated, at which point they received items from charity. "I really thought about their lives before they came to the asylum," she explains. "I thought about what they would have been wearing when they came in, and what they would have hung onto from those former lives. Their external uniforms reflect who they are on the inside."
West worked with calligrapher Francis Bennett, who also donned the pen of Shakespeare for "Shakespeare in Love," for the extraordinary scenes in which the Marquis de Sade, bereft of pen and paper, turns his body into a living manuscript.
Throughout it all, the spirit of creative collaboration was an inspiration to West. "Throughout the process of creating the costumes, I found every single actor so involved, so passionate about the subject, so willing to try different things, it was very exciting. And working with Phil is always wonderful because he believes in his characters, like a sculptor he tries to bring them to life in every detail. In a film about the very edges and limits of creative expression, we all had a chance to explore ours!"
FACT AND FICTION: WHO WAS THE REAL MARQUIS DE SADE?
"True felicity lies only in the senses, and virtue gratifies none of them." - The Marquis De Sade (1740-1814)
QUILLS captures the spirit of the Marquis De Sade - and his provocative rebellion against any restraint of liberty - but not every facet of his is factual life. So who was the real Marquis?
The real Marquis De Sade was born Donatien-Alphonse-Francoise de Sade on June 2,1740 in Paris and lived during one of the most tumultuous periods of French history, as centuries of monarchy came violently to an end and the modem state was born. Today he is best known for the English word whose creation he inspired: sadism, referring to sexual pleasures derived from pain. But the Marquis was much more than a sexual experimenter. He was a writer whose persecution lasted throughout his life, a man who spent more than 27 years in prison, primarily for the crime of writing about the darker side of human lust and carnality. In 1772, he was sentenced to death for sexual crimes, and barely escaped. Later, he became a Revolutionary and again miraculously dodged the guillotine during the Reign of Terror, when thousands were killed for being enemies of the rulers. Freed in the wake of the successful revolution, he was yet again arrested for publishing erotic novels. Banished by Napoleon's administration, he spent the last decade of his life imprisoned in the asylum at Charenton.
Although his life has been turned into myth, his legacy remains that of championing the extreme. As Sade biographer Neil Schaeffer told the New York Times: "Sade put the bottom to literature...the worst that could be imagined. It's good to know the enemy: knowing the bottom line of human nature is a very good sign of health at the end of this violent century." Sade was filled with the most human of contradictions. In her book At Home With the Marquis De Sade, Francine Du Plessix Gray notes that historians have called him both "the most lucid hero of Western thought," and "a frenetic and abominable assemblage of all crimes and obscenities." That he could have been both at the same time makes him such a compelling character study.
His most famous novels include Justine, Juliette, The 120 Days of Sodom, Aline and Valcour, Philosophy in the Boudoir and Crimes of Love. He is noted by literary scholars for his confessional, picaresque style mixing horror and sexual obsession and for pioneering the idea that self-restraint goes against the truth of human nature.
Although QUILLS fictionalizes the final days of the Marquis De Sade, many of the intriguing story elements are-based on fact. Among the truths known about the Marquis and his times:
* Sade was imprisoned in Picpus Jail during the final days of the French Revolution (joining such fellow prisoners as Choderlos de Laclos, author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses), where he witnessed thousands of deaths by guillotine from his cell window including the beheading of Marie Antoinette. He wrote to a friend: "My national detention, the guillotine under my eyes, did me a hundred times more harm than all the imaginable Bastilles ever did."
* Sade's wife, Renee Pelagie or the Marquise de Sade, was a well-off society woman and devoutly religious person who nevertheless encouraged her husband's literary talents and spent most of her life fighting for his freedom. She once wrote to Sade in prison: "The more deeply I love you, the more impossible it becomes." She supported him while he was in Charenton, dying in 1810, four years before he did.
* At the age of 61, after just a brief respite of freedom, the Marquis de Sade was arrested by Napoleon Bonaparte's infamous police force in order to prevent him from publishing his forthcoming novel, Juliette . He was never tried; instead, in order to prevent public scandal, he was imprisoned in asylums until his death.
* Charenton Asylum was considered a model institution of its day. Once a convent, the place had been transformed by Francois Simonet De Coulmier, a former priest, who took it upon himself to create a refuge devoted to treating the mentally ill with humane, progressive methods, emphasizing the newfangled "psychological cures." Standard treatments for the mentally ill in the early 19th century included ice-immersion baths, bleedings, strait jackets and purgings. Many asylums were home not only to those with mental illness but epileptics, the retarded, the criminal and others who society had shunned.
* Unlike Joaquin Phoenix, the real Abbe Coulmier was a four foot tall hunchback. Abbe Coulmier did strike up a friendship with the Marquis de Sade and allowed him to oversee Charenton's theatre, which as a form of therapy regularly put on plays starring the inmates, some of them penned by the Marquis himself - although always in a more conservative manner than his more famous writings.
* The Marquis de Sade lived in a two-room suite at Charenton with a view of the river Marne, which was elaborately furnished and decorated with his own art collection. He kept a library in his "cell" of over 250 books. For these privileges, his family paid the asylum 3,000 livres a year.
* Antoine Royer-Collard arrived at Charenton in 1806, a conservative doctor and moralist with links to the Napoleonic regime. Shocked to find Sade writing manuscripts in his cell and holding literary discussions with fellow inmates, he arranged for a police raid in which much of Sade's work was confiscated and adjudged to be "'a series of unspeakable obscenities, blasphemies and villainies."
* In his memoirs, Napoleon Bonaparte mentions that he "had leafed through the most abominable book that a depraved imagination ever conceived, a novel that...so revolted public morals that the author has been jailed."
* In 1810, four years before his death, Sade was moved from his relatively upscale quarters and banned by Napoleon's Ministry of the Interior from having pencils, pens, ink or any type of writing instrument. Napoleon's prison commission wrote in its report that Sade "preaches crime in his speech and in his writings" and "should be kept in detention and deprived of all communication." However, Abbe Coulmier protested and eventually, the Marquis' quarantine was halted.
* Sade is said to have fallen in love at Charenton with a 17-year-old laundress named Magdeleine Leclerc, of whom little is known, other than that she regularly visited his chambers and that he gave her lessons in reading and writing. She last visited him a week before his death, at which time Sade wrote in his journal that Magdeleine spent "two hours and I was very pleased with it."
* The Marquis de Sade died at Charenton on December 3,1814 of respiratory failure. Despite his explicit instructions to the contrary, he was buried in the cemetery at Charenton.
* Written works by the Marquis De Sade remained officially banned in France well into the 1960s. His books continue to show up on lists of currently banned reading material.