Approaching Ben’s flat I was greeted by a larger than life (but small in size) dog, grappling with a rubber toy. After recovering from the stairs and the unexpected dog moment (hangovers always instill the fear in you), I sat down in Ben’s kitchen expecting a normal Q&A interview over a cup of coffee.
Yet, this was no ordinary interview as Ben asked if it was okay if he cooked a lamb joint, exclaiming his “Grandma always said, don’t trust anyone who doesn’t eat lamb”. Being a lamb lover I agreed to interview Ben whilst he struggled to hide the tears from the onions. Several hours, and cups of black coffee later I found out that Ben is an extremely personable, eccentric and bold director, screenwriter and photographer, willing to take that extra step into the unknown and loving every minute of it.
Did you always want to go into film?
I didn’t think about going into film but a lot of my early photographs looked like film stills because there were characters, sets and costumes. People started to see the photographs and assume they were from a short film I had done but at the time I didn’t know what a video camera was – I didn’t know the dangerous end to the lens. Then I showed my photography and paintings in the MOMA and some guys who bought some of my work there invested in me to make some short films. There is a photograph called The Mean Green Mumma From Out Of Space, and that was the picture they bought. I made a short film called The Town That Bores Me and she was somewhere in my brain when I made that film. That is how I came across making the first one and then I just got a taste for it.
The Mean Green Mumma From Out Of Space
There has been an article written about the coincidence between the new Audi ad and your short film (number 26 to Hackney) – what are your thoughts on this?
I have never been commissioned to do my films. They have been ripped off to high heaven by agencies and advertisers and I am constantly trying to have disputes with them. If you have seen Number 26 to Hackney, my short film – where the girl walks out of the front door to go to a bus stop and falls in dog shit, and her tights ladder and her heel breaks and the bus doesn’t want to stop for her and it drives off. So Audi have just re-made it shot by shot, but she doesn’t land in dog shit – because apparently that won’t sell cars – and instead of a bus, an Audi drives off. It is a compliment in a way… but my work has never been for a purpose, I have just done it – that’s probably why I have made ridiculous ideas and silly gestures in films. It is good fun so I will probably stick with it… hopefully.
Tell me about Dotty, another of your short films.
Sadie Frost and Jude Law’s youngest son Rudy is a great actor, so we decided to shoot another film with him. Dotty was written out of what we had available to us. John Hicks, who filmed another one of my short films called The Actress, lives in the desert and had a caravan at his disposal. So we flew Sadie and Rudy out and created a quirky, entertaining short film. Considering the conditions and time limit, Sadie and Rudy have done a great job. I don’t want to tell you the story as it will ruin it.
Who has inspired you?
Without sounding really naff and cheesy, it is actually my dad. He is not a filmmaker at all – but maybe I am not, maybe I will end up being a chartered surveyor, maybe I will write a book – when are you anything? I could always change, I have tried so many things – clothing, photography, films. At heart I am a filmmaker but the reason that I am is because my Dad always taught me that you can do anything. He never made it seem like there were any limitations or consequences, so I have always enjoyed trying new things.
Do you have a favourite film?
Pinnochio and Salo. As a child when I was being babysat by a lady called Viviane and she fell asleep whilst I was watching Pinnochio, which terrified the life out of me as a child. Pinnochio ended, and I went through and found this film by Pasolini called Salo. I watched it as a child and I was unaware of the connotations. It is a story about a pedophile ring in Nazi Germany, and I was about 6 watching rape and violence. I remember there being such a clear image in my head between Walt Disney and Pasolini. If you are an adult and can understand the connotations of Salo it is horrific – you understand the suffering. If you are a child and you watch your friends being turned into donkeys and you are never going to see your parents again, it is just as scary as Salo. They are two of my favourite films as I have such clear memories of them as a child.
How important is film making to you?
My work is so important to me that I would never exploit it to make money. I am like a cat – I always land on my feet and survive somehow, and I don’t see the point in doing something when I don’t want to do it. It is like being married to someone and cherishing the marriage so much and then thinking right we could earn some more money, I am going to whore my wife out. That is how I feel about it – it is my marriage and I don’t need to whore it out. I am quite happy with it.
I think that last quote sums Ben and his work up perfectly.
Words: Lizzie Ashby
Illustration: Rosco Britten