The French father of Hollywood science fiction is still preparing his masterpiece (Exclusive)
“There is a typology of science fiction films,” says visionary illustrator and filmmaker Marc Caro.
Talk to Reverse via an interpreter in France, he recounts a list of classic titles: “2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Alien. ” Everyone is categorical in their representation of their worlds, and yet, as Caro sees it, largely cut from the same fabric. And while he applauds Gattaca and The matrix to breathe new life into the field at the end of the 90s, he ignored the efforts of another luminary who, at the start of this decade, had transformed perceptions of what science fiction cinema could be: himself.
Caro is the artist responsible for deli and The city of lost children; a pair of revolutionary French dystopian fantasy films, co-directed with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) in 1991 and 1995. With grotesque, carnivalesque characters and dark, near-future settings inspired by the photography, technology and architecture of yesteryear, Caro’s visionary world-building would continue to influence everything from Extraterrestrial Guillermo Del Toro Oscar winning franchise The shape of water. Today, he could be seen as a pioneer of contemporary steampunk cinema.
With the dynamic beginnings of Jeunet and Caro deli celebrates its thirtieth anniversary on April 17, Reverse caught up with the latter to recall the fruits of his emphatic career – from his roots in the legendary anthology of French comics Screaming metal, to its cinematographic rise in the 90s, and to the future of science fiction via another French-speaking filmmaker.
“It was the holy grail,” says Caro, describing the decade he spent working for the psychedelic comic book anthology Screaming metal. As one of the first publications of its kind to be purchased in France for distribution in the United States, its influence cannot be underestimated – and it was here that the Frenchman first came to prominence. as an illustrator and editor in the mid-1970s, rubbing shoulders with some of the most prestigious science fiction artists of his generation.
“It was a crossroads of the imagination of the counter-culture, ”says Caro. “Anything can happen. We called it the dream machine – the dream machine.
With Arzach, the iconic explorer of Moebius riding a pterodactyl, his talisman, Screaming metal – and its American counterpart, Heavy metal – became a model for the science fiction aesthetic that dominated cinema in the 70s and 80s.
“Star wars borrowed, Ridley Scott borrowed from him Extraterrestrial, Jodorowsky borrowed him with his [aborted mid-‘70s] Dune attempt, ”Caro says.
Founding artist Moebius has been duly plucked by Hollywood – his design skills have been used in everything from Tron at The fifth Element. It didn’t take long for Caro to follow suit and make his way to the big screen.
Following a series of science fiction shorts like The bunker of the last burst and dark frame-by-frame animation The merry-go-round, Caro and his filmmaker friend Jean-Pierre Jeunet found themselves at the helm of an emphatic first feature film.
A Sweeney Todd-esque story of a cannibalistic butcher who threatens the inhabitants of a desolate building in a famine-stricken future, deli was distinguished by a striking visual aesthetic inspired by the monochrome photography of the Franco-Hungarian photographer Brassaï and the fantastic films of Terry Gilliam.
“I made thousands of drawings,” Caro says of the vivid images in the film. “With each of my features, I drew each image.” And with the great George Méliès (the pioneering filmmaker behind the first cinematographic innovations such as the years 1902 The trip to the moon) as his main inspiration, Caro maintains that it is the Frenchness inherent in the film that is at the heart of his imagery.
Amidst a pantheon of bizarre charms (from musical duets on saw and cello to Rube Goldberg-style suicidal gear), memorable images of an elderly man sitting in a flooded apartment surrounded by frogs and snail stand out like panels from a comic book. The casting of a Caro and Jeunet favorite – rubber-faced Dominique Pinon – as the film’s retired clown protagonist, meanwhile, were inspired by the mouth actors of pre-war French cinema, who were defined by their highly expressive facial play, says Caro.
Years later, Hollywood came knocking on the door – but like a pregnant xenomorph presented in front of a human rib cage, the Extraterrestrial the franchise would separate Jeunet and Caro.
“Alien: Resurrection was a big machine, ”Caro recalls. And if he deplores Hollywood’s reductionism when it comes to “building the imagination”, this was not the case in this case. “ExtraterrestrialThe latter’s imagery is quite European, that’s its strength, ”he says, citing the Swiss-German heritage of creature creator HR Giger and the concept art of former comrade Moebius for the first film. But without more creative freedom over the film’s conception, Caro had no desire to co-direct this fourth entry. “Decisions had already been made with the creation of the alien, the spaceships,” he said. “Instead, I helped Jeunet with the costume design.”
One can only imagine what Caro’s xenomorph might have looked like (although he insists the franchise is at its most “formidable” when there’s just one). But a look back at the years 1995 City of lost children – The second and, to date, the last co-director of Caro and Jeunet – makes it clear why the duo was so perfect.
A twisted fantasy starring Ron Perlman – as a street artist whose little brother is kidnapped by a mad scientist living aboard an oil rig with an army of identical clones – City of lost children remains criminally neglected. A passion project conceived 14 years earlier, it combined the vivid dystopia of Brazil with a dripping shipyard steel frame to create a vivid, green-gold steampunk classic.
A vivid scene shows rows upon rows of identical fanatics wearing sunglasses gathering in the hull of a ship in front of a roaring oven – an image reminiscent of the vast industrial prison planet of Alien 3. A flashback scene, meanwhile, takes place in a laboratory lined with huge glass tanks where a bright green fluid houses babies and brains in a state of suspended animation. It’s a scene that would fit into one of the most memorable of Resurrection – where a revived Ripley burns down a room full of failed attempts to bring her back to life.
It would take two decades for Caro and Jeunet to come together in a creative capacity – for Caro’s short film Loop, in 2018. It was the same year that the duo organized a “cabinet of curiosities” from their films in an exhibition of accessories, conceptual art and souvenirs in France.
The years in between have been filled with fascinating projects for Caro – from a neglected space prison function Dante 01 to the set design for Gaspar Noe’s psychedelic odyssey Step into the void. But he deplores the “very difficult period for cinema” in France today which has made it impossible to launch a large number of his projects which push the boundaries.
“Maybe my job is too weird,” he says of the barriers to getting funding for this unrealized work. They include a feature film about Kafka and three film projects with controversial artist-director Alejandro Jodorowsky (The sacred mountain) – including an unrealized sequel to acid western El Topo. For now, Caro says, he’s returned to his roots – a virtual reality project that pays homage to George Méliès is nearing completion, while his experimental drone and dark ambient music as ‘MonoB’ ‘take us back to Caro’s days as a member of’ Parazite ‘- the experimental electronic group behind the soundtrack of the 1981 short film The bunker of the last burst.
IN THE FUTURE
Regarding the future of science fiction worries, Caro has great confidence in another French-speaking filmmaker.
“I can not wait to see [Dune]He said of Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 literary classic – while applauding the director’s integration of the nuclear disaster aesthetic of Chernobyl and Fukushima into Blade Runner 2049.
With the upcoming sci-fi epic embracing so many touchpoints of Caro’s own career – Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune Mid-’70s attempt at David Lynch’s visually distinctive but undercooked 1984 feature – it’s easy to see why Caro is excited.
“If I manage to make another movie, I will try to do the same better. “
As for his own future? Caro is always motivated to deliver his main dish. “There are things we did that I love, ”he says of his films and those of Jeunet. “[But] in France, we have a tradition of companionship – where you learn and learn until one day you finally make your masterpiece. I feel like I have that feeling a bit.
That this latest masterpiece turns out to be Alien 5, one last day Dune, or simply the imagination of Marc Caro fully realized on film remains to be seen. But he is determined in both cases: “One day, I will do something really exceptional”, concludes Caro. “If I can make another film, I’ll try to do even better.”