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TIFF Q&A: Tom Ford

September 19, 2009 |  9:09 am

"A Single Man," the debut film as director and screenwriter from fashion designer Tom Ford, was undoubtedly one of the most talked-about items at this year's Toronto International Film Festival. Just days before it rolled into town, the film had picked up two prizes (including best actor for Colin Firth) at the Venice Film Festival, heightening the expectant buzz. Following the first screening of "A Single Man" in Toronto, there was a dazzlingly glamorous party which in turn launched an all-night bidding war and the festival's most high-profile sale. Plus it's a good, an emotionally resonant, impeccably stylish adaptation of the novel by Christopher Isherwood.

As the film opens, George Falconer (Firth) awakes with a start. Leaving his finely appointed Lautner-designed house in his spotless Mercedes, he heads to his job as a professor of English at a small Los Angeles college. It soon becomes clear that he intends to kill himself by the end of the day, torn up over the death of his lover (Matthew Goode). As things take on a certain finality -- a last sunset, dinner with an old friend -- George begins to see the world anew, reconsidering the possibilities of living.

I sat down briefly with Ford the morning after the Toronto premiere of "A Single Man," just moments before the announcement was released of the film's sale to The Weinstein Company.

Your work in fashion, both in the advertisements and the clothes themselves, often has a strong sense of implied narrative, of storytelling. I'm wondering if part of the appeal of shifting to filmmaking for you was the chance to tell the whole story?

First of all, I think a fashion designer, some people say, "Do you think of yourself as an artist?" Now, there are fashion designers who are artists. I'm not. I'm a commercial artist in fashion. Fashion for me is an artistic endeavor, but it's really about selling something. It's selling something beautiful, something that enhances peoples' lives and that you love. Film for me, the way I approach film is that it's a complete expression. It's the most artistic thing I've ever done, really the purest form of expression.

If you are a designer or someone who likes to tell a story, fashion is very fleeting. The moment you design something, there's a certain new quality to it, a certain thing that kind of disturbs you; it's powerful. The moment a man or woman walks into a room beautifully dressed wearing the next thing, there's a rush that you get that's just so powerful. Six months later, those shoes that gave you that rush, they're still pretty but they're just shoes. Film is the ultimate design project; you can design whether people live or die, what they say, how they say it, what the room looks like, what they're wearing, what happens, what the mood is. And it is sealed forever in that world. It's a permanent thing you can create. And it's the closest thing, and I don't mean this in a bad way, to being God, to creating an alternate universe.

Was that why you made a period film set in the 1960s, so that you could more fully seal off that world?

No, the book was set in that period, and I would have had to alter the story a little bit. It's not a gay film, it's a universal story; however in today's world being gay is something that's not even discussed, so we would have lost a bit of that isolation George feels. His isolation is a human isolation, but his isolation is also because he can't be himself in front of anyone. So we would have lost that. Also, of course stylistically, you can take a lot more liberties with a period film. It has more opportunity to be stylish and that is something that is very much me. I'm going to probably never make a film that's grungy. And I'm not comparing myself to Mr. Hitchcock, but he's one of my favorite directors and all his films were stylish. And for me to create this alternate universe, I'm more interested in creating an alternate universe that is beauty. And I don't want to overemphasize the beauty because for me beauty is nothing without substance. Substance comes first.

-- Mark Olsen