That word, curriculum, seemed particularly noteworthy; he tends to make films about characters (usually men) who are very particular, businesslike, focused, perhaps even perfectionists. One gets the sense in listening to him talk that he operates in much the same way (there’s a reason nearly all of his films have seen post-release “director’s cut” tinkering, up to and including BAM unveiling a revised cut of last year’s Blackhat). But all of those characters have their depths and reveries, and Ebiri pointed out that many of his films find their way to a key, recurring image: of a man gazing out into a void, usually the sea. The motif is “nothing self-conscious,” Mann explained, but it does convey “a sense of solitude and contemplation, that becomes that image.” When he uses it in Heat, to show DeNiro in his apartment, “there’s an emptiness to that room, it’s not furnished, there’s no set decoration. He doesn’t really live here – that’s a way station he’s passing through as opposed to being a home. He’s not home.” So he knows it’s there, “but I don’t go searching for, y’know, oh where’s my moment to have my shot?”
Yet those little moments, those unexpected cutaways and escapes and mirages, are in many ways what make a Michael Mann film. How does he find those moments? “They present themselves,” he said, as long as he’s interested in seeing his characters as people rather than as chess pieces in a genre exercise. “Everybody has a life, and I really wasn’t interested in two-dimensional antagonists or villains. Everybody is somebody else’s mother, brother, father, sister, child. Everybody’s got a life that’s dimensional.”
“Heat & Vice: The Films of Michael Mann” continues through February 16 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.