The mind's highways

Mike Leigh and Andrea Sabbadini

Photo: James Royall

Monday 1st September, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty

As well as being a fascinating insight into Mike Leigh’s filmmaking technique, his conversation with psychoanalyst Andrea Sabbadini was one of the most rigorous in drawing out the connection between psychoanalysis and the creative process.

For example, Sabbadini likened Leigh's process of creating characters by drawing on different stories and characters to a process called condensation, which Freud describes in relation to the dreamworld, where two characters might converge into one.

He summed it up with a quote from Leigh’s book, Mike Leigh on Mike Leigh, saying, ‘He is talking about his work, but I thought he was talking about what psychoanalysts do.’ The quote is as follows:

‘The whole job for me is taking a journey of investigation during which I discover the truth. It’s how the characters respond and how I then respond to them. It’s how I reorganise or reinvestigate the material, and indeed challenge it, in a creative way, to arrive at what is dramatically coherent for me.’

Remove the word ‘dramatically’, said Sabbadini, and this was as good a definition of psychoanalysis as he could think of.

Leigh acknowledged that his method of improvisation and character creation, drawing as it did on background, family, childhood, emotions and so on ‘must travel up the same highways and down the same byways as psychoanalysis does,’ even though there was no intentional link with the field.

He also noted a major difference. ‘You do have a different responsibility I hope, from our responsibility, and a different objective... our job is to tell stories and entertain people, and make people laugh and cry, and I hope yours isn’t.’

The conversation also gave us a glimpse into Leigh’s early aspirations. ‘If at a certain age, seven or eight, you’d asked me what I wanted to be, I’d have told you I wanted to be a comedian’, he says. He declares a love of comedy and roundly rejects the perception that his films are depressing. ‘That’s a recent piece of bullshit that’s been invented by journalists in the context of Happy-Go-Lucky coming out,’ he says, ‘as though there have never been happy characters or moments, or warmth, or joy in any of my films, which is nonsense.’


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