“Every edit is a lie,” said French filmmaking icon Jean-Luc Godard. If that’s the case, then A24’s new release, Medusa Deluxe, tells the truth in the most cinematic of ways. Staged as a “oner,” or a film shot in one continuous take, the debut feature film from Thomas Hardiman is a truly distinct one. It’s a murder mystery without any detective, a character study with a dozen characters, flowing through rooms surrounding the scene of the crime and studying the suspicious and eccentric characters involved.
Film editing has always been a revolutionary concept. As director Sergei Eisenstein wrote in Montage and Architecture, “In themselves, the pictures, the phases, the elements of the whole are innocent and indecipherable. The blow is struck only when the elements are juxtaposed into a sequential image.” That’s been one of the founding principles of cinema, and editing has evolved from a slower montage to the more rapid-paced, fact cuts which began in the MTV era.
Hardiman rejects all that in Medusa Deluxe, preferring to roam the halls of a building at night, intercepting the highly colloquial conversations of various hairdressers in the UK during a major competition. They’ve come to compete, and one of their own has been found dead, his head of hair literally scalped.
A film about haircutters, featuring no cuts. Medusa Deluxe goes beyond the shrugging ha ha irony of the concept to deliver an incredibly original, funny, weird, and gripping little gem about art and human nature. The brilliant Thomas Hardiman spoke to MovieWeb about the A24 film, its impetus, the single-take choreography, and the nature of editing in modern times.
Haircuts and No Cuts
MovieWeb: What was the impetus for Medusa Deluxe? You had mentioned going to the hairdresser as a child with your mother, and described it as a “relentless” and “all-consuming” experience.
Thomas Hardiman: I think when I was a kid, I was scared to be left in the house alone. I think I was just like a nervous kid. And we did live in the middle of nowhere a bit. And I used to sit in the hairdresser’s. She went once a week, I used to sit in the back, and I just became interested in it as a space. I didn’t necessarily think about it the way I do now/
Thomas Hardiman: But then there was this moment, where I was just aware of how interesting a space it is. It’s not very often you let people touch you, outside of family or relationships or whatever; like, it’s dentists and hairdressers. And so you’ve got this strange thing, that you can be incredibly personal with someone who you don’t know very well, and it could also be quite theatrical, like you go to a particular hairdresser for a reason. I just always felt like it was an unusual and interesting space.
MW: So, why a single take? Even if there may be hidden cuts, why attempt a oner?
Thomas Hardiman: The real reason in terms of the actual one-take is, I’m kind of interested in just modern media consumption and what it does to how we inhabit and respond to a camera nowadays. Like you and I on Zoom, we’re about to have like, 10 minutes of unbroken camera time. I was looking over my niece’s shoulders, and they were starting to look at hairdressing and makeup tutorials of random teenagers in their bedrooms. And I was thinking, what does that do to a storyteller?
Thomas Hardiman: All these things, to some people, are fads. But to me, I don’t think they are. I feel like we are inhabiting space and time and everything differently with cameras nowadays. So how do you respond to that as a storyteller, as a writer? Like with a murder mystery, specifically, if you can’t cut away, you’re not going to go with a red herring, you’re not going to go with a clue — you’re going to stay with the people, and it becomes character-led drama. So that’s why I like Nashville, I like Altman, Fireman’s Ball, Slacker. Those are the films that mean a lot to me.
I like people who are kind of going for that bigger canvas storytelling where they’re telling a story about an entire community, not just two or three people. But how do you do that? Like, the film has just got to function on a completely different register. I find that incredibly exciting.
The Brilliance of Happy Accidents and Silly Things
MW: Were there any happy accidents or small silly gestures which made their way into the finished film?
Thomas Hardiman: There are happy accidents everywhere […] Do you not find that the silliest thing can spiral into like, the most profound thing you’ve ever experienced in your life?
You know, I twisted my ankle in a car park the other day, and it felt really momentous. And it’s so stupid, but it felt like every part of who I was came crashing down in a very kind of silly moment. And I think that’s the beauty of comedy actually, that it can kind of switch from absolutely ridiculous to incredibly heartfelt.
Thomas Hardiman: That’s what’s happening in the film, I am trying to make something that’s heartfelt and emotional at the same time as being a real ride, in terms of fun for an audience. It’s dealing in kind of ridiculous absurdist comedy from a serious point of view.
MW: What was the challenge of balancing these tones in a single-take film?
Thomas Hardiman: Every single part of this film was difficult. There was nothing easy. You know, definitely have moments with the baby not being as kind of compliant as you’d want. Which is understandable. It’s a baby, of course it’s gonna cry sometimes […] It’s quite incredible how things that you might dismiss in everyday life suddenly become the biggest battle you’ve had in a while.
Thomas Hardiman Obliterates Blue Limits
MW: Your film exists outside the cinematic box. What influences led you to this bold filmmaking style?
Thomas Hardiman: Derek Jarman’s a massive influence and somebody I look up to. Blue, specifically […] It’s like a blue screen the whole way through […] He’s got a thing where I just feel like every single film is pushing the limits of something.
The people who challenge the form is everything to me. Those are my favorite filmmakers. It’s people who will let a film go off a cliff to find something new. That’s the joy of it for me.
MW: How is the cinematic form changing? Do you think very long takes are the mainstream of the future?
Thomas Hardiman: It’s difficult, because I think there are two things happening at once. You’ve got TikTok shortening things, and then you’ve got other things lengthening. All these things kind of run concurrently. I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily a shift, but I would have said that, as a filmmaker, you’re responding to the contemporary world. You are responding to people being able to throw their iPhone from one building to another if they wanted to. And they will get the shot.
The camera’s almost like a wand in our hands, like a magic wand now, like we can do anything we want.
Thomas Hardiman: How do you respond to that, to show things people haven’t necessarily seen before? Because that’s kind of part of filmmaking; that surprise needs to be there in a narrative. But in terms of a movement, I think it’s just inevitable. It’s just natural. Cameras have gotten smaller, like people are able to jump off cliffs with a GoPro on their head, that is inevitably going to change how filmmakers are making films.
Thomas Hardiman: Filmmaking has always been dependent on technology. Like, Hitchcock spent his entire career trying to work out how to make a camera move, because the camera was so massive, movement was kind of the aim of the game. And so there’s all these steps that you build to kind of create movement within the frame, and we’re doing the same now. Like we’ve got a way of moving things in different ways, and I’m trying to work out how you can incorporate that into an emotional and a heartfelt story. But at the same time you have this kind of access to kind of filming things in different ways, and how do you marry the two?
I think film is a mirror of society. We’re all just responding to what we see in the world and trying to push it to its limits.
Thomas Hardiman, you have succeeded. However, those goalposts are rambunctious.,
From A24, Medusa Deluxe is now in theaters. You can watch the trailer below: