The Origins of Quills
Every once in a rare while, a human being comes along who questions all the basic assumptions of society, who probes the very limits of morality, who negates the old, comfortable ideas of what it means to be human. Throughout history, such people have always been viewed as dangerous — and have, ironically, prompted the most extreme and morally questionable responses. At the turn of the 18th century, in the wake of the bloody French Revolution, one such dangerous maverick was undoubtedly the Marquis de Sade, the originator of the term sadism. Sade was so scandalous he continues to shock us in the 21st century — and his legacy continues to raise the debate about just what to do with those who gleefully explore the most sinister taboos.
QUILLS boldly enters that debate by imagining the final days of the Marquis de Sade as a blistering black comedy thriller, a battle between lust and love — and between the brutality of censorship and the unpredictable consequences of free expression. Featuring a cast that includes Academy Award® winner Geoffrey Rush, Oscar® nominee Kate Winslet, rising star Joaquin Phoenix, and Academy Award® winner Michael Caine, QUILLS playfully turns Sade's story into a sexy, sinister and at once shattering tale he himself might have written.
The motivation at the core of Doug Wright's scathingly witty stage play and subsequent film adaptation: to channel Sade's blasphemous and morally challenging sense of mischief, eroticism and creative triumph into a moving tale of madness and love. And it was this provocative tone — part scandalous entertainment, part bold inquiry -- that Philip Kaufman hoped to capture on screen.
Kaufman -- whose filmmaking has always had a daring literary bent to it, leading to adaptations of Milan Kundera ("Unbearable Lightness of Being") and Tom Wolfe ("The Right Stuff"), as well as the story of Henry Miller and
Anais Nin ("Henry and June") — had long been intrigued by the Marquis de Sade. "I have always been fascinated by extreme literature," he admits, "because it expands on our concept of what is human. And Sade more than anyone seems to demonstrate how extreme behavior can bring out hypocrisy in those who claim to be moralists."
Kaufman found in QUILLS an opportunity to explore both sides of the censorship debate — and the delicate symbiotic interplay between evil and innocence, extremism and freedom. "It's a provocative film," he admits, "but the Marquis would have it no other way.
Despite the depths of the story, from the outset Kaufman decided to keep the emphasis on fun, visceral, Gothic-style entertainment, bringing out the comedy and suspense of the story and letting the ideas beneath quietly simmer to a boil. As Geoffrey Rush explains: "Philip Kaufman turns this taboo material into something exhilarating and cleansing. Underneath the surface, there is always the sense that he may be consciously and waggishly pulling the audience's leg."
Doug Wright first encountered the Marquis de Sade in a biography given to him as a gift — a gift that began a decade-long fascination and creative journey. 'I was so compelled by the insane drama of the Marquis' life that I started to voraciously read everything he'd written," explains Wright. "I found his works to be among the most disturbing and extreme works I'd ever encountered — from any era. We believe we live in a time with so much shock-media culture that we're inured to sex and violence — but here I found writing that was still a jolt to the senses. Here was writing that remained at once exhilarating and deeply terrifying."
Digging deeper into the Marquis' life, Wright also encountered the story of Dr. Royer-Collard, the physician charged by Napoleon with providing a "cure" for the Marquis' wicked pen. "When I came across th
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