Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gregg Araki Interview: Part 3

Click here for part two.

Don't watch the trailer for Smiley Face [see below]. It cuts the gags together frantically and the comedy isn't given the leisurely velocity it requires. Smiley Face needs to play out at its intrinsic pace (somewhere between Kiarostami and late Antonioni on the cinematic freeway) to give Faris's genius its full rein. When Faris delivers her (already legendary) monologue about lasagne and Garfield, we need those Pinter-like pauses as she nudges her thoughts through her fuzzed-out brain. It's poetry.
-- Zoom In Online

***** ***** *****

With the announcement that Gregg Araki has a new film coming out later this year, I figured I might as well finish transcribing my interview with the filmmaker...from two years ago. Hey, I was too busy back then and there's no time like the present. Premiering at Sundance this January, Smiley Face is a stoner comedy--yes, you read that right--starring former Seattleite Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Lost in Translation).

I also stumbled across the news that a sequel is in the offing for Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, otherwise known as the film that proved Christopher Meloni (Oz, Law & Order: SVU) has comic skills and that Neil Patrick Harris could play against type--way against type as a leering lady's man--thus leading to a similar role on How I Met Your Mother.

Of course, the movie also proved that, decades after the heyday of Cheech and Chong, stoner comedies could still be funny, and that Kal Penn and John Cho were just the gents to bring the funny (Cho also appears in Smiley Face). It might sound like I'm digressing, but I'm not. My point is that I'd love to see these films on a double-bill, and if I'm able to get an interview going with any of the principals involved with Harold and Kumar, I won't hesitate.



In this section, Araki and I start talking about Stanley Kubrick, because a friend compared some of the spare, white visual motifs in Mysterious Skin to The Shining (specifically the opening sequence). I asked Araki whether or not that was intentional.

I've always said that my films are kind of Hitchcockian in a way, in that they're very controlled and very carefully story-boarded, but Kubrick was the same way. Now that you mention The Shining, I see what you're talking about in terms of the way the images are composed, especially the way that kid [Neil as an eight-year-old] is framed. The kid is in the center of the frame, looking at the camera, which is a recurring shot in Mysterious Skin. And there's something about the tone of it, too.

And that's why I like Kubrick's films so much. It's that, like Hitchcock, you always get a sense of his authorial hand--you get a sense of his cinematic mastery, his composition, his editing--whenever he puts a scene together. I've always found that really enjoyable to watch. And it's definitely in Mysterious Skin, this sense of scenes being put together, and shots, and how everything works. There's definitely a Kubrick thing there. Because I went to film school, and I've been exposed to so many films of "the pantheon of the greats," I don't even consciously think about things like that. I don't ever think this is a Kubrick homage or whatever.

The Tarantino approach--which I like, by the way.

For me, it's much more the opposite of conscious. I've seen so many things like Hitchcock or Kubrick or whatever the influence is, [but] it's not even really realized, it's just part of the way I think. A scene comes into my head, and it's influenced by all the films I've seen before.



I've noticed in a lot of your films you thank your
mom and dad, which is cool, but I'm wondering...


Actually, they get thanked on every film I've ever done.

And I'm sure they're supportive of your work, but--

Do they see the movies?

Yeah, I had to ask.

[Araki's films feature murder, mutilation, pan-sexuality, profanity,
and other parental favorites. They're also frequently quite funny.]

They have seen a few of my movies, but I normally tell them not to. I mean, I love my parents and they're really supportive of my films and really supportive of me, and they have been all my life, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. I wouldn't be a filmmaker if it wasn't for them, and yet I couldn't really make films as a filmmaker, as a creative person, knowing that I'm making this film and my mom is going to watch it. I can never think of my mom watching one of my
movies. [laughs] I think my movies would have a different tone.

That makes sense. I always think about that
when I see an actor do a nude scene. I wonder,
Are they thinking about their parents...?


I don't think as an artist you really can think about your parents. Otherwise, nobody would do anything. You know what I mean? Otherwise, people would only do like Disney movies or something. I also have a niece and a nephew, who are 11 and eight, and they keep saying, When are you going to make a movie that we can watch? I'm like, you've gotta get older. [laughs]



So, what is CrEEEEps!

CrEEEEps! is my first real genre movie-genre-genre
movie. It's a horror/sci-fi movie with aliens. It's cool.

Have you done any casting yet?

We're still putting it together. I wanna start shooting this summer.

Have you seen many Kiyoshi Kurosawa films?

No. Who's that?

For me right now, he's the guy. He did Pulse, which hasn't gotten a proper release, supposedly because Hollywood is planning a remake. He also did Seance, Cure, Bright Future, and Doppelganger. They're very smart, very weird, and he uses sound design--he doesn't really use music--in this Eno-esque kind of way. There's always something going on. He's awesome. He came to Seattle a few years ago...

I'll have to check him out.

He described things really well. It made
me appreciate what he's doing even more.


That's my whole thing. There are so many bad horror movies being made now.

All the remakes!

Yeah, they're so terrible. I'm interested in doing
something really cool and smart and interesting...

Smart--that would be different.

But that would still be fun. The idea is that it would be fun for the Friday night horror crowd-you know, the multiplex crowd--but that it would also be smart enough for the Seattle Film Festival crowd. I think it's possible to please both camps.



Unfortunately, CrEEEEps! has been put on hold, possibly indefin-
itely. Fortunately, Smiley Face opens this summer. I predict it'll
premiere in Seattle at this year's SIFF. 7/16/11 update: I could
be wrong, but I don't think Smiley Face ever opened locally.

Gregg Araki Interview: Part 3

smileyfacetrailer.jpg
UW graduate Anna Faris in Smiley Face

Don't watch the trailer for Smiley Face [see below]. It cuts the gags together frantically and the comedy isn't given the leisurely velocity it requires. Smiley Face needs to play
out at its intrinsic pace (somewhere between Kiarostami and late Antonioni on the cine-
matic freeway) to give Faris's genius its full rein. When Faris delivers her (already leg-
endary) monologue about lasagne and Garfield, we need those Pinter-like pauses as
she nudges her thoughts through her fuzzed-out brain. It's poetry.
-- Zoom In Online

*****

With the announcement that Gregg Araki has a new film coming out later this year,
I figured I might as well finish transcribing my interview with the filmmaker...from
two years ago. Hey, I was too busy back then and there's no time like the present. Premiering at Sundance this January, Smiley Face is a stoner comedy -- yes, you read that rightvstarring former Seattleite Anna Faris (Scary Movie, Lost in Translation).

I also stumbled across the news that a sequel is in the offing for Harold & Kumar
Go to White Castle
, otherwise known as the film that proved Christopher Meloni (Oz, Law & Order: SVU) has comic skills and that Neil Patrick Harris could play against type -- way against type as a leering lady's man -- thus leading to a similar role on
How I Met Your Mother. Of course, the movie also proved that, decades after the heyday of Cheech and Chong, stoner comedies can still be funny, and that Kal
Penn and John Cho were just the gents to bring the funny (Cho also appears in Smiley Face). It might sound like I'm digressing, but I'm not. My point is that I'd
love to see these films on a double-bill, and if I'm able to get an interview go-
ing with any of the principals involved with Harold and Kumar, I won't hesitate.


Smiley Face trailer
In this section, Araki and I start talking about Stanley Kubrick, because a friend com-
pared some of the spare, white visual motifs in
Mysterious Skin to The Shining (specifically the opening sequence). I asked Araki whether or not that was intentional.
Click here for part two.
I've always said that my films are kind of Hitchcockian in a way, in that they're very controlled and very carefully storyboarded, but Kubrick was the same way. Now that you mention The Shining, I see what you're talking about in terms of the way the images are composed, especially the way that kid [Neil as an eight-year-old] is framed. The kid is in the center of the frame, looking at the camera, which is a recurring shot in Mysterious Skin. And there's something about the tone of it, too.
And that's why I like Kubrick's films so much. It's that, like Hitchcock, you always
get a sense of his authorial hand--you get a sense of his cinematic mastery, his composition, his editing -- whenever he puts a scene together. I've always found
that really enjoyable to watch. And it's definitely in Mysterious Skin, this sense of scenes being put together, and shots, and how everything works. There's definite-
ly a Kubrick thing there. Because I went to film school, and I've been exposed to
so many films of "the pantheon of the greats," I don't even consciously think
about things like that. I don't ever think this is a Kubrick homage or whatever.
The Tarantino approach -- which I like, by the way.
For me, it's much more the opposite of conscious. I've seen so many things
like Hitchcock or Kubrick or whatever the influence is, [but] it's not even
really realized, it's just part of the way I think. A scene comes into my
head, and it's influenced by all the films I've seen before.
resplandor11.jpg
Danny Lloyd in The Shining (1980)
I've noticed in a lot of your films you thank your mom and dad,
which is cool, but I'm wondering...

Actually, they get thanked on every film I've ever done.
And I'm sure they're supportive of your work, but --
Do they see the movies?
Yeah, I had to ask.
[Araki's films feature murder, mutilation, pan-sexuality, profanity,
and other parental favorites. They're also frequently quite funny.]
They have seen a few of my movies, but I normally tell them not to. I mean,
I love my parents and they're really supportive of my films and really suppor-
tive of me, and they have been all my life, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
I wouldn't be a filmmaker if it wasn't for them, and yet I couldn't really make
films as a filmmaker, as a creative person, knowing that I'm making this film and my mom is going to watch it. I can never think of my mom watching one of my
movies. [laughs] I think my movies would have a different tone.
That makes sense. I always think about that when I see an actor do a nude scene.
I wonder, Are they thinking about their parents...?

I don't think as an artist you really can think about your parents.
Otherwise, nobody would do anything. You know what I mean? Otherwise, people would only do like Disney movies or something. I also have a niece and a nephew, who are 11 and eight, and they keep saying, When are you going to make a
movie that we can watch? I'm like, you've gotta get older. [laughs]
brightfuture5.jpg
Tadanobu Asano in Bright Future (2003)
So, what is CrEEEEps!
CrEEEEps! is my first real genre movie -- genre-genre movie.
It's a horror/sci-fi movie with aliens. It's cool.
Have you done any casting yet?
We're still putting it together. I wanna start shooting this summer.
Have you seen many Kiyoshi Kurosawa films?
No. Who's that?
For me right now, he's the guy. He did Pulse, which hasn't gotten a proper release, supposedly because Hollywood is planning a remake. He also did Seance, Cure, Bright Future, and Doppelgänger. They're very smart, very weird, and he uses sound design -- he doesn't really use music -- in this Eno-esque kind of way. There's always something going on. He's awesome. He came to Seattle a few years ago...
I'll have to check him out.
He described things really well.
It made me appreciate what he's doing even more.

That's my whole thing. There are so many bad horror movies being made now.
All the remakes!
Yeah, they're so terrible. I'm interested in doing
something really cool and smart and interesting...
Smart -- that would be different.
But that would still be fun. The idea is that it would be fun for the Friday night
horror crowd -- you know, the multiplex crowd -- but that it would also be smart enough for the Seattle Film Festival crowd. I think it's possible to please both camps.
392375678_389dca9039.jpg
Faris hiding from Marion Ross
*****
Unfortunately, CrEEEEps! has been put on hold, possibly indefinitely. Fortunately, Smiley Face opens this summer. I predict it'll premiere in Seattle at this year's SIFF.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Don't Hate Ghost Rider!

photo_30_hires.jpg
He once ate a live cockroach.

Man, everybody's giving the finger to Ghost Rider. Even critics I know who usually dig this sort of thing have been giving it the big beat-down in the Seattle Times and The Stranger. Meanwhile, the film was #1 at the box office last weekend. Take that Norbit!

Actually, the 8:00 show I caught at the Cinerama on Saturday was half-empty, so I'm not sure who's seeing it, but I quite enjoyed it. Don't get me wrong. I don't think it's Domino good, but it's no Smokin' Aces!

I can certainly see the limitations of the film. Some of the CGI is bad, Nicholas Cage's hair has this weird Hulk/Frankenstein's Monster thing going on, the supporting cast of bad-guy demons is kind of lame and the main villain, Blackheart, is so generically pretty-boy bad, that I completely blanked out and didn't realize it was Wes Bentley.

So, what's there to like? Well, we could start with that big lunk Nicholas Cage. It's been so long since he's been the lovable lug we remember from Honeymoon In Vegas and Wild At Heart, that many have forgotten how much fun he can be, but as the Guardian reminds us, he used to have a goofball aura that was irresistable:

In 1989's Vampire's Kiss, he famously demonstrated his dedication to his craft by eating a live cockroach - an incident so central to Cage lore, that, if he had dropped dead before his Oscar-winning performance in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas, his tombstone would probably have read: "Here lies Nicolas Cage. He once ate a live cockroach."


Granted, there's no "This here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom" moment, but there's just enough Ripleyesque Elvis riffing to remind one why it's good to have him around. I mean, for chrissakes, he plays a guy who relaxes to a glass of jelly beans, The Carpenter's 'Superstar' and a video of chimps wrestling. Give him a break!

Next, there's the issue of character. Ghost Rider references Faust a bit, but whereas Faust sells his soul in order to gain knowledge beyond all earthly learning, Johnny Blaze seeks knowledge to relieve the damnation he was tricked into. Paradoxically, like Bill Murray stepping in front of a truck in Groundhog Day, there's a streak of fatalism that ultimately proves liberating. This doesn't exactly make him Hellboy, but it's an interesting twist that adds just enough shading to provide dimension.

Thirdly, I'd like to say something about the juxtaposition of the urban and natural, the modern and mythic and the natural and supernatural in the film's use of the Texas landscape, but the film was shot in Australia, so that would be bullshit.

Lastly, and most importantly, despite all its shortcomings, the film is basically a bunch of images of a demonic, flaming skull-guy on a motorcycle. Maybe it's the Scorpio Rising fan in me, but that right there is pretty much a movie. Then again, I was quite transfixed by Tease My Cat With A Yummy Rose on YouTube.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

'Round the Zoo: Part Five

A Chat With Robinson Devor

zoo 4.jpg
Devor and Mudede at this year's Sundance Film Festival

*****

Part Five: Paradise Lost (for part four, click here)

Since you mentioned Brothers Keeper, it seems to me that what you might end up with is--and this isn't an obvious comparison--something like [Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's] Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, where they don't tell you what to think, but they lay out the facts. They interview the kids and the people from town, and they give you some context to make up your own mind. And people that watch the film do tend to come away with some conclusions. I was one of those that thought, I don't think they did it. The filmmakers never say that, but they definitely leave a shadow of doubt.

It's going to be a very unusual film, because it's so far from a traditional documentary. From the beginning, we have testimony that is verbal, not visual,
so we have an enormous quantity of voiceover we have to put imagery to.
And that's fine with me. It becomes much more cinematic and impressionistic recreating things that have happened. Some might say it's a fictional approach to a documentary. We have real people acting out things that happened in real life.

paradise lost.jpg
Paradise Lost (1996)
"Ecstatic truth." That's what Werner Herzog calls it.
He admits that parts of his documentaries are...fictionalized.

There's no one I adore more than Herzog. I'll give you an example. In Little Dieter Needs to Fly, he has an American-German who was shot, going back to the place where it happened and he explains what happened... We have real people acting out what really happened in places where it didn't actually happen. So, that's one example. There are those people who are seen clearly, those who are completely kept in shadows, and those you will never see, but just hear. So the constraints of making this are [in] bringing a different approach to the documentary. It won't be anything like Brother's Keeper or Paradise Lost... There are no talking head interviews in this film--nor do we want them. There's a constant stream of real people talking, but the visuals are completely--it's all about trying to film it [the story], in a way.
[Herzog has remade Little Dieter as Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale.]
So, it's more like Herzog, in a sense, because he doesn't use talking heads either.
No, it's not, because Herzog uses real people that you see.
littledieterneedstofly.jpg
Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997)
[Then] it's removed from that, as well.
I think most people do. Some people would say this isn't a documentary, this is a fictionalization of what happened, except for the fact that you never see real people playing their roles and nor do you hear real people over the soundtrack, so we're excited about the fact that people will have a problem figuring out where this stands. It's not something that's clearly defined. We're working with the material we have, and so we're doing the story the way it can be done. Many people don't want to be on camera to talk about this. Many people in Seattle, our great liberal bastion of
the US, have problems with this film. It's very upsetting. People are like, Why
would you make a film about this? I mean, it's been very disappointing.
[Click here to see what he's talking about. It's the tip of the iceberg.]
How are you handling production and distribution?
I'm at a point in my career where I had to go down to LA and make this happen... Police Beat was distributed by the Northwest Film Forum, and it was a Start-to-Finish film, but our producers, Alexis Ferris and Jeffrey Brown, raised all the money.
Do you have an executive producer?
The way this got made was we raised a bit of private equity for four days,
shot four days, and edited about seven minutes of film. And I took that
film down to our agent in LA at UTA, and he set up some meetings to show
this footage, and it went better than we ever hoped.
A friend of mine saw that footage. He was really excited.
We ended up doing a deal with THINKfilm, and so they've been the catalyst
for raising money and moving forward. THINKfilm is the primary executive
producer, although they didn't cash-flow the movie. It's a classic negative pick-up.
We sold the rights to them in return for a guarantee once we turn in the film,
and that piece of paper is a marker for private investors to know that if they
put money into the film, they'll get a certain amount back. Then we have
THINKfilm behind us, distributing, and they're a good company.
Are you scrambling to finish in time for Sundance?
They very much like us...
They loved Police Beat. I mean, in general. You got great press.
Yeah, we got good press. THINKfilm would like us to be at Sundance. That's the
US nexus for distribution. It's going to be a mad dash to make that happen.
At the very least, they want to submit it as a work-in-progress. They had a similar
situation with [Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's] Murderball.
murderballpuba.jpg
Mark Zupan in Murderball (2005)
Maybe that was to their benefit. Long before I saw it, I was hearing from people who had been to screenings--although I don't know for sure that they were work-in-progress screenings--but I started to get really excited about seeing it.
It takes time to make a good film. Part of me wants to--it would be great to shoot it, edit it, wrap it up, and put it on the fast track. The fact is that finding the associations, the profound associations, between people, ideas, and images takes a long time. THINKfilm has been good enough to say they'll stick with us whenever we finish this, back us, and release it. So, if it doesn't come through for Sundance,
we're working as hard as we can, and I think there are other world markets, like if we're lucky enough to go to Cannes, they can do the deal they need to do. If it's delayed, it's only because we're trying to make it better. But also it takes time to raise the money to finish it up. They're not putting up the money, they're guaranteeing the money on delivery, which is good. So, I don't know. Sundance might not like the film. You can't assume that anybody's going to take something, but you [can] feel pretty good if you've got THINKfilm behind you. Every little thing helps, but we've got a ways to go to make it a perfect film. We're still shooting.
[Out of 856 documentaries submitted to Sundance, Zoo was one of 16 accepted.]
What do you want people to get out of the film?
Everybody sees the horse as something different. The rescuers might see it as a child needing help, the people who want to have sex with it might see it as a giant phallic symbol or a symbol of virility. Everybody sees the horse differently, and I think the film will probably be that way. Some people will see it is as a horror film, some people will see it as an art film, some people will see it as a comedy.
I really think it's going to be a difficult thing for people to--I don't know if I should say difficult, but I think there will be a broad reaction to it. So, I can't say what I want people to get out of it, because I think people's instincts and prejudices--their own ways of seeing the world--will be a big factor. I would certainly like to be [seen as] sympathetic. People who trusted me the most to tell their stories are who I want people to sympathize with. They have not been heard from in the media.
And so...I hope people see that they might be intelligent, emotional, sensitive people--like any other people--but I know that that's gonna be a challenge.
250px-Mangalarga_Marchador.jpg
Equus caballus...a horse, of course
*****
Zoo opens at the Varsity Theater on May 11th. Sundance
photo from The Seattle Times (Robert Fink, photographer).
Murderball photo © THINKFilm. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Joan Crawford: Actress or Movie Star?

Possessed (1947, dir. Curtis Bernhardt)
The Damned Don't Cry (1950, dir. Vincent Sherman

Possessed.jpg
Joan Crawford Breaks Down

The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:
http://www.noircity.com/noircity.html

Noir City 5 wrapped up last night with the best double feature of the festival, Joan Crawford in Possessed (1947) and The Damned Don't Cry (both available from Warner Home Video). Even the titles epitomize film noir. Special guest, Foster Hirsch, author of The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir and Detours and Lost Highways: A Map of Neo-Noir, aptly remarked that Crawford was "too big for your home TV." --that I agree with. I disagreed immensely with two other comments he made about Crawford. One that she was a great movie star but not a particularly good actress; and, two, that she was the best leading man in film noir. I think that both of these films prove him wrong.

Is Joan over the top? Yes. Does she have a tremendous range as an actress? No, she does tend to play variations on a theme, but that is true of about ninety-five percent of film actors, especially ones that become stars. If you want to see the actors who disappear into their parts then you have to turn to the character actors, like Kent Smith who co-starred in The Damned Don't Cry. Movie stars typically always play themselves. However, I would argue that Crawford is a great actress precisely because of that. Don't forget Joan Crawford is a character not a real person, she's a role created and portrayed by Lucille Fay LeSueur.
Lucille Fay LeSueur was born in San Antonio, Texas and like the character she played years later in the Damned Don't Cry, Ethel Whitehead who transformers herself into Lorna Hansen Forbes, she was determined to escape her grim working class life. She started out as a dancer then moved onto Hollywood. Stardom in silent films and a new name, chosen by a contest in Photoplay magazine, followed. Joan survived the traumatic transition to talkies that killed many a star's career. She had a tremendous ability to reinvent herself as eras and popular tastes changed which kept her a star for decades.
Also like Ethel, she learned early on how to use men to aid her in her journey to the top. When she married for the second time, it was into Hollywood royalty. She wed Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. son of Douglas Fairbanks and stepson to Mary Pickford, two of the biggest stars of film, the cream of Hollywood society and the two of the founders of United Artist. At this time, also like Ethel, she put herself through a rigorous course of self-improvement eliminating her rough edges. So, is part of the reason she gave such a great performance in the film because it paralleled her own life? Yes, of course, but that's not enough to give a great performance, the greatness comes with making the audience belive the reality of the character and to feel empathy for the character. Even when she behaves badly, we still like her.
She even manages to make the audience identify with her character, Louise in Possessed despite the fact her character suffers a schizophrenic breakdown. The two times she acts out violently towards people- the entire audience bursts into applause. Not a lot of actors can get an audience to cheer acts of violence committed against people, who while immensely irritating, aren't really wronging the protagonist. The film also provides Crawford with a chance to show her range. The film's opening shows us a very different Joan Crawford; she wanders the deserted streets of Los Angeles with a startling bare face devoid of make up and with frighteningly vacant eyes. She is taken to the hospital in a catatonic stupor where he story is told in flashback. During the course of the film we witness her bouncing back and forth between seeming normality and dementia until she finally breaks down completely. All the while, no matter how unstable she becomes, she stays the emotional center of the film and the audience's sympathies remain with her.
As for Joan being the best leading man in film noir, there's no man who could match her toughness. But it's a woman's toughness. I don't find Joan masculine. I never have. She is direct, her characters get what they want but who says those are exclusively male traits? Is she a softly feminine beauty? No, but that doesn't mean she's mannish. Mannish is Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar. Crawford, like long term friend and actress, Barbara Stanwyck, could take roles that were traditionally male in genres that were traditionally the provenance of male movie stars, and bring a whole new dimension to them. They didn't act like men; they were their equals, if not their superiors.
If you'd like to decide for yourself how good of an actress Crawford was I recommend the following films, in addition to the two discussed above, to give you an idea of the range of characters she played in a career that moved her from put upon ingénue to horror maven: The Unknown, Grand Hotel, The Women, Mildred Pierce, Johnny Guitar, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Strait-Jacket. All these films are available on DVD.
Want to read more about the festival? Click below:

http://www.siffblog.com/reviews/if_you_dont_have_anything_nice_to_say_say_it_with_style_003636.html

http://www.siffblog.com/reviews/why_is_everyone_so_sarcastic_003633.html
http://www.siffblog.com/reviews/descent_into_darkness_003621.html#more
http://www.siffblog.com/events/welcome_to_noir_city_003613.html#more

Sunday, February 4, 2007

'Round the Zoo: Part Four

A Chat With Robinson Devor

[image]

Enumclaw is located in western Washington State, approximately 45 miles
southeast of Seattle, and beautifully situated in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
With a current population of 11,220, Enumclaw has retained its small town
character while benefiting from the growth of the surrounding region.
-- City of Enumclaw Website


*****

Part Four: We Are Not Who We Appear to Be (for part three, click here)

Do you mostly focus on this one guy? It sounds like that's not the case.

He's not the main--he's not the only part of the film... I have
no problem saying that he is somewhat of a hero to me.

Taken out of context, it would sound like you're trying to provoke people by
saying that. One thing I thought about when I first heard the story was The
Last Picture Show
. There's the movie, but then there's the book. There's an
incident in the book, which of course Peter Bogdanovich didn't put in the
movie--and there's no reason that he should have--but the boys in Larry
McMurtry's book all have sexual relations with a sheep. That's just what
they do. Then at the University of Washington several years ago [1990],
the school cracked down on a fraternity [Theta Xi] because the pledges
were required to service a sheep. My point is that this kind of thing isn't as
unusual as people like to pretend it is. It happens, and it's always gonna happen.


Did you ever see [Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's] Brother's Keeper?

***spoiler alert***

I haven't, but I'm dying to see it. I just haven't gotten around to it.

[I ordered the film shortly after our conversation.]

It's the same thing you're talking about.

brotherskeeperdoc.jpg
Brother's Keeper (1992)
Doesn't one brother kill the other?
Yeah, one kills the other. Eventually, you find out that the brothers have been sleeping together--they're a bit slow--they're like 16 years old [mentally]. So, they [the cops] thought that it was a sordid, sexual, revenge killing or some weird thing.
I thought it was a sympathy killing.
No, that was the conclusion. The brother was sick, and these guys living on a farm, they put down an animal that's suffering. The great thing about it was that the community was saying, you know, the reality is that there are a lot of gay farm
people, there are a lot of brothers and sisters who grew up sleeping in the same
bed and they have sex together. It's nobody's damn business. That happens,
and so what. These guys were good--they were totally nice people--and sexuality
is a private thing. It's not a big deal. That, to me, is what you're saying. This
[the Enumclaw Horse Case] is also an incident, and perhaps it will take some time.
It's a metaphorical incident that can show America in terms of its reactions to it,
and so it's a very big thing. America as a metaphor is a very easy, malleable metaphor. You can move it around in many different ways, but that's a whole
other thing. What you're saying is essentially true. Maybe some people if they
saw this story would think it was blown way out of proportion. We'll see...
It reminds me of some of the things that happen in the books of
Cormac McCarthy, since he's always writing about farm hands, cowboys.
Everything's kind of noirish, but he's not a moralist.

What do you mean?
People do all these bad things, and all these bad things happen to them.
I read Outer Dark recently, and it's just one bad thing after another, but it never feels moralistic. It doesn't feel like they're asking for it, these people, even
though there's this totally incestuous relationship. It's kind of a tricky thing.
I think he's touching on some of the same things you're talking about.

AllthePrettyHorses.jpg
This story has been a challenge, because I'm very sensitive to the privacy--not only of the person who died--but of the people who were friends with him, the people who took him to the hospital, the people who knew him. They went by internet names, such as the Happy Horseman, Coyote, Firedog, so we're using nicknames. I think people will find associations to the actual incident. It's a very fine line, it's a very difficult project. I mean, we certainly have the right to--we have people telling the story from their point of view. Even the town, the place, is still upset that this happened there. They're very unwilling to talk about the incident. We understand that. We understand that there's a lot at stake there--it's a horse community--so we're doing everything we possibly can. In a way, it actually is exciting to us, because instead of saying, On July 2nd, 2005, three men left their home in Enumclaw and tresspassed... Instead what we're doing, which I like so much more, is, On a warm summer night in the Northwest region, under the shadow of Mount Rainier, three men... You know what I'm saying? It's much more interesting to keep it general.
It sounds more like a western.
Or a fairy tale or a horror story.
The line between westerns and noirs is thinner than [most] people realize.
Oh, it is. So, that's kind of the way we're trying to do it.
I'm sure people will know what we're talking about.
Maybe not so much outside of the Northwest. I could be wrong.
There are a lot of things still to be ironed out. Well again, the really original thing that I was very drawn to was--this man was humiliated--is it possible to resurrect his reputation as a good person? And that was the whole thing for the longest time. Like, what a great mission, right--to do that, to ask about that. And the funny thing is that we didn't have a lot of luck with certain people coming forward--family, people he worked with--to say good things about him and stuff. I understand that, but his acquaintances came forward, and they talk about him on a certain level...
Do you show their faces?
That's a whole other strategy. I'll tell you about that [later]. What we learned was--and that's just the way life is--is that there was no portrait of a man who was this perfectly sweet guy, who was loved by everybody and just happened to like horses. That's not who this person was. This person was portrayed, from what I've heard,
as a troubled guy. A good guy, a smart guy, a responsible person, but depressed and seeking, seeking something--seeking happiness, seeking relief from his depression and his pain. And so things changed a bit. It became a much more compelling story... I can't really even get into that in the film. I can only hint at things and try to get to the soul of the story. We're definitely not bulldog journalists that are going after this exposé or this procedural of this happened and then this. We're trying to use film as a way to convey what happened and what...things were going through the minds of the people involved--that's all we're trying to do.
zoobig.jpg
Zoo poster
*****
Next: Paradise Lost

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Round the Zoo: Part Three

A Chat With Robinson Devor

Scene from Zoo

*****

Part Three: Blue and Green Noir (for part two, click here)

While making Police Beat, did you think about other films made in Seattle?

Definitely not.

The only one that came to my mind, while I was reading reviews--but not while I was actually watching it--was Alan Rudolph's Trouble in Mind,
because people kept using the word "surrealistic." Trouble in Mind is obviously surrealistic, but I don't think surrealism is an obvious part of Police Beat.


You know, I haven't seen Trouble in Mind. I'd like to see it.

Certain images will definitely stay with you. It's over-the-top, but in a wonderful way. Divine plays a man, Keith Carradine is a bad guy, Seattle is Rain City. It's definitely Seattle, but everything is heightened. It's a trip. Rudolph lives here.

Really? I don't think I was thinking about any of that kind of stuff.

[image]
Trouble in Mind (1985)

So, when you first heard about the Enumclaw Horse
Case
, did you decide to make a film at that point?


No, I didn't think at all that I would ever make a film about it.

Did the idea originate with you or with Charles?

Well, we always talk about things, about something to work on.

It's the most unlikely subject.

It's both the most unlikely and the most obvious. We enjoy the regionalism of the work that we dream up or are inspired by. It's very, very important to us--it's important to me, and I think it's important to him--and so that [story] became a major blip on our radar. At one point, we were thinking of things like a remake of Public Enemy as an ELF [Earth Liberation Front] piece. Environmental terrorism as a classic, prime gangster movie. That kind of stuff. I thought that would make it a little more interesting, looking at the power structure within and the rise to power...

No one's ever done that.

Yeah, no one's done that. It would take a lot of liberties with the reality of things, but those are attempts to look at things that happened here, to put a prism on it that makes it more than a news story. Journalists do fantastic work and they probably do better work...as artists than filmmakers can, but filmmakers have a certain--they can do things writers can't. Charles and I also are big film noir people.

Pape S. Niang in Police Beat

That reminds me of Sam Fuller, because he worked in noir and he was a journalist before he became a filmmaker.

I guess that's old school journalism. They pull you into a story within like a sentence. He was good at that for sure. There are many people who love--film noir is both a term that upsets people and also is a revered genre. If there's one thing that I'm somewhat proud of with Police Beat, it's that I consider it a crime film and a film noir. It's a blue and green film noir. Film noir is such an inventive--it's the most inventive--probably of all genres of film. There isn't any creative angle that film noir hasn't approached. So, we thought it would be interesting to have a protagonist, who is a police officer, who is completely detached the entire movie from solving crimes, totally debilitatingly melancholy and lovesick the whole time. That was the film noir angle. And so this movie we saw as an opportunity to bring in Mount Rainier and to bring in the equine society and to bring in different stratas of society, everyone from truck drivers to aeronautical and military engineers. That, to me, is pure noir. There's death, plus a lot of hatred, a lot of humiliation. The most humiliating public death--probably in American media--of all time. And yet there's all this great opportunity for beauty. There's a group of friends who were--they're this subculture that gets very little press that is, in fact, as normal as any subculture. They have friendships, normal human day-to-day activities. They just happen to have a different focal point of desire. And so you were asking how we got into it. The initial thing was, I think that I mentioned to Charles--Charles is very into horses, by the way.

I wouldn't have guessed that.

He has a big rodeo picture in his bedroom and he listened to country music growing up as an African child. And he's always talking about horses... He's always asking me, Do you want to go to this rodeo in Spokane? He wanted to go to one year...

Isn't Pendleton a big one?

He knows all about the Pendleton Rodeo. I think he's
a pretty good rider, too, actually. Believe it or not.

He seems like such an urban guy.

He's urban, but that's his thing.

[image]
Police Beat poster

I've found that with horses... You can't predict horse people. I used to think
you could, because there's that stereotype--not so much of working class--
but more of the wealthy people [who ride]. Do you know what I mean?


Exactly.

I've been finding that that's not necessarily true.

It's like the person who died, who we are not naming and shall re-
main nameless--even though it's in the public record--he's a guy
who found being with horses to be an antidote to a lot of lesser...
psychological, bureaucratic, war-machine activities. The beautiful
thing we learned about this person is not that he wanted to have
sex with horses, but that he wanted to shed all of his responsibili-
ties to his job, to the guilt and depression he had working for this...

Was his job working with horses?

No, he was an engineer, who was working for this secretive division of a very well known aerospace company that has since merged with a military manufacturing company, and he was not so indirectly involved with contributing to devices that would eventually kill people. And so the beauty of this story--and I gotta tell you, it's a big challenge--but the thing that I respond to, and I think I'm not there yet, but this man embodied the far extremes possible, in one man, of being an American. He began life having the traditional American dreams of marriage and children. He worked for a blue chip, venerable American company, and those things weren't working out quite so much for him, and so he swung all the way over to the other side of the spectrum, where he became less conservative and more liberal. He began experimenting with his own sexuality as a gay man, positive or not, going to the furthest outreaches of human sexuality--interspecies.

[image]
Scene from Zoo

Next: We Are Not Who We Appear to Be

Thursday, February 1, 2007

If You Don't Have Anything NIce to Say, Say It With Style

Noir City 5
Days 4,5 and 6

i-love-trouble.jpg

The San Francisco Film Noir Festival
Friday, January 26th-Sunday, February 4th, 2007
The Castro Theatre
San Francisco, CA
For a complete listing of the screenings go to:
http://www.noircity.com/noircity.html

Days four, five and six of the noir festival brought three more double features, The Threat (1949, dir. Felix Feist) and Roadblock (1951, dir. Harold Daniels), a tribute to Charles McGraw, a RKO contract player who could play good guys or bad guys, just as long as they were tough guys. The next night featured a double bill honoring the late actor Glenn Ford, Framed (1947, dir. Harold Daniels) and Affair in Trinidad (1952, dir. Vincent Sherman). The following night honored writer, Roy Huggins with screenings of I Love Trouble (1948, Dir. Sylvan Simon) and Pushover (1954, dir. Richard Quine). Unfortunately, the only one of the six films available for home viewing is Affair in Trinidad (VHS, Columbia Home Video). In fact, prior to the festival there was no print available of I Love Trouble. Film programmer, Anita Monga, persuaded Sony Classic Pictures to strike a print from the original film elements they possessed especially for the festival.

As well as attending the festival, I've also been reading some interesting books on film noir. Dark City, written by Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Reader, edited by Alain Silver and James Ursini have been particularly enlightening. Most film noir commentary seems to focus on the genre's cinematic style (darkness, enclosed spaces, streets glimmering with recent rain), character types (corrupt cops, wisecracking private eyes, femme fatales), and themes (existential doom and, well, existential doom), but I think one of the biggest identifiers of the genre is dialog. It seems like every character, good or bad, minor or major, always has a witty and cynical remark on the ready. Here's a few of my favorites from this year's festival.

When questioned about how she felt being kept on money from robberies in Pushover, Kim Novak's moll replied, "Money isn't dirty, just people." During a stakeout when one cop comments on Kim Novak's allure, the other responds, "To me she's still just a babe like thirty million others."
Roy Huggins, future creator of The Fugitive, Maverick and The Rockford Files wrote Pushover as well as I Love Trouble. Here are a few lines from the former film that stood out. When caught by the detective, a thug snarls "You're not really smart. You're lucky." When the fifth gorgeous woman encountered by private dick, Franchot Tone, shows up at his apartment at the end of the film and finds three other women in the room-one in a clinch with Tone, she quips, "I didn't think there'd be a line."
Roadblock, screen play by Steve Fisher, also had some great comebacks. When a gold-digger is told "Money can't buy happiness, she responds "Can happiness buy money?" An insurance investigator, after busting a thief tells him, "If you ever need insurance, look us up." Then there's an exchange between two investigators about a former straight arrow that they just watch rough up a crook during an interrogation, "I thought he was an easy going guy." The response, "He was till he got married."
In Hell's Half Acre when asked by a denizen of the eponymous neighborhood, Honolulu's notorious tenement district, "What are you doing in this neighborhood?" The terse reply is, "Slumming."
The snappy noir dialog serves multiple purposes; it provides comic relief while reinforcing the cynical world view inherent in the genre, but most of all, its part of the vicarious thrill the audience gets from watching a film noir. On opening night, Marsha Hunt opined that the audience loved watching film noir, because after the film was over they could go home look at their lives and say to themselves, things aren't so bad. I think the opposite is true, we go to film noir to live vicariously. There is something thrilling and powerful about watching these characters disregard all social constraint and act out on their most basic desires, lust, avarice, fear et cetera. The dialog fills that function too. Noir characters say whatever the hell they want to whoever they want. Who doesn't long to do that?
More Noir City 5 Articles:
http://www.siffblog.com/reviews/why_is_everyone_so_sarcastic_003633.html
http://www.siffblog.com/reviews/descent_into_darkness_003621.html#more
http://www.siffblog.com/events/welcome_to_noir_city_003613.html#more