TR EVA N T E R HODE S T H E M O ON L I G H T AC T O R I S J U S T G E T T I NG S TA R T E D M A R K D U P L A S S / PA R K C H A N-WO O K / M AT T R O S S / C H R I S M E S S I NA C H A D H A R T I G A N / E L I Z A B E T H WO O D / J U L I A H O LT E R
MONSIEUR GUSTAVE H.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
Diego Hallivis Julio Hallivis Zach Avery
THE GUTS OF THE INDUSTRY Cinema Thread celebrates the good stuff about film—and by good stuff, we mean the spirit of teamwork and the dizzying satisfaction that comes from dreaming up an idea and seeing it through to completion. Through compelling storytelling, wild anecdotes, and striking photography, we explore the reality of what goes in to actually making something.
Editor-in-Chief Erin Dennison
Managing Editor Vi Nguyen
Art & Design Director Rachel Many
Photography Joe Perri Adam Newport-Berra Stephanie Gonot Tonje Thilesen Louie Aguila David Jacobsen
Contributors Agatha French Kira Cook Sophia Stuart Brian Fairbanks Ross Gardiner Vija Hodosy Dan Johnson Andy L. Kubai
Editorial Interns Winnie Chak Mac McDonough
Cover Featuring actor Trevante Rhodes shot by photographer Joe Perri
Cinema Thread works with both established and emerging filmmakers, above- and below-the-line, to connect you to the latest trends in a rapidly changing industry. We are an inclusive community that values discussion over networking and discovery over intimidation. Laymen, casual dabblers, cinephiles, and industry vets—pull up a chair and join the conversation.
Published Biannually by Cinema Thread
Special Thanks ID PR, Court Barrett, Hudson Loft, Doug Emmett, Irene Hallivis, Susan Kozlowski, Ashley Sugarman, Mallory Horwitz, Chianne Peterson, Phil Haus Anne Clements, Motek ©Cinema Thread 2016 No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. Every effort has been made to contact and properly credit copyright holders. Please contact us regarding corrections or omissions. For advertising opportunities contact: email@example.com
CONTRIBUTORS Agatha French
Agatha French is a writer, reviewer, and editor living in Los Angeles. She is a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times and a former editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books. Agatha serves as culture editor for music production house and independent record label Ring the Alarm, and is active in the LA arts and culture community at large. Her preferred movie snack is a package of peanut M&Ms dumped straight into the popcorn bucket.
Ross Gardiner is an editorial journalist and fledging renaissance man. Born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland, Ross lived in South Korea and India before relocating permanently to Los Angeles. His features have appeared in Billboard, Mixmag, and Vice. Ross has a macabre interest in collecting photographs from the recently deceased and using them as writing prompts. He has two rabbits.
Dan Johnson writes about the terra incognita at the fringe of mainstream culture. His other work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, L A Weekly, Pop Matters, LxAMagazine and a variety of other places on the world wide web. You can read his weekly tribute to cheap food and forgotten geographies in Downtown Los Angeles in his “8.72” column via Get Down Town.
Sophia Stuart writes about movies for Esquire (Mexico), International Cinematographers Guild Magazine, PCMag (Ziff Davis), Red (UK) and Refinery29. She has also written and directed games, including the scavenger hunt for 20th Century Fox’s The Devil Wears Prada, and Mayfair Brooks, a 15-part mobile drama for teens, commissioned by Pocket Gems.
Kira Cook Kira Cook writes, acts, makes films, and delights in being the arbiter of the best apple fritters in Los Angeles. You can catch her hosting the PBS national travel series Islands Without Cars or doing taste tests for Tastemade in a life that seems made up but is, in fact, somehow not. You can follow her on Instagram @flamelikeme or check out more writing at kiracook.com
Andy L. Kubai One of fandom’s prodigal sons, Andy L. Kubai loves writing about the crafty cultural motifs which sneak into even the most innocuous of interstellar shoot-em-ups, escapist four-color masterpieces, and grade Z schlock. He lives in Austin, Texas with his fiancée, Kim, and their preternaturally cute cat, George, and spends his days avoiding routine and watching clouds.
Brian Fairbanks At 15, Brian Fairbanks got his start writing about movies for The Hartford Courant, America’s oldest newspaper. Since then, he has proofread and worked on books with Hunter S. Thompson, Stephen Ambrose and the estate of Jack Kerouac, and has written several produced feature films. He lives in New Orleans.
Vija Hodosy Contributing writer and fair-weather Luddite, Vija Hodosy enjoys sporthunting obscurantists and repurposing naturally-shed opinions. Despite an obsessive self-editing process, her creative writing carries a momentum previously relegated to falling down a flight of stairs. Publicly, her portfolio explores art and entertainment through interviews and editorial features. Privately she discusses folklore, travel plans, e-commerce hacks, and botany; while preferring nudity to fast fashion and soup dumplings over spin classes.
Winnie Chak Winnie Chak is Cinema Thread’s philosophy freak and Pocky lover. At USC, Chak enrolled in a few film courses and thus began a deep love affair with film and its complexities. Her main interests are film history, genre, and animation. Outside of work, you’ll catch her writing meditations, reading poetry, or observing the sun rise and set without interruption.
Erin Dennison editor-in-chief
EDITOR’S NOTE November 2016 Los Angeles
here are several moments in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight that left a sold-out show at the ArcLight in total silence. The coming-of-age film based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin is at once a deeply personal poem and a jarringly honest piece of social commentary. It’s full of unsettling, sometimes painful silences, and carefully negotiated steps forward. During these spaces, 400 strangers mutually agreed to be still. As the credits rolled, I had a feeling of loss, similar to that of finishing a great book. This made me nostalgic for a thing that still very much exists, and resentful of another thing that is actually pretty rad: the digital revolution—namely, the rise of ondemand services and consequently, the death of the indie middle class. These days, it’s hard to appreciate a movie theater experience without acknowledging its potential demise. Alternatively, what’s so wrong with calibrating your environment and saving $15? Is the widespread availability of movies a blessing, a tragedy, or a little of both? With new innovations come new anxieties. Which brings us to a deeper question: why is the near future so fucking terrifying? What do our accountability, memory, and ethical boundaries look like after A.I. gains consciousness? Are tabletfriendly streaming services the end to mass art, and with it, empathy altogether? After watching Her, who is the bigger tool, Theodore or Samantha? Technoparanoia is normal, right? Not for Mark Duplass. Indie film’s savior fearlessly embraces streaming services popularity while managing to cling to his art-house sensibilities. The actor/director/producer has spearheaded an entirely new model of DIY filmmaking, one
that’s retrofitted for the on-demand era of digital distribution. His latest feature, Blue Jay, is a poignant play on déjà vu and the first of four Duplass Brothers films to receive a theatrical release before debuting on Netflix (which financed the indie without even seeing the script), the result of the brother’s pioneering deal with the streaming platform and indie distributor, The Orchard. Industry institutions are looking forward too. Take Sundance’s New Frontier initiative, which champions the intersection of diverse stories and new technologies. Their VR programming specifically sends a message to aspiring filmmakers and heavyhitters alike: be courageous and others will take note. I’d argue that the golden age of cinema might actually be upon us, or okay, let’s call it the second golden age of cinema. But it comes with some caveats. As of press date, Moonlight scored a record-setting weekend, making it the biggest pre-theatre average of 2016 and the 26th film ever to snag a per-location average of over 100k. The critically acclaimed juggernaut is unique among the biggest live-action per-theater-debuts in that it was a true indie offering that lacks a marquee director, huge star power, or even high profile industry cosigns. In fact, Moonlight is the only film on that list without a bag of tricks. Barry Jenkins created cinematic poetry out of the guttural—and universal— feelings of longing, regret, and tenderness. It’s more than worth the trip to the theater, if only to remind yourself what eloquent silence feels like. Sure, the future of cinema looks like VR, but it also looks like brave filmmakers, hard-fought distribution deals, communal experiences, and ambitious story telling. If you ask us, the future of cinema looks pretty human.
W INTER 2016 - 2017
ISSUE N O . 01
CINE MA THREAD
F ILM MA K E R S
Meet Me At The Movies
The Crescendo | Trevante Rhodes
A conversation with Greg Laemmle, of Los Angeles’ legendary arthouse destination, Laemmle Theaters
On the heels of his groundbreaking performance in Moonlight, Trevante Rhodes is just getting started
Tell Me More | Chris Messina + Matt Ross
Reel Deal | Mark Duplass
The two filmmakers talk shop
The actor-writer-director-producer talks about starring alongside Sarah Paulson, unprecedented production deals, and his fair-weather Southern accent
Movies that can capture that bewildering, adolescent time with nuance deserve a spot in our cinema-consciousness
White Girl is jarring—but not for the reasons you might have expected
Award-winning editor Zac Stuart-Pontier is the ultimate storyteller
Julia Holter discusses violence, storytelling, and scoring Bleed For This
A look behind the lens of filmmaker Adam Newport-Berra
A CLOSER L OOK ˚62
Horror vs. Thriller
They’ve Got the Range
Why people avoid horror but embrace thrillers
A look at six contemporary musicians turned composers
F UTUR ISM ˚78
Sundance’s New Frontier
Sundance to Blockbuster
The Esoteric World of Dr. Strange
Park Chan-Wook’s The Handmaiden
New World Order
Why We Love Villains
The well-rounded film villain is your chance to exorcise your guilt
Hedonism, satirism, aestheticism, escapism, romanticism, racism, modernism, fatalism, materialism, sexism
W IL DC A R D
The Sundance Institute’s Senior Programmer and Chief Curator of New Frontier dreams big with Virtual Reality
Paranoia surrounding new technologies and their unintended consequences is as universal as fear itself
Everywhere you look in the Marvel hero’s history, allusions to world religion, spirituality, and literature await.
Ethics in VR: Who determines what is right and wrong in this new, digitally rendered universe?
When big shot directors parlay Sundance screenings into blockbuster paydays
Singer, pianist, and songwriter Niia divulges her favorite composers and the films they scored
A discussion of surrealism, sensuality, and violence
The next generation of animation studios
text by Kira Cook
Gear Head KILLSPENCER
Final Cut Mocha 5
od, I hate how much power they have over us! Who do they think they are? Mommy and her sisters?” 30 Rock’s Pete bemoans the power of editors in one of the most delightfully insider-y production episodes of the series. Now, editors have even more power with Mocha5, software that sounds almost too delicious to be as effective as it is. This new visual-effects software tool for editors helps seamlessly lasso and remove objects or people from scenes, as well as offering a stellar image and camera stabilizer. “I’m in real, true love with it,” my editor husband reviews, trying, and failing, to make me jealous. imagineersystems.com
andmade in Los Angeles by Spencer Nikosey and his team of leather artisans, these athletic, tech, and travel products are workhorses that are built to function, and built to last. The new “Special Ops Backpack
3.0 Collection” boasts a gorgeous, undeniably eye-catching design. Also among the KILLSPENCER roster are some superlative camera bags and lens pouches that are the envy of style-minded DPs, ACs, and BFDs everywhere.
The Sound and Fury
SCORE: A Film Music Documentary
hat would our favorite films be without their accompanying scores? A “first-of-its-kind” documentary, SCORE explores the creative process behind film music, examining the under-appreciated art form of giving sound to film’s most memorable moments. Initially a kickstarter project, SCORE raised its goal in just seven days and will provide a rare glimpse into the craft featuring composers such as Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Howard Shore, and many more. score-movie.com
EDITORIAL PICKS Practical Magic Art History for Filmmakers
ilmmaking does not exist in an artistic vacuum, and Art History for Filmmakers is a phenomenal book that explores how filmmakers can use the visual arts—painting, specifically—as a teacher of composition, color theory, lighting, and period detail. Case studies in the book link art and cinema through filmmakers such as Jack Cardiff, Martin Scorcese, Guillermo del Toro, Quentin Tarantino, and Peter Webber. bloomsbury.com
e’re living in the age of nostalgia: Polaroids and 45s are back, and cinematically, we want the look of the past with the ease of the digital present. Luckily, we have a new character that’s entered Stage Right: FilmConvert. This is the software filmmakers and colorists are now using to add grain and film color to their digital videos, seamlessly emulating the look of film with none of the grief. Working with a number of cameras, each film stock is tailored to your particular brand of camera, quality grain is scanned at 6K, and 19 different film stocks are on offer. ::strums Neil Young chord::
he recent release of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1988 Dekalog, a 10-hour masterwork by Polish ﬁlmmaker, draws from Ten Commandments for thematic inspiration and structure, and centers on the residents of a housing complex in late-Communist Poland. Originally a miniseries created for television, you can now take the Dekalog at your own pace, or you can binge it all at once. You choose (an essentially human conundrum which is, appropriately, one of the central tenets of the ﬁlm).
Eye for an Eye The Eye Film Institute, Amsterdam
his stunning, sleek film museum on Amsterdam’s IJ River looks like a Spielbergian space station on a waterfront rest from its interstellar orbit. The Eye Film Institute offers daily and nightly Dutch and foreign film screenings, hosts impressive exhibitions (this summer, I
caught a stellar retrospective on cinematographer Robby Müller’s work, including Paris, Texas, Dancer in the Dark, and Breaking the Waves), and even has little pods for two in which you can while the rainy afternoon away as you choose any movie to watch from a catalogue of thousands.
Originally built in 1937, The Wilshire Regina Theatre was recently restored in 2015 and renamed the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre.
A C O N V ER S AT IO N W IT H
MEET ME AT THE
MOVIES GR EG LAEM M LE interview by Sophia Stuart photography courtesy of Laemmle Theatres
Kurt and Max Laemmle were both given their start in the movie business by their uncle, Carl Laemmle, who founded Universal Pictures in 1912. Max headed up Universal Studios’ Paris office, while Kurt ran a Laemmle theater in Indiana. Then, in 1938, Kurt and Max Laemmle went out on their own, starting Laemmle Theatres, the arthouse, independent, and foreign cinema group that is still going strong, almost 80 years later, serving over a million moviegoers a year, with a ninth location slated to open in late 2017. Cinema Thread climbed the stairs to the Laemmle HQ, above the Laemmle Royal in LA, past the massive three sheet lobby poster for Mujeres Al Borde De Un Ataque De Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in case your Spanish is rusty) to meet Max’s grandson, Greg Laemmle, the current president of the company.
The Los Feliz Theatre originally opened in 1934 with a seating capacity of 780.
The Park Theatre was one of a few theatres that once lined North Figueroa Street in the Highland Park area of Los Angeles.
CINEMA THREAD: Thanks for agreeing to be inter viewed for the first ever issue of Cinema Thread— we’re not afraid of subtitles* either. GREG L AEMMLE: (laughs) Or arthouse, black & white, or documentaries, I hope. CT: Absolutely. So let ’s start off with your favorite movie. GL: Annie Hall is one of them, certainly. I always find something new in it. CT: Do you recall where you first saw Annie Hall? GL: I’m pretty sure I saw it when it played at our Westwood cinema on opening weekend, April 1977. I wasn’t even a teenager, but I’m sure my parents took me. Then, a few years later, I had a weekend job working at our Santa Monica theater and we did a whole Woody Allen series— that I remember well. CT: Can you tell us how you program each venue? GL: We deal with the majors (like Sony Classics), as well as smaller distributors like Zeitgeist, and make decisions based on a combination of clips, trailers, screenings, festival reviews, and both national and local critics’ reviews. When IFC calls and says, ‘Can we go with the Royal for the Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake for the holidays, Greg’ they know I have an affection for Loach as a filmmaker, so it’s a no-brainer. We program six months out, for bigger scheduled releases, as well as week to week, where we have to respond to the weekend’s box office takings and respond accordingly, deciding what stays and what disappears. CT: You also champion certain films that might struggle to get a foothold in the market with your Sneak Preview Club. GL: The Sneak Preview Club is a way for us to reward our regular patrons with free insider preview screenings of up and coming independent cinema, often with the filmmaker present. It’s now 30,000 members strong. CT: Does the audience fill out screening response cards? GL: No. We don’t ask them to do that. But we do encourage them to become an advocate for the film through word of mouth and social media. When I do an introduction at the Sneaks I say, ‘These films can compete with Hollywood on the level of quality. But they can’t on the marketing budget, that’s where you come in.’
CT: Laemmle is important to the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, as part of the “Academy qualifications”, right? GL: Yes, we program a wide range of cinematic experiences from one-nightonly screenings, special events, cultural happenings (live theater, ballet, and opera transmissions), and premieres, as well as Academy qualifications. Movies need a certain number of screenings per day, here in LA, to qualify for an Academy award eligibility. CT: With your ninth location opening in Glendale next year, Laemmle is a driving force behind downtown revitalisation. GL: We believe in designing theaters that are to scale for the neighborhood. Thats what drives our programming. There’s a curatorial approach to fit the place. There’s a trend in urban planning to have a cultural component to a thriving downtown, and movie theaters are an important part of that. CT: Let ’s talk format—all digital projection now? GL: We’ve completely converted to digital, in line with the industry. We can do 35mm projection at the Ahrya Fine Arts, our art deco movie palace in Beverly Hills, because we have the equipment there, and it’s cool to be able to do that from time to time. CT: We have to ask: what’s your snack preference when you go to the movies? GL: Popcorn—no butter—and usually just water to drink, unless it’s been a long day, then I’ll have a coffee. I’m against this new trend for dine-in theaters. I’m opposed to full meals in the cinema. I want my supper cooked by a chef in a restaurant afterwards. CT: Laemmle Theatres has influenced so many cineastes, not just those who buy tickets, or have their movies shown here, but those who’ve worked here, like John Ptak, who was assistant manager in Westwood before becoming an agent repping directors David Lynch, Ridley Scott, and Jane Campion. GL: I’m really proud of our legacy in the past almost 80 years. I’m also thrilled at how we’re reaching younger generations. It amazes me how much people know about a filmmaker’s body of work. They have much greater access to repertory theatre, due to the internet. Here at Laemmle we’re a business, yes, but we’re also spreading a true and appreciation of cinematic culture and love of film— that’s what’s important in the end. *’not afraid of subtitles’ appears on all Laemmle programs
“I’m really proud of our legacy in the past almost 80 years. I’m also thrilled at how we’re reaching younger generations. It amazes me how much people know about a filmmaker’s body of work.”
On the heels of his groundbreaking performance in Moonlight, Trevante Rhodes is just getting started. We sat down with the actor to talk instinct, his unorthodox approach to character study, and the universal need to be understood. text by Agatha French photography by Joe Perri styling by Ashley Zohar @ The Wall Group grooming by Jhizet Panosian @ Forward Artists shot at Hudson Loft, Downtown LA
shirt Armani Exchange denim top H&M
There’s a scene in the new film Moonlight in which the lead character, Chiron, played by 26-yearold newcomer Trevante Rhodes, arrives at a diner to reconnect with his young love, a man whom he hasn’t seen since a shattering teenage foray into lust and betrayal. The scene is expertly framed, patiently paced, and thick with the actors’ chemistry, but it also contains a moment that marks, unequivocally, Rhodes as a talent to watch.
itting down to a meal before the object of his life-long affections, Trevante Rhodes’ Chiron quickly pops out his gold fronts in an open, swaggering move, but his eyes are averted, like a kid taking out his retainer at a cafeteria lunch. In a coming-of-age story, that subtle reference—no matter how oblique—reverberates, and it’s performed with the kind of raw vulnerability and nuance that we can expect from this talented actor. Moonlight, which charts a young man’s struggle to know and accept himself over the course of two formative decades, poses a unique challenge for its lead. The ﬁlm is divided into three distinct chapters, with three different actors playing the protagonist, Chiron, at different stages in his life. The challenge, however, isn’t only that the ﬁrst two actors to play Chiron, Alex Hibbert and Ashton Sanders, in childhood and adolescence respectively, are stunning in their own right and therefore tough acts to follow, it’s that Rhodes comes last. He is the headliner, in a sense, and tasked with seeing the ﬁlm’s narrative confrontations, resolutions, and redemptions to a satisfying end. Considering the height of that order, how did Rhodes approach playing the adult Chiron, a part that bears the culmination of two other performances, and, in a sense, of the entire ﬁlm? “Almost like a short story, or a short film,” he said. I had met Rhodes at the Hudson Lofts in downtown Los Angeles. We spoke in an empty side room while the crew prepped for his shoot; our voices echoed against high ceilings and blank walls. “[Writer-director] Barry [Jenkins] was really adamant about not wanting [the three Chirons] to meet and not allowing us to talk to one another, because he didn’t want us to mimic what the younger versions were doing. It’s so smart … He wanted to depict that throughout our lives, we change … Certain moments happen that are impactful. Chiron went through these changes that were so, so heavy, and the story picks these three particular moments.” In Rhodes’ chapter, that moment entails not only reconnecting with a childhood
crush, but also making a crushing revelation, the kind of cinematic climax that feels earned. Rhodes may not appear until the movie’s ﬁnal third, but after an exquisite ﬁrst two acts, his performance does not disappoint—it exceeds even this far-reaching ﬁlm’s ambitious demands and expectations. Rhodes, who can convey the tension between self-preservation and subsumed longing with a mere ﬂickering glance, is the crescendo. As we spoke, Rhodes adjusted his seat to face me. He is present and engaging, an animated conversationalist who occasionally tapped out a little beat on the side of his chair, letting off nervous energy, or maybe just excess steam. (Before becoming an actor, Rhodes was a competitive sprinter at the University of Texas, Austin; a casting director spotted him on the ﬁeld.) As the hour progressed, I began to get the sense of an actor stretching his craft, poised on the starting line of his career. “I’ve always had some semblance of understanding of people and emotions, but ﬁlming [Moonlight] really turned that up to ten,” he said. “I’m always trying to ﬁgure out why we do what we do … I’ve read about how certain actors write in the margins of their script, which is cool, I respect that. But for me, it’s not a conscious thing … Living in [the character’s] skin, you do what they would do … I have no training, honestly … It’s less of a structured dance than a freestyle dance to me.” Rhodes paused, aware even in that moment of his physicality. “I’m gesticulating right now,” he said, “but Chiron is much more subdued, more minimal.” He looked me over for a breath and then mirrored my exact posture, leaning forward over the recorder and into our conversation, the body language of a journalist. “You’re leaning in, like this,” he demonstrated. “At what point in your life did someone do this when they were listening to you, and that made you feel comfortable, so that now you can relay that to other people?” Rhodes may work by instinct, but he gives due credit to writer-director Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy) for creating a world to animate. Of the script, he noted, “You just knew that this was something incredible, it was tugging at your heart from the jump.
jacket Armani Exchange following page shirt Zara sweater Marcelo Burlon County of Milan
“Unfortunately, we don’t always see black men of all builds going after more emotional roles because it can be perceived as weakness, so it was important to play against that perception.” You can feel the weight of it from page one: the way that it’s written, the beats in between, and the pacing that lets you know that a character is really contemplating. . . that lets you know who this person is.” Indeed, Moonlight, which is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by MacArthur fellow Tarell McCraney, is a patient ﬁlm, interested in the weight of silences as well as capturing the space that contains them. (The cinematography is breathtaking: ﬁlmed in Miami, humidity practically seeps from the celluloid.) Moonlight, and perhaps Chiron in particular, resides in the tension between the unspoken—and what needs to be said. Its themes include the intersection of masculinity, race, identity, and sexuality; it tells the particular story of one human being’s longing to connect. The climactic scenes of Moonlight depend on Rhodes to embody all of that particularity—as well as the universal experience of a slow-burn romance, and a heartbreaking reconciliation with his character’s mother— almost entirely through looks and gestures. It is the ultimate undertaking for a screen actor. In fact, Rhodes cites a scene with Chiron’s mother, played by Naomie Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom), as “the moment [he] fell in love with acting.” “Naomie is so beautiful as an actress—she’s incredible—and I felt for the ﬁrst time that this person, my mother, who I’ve loved my entire life, genuinely told me that she loved me… I was crying every take. Barry was like, ‘Bro, save it, save it… [But] when you allow yourself to be in the moment and really receive, it becomes the truth. That was my truth. It was the most amazing moment.” Similarly, Rhodes’ romantic chemistry opposite actor André Holland simmers and swoons. Jenkins employed a similar method—limiting their interaction while ﬁlming—as he did with the actors playing their younger counterparts. “The scene where we did the phone call was the ﬁrst time I’d ever heard [André’s] voice… Ten minutes before we shoot the scene, Barry comes up and whispers in my ear, ‘André is gonna make the call.’ The wait was well worth it: on screen, the actors cycle between intimacy and longing, between two men who have grown apart
and a bonded pair who know each other deeply. “This is an epic, true love story,” said Rhodes. As for the notion that playing a gay character may have posed its own challenge, Rhodes is unconvinced. “I get asked that a lot. I think it’s disrespectful to assume there’s a difference… If you can strip away sexual orientation, gender, race, we’re all looking for connection, love, acceptance, and understanding. We’re all the same … to play a gay man was so liberating. The best part about our job is showing people that you’re not alone. Period. There are a million cats out there like Chiron who really think, ‘I can’t be this person that I want to be…’ To shine a light on that in a ﬁlm, in a medium that people see—it’s the best fucking thing… To have the opportunity to be a voice for people… understanding is everything.” There have been some obvious parallels drawn between Moonlight and ﬁlms like Carol or Brokeback Mountain, simply because those are the mainstream queer ﬁlms that most people have seen. (I will cop to detecting a whisper-faint echo of Heath Ledger’s performance in Rhodes’ Chiron—that broad physique and mufﬂed emotion, that heartbreaking furtiveness.) But to reduce Moonlight to mere comparisons is to do it a disservice. Moonlight stakes its claim at the intersection of so much more, and for Rhodes, it provided the opportunity to explore a complex role as an actor. “Especially at that stage of my career,” he said, “It was like, ‘He’s relatively ﬁt. He’s gonna be the cop, or the guy who can whoop somebody’s ass, or the thug”… But I ﬁnd myself to be a sensitive person. To be able to show that emotion and range while still having this physicality was an exciting opportunity and is what you want as an actor… I think, a lot of times in the black community, and it’s something you see in the ﬁlm, being sensitive is taboo. There’s this idea that you’re supposed to be this hulking, hypermasculine person because you have to be that much better than your counterparts to get equal opportunity. Unfortunately, we don’t always see black men of all builds going after more emotional roles because it can be perceived as weakness, so it was important to play against that perception.
Much of Moonlight was ﬁlmed on location in the Liberty City housing projects in Miami, where both McCraney and Jenkins were raised, adding an extra element of veracity and texture to scenes. “The reason why Moonlight is so great,” said Rhodes, “Is that it’s Barry and Tarell’s story.” Experiencing the community’s reception of ﬁlming was important to Rhodes, and having had a part in making a truly meaningful movie has impacted the way he perceives ﬁlmmaking. “The people of the community were really taking charge,” he said of Liberty City. “It was really cool to see little black kids looking up to Barry and looking up to us like, ‘Yo, I could do this. They look like me.’” Rhodes is cogent that “nothing is gonna be like Moonlight,” and that, at the end of the day, he is a “people pleaser” who understands that Hollywood will have its demands, but he hopes this ﬁlm has set the tone for the kinds of projects he’ll be involved in. “I had a taste of making art,” he said, “I want to be a part of something that’s socially progressive, something that’s moving the conversation of blackness, gayness, all the things that unify us, because we’re all the same.” Rhodes can also be seen in the recently completed Terrence Malick ﬁlm Weightless, as well as HBO’s Westworld, and is looking forward to landing his next inspired role. “I’ve been having this struggle, trying to ﬁnd the right thing. I know the sensation I felt being a part of this,” he said, noting that he wants to work with ﬁlmmakers who are embarking on a “project because it means something to them.” Considering that, I wonder, might there be a project—some harbored passion—that means something to him? Rhodes, it turns out, not only performs poetry locally every Tuesday, he also loves jazz. “Every morning I wake up and go to the gym, I come home, I play my vinyl, my John Coltrane. That’s just how I start my day … I’ve been doing it for years,” Rhodes said. “And in six years I’m going to do a John Coltrane biopic. I have to.” “Why in six years,” I asked him, “why wait?” Rhodes was ready with a genuine answer: “Because I haven’t lived enough,” he said. “I love the music and I love jazz. I want to do it justice. I need to do it justice. That’s the dream.”
“I want to b something th progressive, som moving the con blackness, gay things that unif we’re all th
be a part of hat’s socially mething’s that’s nversation of yness—all the fy us, because he same.” —Trevante Rhodes
Chris Messina interviews
Matt Ross introduction by Kira Cook photography courtesy of Electric City Entertainment
Captain Fantastic (2016)
The mercenary nature of the menacing tech CEO that Matt Ross plays on Silicon Valley is the polar opposite of the ethics supporting his recent Sundance hit and Cannes winner, Captain Fantastic. The film is about a survivalist, Swiss Family Robinson Crusoe-type dad who raises his children off the grid in the middle of a forest but must reintegrate in society after the death of the kids’ mother. Ross wrote and directed Captain Fantastic as the follow-up to his first feature, 28 Hotel Rooms, an indie starring Chris Messina. Matt Ross is the guy you’ve seen in everything from American Psycho to Big Love, but he’s been directing for just as long as he’s been acting. Because there’s nothing quite like the intimacy of two good friends and colleagues discussing their lauded careers, we asked Ross’s pal and colleague Chris Messina to interview Ross about the making of Captain Fantastic and the labyrinthine passage to a directorial career. CHRIS MESSINA: First let’s talk about acting. I want to take it back to Juilliard, which is how you got here. I’m curious, because before Juilliard you were doing plays. MAT T ROSS: I had fantasies about being a filmmaker as a kid but I grew up in rural Oregon and that wasn’t any thing that sounded realistic. But there were theaters and you could actually go and audition for plays, and I got involved in theater as a kid. I directed some short films and I went to Juilliard. Afterwards I took some film classes at NYU, and with the money I made as an actor, I made more short films. So I had been filmmaking for a long time before 28 Hotel Rooms, which was my first feature film and which you starred in—I don’t know if you remember it, you were very drunk most of the time. CM: Yes, yes I was. Did you know when you were done with Juilliard that you were going to go study film? MR: No, I was very conflicted while I was there. I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take. I really enjoyed acting, but I was also conflicted because I loved making films. I loved putting together all of the different elements. So when I graduated from Juilliard, I went to NYU for film school almost immediately. CM: Making those 10 short films and then editing them must have helped you a lot as an actor. MR: It does. But in terms of directing—It’s just like being in theater, you observe the other directors and actors and some of
it’s just behavioral or managerial; this person manages their crew and cast with a gentle, loving, and collaborative hand and that’s what I want to do, and this person is a monster, and that’s not what I want to do when I get a chance. Some of it is human behavior and not necessarily technical. When you and I worked together we talked about it a lot. We read about certain directors and the way they worked, and we wanted to try that out. What is it like if we do silent takes, change the blocking, shoot the scene a couple different ways? I worked with some directors that did things that were really helpful like that. It should be standard operating procedure, and shocks me that’s it’s not, for directors to invite actors to set and work on the scene internally, thematically, emotionally, technically before the crew is there. Otherwise everyone’s waiting around. Doing that work before you send the actors to makeup will save everyone an enormous amount of time. CM: The directing that I’ve done was born out of inspiration from great directors and frustration from bad ones. Many times, where you’re blocking and rehearsing and talking and getting inside of the scene, you’re doing it in front of the entire crew so not only are you wasting their time, but it’s also a very vulnerable position. MR: Yeah, and how do you give an actor a note? Do you announce, ‘Hey Chris, can you attack her more, you’re not giving her much to work with?’ Do you do it that way or do you come up and whisper
quietly? And if you whisper quietly, do I tell the other actors what you’re doing or is it just for you? Additionally, I understand the reason you have Video Village. It’s so the gaffer, producers, the other department can see the frame, see what’s in the frame, know what needs to be adjusted, and know what you’re photographing. That’s the positive of Video Village. The negative of Video Village is that it’s exposing the intimacy of the actors’ work to everyone at all times, and I feel like it’s not conducive to intimacy, frankly. I love the idea that you’re revealing yourself only in front of the other actors and perhaps me and only whomever’s in the room with you. What ends up happening a lot of time with Video Village, the bigger the film and the slower the machine moves, is that people are sitting around, gossiping, on their phones and iPads, and casually checking the frame every once in awhile. CM: Like MR: Like that’s in intimacy achieve.
a hangout. a hangout. And I think fact detrimental to the that you’re trying to
CM: So really, you were conscious and clocking these things. I know I certainly was. You were collecting things you didn’t like… MR: Oh, yes. I remember in American Psycho, Mary Harron would give the dailies to the actors to watch in their trailer. The idea being, ‘We’re all here together, we’re all doing our thing.’ CM: So then where do you go,
you’re having this nice career as an actor; you’re working pretty steadily, and making these short films. How do you get to say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to make a feature film.’ How did you begin 28 Hotel Rooms? MR: The origin of this was I had written a screenplay thinking of our friend Sam Rockwell, and the character was a guy in a midlife crisis— a formerly successful artist, now a drunk, and heavily selfmedicating. But it had a comedic element, and then at the very end he pulls himself out, in the smallest of ways. Anyway I had originally written that with Sam in mind and I gave it to him he said ‘Look, I just played three drunks in a row and I don’t want to do it again.’ He recommended you. At that point I only knew you socially, we had drinks with Sam a half dozen times, but I didn’t really know you. And I remember our first meetings, you were interested in it but you kind of wanted it to be a different movie than the one I wrote. And so then we talked about other movies we might do together. So we pitched some ideas back and forth, and 28 Hotel Rooms came out of an idea I believe I had, and then I wrote the initial screenplay and we workshopped it for months and months and months and tried to do that Cassavetes thing where we basically rewrote the screenplay out of what came out of improvisation. Cassavetes and Peter Falk would do improv and then Cassavetes would write down what they said, and then that became the script. CM: That was so fun. We did it in Venice and we’d take breaks, and the light would be incredible as we walked and talked more about what the movie could be. It was a great collaboration. MR: We wanted to break down the walls of how films are traditionally made, which is you show up and you do this script, this coverage, and then you move on, and this is your mark, and this is your line. We were more interested in playing improvisational jazz rather than an orchestra where it’s all about precision. We weren’t interested in precision. CM: Okay, so 28 Hotel Rooms—finally you finish the edit, and it goes to Sundance in 2012. Had you already started writing Captain Fantastic? When did that start? MR: I wrote Captain Fantastic around the time of that long edit. I gave it to Lynette Howell Taylor (who produced both Captain Fantastic and 28 Hotel Rooms) when we came back from Sundance in January 2012. CM: So she reads it and goes, I love it. And then what happened? Did you start thinking about actors? Viggo, I would imagine, was high on your list. Was he in your mind when
writing it? Were you writing it for someone? MR: No, I was not, because you never know who you’re going to have access to, and if you do have access to those people, who’s going to be available? I didn’t have anyone specific in mind while writing, but when it came time to figure out who we were going to go to, Viggo was my first choice.
play. The kids show up to play. You create an environment where it’s playful and fun and you can experiment and explore, and kids do that naturally. They don’t show up thinking, ‘This has to be good, this is my career and life.’ They show up to play bank robbers and cops. They’re there to play, and it’s a matter of harnessing it and pushing it in different directions.
CT: He’s fucking fantastic in the movie and just an incredible actor, and you can see why. Is his commitment how you got the financing for the film? MR: Yeah. Any thing that is financed with independent financing usually becomes about the foreign presales and that is based on the actor (or actors), the leads, and their perceived foreign value.
CM: Francis Ford Coppola once told me that a director doesn’t ‘get a performance.’ Instead you set a tone or an atmosphere in which one can be free and safe to explore. You did that on our film, and you must have done that here because I’ve heard all those actors talk about how spoiled they are having worked for you because it’ll never be like that again. MR: That’s lovely to hear but I don’t think it’s unique, what I do.
CM: Captain Fantastic is a totally different beast; you’re dealing with a lot more people, a lot more opinions, etc. MR: It is, and in many ways that was the biggest challenge for me directorially— just the scope and size and dealing with all the different personalities and needs. I was used to shooting in a nimble way where you could spend a lot of time experimenting and that went away very quickly when you have so many people to photograph, so many children to be aware of, the hours they can work, locations in the middle of nowhere, stunts, musical numbers, different states, all that stuff gives you very little time to do the work that you’re trying to do. CM: The kids in the movie are all so good, true, and funny. You fall in love with all those kids. Even the children with experience who hadn’t had THAT much experience [were] able to hold the scene with Viggo. I’ve seen the film eight times, and I still cry watching it. I’m still very moved and very surprised. MR: Part of the issue with casting is having the time needed. We saw kids from all over the world. People would send in tapes from every English-speaking country. I watched all of them. You’re not looking for some kind of perfect performance; you’re looking for a spirit or an energy. An essence. Because really when you get down to it, every kid is special. It’s hard. I found it very difficult. It took a lot of time, and there were a lot of near misses. It could have gone a lot of ways for a lot of the roles where it would have been different, though perhaps not better or worse. The second part of that is you don’t get a performance from them. So much of it is creating an environment, which is not dissimilar to what you do with professional grown up actors, where people are comfortable and they can explore and
CM: IT’S FUCKING UNIQUE, WHAT YOU DO! No, it is unique. I don’t think you invented it, but it’s an unfortunately rare technique. MR: Sometimes the endeavor became how to get them to say the line how I heard it in my head. I think that’s a more common thing that we’re asked to do as actors. I still think even within that framework of asking people to hit a specific sequence of words you’re still allowing them to interpret. That’s really what it comes down to: actors are interpretive artists, just like the costume designer, DP, production designer is. You want to create an environment where people are allowed to contribute and interpret. The worst thing you can say to an actor when they come to set is exactly how they should do the scene before you’ve even seen what their ideas are. You’re negating their interpretation, and, oftentimes, their interpretation may be 40 times cleverer, deeper, and more imaginative than you’d ever dreamed. CM: When you locked the film, did you feel a sense of relief? Did you have a hard time stepping away from it? Did you feel relief in that, or were you blue? MR: What was palpable was the feeling that I was unsure about whether I had made all the right choices. I was continuously haunted with the variations I had. Should I remove this scene? Do we need this moment? We had a lot of material that was cut. Joe Krings’ [the editor] original cut was three and a half hours long and the final cut is about two hours. So, there’s an hour and a half of material that was shot that is not in the film. Some of those are full scenes, entire characters were cut out. A lot of the time, I was struggling with whether I made the right choices. The difficulty is
George MacKay, Nicholas Hamilton, Samantha Isler, and Charlie Shotwell in Captain Fantastic (2016)
Viggo Mortensen, Annalise Basso, and Shree Crooks, in Captain Fantastic (2016)
Marin Ireland, Chris Messina, and Matt Ross behind the scenes in 28 Hotel Rooms (2012)
“I just want to make something that’s worthy, worth two hours. There are so many things we watch and we’re like, ‘Yeah, that was good,’ and we forget it. I want it to be worth the time and energy of everyone involved. So I’m trying to find that thing. I want to have an experience in the theater that’s both intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving and takes me to a world I don’t know.” that there’s a richer version of the movie but it’s not necessarily a better version. CM: What do you mean “richer ”? MR: I mean I think there’s a more nuanced, much more complex version of the film that I had at maybe three hours, but it’s not better. It’s more like the film as miniseries in a way. You get to see things that maybe deepen your understanding of certain characters or moments, but as an experience that you watch over the course of one sitting, it taxes you, it’s exhausting. A lot of that information doesn’t create a more successful film viewing experience but it does deepen your understanding. And those are two different things, in a way, if that makes sense. CT: So I’m curious, what do you do now? You have this movie that ’s going around the world, and people are really loving it. What do you do now? MR: Make a small movie that everyone hates and no one understands why I made it and it’s an utter failure? I guess I’m searching for one of two things. One: I’ve read a lot of scripts to direct—scripts that I didn’t write—and a lot of them are excellent. Some of them feel relatively conventional or movies I’ve seen before, and I’d like to do something I haven’t necessarily seen before. Which makes me feel like I do have to write it myself. And the other thing is that it’s got to be meaningful or personal to me, and if you’re going to write that yourself, then it takes a long time to make a movie. I just want to make something that’s worthy, worth two hours. So many things we watch and we’re like ‘Yeah, that was good,’ and we forget it. I want it to be worth the time and energy of everyone involved. So I’m trying to find that thing. I want to have an experience in the theater that’s both intellectually stimulating and emotionally moving and takes me to a world I don’t know.
CM: It takes a lot out of you to make a movie. It is a beating, I found. It’s beautiful, but it’s really fucking hard and whatever you’re committing to in this very moment to say ‘I’m making this movie,’ that’s your baby for awhile. This film is really being talked about and loved all around. If I told you that you were going to Cannes to win a directing award, would you believe it? MR: No, I wouldn’t. I think it’s hard to see, when it’s your own life, I’m probably one of my biggest critics, I think every thing I do is shit. I’m always trying to prove to myself that I’m not shit and so the only way to do that is to do more work and try and get better. I also want to learn to enjoy it while I’m doing it. Because you can’t really hold the perceived success or failure in your hands. What I’m saying is, you have to get to a place where you’re satisfied. It’s like when you go on an audition as an actor. You go on an audition and even if they don’t choose you but you say, ‘Look, I was really prepared for that, I showed what I would do, I took some chances. I really took a lot of time and put my best foot forward.’ And you know when you did well. You know! And I feel that as a filmmaker too. When I get to the place where I feel that I’ve done the best that I could then there’s a satisfaction there. CM: For me and the movie I directed, Alex of Venice, there was nothing that compared to fighting through a scene. That ’s when I was most alive, most happy, I had purpose, we were all working as one, fighting for the same cause. Remind me of this when I’m bitching to you later about something else, that nothing quite compares to the actual moment of ‘yes, yes, let ’s try that, let ’s go there.’ MR: I always say the business of being an actor is very difficult but there’s great joy in actually doing the job. It’s so hard to get the job. The waiting in between is very difficult, and the jockeying for position is
very difficult. How you’re perceived and how you want to be perceived is not always the same. There’s limited resources and too many people for those jobs. But when you’re actually doing it, and all systems are firing and you love working with the director and you love the script and love the other actors, it’s flow, pure flow, and you enjoy it. And you’re always searching for a way to go back to that place. CM: I’m not alone here, I look forward to many more of your films, and I hope to audition for the waiter in the next one. MR:Oh yes, there’s a great part. He doesn’t speak and he’s wearing a mask, actually a bag over his head... CM: I want it. It ’s mine. I’ll send you a tape tonight of myself, just so you can see me. With a bag over my head. MR: Okay but we really do need you to audition— CM: No, no, that ’s fine! MR: I’m going to send you about 12 scenes, they’re all about 20 pages, and I need you to be off-book. I just need to see some different things. CM: Of course! And does it matter what kind of bag is over my head? Paper or plastic? MR: Try a bunch of different ones. We just don’t know at this point. CM: I appreciate you thinking of me for this. MR: Once you deliver the audition, I’ll tell you we’ve cast someone else. The moment you send the tape, after you’ve spent a week on it— CM:—then you’ll tell me Mark Ruffalo has the part? MR: Yeah, or someone. CM: At least for this week, I’ll have purpose. I love you Matt Ross. MR: I love you Chris Messina. Thank you. CM: Thank you.
The Reel Deal: Mark Duplass on his new film Blue Jay, and what it means to be an auteur interview by Erin Dennison photography by Alex Lehmann
Itâ€™s a safe assumption that Mark Duplass believes at least six impossible things before breakfast. The former musician turned entertainment trailblazer has become a mogul, and some might argue, a savior, in the unpredictable world of indie filmmaking. In a climate notorious for both shrinking budgets and audiences, Duplass has the keen ability to see around corners, championing an alternative business model that capitalizes on the sustainability of streaming while paying homage to the glamour of art house cinema. Simply put, the dude knows what audiences want to see. Back in January 2015, Mark and his brother, Jay, inked an unprecedented deal with Netflix to produce four movies to be distributed on the streaming service after a brief theatrical release. Later that year, the brothers signed a seven-film distribution deal with The Orchard. The first film under those deals, Blue Jay, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival with its theatrical release and on-demand service debut slated for fall of 2016. We sat down to talk improvisation, the cavalry, and his occasional southern accent.
Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson in Blue Jay (2016)
˚32 CINEMA THREAD: You’ve got quite the knack for nuanced dialog and character-driven storytelling. What role does improvisation play in your films? MARK DUPL ASS: Every film is different. Most of the things Jay and I direct work with a traditional script, but we tend to loosen it up a ton on set. Sometimes, though, we just start with an outline and progress from there. On Blue Jay, I wrote the initial outline in collaboration with my producers, my director, and Sarah Paulson. Then, once on set, I would sketch out pages for each scene the night before we shot them. We didn’t have any time to really learn the lines, but those pages gave us a nice form to follow. CT: The film was shot in just one week. How did your personal relationship with Sarah evolve over the course of shooting this film? MD: I knew Sarah a bit personally before we made the film. She is extremely close with Amanda Peet, whom I directed in Togetherness. And I knew we could create a realistic chemistry just based on our natural energ y together. But I was heartened to find out how much we had in common along the way. And how we were able to spin some of our personality elements into the story as well. She’s a rad collaborator. Fiercely loyal, with a high level of integrity for the truth. She does not suffer fools, and neither do I. So we kept each other on our toes for sure. CT: Your seven-picture distribution deal with The Orchard allows The Duplass Brothers films to be seen in theaters before streaming on Netflix, which you have a four-picture production deal with. As someone who has built a lucrative career with VOD, streaming, and theatrical releases—was the theater-to-streaming structure an important element for you, and if so, why?
MD: To be honest, I feel less and less of a need for my own films to have a traditional theatrical release the older I get. But many of the filmmakers I produce are making their first film, and I think it’s important to have an element of theatrical early on in one’s career (not just for the fun and excitement, but also for some of the media coverage and reviews, etc.) So, it was important to find a balance for these movies. At the end of the day, my movies are mostly seen on Netflix by people who are willing to “try me out” for free. And I’m 100% fine with that. CT: Alex Lehmann was your former camera operator at The League and pulled double-duty as the director and DP of Blue Jay. How did your dynamic change during his directorial debut? MD: Alex and I did really well on this movie together. He’s extremely humble and had very little narrative experience, but his instincts for storytelling and cinema are very closely aligned with mine. And visually, he’s a much more advanced filmmaker than I am in a lot of ways. So, we had a wonderful blend of our skills coming together to make it work. And, in the end, we both share a sense of nostalgia and melancholy which is the essential ingredient to this film, and that was the horse we kinda rode the whole way through. CT: Why did you decide to shoot the film in black and white? MD: We wanted this film to be very bare. Strip away all the extra elements and lay bare a feeling at its core. Alex said it really well... ‘Two characters. Two colors.’ CT: You’re known for discovering and working with new talent. How can a lack of experience be an asset to the creative process? MD: I just love the excitement and work ethic that
Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson in Blue Jay (2016)
comes when you give someone a chance to prove themselves. I love working with first-timers because they are usually extremely appreciative and incredibly prepared. And, perhaps most importantly, they teach me new things because I can get caught in a rut of the same way of doings things over and over again.
MD: By the time you read this, the rules will have already changed so I don’t dare to venture a guess. I will say that I am thrilled to have a home like Netflix who pays us well to make our smaller, niche films. I don’t take that for granted and realize it could go away, literally, tomorrow.
CT: What is your relationship to failure? And at this stage in your career, what would you consider a failure? MD: Blue Jay is hands down the riskiest film I’ve ever made. We went in with a short outline, very little prep, seven days to film, and no “big” story to lean on. It was entirely execution-dependent, and we were not sure we wouldn’t make a steaming pile of garbage. I don’t think we did. And I’m really proud of that. I’m terrified of failing, because I have failed so much in the early portion of my career. But that fear was very invigorating for all of us on Blue Jay.
CT: In previous inter views, you’ve noted that not every film needs to be seen by everyone, just like not every movie needs $14M to be made. Do you think there should be a direct relationship to budget and viewership? MD: I wouldn’t say “direct” but I do think it’s good to be realistic, especially as you are coming up as a filmmaker, i.e., maybe a niche Cantonese melodrama with no stars shouldn’t be made for $20 million dollars? That said, I think it’s important to make some irrational decisions and shake things up. We put our own money into Sean Baker’s Tangerine and, while I was fairly sure I would make my money back, I would have been happy to lose money on that film to get it into the world.
CT: What does success look like to you? MD: Learning how to slow the fuck down. CT: During your 2015 keynote speech at SXSW, you famously declared, “The cavalry is not coming.” At what point in your career did this become your point of view? MD: It was a gradual thing. I suppose I always thought that making indie films was only a passing phase so that one could get to Hollywood and make bigger budget films. But I slowly realized that making small films (and TV shows) is a way of life and ecosystem unto itself. That, at least for me, is where it’s where I’m most comfortable and where I can tell the stories I think I’m equipped to tell well. CT: To what extent do you think streaming ser vices and premium cable have galvanized a newfound economy for niche storytelling?
CT: How long would you say it took you to find your voice in filmmaking? MD: I lucked into it around age 25. I had been making music and movies for at least 10 years before that. Ugh. CT: How come you don’t have a Southern accent? MD: I do when I drink. CT: If we gave you $50, what would you buy? MD: I would find a good cause with a corporate match, donate it, bring it up to $100. CT: Last three Google searches? MD: Raw Oysters Vancouver. Marlon James new book. Adjustable Jump Rope.
“At the end of the day, my movies are mostly seen on Netflix by people who are willing to ‘try me out’ for free. And I’m 100% fine with that.”
Mark Duplass and Sarah Paulson in Blue Jay (2016)
RAP, GERMANY, & COMING OF AGE Q&A with filmmaker Chad Hartigan interview by Vi Nguyen photography by Stephanie Gonot
Coming of age films are enduring. After all, you’d be hardpressed to find any adult who hasn’t experienced the haze of confusion yielded by bursting hormones, morphing body parts, and the social isolation felt with shifting ambiguous identities. Movies that can capture that bewildering, adolescent time with nuance deserve a spot in our cinemaconsciousness. Director Chad Hartigan’s Morris from America, is no exception. Starring Craig Robinson and newcomer Markees Christmas, the film is a funny-but-moving exploration of isolation, hip-hop, and familial dynamics, all navigated against a very alien landscape for father and son: the verywhite Heidelberg, Germany. We spoke with Hartigan about his semi-autobiographical film, rap lyrics, and what authenticity in storytelling means to him.
˚38 CINEMA THREAD: Morris From America is semi-autobiographical, but at the same time, it’s also a black story. As a white director, what are some of the challenges of doing such a story? CHAD HARTIGAN: The first challenge was just kind of getting over that and writing an experience in a way that felt natural for someone else without changing as much. And then not being afraid to show it to people, being very open about it, getting feedback, and working out details that maybe change the authenticity. But for the most part, in individual scenes, like what happens to Morris or how Morris reacts to things, is very much me. I felt like that was probably okay, because people are, in the end, very similar.
Carla Juri and Markees Christmas in Morris From America (2016).
Craig Robinson in Morris From America (2016).
CT: You wrote Morris’ rap lyrics yourself. Was there a similar moment with your dad or your mom where someone read and reacted to them, and what was the response? CH: When I was compiling things from my own life early on, one of the things I remember was writing the lyrics, ‘fucking all the bitches, two at a time.’ My teacher found it in my notebook and gave it to my mom and I got in big trouble. So I was like, ‘oh that’s a funny story.’ But then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be funnier if I got in trouble because those lyrics were so bad rather than the actual content?’ So that’s something I thought of early in the process and basically informed the entire Curtis character. I thought, well, what kind of parent would that be? I really built their entire relationship and dynamic off of that idea of that reaction to those lyrics. CT: Even though the relationship and dynamic is built upon that idea, that reaction—how much of maybe your own father-son dynamics or parent relationships from your own life are reflected in the movie? CH: Probably none, nothing like that at all. I don’t have kids, and my relationship with my dad is not like Morris and Curtis at all. If anything, it’s maybe an idealized version of what I had imagined myself as a parent to be like. It’s easy as a non-parent to imagine that you’ll be so chill and cool and always have the right approach. It’s probably a little bit of that, and maybe once you have kids, after two years it’s more like ‘Go to your room. Shut up!’ But yeah, that dynamic is completely made up. CT: Has there been any stickiness in response from the African American community? CH: Well, I think that, if someone felt that it was insensitive, they are not apt to come up and tell me to my face, so I’m sure there is that reaction. But I haven’t experienced much of it. At Sundance, I did talk to one black girl who felt that,
not that it was aggressively racist, but that my point of view was naive in some ways. We had a nice talk about it and I’m very open to hearing those things. But generally speaking, if someone’s coming up to me, they’re saying something complimentary. When the movie’s released and people can just write about it, maybe I’ll see more of that. There was actually a white critic at Sundance that wrote a review that they thought [the movie] was exploitative, and a black writer responded and defended it—which was nice. But I think I did a good enough job that each individual person is getting something different from it, and it’s more about their own personal experience. CT: In another interview, you stated that you knew Morris was a challenge but that it was an important story, and that as long as you did it with authenticity and respect, it would be okay. What does that mean when it comes to filmmaking? CH: I think what I meant was that, as a writer, when it comes to filmmaking, everyone feels like a real person. There’s like a specificity to each person. That’s the only way to defend yourself. You can always be accused that if you show one thing that you’re representing everyone or everything. As long as there could be one person like that, I think you should be allowed to make a movie about that person. Some people watch the trailer and are like, ‘of course, the black kid likes rap.’ But some black kids like rap. It shouldn’t exclude rap from being part of a black person’s story because it’s in one way stereotypical. That’s one facet of Morris amongst many others. That’s one thing I try to do—make sure everyone has multiple things going on. Curtis speaks in a way that some people think is stereotypical, but he’s a professional exsoccer player, they’re in the middle class, in the middle of Germany—all these things that I’ve never seen portrayed, all these things that, as a whole, make it feel like a very specific, unique person. It’ll always be hard to please everyone.
writing the script and making it, I’ve lived there for about a combined total of two years, and know much more about it. Which is the point: I want to make films and make stories where it starts from a place of something I know about but incorporates all these other elements that I don’t know a lot about, so that I learn a lot by making movies. Three or four years into it, if I don’t learn something new in the course of it, what’s the point? CT: Were there any challenges working with younger actors? CH: Stupid logistical ones like you can only work a certain number of hours with them. I remember there’s a scene in the movie where the tutor comes over and talks to the dad about the lyrics. We shot that on day 16, and it was the first scene between two adults. I remember just thinking, ‘Whoo, So relaxing! I call ‘action’ and these two pros just do it and it’s perfect! Not that it was so difficult to work with the kids, but you just have to approach it differently. It’s more about keeping them focused or entertained than it is about going through the motions of the acting. CT: Do you think that Markees had changed or grown much after doing the film and having that experience? CH: Yes. He’d never even been on a plane before. He was there seven weeks and by the end, he was in love with Germany. He was already a curious kid and I’m sure would’ve wanted to see parts of the world, but I think it just opened his eyes even more and now he’s talking about how he wants to go Russia. For the movie, going to festivals, we’ve gotten to go to other places. He went to Korea, and I think he’s just becoming more curious about the world.
I think I did a better job at making Morris and Curtis well-rounded people than I did some of the Germans. Germans are people too, and they have a bit more right to feel like I was insensitive. The questions I get are always about the writing of the AfricanAmerican characters, they’re never about the German characters, which are just as foreign to me. So, I think it’s a product of the climate today where that one issue is the most sensitive today. But really as a writer, it’s hard to write anything.
CT: Back to the music, how did you get into hip-hop and rap, and how might that have been integrated into the movie outside of Morris’ own interest? CH: Well I was 12 in ‘94 and that’s when Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Dr. Dre, and gangster rap hit the mainstream. All I knew was the mainstream, but I got really into it. And that’s when I wrote those lyrics and I thought I could be a rapper, very briefly! Later into the 90s and in high school, I listened to Puff Daddy and Ma$e and Notorious B.I.G., but I was just interested because it was popular. I liked it, legitimately, but I just liked whatever was mainstream and then I liked the idea when I was creating that Curtis character, of having someone who wanted to teach his son through music.
CT: But you’d spent some time in Germany when you wrote the script? CH: When I’d written the script, I’d only been in Germany for four days. Since
I liked this character trying to get his son through this tough situation by using music he would’ve liked at this time in his life and that’s kind of how it infiltrated this story.
“When I was compiling things from my own life early on, one of the things I remember was writing the lyrics, ‘fucking all the bitches, two at a time.’ My teacher found it in my notebook and gave it to my mom and I got in big trouble. So I was like, ‘oh that’s a funny story.’ But then I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be funnier if I got in trouble because those lyrics were so bad rather than the actual content?’”
photography courtesy of
MORE THAN SEX, DRUGS, AND VIOLENCE Controversial filmmaker Elizabeth Wood talks fake blowjobs, cocaine, and white privilege
“I always figure it out.” A platinum-haired young woman confidently whispers to her babyfaced kingpin boyfriend during visiting hours at the county jail. Leah (Morgan Saylor) is equal parts nihilistic, well-intentioned, and selfindulgent—a human recipe that gives shape to the film’s bold title. Her drive for martyrdom threw her into a new world— one where she traded her privilege for a hall pass to the barrio (Ridgewood, Queens).
hile many elements of Wood’s debut feature are based on her experience (she earned a BA at The New School and her MFA at Columbia) the script isn’t exactly autobiographical. White Girl follows Leah, a liberal arts student, who begins to sell cocaine in order to get Blue (Brian Marc) out of jail. As a 19-year-old Oklahoma City transplant, Leah has a lot in common with the film’s writer/director Elizabeth Wood. Ultimately, the film is a 90-minute interpretation that’s been processed, flipped, stretched, and condensed into a digestible edit inspired by Wood’s former life. “Real life is much stranger. The first version of the script was 180 pages and was true to life— it was so crazy and experimental.” That realism pushed her to get the movie made. “What I lacked in filmmaking professionalism I made up for with personal experience.” The script’s first draft wasn’t exactly palatable. Wood shared an anecdote in which producers (Gabriel Nussbaum and Matthew Achterberg) took her to dinner and ordered the most expensive bottle of wine to soften the news that 30 pages had to be cut. Initially a hard pill to swallow, the production delay allowed Elizabeth to hone in on casting. On the hunt for a younger actress to play Leah, Wood found then 19-year-old Morgan Saylor. The two grew close during the revision process. They had the luxury of time to chat and hang out often, which allowed them to take deep dive into the character prior to shooting. Then there was Blue. Oddly enough, casting a Puerto Rican actor was a tall order. “I came out to LA for one week and they were like, ‘What about Lil Romeo? What about Dave Franco?’ And I said, ‘It matters that he’s a Puerto Rican character.’” Enter Brian Marc, a Brooklyn-native who memorized the entire script for his audition.
But the two lead actors didn’t hit it off right away. To build rapport, Elizabeth decided to jump in the deep end on the first day of shooting—a freezing New York morning masquerading as a summer day. “They were in the car, about to get out, and I said, ‘Okay, guys, just start making out! Rip off his shirt!’ They said, ‘That wasn’t in the script,’ and I told them, ‘Yeah, just go for it!’ I knew I wasn’t going to use it, but I wanted to get them a little warmed up.” The unorthodox approach set the tone for the story’s unflinching material. White Girl is fraught with sex, drugs, and partying—content that earned the film an unrated designation from the MPA A (read: a dice roll for financiers). But if that’s your principal takeaway (ahem, Variety), odds are, you’re probably an older white dude. “[Leah’s sexuality] is very authentic. I’ve found that the only people—which so far has only been a handful of people—who thought the sex was just for shock value were older or white men.” The director argues that those distracted by Leah’s exploits are missing the point. “I feel like, more importantly, the film is about race and whiteness and gentrification and gender. So if you get held up by sex, I think it’s a personal issue.” While there’s no shortage of cocaine (B-12) and blowjob scenes (including one rumored instance of actual oral sex, which caused on-set SAG auditors to flag the production’s 22 day shoot), the mostly fake/maybe real (?) dicks are eclipsed by the film’s social commentary: gentrification, racial injustice, and sexual currency are all presented as complex, interwoven narratives packaged by unsettling optics. “There was definitely this eye-opening moment. It’s like being a liberal arts kid at New School and taking a class on whiteness… things that you somehow thought you knew but didn’t actually know… things that you never experienced first-hand.
Morgan Saylor in White Girl (2016)
The film is a visceral marriage of youthful rawness—a moment when the power of sexuality and consciousness of racial privilege converge. We never really talked about race in school, like you felt like you understood it, but you couldn’t have until you saw it.” The film is a visceral marriage of youthful rawness—a moment when the power of sexuality and consciousness of racial privilege converge. As a character, Leah is not a two-dimensional cautionary tale of a young woman’s vulnerability. Depending on the scene, she is either the victim or the perpetrator, and her brazen naivety has grim repercussions for both herself and Blue. She has tools to manipulate her circumstance. Yet those tools come with heavy consequences. Amidst graphic scenes por traying the reality of the criminal justice system, White Girl maps an unsettling reality: Despite being brutally attacked, Leah’s victimization ultimately pales in comparison to the systemic racism that subjugates Blue. No matter how dark things got, Leah’s privilege was waiting with open arms.
White privilege is a hot-button concept for both ideological sides, and for wildly different reasons. Whether you acknowledge its role in your reality, are striving to overcome its barriers, or are refusing to confront your potential complicity—race is at once the loudest, most uncomfortable, transformative and hopeful part of today’s national conversation. White Girl is not a lesson in morality, it’s an examination of a society through the lens of Wood’s personal experience. The film asks tough questions it cannot hope to answer alone. As a storm of public opinion builds around the film’s release, Wood savors the opportunity to be at the eye of a storm threatening moral complacency.“That’s why I wanted to make movies and go through this process… If I didn’t care, I could be doing something so much easier than directing. The energy I put into it is like more than anything I ever have.” With valor comes hard-won wisdom. As Wood says, “Right now, though, I’m trying to slow down, not make any rash decisions.”
THE ARCHITECT: AWARD-WINNING EDITOR ZAC STUART-PONTIER IS THE ULTIMATE STORYTELLER Z
ac Stuart-Pontier is, hands down, the best person to sit next to at a party. Not only does the Emmywinning editor give you his undivided attention, he also has a knack for masterfully bouncing between esoteric subjects and pop culture headlines with grace, humor, and levity—he also has some pretty solid behind-the-scenes anecdotes. With several indies and documentaries under his belt—Catfish (the movie), Martha Marcy May Marlene, and
most recently, HBO’s The Jinx (for which he received two Emmys and a Peabody Award)—his most recent projects couldn’t be more different: Bleed for This, the biographical boxing film based on Vinny Paz and a true crime podcast with Gimlet Media called Crimetown, which follows crooked Providence mayor Buddy Cianci and mafioso kingpin Raymond Patriarca. Stuart-Pontier occupies a particular space: he’s one of the few editors who can
produce poignant narratives across multiple platforms—documentary, feature, episodic, and audio—and make any character, no matter how extraordinary, deeply relatable. Understanding, for Zac, is an essential source of revelation. We caught up with Zac during a break from his Crimetown production over the white noise of a Providence coffee shop. It was, predictably, a great conversation.
text by Erin Dennison
CINEMA THREAD: The Jinx began with a 25hour interview with Robert Durst. What did it feel like after you wrapped? How did it feel to initially review that footage? ZAC STUART-PONTIER: I got hired a few months after the initial interview with Bob was done. Andrew [Jarecki], Marc [Smerling], and I had worked on the documentary Catfish together. They had just finished making All Good Things, which was a fictional version of the Bob Durst’s story and before the film was released, Bob contacted them. They did the 25 hours of that first interview over three days and hired me right after in January of 2011. [Watching the footage] was incredible. I was fascinated with the story in general, but hearing Bob talk about his life was fascinating. It’s hard to put a finger on what I thought about him. I mean, I probably hit every single possible emotion. You’re happy and you’re laughing with him, and then you’re disgusted and you’re angry with him—you’re sort of everything. He goes back and forth between being seemingly brutally honest and completely lying. He’s incredibly complex. CT: I felt the same way. I couldn’t decide. ZSP: Yeah, everyone is always like, ‘Do you think he did it or he didn’t do it?’ I don’t know if I had so many clear-cut ideas about that. I don’t think any of us expected to come to a conclusion. And even in the end it turned out to be kinda more about what the audience feels about him, as opposed to ‘Do you think he did it?’ The show subverts your expectations, for example he’s set up as a monster in episode one and then redeemed by a horrific childhood in the beginning of episode two. CT: Have you been in contact since the show aired? What’s the latest? ZSP: I’ve never been in direct contact with him, but he’s in jail on gun charges and on his way to California. He’s going to be arraigned for the murder of Susan Berman sometime in the near future. CT: You worked on The Jinx for over four years. In the beginning, did you think you were going to get so involved in the investigation? ZSP: I always wanted to be a detective when I was growing up and was fascinated by getting into this, but no, I don’t think any of us realized just how deep this was going to go. But you’re just on the hunt and you find one thing, and then you find another thing, and another thing. Andrew and Marc
spent years trying to get those prison recordings of Bob talking to his family. And I remember first listening to them and it just feeling like another layer was being pulled back. You could see around another corner of the story, fill in some of the holes about what was going on in Bob’s mind. It’s the kind of story that the more you know about it, the more interesting it got. Long-term projects are really hard, in every aspect emotionally … spiritually; it takes a lot out of you to keep going. You don’t really know what it’s gonna look like when you’re in it. And at times it just seems impossible. You want it to be done sooner, but you also want it to be the absolute best it can be. But looking back now, I’m very proud of it. CT: You both have worked on narrative films like Martha Marcy May Marlene and Bleed for This as well as documentaries like Catfish and The Jinx. What do you love about the true crime genre? ZSP: When somebody commits a crime, it makes every aspect of their life important in a way that doesn’t exist if they don’t commit a crime. And so you look at every piece of their life—is that why, or is this why? Oh, that’s so interesting, maybe that! It puts a spotlight on humanity in a way— it sort of raises the stakes. But you know, nobody would have given a shit about the effect of money in the justice system or domestic violence or this super interesting New York Dynasty [if not for] Bob Durst telling this mysterious crime story. [Crime] almost turns up the volume on regular life. CT: The Jinx was originally supposed to be a 2-hour feature but ended up being a 6-part documentary. What led to that decision to change the show’s format? ZSP: It was pretty late in the game [when the decision was made]. We were squeezing down the cut and it was losing magic; we were losing all of the best details. Marc [Smerling] always called them Bobisms: ‘How do you accidentally shave your eyebrows?’ As it got shorter, we had to just sum up all the best parts really quickly. If you only have 12 minutes to spend on one particular subject, you don’t really have time to let it breathe. No time to let the audience go back and forth. [At the time] We were all watching these shows: Homeland and House of Cards and television, in general, was just exploding. We began thinking, ‘What if we tell the story by doling out information bit by bit?’ Over a
weekend, Marc and I cut that first episode and it came together so quickly—the tone of it was just so much better than anything we had done before. It was just like, this is the way the show is supposed to be told.
You know, The Staircase was way ahead of its time and I think if it had come out now, it would be like the biggest hit on TV, but nobody saw it when it came out in 2004.
CT: That leads us to your latest project: a new podcast with Gimlet and the Podfather, Alex Bloomberg. Editing for an audio story must be very different than a film or TV narrative. I think we can assume the challenges, but what were the advantages? ZSP: Oh yeah, totally. Marc and I are making this show about crime and corruption in Providence, Rhode Island. Gimlet has called it a cross between The Godfather and The Wire if the story were true and I kind of like that description. It’s not one story or one crime but more about all of these characters in this one place. With audio, it’s been a little challenging, you have to sort of lead the audience more forcefully, so it’s been hard to find the balance of telling the story but not telling them exactly how to think. But on the positive side, when someone is a good storyteller, they can really take you anywhere. It’s a very intimate thing to have
CT: Another huge project of yours is about to debut as well—Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller and directed by Ben Younger. That film also takes place in Providence. Is that a coincidence? ZSP: It is! But somehow perfectly sums up Providence. Stuff like that seems to happen all the time. It’s a very small city and things overlap in unusual ways. But the film is based on this incredible true story of Vinny Pazienza, who was a two-time world champion who got in a car accident and broke his neck. They tell him that he’s never going to box again but he comes back and wins three more titles. It’s a great comeback story and super inspiring. I got to do all the fun stuff that comes with cutting a boxing movie; fight scenes, training montages. It was such a great change of pace for me after The Jinx. CT: But you were able to draw on your documentary background and use some archival footage. ZSP: Yeah, that was super cool. Ben [Younger] and I had talked about that from really early on and he had amassed this enormous archival collection. It was 25 hours or something and I remember thinking what a cakewalk 25 hours was after the hundreds we went through on The Jinx. There’s a lot of real stuff in there, announcers for some of the ﬁghts are real, all the news that’s playing on the television is real. We even got away with using Vinny’s actual voice in one moment which is a real testament to Miles’s performance and how good he is. CT: In your opinions, what makes for a compelling character? ZSP: Flaws. I’ve been thinking a lot about this: flaws and the grey areas that we were talking about. I think one of my least favorite comic books is Superman because he’s so unflawed. Too strong, only vulnerable to one thing. And one of my favorites is Batman ‘cause he’s so fraught. He’s angry, he’s struggling. He’s a real guy. I think about that, the grey areas, the people who are willing to cross lines… I don’t know, I think it has to do with not being all good or all bad—maybe a compelling character is one you can relate to? I definitely think when people can see themselves in a character, that’s a special thing.
CT: If Bob called you up tomorrow, would you get a drink with him? ZSP: I am inherently fascinated by him, so yeah, I think I would go, but I’d have to check with my wife. I only met him once, but I was so excited to meet him and talk to him. There was this one moment when we took a picture together. I mean, I probably said six things to him over the course of the day, so when I asked him if he wanted to take a picture with me, he said, [Bob impression] ‘You wanna take a picture with me?’ And I said, ‘Yes please, Mr. Durst.’ And he grabbed me—hard—around my waist and pulled me tight to him. The look on my face is basically ecstasy.
somebody’s voice in your ear and I think you get a different kind of connection to a character that might even be closer than you get watching them.
photography by David Jacobson additional photography courtesy of HBO Films
CT: The episodic format allowed you to weave narratives in and out. It must have given you some agility with the storytelling. ZSP: Yeah, and cliffhangers, a super cool theme song, and cold opens! The format for the television drama is really fun and I think we just tried to kinda—we weren’t the first ones to do it—but we were trying to take a documentary and treat it like a television drama.
Robert Durst during the making of The Jinx (2015)
When somebody commits a crime, it makes every aspect of their life important in a way that doesn’t exist if they don’t commit a crime. And so you look at every piece of their life—is that why, or is this why? Oh, that’s so interesting, maybe that! It puts a spotlight on humanity in a way—it sort of raises the stakes.
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
GOOD VIBRATIONS Pop polymath Julia Holter discusses violence, storytelling, and scoring Bleed For This text by Emily Hunt Kivel photography by Tonje Thilesen
Late last year, Open Road Films announced Bleed For This, a film depicting the tragic fall and triumphant comeback of world boxing champion Vinny Pazienza, starring Miles Teller and directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room, Prime). The film tells the true story of Italian-American lightweight and junior middleweight champ Vinny Paz, or “The Pazmanian Devil,” whose career nearly ended when his neck was fractured in a catastrophic car accident, which took place just weeks after winning his second world title in 1991. Despite incredibly painful and cumbersome medical procedures, Paz continued to train after the injury in hopes of returning to the ring. Against all odds—and the recommendations of his doctors—Paz successfully recovered and resumed his career, finding success as a minor beltholder and worldtitle challenger. His life’s story reads like a Hollywood script, but director Younger had more subtle artistic goals in mind when he took on the project.
Miles Teller in Bleed For This (2016)
In spite of its heroic plot, Bleed For This is built to transcend the clichés of a typical sports film. Half of the story is, in fact, one of illness and recovery. Paz’s primary opponent isn’t a skilled world champion or an invincible Russian Adonis, but rather the excruciating pain and boredom of methodical recovery and the angst of losing the ability to pursue a life’s passion. He is, undoubtedly, the hero of this film, and though fist-pumping triumphs and swelling emotions are part of it, there is a delicacy and thoughtfulness at work that is not typical of the genre. That’s where Julia Holter comes in. Holter, a Los Angeles-based experimental pop musician who in recent years has gained critical acclaim and a devoted following with her eclectic synthesis of brooding melodic composition, avantgarde production techniques, and richly-detailed story telling, was an unexpected choice to score Bleed for This. In fact, the call from Younger to work on the film came as a complete, but very welcome, surprise to the composer. “I really was so happy that they contacted me. I really wanted to do this,” Holter said. “I love working with moving image and I love the sound of films and the way music interacts with the sound of the film itself. Ben [Younger] was stubbornly interested in having a person who didn’t make film scores do it. It was sort of me and a bunch of other people that were more experienced. It definitely wasn’t because I was qualified.” Younger’s interest in choosing an untraditional composer stemmed from his desire to push the boundaries of a typical sports film narrative, starting with the deconstruction of the sweeping, epic scores that often characterize the genre. “He didn’t want it to sound like a film score. There’s definitely a type of sound of film scores and he wanted something that felt natural. It’s pretty atmospheric,” Holter explained. “It’s not in-yourface. There are themes, but they’re not bombastic. It’s not like a brand film score.” In Holter ’s work, she displays an instinctive tendency to layer, prune, and reconstruct arrangements in unexpected ways. There is a cinematic quality to her music, particularly on display in her latest full length, “Have You in My Wilderness,” which brims with epic orchestral swells and subtly-varied vocal inflections, allowing her character studies to come to life in ways that feel multi-dimensional and vibrant. Yet in spite of her penchant for experimentation and complexity, the music in Bleed For This is decidedly more minimal— making use of strings, saxophone, and piano—and the process of scoring the film was surprisingly clear and easy for the composer. “I wasn’t trying to be different. I was just being myself,” she said. “Because of my lack of experience
in film scoring, I have a different perspective. It all came kind of surprisingly naturally to me. I was surprised it was that easy. [Ben] was always pretty clear… It ended up being this somewhat organic process. There were moments where I was actually with Ben at the piano with the film playing, trying different things and he would tell me what he liked.” Holter ’s own compositions, however, do not comprise the complete soundtrack to the film. Pop music from the era—that is, the very early 1990s—as well as music from American blues musician Willis Earl Beale is sprinkled throughout the film, including its arresting trailer. But Holter thinks the varied musical selections only help the continuum of the film’s dark, gauzy tone. “Willis Earl Beale’s music runs through the film. It’s raw and blues, but also sort of ethereal. It helps set the tone for this film,” she said.
“Having this sort of rawness kept me understanding where I should go, which is to have something atmospheric but simple and minimal…and kind of bluesy.” Relinquishing control isn’t always the easiest thing to do for an artist, especially one used to constructing such distinct narratives of her own. But this time out, Holter gracefully ceded conceptual control in the project, finding the scoring process therapeutic. “I really liked it,” she said. “I really liked following someone else’s vision and not having to make those choices. It is sometimes liberating in a way, because then I can focus on a certain aspect of the music making. I expected it to be terrifying. It’s a big film actually, and I am not a film scorer. So I was scared that I wouldn’t be professional enough. I was pretty hesitant and scared but excited.” Still, it’s more than the score of the film that gives Bleed For This the potential to transcend the boxing genre. It’s something inherent in the Vinny Pazienza narrative; “The Pazmanian Devil” was not another boxer made by the sport and undone by the sport, and thus the story of Vinny Paz is one that cannot be told without a whole lot of stillness, meditation, and pensiveness. “I don’t really respond well in general to a lot of action. In terms of my attention span, I can’t focus on action films very much. It’s kind of a sensory overload for me,” said Holter. “I like to get into deeper aspects of a film, that are slower and quieter because I can focus.”
“ I wasn’t trying to be
different. I was just being myself. Because of my lack of experience in film scoring, I have a different perspective. It all came kind of surprisingly naturally to me. Looking back on the rage and obsession depicted in Scorsese’s Raging Bull and the sweet, objectively depressive elements of the first Rocky (that is, before the latter became the star-spangled franchise that allowed James Brown to perform “Living in America” in a revealing geometric suit-jacket alongside a glitter-adorned Apollo Creed), it’s clear that boxing has tended to lay the foundation for sports films with quieter, meditative moments. Holter, admittedly, is not a particularly avid boxing follower nor a sports film fan, but she can understand why the sport is unique. “It’s a destructive sport. It’s about destroying each other,” she states simply. “It makes sense to me that it would be a dark, more poetic sport.” Indeed, there is something poetic within the ropes of a boxing ring, a singular fight that is at once spectacular and completely relatable. Perhaps two bodies sparring in space is just an illuminated, theatrical performance of human nature—all of us fighting our own special opponent, whatever that may be. Yet in the case of Bleed For This, out of this destructive force came an outpouring of collaboration and creative energ y, allowing an experimental pop musician to work with an established Hollywood director to create something entirely their own. To destroy, to create, and to destroy again: perhaps that’s what art and boxing have in common.
A LOOK BEHIND THE LENS
introduction by Erin Dennsion
s it turns out, silliness and soulfulness aren’t mutually exclusive traits. Director/DP Adam Newport-Berra (Barry, Creative Control) switches from affable goof to introspective poet quicker than you can say Super16. He’s the type to change your iPhone contacts to 911 when you leave the room (happened) or invent bizarre noises without provocation. Yet, Adam is always down to get existential, with a knack for sorting through the ﬂuff in order to reach the guts of a complex matter more easily than most.
The Oregon native has spent the last decade in Brooklyn and is currently traveling the world without a home base for the first time in his life. Adam’s captured rolls of enigmatic stills along the way, a process that’s become as much of a vehicle of self-discovery as it has been a nuanced study of the human condition. He is, as Fiona Apple might say, good at being uncomfortable. *Read our interview with Newport-Berra on cinemathread.com
HORROR VS. THRILLER
Why People Avoid Horror but Embrace Thrillers
An Analysis of Two Film Genres text by Agatha French
Theatrical release poster for The Frighteners (1996) Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
I can’t watch horror films. Or rather, I can and I do, and at about 2:00 am later that night, when I’m alone in my dark apartment and the refrigerator motor kicks on and my eyelids fly open and I scan the room wildly, I wonder why I watch them in the first place. Thrillers, on the other hand, no matter how effecting, don’t do that to me. They don’t give me flashbacks. They don’t haunt me (excuse the pun) for decades afterwards. I don’t think about them if I pass by a dark mirror in the middle night. (That experience is reserved for Candyman. Remember that candyman? I think about that movie and shudder at least once a week. It should be noted that I am a thirty-something woman.) Why is that? What is it about horror that sets it apart, and why is it often marginalized? What’s the difference between the two genres and how are they categorized? We’ve got a few preliminary thoughts—
Marketing Plain and simple, marketing is arguably the most pressing reason behind genre boundaries in any art form. People want to know what they’re shelling out for. Even if a film skirts the line—and many do—convention demands that it be categorized. Marketing’s also a likely culprit behind one of horror-junkies’ main gripes: horror’s stigma as a B-list genre within film in general. Horror is often marketed to a slightly younger audience, and if you want a film to be taken seriously—to be a grown-up, serious film—calling it a thriller is a better bet. And while there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, horror tends to claim films that include the supernatural, while thrillers are categorized by “real life” threats. (Putting “real life” in scare quotes just in case a ghost reads this.)
Effect Like any genre, horror is full of tropes. But its horror’s visceral effect on the viewer that makes these tropes easily recognizable. The escalating music, the “jump scares,” the don’t-go-down-there shot into a dark basement or other Jungian archetype. Horror is often gruesome. There may be gore. Guts, too. If a thriller is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat, horror’s aim is to make you cover your eyes, to have you cowering. Watching a horror film is heart-pounding, sweatinducing, and ultimately, a physical experience. The genre uses incredibly precise, if not always original, devices to trick our lizard brains into perceiving actual danger. That said, It Follows is a killer (sorry) example of a film that teases out a visceral sense of anxiety without relying on gore.
That slow burn, typical of thrillers, may be another reason the genre is thought of as more grown up— a mounting sense of existential despair is one of the many perks of adulthood. Gratuity I’m certainly not the morality police, and this may be a little controversial, but horror sometimes pushes the line of, well, common decency, falling closer to schadenfreude than some viewers might be comfortable with. Is there something icky, in a larger, metaphysical, evil-exists kind of way about wanting to see, oh, let’s say, extreme viscera? This is a way bigger question than the horror vs. thriller debate, ranging as far as what effect depictions of violence have in the culture-at-large, and what moral responsibility artists and the media have in presenting it, which I am in no way qualified to address. All I can say is that horror not only exploits the instincts of our primal brains (see above) but that sometimes, late at night, when I’m trying not to think about a movie I saw once, two entire decades ago (thanks, Candyman,) I feel a teensy bit indignant too. My editor walked out of horror film The Hills Have Eyes, where a scene with children understandably crossed the line for her, but stuck it out through The Witch’s infanticide. I’ll watch The Silence of the Lambs all the livelong-day, but I am not okay with the Saw franchise. Why? Because of how the content’s rendered. In other words, it’s not necessarily what a movie’s about, but how it’s made—a self-evident truth in any genre.
THEY’VE GOT THE RANGE Six musicians behind your favorite film scores text by Ross Gardiner
he value of a well-crafted soundtrack to a film is undeniable. The incongruity of hearing Stealer ’s Wheel upbeat “Stuck In The Middle With You” as Michael Madsen hacks off a police officer ’s ear in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs is a legendar y cinematic moment. Though anyone that remembers Hans Zimmer ’s saccharine, child’s mobile-ish vibraphone score to True Romance (another Tarantino joint) will attest to how much an ill-suited score can afflict the mood of a film. Some of the best scores from celebrated composers Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Bernard Herrmann and Ennio Morricone stand on their own as fabulously moving pieces of music. While the eclectic soundtracks for Trainspotting, The Breakfast Club, and Easy Rider have given future generations aural snapshots of pivotal moments in the evolution of youth culture. And while classical scoring and artful curation are the most common forms of movie soundtrack, there’s a long and storied history of traditional musicians and songwriters that have crossed the divide into celluloid.
N O. 02 Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
N O. 01 Jonny Greenwood There Will Be Blood Inherent Vice The Master While Thom Yorke passed his time between increasingly sporadic Radiohead albums with bizarrely cast supergroups and digitally melancholic albums, the group’s softspoken, asymmetrically haired genius Jonny Greenwood has quickly positioned himself as P.T. Anderson’s go-to score man. His haunting, string-heavy soundtrack to Anderson’s 2007 epic There Will Be Blood is considered one of the great original scores of recent times, while much of Inherent Vice’s eerie, tongue-in-cheek noir ambiance borrows considerably from Radiohead’s most ambitious work.
The Social Network While electronic music scenes tend to be very poorly represented by Hollywood on screen (nice try, We Are Your Friends), the more experimental ends of the genre itself has been really well utilized at times. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for David Fincher ’s The Social Network matched up to the critical praise
showered on the film itself, even grabbing an Academy Award for Best Original Score. Showcasing the impressive diversity of the Nine Inch Nails duo, their soundtrack skips playfully back and forth between stirring ambient keystrokes and Kraftwerk-y proto-techno. Perfect for a bit of late-night coding.
N O. 03 Isaac Hayes Shaft There are few scores or soundtracks that capture the devastatingly funky and sexually intoxicating vibe of the Blaxploitation genre like Isaac Hayes’ Shaft. Remembered chiefly for the much-loved title theme, the film is packed with rich, on-genre instrumentals that are the perfect soundtrack for seducing afro’d black women, and nunchucking white gangsters in Harlem pool halls. Being one of the most successful Blaxploitation films of all-time, Shaft cast in stone the genre’s raunchy and racially divisive blueprint, and the deep funk and afro rhy thms with the kitschy string and horn melodies became a hallmark of Blaxploitation cinema. I’m pretty sure Isaac Hayes’ score is plenty to thank for Tarantino’s huge appreciation for da funk.
N O. 04 Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) Irreversible
N O. 05
If you haven’t seen Irreversible, I don’t really recommend it. The combination of hyper-aggressive realism, gut-wrenching, belligerent violence, and nauseating, perpetually roaming cinematography make it one of the most memorable (and notorious) sensory onslaughts in cinematic history.
Air The Virgin Suicides The second French electronic act on this list Air were some fuego shit when Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides was released in 2000. Their seminal downtempo record Moon Safari broke them internationally in 1998, and they followed it with this eclectic, tripped out journey through analog prog melancholy.
Much like the film itself, Thomas Bangalter ’s low-frequency score doesn’t beg a second play. Designed to make you feel perpetually uncomfortable, and even induce feelings of sickness and anxiety, it is a notable score because it is intertwined so assuredly with the film’s concept and purpose.
It’s a beautiful record by a band who, like their gentile trip hop peer Zero 7, have been unfor tunately lost in time.
It’s a far, far cry from “Get Lucky”…
N O. 06 Bee Gees Saturday Night Fever I can’t completely divulge my love of disco to you in words alone. The mere sight of the word sends my hips into a limber, g yrating spasm and my hair into a buoyant afro bush. And pasty white, normcore America also fell in love with
the hedonistic nightclub genre when Saturday Night Fever took the countr y by storm in 1978. The Australian woodlanddwelling pop sensations, the Bee Gees, were behind the most memorable and iconic tracks on the best-selling soundtrack, such as “Stayin’ Alive”, “How Deep is Your Love” and “More Than a Woman.” Such was the cultural mania surrounding Saturday Night Fever that it both launched John Travolta’s career and destroyed disco’s underground cool.
WHY WE LOVE
The well-rounded film villain is your chance to exorcise your guilt text by Dan Johnson
THE WORLD NEEDS VILLAINS
In the narrative realm, nothing is more essential than a good villain. As an agent of chaos, the loathsome foil to the loveable hero not only defines the protagonist, but also serves as a metaphor for the larger terms of a world built on disharmony. Hero Of A Thousand Faces muse, my tholog y expert, and all around god of the screenwriting world, Joseph Campbell recognized the value of a good villain when he said, “love thine enemies because they are the instruments of your destiny.” And love them we do. Though it may be hard to stomach the idea of loving the evil stepfather, cruel neighbor, or jock stooge who have made various stages of your life a living hell, silver screen nemeses have a magnetic appeal. The Hannibal Lecters, Daniel Plainviews, Jack Torrances, Vaders, Voldemorts, Batemen of film are some of the most enduring figures in the modern pop culture canon. Filmgoers relish villainy for a variety of reasons that speak to our core essence as human beings.
Absolute Freedom First and foremost, a villain has the one thing most of us law-abiding citizens do not have—permission to wreak havoc. Ours is a world of surveillance and constant morality policing. Modern humans spend an inordinate amount of time and mental energ y negotiating the demands of law and etiquette. Step out of line and you’re chastised, punished, castigated, and ostracized for your lapse of behavior. Villains, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. They have absolute carte blanche to disrespect, destroy, devalue, deflower, dominate, degrade, devolve, and denigrate people and institutions that are otherwise sacrosanct in our society. Deep down inside all of our wellbehaved shells are primal beasts who envy characters that do not have to comply with the mandates of social order. As a spiritual credo, this freedom is profound. As an on-camera tactic, this liberty is entrancing. Actors are drilled to make specific choices. The lens (and the editor, for that matter) detests flavorless ambiguity in a performance. Thus, actors are incentivized to build unique moments within scenes. The finest practitioners of that trade string together a vocabulary of language, emotions, and physicality to create memorable impressions.
Take your pick On an acting level, villains can utilize a much broader toolkit than your average hero. Everything is on the table from dark humor to subtle guile, emotional manipulation to feigned catatonia, impotent rage to deliberate threats. In any given scene, a John Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg from The Fifth Element or Hans Gruber from Die Hard can spin a ropey web of mania, cunning, calm negotiation and desperate violence to achieve a desirable end. Not that these momentary impulses are untethered. Far from it. Superlative villainy is rooted in absolute earnestness. A Joker desires nothing more than anarchy. A Gordon Gekko sees free markets and triumphant capital as essential to independence. A
T-1000’s very existence hangs on its ability to kill John Conner. Why? A good villain confronts the fact that his or her much-beloved way of life is being directly threatened.
Conviction Clear motivation is a bedrock component of narrative film. From acting to screenwriting and directing, few abstract notions carry as much weight in any project than the minutia of a character’s physical and psychological needs. What makes a truly wicked villain is a sense of infallible self-righteousness in the face of external threats. Al Swearengen, Amon Goeth, and the Wicked Witch of the West all commit horrible atrocities against their fellow man because the core DNA of their character has convinced them that they are absolutely right. This illuminates an important contradiction true to film villains and the world alike. If the wicked are culturally valuable as icons of every thing we despise, they’re priceless as tools of perspective. When we see a fully rendered human villain on a screen, we begin to wonder what life looks like from their point of view. What inner hurt drives them? What would their ideal world look like? Could they be right? Ultimately, a villain’s dramatic turn is a declawed approximation of worldly wickedness delivered in pausable snippets of narrative format flickering in a movie theatre, living room TV, or laptop. In the privacy of dreamlike cultural space, we get to rehearse our opinions and convictions about positions of good vs. evil and the possible universality of the human condition. Beyond the scripted boundaries of the screen, the 21st century suffers from no great shortage of villains. From tyrants and mass serial killers, to terrorists and violent bigots, life is a constant confrontation with an “other” hell bent on destroying things we cherish dearly.
Someone hates you Now an intriguing idea if you’ve got the ears to hear it: we are all somebody else’s villain. Maybe your workplace rival hates your guts or you really ruined that waitress’s day because of a petty misunderstanding. Take a deliberate stroll across a piece of wet pavement just after a warm rain and I’ll guarantee you are the personal anti-Christ to a few hundred writhing worms. Even the best amongst us have moments of outright deplorable behavior. The well-rounded film villain is your chance to exorcise your guilt. We all want to be Luke Skywalker, but sometimes we’re Vader for a day or two and if we don’t clean that mess up, we have a way of becoming Emperor Palpatine. For every time we’ve had to tuck our tails between our legs, bow our heads, say a mea culpa and beg for forgiveness, there’s a character out there in one film or another that knows exactly how you feel. So try not to judge.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
On The Fringe Gore, Practical Effects, and Censorship: A conversation with @anti_CGI creator Aramis Gutierrez interview by Vija Hodosy photography courtesy of @anti_CGI
Faust (1926), directed by F. W. Murnau
Taxidermia (2009), directed by Gyรถrgy Pรกlfi
nti_cgi is an instagram account dedicated to “gore, practical effects, atmosphere and anything that involves offbeat sexual innuendo,” according to its covert conservator, Aramis Gutierrez II. A painter, fine art administrator and self-professed film industry “tourist,” gutierrez curates a provocative montage of international film art that is so delightfully insubordinate, it’s hard to believe it’s permissible. Largely NSFW, anti_cgi showcases the charged and timeless –isms that audiences and critics have long-clamored to police: hedonism, satirism, aestheticism, escapism, romanticism, racism, naturalism, modernism, fatalism, materialism, sexism… Faithful to his “freaky shit,” Gutierrez indulges us with his selection process, how sexist censorship has shaped his account’s ‘breast v. dong’ ratio, and his thoughts on the magic of storytelling through practical effects in an otherwise computer-generated hellscape. CINEMA THREAD: How do you describe anti_cgi in real life? AR AMIS GUTIERREZ: I’m a painter, so my primary concern is image generation. I use a lot of cinematic material for my paintings, so these images are a result of my research. I am always hunting for activated images with “built-in” mysteries, regardless of the source film’s narrative. These [anti_cgi’s] mysterious images are intrinsically familiar but have something generously open-ended about them. I believe this type of image making used to thrive in painting and [that] at some point during the dawn [of] Modernism and the reductive trends that followed, [was] re-established prominently in cinema. CT: The diversity of anti_cgi’s content is killer, what’s the common denominator for you as a curator? AG: There are a few common denominators: gore, practical effects, atmosphere and any thing that involves offbeat sexual innuendo (especially people on other people in monkey suits or real monkeys). I am always interested in what other people feel is grey or taboo. I know it when I see it. CT: There are traces of CGI (computer generated imagery) in your content. Do purists ever try to talk shit? AG: Purists are always going to talk shit. I could care less if my posts fit comfortably into someone else’s box. I do sometimes break my own or other’s assumed rules to derail monotony or to satiate my own trollish desires. CT: Has Instagram ever censored the gore, violence, defecation, or nudity in your posts? What are your thoughts about censorship? AG: Yes, unfortunately, I too am the victim of puritanical and patriarchal Instagram censors. I guess I’m grateful that they’ve never suspended me for regularly overstepping their mostly generous policies. You see I’m horrible at self-filtering and I’m often so overcome by the normative transgressions of subversive media that the possibility of something so innocent and playful as a duck with mammalian breasts (Howard the Duck) being considered as offensive simply escapes me. CT: As your account gains popularity, how has the maintenance of your anonymity been affected? AG: Every once in a while someone figures out that I’m that guy and after a momentary pause comes the awkward discussion of whether or not I am really into gory movies and “freaky shit.” A lot of family members and people in the art world have told me that my account is too scary for them. Though their words are hurtful, it’s better this way.
“I know in my heart of hearts that a lot of the content I post isn’t for ‘the whole family’ but if you want to screen Salò or Human Centipede 2 for some of your family, who am I to judge you. Long live the curious eye.” CT: Do fans reach out hoping to get a peek of the man behind the curtain? AG: All the time. It’s usually movie nerds, people who think I work in cinema, an angry CGI artist trying to reason with me, or curious single women. CT: Conversationally, I’ve described anti_cgi as an obscure film catalogue, where one can score a bit of cinematic street-cred. Do you perceive anti_cgi’s content as esoteric or something for the whole family? AG: It’s definitely a resource for the curious cinema connoisseur and often the most interesting moments exist around outliers. That said, I try to include better-known films too because most millennials haven’t seen a lot of obviously good movies. You can’t imagine how many times I get asked if I have heard of Holy Mountain or Videodrome. Sigh… I know in my heart of hearts that a lot of the content I post isn’t for “the whole family” but if you want to screen Salò or Human Centipede 2 for some of your family, who am I to judge you. Long live the curious eye. CT: Do you give the people what they want, or is it ‘omakase’ all day everyday? Which kinds of posts get the most likes? AG: I don’t do many requests and I am just not interested in posting images from whatever is trending at Hot Topic. There are already plenty of IG accounts that cater to your Suicide Squad needs and I would feel out of depth if I were to join their ranks. Usually, the images I find most compelling get the fewest likes, but I’m not doing this for popularity. CT: I sometimes argue that those born in the height of CGI (the ones who came straight-out-the-womb texting)
still manage to appropriate the nostalgia of good oldfashioned physical props. Do you think that’s because unadulterated practical effects have been reduced to cultish novelty? Or is there something else there? AG: In all honesty, I think that practical effects, when done well, look real and thus can stir genuine emotions. CGI at its best still feels synthetic and untrustworthy. Zombie nostalgia aside, I think regardless of age, viewers know if something’s magical or special when they see it. Just look at the popularity of Stranger Things. Yes, I know the lame homunculus monster was CGI and not a crazy illusion, but the human elements and atmosphere were on point. CGI, like any other creative tool or accent, is either the right/best solution for a given cinematic challenge or it isn’t. Unfortunately, CGI has become the dominant effect resource on many lazy filmmakers’ palettes. To make matters worse, like any new toy that is overly dependent on technology, CGI is often governed by engineers, graphic art designers or marketing strategists who probably think tired and conventional fanboy art is cool and always wanted to see what it would look like if Yoda flipped around spastically wielding a little lightsaber. CT: CGI started flirting with practical effects in the 1960’s, got to first base in the 70’s, and since achieving penetration in the 80’s, they ’ve pretty much been in an arranged marriage. Do you believe the divorce rumors? (I’m trying to start some). AG: I’d be partial to a divorce of practical effects and CGI. I mean I thought Mas Kanada, Supreme Leader Snokes and especially the fucking Rathtars looked particularly dated and jarringly out of place in The Force Awakens. Ufff.
Phase IV (1974), directed by Saul Bass
STORYTELLING EXPLORES TECHNOLOGY’S TERRAIN Sundance’s New Frontier advances the humanity in storytelling, with the help of virtual reality
Almost everyone has heard of the Sundance Film Festival. The famed event is a cornerstone of the film world, a launching pad for the careers of brave, new storytellers and established filmmakers alike. But while the festival is renown as a tastemaking space, ripe with the best and brightest, the broader public likely doesn’t know that that the festival also plays an instrumental role in advancing new technologies. It’s done so with its New Frontier initiative—an effort headed by two women of color, and one that has showcased the work of a broad range artists and technologists from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the “godmother of virtual reality,” Nonny de la Peña.
hat began as an experiment for the Sundance Institute has now become a fullfledged breeding ground for the distinct intersection of art, film, and technolog y. Celebrating its tenth year, New Frontier, has especially embraced one technolog y in particular as of late: virtual reality. While VR still feels like a newfangled idea to some, Shari Frilot, Sundance’s Senior Programmer and Chief Curator of New Frontier, says VR is here to stay and has yet to reach critical mass. “I think it’s just getting started,” says Frilot, “We’re in the process now of putting together the 2017 edition and submissions have tripled.” Virtual reality was first showcased at Sundance in 2012 with Nonny de la Peña’s Hunger in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until 2016 that Frilot started to see more filmmakers drawn to the medium and embrace it all on their own. In 2014 and as recently as 2015, Frilot and her team found themselves scrambling to curate the exhibition. Nowadays though, as Frilot remarks, “There’s a real urgency in the air.” While filmmakers previously viewed virtual reality tools as mystifying, Frilot shares that “new cameras are coming out, and they’re making the technolog y more accessible.” Frilot now fields several calls a day, and when she walks into a room, filmmakers come up to her and ask “Hey, what about this VR? How can I get a call?” Frilot notes that the urgency is compounded with headsets like PlayStation’s VR, HTC’s Vive, and Oculus dropping off to the market, and planning big mainstream promotions with companies like electronics retailer, Best Buy, and even the fast-food chain, Taco Bell. Still, even if VR is reaching new heights and filmmakers are more curious than ever, for much of the public, virtual reality is still a very alien technology—one whose reception is, for many, mostly about the potential money to be made. But for Frilot, it’s about something else entirely. “The medium is really revolutionary,” she says with a vigor that shows the technology is clearly very close to her heart. She continues, “I find what’s most interesting about VR is the human connection that the medium makes between the body and the mind, and our sense of place in state.” That connection is what might just revolutionize the way we do something as seemingly unrelated as medicine. Frilot points out one VR experience in particular as an example of the medium’s potential in bringing healthcare providers and their
patients closer in understanding, Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness. The immersive VR experience was unveiled at Sundance 2016, and was referred to by many as an “instant classic.” “It does a really remarkable thing. It allows you to experience what it’s like to see as a blind person, using a visual medium.” The experience complements the feature film Notes on Blindness, an innovative documentary which explored the audio diaries of John Hull, a writer and theologian who in 1983 began recording an audio diary documenting and reflecting on his quest to understand blindness. Over sixteen hours of deeply personal testimonies sharing his ruminations on loss, renewal, and hope are distilled into the Notes on Blindness VR experience. In it, binaural audio and real-time 3D animations are seamlessly combined to address a specific time or memory from Hull’s audio diary, replicating and providing a rare window into the world of blindness. Reflecting on VR’s power to communicate beyond what has been communicated before in other mediums like music and literature, Frilot remarks, “There’s something special about a medium addressing your body’s sense of place. It’s the power of VR. and that’s really remarkable. It’s not talked about enough.” As New Frontier celebrates their 10th anniversary, it looks like that will soon change. But as other technologies emerge (Frilot mentions “the internet of things,” as an example), what are Frilot’s goals for the next few years. After all, technolog y is always evolving—so what’s at the core of what New Frontier is really about? “I’ve been searching my heart for that one—the work that we show is really exciting—exciting because of the content and the form of it, it’s exciting because it’s imagination. But you know, I think, all the work is driven by values, and values that artists have and preserve, they’re all different, but for the most part, they’re pushing this value of humanity.” As I ask Frilot to elaborate, she explains that there’s a lot at stake in society right now, and she wants to take “the excitement and hyperbolic growth of the technolog y to serve and magnify our humanity.” She continues, “We’re searching for work that is really rooted in what’s valuable for humanity. Not so much industry or economy, but humanity. And if I can amplify that theme as much as we’ve been able to amplify the economy of VR—that would be my dream. That’s ultimately what we’re into this for.”
dystopia: now Paranoia surrounding new technologies and their unintended consequences is as universal as fear itself text by Vija Hodosy
In the near future, perhaps seconds from now, you will engage common technologies that offer you the power to manipulate memory, travel through time, disregard all ethical boundaries and mortal limitations; and in the same breath ask, “Siri, where’s the nearest weed dispensary?” A simple command to a fledgling A.I. and soon you’re hysterically lost, running low on water and self-esteem, circling a strip mall, convinced that ‘she’ willfully mislead you because you called ‘her’ an idiot that one time for not knowing the difference between a loquat and a kumquat. It’s hard to find good A.I. these days.
HBOâ€™s Westworld (2016)
Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina (2015)
the storytelling of today, both fiction and nonfiction, has shifted to exploring techno-paranoia and the dystopian present.
Werner Herzog’s Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016)
t’s 2016 and millions of people are droning about in uniform khakis, but still waiting on their jetpacks. Generally speaking, I don’t busy myself with futuristic technoprophecies so much as I do with my shitty iPhone. My ‘smart phone’ may not literally be out to destroy me, but its salience absolutely insults my fair-weather Luddism. Paranoia surrounding new technologies and their unintended consequences is as universal as fear itself. Throughout the last century, the ‘sci-fi techno-thriller’ genre has been defined by futurism, and otherworldliness. In the context of entertainment media, these narratives have largely played out in far-off futures- think Blade Runner (1982) or The Matrix (1999). However, the story telling of today, both fiction and nonfiction, has shifted to exploring techno-paranoia and the dystopian present. Werner Herzog’s Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016), a documentary exploring the deeply transformative Internet age, is terrifying; quite like The Inside Job (2010) and Time to Choose (2016). These documentaries describe how undefined accountability and the mechanization of progress have irreparably shifted our planet, our systems and ourselves. This past October’s harvest of technoparanoia just might resemble your recent trip to Joshua Tree. HBO’s new sci-fi western series, Westworld, is a dramatic thriller about a state-of-the-art amusement park “hosted” by android prostitutes and gunslingers. In their pursuit of pleasure, “Guests” of the experience are assured that no harm can come to them while they sin their way through the frontier. The HBO series looks to be significantly more intimate and unsettling than Michael Crichton’s original 1973 Westworld—a pioneering feature in its own right. In the 1970’s, the thrilling implementation of 2D raster graphics was perhaps the equivalent of test-driving a Tesla. Peel off that Patagonia and slip into some chaps, Westworld is coming. Also in October, Netflix released season three of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker ’s approach to techno-paranoia through a satirical, cyborg lens. The show’s plotlines illustrate how damning technological advancements can be when played out across the human body. The show has presented memory storage implants (“Grains”) alongside vintage cars and Norwegian minimalism. As well as, cyborg vision (“Z-Eye”) alongside mockneck merino wools and log cabins. The Lobster (2015) comes to mind; a feature-length film with Colin Farrell about a societal mandate to find love through speed dating or find yourself filed in a bestiary. I like to think that the late Rod Serling, creator and host of the “The Twilight Zone,” would have approved of these new messages. In the past, the sci-fi genre has been used to illustrate our fear of the future of technolog y. However, contemporary technoparanoia is a lot less Total Recall (1990) and a lot more Samsung recall.
Andy L. Kubai
photography courtesy of
The Esoteric World of
Everywhere you look in Strange’s history, there are allusions to world religion, spirituality, tribal medical practices, and literature.
n the first Thor, the Norse hero (played by Chris Hemsworth) explains to his physicist companion Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) that his Asgardian abilities amount to advanced technolog y, at least to less-powerful cultures—and let’s face it, who wouldn’t love a flying hammer at their beck and call. Similarly, Tony Stark is rooted in technolog y. The troubled if ingenious inventor is capable of engineering incredible, responsive armor and an advanced supercomputer which accidentally turns into a mystical stone-powered superhero (okay, bad example). Then, along comes Stephen Strange and ruins all that grounded, pseudo-science-based story telling. Or does he? The truth is, as Marvel’s Doctor Strange bursts upon the screen in a blaze of mysticism, their cinematic universe will actually grow larger, rather than smaller. Still, how does a world couched in technological wizardry fit an enchanter like Strange into it? Created by comic book luminary Steve Ditko in 1963, cocky surgeon Stephen Vincent Strange (shades of Vincent Price) emerged from the early psychedelic/surrealist turn Marvel took during the mid-1960s. His origin story in Strange Tales #115 finds the once powerful medico in the gutter after an accident mangles his hands. In desperation, he turns to a reputed quack/noted guru the Ancient One to restore his life to its former glory. Instead of functional hands, Strange gets a fresh outlook on the universe, and a whole lot more. Everywhere you look in Strange’s history, there are fun allusions to world religion, spirituality, tribal medical practices, and of course literature: The good Doc’s mentor, The Ancient One (played by Tilda Swinton), was born in Tibet. The wizened sage and Strange alike derive their powers from mysticism inspired by numerous spiritual practices and occult beliefs – especially the connection between, and self-empowerment of, soul, body, and mind. His connection to his higher self allows him to project himself into the astral realm – a common element in many world spiritualties such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. It also allows him to contact the Vishanti, three powerful sorcerers from an alternative dimension (there’s that ‘three’ thing again) who endow him with incredible kinetic powers to combat his foes. Speaking of foes, Doctor Strange squares off against some very archetypal and literary-based adversaries. For his silver screen debut, he’ll face off Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), typically a henchman in the comics. However, his classical enemy, the Grendel to his Beowulf, has always been Baron Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Early reports suggest Mordo will be more of an ally in the film. For how long, though, remains to be seen. Both Kaecilius and Mordo (at least in the comics) represent the
archetypal struggle between good and evil, and even work alongside some pretty terrifying forces. One of Strange’s most frequent threats comes from the fairly regular incursions of the master of the “Dark” or Faltine Dimension, the dread sorcerer Dormammu. An allusion to the classic demons of world religions, the Doctor’s nemesis embodies the elements of a classic Christian Hell, with shades of Hades. He also commands the mindless ones (not unlike Donald Trump) who also take their inspiration from the creeping minions of H.P. Lovecraft my thos. His flaming visage may only get a name drop in Doctor Strange, but one of Doc’s most terrifying adversaries could stop by to create some major havoc. Shuma-Gorath and his “Old Ones” (no relation to the Great Old Ones), much like their inspiration, dwell in the outer realms beyond our known universe. The squid-like interdimensional god may only get a cameo in the film—at least if the Doctor Strange Lego set was any indication—but if he does show up, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in big, big trouble. Strange will need to tap into all of his occult and spiritual powers, as well as his mystical rolodex, to force the tentacle-flailing menace back into his own dimension (or at least the nearest convenient parallel one). Of course, hopping through dimensions and forcing back evil demons isn’t exactly the purview of your average comic book hero. So where does Doctor Strange fit in Marvel’s otherwise relatively practical world? According to Marvel president Kevin Feige, Strange’s magic, like Thor ’s is all about advanced theories. While it sounds like the movie won’t go into great detail about the Sorcerer Supreme’s practical esoterica, Feige did explain his take on magic in the MCU: “Have you seen Cosmos? That’s magic, [the quantum physics]. It’s unbelievable. If somebody knew how to tap into that stuff, what’s the difference between that and magic?” In Marvel’s realm, apparently understanding the microscopic inner-workings of the universe equates to magic and is embodied in the precepts of Doctor Strange. In his world, like our own, the scientifically minded co-exist with the religious and the spiritual (albeit tenuously at times). When he fights alongside his fellow scientifically powered superheroes, his abilities and wisdom enhance the team, providing a balance. As with our lives, the cogs of the MCU operate best when greased with understanding, or at least a healthy appreciation for their variations. In the long run, Strange’s teammates like Iron Man and Black Widow may not understand his methodolog y or spirituality. But if the Sorcerer Supreme fries Thanos’ ass before he steps on them, they’re perfectly fine with whatever he’s into.
How does a world couched in technological wizardry fit an enchanter like Strange into it?
ETHICS IN VR: Who determines what is right and wrong in this new digitally rendered universe? text by Ross Gardiner
ow, you’re really drunk!” said the waifish young man skirting in and out of my blurred periphery. His friend was watching our interaction from the other side of the room, wearing a menacing grin as my legs buckled from under me. I was a young woman at a college party, and these young men had date raped me. When I came to again I was laying on a bed having my boots removed, completely helpless. I removed the Oculus headset and looked at the zealous smiles from the Specular Theory reps—the production house behind the VR sexual assault PSA “Perspective Pt.1”. They had seen the look of rattled dismay that I was wearing many times before. I was another tepid skeptic that they had awoken to the profound realworld power of this rapidly emerging medium. To the giddy optimists in the industry, VR offers a scope for depth of empathy unlike any thing we’ve ever seen in the digital realm. Narrow minds can be prised open with immersed perspectives, and the opportunity to “feel” is heightened considerably by a deeply personal viewpoint. But there are plenty of muted pessimists out there, many of whom can’t shake the notion that this powerful technolog y has the tremendous capacity for misuse. As the tech side of the VR industry continues to push for increasingly realistic experiences, heightening technical capabilities and experimenting with extra sensory devices (ex. South Park’s fart smelling mask), some within the industry are left wondering: Who determines what is right and wrong in this new digitally rendered universe? Who decides what is too scary, or too violent, or too real? And will those lines only become clear as we cross them, potentially resulting in long term psychological damage to early adopters? “There seems to be a widespread cultural presupposition that technological innovation is always good in itself,” said Michael Madary, a philosophy professor from the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. “Until that presupposition is seriously challenged, the ethics will probably always be a step behind.” Madary and his colleague, Thomas Metzinger are considered Europe’s foremost authorities on the subject of ethics in VR. They published a widely read paper on the subject in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, which outlines the key areas in which VR risks crossing an ethical line that is yet to be established. One such area is “Risky Content”—
“One obvious problem, though, is that users will almost certainly seek out VR as a way of crossing red lines with impunity,” they write, going on to raise hypotheticals about virtual pedophellia, rape, and the so-called “Dark Triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. They insist that tech companies and content creators need to establish these lines in the sand quickly for the safety of the public, and that the responsibility for the consumer’s wellbeing should be shared between these industries. In gaming and cinema, there is likely no genre that bears that responsibility as heavily as horror. In speaking to CNBC, Jason Kingsley, CEO of game developer Rebellion, said, “Horror movies can be very scary or very cathartic or very terrifying, but horror VR will take it beyond that, and do we want to be entertained like that?” Kingsley went on to discuss Rebellion’s PS4 title Sniper Elite—which the company may develop for VR—and raised questions about their hallmark realism and how that will translate to VR.
“Where does one draw the line? Will you trigger PTSD in some proportion of your players? I don’t want to traumatize my players and PTSD is a very, very serious issue for our modern soldiers.” While PlayStation’s imminent move into the headset market is likely to accelerate the creation of violent and frightening games extremely quickly, pornography— arguably the internet’s most assertive trailblazer—is realizing VR’s potential for its consumers faster than anyone else. Companies like Badoink and Naughty America, both of which emerged in the early 2000s and helped to pioneer now-ubiquitous forms of porn delivery, are leading the field once more, and are each treating the subject of ethics as core to their business model. I spoke to Ian Paul, CIO of Naughty America, about the risk of more hardcore forms of pornography entering the VR space, and what risks those might present. “I don’t think that there’s going to be a big enough market for that kind of experience for it to be too much of a problem. Some of the videos that we produce are almost too real for me, and they’re firmly on the vanilla end of things. But that isn’t to say that people won’t become desensitized over time.” BaDoink’s CEO Todd Gilder, explained that the high standards of curation that subscription-based companies like his and Naughty America upheld safeguards the industry from overstepping its boundaries. But he admits that it may not be that way for long. “Every creator who is out there right now—and there’s like 10 of them—is doing it responsibly at the moment,” said Gilder. “But as Playstation and Google enter the market at the end of this year, and user generated content starts to emerge, you’re going to start seeing more and more low budget production appearing.” But in BaDoink at least, the porn VR world has found one redeeming experience that shows a positive side to deeper sexual immersion: Virtual Sexolog y. Lead by a qualified sex therapist and utilizing VR and teledildonic technolog y (yeah, digitally connected dildos that fuck you both in sync), they have the novel opportunity to teach people how to be more attentive and engaged lovers in the real world, and to attempt to undo some of the real-world damage the porn industry is widely thought to have done on a generation of (mostly) men. “In America, people don’t have sex ed!” exclaims Gilder. “The schools don’t teach it, the parents are too afraid to talk about it. And what’s left? The porn that we produce. We’re hoping that through Virtual Sexology we can show the industry that there’s an opportunity here to teach the public about their bodies in a positive, healthy way.” Fortunately, the tech and content creation industries are starting to ponder where the line of acceptability lies in their respective genres, and their established governing bodies will likely soon enter the conversation. The film industry is tasked with establishing what people’s threshold for fear, trauma, and gore is. Gaming needs to be conscious of glorifying hyper-violence, or raising adrenaline to heart stopping rates. And porn needs to be very careful about policing aggressive, violent content that could awaken dangerous fantasies in its users. “Both the tech companies and the content creators want to sell their product,” Madary told Cinema Thread. “What they should realise is that doing so recklessly, without regard for the safety of users, might hurt their business in the long run. So I hope that both groups see that it may be in their interest to consider ethical guidelines as soon as possible.”
They got into Sundance or their indie films were already so successful, they didn’t need to screen there. Then Hollywood came calling—and they gave us everything from The Amazing Spider-Man to the Bourne movies. We take a look back at how big-shot directors were able to parlay indie buzz into blockbuster success text by Brian Fairbanks
FROM SUNDANCE Colin Trevorrow
ou will envy this blockbuster to the exasperation. Colin Trevorrow (and co-writer Derek Connolly, whose career is arguably even more jealousyinducing) adapted an actual classified ad about time travel into Safety Not Guaranteed, which won the screenwriting award at Sundance. Cut to what seems like two seconds later and Trevorrow is co-writing and directing a remake of Flight of the Navigator… and Jurassic World! (The Navigator project is apparently on hold.) Jurassic World grossed nearly two billion dollars, so look for similar major studio projects from Trevorrow and Connolly every weekend next summer, probably.
sotsi, Gavin Hood’s Oscarwinning South African drama, didn’t play the festival (reports differ; however, we couldn’t get confirmation that it had screened), but everyone was talking about it once the news about the new X-Men director leaked. Who was this South African who thought he could tell this very American story? Well, Hood’s effort, X-Men Origins: Wolverine proved (at least to diehard fans and critics) that it’s not an easy path from low-budget indie filmmaker to studio action movie kingpin.
ry to name a movie that pissed off more people on its release date (besides Batman V Superman) than The Amazing SpiderMan. After helming 500 Days of Summer, which earned $60 million on a reported $7.5 million budget, Mark Webb landed a thankless task (for which he was paid gobs of money, of course): reboot a franchise that just had a reboot a few years ago. While critics warmed to The Amazing Spider-Man, it stalled at the box office, earning a disappointing (no joke) $757 million worldwide. Webb returned for a sequel… which made even less money and prompted—you got it—another reboot.
TO BLOCKBUSTER Doug Liman (and Jon Favreau)
wingers was actually rejected by Sundance but, due to hype around the time of the festival, sold shortly thereafter to Miramax. The film, which went on to become of the quintessential cult VHS rentals, was supposed to have been directed by writer-star Jon Favreau, but his backers overruled him and went with Liman, who had at least made a movie before, even if it had disappeared without a trace. Both men (reports differ on whether they were bitter or just friendly rivals) went on to major studio success thanks to Swingers: Liman broke out in a big way when he got the gig directing something called The Bourne Identity (and it’s multiple sequels) and Favreau went on to direct its rival action-movie tentpole Iron Man.
hile this wasn’t a direct path either— her career went from Thirteen to Lords of Dogtown and the longforgotten Nativity Story to the first Twilight movie—it’s unquestionable that Catherine Hardwicke’s success with her first film, a teenage drama, lead to her studio success launching the Stephanie Meyer adaptations. Thir teen may not have won any awards at Sundance, but it unquestionably created a huge stir—which is, of course, much more important. It did, however, go on to garner an Oscar nomination for Holly Hunter, which helped the film earn back five times its budget at the box office—which is all Hollywood ever wants to hear anyway.
l Mariachi, which translates into English as “Made for 7,000 U.S. greenbacks raised mostly from the director’s time subjecting himself to medical experiments,” is the 1992 nobudget classic that won the Audience Award and inspired kids everywhere to make movies for miniscule budgets. For that, we have to thank (and blame) Robert Rodriguez, the genius behind the production, which was only supposed to be a calling card to raise money for bigger projects. Well, bigger projects indeed came along: Rodriguez picked up studio work on Desperado (his own sequel to El Mariachi), Spy Kids, The Faculty, Sin City and more breakout films.
A Musician’s Love Affair With Films
Arranged and Shared
Singer, Songwriter And Pianist, Niia
Scores That Accompany Them
text by Vi Nguyen photography by Louie Aguila
It was written in her genes. Born the daughter of an Italian mother (a classical pianist), and granddaughter to an opera singer, it was only natural that Niia Bertino (aka Niia) would inherit both a love of music and of the theatrical. In fact, despite being well on her way to fame as a bonafide pop singer, it seems that Bertino’s life has always seemed to cross paths with that of film.
Bertino grew up watching Italian cinema and absorbing their scores. One might be surprised by just how fluent the 28-yearold Bertino is in her knowledge. As we chat, the slender, modellike chanteuse starts rattling off names of directors and composters: Sergio Leone, Morricone, Argento, Barry… Excitedly, I share with her my own fascinations with film scores, mentioning that Thomas Bangalter, one half of Daft Punk, is behind the score of the deeply disturbing (and equally controversial) French film, Irréversible. Bertino exclaims that the film is actually one of her favorites, pointing to a tattoo on her arm of one of the film’s proclamations, but in Italian of course: “Il Tempo Distrugge” (“Time destroys everything.”) Surrounded by opera and jazz from a young age, her adolescence was unsurprisingly marked by a fever for the arts: while most girls skipped school to go the mall, Bertino was skipping class to go play classical piano. She remarks, “It’s always what I wanted to do instead of homework. I would skip class to play piano in the chapel, which was so dorky.” There was never a moment where she contemplated a career in anything but music, and yet it wasn’t really a conscious choice either, she tells me. It just never occurred to her to do anything else, at least while growing up. Not only were her mother and grandmother both performers, even her extended family had trained at Juilliard. Bertino herself began performing from the age of 13, was invited to Berklee College of Music’s summer program at 14, and after graduating high school, found her way to New York to study at the prestigious New School for
Jazz and Contemporary Music as a Jazz vocal major. With friends constantly asking when she would be performing, Bertino, lamenting the fact that she hadn’t composed any original music of her own, ended up taking her obsession with John Barry (a frequent composer of James Bond scores) and turning it into pop-up vocal performances with her fellow musician friends backing her as a full 14-piece orchestra. Word about these nostalgic 007 happenings grew and, eventually, Bertino was discovered by none other than Wyclef Jean. “I met Wyclef at his recordings studio one night while I was scheduled to record a jingle for a commercial. I used to sing jingles to make money when I lived in the city while at school. It was one of those right-placeright-time moments. My session got canceled and he happened to be in the other room.” Dropping out of school to go on tour with Jean as a backup singer, today Bertino is striking out on her own. Robin Hannibal (Rhye, Quadron) produced her debut EP, Generation Blue, and she’s now preparing for the release of her full-length, from which she recently released the single “Bored to Death.” Already, others are taking notice, with press in Billboard, the FADER, Complex Vogue, Interview Magazine, and more, alongside collaborations with acts like UK artist, Tourist, under her belt. Though Bertino is poised on the cusp of stardom, she still harbors an unabashed love affair with ﬁlm and a school-girl like admiration of the soundsmiths behind their scores. “I’m very inspired and star-struck by composers. It’s very different from what pop-artists do.” We explore a few of her favorite ﬁlms, scores, and the artists behind them.
THE SCORECARD N 01 Ennio Morricone O.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968) CINEMA PARADISO (1988) ”I can only watch Cinema Paradiso like once every five years because it’s so sad. But I love Morricone because of his melodies. I think he’s the master of melody. It’s so effortless where he decides to take the notes, and somehow it’s just beautiful. It’s so crazy because I’ve gotten some of his music to play on the piano and I’m surprised—it’s so simple, the things he comes up with, how simple the lines are, the choices of where he moves the notes. It’s so melodic, and in a way he’s always reminding me you can always be simple and make a really big impact, emotionally.”
N 01 Mica Levi O.
Bertino marvels at the timelessness of Morricone’s scores: “Film scores, the sounds, they can also get dated after a couple of years. [But] this is why I love Morricone. I can listen to his scores and still go, ‘this is so good!’” Bertino ponders the magic behind it all, adding, “I’m always trying to figure it out—it’s nothing new, nothing different. They’re still using organic instruments. It’s just how they arrange it and what the melody lines are that are just so undeniably good. Like Once Upon A Time In The West. No one will ever beat that. Nope. Bye!”
N 01 Henry Mancini
UNDER THE SKIN (2013) “The score for Under the Skin is just perfect. [Mica Levi] had restraint to know what not to do. She used strings in a way that, you know when a violinist goes like,”—Niia interrupts with a Hitchcockian violin creak—“It’s more sound effect.” Niia goes on to further compare Levi to the great horror maestro, “She did a modern-day Hitchcock score. He was kind of the first director to use scores to master this, and in such a beautiful way. He would have three different versions before he picked the right one. So hers is like a 2013, relevant way of doing that.
N 01 Philip Glass O.
THE HOURS (2002) “The Hours is such an incredible movie. The score was so upsetting and sad… it made The Hours even more painful to watch, just because it was so dramatic—all that tension.” It’s the space within all that tension that Bertino loves, explaining that Glass puts notes together in a way that rubs and builds discomfort. She hums a few purposefully dissonant notes as an example, describing a scene within The Hours in which the women are baking a cake, adding that Glass is expert at triggering a slowchurning sense of anxiety within what are otherwise ordinary moments. In this way, she says, “he’s kind of like a modern classical composer.”
NO. 01 John Barry COMPOSER
OUT OF AFRICA (1985) + MISCELLANEOUS JAMES BOND FILMS “I love John Barry stuff. [His score] just went so well with the characters. It really portrayed characters while, nowadays, you kind of have to create some sort of visual identity. And if the music doesn’t match it or contradicts it in an interesting way, it doesn’t really work… John Barry is for sure one of my favorite composers.” When Bertino was performing her James Bond popups, she describes the response as interesting. “The audience is half older people—because they know the old catalogue, they know Shirley Bassey. While my young friends just want to come to a place where they can dress up—they don’t really know all the old, iconic Nancy Sinatra stuff.” She adds, “It’s cool to be able to mix up both kinds of generations and appreciate the music again in a different way.”
THE PINK PANTHER (1963) “I used to live in the Lower East Side and for a few weeks, every night around 2:00 am, someone would play the Pink Panther theme drunk on an alto sax on a roof closeby. It always reminded me how much I loved Mancini... But, not always at 2:00 am every night on a loop.” Bertino recalls, “When I was in high school, I won this jazz award to go to this national thing with a bunch of nerdy kids in film and music. They were honoring Henry Mancini and nobody knew who he was but me. I was so excited! We got to sing his whole catalogue and everybody was like, ‘These songs are so lame!’ but I was like, ‘these songs are so iconic!’”
KURT ’S DAD,
Kim Min-hee in The Handmaiden (2016). photo courtesy of Amazon Studios / Magnolia Pictures.
THE HANDMAIDEN Surrealism and Sensuality in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden text by Sophia Stuart
he erotic thriller The Handmaiden explores many of Korean director Park Chan-wook’s (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Stoker) cinematic passions: rage erupts into violence, desire transfigures through the agony of obsession, the frame is exquisitely rendered on digital, using old anamorphic lenses for a painterly mise-en-scene. The tale, inspired by Sarah Waters’ novel Fingersmith, is translated, very effectively, from the book’s original Victorian England setting, to occupied Korea under Japanese rule. It’s a world of repression, cruel courtly etiquette, and darkly illicit activities behind closed doors. As the ﬁlm opens, a young Japanese heiress, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), is locked away in a remote estate, under the dark watchful eye of her twisted uncle, Kouzuki (Cho Jin-woong). Sook-hee (Kim Taeri), a Korean handmaiden, arrives to tend to her every whim. But Sook-hee is no servant, she’s an experienced forger and accomplished thief, hired by a trickster known as “the Count” (Ha Jung-woo) in a plot to steal Lady Hideko’s fortune. There again Hideko might appear beguilingly innocent, but she’s no blushing debutante. Just as you think you’ve got a handle on the plot, in a nod to Rashomon, the story folds in on itself three times in an attempt to ﬁnd some notion of truth. It’s a glorious re-spinning of dark deeds and, ﬁnally, enduring love.
Critics at Cannes could not decide whether The Handmaiden is a sensuous tale, beautifully told, or Asia’s answer to Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
Make your own mind up. It’s art cinema at its best, richly informed by film theory and a love for the visual medium. We spoke to Park Chan-wook at a rare stateside appearance in Beverly Hills promoting the film. With co-producer, Wonjo Jeong, acting as translator, Park throws an amused glance at the abstract coffee and cream artwork on the walls, sat down,and nodded to producer Jeong to proceed. As a director for whom horror is a hallmark, Park is often asked whether Hitchcock is his greatest influence. He dismisses the suggestion, noting “I was watching Vertigo when I decided to become a
filmmaker, however, when I talk about those who have influenced my work, I wouldn’t cite him only.”
Park’s films don’t shy away from the visceral. In fact, violence is something he’s used to defending: “When it comes to violence in my films—of course it’s there to make you uncomfortable.” “It’s used as a device to convey the pain and suffering, and the guilt of those inflicting it. Violence, of itself, does not have an artistic value. When the story requires violence, I don’t avoid it.” What was behind Park’s decision to move the novel’s original Victorian English setting to Korea? “Actually we did set out to make an Englishlanguage film, set in England, but through my producer’s suggestion, I translated it to Korea. What it did bring to the film was to add one more layer, of nationality, which makes the dynamic between the characters even more fascinating, because those two nations (Korea and Japan) were in animosity towards each other, at least back in that time. That plays an important element, with one person from the occupying country, and another from the occupied. It adds one more layer, one more obstacle, for the two lovers to overcome.” When asked whether the ﬁlm’s sex scenes were too overtly explicit, Park shrugs it off or the question just gets lost in translation. He murmurs about the “pursuit of beauty” and clearly doesn’t care about others’ sensitivities (a rare and admirably auteur position to hold). When asked whether he thinks The Handmaiden will herald a resurgence in 90s-era erotic thrillers such as Basic Instinct, he shakes his head: “I don’t limit my ﬁlms to a speciﬁc genre. That was a good movie and, now I come to think about it, so was Bound, but I consider my ﬁlm to be more of a romantic fairytale.” Our time with the filmmaker drew to a close. Park Chan-wook stood for pictures with Kim Tae-ri. It was a very swift departure: smile, turn, smile, turn —and exit. After a respectful pause, we left the suite.
BEYOND MIYAZAKI The Next Generation of Animation Studios text by Winnie Chak
o other ﬁlmmaker of our generation has inﬂuenced animation quite like Hayao Miyazaki has. Iconic ﬁlms such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are just a few examples of ﬁlms that revolutionized how animated stories should be told. While the US has often dismissed animation as children’s cartoons, Miyazaki sought to change that stigma and created ﬁlms that explored the human condition while placing his characters in situations that often had mature topics (i.e. war, environmental disasters). Audiences are able to relate to his characters, and part of it is because Miyazaki studies people in real life. Miyazaki and a few followers co-founded Studio Ghibli and since then have created award-winning ﬁlms that inspired countless other studios. Ghibli’s ﬁrst feature ﬁlm, Castle in the Sky, inspired John Lasseter to create a studio that would tell stories for all ages and children’s cartoons. That studio was Pixar. “Whenever we get stuck at Pixar or Disney, I put on a Miyazaki ﬁlm sequence or two, just to get us inspired again,” he said in an interview at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2014. When Miyazaki retired in 2013, many of us wondered who would succeed him, and, more importantly, who would be the next innovators?
Aardman Productions Wallace & Gromit Chicken Run
Founded in 1977, British-based Aardman Productions didn’t transition into animation until they created their first feature film, Chicken Run (2000). Since then, traditional stopmotion animation—specifically Claymation—reigns supreme in Aardman Animation Studios. However, Aardman continues to experiment with other mediums
and their work can be seen on commercial ads. You may know them for their iconic characters, Wallace & Gromit, who feature in their Academy Award-winning film, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. While their work typically has comedic elements, their storytelling gears more specifically toward adventure comedy. Their last work, Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012) was also nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 85th Academy Awards and was developed in collaboration with DreamWorks.
Aside from the major studios (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and Illumination) who nowadays use full CG animation, we’d like to call your attention to ﬁve independent studios that are achieving the same caliber of storytelling without the same level of recognition.
Car toon Saloon The Secret of Kells Song of the Sea
This Irish animation studio is renown for their ﬂat, geometric animation style. Cartoon Saloon collaborated with Les Armateurs on The Secret of Kells (2009), a Celtic folklore ﬁlm based on the historical artifact, the Book of Kells. The ﬁlm competed for Best Animated Picture in the Academy Awards in 2009. Their recent ﬁlm, Song of the Sea (2014), was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film in the 87th Academy Awards. Their latest project Breadwinner is based on a
memoir of the same name and will diverge from traditional Irish folklore, instead of taking place in Afghanistan. Breadwinner will premiere summer 2017. Cartoon Saloon’s animation style is different, taking a more minimalistic approach with basic geometric drawn shapes and multi-textured backgrounds. The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea takes the appearance of a simple story, but the placement and designs are deliberate and act as motifs to further the story’s narrative. The circle patterns in Song of the Sea, for example, are a recurring motif that often represents complete or whole contrast to angular designs that implies unrest or danger.
CoMix Wave Films The Garden of Words Your Name
CoMix Wave Films introduced us to director/ animator Makoto Shinkai, whose films have resonated deeply with the Japanese audience. Shinkai’s The Garden of Words (2013) cemented his standing as one of Japan’s promising filmmakers. The Garden of Words has a unique photorealistic background animation style that blends with flat animation. This would develop into a trademark of his later films. Although the media dubs Shinkai as “the next Miyazaki,” his animation style and themes are vastly different from Miyazaki. Most of his films’ narrative leans towards romance and fate. Your Name (2016) was released this year and grossed over ten billion yen in Japan’s box office, the first nonMiyazaki film that has achieved this feat. If his movies continue to perform as well as Your Name, Shinkai will be another household name in Japan’s anime industry.
The Triplets of Belleville The Swallows of Kabul
Laika Productions Coraline Kubo and the Two Strings
In the Post-Miyazaki world, Les Armateurs continues to shine as one of Europe’s most prestigious animation studios. Founded in 1994, Les Armateurs’ awardwinning ﬁlms had different directors and animation style based on the ﬁlm’s premise. The Triplets of Belleville (2003), directed by Sylvain Chomet, is an animated comedy ﬁlm that follows
a grandmother trying to locate her grandson who is kidnapped by the maﬁa. The animation has dynamic character designs and CG animation. Whereas Ernest and Celestine (2012), based on a children’s picture book series, has traditional ﬂat animation with watercolor backgrounds. Both ﬁlms were nominated for Best Animated
Feature at the Academy in their respective years. The Swallows of Kabul is Les Armateurs’ next ﬁlm, based on Yasmine Khadra’s novel. The story takes place in Afghanistan and follows two couples living under the Taliban’s rule. Unlike their children’s ﬁlms, The Swallows of Kabul will lean towards slightly older audiences.
Laika Productions is a wellrespected animation studio that chiefly works in stop-motion animation. Their first feature film, Coraline, secured an Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Feature film in 2009, and they recently celebrated their Ten Year Anniversary with an elaborate exhibition featuring figurines and sets used in the feature films. Their latest film Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) caught our attention for its top-notch animation and originality. Laika animators painstakingly spent five years animating figurines for Kubo and utilized CG effects to seamlessly blend both stop-motion and computer animation. However, it is not entirely the animation, but their approach to narrative that diverges from story tellers like Pixar. Kubo and the Two Strings borrows Eastern influences to tell a story about loss. There’s no doubt that Laika will continue to create films that spark innovation and animation like Studio Ghibli.
PICTURE The American Film Instituteâ€™s annual annual AFI FEST presented by Audi is a staple in the film community. Here, we take a closer look at five films the festival helped propel to fame text by Brian Fairbanks
It’s the 30th edition of the American Film Institute’s historic AFI Fest, and this year promises to be even more of a smash than ever. With Jackie and 20th Century Women up for highlyanticipated gala screenings, these and several other movies are primed for huge award season momentum— and, based on the festival’s fantastic pedigree, it would be right to pay attention. Just in the last five years, many of AFI Fest’s screenings, panels, and forums helped launch these films as commercial and critical successes. Let’s take a trip back:
Hands on A Hard Body
Though little seen in the U.S., this astonishingly rich, comic documentary won the Audience Award at the 1997 festival. The story follows a Texas giveaway in which contestants compete to see who can literally keep their hands on the hard body of a car longest and thus win said car. The offbeat doc helped kick off the digitally-shot documentary revolution of the 2000s. That Robert Altman died before his fictional version of this film could be shot is one of cinema’s greatest what-might-have-been’s.
The Big Short If you’ve forgotten this one already, hurry up and rent this right away (before the election) and get back to us. We’ll wait.
You Can Count On Me Kenneth Lonergan’s 2000 indie won Best New Writer at that year’s AFI Fest and went on to critical accolades and… disappointingly was shut out of many major awards. (Hopefully, this year’s Manchester By the Sea will right those wrongs.)
While ultimately overrated (really, Best Picture? With that goofy ending?), Alejandro González Iñárritu’s sleeper hit surprisingly swept the 2015 Oscars. Arguably, it got much of its early momentum not from the Venice Festival, which it kicked off in the fall of 2014, but from AFI’s conversation panel with Best Actor Michael Keaton, in which clips from Birdman were previewed. (Side note: Iñárritu’s film Amores Perros was relatively unknown until it won Best Feature at the 2000 AFI Fest.)
Selma Coming off her brilliant second feature Middle of Nowhere, one of the truly great indie films of this century, Ava DuVernay followed up with the $20 million Selma, riding a wave of free (yet unwanted) publicity during a tumultuous time of racial tension to multiple, historic nominations and year-end “Best of” list placements. And it all started with the film’s world premiere at AFI Fest.