Gregg Araki (BSS #377)

Gregg Araki is most recently the writer and director of Kaboom, which opens today in theaters.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Staring at the canvas from a low angle.

Guest: Gregg Araki

Subjects Discussed: Whether or not Gregg Araki looks fantastic, the camera’s height growing up over twenty years of Araki’s films, the universe as a dangerous place, Chevron gas stations, the Vermeer in Mysterious Skin, backdrops, location in its natural light, how much a moment is dictated by landscape, Araki’s later films beginning in media res, Kaboom as a reaction to movies that Araki can outthink, hating being “ahead of the movie,” Inception, the way in which Araki sends emails, creating more complex narratives in a short attention span age, movie running times, deleted scenes, a secret subplot about Thor, not yet dealing with characters over the age of thirty or post-college life, getting pigeonholed as “the teenage movie guy,” being a confused and angst-ridden undergraduate, fondness and optimism, the frequency of mothers in Araki’s films, gender balance, screwball comedies, Bringing Up Baby, Cary Grant as a dumb blonde, James Duval’s return in Kaboom, trying to find innovation when “every film has been done,” an alternative juxtaposition of the Wicked Witch of the West, and returning to a naive place.


Correspondent: Gregg, how are you doing?

Araki: (with some irony) I am doing fantastic.

Correspondent: End of the day. Uh, no visuals. But anyway…

Araki: In other words, “you don’t look fantastic.”

Correspondent: You do look fantastic! You look like…

Araki: Can we say “shit” on this?

Correspondent: You can. You can say “shit.” We can talk Totally Fucked Up. Whatever you want.

Araki: Okay. Good. Yeah, I look like shit.

Correspondent: You have exacting standards. I wanted to talk about your aesthetic. I noticed that over the course of twenty years, the camera’s position has actually grown. It started off as being very much on the floor.

Araki: (laughs)

Correspondent: Very on the ground. You would see giant billboards. Chevron gas stations. And as we’ve seen you evolve as a filmmaker, we’ve seen the camera actually rise up from the ground.

Araki: Interesting.

Correspondent: And I’m curious about how this aesthetic built.

Araki: In this film [Kaboom], there’s that crazy crane shot.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Araki: Interesting. That’s an interesting metaphor for my filmmaking style. It’s gone from underground to above ground.

Correspondent: Yes, exactly. Well, actually, roughly, the camera’s waist-high.

Araki: Yeah, I used to use a lot of what’s called a hi-hat. It’s just a plank of wood with a tripod head. And I was concentrating on the hi-hat a lot.

Correspondent: Was this more your way to look distinct? Because you had pretty much nothing but a hi-hat?

Araki: I think it was also just aesthetically appealing to me. And I think it’s partly — you know, my movies are about these characters who are in this vast, hostile universe. And I think that you get that — particularly with a wide angle, a wide low shot, you get a sense of this universe being this vast and dangerous place. I think that sense of space comes a lot from that angle. You get a sense of that openness.

Correspondent: Well, I’m curious about space. I was mentioning the Chevron gas station. And we see, for example, the Vermeer in Mysterious Skin. In this movie, at the cafe, there’s the big space in the back where we see WELCOME TO THE ONTOLOGICAL VOID. I’m curious as to how this also developed. This large widescreen environment for characters to often walk into and go ahead and bitch and moan.

Araki: You brought up many interesting things that will be in dissertations done on my movies after I’m dead, I’m guess.

Correspondent: Ah.

Araki: Because a lot of my movies — particularly the early, early ones, the black-and-white, the two ones that were before The Doom Generation — is frequently characters walking at night against these phantasmagorical backdrops of Los Angeles landscape. Usually talking about the meaningless of existence. And it’s something that’s been in a lot of my movies. There is still that sense, even in Kaboom. There’s a shot in particular that’s very, very similar to one of those shots. Because I remember we were on the hi-hat. The shot where Smith is being chased by the animal men, and he runs into that crazy weird stairwell that’s almost something out of a nightmare. That shot is very reminiscent of those shots. Because it’s also so much about the location and its natural light. It’s this weird lit-up stairwell, but the DP did light it. Most of the stuff is actually from the structure itself.

Categories: Film

Misha Angrist (BSS #376)

Misha Angrist is the tenth person to participate in the Personal Genome Project and is most recently the author of Here is a Human Being.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Wondering how sequencing relates to funking people up.

Author: Misha Angrist

Subjects Discussed: Mapping your own neuroses vs. mapping your own genomes, attempts to interview James Watson, being more interesting than a palm tree, the awful nature of science books, Annie Murphy Paul, the book as deterministic, requiring a therapist, sending one’s spit to 23andme, genetic companies and infringement upon genetic patents, Myriad Genetics’s legal problems, the selling of the PGP, George Church’s relationship with the NIH, combating the institutional mindset, private companies funding personal genomics, whether the retail mindset is compatible with the progress of science, Facebook and grumpiness, the libidinous qualities of lipids, Google’s “Don’t be evil” mantra, the APOE status, James Watson and Steven Pinker, three card poker, the complaints of IT people, speculation on genes that determine dancing, Richard Powers’s “The Book of Me,” the sheer amount of information contained within genetic data, balancing curiosity and reticence about personal genomics, whether genomic information is useless and dangerous, response to warfarin and the genes which detect this response, Navigenics and carrying a card containing genetic data, Kirk Maxey and sperm donation, the evil side of humans, the Donor Sibling Registry, privacy concerns, insulin exhibits, Elliot P. Joslin, the societal good of understanding science, the diversity of the PGP subjects, race and perpetuating bad ideas about the underclass, a Head Start program for genetics, human genes and strawberries, volunteering at schools, and speculating on the implementation of a national genetics curriculum.


Correspondent: What’s most curious about this book is that it seems to be very much about mapping your own neuroses as much as your own genome. It’s almost as if your quest to understand the implications of the PGP has led you to understand the implications of the implications of your own particular attitude. For instance, you write that you and your wife had a rough patch. There’s the point where you declare that Loudon Wainwright’s “Therapy” as your theme song, which was astonishing to me. You attempt to interview James Watson and you have this $83 paperback that you purchase, but you don’t actually get the interview. Which made me feel for you, I must say. And the sly suggestion here, I think, is that self-reflection may very well be just as important as understanding the genome. So what of this? Why did this strategy go into writing this book?

Angrist: Well, I think to call it a strategy is very generous of you. You know, I wanted it to be a first-person personal narrative that was going to be about personal genomics. I started graduate school in 1988. And I finished my postdoc in 1998, and went on to cover the biotech industry and market research in a fairly miserable job. And I should say that Ed’s Rants and Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind were great friends to me during those years in the desert.

Correspondent: Wow! You make us seem like we’re palm trees or something.

Angrist: (laughs) You’re a lot more interesting.

Correspondent: Than a palm tree?

Angrist: Yes.

Correspondent: But we’re talking about you.

Angrist: But you gave me succor.

Correspondent: We’re talking about you and your self-reflection. I only just met you now. I just want to be clear on this.

Angrist: Yes. But it doesn’t feel that way. To me, anyway. You may want to pretend that we never met. So then I got a job as a science editor and I continued to watch the field grow and change. And so I had many years of stuff that built up inside me that I felt I needed to say. So I think that’s one thing. Another thing is when I read George Church’s article in Scientific American in 2006, it was a real lightbulb moment. And I felt like here was a guy who was articulating things that I felt for a long time, but didn’t know I felt them. And so that sort of brought me clarity. And then finally — and I alluded to this a moment ago — so many science books that are intended for popular audiences are just awful. So many trees have given their lives so that people with the best intentions wind up writing cheerleading, didactic, anti-cheerleading…

Correspondent: Polemical. Let’s not forget that.

Angrist: I’m sorry?

Correspondent: Polemical books as well.

Angrist: Yes. Right. Screeds.

Correspondent: Rants.

Angrist: Yes, rants. I mean, those are just shameful.

Correspondent: Yeah, absolutely. Expatiations.

Angrist: (laughs) So I wanted a book that had real people in it.

Correspondent: And looking in the mirror, you saw a real person.

Angrist: Well, I saw something.

Correspondent: You saw someone who was worth sacrificing trees?

Angrist: I saw something that I knew something about. I was on a panel with Annie Murphy Paul. And someone asked her, “How did you make the decision to put yourself in your book?” And she said, “Well, I happen to have access to my own thoughts and feelings.”

Correspondent: Not always mapped on a genome.

Angrist: That’s right.

Correspondent: So you’re getting the stuff that isn’t mapped. And mapping that. That was the suggestion with my question.

Angrist: Well, I think people who glance at the book probably look at it or assume that it’s this deterministic thing. And I wanted to be very clear that that’s not where I was coming from. On the other hand, I’m not interested in making the case that it’s useless. I simply wanted to take a picture of where we are now and where we might be headed and what some of the contingencies are.

Correspondent: I’m wondering. To what degree does having access to your genomic data altered your notions of privacy? I mean, this is a very confessional book.

Angrist: Yes.

Correspondent: As I said, that’s kind of why I felt the need to give you a hug right before you sat down. Because I very much worried about you during the course of reading this book. I worried that you would slip further, the more you discovered about yourself through the genome. I’m curious if your neuroses deepened as you accessed more information. Similar to this dilemma of: Well, here we have all this genomic data and we can’t map it all. Because there’s just a shitload of it.

Angrist: Right. I would say that my neuroses had relatively little to do — I’m sorry. Let me rephrase that.

Correspondent: Little to do? I was going to call you on that. (laughs)

Angrist: I would say that my genome had relatively little to do with my psychic ups and downs. And my therapist at one point tried to gently make the case that the whole book was sort of an exercise in acting out and I don’t know.

Correspondent: You required a therapist to complete the book?

Angrist: Expiation. Uh, I required a therapist. Period. (laughs)

Correspondent: Okay. Did your genome require a therapist?

Angrist: Well, probably everyone’s does. But of course, everyone’s doesn’t. I mean, this is one of the things that, being among the first, is. You know, you sit down at a computer and you look at an Excel file full of broken genes. And you think, “You know, I should be dead fifty times over.” But of course that’s a reflection of how little we know and what a redundant system we are.

Correspondent: Well, I’m going to try and make things a little bit more pithy and important with my next question.

Categories: Ideas

Paula Bomer (BSS #375)

Paula Bomer appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #375. She is most recently the author of Baby.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering whether producers will declare him a “bad radio show host” for thinking terrible things.

Author: Paula Bomer

Subjects Discussed: Prethinking a story involving an uncomfortable situation, whether smashing a baby against a brick wall constitutes shock value, Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions, the stigma on maternal neglect, Ayelet Waldman’s Bad Mother, whether or not “mother” means good, differing childhoods in South Bend, Indiana, the Catholic idea of whether or not we are our thoughts, guilt and bad thoughts, the paragraph structure of “The Mother of His Children”, plot vs. consciousness, going places you’re not supposed to go, trying to keep terrible thoughts within a character’s head, Patricia Highsmith, Joan Schenkar’s The Talented Miss Highsmith, implicating husbands, the relationship to thought and action, Mary Gaitskill’s “The Girl on the Plane,” potshots toward the rich, Jean Rhys as a main inspiration, characters as writers, Nathan Zuckerman, Bomer’s secret novels, writers who write about painters instead of writers but who really wish to write about writers, editors who have accused Ms. Bomer of being a “bad mother” to her face, agents who have declared Ms. Bomer of being offensive, brutal rejections, whether or not offending people matters, attempts to not go to the uncomfortable, Scott Smith, horror writers being nice people, the autobiographical qualities of “The Second Son,” trust and crushing emotion, Iris Owens’s After Claude, Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, brutal birth scenes, Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazalet Chronicles, Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, sexual frustration, and perverse imagery.


Correspondent: You have this extraordinary moment where a mother wishes to smash her baby against a brick wall. I’m wondering to what extent you prethink a situation where you’re writing about an uncomfortable situation. Is there an inherent risk to some degree in exploring what might be argued as “shock value” behavior? How do these things come into your head? (laugh)

Bomer: Well, I had a lot of fun writing that story [“Baby”]. I think it’s one of the funnier ones. And that one was basically pure satire. But there’s also, like any good satire, there’s elements of truth and real emotion as well. And actually a lot of women have written about that exact same feeling in nonfiction books. So that was a bit of the inspiration. Anne Lamott wrote a book called Operating Instructions and Louise Erdrich wrote a book called The Blue Jay’s Dance: A Birth Year. And both of them discuss in nonfiction wanting to smack the baby or hit the baby, and having this real incredible moment of frustration. So it had been done before. But I think in the context of “Baby,” the title story, it’s not this lovely nonfiction book with nuances of other emotion. She’s not a very likable person. And so I think that giving her those thoughts make it even harder to take. Because she’s not very sympathetic.

Correspondent: Well, there’s certainly a stigma upon any kind of thought of neglect. Ayelet Waldman got into a lot of trouble with Bad Mother.

Bomer: Oh right!

Correspondent: “I would rather be with my husband than my children.” That kind of thing.

Bomer: Well, you know, when I — this was fifteen years ago; I have teenagers now. But still I remember. The pressure to be — there’s this strange idea that “mother” means “good.” And actually mother just means that you had a kid. And lots of people have kids. And it doesn’t automatically make you a good person.

Correspondent: The Manson Family!

Bomer: Yeah, right. (laughs) I was in the trenches of the playground and I was hoping that this was a time for people to be loving and supportive of each other. Because it’s an incredibly difficult time. You’re not sleeping. Your life has changed. So on and so forth. You have this incredible responsibility that gets sick a lot and cries. And yet in the playground, it was more like high school all over again. It was just really hard to find people who wanted to be understanding instead of pick at your weaknesses. And that might be a New York thing. I said in my Publishers Weekly interview. I’m from South Bend, Indiana and it’s a different childhood. And it’s a different way. New York. New Yorkers — sometimes, they just can’t turn it off. It’s always got to be like some competition. And even motherhood — like I said, I think it’s a corruption of a difficult but beautiful experience.

Correspondent: But not just motherhood. What constitutes abuse? Does a thought constitute abuse? Does a homicidal consideration of your born child constitute abuse?

Bomer: That’s funny. Because Giancarlo DiTrapano asked me something similar to that. And that’s a Catholic idea. That we are our thoughts. And I don’t think we are our thoughts. All sorts of things go through your head. And we are our behavior. So having a bad thought can make you feel terribly guilty. But I don’t think it makes you a bad person. Why I think that character is bad isn’t because she has a tough moment with her baby, but it’s because she’s so shallow. It’s a satirical Upper East Side mom. Even though I think she moved to Tribeca. Everything’s about one-upping someone else. Even having kids becomes a part of it.

Correspondent: Well, I’m glad that you mentioned whether a thought translates into an action. Because there is something very interesting you do in these stories. I want to point to two of them. In “The Mother of His Children,” the second paragraph could almost be the first paragraph the way it’s written when it describes Ted Stanton. But then you have the first paragraph, which is very consciousness-heavy, and that really is the story. And that is the motivation for it. You do something similar with “A Galloping Infection” where the first paragraph reads as if it’s the beginning of a noir story. With the wife’s body dragged out of the two bedroom house. And then you have the second paragraph that begins with the sentence, “He no longer would have to disappoint her.” My question is how you arrived at this bifurcation between plot and consciousness. It’s almost as if you’re suggesting with these stories that narrative can’t always capture these more unpleasant and seamy sides of consciousness.

Bomer: You mean narrative can’t capture it. You mean, the plot?

Correspondent: The plot. Yes.

Bomer: I like getting inside the heads of my characters. It’s not the only way to write. Okay, “Galloping Infection,” in particular, the man’s in shock. Because his wife dies. And I think anyone who’s experienced the death of a loved one — even though he also discusses his lack of love for her because relationships are complicated — but I kind of wanted to capture that shock. And so I think you really need to get inside someone’s head. Because the things that go through your head when someone dies — it’s funny. Some of the darker stories, I had a lot of fun writing. Like there’s another story about marital rape. “She Was Everything to Him,” which originally appeared in Fiction. And it’s not a funny story. Some of the stories are funny. But this one is not. And yet I was giggling the whole time I was writing it. Because I knew that I was doing something subversive. And it was fun. For me, it’s fun to go places where I’m not supposed to go. I’m too old and I don’t want to be a rebellious teenager anymore. So I get to be really wrong in my work. And it’s wonderful fun for me.

Correspondent: Wrong? I’m wondering…

Bomer: Bad. How’s that?

Categories: Fiction

Elia Suleiman (BSS #374)

Elia Suleiman is most recently the writer and director of The Time That Remains.


Condition of Mr. Segundo: Constantly examining his watch.

Guest: Elia Suleiman

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]


Correspondent: I wanted to touch back on a point you were making about the democratization of the audience with a specific ultimate…

Suleiman: The popcorn-less?

Correspondent: Well, the popcorn-less and those with popcorn. In Divine Intervention, there’s a wonderful clip involving your answer to The Matrix. The ultimate democratic video scenario, YouTube, features this clip and a quarter of a million people have seen the clip. A user named Firestarter89 offers this comment: “It’s like some Muslim smoked a bunch of weed and watched Wonder Woman and The Matrix.”

Suleiman: (laughs)

Correspondent: I’m wondering, with a clip like that presented on YouTube, if you’re worried if that gets away from the point of the trilogy. That presented independently without any kind of context, people don’t actually know that it’s really your clip. There’s just a bunch of people who enjoy that clip for what it is. Is that troublesome for you as a filmmaker? On one hand, you’ve got an audience here. But they have taken it and turned it into something completely different, as this user Firestarter89 clearly has.

Suleiman: Well, I mean, it would be too long to now discuss the potence and impotence of the Internet and YouTube. And I don’t look at my own clips, by the way. I never watch what they say. I’m not really interested in this kind of image ghettoization and the very consumerist element of it on the Internet. So I actually protect myself from this pollution. However, yes, to take it out of context is really harmful. Because in the narrative of the film, what we see is his fantasy, his inner fantasy of his lover disappearing. So he wants her to come back as a victorious hero in an almost B-movie like or kitsch-like ambiance. When that episode is finished, he is cutting onions in order to cry. So we see that the result of it is this impotent character who is even unable to cry. So it is an extremity to that violent and that victorious heroism.

I have to tell you a story. A funny story actually. One time, a man stops me. A young man stops me. I was trying to film something on a small camera in Ramallah on the street. For nothing specific. I forgot. Maybe to take a note. I don’t even remember. And he doesn’t know who I am. He just stops me. He stops me and he says, “Are you a filmmaker?” I said, “Well, kind of.” And he said, “You know, you Palestinian filmmakers are all losers. You know, you don’t know how to make a real film. You don’t know how to do anything. You know, make us a film like this guy who made this ninja film.” And I told him, “What guy made the ninja film?” I asked him to describe the action and it turns out to be the segment of Divine Intervention. And I told him, “Well, I’m going to try.”

Correspondent: (laughs)

Suleiman: And he said, “That’s filmmaking for me!” So of course there’s going to be always this level of misinterpreting or taking things out of context. You cannot control that. Look at my biography. I mean, I’m sure that I’ve been presented with at least ten biographies of my life. None of them is true to my biography.

Correspondent: And yet here you are making movies that are rooted in autobiography. As such, there’s the classic saying that we accept fiction for its truth — particularly in this country — more than autobiography or memoir, in which you constantly question the facts.

Suleiman: But, you know, I’m not at all pointing fingers at anyone. But the fact is there’s always a tendency to bring down to earth again what you’re trying to bring to a potential reality. Rather than bring it back to the actual reality. So you’re trying to fight the media distortions. And they bring it back. Eventually you have a TV interview. You’re put in the news. So I don’t know how much we can — on how many fronts you can actually start or stop, deter — I mean, I can barely make my movies. So to start also campaigning against YouTube or distortions of the media, it’s very difficult for me. But I think that one could also say, rather than look at it from a defeatist point of view, if it gave anyone out there some pleasure and some dreamlike potential for a better world, then I think we are — if I feel that I’m doing the best I can, if I feel that I’m trying to dig out the little monster inside of one’s self. Not necessarily the monster only that you project on. You’re trying to evaluate. Re-evaluate your own acts. And trying to become a better person and call it your own moral equation. I think this far I can do. But I can’t go beyond that.

Categories: Film