Category : Film
Category : Film
Miranda July is most recently the writer, director, and star of The Future, which opens in theaters on July 29, 2011.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Seeking further bifurcations between art and commerce.
Guest: Miranda July
Subjects Discussed: People in their mid-thirties who are crippled by their own self-judgment, empathy and resentment, workaholicism, feeling paralyzed, kidults and grups, pursuing a project without seeking a larger sociological reach, hats and gloves, the number of characters in The Future that operate as failed artists, July’s theory that most artists are in a constant state of crisis, moments in life when you don’t know what to do with yourself, entering the space of not knowing, outside forces that compel artists, talking moons and crawling T-shirts, nudges from your own security blanket, the relationship between art and commerce, the dry-erase marketing campaign for No One Belongs Here More Than You, the Internet as a commercial medium, Google+, art springing from boredom, anger and addiction, T-shirt puppeteers, screaming out windows, Howard Beale in Network, yelling out windows in real life, girls who bury themselves in the ground, self-enforced endurance rituals, vital methods that emerge from voicing a talking cat, playing multiple roles, sticking with initial intentions, accidental slips, whether July feels any obligation to speak to her generation or a cultivated audience, and the liberation of writing, directing, and performing in your own sex scene.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: I want to discuss the fact that you have two characters in this movie who are in their mid-thirties. They are too lazy to leave the couch. They are unable to get their lives together to pursue their careers. When it comes to keeping track of the calendar, they prove negligent — I don’t want to give it away. And they are crippled so much by their judgment that Sophie is very diffident in the very beginning when she’s making these 30 dance videos and Jason keeps his hand permanently on Sophie’s head. So as a guy who is in his mid-thirties and who works very hard, I was interested in these characters. But I also felt somewhat resentful towards these characters. And I can only imagine, in concocting these characters, that you, who have worked quite hard also may have experienced perhaps some resentment towards your creation. And I was wondering if you could talk about this double-edged sword. What did you do to shake off potential resentment towards people who are really not going anywhere in their lives — at least for the large majority of the film?
July: Well, I didn’t — I felt more understanding of them than that. I mean, yeah, I’m really, really productive. Maybe even a workaholic. But I feel paralyzed a lot of the time. And just cause I work a lot doesn’t mean I feel like always deeply fulfilled or that I always know what to do next. Or who I am. So in a way, I took a lot of doubts and fears and put them into my characters and, in a way, to break out of the patterns of some of like, you know, using work in a kind of unexamined way. And yeah it’s embarrassing. It feels kind of awkward to play that role or to give these people time and space. But at the same time, I don’t really want to see a movie about these fantastic people doing everything right and knowing themselves completely. I don’t relate to that either.
Correspondent: Yeah. Well, were you trying to depict a current crisis among many mid-30s types? I mean, some people could make the comparison that it absolutely mimics both the Southern California layabout and also the Williamsburg hipster. That’s one of the virtues of this film. But on the other hand, I’ve been seeing a lot more artists — especially books and now increasingly films such as yours — which are really depicting this kind of kidult phenomenon that was written about in New York Magazine. Was this a concern of yours? Did you study any larger sociological reach along these lines to depict this type of feeling?
July: I never care about the larger sociological reach. I mean, I’m almost entirely concerned with, like, an internal world. And, you know, sometimes I kind of lament that I have to create characters in order to get inside of them. You know, like I just want to start out already in them. And then I hope, if their insides resonate and are through, that I’ll end up making characters that people connect to — whether they love them or hate them, they’ll seem relevant. But I never work from the outside in like that. Yeah.
Correspondent: How do you jump around from putting your hand into the glove versus, I suppose, creating the glove and stitching the sequins and all that? What’s the difference? I mean, do you have to put on two hats? Is it one continuous process?
July: That’s a lot of clothes flying around here.
July: Hats and gloves.
Correspondent: Yeah. Well, there is a T-shirt in the movie.
July: And there’s a shirt in the movie. I mean, you’re talking about sort of being inside the movie and making it.
Correspondent: Yes. Acting, writing, directing. Especially some character who has this particular feeling.
July: Yeah, I mean, it seemed like if you were going to make a movie that had a lot to do with doubt and fear, like it might not be a bad thing to have a lot of doubt and fear making it? Apparently, I thought that was a good idea. Because I did. I did have lots of doubts. And when you’re in it, you know, that is part of your job. Is to feel all those things and to believe in them and to not judge them. And then when you’re outside of it, well, it’d be nice if you add some distance. But I don’t really. I pretty much am like method directing. Which isn’t that fun for everyone on the set. Especially when it’s a darker movie.
Correspondent: Why not? Why isn’t it fun?
July: Well, with like the first movie, it was more kinda hopeful and innocent in a way. And I think I embodied that as I was making it to some degree. And the second one, I also embodied. Which meant that I was fairly haunted the whole time and kind of a little bit wishing that I could flee it the same way. Very dedicated and yet still having fantasies about just walking away from the whole thing. The way that my character does. Yeah.
Megan Abbott is most recently the author of The End of Everything. For more on Megan Abbott, you can read Edward Champion’s essay “Megan Abbott: Literary Criminal” at The Millions,
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering unanticipated carnal connections with peach cobbler.
Author: Megan Abbott
Subjects Discussed: The need for dramatic emphasis, basing novels on real life crimes, having a preexisting narrative framework when working on fiction, mysterious PBS documentaries about missing girls, blurring criminal details to create tangible fiction, writing in locations that you don’t live in, special corners of the brain, the advantages of maintaining a blinkered perspective, Raymond Chandler, the perils of critically assessing a writer you love, James Ellroy, Daniel Woodrell’s methods of shattering language, maintaining a rhythmic balance in sentences, writers who only have one story to tell, Paul Schrader, agonizing over repeat metaphors, fanned out objects, “doomy” vs. “do me,” deploying the words “fulsome” and “candescent,” James M. Cain, using similes after five novels, Chandler’s similes, being unafraid of influence, having a hyperbolic head, working with editors (Denise Roy vs. Reagan Arthur), severe line editing, Raymond Carver and Gordon Lish (Lish’s edit of “Beginners”), stylistic repetition within sentences, breaking out of certain ruts, the difficulties of including a drunken nightclub scene in a novel about a thirteen-year-old girl, fornication within novels, pinpointing the precise moment that the police show up in a Megan Abbott novel, contemplating a pre-Amber Alert era, shame and guilt, the phrase “the end of everything” contained in Die a Little, FLAME, MASH, and childhood folded paper games, girls who are “body-close,” building a foundation to find a bridge to the end, Bury Me Deep and William Kennedy’s Ironweed, reviving twenty pages from years before, psychoanalytical connections with the American novel, using Freud to balance judgmental behavior within a novel, Stewart O’Nan, Alice Sebold, when missing girl novels are pegged as crime fiction, struggling with the absence of plot, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, literary fiction cannibalizing from genre, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, John Banville/Benjamin Black, dismissal of genre from literary practitioners and marketplace conditions, Donald E. Westlake/Richard Stark, Martin Amis’s Night Train, John Updike’s external sexual imagery, Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World, the relationship between sex and observational judgment in Abbott’s fiction, nonjudgmental sexual moments in life and in fiction, strangers who have sex in motel rooms, why peach is the best hue to describe porn, discovering body objectification as a kid, authenticity with real and fictitious places, David Lynch and rabbits, kimonos and forelocks as essential elements to a Megan Abbott novel, film imagery vs. tangible human experience, In a Lonely Place, fixing up a room to match the look of a room you’re writing about, nostalgia and site-specific memory, and direct transposition from reality.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: Missing girl novels are really interesting to me. Because you have people like Stewart O’Nan and Alice Sebold, who have written these missing girl novels and yet they don’t have to face the dilemma of being pegged a “crime novelist” or a “mystery novelist” or a “noir novelist.” Why do you think O’Nan and Sebold are able to get away with this and you aren’t? I mean, obviously you’ve written noir. But what of this? I was thinking to myself, “Well, can you really call her books ‘mystery novels’ or ‘crime novels?’” I was talking with people about this. And I said, “You know, really, it doesn’t matter. It’s fiction. And fiction should work.” So how do you deal with something like this?
Abbott: You know, I’m always so mystified by that too. Because I think — talking about The Lovely Bones and what people may call the “missing girl novel,” but they’re certainly not calling it a crime novel — it sort of stupefies me. And all those designations do. Because stories are stories. Especially missing people stories. They’re really about identity. They’re really about these big issues that, in many ways, all novels are really about. The missing or the gone, and how we attach these labels. On the other hand, as a lover of crime novels, I feel okay with that too. It doesn’t bother me. But I guess there’s this fear. The fear I always have in this case. People always say this about crime novels and they won’t say this about literary novels, but they should. Which is: “Oh no. Not another missing kid book.” Or “Oh no. Not another heist novel.” Or a PI novel. And that’s just because they’ve read some that don’t sing for them. But I think that with literary fiction, you can get away with that more. I mean, someone perhaps should say, “Not another novel about a crumbling East Side marriage.” But nobody seems to! No one would say that. Because they’ll say that’s the stuff of life. Well, you know, crime is the stuff of life too.
Correspondent: Or: “Not another novel about a middle-aged man going through a crisis.”
Abbott: That’s the one I was trying to think of. (laughs)
Correspondent: That’s the thing. I mean…
Abbott: Who’s going to fall for the younger woman. (laughs)
Correspondent: (laughs) Even worse. Yes, I know! Why don’t we peg those as genre and the crime novels, which have a little more variety…
Abbott: We’ll call it the Ralph genre. (laughs)
Correspondent: Maybe the solution here is to just win them over with prose. If you have original enough prose, do you think that you can escape the label? Or maybe there’s a certain advantage in being locked within that label. Because you don’t have to deal with the bullshit.
Abbott: You’d think that. You know what I mean/ I guess the sort of dream is that you’d have a book that would work in both ways. That’s one of the things. I struggle with plot. It’s not my natural thing. But I love plot as a reader. And I’m a big literary fiction reader. But often the struggle I have with them is the absence of plot. It just seems like the ideal situation are those books. And I think the Sebold is one of those, where you’re able to merge the strength of a genre book’s plot with all the originality and the innovation that you can get away with more in literary fiction than you could in a crime novel. Though I think you can. Most crime readers are totally open. Because they read so much. And obviously they don’t care that much about plot. Or they wouldn’t be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo! (laughs)
Correspondent: Sure. But we’re also seeing literary fiction cannibalizing more from genre, I think, in the last five to ten years.
Abbott: Oh yeah.
Correspondent: I mean, Colson Whitehead. His new book is a zombie book.
Abbott: I hear that!
Correspondent: Why isn’t that categorized in the science fiction section?
Abbott: Richard Price. It’s somewhat puzzling. Who’s the new one who’s doing it? There’s another one. I keep hearing of all these literary authors writing their crime novels. And I’m sure they’re doing it for a variety of reasons. And I don’t blame them for doing it. But what frustrates me sometimes is the reception they get, which is…
Correspondent: They get a free pass because they’re the literary person dipping into genre.
Correspondent: You, by way of being the experienced genre novelist, get more criticism.
Abbott: Right. Exactly.
Correspondent: Do you feel that this is what the situation is with you?
Abbott: I don’t know. I mean, I guess we’ll see. I feel that my books are part of the same world. And I think a lot of these turns are sort of imposed by outside…
Correspondent: Marketplace situation.
Abbott: Right. So I think that’s okay. My greatest frustration is the John Banville thing, where it takes him three days to write a paragraph under his name. But when he writes under Benjamin Black, it takes him five minutes to write. Like that kind of dismissal of genre.
Correspondent: Well, I don’t think he really means to dismiss genre.
Correspondent: Because if you’re spending five mintues on what normally takes you three days to write, of course it’s going to seem “easy.” Of course, you’re going to sneer down on it. Even though he’s also having a lot of fun. Even though he’s also come out and said, “Oh, I love Donald Westlake, and Richard Stark novels you must read.”
Abbott: Yes. And I think that’s the place I’m excited about. When it comes from a love. When you can feel an author’s love. When they’re not being arch. A lot of people gave Martin Amis a hard time when he came out with Night Train. Which I thought was great! Because you could tell. He was not being pastiche or arch.
Correspondent: No ambitions whatsoever. He just wanted to write a mystery novel.
Abbott: Exactly. And it’s beautiful. He didn’t hold back on his prose. He did exactly what he wanted to do. And when books come from a place of love, they always work.
Correspondent: I also feel that Paul Auster has faced that problem too. Because he’s writing very ornate mystery novels to some degree.
Abbott: Right. You think of Ellroy and DeLillo. How are they that different?
Correspondent: Yeah. They’re both confronting the major events of the 20th century.
Abbott: Right. Exactly.
James Marsh is most recently the director of Project Nim, which opens in theaters on July 8, 2011.
Condition of Mr. Segundo: Pondering unethical experiments that might slide by today’s authorities.
Guest: James Marsh
Subjects Discussed: States of exhaustion, Project Nim’s purported origins of the 1970s hippie residue, scientific ethics and Columbia code of conduct, attempts to teach a chimpanzee to use sign language, Professor Herb Terrace, the transgressive aspects of ripping an animal from his mother, Skinner, Harry Harlow’s experiments, Terrace’s efforts to seek media coverage, Nim Chimpsky’s attacks on grad students, Terrace’s concerns for insurance issues over harm and suffering to students, Washoe, a filmmaker’s obligation to history, contending with demands from studio executives, when Marsh recreates moments in a documentary, dramatic reconstructions, murdering poodles, the inherent danger in cutting too much, audience imagination and the dangers of being too literal, balancing the needs of individual perspective and audience reaction, having ongoing debates while editing a documentary, some of the qualities that cause a documentary filmmaker to become prickly, the potential conflict of interest of obtaining film clips from the very subjects you’re interviewing, having sexual feelings for a chimp, being faithful to the honest confessions of documentary subjects, viewing documentary subjects as actors, earning trust as a filmmaker, Philippe Petit, whether discomfort is required in the questioning process, asking a question in ten different ways, trying to get a scientist to reveal he committed an affair, why people should trust James Marsh, the moral implications on Catfish, the possibilities that Catfish is a fake documentary, and phony indignation.
EXCERPT FROM SHOW:
Correspondent: You don’t bring up the Washoe project. Allen and Beatrix Gardner and Herb Terrace had a huge rivalry going on at the time. And it’s almost like East Coast/West Coast, Biggie/Tupac…
Marsh: Well, there’s another film to be made about all that stuff. There’s quite a few PBS type documentaries that get into the whole language experiments that Washoe, the Gardners, and that whole debate. That would be a film about science, a film about ideas. And our film is a drama about a chimpanzee and people. So I was aware of that context and many people spoke about it in the course of our interviews. But I thought it was going to be a blind alley for me as a filmmaker to get into that too much. It may be an oversight on my part. But that’s a different film. If you want to go see that film, someone else can make that. That’s not my film.
Correspondent: But don’t you think you have an obligation to present, to some degree, the history…
Correspondent: Of all of these animal language…
Correspondent: Why? Because Washoe ended up having 350 words she “learned” of sign language. You can just do a brief mention.
Marsh: Well, you see, here’s my feeling about that. It’s that a brief mention is not good enough. That’s when you’re playing with it. If you’re just trying to flirt with something and say, “Well, I can mention Chomsky and I can mention Washoe and the Gardners.” You may know about that. But my brother watching the film won’t know anything about that. So I’m not trying to be — I’m being a little defensive here. But that wasn’t the film I wanted to make. That’s a different kind of film. And that film? Go online. Nova has done that film. Washoe, the fucking dolphins — you know, the Gardners, signs. But the bottom line is that the experiment failed. And that chimps do not learn language. So I can get caught up in this whole discussion about who was right and who was wrong, and who learned the most words. That’s not a story. That’s a discussion about the practice of science and the nature of these experiments. And so I wanted to focus on a dramatic story as opposed to the issues and the context. And, of course, someone like yourself, who is very….who is familiar with this stuff, probably feels a bit cheated. Because I don’t explain and give you the context you are sort of dimly aware of or know a little bit about. But that’s a very conscious choice on my part. Not to get caught up in things you can’t really fully explain and will, I think, be a sort of sideshow to what I think my interest in the story, which is my interest in the drama of it and the life story of this chimpanzee. Now if you’re a Nim, what does he fucking care about Washoe and dolphins and the Gardners? He isn’t going to know nothing about these things. So I’m trying to put you. You know, his life story is where I’m focused here. Not so much on this whole fascinating internexual climate that you’re aware of and the film doesn’t really get into.
Correspondent: To go ahead and correct your impression that I felt cheated, what I’m actually talking about here is how you as a documentary filmmaker make the choice to not include Washoe. Is it really a consideration of “Oh, well here’s a rabbit hole that will create a three hour film”?
Marsh: Yeah. Or where is my interest in this story? Where do I think the narrative is in this story? As opposed to — I think you could cram the film with reference points to other experiments and to other thinkers and linguists. And on and on. But that isn’t the film that I think would work for me as a filmmaker, or the one I’m interested in making. And so to distill my view into I want to tell you the story of this from the point of view of the chimpanzee, who would have no awareness of the other chimpanzee lab experiments and no interest in them either, I think.
Correspondent: So to some degree, it sounds to me that when you make a film — especially one that deals with science as opposed to, say, an event that numerous people see such as Man on Wire — your problem, I suppose, is that you’re enslaved to narrative to some degree. Is that safe to say?
Marsh: Well, that’s my interest in narrative. I guess I’m a little prickly about this. Because there’s quite a lot of pressure around the making of the film of this sort. Explaining to people. “Give me more context. Give me more science. Show me the scientific debate here.” And so I’m prickly about it because it caused me a lot of trouble as I was filming it, getting these comments from people — executives involved with the film — that they wanted more of this stuff. And they’re saying, “Well, I want a narrator for the film.” And I began to get quite pissed off about this. Because it wasn’t the kind of film that I was making, nor did I say that I was going to make this film. I was making the story of Nim the chimp. And films tend to not deal with ideas terribly well. It’s not what films are good at doing. I mean, some films do it extraordinarily well. But it’s not what they’re best for. I think film is best as a medium for storytelling. And so that’s where my interest is in this particular story again.