The Bat Segundo Show: Gregg Araki

Gregg Araki appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #377. Mr. Araki is most recently the writer and director of Kaboom, which opens today in theaters.

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

Guest: Gregg Araki

Subjects Discussed: [List forthcoming]

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

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.

The Bat Segundo Show #377: Gregg Araki (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #316. Mr. Haneke is most recently the director of The White Ribbon, which opens in theaters on December 30th.

The Bat Segundo Show expresses profuse gratitude and thanks to translator Robert Gray for assisting in this conversation, which is presented here in German and English.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Tying a white ribbon ’round the old oak tree.

Guest: Michael Haneke

Subjects Discussed: The roots of human behavior within Haneke’s films, the film as a ski jump, the relationship between the cinematic spectator and semiotics, the spectator’s lack of freedom, the director as god and Martin’s spared death on the bridge, the baroness’s moral choice, truth and the denial of inherent human nature, Anna Karenina, social status and imprisonment, terrorist acts that are tied to specific occupations, the mistreatment of young children, planning a film for open-ended interpretation, whether or not a film can be entirely calculated for the spectator, the use of the Z-axis to accentuate a prewar setting, the perception of daily life, the role of the police in Haneke’s films, the trouble with dramaturgical constructs, and the impracticalities of theory in everyday situations.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

Correspondent: In Funny Games, you have a scenario in which we don’t actually understand the motivations of the two killers. Cache, same thing. The actual motivation behind the videotapes is not entirely spelled out. And, of course, in The White Ribbon, we have a similar situation in which its more about the consequences than it is about the origins. And I’m curious why your films tend to not dwell upon the origins of terrible acts, as opposed to the consequences. Do you think that looking for the root cause of human behavior is a folly? At least with these particular characters in your film?

Haneke: (through translator) Mainstream cinema raises questions, only then to provide immediate answers so that the spectator can go home feeling reassured. But I think if film is to take itself seriously as an art form, then, like every other art form, it has to allow the spectators a certain freedom of possibility — of investing themselves, of grappling with the issues that are involved, of bringing their own feelings and explanations to the work that they are receiving. I always say that not only film, but every art form should provoke the spectator so that they feel motivated. The work has to be constructed in such a way that the spectator is led to investing himself in search for his own answers. I always say that not only film, but books too, are like ski jumps. They have to be built in such a way that people can jump properly. But the film is the ski jump and it’s up to the spectator to jump.

BSS #316: Michael Haneke (Download MP3)

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The Bat Segundo Show: Chazz Palminteri & Robert Celestino

Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino both appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #259.

Chazz Palminteri is the star of Yonkers Joe. Robert Celestino is the writer and director of Yonkers Joe. The film opens in theaters on January 9, 2009.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Fleeing the scene to avoid “coming together” with the imposing Mr. Palminteri.

Guests: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino

Subjects Discussed: Robert Mitchum’s theory of the actor merging into the landscape, cinematic tempo, research for Yonkers Joe, eye contact, the script as the authoritative text, script embellishments from actors, overpreparation, performance in relation to camera placement, “artistic differences” with directors, the thespic advantages of wardrobe, playing an entire scene with a newspaper under your arm, the national revival of A Bronx Tour, the future of theater in an economic crisis, wasted talent, whether the casino heist genre now requires an unusual secondary plot, balancing intuitive insights about human behavior and cinematic reality, the inability for most people to observe mechanics in action, the distinctions between con men and mechanics, how Celestino was able to film in casinos, advancing the narrative while sacrificing believability, concocting the big score, the qualities of casino dice, the eleventh-hour casting of Christine Lahti, keeping symbols in the background, symmetrical semiotics, layering visual elements, and establishing the tell signs among the actors.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

chazz-4Correspondent: Going back to the issue of preparation, perhaps you can talk about it in light of this particular movie. I’m curious if there is such a thing as overpreparation for you. For a performance like this, for a performance elsewhere. Where if you plan something too much, then you’re going to lose the spontaneity, you’re going to lose the naturalness of human behavior, and the like.

Palminteri: Right.

Correspondent: Has this been a scenario with you? Have you had to…?

Palminteri: That never happened to me. Because I don’t overplan things. I plan it. I know where I’m going. I have a road map. Okay, and then I’m able to change that roadmap if I have to. You have to. Because you meet with the director, and you meet with the other actors. And all of a sudden, you get on the set and it’s not like you thought what it was going to be. It changes. For some reason, an actor does something else and it doesn’t match what you felt what you should do. Alright, now we got to talk about this now. Is this going to work? Maybe it works better or maybe it works worse. So if you think that your way might still be better, that’s when you have to talk with the director, and say, “Well, I’m feeling this way.” And that’s why sometimes people leave movies. There are artistic differences. It doesn’t work. I usually try and make it work. I hope I can.

Correspondent: Are there such situations in which you’ve felt hamstrung by a particular director’s decision? Or do you simply work within those particular confines?

Palminteri: I’ve always been able to work with directors who respect my opinion. And no director wants an actor to be uncomfortable.

Correspondent: Sure.

Palminteri: “To be uncomfortable.” I mean, once you say those words to a director, “I’m just not feeling comfortable here,” then he’s willing to listen to anything you’ve got to say. I mean, one thing, I’m a director. You know, I’m directing movies. If an actor’s telling me he’s uncomfortable, I’ve got to make him comfortable. No matter what.

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Celestino: I don’t know of too many filmmakers who get to shoot in casinos. Because casinos are not in the business of making movies. They’re in the business of making money. So we were very fortunate, as some of our investors were casino owners. So not only did we get to shoot in the casinos, but we got to shoot it during the day. And they would rope off a section to us. And they really opened up everything to us. There’s five people who work in a casino, who are allowed into the surveillance rooms. So we were allowed to go into the surveillance rooms just to look around. We didn’t actually shoot in there. We built that set. But we did match it identical to what we’d seen. And also, they’re not ever going to bring a suspected mechanic up into the surveillance room. So what they do have is an outer room, where they would show somebody something in case there was a question. Like they did in Yonkers Joe. But the surveillance room was actually in another room where Yonkers Joe got to take a peek at.

Correspondent: Some suspension here to move the plot. Again, this goes back to the other question about how much you stray from reality. In this case, certainly, you had to in service of the narrative. But perhaps when you were writing the script, were there questions that you were asking? “Well, okay, I need to move the narrative along. So there’s a tradeoff here.” I mean, what criteria was here? Okay, I have to advance the narrative. But there’s this tradeoff in believability. Was this an issue when you were writing the script?

Celestino: Well, that’s always a balancing act. Ironically, in this script and movie, it really didn’t come about that much. Pretty much, everything that happens in the movie pretty much can happen. You know, the thing at the end and all that. That all can really happen. In fact, when the security people — the surveillance people — were reading the script, they said that when this movie comes out, casinos will probably start putting blacklight gel in their dice. And that was where I had to reinvent a bit. Because loaded dice are very easy to see. That’s why they make the dice clear. So you can see the loads in them. But if you have something in them where you don’t have to look at the dice, like blacklight gel, then there’s no reason to even look.

BSS #259: Chazz Palminteri and Robert Celestino (Download MP3)

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