The Films of Sally Potter: Performance and Directing Style
Sally Potter picked up her first 8 mm camera at age fourteen. The breadth of her work spans from feminist avant-garde shorts, to a coming of age story set in the 60's protest era, to political satires, to a gender bending adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s "Orlando," and most recently a powerful short with Javier Bardem and Chris Rock battling it out as manager and artist on a Brooklyn rooftop.
GCC: Your first film was Thriller, a short film. It was a twist on the traditional thriller as we know it. How did that idea come about?
SP: I actually made quite a lot of the short films before that, but Thriller was the first one that became more accessible to more people and more relevant to more people at the time when it came out. And I think the idea behind it was to first of all, look at why it seemed in so many stories in opera, but in other stories too the female heroine got to die in the last act. So it was wanting to kind of dismantle the heroine, the glamorization of female suffering, really, by having the woman become the interrogator of the reasons behind her own death. In fact, the reasons for all the ways that story, the story of La bohème the opera in this case and many similar stories are told. But it was also very much a visual exploration of the relationship between stills and the moving image in a kind of post-modern cut up in a way, because it used Bernard Thomas music from Psycho, the shower sequence
[stabbing gesture] “eh eh eh eh” combined with opera. So it was about popular culture and so-called high culture kind of having a dialogue with each other. But putting the woman, in this instance a black woman, right at the center of it being the one who's interrogating the whole culture that surrounds her.
GCC: And there's a part where she's reading from a text that was from Mallarmé. How is that kind of device used in the film? Why did you decide to incorporate that text?
SP: I wanted to take one of the key texts that were at the time floating around a lot in feminist academic circles, which I wasn't really a part of because I was more of a practitioner, a filmmaker, or a dancer, or a performance artist. But I was very intrigued by the atmosphere at the time of incredible amounts of interest in theory in the text. So I wanted to explore how did these ideas by great Western writers, what sort of hold did they have over people and how were they using and working with those texts? So it was a play on that.
GCC: Your early films were so fascinating. They were avant garde and experimental. In both Thriller and The Gold Diggers you are capturing the inner world of the characters, the female interiority and voice. You do that partly through voiceover in The Gold Diggers. And there's some use of symbolism, too. And it's not a traditional narrative. And it is so layered and visually complex with the production design and the language. It's not a traditional narrative, but if I were to ask you, in more traditional narrative terms, what was Julie Christie's, the protagonist’s conflict? What was she trying to transform?
SP: So I think about the question of the interior female voice. I was very conscious then, as I am now, of the history of female silence and in a way, the absent voices in the culture and certainly in the kind of films that I grew up watching and stories that I grew up watching. And I often felt that the the forms that developed in the avant garde that were less narrative, less character driven and so on in certain ways, had more space to explore that silence and rectify it by giving voice to the things that had not been said, had not been expressed that nobody had found a way of expressing. So I began to explore what they were and wrote them down often as questions and in Thriller it’s a lot of questions that she asks. And in The Gold Diggers, I guess, the discussions that I had with my two collaborators on the script, Lindsey Cooper and Rose English were a lot about form because Lindsay was a composer and therefore very interested in the forms of music, not just in music itself, but in the forms of music and how it works. And Rose English had come from the visual arts world. She was absolutely a visual artist and worked on the design for the film. But the combination, therefore, of the places we had come from meant that we were interrogating the nature of form, the nature of storytelling, a narrative, and what it left out. So the form we chose in The Gold Diggers was more circular, more looking at itself and moving back and forth in time to really examine what it was doing rather than linear. And that was a very, very conscious thing to do formally. But I think you could say that both of those stories around the globe were sort of imbued with the language of performance art as much as the language of cinema. Although I was very much in love with cinema and still am.
And but to decode it, it seemed necessary to draw on all the ways of structuring a story and other ways of structuring a presence on film. And Julie Christie, one of the reasons for asking her to be in the film was that she, in a way, well she was a great film star, a great grand film star who was bringing with her that sort of presence, if you like, from classical mainstream cinema and placing her, literally lifting her out of the ballroom on a horseback and putting her in this film and seeing what that did and then having her role be in a way, as a star within that system economically, ecologically, psychically, emotionally, to get that to be interrogated to.
So that's how we were thinking about character; it was rather different. It wasn't like a classical view. This is a character with a backstory. It was more, I am an image. I am an image that you are receiving and I am going to start to unravel for you.
GCC: And so coming from performance art, what do you think the camera brings?
SP: Point of view. It adds point of view, it adds framing it as a relationship, a very particular relationship with time, with leaving a trace in time, and it brings with it the whole history of photography and cinematography. So it's only life in the sense that you are recording a live moment, but you are recording something that will then go on to have its own life. So it's a very big jump. But I think what in performance art, what was developed in the dance world that I was part of as well, was a very, very strong feeling for presence and for the present moment. And so that became very much a theme actually, how to achieve that feeling of absolutely being in that moment rather than anything that was more forced. It was almost a feeling of improvisation, but very structured. It wasn't actually improvised, but there was this conscious relationship with how to get something to feel very alive and so present at the moment that the camera was turning.
GCC: Your background was in choreography and dance. How does that lend itself to filmmaking and directing?
GCC: Very well because first of all, nobody works as hard as dancers. It's the hardest artform and the poorest art form and the most demanding of the body. And it's a short life for most dancers. But choreography has developed a very acute relationship with space, with bodies in space, and also with the body itself, you know, how it moves, what it's telling you. So I think that when I work with actresses, it's kind of a 360 degree full body act, full body performance. You know, it's not just about the face speaking. And so it's a very good training for that, for that kind of awareness. And it's a very good training for working with people because I was able in that world to work on many, many pieces with a lot of people, turn over a great deal of work, get a lot of experience of how to work with people. Whereas I think for a lot of young filmmakers, film is so difficult and expensive and difficult to organize that people often don't have many flying hours in the actual process of working and making something happen and working with people and building relationships. So that was helpful, more than helpful. And it's Andrè Bazin, the French film theorist, who said the essence of cinema is movement. So if one already has a feeling for movement through time, movement in space, it's a very good discipline to have when thinking about how to set up a shot or scene, how to work with the camera, whether it's still or moving. If it is moving, in what way? What height is, how are we seeing it? And with the actors, all the performers where in space are they? Close or far or are they moving or still all these questions, you develop a vocabulary with that in live work whether that's dance or performance work with theater.
SP: Can you talk a little bit about your collaboration with the DP Babette Malgotte. She’s worked with so many great female directors.
GCC: It's a long time since that collaboration, but it was a very fruitful one and it was the desire to work in black and white to shoot on 35 mm film. So it was very analog. And she had, of course, a sensibility that came also much more from the avant-garde and much less from the mainstream filmmaking. So I think that point of view was very helpful. And she was at the time, I would probably think one of the more experienced female DP's and leading, you know, an all female crew that we had on that film.
GCC: That’s so great that you had an all female crew on that. On The Gold Diggers you and Babette Malgotte were very free with the camera and blocking. Did she storyboard or did you storyboard together?
SP: No, no, no storyboards. Definitely not. And it's not about not blocking. Of course, I would set up and give the parameters of a situation, but all I'm questioning is there's a lot of orthodoxies about how you're supposed to behave on a set or how you're supposed to set up a scene which are often quite tight and rigid and stop people from seeing all the ways of doing it. Other possibilities. But the way that I work with DP’s and certainly did with Babette is very much shoulder to shoulder, looking together shot by shot, figuring out the best way to do it. I would always plan. I would always, even then I think, always have a shot list at the beginning of the day, what I wanted to get through, what I wanted to see and approximately how that might be organized through the day and in what time and in what order. And so it wasn't all spontaneous. It was planned in that sense very much. But I think that's the kind of thing at the end she and I were talking about often were more like composition within the frame or lenses, which lenses how wide, how close, what are we trying to see here?
GCC: The film is so beautifully shot. I love that wide shot you have of all the people walking up the glacier. Okay, I'd like to move on to Orlando, which is a loved film of yours, and it was recently made into gorgeous 4K restoration. Orlando is a novel from Virginia Woolf. What made you want to adapt that particular book?
SP: Well, I think it's a combination of those things which were…how can I say? Seems that it could take one a very long way; the theme of immortality. Therefore, an exploration of the human lifespan. And the aspiration of the impossible was physically humanly impossible at this point, which takes it into a kind of metaphysical feeling about. Human existence through time. So it's such a big subject. I mean, that's like physics and biology and religion and everything, just that alone. But of course, what it is more known for, more famous for narratively is the change of sex all the way through. So to be able to so-to-speak see the world from the perspective of male experience and then female experience in the body of a person who is exactly the same, the same individual was itself very radical. Critique by Virginia Woolf of the nature of identity, fluidity of identity, but also what she thought of as the androgynous mind. The mind has no gender and the heart has no gender. Love has no gender. Skin has no gender. Blood has no gender. So she was taking a very, very specific line on what makes us the way that we are. And it was a great deal to do with the performance agenda that we're forced into by stereotypes and by oppression, really, within society. So I thought the combination of those subjects was so incredibly interesting, and the way that she'd done that in the book was through images. It's just full of images.
GCC: How do you even begin to approach adapting a novel like that?
SP: Reading it over and over again. And then analyzing it, breaking it down into its narrative threads and breaking it down into acts and scenes just like aspects of the story. I cut a lot of characters, a lot of scenes, a lot of events. And going back to the core again and again and again, sort of charting it, analyzing it. I did so many drafts. I think the first draft of the script was like 200 pages long. And at the end of the minute-a-page I ended up at about 99 pages. I cut way more than half of what I wrote. And then I also read most of everything else that Virginia Woolf had written, including her diaries, the things she wrote, what she was thinking about while she was writing Orlando and so on. So I tried to get really, really close to the spirit of what she was writing, but gradually departed further and further and further from the book in order to make it work cinematically. Because it was too complex, too literary to be cinematic if one took it literally off the page. So I needed to make a lot of ruthless changes. But I did try and stay very, very close to the tone of the book, the speed and the wit and the lightness of it.
GCC: That's one of the things that is so wonderful about the film is its tone. And Tilda Swinton’s performance, her delivery has this kind of subtle humor. But in terms of performance how did you achieve that tone with her?
SP: Rehearsals. Endless rehearsal. Endless preparation. Not formal rehearsal like her standing there performing or anything, but going over and over in practice and different ways of looking at me as if I was the camera finding, you know, what we both laughed at? We just spent a great deal of time together working on it again and again and again through each successive draft. And so by the time we came to shoot it, we understood each other. Absolutely. And it was a great deal of mutual trust. And the ground had been prepared. For what proved to be a very exhausting and difficult shoot. But done with great, good humor.
GCC: It felt like you guys were having a lot of fun.
SP: We did. We were laughing all the time.
GCC: Another playful and witty part of the film is the costume design and the hair. Sandy Powell did the costumes, which were so beautiful. I really loved all the exaggerated proportions in the costumes and hair and even with some of the makeup. That must have been a fun discussion. What was that like, what made you decide to go in that direction?
SP: Endless discussions, A, B, lots and lots of historical research. Looking at paintings. They're not even that exaggerated. They're pretty true to the paintings of the time of the period and the wigs. Some of them were a little exaggerated, but not a lot. I think what tends to happen is that people, when they work with this period stuff, they tone it down. Whereas I went to the most extreme end of silhouettes and wigs and so on, but also I was working with people who were brilliant at what they did. You know, the wig makers were extraordinary. And the wigs were, a great deal of attention, lot’s of tests. We tested everything, all the colors. I provided a very clear palette to Sandy and to all the designers. Each era had a completely different color palette and excluded all the other colors and so on. So I think there were clear guidelines and there was a lot of historical research. And then these individuals were incredibly creative with what they had and we pushed it to an extreme. What did I used to call it? Magic realism in effect.
GC: Ginger and Rosa is a coming of age film that takes place in England during the 60’s protest era. I'm very curious about your collaboration with Elle Fanning. Elle Fanning is always so luminous on screen and bright. But there is also in that particular film she had an almost translucent quality and you let her cry on screen. It feels very raw, but it also feels like there's a little bit held back. Could you talk about how you brought her there?
SP: Well, firstly, when Elle auditioned for this, she was 12. When we were shooting, she was 13, playing 16. So extraordinary that she could manage it. But it was clear to me, even when she was 12, that she was going to be able to do it. When I would meet her in L.A. and filmed a little bit with her and because she was already very experienced, she'd already made appearances in about 20 films or something by the age of 13. So she had an amazing facility and an amazing feeling of being at ease, very, very comfortable with the camera, with the set. But the key for me, because she was so young, I wanted to build a very, very safe space for her and build a very close personal relationship with her so that she could go to those places. And she also had the capacity of all really good actors, which she could go into something then she could just come back out of it. She had enough detachment. She knew she was performing. You know, she didn't start drowning in trauma or something. So yeah, we discussed the scene. We knew where it was coming from and what was happening, and she would do it and then she'd come back out and we'd hug and we'd laugh and she'd say “why potatoes?” That was refreshing. She was wonderful to work with and eager to learn and eager to understand the material that she was working with. But we became very close.
GCC: That's what I found so truthful about that scene and those moments that she isn't drowning in the trauma. It felt like the loss of innocence was captured. And there's a lot that she's seeing and experiencing for the first time. She's feeling so much, but I don't think she totally understands what's going on.
GCC: What would be your advice to a young director in order to gain confidence in working with actors? Because with cinematography and editing, for example, you could probably learn a lot from books or courses, but I think that it's very intimidating for a young director to work with actors for the first time. How would they prepare the day before?
SP: Well, first of all, the day before it's too late. You have to get every bit of preparation you can with time with actors before you're on the set. And amazingly, a lot of actors don't do that. And that's a big, big mistake, because it means you discover the problems on the set when you've got no time. You need to have dealt with those things beforehand and in private. So it's always the best thing to try and find some private time with each actor and then do a lot of listening, ask them questions. Alot of young directors often feel they've got to hang around looking very authoritative and know what they're doing and being decisive and kind of tell the actors what to do. That's not what it's about at all. It's about creating an environment in which an actor feels listened to and find out their point of view. Listen to their suggestions. Or you may not agree with them, but it doesn't matter you’re creating the space in which they will feel respected and a creative partnership is beginning. That's very important. And then it's really just about observing what works. What's the quality you want to get as a director? What is it? Is it talking with the actor or is it standing back and just giving them space to try out different things? Or is it being very warm you know, huggies sort of warm, kind of nice cozy environment. Or for some people that's “no don't come near me.” So it's just observing the individual actor and what makes them tick and what gets the best out of them and then trying to build on that. So it's about observation, which includes listening, and then it's moment to moment feedback. So for example, during the set when we're shooting, I don't know how other directors work, but I don't usually give a direction out loud across the set. I go over and talk quietly to an actor in between takes. Try this, try to do this, and then it's like a nice little private kind of cocoon in a way of trust and I think that's important. It's so much about trust.
GCC: So ideally you would want to build in a lot of time with them.
SP: Yes. Well, the more the more the actors don't want their time wasted. You don't want to be with an actor just doing that same thing for hours and hours and not really helping anything to develop. So it's got to feel like it's an efficient use of time and find out from them what their concerns are and if they're already working on it. They've already read the script, they already know what they think, maybe what they want to do, but maybe they're worried about what they're going to wear. So if that's what they're worried about, you have to ask the question directly, what are your concerns? What will help you to do your best work here? Do you think they might say, well, I'm really concerned about my hair or I don't like this line, I don't understand it or whatever it may be and then deal with it.
GCC: Your last film was a short with Javier Bardem and Chris Rock, called Look at Me. And you've made many, many incredible shorts and we a lot of times we don't get to see those. Now it's easier to access more shorts, of course. But could you talk a little bit about the value of making shorts and just the short form, because a lot of young filmmakers don’t ever even get to make a feature, or they don't have the resources to make a feature.
SP: And yes they do, if they have an iPhone, they do. [holds up her iPhone] So if one has the will and now there is the technology— I can go out with this tomorrow and make a feature, but I need the idea. So where do you need to put your time? Writing. You need to figure out what you want to make a film about. But the technology is so much easier now. So much cheaper. Several very good films have been made that way. So with shorts, there's a certain amount of misunderstanding about shorts, which is somehow the idea that they're just a form of practice for a feature. You know I don't think that's true. And going back to making a short after so many years of making features, nine features in between the previous short and the recent short, I remembered and rediscovered, what a demanding format it is. And it's not just a short version of the feature. It's certainly a practice. It's a form in its own right, very demanding, needs a great deal of precision and confidence and a great deal of attention to the writing and to the concept. So it's a really interesting format. And I think now that people are absorbing short forms on Instagram and TikTok and so on, there's probably going to be a need for more skill and dexterity with short forms and to really understand how they work for people as well as features and TV series. There's so many ways now of absorbing images and stories.
GCC: Do you have any final words of wisdom for young filmmakers just starting out? Maybe they're about to make their first short, let's say.
SP: I would say to do as much work as possible and to understand, really how important the script is. You know, it's the architecture of everything. And I don't mean the dialogue that is the least of it, it can be a script with completely no dialogue. It's how you organize the concept, what it really is, the underlying clarity that you need that becomes the engine that then propels the whole thing and propels it for everybody working on it. So to anyone working, I would say if maybe they don't want to write their own work, in which case they work with a writer, but the attention on the writing is key. And then the second is do as much as possible, make as much as possible, make a little with an iPhone or get together and shoot something. It's about developing the muscle. You know, just doing it, doing it, doing it as much as possible in any way possible. And know that everybody, even the most experienced filmmakers, suffer from doubt, insecurity, fear about how their work will be received or perceived. These feelings are hard and are very difficult. The beginning of a working life is to understand that this is normal and that this actually also doesn't go away. It's not very reassuring for people to hear that, but I think it normalizes it. Part of the working process is to struggle with the material and with yourself to feel that what you're doing is of some value and that it will eventually get there because at the beginning, often it's not working brilliantly. And it needs a lot of work to get through all the different stages until it finally arrives. But at that point, you have to kind of give yourself a pat on the back and say keep going against all the voices of doubt that will be crowded in your head. So it's a kind of word of encouragement, really, about that. Don't let the feelings of doubt paralyze you, but welcome them as a way of refining the work that you want to do and refining in a way, your own motivation about the work. What you want to put out into the world because there's so much garbage out there. So how to find a way through that to your truest intentions.
You can follow Sally Potter @sallypotter
"PLAN 75 through a Gen Z Lens"
by Asa Ohira
The poster for PLAN 75 reads: “an institutional system where one has the authority to choose between life or death at the age of 75. Just or unjust?”
Objectively speaking, the answer comes quite easily to me as a Gen Z: unjust. However, looking around at the faces of the Boomers who were in the same theater as me sitting only a couple of seats away, they seemed to contemplate this seemingly easy-to-answer question for the entirety of the film.
The first time I saw PLAN 75 in the theater was July 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. It was a blazing, hot summer afternoon. Much to my surprise, felt oddly desolate in Tokyo during the summer. The concrete jungle captures so much humidity that the heat clings onto your shoulders and just won’t go away. It is as if the crowd’s desperation in having a hot summer had turned into heat, and somehow collectively raised the temperature of the entire city. Everyone must be hungry for excitement, itching to connect, and fevering over the summer they have projected.
PLAN 75, directed by Chie Hayakawa, is a film that brings social awareness to the issue of the aging population in Japan. The film opens with a scene of a young man who invades a retirement home and starts a massacre. This was a shocking scene for many audiences, and I even heard a couple of gasps from the crowd (it is very unusual for Japanese audiences to make a noise during a film screening). The intent for the young slayer’s action? He found the elders to be a social burden. It felt as if the older audiences sitting in the room had superimposed themselves onto the victims in the film and a piece of themselves had died along with the massacred elderly. Am I overthinking? Perhaps. Was the scene just unexpected that people were caught off guard? Maybe so. Regardless, it is true that the atmosphere in the theater had become several degrees heavier compared to when I first entered the room only within a couple minutes into the film.
Does that mean that the entire film is gray and sad? Not necessarily. Although it is true that PLAN 75 is not a film whose primary intent is to entertain the viewers or to make one’s heart warm per se,there are still some hopeful elements to the film. For instance, the character development we see in Hiromu.
Hiromu is a young social worker who sells and promotes the Plan 75 program to the elderly–a program of choosing death at the age of 75 enforced by the Japanese government. Towards the beginning of the film, despite his polite manners and diligent work behavior, because of the inhumanity of the program Hiromu is promoting, we as the audience cannot be entirely fond of his character. There is even a scene later in the film when Hiromu is, again, hard at work, testing out which park bench is designed best to prevent the homeless people from spending the night in parks. Although we can not entirely be fond of Hiromu, we also cannot detest the character entirely either. Perhaps it is his very innocence and earnestness towards his job that makes it difficult for the audience to dislike the character of Hiromu. It is not the case that Hiromu is immoral and completely senseless himself, it is simply the fact that he is trying to get his job done. Hiromu merely does not realize the gravity of the jobs that he is taking part in.
We see a shift in Hiromu’s character in the scene where his estranged uncle has decided to enlist himself in Plan 75 without any hesitation. Hiromu has not once contacted his uncle previous to that day, yet he later visits his uncle a later day and tries to convince him to rethink his decision. After the job with his uncle, the promotion of Plan 75, becomes a relevant issue to him and for the very first time, Hiromu regains his sense of consciousness and sees the cruelty of the program.
Not only does PLAN 75 raise awareness on the issue of the aging population in Japan, but it also brings awareness to other social issues such as solitary death, ageism in the workforce, and homelessness. These are all issues that have been prevalent in Japanese society for a long period of time, yet seem to only deteriorate with the flux of time.
As the room started to gradually lighten itself, I thought to myself about the elders who were watching the movie with me. What would they think of this film–– a film that has no obvious happy ending? As I somewhat felt during the screening, many of the faces of the older audience members seemed to have clouded. Even those who came to the theater as a couple were slow of speech, and gathered their belongings and headed towards the exit fairly quickly. A reasonable reaction, I thought, but what a waste.
PLAN 75 is unique because of how much blank space is left in the film. The film leaves the audience with their thoughts provoked but does not quite give them a discrete solution to the problems it has addressed. Those margins are to be filled up by the viewer and the viewer’s take on the topics discussed in the film. Afterall, there are as many opinions as there are people. That is why I believe it is especially important for people to share their own ideas and responses to these types of films with their family and friends, or even on social media, hence was a waste that most of the people whom I have watched the film with failed to take a moment to soak in the afterglow of PLAN 75.
As I was making my way towards the exit, I saw a group of young men, most likely in their 30s or 40s, lined up for the anime film that was scheduled to stream next. The men all wore some sort of merch from the anime, one of which even had a towel wrapped around his forehead that read: mai waifu. Ahh the heat, I thought, and made my way out the door of the cinema house.
Asa Ohira is an aspiring writer with an interest in creative writing and poetry. She studies media at Fordham University
THE WITCH: Craft and film language of Robert Eggers
THE WITCH is a beautiful-mysterious horror film about a family, a “puritan’s nightmare” set in New England. It stars Anya Taylor Joy in her debut role as the daughter, Thomasin.
We caught up director, Robert Eggers while he was in Prague in pre-production for his next feature, Nosferatu. We discuss the challenges of a first time feature, his creative process, and the richness of THE WITCH.
G.C.C.: Did you initially set out to make a genre film?
R.E.: Yeah, after I had made this short film, The Tell-Tale Heart, which is my first short film, that’s not like a complete embarrassment. There were some small indie production companies that were interested in the idea of potentially developing a feature with me. And I wrote several screenplays that were some kind of strange, dark fairy tales, but also genre-less and very arthouse. Then I realized that if I wanted to get a film financed, I had to make something that was clearly in a genre. So, I kind of challenged myself - how do I make a genre film where I'm still maintaining who I am? I said probably this movie's going to be so tiny that I'm going to have to shoot in my parents backyard, you know, the proverbial my parents backyard. And so I figured, okay, I’m in New England. Which are the archetypal New England spooks? And there hasn't really been a New England horror story with witches, really, this is a great opportunity. And it's also something that I've been interested in since I was a kid. So, yes, I very much set out to make a genre film, which was something that at the time with being a super cinema snob, felt a little bit like a dirty word. But now, of course, it's weird because, seven, eight years after The Witch has come out, genre is like a word that I’m wedded to at this point.
GCC: It's funny because I didn't even remember it as a full on horror film. When I was thinking about it, I kept thinking about Thomasin and her character arc. It was interesting re-watching it again and seeing, oh yeah, it’s clearly a horror film. But there was all the family drama and it’s so theatrical.
RE: But I think the family drama is what hopefully makes it more horrific and not just surfacely horror, one hopes, you know, one tries.
GCC: Yeah, definitely. It’s scary with these tragedies and not knowing who to blame when they are all alone on that plantation. And every family member has their inner demons and conflicts both within themselves and with one another. Especially in the scene with Caleb and that whole build up. It's like, who is on trial here?
GCC: The language and the dialogue is very specific, which I personally enjoy because I love English literature and all that (old English), but did you have any concern that that specific of a dialect might be hard for people to understand? Or would be any issue? Especially the father’s accent.
RE: I knew it was an issue, but it was also something that was important to me and I didn't really care. It took five years to get well, four years to find financing. And we could have found financing much quicker had I calmed down on the language. There was some people who were interested in doing a cheaper version with simplified language in it and that was just something that I didn't want to do. I also remember that the guy who was looking to sell the movie at Sundance watched it and was worried that we were going to have to have subtitles and I think some, particularly a lot of American audiences, do have a hard time understanding it. But I think that hopefully the sound of it, there's this Puritan language which, you know forget about Shakespeare. I think people know early modern English by the bible. So the sound of what they're saying sounds very biblical and heavy and then they can get the gist, and it also makes it so the audience is a little behind and you really have to lean in to get everything, which I think hopefully puts you on edge a little more. Audiences in the U.K. generally don't have such a hard time with it, even though that's not how people speak today. But like you said, with Ralph, his accent is thick for an American ear.
GCC: Well, I'm so glad that you didn't change it, because that is one of the wonderful things about the film - the dialogue and the specificity of the Puritan dialect. Speaking of the dialogue and the writing - what's your writing process like? Alot of our readers are aspiring filmmakers so it'd be interesting to hear your process; like Joan Didion would have an ice cold Coca-Cola first thing in the morning when she started writing and Bergman wrote 3 hours a day in the morning and then he would have lunch (on Bergman Island) and then watch a film after. Do you have any writing routines or rituals that keep you grounded?
RE: Yeah, The Witch was a very different thing, but I try to write in the morning as early as I can muster with plenty of coffee. Ideally I would write in the morning and stop after lunch. But I think a lot of times I'm in a situation now with co-writers where we've been preparing what we're going to do and then we have to bang a bunch of stuff out that we've been planning on doing. And so we get a week where you're writing for 10 hours a day, which is pretty intense. But certainly with The Witch it would be generally, if I was working in a period where I didn't have art department work or set carpentry work or whatever, it would be waking up early in the morning, writing until lunch and then going into research mode in the afternoons.
GCC: So when does the research stop because, I don't know for you or even for people like me who love this type of thing. Are you researching during production and throughout production, too, or does that kind of stop once the script is locked?
RE: With The Witch it kind of stopped just because I had been working on it for so long. And frankly, the world is very contained. So I knew every object that this family had in their house, based on wills and inventories and blah, blah, blah. So The Witch was really contained. The Northman we didn't stop ever, even in post-production, I was double checking with the rune specialists that like the intertitles that are “runes” were correct. And so with that we never stopped.
GCC: Interesting, so you probably had a whole team for that on The Northman?
RE: Yeah. I was working with (the best), I'm so humbled and privileged and lucky. It was just awesome. But I had my pick of the finest Viking historians and archeologists working on the film, which was just so inspiring. And it made it work.
GCC: That’s so awesome. So with the co-writing process you were saying, now you're starting to co-write. What has that been like for you? Because you're used to just diving in on your own?
RE: Yeah I wrote The Lighthouse with my brother and I think that was maybe a good first person to work with because we know each other so well. And then lately, as you know, after The Northman I've been continuing to collaborate with Sjón on scripts that hopefully will one day get to see the light of day. It's so fun because you're constantly feeding off of the other person's creativity. And it's not competitive. It's just you keep topping up the scene and it’s a really, really enjoyable process. I just finished a podcast with Sjón right before I got on this. And he was saying how a film is a collaborative process and so it's great to start the screenplay as a collaborative process. And I think he's right. So I started doing it just as a means of survival. Like when, when we were working together I could only do kind of one thing at a time as far as trying to my own stuff, and trying to tell my own story. And now, just to survive in the industry, I have to have so many things going on because I think one movie's going to happen and it doesn't happen. And so I have to have something else that I could do instead.
GCC: Yeah. Thank you. I appreciate you sharing that. That's great insight and advice for creatives, not just filmmakers. You never know from one week to the next which project is going to get green lit.
GCC: Sjón - who is that?
RE: Sjón is an Icelandic poet and novelist. He's the man.
GCC: Film can be a referential art in a way. What do you look at for inspiration or do you ever try to shield yourself at some point of the process? I guess it still ties into the research aspect.
RE: Yeah I think in The Witch I had some kind of idea about certain times when I didn't want to watch films. But I'm not like that at all. I'm just constantly watching as many films as I can, and I'm usually hunting for something specific. I don't watch as many new films as I'd like to. I used to be a lot better at it. But I'm so fortunate to be working a lot, so. I usually have a kind of syllabus that I'm following and then during COVID, it made everything very difficult. When I was living in New York, even if I was doing a lot of stuff I could just go to Film Forum, go to IFC center, go to Regal or whatever and just see something and I can't do that now. It's quite frustrating. And then I was living in New Hampshire earlier this year…
GCC: …not as many theaters.
RE: But yeah I'm always watching stuff and watching things for different reasons. During production I'm not watching movies for inspiration at that point. At that point I know what I'm doing, we've planned it. If there is a serious problem and somehow watching a little sequence from something might help, and that’s something we might do that on the weekend, but that's pretty rare. But on the Northman, I watched every Terminator movie, even all the really, really bad ones. I watched like RoboCop and I watched all of Seinfeld, it was just stuff to kind of chill out a little bit.
GCC: So the production design - you started off as a production designer and every film you've made is essentially a period piece. Could you talk a little bit about your collaboration with your production designer? And also the costumes were so beautiful in The Witch and the color palette and everything. Were you looking at any paintings for The Witch? Well, now I'm getting into the cinematography, but every detail seemed so authentic. How true was it to the period?
RE: It was as true as we could endeavor to be. I think even with The Northman, there is a point at which the budget can’t do exactly everything that you ever want. And so you have to make some compromises. There’s all this talk that I built the boats out of this light, exact wood. And that's just not true. But basically with the witch, there were certain things that we couldn't use like hand-woven cloth for the costumes because we could not afford it. We did use hand-woven cloth on many of the costumes in The Northman. Not all of them, but like anything that gets close to camera because we could afford to do it. So on The Witch, we were trying to find things that looked like they could be hand woven. Linda got samples from this guy, Stuart Peachey, who runs a 17th Century Farm on the CORNISH border. And we looked at his samples to try to find something close to that. Stuart also is an expert on the clothes of the common people in like the Elizabethan and Stewart era. And he's written a zillion tiny books, that stacks up to many phone blogs when you put it all together and that was our kind of Bible. And with The witch I did my own drawings of everything as well as supplying look books and research. But Craig and Linda always take it much, much further. Linda suggested different kind of trousers for some character that I never would have thought of. And it was a great idea and as much as I know what I want, and I'm very specific, the best thing is when your collaborator pushes you further than you can go without them. That's what's fun about collaboration.
GCC: Totally. I won't spend too much time on this, but there is this beautiful pale pink corset thing that Thomasin wears about a third into the film. What was that from? Is that a specific garment for anything? Or is that an invention from the costume designer?
RE: No, no, no. There's there's no inventions allowed. This is our best understanding from our own research and Stuart's research on what would be called a “body” rather than a corset, because Stuart discovered that there is actually a law that people of the social status of this family wouldn't be allowed to wear boning. So it isn't like an actual corset, but like a functional garment that just keeps your skirt up and whatever else.
GCC: Okay. So it functions more like a belt.
RE: It’s like a belt and a bra. A single belt and bra.
GCC: Thick belt bra combo. [laughing]
GCC: So the casting was amazing in The Witch all across the board. Do you work with a casting director? Everyone had such interesting faces, all so different, but you believed they were a family.
RE: Ralph was someone that I wanted. And then he came aboard, which was great. And then I worked with Kharmel Cochrane, who's a great British casting director, who I've worked with on all my movies. And she was aware of Anya Taylor Joy. It was the first tape that I saw and we still looked at like hundreds of young women. It was a lot of work to find the kids. Kharmel and I took a trip to the north of England to find kids and, Kate Dickie was, we had actually someone else was cast in that role and she bailed and it was actually our Canadian service producer, Daniel Beckerman, who suggested Kate and I was not, ashamed to say, aware of her work. And I saw Red Road and totally blown away. And she graciously read and was, you know, fantastic. And I hope to work with Kate many more times.
GCC: She was incredible, so intense.
GCC: What is The Witch about to you? What is the greatest sin in The witch? Because it's part folktale and it's part biblical. Each character is battling with something inside, there's the pride of the father and the lack of faith in the mother…do you have any thoughts around that?
RE: I don't have a message in mind when I'm making a film. I'm trying to, I was just trying to make the best movie about witches that I could almost a thesis of witches. And something that I had said a lot back in the day was I was trying to make a Puritans nightmare, upload a Puritans nightmare into a contemporary audiences brain and so it's about digging into their belief system and the way I see it if you believe something, even something, then it does exist. So if you believe in a witch, witches exists and obviously, witches arrive, so to speak, in times of despair, your child dies and there's no answer. It must be a witch. And then she feeds off your own internal demons, as you put it, and just, festers. So Yeah I think with a story everyone contributes to it. I suppose if William hadn't been so prideful to leave the plantation, maybe nothing would have happened [laughs], but obviously, it's story of a downfall of a family.
GCC: They say directors often make the same film over and over again. Do you know what that is for you? Are there certain themes that you're always exploring or revisiting or you don't really think about that?
RE: I know that I'm into fairy tales and folktales and mythology and religion and the occult. I know that there is a symbol that there is clearly a primal narrative that I'm repeating. Certainly in the first two films, a little bit less so in The Northman because it is based on and was is the Nordic, origins of Hamlet. In my films I have made and in the film I'm currently making, you see a lot of the same stuff and even in the three films that have come out everyone's naked and crazy at the end, and then two of them naked and dead at the end and they all end with fire after crossing a threshold. Of course, I'm not like “tick” this is where this part happens, I'm just writing something I think is unique, I think is original. I think I haven't done it before. And then I realize that I have.
GCC: It's funny I did start to see some parallels in The Witch and the Northman. Are you religious or spiritual at all?
RE: No comment. [laughs]
GCC: So what are you working on next? What's next for you?
RE: Hopefully I'm finally making Nosferatu that I've been trying to do for seven years and has fallen apart twice. So that's what I'm here for. So, fingers crossed, knock on wood and all that good stuff.
GCC: Yes fingers crossed.
GCC: Will you be working with Anya TAYLOR-JOY again?
RE: No, she's not on this one. But it's the same H.O.D.’s (heads of department) that I always work with, which is great. And it's very nice.
GCC: Oh, I had one question about Caleb. Who is Caleb channeling? Was he channeling a woman?
RE: Yes, he is. He's saying a bunch of stuff that children allegedly said when they were possessed that was from a recording that I I found. And so he's picturing being tormented by. [pauses] Hey, what's up, dude? [interrupted by his son] “Hi daddy” [says his son off screen] [continues] So he is picturing being tormented by big black dogs and maybe ravens. I don't know. And pictures of the witch crawling on him and all this kind of stuff. But, yeah it's all stuff that kids allegedly said when they were possessed by witches.
GCC: Thought it might have been a specific text from something that it sounded like he was reciting.
RE: At the very end is a sort of perversion of song of songs. Which was that in itself was like a version of something that I found in John Winthrop's, who was the first governor of Massachusetts. His religion, his diaries, a sort of weird like song. From his diaries.
GCC: Interesting. Well, I think we’ve covered a lot. We love The Witch, it’s a film that really stays with you. Your films are all so beautiful. I really want to ask you about The Lighthouse and have so many other questions, but I better stop here. Thank you so much, Robert.
RE: My pleasure. Good luck with it and I can’t wait to see it when it’s done.
GCC: Good luck over there with your prep.
RE: Okay, right on.
Dress from “In memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem, 1692” collection by Lee Alexander McQueen (1969–2010). Velvet and satin, 2007/2008.
The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming, New-York Historical Society
"The Salem Witch Trials: A New Narrative”
By: Bell Pendon
Living in New York City grants many opportunities to learn about American history. A certain way of discovering our history is a visit to the many museums around the city. One of the New-York Historical Society’s current exhibitions is The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming, open to the public until January 2023. This exhibition invites everyone to think about our roles in moments of injustice. Located in Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery and organized by the Peabody Essex Museum, this highlights the Salem Witch Trials’ history and influence on society by inspiring haute couture and the modern occult. The exhibition has three moving parts: prized possessions from the Salem Witch Trials, clothing from Alexander McQueen’s 2007 collection In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, 1692, and portraits from Major Arcana: Portraits of Witches in America.
This experience is truly like no other. Right before the entrance, music sets the tone and emphasizes the women pleading for their innocence in the background. Thus transporting the audience – it’s no longer present-day New York City but Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1690s. Walking through the materials gathered from the witch trials stresses the brutality of humanity, especially towards women. Innocent women and their families were subject to scrutiny, and many often risked their lives in defending their friends and loved ones from the accusations of witchcraft. From written letters proving the innocence of the accused women to the diary entries of the women's lives, these possessions assisted in understanding the sentiments felt during that time. It was intriguing to learn how these trials inspired modern collections, like Alexander McQueen’s in 2007. McQueen’s inspiration came from the wrongful accusation of his ancestor Elizabeth Howe, whose reputation he sought to reshape in a more positive light by reclaiming her name through his glorious interpretation of witches in haute couture. In McQueen’s collection, one of his gowns was staged in the middle of the room making it the central piece that immediately grabs the audience’s attention. The grandness of the gown was especially notable as it stood out from the rest of his collection, with its sleek black glimmering design. McQueen’s collection then transitions to portraits from the Major Arcana collection. This last section includes photographs by Frances F. Denny of modern witches around America and their variations of the occult. These portraits redirect the reputation of “witches” by uplifting their voices rather than silencing them. From nurses to tarot readers, these portraits showcase that witches are everywhere, fully empowering women and their magical spaces.
After experiencing the story and influence of the Salem Witch trials, the exhibition closes with an interactive portion which entails a notebook to write down one’s thoughts, feelings, and beliefs followed by a make-your-own-tarot card. Public exhibitions like The Salem Witch Trials: Reckoning and Reclaiming raise distinct narratives that we might otherwise overlook. Revisiting these crucial moments in our past allows us to understand our roles in shaping our history, whether active or passive. From the very beginning, this exhibition asks us to ruminate on our roles in moments of injustice, yet this experience also provides hope by articulating that we can change our narratives in history through our active engagement and modern creations.
Bell Pendon is an avid writer, art enthusiast, and nature lover. She is a media studies student at Fordham University.
"Make your own Tarot Card" section of the exhibit
"I really like to pick stories of survival...how people survive
no matter where they live... People create life...fall in love...eat...
Somehow life pushes us to continue and search for hope and survival even when there is no hope..."
-Blerta Basholli, writer and director of “Hive”
[From an interview with Stephanie Gardner on June 14, 2021 in Prishtinë, Kosova]
Sometimes a film has the ability to transport us to another time and space. Blerta Basholli’s 2021 triple-award-winning Sundance film, “Hive,” brings us to a small village in Kosova in 2006.
Kosova is a small, landlocked nation in Southeast Europe, formerly an autonomous region in ex-Yugoslavia. It is one of the newest independent states in the world, gaining its independence in 2008. From February 1998 through June 1999, Kosova was embroiled in a horrific war, fought between ethnic-Albanians seeking the freedom to live openly as Albanians on their Kosovan homeland, and ethnic-Serbs with the Yugoslav army, seeking to control the territory of Kosova and remain in the Serb-dominant Yugoslavia, which was in the process of breaking apart.
The Albanian-Kosova made film “Hive” opens seven years after the war ends. “Hive” is based on the true story of real-life Fahrije Hoti, expertly played by Kosova-born-Albanian actress Yllka Gashi. Fahrije is an entrepreneurial-minded woman who starts selling homemade ajvar (a red-pepper condiment popular in the region) to support her family and help her community thrive in post-war Kosova.
“Hive,” takes us directly into Fahrije’s world in Krushë e Madhe, an old-stone, Albanian village in Kosova, which experienced one of the worst massacres of the war, leaving nearly all the town’s women widows. Seven years on, many of the men are still missing. Bodies have not been returned. And of those that have, many have not yet been identified.
Unlike many films from this former Yugoslavia region, Basholli is not directly making a war film. Only through brief radio and TV spots in the background do we hear bits and pieces about the war that this town is still recovering from.
Many international audiences may come in with little-to-no knowledge of this tragedy. This should not matter, as the film is not meant to be a diatribe of the war, rather, an intimate portrait of a family and village dealing with the day-to-day realities of the aftermath.
While you do not need to know a full history of the war, a basic knowledge of the genocides that happened throughout the region which left many Muslim families without husbands, sons or fathers, can greatly elevate your emotional connection to the story.
“Hive” is set in a village that experienced one of the war’s many ethnic-cleansing massacres. The Krushë e Madhe massacre occured on March 25, 1999, the day after NATO bombed Yugoslavia in attempts to end the Serbian attacks on Kosova. Yugoslav forces entered the village, separated men from women, then killed 241 ethnic Albanian civilians, mostly men and adolescent boys, while countless women were abused and raped. Today, there are still missing bodies and tensions remain high between Kosova and Serbia, a country that still does not recognize Kosova’s independence.
To me, “Hive” is a story of human grief.
No matter where a viewer is from, it is safe to say that most can identify with love, loss, and grief.
At the start of the film, we have been dropped into the middle of Fahrije’s life, who fearlessly jumps into the back of a truck filled with unidentified bodies and desperately searches for her husband. Like most of the men in the village that were killed in an act of ethnic cleansing, Fahrije’s husband never came back, nor has been found these seven years later.
Fahrije is on a quest to know what happened to her husband, to find and identify his body so that the family can move past their unlikely hope that he might walk in the door one day, somehow escaping the massacres. Not having a body to identify leaves the grief dangling in the air with no room for inner peace. Without this resolution, it is very difficult to move on. Fahrije knows she might never get catharsis yet she will try, as she also knows she needs to carry on, one way or another.
We know that these women and the community at large are grieving, and that they need to survive somehow to take their lives into the future; to give their children a chance to have a future.
Our shared human experiences can connect us across cultures. This is the power of cinema. Through this quest to emotionally process the blows life deals us, is how I personally connect with “Hive” and other films such as Aida Begić's “Snow” (2008), which tells a similar story of war-widows from Bosnia; or Lucrecia Martel’s “La Ciénaga” (2001), from Argentina, which makes you feel like a fly-on-the-wall of a dysfunctional family. These films concentrate on an emotional journey rather than spoon-feed you plot points.
We get to know the characters of “Hive” through their various relationships with grief. Fahrije deals with her grief internally and through the actions she takes to put her life back on track, such as earning money to buy school books for her kids. Her teenage daughter grieves by believing that her father will return, rebelling against her mother as teenagers are prone to do, and holding on to the few keepsakes that remain from her father’s life.
Having been turned away from all other options, Fahrije manages to sell an old table-saw belonging to her husband in order to have seed funds to start her ajvar business. Fahrije’s daughter sees this as her mother trying to erase his memory. Simultaneously, Fahrije’s father-in-law insists the table-saw not be sold, in part to appease his temperamental granddaughter, but also it is his own way of grieving; not giving up on his son who never came home. The father-in-law is elderly, wheelchair bound and not able to work to provide funds for the family, yet he maintains status as the patriarch leaving very few options for the family to bring in an income.
One nice aspect of this film is how delicately Basholli plays the relationship between Fahrije and her father-in-law. It would be easy to turn him into the antagonist representing all the other men of the village who scorn Fahrije for her actions that they deem unfit for a woman. While he disapproves of Fahrije’s actions as a woman-in-charge, there remains a tenderness between the two through their shared bond for their missing loved-one, and by the end, there is a subtle shift of his dominance to the situation.
It amazes me how calm Fahrije’s character is throughout the film despite many very frustrating obstacles that follow her everywhere. Fahrije does not say much within the film, her actions speak louder than words. Basholli directs these silent moments nicely, and it gives us time for reflection to soak in the emotions: a simple hand sweeps across dust in the dark old shed, for instance.
Fahrije is the only woman in her community to accept an offer to learn how to drive. Driving, she sees, as a means towards an income. A way to get to and from jobs in the city. A practical choice through the desire to survive, in a community where traditionally, women do not drive. It is not law, rather, a social custom that has become normalized over the years.
She faces abuse after abuse for this simple act and even more so when she sets out to start her own business. Fahrije is called a “whore” by neighbors; rocks are thrown at her; and other women who were previously friends, now disassociate themselves with her.
What makes this film so powerful is Fahrije’s almost silent defiance against the patriarchy of her village, which perhaps reflects the villagers’ fear of change. Fear to move on from the horrors they’ve been through. Perhaps progress means moving on, which means you’re “abandoning” those you lost. There is a conflict between the desire to remember and the necessity to move on. Fahrije has her own private resistance towards this fear. Through this constant resistance to what others think and do, she perseveres.
Though this feels nothing like a mainstream movie, it uses the classic Hollywood-storytelling model to give our heroine a mission (to run a community-based ajvar business) from which the character immediately faces obstacles. At first, almost no one supported Fahrije’s decision to drive and start her own business. Once she overcomes one obstacle, a bigger obstacle takes its place, such as when the village men violently throw a rock that breaks her car window, or when her father-in-law does not allow her to sell the saw, or when he refuses to give his DNA to aid in the process of identifying his son’s body.
By the end of the film, I am left in awe of Fahrije’s relentless perseverance. She takes everything in stride and even when the entire village is seemingly against her, she pushes through with the foresight to know that only she has the power to chart her own path, to pave the way so her children can grow up with love and opportunity as opposed to hate and repression.
As a human race, I believe we’re drawn to stories of perseverance. It adds perspective to our own lives, and nearly everyone can relate to having a dream and facing obstacles. When we see others struggle, and not just struggle but persevere, it gives hope and determination that we too, can endure through difficult times.
Blerta Basholli is proof of this endurance. She grew up during the Kosova War and was a teenager when it ended. She saw the power of filmmaking to tell her stories and made her way from Kosova to NYU Tisch School of the Arts and back again. She is dedicated to telling stories of strength and survival; stories that represent her Albanian-Kosovan culture. This legacy will doubtless inspire the next generation to continue to seek out storytelling as a mode to deal with all the love, joy, grief and atrocities that life brings us.
By Stephanie Gardner 10.27. 2022
Blerta Basholi and producer All Uka in her studio office
Illustration by Thomas Barry
“I Heart Elio”
By Susan Chau
Hope all is well. We're finally getting a break from the stifling New York heat and can walk outside without melting. I've been on summer romance movie kick. Have you seen Call Me by Your Name? It's based on a novel by Andre Aciman, the screenplay was written by James Ivory.
The film first came out in winter of 2017. I watched it by myself for the first time at the Film Forum. I was so swept away by the film that two weeks later I decided to invite my two girlfriends, Fernanda and Shuly, to go see it. It was playing at the Paris Theater - the tiny art house theater right across from The Plaza Hotel. I've been frequenting that theater for years with all the old ladies for their matinee screenings that they would go to right before lunch or tea. I felt so excited to share the film because I kept thinking what a time in life it's set in. And what better film to take your girlfriends to on a bitter cold winter day than a coming of age story set in Northern Italy with cute boys?
There are so many things to love about Call Me by Your Name -
The first days of summer and the arrival of a new guest.
Gallivanting about town while soaking in the sun. Seeing so much natural light on the big screen. A budding romance. Family meals together outside. Roaming around on bicycles. Timothee Chalamet. Timothee Chalamet's performance as Elio Perlman.
Elio's awkwardness and his posturing masculinity; he's both cautious and at times full of bravado. Timothee Chalamet. His insolent childlike attitude. How freely the scenes are blocked - how the characters move throughout the house. How the fluid camera allows them to move from exterior to interior in their wet clothes, as you do in summer. There is a brilliant exchange between the actors in the scene when Elio and Oliver argue over Elio's improvisation of a Bach piano piece. It starts on Oliver's face languidly laying out in the sun and follows Elio into the house where he riffs on the piano.
The piazza's! In the 1980's there wasn't as much tourism in Italy so they just let people park in the piazza in front of the Duomo. Now they've been cleared out for scenic photos. But the piazzas were quant and quiet then: for people to walk around in and enjoy. The sidewalks are meant for dining on, or in the case of Call Me by Your Name to sit and pretend to read a book while you gush over your crush and plan your next adventure. Setting the film in the 80's allows the audience to experience the authenticity and beauty of the old Italian piazzas before they were overtaken by tourists.
Timothee Chalamet's performance is captivating. There is a peak moment in the film when Elio puts Oscar's shorts over his head while lying bed. The timing of the the scene in the arch of the film is perfect. It's voyeuristic moment very intimate and potentially uncomfortable to watch, but we are guided through this moment and it ends with such finesse almost like the last flick of the wrist or fingers of a ballerina at the end of her solo. What I appreciate is how un-rushed Timothee Chalamet's performance is. Armie Hammer as Oliver is this brash American who is very comfortable in his own skin and doesn't spend too much time deliberating over his next move. This interplay between Elio discovering his feelings and body against the more realized and confident Oliver is so fascinating to watch. I heard in an interview someone asked Luca Guadagnino whether or not all the moments with food were supposed to be sexual? He quickly dismissed it and said, "no it's epicurean." Somehow that was reassuring to hear because I love Luca Guadagnino's sensibility as a director and to fetishize those moments kind of cheapens them. It's more sensual than anything. It reminds me of the close up on the sizzling shrimp that Tilda Swinton is about to eat in "I am Love" also directed by Luca Guadagnino, and how beautifully shot it was, and yes it made my mouth water, but still, art!
The 80's! 80's fashion 80's music. (Okay the 80's are not the best period in fashion, but the music is pretty irresistible. Talking Heads?) Most of all the music by Sufjan Stevens double sigh. Although that was not from the period and was originally recorded for the film it did capture the innocence of the time.
Not only is it a story about first love, but it's also a story about family and the loving acceptance of two parents who create a safe space for their son to discover who he is and for a potential love affair to unfold. An amused mother who sees all and a gentle father who laments his own missed opportunity at love. Elio is held by his two worldly parents who are aware enough to wish their son to "feel something."
There are so many things to love about Call Me by Your Name. And my two friends did leave the theater that night saying, "Wow that was beautiful." Shuly said, "I can't remember the last time I went to see a movie in the theater." Fernanda said she wanted to go see more films. This made me so happy. I kept fantasizing that this would somehow ignite a love of cinema and a love of going to the movies in all of my friends. Perhaps it did for a little bit, but people have busy lives and now you can stream most everything at home, but it's really not the same as watching a film in the dark with a bunch of strangers with the smell of stale popcorn and artificial butter - it's so fun! Personally I love the experience, but I don't know why it was that important to me. But I do want people to fall in love with going to the movies again and I hope that at the very least you'll get there...and watch it on the big screen like it's meant to be enjoyed!
“Le Rayon Vert: Summer with Delphine”
By Dale Kaplan
Eric Rohmer, director of Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray) adores women. His understanding of and respect for the female sensibility is clearly obvious in this film as well as the others in this series. As one of my absolute favorites, I hope my review will encourage you to watch this delightful movie.
At several points in my life I felt so closely related to the main character Delphine that I adopted her as my alter ego. Baristas in Brooklyn as well as take-out venues only know me as Delphine. Played by Maria Riviere, I was delighted but not surprised to find out that the actress was born exactly one day before me and one year after me. We are both archetypal capricorns, stubborn and often alone.
Rohmer takes us on a colorful, beautifully styled journey with Delphine as she comes to terms with the loss of her boyfriend Jean Pierre who has ended their relationship. After two years she is still alone and has not totally accepted that the relationship is over. Adding to her feelings of abandonment and loneliness, her summer vacation falls though as her traveling companion decides to ditch Delphine for a new romantic interest.
Throughout the film, the director helps us keep track of the passing of summer by interjecting simple scripted graphics of the dates spanning from July through August.
While Delphine’s sister invites her to come to Ireland with her family for a camping holiday, Delphine turns down the offer as she has her heart set on spending her vacation in a hot country where she could enjoy the sun and the sea.
After some crying and coaxing at a highly relatable girls get-together set in a residential Parisian garden, Delphine’s best friend tries to convince her to go to Cherbourg with her and her family. Completely focused on Delphine’s dilemma, they all try to help her each in their own way. The tough love analyzer has some boundary issues as she tries to delve into Delphine’s childhood in an attempt to figure out the roots of Delphine’s loneliness. The silent listener leans more toward the spiritual and her gentle, loving best friend soothes her tears with physical and verbal expressions of love, comfort and encouragement. Hopefully, we all have at least one BFF with these qualities. I have three, Shelley, Sue Bee and Stuie.
Delphine decides to go to Cherbourg with her best friend and her family and that’s where we get a better understanding of our heroine’s true essence.
Sensitive, quirky and eccentric, Delphine is her own person. She knows who she is and lives according to her own value system and beliefs. Delphine is a masterpiece. I love her!!!
As the family and Delphine sit down for dinner in the crispy sea air our heroine refuses pork chops and explains passionately that she never eats meat on ethical grounds. Delphine prefers foods that are light and airy. Let’s remember, that in 1986, vegetarianism was not as prevalent as it is today. When offered edible flowers to adorn her salad, Delphine finds that an ethical faux pas as well. Rohmer’s styling of this scene is picturesque as every detail is masterfully crafted. The sweaters are patinated to perfection in shades of blues and greens. The mid tone turquoise accentuates Delphine’s intensely beautiful blue eyes. The next day Delphine finds herself alone as she declines the family’s invitation to go sailing because she suffers from seasickness. She also reveals that swings make her nauseous.
When Delphine’s BFF and her boyfriend go back to Paris, Delphine leaves with them and her vacation mission continues as she has 2 weeks left before returning to work.
At one point she calls her old boyfriend who gives her the OK to stay in his place in the mountains. Jeanne’s Pierre’s friend greets Delphine with a warm kiss and tells her to come back in an hour to pick up the keys. Within the hour Delphine decides to get back on the bus and head back to Paris. The friend who is a little confused waves goodbye. Another person might have been embarrassed, but not Delphine.
Her trip to Biarritz is also full of angst. Delphine swims by herself in the hot sun and her loneliness is only compounded by the group shots of families and friends enjoying their time together. The shots of her smiling and trying to enjoy the waves are actually painful to watch as we know the truth.
On a rainy day, she takes a walk along the shore and the cliffs. Appearing despondent there is a point when she looks out into the sea and you get the feeling that she thinks about ending it all. However, our Delphine continues on as she overhears a group of older intellectual type tourists admiring the book The Green Ray by Jules Verne. They discuss the fact that this is the only one of Verne’s books that is a romance and they express their common admiration for the main protagonist, a fairy-like figure. The conversation then reveals the astrophysical phenomenon of the green ray as well as its highly spiritual meaning, The green ray is the last ray of light visible to the human eye as the sunset sets below the horizon. It is a rare occurrence and only seen when the atmosphere is perfectly clear. The substance of the conversation was fascinating on its own, however the color green piques Delphine’s interest as she was told by a spiritualist that this year green would be her color.
That day she meets a Swedish woman who unlike Delphine adores traveling alone, her new friend encourages her to be more open and spontaneous with men. When they meet two seemingly sweet guys, Delphine is uncomfortable with her new friend's style of flirtation and just takes off in tears. This time she packs her bags for good and heads back to Paris.
Finally, some good news. As Delphine reads her Dostoyevsky novel (The Idiot) in the train station she catches the eye of a young man. They start talking and Delphine opens up like an umbrella. Inhibitions gone, they decide to spend the day together into the evening. They watch the sunset and you can guess the rest.
This poetic journey in search of love and companionship is a trip I never tire of taking. I have watched this film over 20 times, Enjoy.
Dale Kaplan is a textile artist and writer. She is a native Brooklynite and publishes the website www.dumbo.direct.com
"Run BTS, Here’s Our Rundown Of The Global Icons. From one ARMY to another."
By Karyssa Nguyen 09.29.22
“2! 3! 방 - 탄! 안녕하세요 방탄소년단!” or “2! 3! Bang - Tan! Hello, we are BTS!”
Bangtan Sonnyeondan (방탄소년단/Bulletproof Boy Scouts/Beyond The Scenes), or better known for their acronym BTS, is the record breaking seven member boy band straight from the heart of South Korea. The once underestimated group who debuted on June 13th of 2013 under Big Hit Entertainment has flourished into a worldwide chart topping phenomenon with millions of dedicated fans known as the BTS ARMY. Throughout their growing careers they had faced different levels of hardships both within the K-Pop industry as well as their personal lives, some of which were publicly shared during performances and or livestreams. Nonetheless, their determination and teamwork has led them to numerous musical and political achievements, some of which include working alongside UNICEF, speaking at the United Nations and attending a visit to the White House in Washington to discuss matters regarding Asian inclusion and addressing anti-Asian hate crimes. BTS have made it their mission to support the youth of this generation and help uncover the inner youth within everyone [this statement can be supported by numerous songs that the group has produced].
Meet The Members
Now, as all K-Pop groups are structured, they consist of multiple members who take on a certain role within that group. BTS is no exception, each member contributes their individual talents and personal qualities to the group overall.
Despite the majority of their music and content being produced in Korean, many fans across the world are attracted to their themes and storylines that are incorporated into the BTS Universe.
During the duration of 2013 to 2014, BTS debuted as a solely hip-hop group with their albums 2 Kool 4 Skool, O!RUL8, 2?, Skool Luv Affair, and Dark & Wild, where the boys sang on the topics of bullying and school life. As they began to transition from their school boy punk era to one of a more mature nature, they created a set of concept albums through 2015 to the first half of 2016. The albums include HYYH Pt. 1 & 2 as well as the compilation album, Young Forever (HYYH/花樣年華/The Most Beautiful Moment In Life). A few of the scenarios within the the albums go as far as creating connections to real life situations that some people may relate to include: certain addictions, tarnished relationships, and other disheartening truths that the world is poorly made up of. Following the same year of the release of HYYH: Young Forever, came the group’s second studio album after Dark & Wild that would spark their popularity in the states, the Wings album. The sophisticated art concepts that were unveiled as well as their new encounter with temptations of fame and an array of other emotions throughout the album’s promotions captured the attention of many new fans.
Not long after, the repackaged version of the album You Never Walk Alone released during the beginning of 2017 with the addition of 3 new songs. In contrast to the ghastly visuals during the Wings era, You Never Walk Alone encompasses a lighthearted, comforting appearance and sound. Towards the end of that same year, BTS rebranded, marking the start of their Love Yourself era with the release of Love Yourself: Her. Much as the title suggests, the message on the importance of self love had become the group’s newfound mission. The following year in 2018, Love Yourself: Tear and Love Yourself: Answer completed the three album compilation.
A new era arose in 2019 once the group had released the EP Map of the Soul: Persona which would later be expanded into their full length studio album Map of the Soul: 7 in 2020. BTS begins with expressing their joys that would soon turn into a self reflection and acceptance to the shadows that follow close behind. The MV (music video) for their song "Black Swan" was a homage to the film "Black Swan" directed by Daron Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman. There's also a "Black Swan" art film, which is a beautiful orchestral rendition with MN Dance Company all clad in black like BTS themselves, set in an abandoned building with shafts of light pouring in. In the midst of the two, the group released an original soundtrack to accompany their interactive storytelling mobile game, BTS World. The tracklist contains one group song as well as three units with collaborations with American and British artists. Heading back on track to 2020, the unexpected outbreak of Covid-19 put the group at a standstill. Thus resulting in the 5th studio album BE. With the inclusion of their first all English single, Dynamite, BTS addresses the feelings that they, as well as many others, felt throughout the course of the quarantine process. All of these lead up to their most recent anthology album, Proof, released in June of 2022 almost a year after their second all English single Butter. BTS reminisce on their past with the inclusion of three all new tracks alongside the past ones handpicked by the members themselves. Now, with all said and done, these albums are just a fraction of what BTS has available.
Tours & Films
With the songs and the right messages, the band had to share their talent with the fans. From performing and meeting in a local city plaza to sold out stadium tours, BTS had dominated the live music industry. Over the course of the group’s decade-long career they have constructed a total of six tours overall, three being worldwide, as well as various showcases, fan meetings, independent concerts, and online concerts. Meanwhile there were some features that could only be viewed in theaters or online. Ever since their debut, BTS has lived the majority of their career life on camera and some behind the scenes footage has been compiled into documentaries. Burn the Stage, Bring the Soul, and Break the Silence are the three film documentaries that were released in select theaters. Each one documenting the behind the scenes of two of their three world tours. BTS still continues to post behind the scenes featurettes quite frequently on YouTube as well as their media platform, Weverse.
Meaning To The Youth
The BTS ARMY is one of the largest fan bases in the world, but why? As mentioned numerous times in the discography, BTS speaks on relatable topics, especially ones that younger people can resonate with. The way that the group structures their content also attracts much attention since they focus on storytelling with a purpose which can sometimes be overlooked by other artists. BTS brings a great deal of hope to the younger generations, something we all need in this day and age. I was introduced to them by my friends in 2017, but at the time they had already started to become more prominent in the American music industry. To me their message and dedication to their fans was the most unique aspect, a sincerity which I find many western artists lack sometimes. Their music inspires me to do my best even if others don't believe in or support me. It's not easy finding artists nowadays that can appeal to all age groups and different communities. They aim to reach out to the youth of this generation as well as the youth within everyone regardless of age and encourage people to keep moving forward despite any hardships that may occur.
Where They Are Now?
BTS has always been continuously pushing out content since their debut and only a fraction of it has been brought up in this rundown. A few months following their final Permission to Dance On Stage final showcase in Seoul, BTS announced that they would be going on hiatus to pursue solo projects. This news sent a wave of shock through the ARMY, but they continue to share their new solo music with the fans.
In the last issue:
“Never mind. Bohemia’s beautiful too.”
A Companion Piece to Vera Chytilová’s Film Daisies
By Susan Chau
Life is a farce when people don’t become what they want. When people buy into what society says they’re supposed to do. Girls and boys who are always obedient can become destructive because they’re always suppressing their actual desires. Life is a farce and nothing matters. Daisies is a moral farce where the two Maries (Marie 1 and Marie 2) are nothing but two silly marionette puppets who move through life destroying everything in their wake.
Daisies is a 1966 Czech avant-garde film that represents the new agency of the generation it was filmed in. It was the hippie generation that believed money is evil and life is absurd. Ironically, the times were the “swinging sixties” as it was called, and saw the emergence of youth culture with groups such as The Beatles. The sixties became a period of huge economic growth. In 1961 the Berlin Wall was built separating the west from the communistic east, manifesting the iron curtain. 1960’s changes in leadership led to a series of reforms to soften and humanize the application of communist doctrines within Czech borders. However, to the Czech youth, like the two Maries, it was still oppression any way you slice it. From this landscape Vera Chytilová emerged as a filmmaker who wanted to make a film with absolute creative freedom: no rules or restrictions in narrative or structure.
Chytilová was a Dadaist and Daisies embodies all the characteristics of Dadaism. Dadaism was a movement in art and literature that is based on humor, whimsy and nonsense. The film was also Surrealist because it was all about unusual behavior and imagery that seemed almost dreamlike – dreamlike in the way dreams juxtapose objects and symbols that tap into our unconscious. Do you ever recall seeing a painting of a melting clock in the desert? That’s by Salvador Dalí, the most famous surrealist painter. Dalí was friends with Luis Buñuel who was the surrealist filmmaker who made many notable films including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Belle de Jour with Catherine Deneuve. This playfulness in Daisies combined with Czech vaudeville (comedy and dancing!) and Buster Keaton moves brought about this totally free form non-narrative filmmaking.
Art by Janelle Krone
You could also call Daisies Absurdist Avant-Garde Feminist Art. Although Chytilová might not agree with the “feminist art” bit. That’s a big description to unpack, but let’s try. I don’t think every artist/filmmaker who happens to be female intends their art to be feminist. By labeling a work as feminist it can overshadow the other qualities of the work. This is fun, let’s keep defining the terms…! What is absurdist art? What is avant-garde? And the motherlode, what is feminist art, if such a thing exists?
So, let’s start with avant-garde. Avant-garde is used to describe new and unusual or experimental ideas. This sounds broad, but it’s often very original and niche. Avant-garde is originally a French term, which in means: vanguard, advance guard, ahead of the rest. Daisies is definitely a film that was experimental and ahead of its time. It’s experimental in its playful style and mixture of all these forms and movements. In terms of filmmaking, avant-garde films are most often defined by their unique erratic editing style, associative cutting and collage.
The pop artist Andy Warhol made many long silent films shot on Super 16 mm film where nothing really happens. One contains hours of footage of the Empire State Building in New York where the camera is locked off and another is the famous silent auditions of Edie Sedgewick (Warhol's muse and factory girl) sitting in front of the camera. The most iconic however is not one that Warhol made, but one that he acted in where he is sitting and eating a Burger King Whopper in a suit and tie. It's four and a half minutes of Andy Warhol eating a hamburger in a deadpan manner against a plain backdrop and was a segment of a film by Jorgen Leth, titled 66 Scenes from America. All that could be considered experimental/avant-garde because it was innovative and didn’t have any traditional narrative with beginning, middle and end.
Daisies is a film that breaks all codes of femininity. They go on dates with what the Japanese call “salary men", eat with despicable manners, take massive bites and overindulge. They do this with complete abandon moving from one man to another. In fact, themes around food along with scenes of domesticity is used a lot in feminist art and films (e.g. Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party). In one scene the two Maries play with food; cut sausages and eggs with scissors as if they were playing with paper dolls. It’s almost a symbol of phallic cutting in its destruction of reproductive organs and what gender represents. The film has many collages of food, a plethora of images, which the viewer simultaneously consumes. Rather than being passive female objects the two Maries are carnal and carnivorous consuming many foods for pure entertainment.
The mise en scène or production design as we call it in America is full of montages of collages. It’s a film that doesn’t use traditional Hollywood production design. It was a low budget film that utilized editing to create more of a visual and surreal experience. There was no need to create actual scenes when the film doesn’t have traditional narratives or scenarios. In Daisies we see associative cutting and collage where instead of cutting on movement or story beats it’s more of a patchwork style of imagery. The production designer for Daisies, Ester Krumbachová, created a world where the props, backdrops of feminine objects and colorful interstitials all sang together like the rambling of the two Maries. It’s an opulent style that allowed the two protagonists to consume, commiserate and stomp through. Her vision and hand was like a kaleidoscope of texture and earthy girly wonderment. Ester Krumbachová was not only a production and set designer she was also a screenwriter, costume designer and director. The Lincoln Center Film Society heralded her as a “Master of the Czech New Wave”. Much like Agnès Varda of the French New Wave, she collaborated with many of the greats of her generation of filmmakers like Vera Chytilová and Jan Nêmec whom she was a muse to.
Daisies is a consumptive deluge of waste and images. In fact, Daisies was banned for its excessive food waste and also, though not as explicitly stated, for the distaste of the depiction of the two wanton woman. In contrast The Gleaners and I by Agnès Varda carefully collects and preserves the waste that is being discarded. Varda gleans or gathers what she sees such as the humble and precious heart-shaped potato she finds in The Gleaners and I. However, Daisies is a film that is very self-aware of its spoiled and destructive message. Sure it’s a playful rebellion against being typical society girls and points its cake-filled heels at the establishment, however if you pay close attention to the dialogue there is a sober acknowledgement of being or finding oneself in a spoiled state. The film begins with absurd dialogue of empty and meaningless exchanges. One can almost envision the beginning of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot with its two hapless characters, but instead it’s two girls in bikinis, or two virgins rather, sitting under a tree as we see in the opening. The film posits:
“Everything’s going bad in this world.”
“If everything’s going bad… so… we’re going… bad… as… well… right!”
Daisies is an existential film at its core that uses the vehicle of destruction to ask this somewhat bleak question, “Does it even matter?” In the bathtub scene the question of existence arises. “How do you know if you exist?” Without being registered for work, “There is no proof you exist” says Marie. In other words, you’re just a number to the government. Daisies is saying that day after day we give up our dreams for the goals of the tyrannical government regime, for the greater good of all citizens. At the end of the day people who were killed during the Cold War also didn’t get to become what they wanted because they were always deserting their dreams for the greater good of society.
Daisies is a cathartic outpouring of food and images that spills towards the final banquet scene of destruction. In the final scene in the large banquet hall the film circles back to its original question when Marie 1 asks, “Does it even matter?” Marie 2 replies, “If we’re good and hard-working we’ll be happy.” Does choosing the proper path of society guarantee one’s happiness? At the end of the film they return to the question: Does it even matter? Adding after all the destruction… “Can you mend what’s been destroyed?” Now they want to do everything right, but is it too late? How does one start over after so much is ruined? It’s a film of exaggerated extremes that playfully exercises all the forms of art and experimental film to poke at and poke fun at these eternal questions.
*The Czech New Wave describes a movement in Czech and Slovak cinema of the late 1960’s and 1970’s. Czech New Wave films typically contained wry satires of the Communist Party and Czech society, a willingness to deal with sexual themes, the casting of non-professional actors, and the use of documentary techniques to present fictional stories. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism
*The French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) was a film movement that emerged in the late 1950’s in Paris, France. The movement was characterized by its rejection of traditional filmmaking conventions in favor of [stylistic] experimentation and personal expression. nofilmschool.com The French New Wave was innovative and fresh, energized by the "Young Turks" who started as writers/critiques for the Cahiers du Cinéma, namely Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Eric Rohmer. There were many others who were part of this movement that spanned into the 1960's, including Agnès Varda, Jacques Demy, Louis Malle, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, André Bazin and Henri Langlois.