crispin-glover_kmaer_9028On the surface, the filmmaker Crispin Hellion Glover (a.k.a. Crispin Glover the actor of Back to the Future and Charlie’s Angels) might seem obsessed with freaks. But after receiving his 5,000-word-plus answer to a few questions I sent him via email, it is apparent that his seeming obsession is … a little more. Referring to his two films in his in-progress “It” trilogy, What Is It? (2005) and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE (2007), Glover wrote, “I would say the films do not break rules, but it is true that many people are used to a certain amount of standards of cinematic syntax that are offered by most corporately-funded and distributed films. They are also used to a certain kind of fare offered by corporately-funded and distributed cinema that does not go beyond the realm of this, which can be considered good and evil or, in another word, taboo.”

He sounds like a fellow totally up the Independent Ethos’ alley.

It’s extremely rare that I’m not granted a preview of a film before talking to a filmmaker. Actually, this is a first. it seems Glover is very controlling over his films. First of all, his movies are only available on 35mm, and Glover is always present when they are presented, plus, I am told, he does not grant press comp tickets. So I had to really on a press kit to get some idea of what these films are about. For his second film in the trilogy, the film’s synopsis goes thusly…

It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE goes into uncharted cinematic territory with screenwriter Steven C. Stewart starring in this semi-autobiographical, psycho-sexual, tale about a man with severe cerebral palsy and a fetish for girls with long hair. Part horror film, part exploitation picture and part documentary of a man who cannot express his sexuality in the way he desires, (due to his physical condition), this fantastical and often humorous tale is told completely from Stewart’s actual point of view — that of someone who has lived for years watching people do things he will never be able to do. Here, Stewart’s character is something of a lady killer, seducing a troubled, recently divorced mother (Margit Carstensen), her teenage daughter and any number of other ladies he encounters along the way.

“Ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film,” said Glover about what attracted him to Stewart’s story.

Stewart also plays a role in Glover’s directorial feature debut, What Is It? That film’s synopsis is described as:

Known for creating many memorable, incredibly quirky characters onscreen as an actor, Glover’s first effort as a director will not disappoint fans of his offbeat sensibilities and eccentric taste. Featuring a cast largely comprised of actors with Down’s Syndrome, the film is not about Down’s Syndrome. Glover describes it as “Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe and how to get home as tormented by an hubristic racist inner psyche.”

Glover writes about these movies with passion. However, some think they are performance pieces that should be looked at as suspect (here’s one not entirely positive reaction to his first film). I agree that it should be taken with a grain of salt, but the effort isn’t entirely vacuous. I later learned his 5,000 word response to my email questions was not exactly exclusive, as he pulls from a document he has written over the years to answer common questions. However, that document is a mere 1600 words, according to this article from Flavorwire, so I think I got some quality answers from the filmmaker who swears he does not do this to undermine journalists but help them out with the arduous transcribing process (and ask any of us, transcribing sucks). This article from San Diego City Beat clarifies Glover’s intentions.

That said, I’ve decided to share the entirety of Glover’s responses, unedited in the rest of this post. He is in South Florida this Sunday and Monday at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso to screen the movie’s as well as host “Crispin  the Cinema. First off, for a short version of this article, check out the Miami Herald, which published my original article based on the interview (jump through the image below):

The-Miami-Herald-Slider

And here, the moment you have been waiting to pour through, Crispin Hellion Glover. Besides getting into detail about his two films and his “big slideshow,” he touches on David Lynch, the flicker of 35mm and his father, actor Bruce Glover, who will star in his as yet untitled next film:

Hi Hans, 
Thank you for the excellent questions! Below are the responses. If you can put a link in the article to CrispinGlover.com it is the best way for people to get more information about the shows and films and where I will be as I continue to tour. All high resolution images are available on the site including a photograph of myself from “What is it?”.
I look forward to reading the article. Please come up and say hello at the show!
Glad to see South Florida will finally see your show here and for two nights at that. Thank you for coming. 
 
I am looking forward to it.
 
Have you been to this area before? If so what are your impressions? If not, do you have any expectations?
 
I have toured with my shows and films in Orlando, Jacksonville, Gainesville before and had a terrific time. I look forward to coming back to Florida.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like your films break the rules of what many expect from cinema. What are the limits of a conventional narrative?
I would say the films do not break rules, but it is true that many people are used to a certain amount of standers cinematic syntax that are offered by most corporately funded and distributed films. They are also used to a certain kind of fare offered by corporately funded and distributed cinema that does not go beyond the realm of this which can be considered good and evil on in another word taboo. The taboo in the films can often be seen be the divisiveness of laughter in the audience.
Laughter is not necessarily an indication of what is standardly called comedy. Laughter can also be classified as a civilized growl. This civilized growl can in a civilized fashion with the use of laughter castigate the sick or the foolish ones or the foolish part of oneself is what laughter actually indicates. People think of laughter as something that brings people together. It does. It brings people together against something else.
This is why laughter is an excellent indicator of taboo in both “What is it?” and “It is fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE.” If someone is laughing at one end of the row of seats someone may look down that row of seats and at he person who is laughing and think to themselves “What is wrong with that person?” This is because many areas of both films exist in the in between plane of that which is considered funny one person and decidedly not funny by the next person. It is smallitisfineposterweba big reason why I continue to tour with the films in a group situation. Group situations can illustrate very clearly by means of laughter what is taboo. This sort of unsettled audience reaction happens quite a lot in both films. This is something that I was quite aware would happen when making both the films and the fact that is happens is a satisfying experience for me as a filmmaker. This is true even if I know some elements are bound to be misunderstood by some, I also know many we have a visceral educational illustration of a portion of how propaganda has direct affect on human moral conditioning. Taboo is the grey area that is not clearly defined by the moral codes within the culture and it makes for fascinating group discomfort when properly applied, which then can be interpreted in an educational fashion.
 
I have had some people believe “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” would fit in to the genre of “psychological terror” but I would call it a drama with humor. Also even though this film is definitely not a documentary it does document this main actor/writer living out his fantasy that he wrote for himself to portray.
To me all good drama has humor in it and that is how I would classify What is it? is as a drama with humor. I would never call it a comedy though.
If What is it? is to be classified for various reasons then it is classified as a narrative film. The more broad classification of drama, and a drama that has humor sits well with me. The kind of narrative that it is uses a cinematic syntax that has been used before by various filmmakers and it is not a new syntax, but it is not the same syntax that is usually used by corporately funded and distributed filmmakers. Buñuel is definitely a filmmaker that had influence on What is it?  Formally he was a “Surrealist” with a capital “S”. The Surrealists being a “political” group as Buñuel described it in his beautiful autobiography ‘My Last Sigh”. Now “surrealism” with a small “s” has come to mean something to do with art, and to me the most valuable thing I know about the surrealism is using free association to get the subconscious levels for artistic expression. That element of surrealism is extremely valuable!
I am not genre biased in any way and if there is something that truly interests me I would not veer away from any genre. That being said I currently do not have a plan to write or direct a romantic musical comedy, but that does not mean I would not. To me all good drama has humor in it and that is how I would classify What is it? Is as a drama with humor. I would never call it a comedy though.
People should not view the film any differently from when they go see a film at a multiplex, although their experience might be different from going to the multiplex.  I do not classify “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” as experimental or underground. I simply consider it a drama. Although it is a drama with humor as any good drama should be.
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Also, I see it’s important for you to present in 35mm. I love that. I think the light has a more mystical effect on the viewer’s consciousness above digital. Why do you prefer that format? 
 
I am not against digital for certain applications.
For anyone that has grown up with the grain pattern of film  it would seem to have a favorable aesthetic above the pixel of digital particularly for anything that represents and older time period.
Also the slight flutter of light from the shutter of a film camera adds to the hypnotic effect of film as does the slight movement of the film running through the gate of the camera.
 
It also seems essential that you make personal appearances with your work. Why is it important?
 
The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows.
For “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show” I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in WhatIsItpostertwoart and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them. I made most of the books in the 80’s and very early 90’s. Some of the books utilize text from the binding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about twenty of them. When I was editing my first feature film “What is it?” There was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.
 
Every once in a while, but really very rarely, someone will come up to me during the book signing I think two times in the nine years I have been touring, and they have shown me a book they have done something similar with. They described to me that they came in to it on their own. It seems to be a specific art form that rarely people will just discover doing on their own.
 
When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I now call Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show Part 1. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience’s energy and my energy.
 
People sometimes get confused as to what “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show (Parts 1&2)” is so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that also has 8 books. Part 2 is performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the “IT” trilogy and then on the WriterDirector2twosubsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the “IT” trilogy. The second slide show has been developed over the last several years and the content has changed as it has been developed, but I am very happy with the content of the second slide show now.
 
The books and films are all narrative. Sometimes people see thematic correlations between the content of my books and the content of the films. 
 
The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.
I definitely have been aware of the element of utilizing  the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing a one hour live dramatic narration of eight different books which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them, then show the film either  What is it? Being 72 minutes or It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE being 74 minutes. Then having a Q and A and then a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it a slow process.
Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company.  About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. About when I had sold the same amount of books as CD/records had sold it was very clear to me that because I had published my own books that I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model. Financing/Producing my own films is based on the basic business model of my own publishing company. There are benefits and drawbacks about self distributing my own films.  In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films.
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There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements. There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. 
This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense. The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.
 
You must therefore be very familiar with your fans. How have any of them surprised you?
 
I am not generally surprised by anything people do at the shows.
 
What attracted you to Steven C. Stewart’s story?
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What do you hope the audience takes away from it?
 
Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of What is it? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned What is it? from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay dealt with.  Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “Mental Retard”. This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he hadfinal posterlarger written it as a standard autobiography. As I have stated, I put Steven C. Stewart in to What is it? When I turned What is it? in to a feature film. Originally What is it? Was going to be a short film to promote the concept to corporate film funding entities that working with a cast wherein most characters are played by actors with Down’s Syndrome. Steve had written his screenplay in in the late 1970’s. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I finished acting in Charlie’s Angels and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in an lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting. I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart’s own true story was fascinating and then the beautiful story and the naïve including his fascination of women with long hair and the graphic violence and sexuality and the revealing truth of his psyche from the screenplay were all combined. There was a specific marriage proposal scene that was the scene I remember reading that made me say “I have to produce this film.”
I also knew I had to produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made, I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. We shot It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.  while I was still completing What it? And this is partly why What is it? took a long time to complete. I am very proud of the film as I am of What is it? I feel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career.  People who are interested in when I will be back should join up on the e mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be where with whatever film I tour with. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.

After Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.
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Steve was a genuinely great guy! It is hard to define what my relationship with Steve is/was. During the approximate 15 years I knew Steve from 1986 to his death in 2001 I would communicate with him in spurts. He started writing me short e mails urging to make his film after we shot his portions of “What is it?” in 1996. He would write simple things like “When are we going to make the film before I kick the bucket?”
 
Steve was definitely gracious and had a genuinely rebellious sense of humor. If he had only had one of those qualities I probably would not have related to him as much, but the fact that he had both a sense of humor and a sense of rebellion made it so I could very much relate to him.
 
I personally financed the film and had taken out no insurance if Steve were to die. Steve was a strong person and I knew that he has an inner need to get this story out. He had already stayed alive by getting an operation to get this film made and I knew he would stay alive no matter what to get the film completed.
About a month after we finished shooting I got a telephone call one morning and it became apparent that Steve was in the hospital with a collapsed lung again and that he was basically asking permission to take himself off life support and he wanted to know if we had enough footage to finish the film. I know that if I had said “No Steve. We do not have enough footage. You need to get better and we have to finish the film” He would have gotten whatever operation needed to get better and been happy to come back to the set and shoot. As it was we did have enough footage and it was a sad day and heavy responsibility to let him know that we would be able to complete the film.
In retrospect Steven C. Stewart was a great communicator. Steve has had great positive influence on my life and as much as I did like and enjoy Steve when he was alive, I realize even more how much he was important to me. It may sound sappy, but if Steve were here today I would be very happy to tell him how much he ultimately positively has affected my life.
 
I see your father is in your latest film and your next film. What is it like to direct him?
 
I have now started shooting my next feature at my property in Czech. The crew and cast stayed at my chateau in Czech.
 
I will be preview from my next feature film which marks the first time I have acted with my father Bruce Glover who has been seen in such films as Diamonds are Forever, Chinatown and Ghost World. bruce This is my first film to have been shot with 35 mm negative.  My first two features were shot with standard 16mm film then blown up for a 35 mm negative from a digital intermediate.
 
There are great things about digital technology. I love the grain pattern of film and this is also why I enjoy 16mm as well as 35mm. So far my feature film projects have been shot on film.
This is my third feature film production. This will not be “IT IS MINE.” Nor will it have anything to do with the “IT” trilogy. It is not part 3 of the “IT” trilogy.
 
I have owned a chateau in the Czech Republic for many years now and it has been in a state of work to get both the chateau ready for housing the crew members and cast when I am shooting my own productions and the 17,000 square feet of former horse stables that are now the areas for the shooting stages where the sets have been built.
There has been an enormous amount of work here. When people hear I am coming to my chateau they always say “Have a great time!” as though I am going on vacation. But I actually have way more difficult work here than at my house in LA. In the last two years I have been at my property in Czech more than LA, but also on the road with my shows and films or acting in other people’s films, more than either of my homes.
I should not go in to too much detail for part 3 of the “It” trilogy yet as “IT IS MINE.” will not be the film I shoot next. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. The Czech Republic is where I own a chateau built in the 1600‘s. I have converted its former horse stables in to film shooting stages. Czech is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like “What is it?” and the existing sequel “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” “IT IS MINE.” is an even more complex project than the previous two films put together, so it will be a while yet for that production. I will step outside of the trilogy for a number of films that deal with different thematic elements from the “IT” trilogy.
The sets for my next film productions were in construction for over two years now. At the same time the sets were being built I was in the process of continuing to develop the screenplay for myself and my father to act in together on these sets. My father, Bruce Glover, is also an actor who has appeared in such films as “Chinatown” and “Diamonds Are Forever” and he and I have not yet acted together on film. The project with my father is the next film I am currently preparing to make as a director/producer. This will be the first role I have written for myself to act that will be written primarily as an acting role, as opposed to a role that was written for the character I play to merely serve the structure. But even still on some level I am writing the screenplay to be something that I can afford to make. There are two other projects I am currently developing to shoot on sets at my property in the Czech Republic. These films will be relatively affordable by utilizing the basic set structures that can be slightly re-worked for variations and yet each film will feel separate from one another in look and style yet still cinematically pleasing so they will be worth to project in various cinemas. 
 
Where does the Hellion part of your name come from?
 
My father Bruce Glover is an actor. In fact he is in Part two of the trilogy It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! People may know him from such films as Diamonds are Forever, Chinatown and the original Walking Tall series.  His middle name is Herbert. He never liked his middle name Herbert. So as a young struggling actor in New York he would say to himself “I am Bruce H. Glover, Bruce Hellion Glover. I am a hellion a troublemaker.” And that would make him feel good. HeDicussion told my mother this was his real middle name. When they were married she saw him writing on the marriage certificate Bruce Herbert Glover and she thought “Who am I marrying?” They gave Hellion to me as my real middle name. I had always written and drawn as a child and I would always sign my drawing and writing with my whole name Crispin Hellion Glover. When I started acting professionally at 13 which was something I had decided on my own I could do as a profession at a relatively young age it became apparent that I had to choose a professional acting name for SAG. I thought my whole name was too long for acting and just used my first and last name. When I started publishing my books I simply continued using the name I had always used for writing and drawing. This is also why I use my whole name for my films.
 
I had a friend who played in a marvelous punk band in Argentina with a singer with Down’s Syndrome. Still, people have biases when they see performers with Down’s Syndrome. Why did you decide to cast your first film with actors who have Down’s?
 
I am very careful to make it quite clear that “What is it?” is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” -and that is the title of the film. What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in it’s media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So What is it? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.
 
I loved you in Wild At Heart. David Lynch said he told you something terrible was going to happen to you if you let that glove go. Do you remember what you thought of?
 
It was more of an abstraction then something specific. David Lynch is of course a great director.
 
In what way — if any — did Lynch’s style inspire your way of directing?
 
When I was 16 and learned to drive in 1980 I went to see the midnight screening of “Eraserhead” at the Nuart Theater many times. It was a very important film to me and it is still my favorite David Lynch film although I always enjoy and appreciate his work. I am also very glad to have worked with him as an actor and he had said he would Executive produce what will eventually be part 3 of the IT trilogy “IT IS MINE.” But that film will still be a while from now before it is made. The fact that he has been kind to me when he is someone I admired from a long time before I met him is a very good thing. It means a lot to me. 

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Hans Morgenstern

Crsipin Glover will appear at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale over the course of two days with his two films, It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE (tickets) and What Is It?(tickets) on Sunday, June 28, and Monday, June 29. The films are preceded by Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show, Parts 1 and 2 and followed by a Q&A session with the actor/director. He will also be present to sign copies of his books. For more info, visit’ Glover’s website: www.CrispinGlover.com. All images comes from his site and used by permission.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Me and Earl posterSince its buzzy debut back in January at Sundance, I am sure the issue has come up a billion times: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has an issue with tokenism. During a preview earlier this month it was hard to keep my mind off how isolated the lead character is from his peers, and it translates in the movie in an egocentric manner that becomes hard to shake off for far too much of the movie. By the time the payoff arrives, the cost feels too high, and you just want to be rid of this titular “Me” character.

Thomas Mann gives Greg an awkward charm for a guy who does not wish to stand out at his high school. He is ironically gregarious, trying to make friends with everyone, from goths to jocks, as to blend into the background. Yet, the only person he considers a friend, but refers to as his “co-worker,” is Earl (RJ Cyler), an African-American kid from a destitute neighborhood he has known since childhood. They make home movies together that are naïve-art adaptations of classic movies (their version of The Third Man is entitled “The Turd Man”). But this collaborative relationship and shared affection for the film canon and their smart aleck reinterpretations never seems to fulfill him. It is only after he gets to know terminally ill Rachel (Olivia Cooke) that he finds a true friendship and a genuine urge to create something original at the casual behest of Earl. That he has to learn this from a “dying girl” offers a grim premise that could have said a lot about the disconnection of earthy, grounded-in-reality relationships had the film presented us with solidly developed characters in scenes that don’t feel trite and falter to their manipulative, sentimental designs.

No one is allowed to stand out beyond Greg, and it’s hard to find him likable because the character only seems driven by exterior forces. His mother (Connie Britton) is the one who pushes Greg to spend time with Rachel after she is diagnosed with Leukemia. After he shows up at Rachel’s house, he is invited in by her ridiculously depressed, wine-swilling mother (Molly Shannon). Rachel sees through the farce of Greg’s appearance. Still, after a cynical chat in her bedroom about her prognosis and the abundance of pillows in her room and Greg’s reference to masturbation, Rachel is charmed. The viewer gets an easy way in to Greg because Rachel, a cancer-stricken cipher, who shows little autonomy, is reduced to a person trapped in her bedroom filled with craft projects of her design to characterize her.

Earl suffers his own reduction. He is Greg’s sidekick who either offers callous statements (his catch phrase seems to be “Did you feel dem titties?”) or profound statements that shake Greg image-abd1674e-0988-4c0f-9fc6-0215f92bbc39out of his somnambulant egotism. Earl has an older brother (Bobb’e J. Thompson) who figures into the film in flashbacks to the younger days of the two friends. He’s a mere bully who sits on the porch to his family’s ramshackle house and sicks his pit bull on Greg whenever he comes by. There’s not much more to say about Earl, as the only benefit of his presence is as a kind of conscience for Greg, when he needs it. Otherwise, they have a miniscule almost ambivalent relationship.

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, brings his talents from television (“Glee” and “American Horror Story”) to infuse the film, adapted for the screen by Jesse Andrews who wrote the original novel, with a saccharine preciousness that grows tiresome quick. Gomez-Rejon overwhelms the drama with wearisome references to Criterion Collection DVDs, making for a convenient litmus for Greg and Earl’s taste for cinema and — God forgive him — about 20 pieces of music from Brian Eno’s catalog of early masterworks, even including obscure collaborations with Krautrock greats Cluster. It’s great music, but beyond a few seconds of atmospheric extra-diegetic melodies for transitions between scenes, the music never has space in the film to meld with the drama and settle in as thematic. Peter Jackson did it much better a few years ago in The Lovely Bones (Brian Eno and The Lovely Bones), a film for which Eno also composed or reshaped his music. The only exception is the use of “The Big Ship” during the film’s climax, a piece that also accompanied a similarly dramatic moment in The Lovely Bones, so even the decision to allow that piece to breath in Me and Earl feels like it loses some credibility. 

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Criterion product placement and the abuse of Eno’s music can hardly save this film from its problematic story. Referencing so much great art does not transfer over to Gomez-Rejon’s film. Early on, the film is weighed down by the tropes of high school malaise, and when Greg finally comes to his revelation that he has lost a friend, the film hits every trite note that turns loss of a loved one into sentimentality to weary effect. Depending on what triggers the tears for you, the filmmakers try to bring it up. Sure, there were people sobbing all around me in living surround sound, but all I saw was manipulation of heartstring plucking.

Beyond its precious tone that minimizes death to a sentiment, obscuring an egocentric story about a kid who (maybe) learns empathy at the cost of losing a friend to death, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has that bigger issue: tokenism. A chance for Greg, a white kid, to learn about his best friend and recognize him beyond “co-worker” is never developed. They pair up as outcasts who never connect. Even worse, Rachel is presented as a darling young person about to die throughout the film, as if that’s the only thing that characterizes her as a human being. For all its sincerity, the movie is ultimately a disappointing appropriation of cool without genuine heart that plays the audience in a rather condescending way. A lot people will love it, but it’s only because it’s pushing easy buttons that make us human. Still, there’s nothing really human about this movie, which feels like was produced by an algorithm instead of someone with heart.

Hans Morgenstern

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl runs 105 minutes and is rated PG-13 (references to sex, drugs with some salty language). It opens in limited release at several multiplexes in our Miami area (visit this page for dates screening locations near you in other cities). For indie supporters, it opens at O Cinema Miami Beach on July 1. All images in this review are courtesy of Fox Searchlight who also invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

TSM_1Sheet_Final-260x385Miami has a bit of a local hero in the indie film world. Kenny Riches wrote, produced and directed The Strongest Man, a film he shot in Miami with a local artist (and casual BMX stunt rider) in the lead role. The film went on to have its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival before coming back to Miami for a couple of packed screenings at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival and signing a distribution deal with FilmBuff (though the film has yet to appear on the site).

The film follows a character simply named Beef (Robert “Meatball” Lorie) who has his gold BMX stolen, and heads off into the mean streets of Miami to find it. On his way he struggles with other searches that involve friendship, love and his spirit animal: a chicken. The film has a unique view of Miami, something Riches tuned into when he moved here a little over three years ago from Salt Lake City. I’ve gotten to know Riches personally, so it’s weird and feels like a conflict of interest to review his film. I have interviewed him twice for the Miami New Times, however. The latest Q&A appears today on the alternative weekly’s art and culture blog. We talk about the reaction to his film at the festivals and more. Read it by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

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We also talked about a curious quirk in his work, a humanoid figment of Beef’s imagination made up of dead palm fronds and glowing red eyes. I asked Riches about the similarity of this creature and the “ghost” in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s 2010 movie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, a personal favorite of this writer (Film Review: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives). Riches admitted that I wasn’t the first to make the comparison, but he has yet to watch the film.

Here’s a film still from Uncle Boonmee:

PR still from Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

And this is the creature from The Strongest Man posing for a photo with actor Patrick Fugit, who plays a meditation guru with a German accent who guides Beef to his discovery of his spirit animal in Riches’ film:

Patrick Fugit on the set of Strongest Man

During two interviews with Riches (here is the first, also from The Miami New Times: Miami Filmmaker Kenny Riches on His Selection to Sundance), I checked whether Riches had caught up with Weerasethakul’s film, but he admitted he hadn’t. During our second chat, he offered details behind the inspiration of this lumpy creature with glowing red eyes that haunts Beef throughout the film. It’s actually grounded in a personal late-night experience he had in Miami.

“Just driving around Miami, you see those piles of dead palm fronds,” he says. “They’re just lying by the side of the road waiting to be picked up, and the leaves turn black. One night in particular, I was driving home with Cara [Despain, the film’s art director] from our art studio, and there was one of those leaves — a huge one — hanging on a pole somewhere. We stopped at the light, and we didn’t know what it was as we were pulling up to it. It was just this kind of looming figure. It was really scary because we couldn’t really tell at all what it was until we got close.”

It was the vision Riches needed to plant the seed of this creature in his imagination. “I started talking about how it would be cool to have something signifying Beef’s anxiety, something that can represent a physical manifestation of it, and just picking up one of those palm fronds, you hear the rustling of it.”

The eyes came from the after-hours flashing red lights of traffic signals that many who go out late at night in Miami might be familiar with. “It started because of the blinking red streetlights in downtown,” says Riches. “We don’t have that in Salt Lake City. The lights are just always normal. They don’t switch over late at night instead of flashing yellow and flashing red lights.”

Hans Morgenstern

The Strongest Man will have a week-long theatrical run at O Cinema Miami Shores, beginning this Friday, June 26. It is also opening in limited release in Tampa, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. In Miami, Riches will host a filmmaker workshop at FilmGate Interactive, on July 10, to talk about his Sundance experience (details and ticket info here). All images are courtesy of Kenny Riches. Except the still from Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (courtesy Strand Releasing).

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

large_u1b4fzVmGMg7SChNB5r7rAw8oZAResults is one of the most creative, honest romantic comedies made recently. It follows the story of personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders), a driven and determined trainer who also has anger issues that are not quite under her control or even completely acknowledged by her yet. Kat works for Trevor (Guy Pearce) the founder of Power 4 Life, a gym that fashions itself a lifestyle, complete with a philosophy for life, with Trevor at the forefront. Though he fancies himself a guru, Trevor also seems unaware of his character flaws. He believes so deeply in his own Soul 4 Life philosophy, he takes himself seriously to a fault.

Into this mix, arrives Danny (Kevin Corrigan, in a wonderfully tic-filled performance with excellent comedic timing), a New Yorker that has recently moved to Austin, Texas, after inheriting a large sum of money. Danny is an odd character but brutally honest and self-aware –a stark contrast to Trevor. Danny shows up at the gym, and he is unable to articulate clearly what he wants. His life seems to be out of control, and when asked by Trevor what his goals are, he just says, “I just want to be able to take a punch.”

Kat starts to train Danny, which soon becomes painfully awkward. Danny is extremely uncomfortable in his own skin but at least ties to connect with people. He quickly develops an attraction for Kat. Danny’s half-empty mansion and his own life philosophy creates a disconnect between him and Kat, who tries to encourage him during personal training sessions but makes no inroads with him. Coaxing her with a drink and some weed after a session, he steals a kiss. The next day, he finally goes after her, and she goes into a full-on anger fit, to which Danny responds, “This is not making me any less attracted to you.”

Results

Results is the latest feature-length film by Andrew Bujalski. After the trippy existentialist journey into vintage artificial intelligence (Film Review: Computer Chess reveals the mystical in the cyber),  Results brings him back to exploring romance in all its awkward glory through intriguingly flawed characters. While he was known to be at the forefront of the mumblecore movement (An Essential Guide to Mumblecore), which now seems like a passé categorization, the writer/director has grown into an insightful storyteller with characters that resonate because of their failings. Previous films such as Funny Ha Ha (2002), featuring a young woman who stumbles to find meaningful connections in post-collegiate limbo, explored emotional struggles that were verbalized in less than articulate terms. Bujalski soon became more refined. Mutual Appreciation (2005), where an ambivalence about long-term commitment drove the action, still stands as one of his strongest works. It’s a perfect example of this subtle character-driven narrative.

In Results, the action is also driven by each of the characters’ own failings, which provides a sort of meta-narrative of the unspoken motivations that drive the action: confusion and love. While mumblecore was known for its natural acting, it is now clear that Bujalski is exposing something deeper than natural acting, he is showing the complex interplay between action seen, spoken and felt, through a patient eye that finds the humanity in people, even they’re gym rats.

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This character-driven approach stands out in Results, and gives the movie an interesting shape, rather than the formulaic boy-meets-girl device so familiar in Hollywood films. Smulders and Pearce give magnificently modest life to Kat and Trevor. They spar, argue, get mad at each other but otherwise seem incapable of truly expressing what they feel for one another. It is suggested early in the film that they had a fling, although by the time we catch up with them, they seemed to have figured out that their liaison was unprofessional. However, their interactions are marred by that comfortable/uncomfortable dialectic that starts to really make sense the more we learn about the couple.

For a romantic comedy, Results is also very funny in a smart way. Bujalski has created a deep narrative about relationships that is character-driven. Bujalski’s approach is delicate and kind; the funny moments come from the collision of all three characters, as they stumble through articulating their emotions. For instance, when Danny meets Trevor, he notices a poster in his office and reads it out loud, “Fear, excuses, surrender.” Trevor seems perplexed. It turns out the poster was actually blocked by something else that Trevor removes revealing the full poster that reads: “No fear, no excuses, no surrender.” The contrast between the two characters is stark, and it foretells many obtusely comedic moments scattered throughout this subtle, yet powerful, film.

Ana Morgenstern

Results runs 105 minutes and is rated R (for weed use, sex, profanity). It opens in our Miami are on June 12 at the Bill Cosford Cinema on the Coral Gable campus of the University of Miami. Results has already opened in some cities and is scheduled to open in select cities at later dates. For current playdates, visit this page. All images are courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, who also provided a screener link for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

L&M_1_SHEET_MECH_FIN_WEB1429825458Biopics are often constrained by an obligation to transmit their subject’s life in a couple of hours of cinema. While some of those films can be fine, it’s refreshing when a filmmaker can offer something different. Director Bill Pohlad along with writers Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner do this in two ways with Love & Mercy, their exploration of the music and the madness of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. First, they focus on two distinct periods of Wilson’s life. In the late 1960s Wilson took to composing and experimenting in the studio while the rest of the band went on tour. This period produced the albums Pet Sounds (1966) and its follow-up, the unreleased Smile album. In the late ‘80s, Wilson became a recluse. Back then, he seemed like another causality of LSD, like Syd Barret of Pink Floyd. Despite some ill-recevied solo albums, he was out of the spotlight. What was more interesting was that he had spent two to three years in self-imposed bed rest. Otherwise, the wider public no longer seemed to care about Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys.

The second way the story unfolds is through Wilson’s music — in both its presence and absence. The late ‘60s was the beginning of Wilson’s most creative period, and the work would become legendary. Unfortunately, theLM_03545.CR2 wide acclaim wouldn’t come until decades later. In the late ‘80s, he was so far gone, a sense of irrelevance clouds the era. Neither of these periods are a well-understood part of the musician’s career. He was an outcast during both, but with hindsight, he has enjoyed a rebirth, influencing bands like Stereolab and Of Montreal, among others in the ‘90s*. In 2004, Wilson revitalized Smile with a tour and an album called Brian Wilson Presents Smile. He’s still recording new music today.

Music was redemption for Wilson, and the filmmakers understand this, alternating between the two eras for the movie’s duration, telling a story with two different actors playing the same man as a musician caught enthrall with the process of creation (Paul Dano) and a musician denied it utterly (John Cusack). For a director who hasn’t directed a film since 1990, Love & Mercy is an accomplished work. Of course, in the interim Pohlad has produced films like Brokeback Mountain (2005), The Tree of Life (2011), and 12 Years a Slave (2013), so he’s worked with some amazing directors since then. But the film stands on its own in every aspect of cinema and hopefully will not be forgotten come awards season. It features amazing work in every element you can imagine, from editing the dual storylines together and the performances that bring them to life. There’s also meticulous production design. Those familiar with the album covers of The Beach Boys will be astonished at the detail in the scenes that depict their creations. The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman, who has been working with Wes Anderson since Bottle Rocket (1996), highlights his keen eye for period atmosphere.

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Ultimately, PohIad shows great understanding that the story of Wilson — who also cooperated with the production — is as much about the music as it is about the personality associated with it. It’s exhilarating to watch the construction of the songs in the studio. There are many distinct instruments playing signature, familiar parts from certain songs. It’s what makes Wilson so brilliant, he understands the qualities of so many instruments and played to their strengths and sometimes pushed them beyond. But he also found ways to use the studio as part of the album. From ambient noise and little accidents, Pohlad pays tribute to every aspect of Wilson’s creativity in this movie.

The first standout scene in the studio, when the large band of Pet Sounds assembles to perform the first bit of music, feels appropriately unsettling. The music they produced is angular and unfinished. Without calling too much attention to itself, it foretells the terrible looming failure of the album, which was a commercial disappointment for the group. But gradually things come together, and the studio musicians Brian has gathered clearly begin to delight in the work, even when Brian brings in a couple of dogs to bark for the record.

Sure, it’s madcap, but it also speaks to the din in Brian’s head, something the film establishes at the very beginning. In order to highlight the sounds in his head, Love & Mercy opens in darkness. A chaotic stew of famous Beach Boys musical bits eventually meld together to form the semblance of a song that crescendos as the camera pulls out from an earhole and then cuts to silence after a visual cut to the foot of an ornate bed, where the viewer is confronted with the lump of an obese bearded man meant to be Wilson, lying prone in the eerie hush of dreary silence.

Paul Dano in Love & Mercy

Wilson has long said he has been plagued by internal voices and music, and in this movie you get the sense of a man struggling to exorcise these voices by externalizing them through music. There’s creativity but also a curse. Beyond cooperating with sharing his story, Wilson also gave Oscar-winning soundtrack composer Atticus Ross access to all the masters he had. There are bits of Beach Boys music you may have never heard used in the score, assembled by Ross as both extradiegetic score and narrative musical hallucinatory moments key to the story inside Wilson’s head.

But on the other side, there are scenarios brought to life in the studio, like Brian’s painstaking approach to create the chugging cello parts in “Good Vibrations.” There are also incredibly visual moments. During a particularly harrowing montage toward the end of the film, we get a few seconds of the studio band in fireman helmets playing some unheard section of Smile with Brian twirling in the middle, shirt open, under his own fireman’s helmet, space eyed and holding smoking flares. The heartbreaking coda of “Surf’s Up” plays over the image that is a mixture of both creative triumph and melancholy madness.

Some may wonder if the actors did their own singing. To my ears, I cannot tell that they did. It’s almost jarring when we first see Dano open his mouth and hear Wilson’s voice come out of it, so I doubt he did LM_00304.CR2(Ed: Dano did, making his performance that more impressive). Also, The Beach Boys’ harmonizing has often been considered some of the most complex singing ever recorded. But it’s a testament to Dano’s acting that he can capture Wilson’s awkward ticks so that the viewer can soon accept seeing this quirky actor as Wilson.

Above all, music drives the narrative, and one could consider almost every other scene and how it is used to push the narrative forward via music. After that unsettling opening scene, the film’s more straightforward narrative begins at the Cadillac dealership where the ’80s Brian met his wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). The smooth jazz sounds of Kenny G’s “Songbird” plays softly over the P.A. It’s actually an annoyingly high-pitched, simplistic melody, the antithesis to the complex harmonies Wilson created with The Beach Boys. When Brian asks to sit in one car with Melinda, they close the doors, sealing out the cloying melody, and he even locks the doors. Maybe he’s locking out the music, but he’s also finding some alone time from his bodyguard. By the late ‘80s, Wilson had long been under the care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy was a famous celebrity psychologist, who actually succeeded in getting Wilson out of bed and the funk of depression that had him habitually abusing drugs. But, by the late ‘80s, he made Wilson his only case and inserted himself as a business partner and even co-songwriter. He micro-managed Wilson’s life with medication and around-the-clock surveillance.

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But that never meant the music and voices had left Wilson alone. Though heavily medicated during this time, Love & Mercy also shows Brian continuing to struggle with the phantom sounds, but with no creative outlet compared to the ‘60s storyline. When the real music appears, we get a glimpse of what it means to Brian in real life. During a sailing trip with Melinda, the sound of “Sloop John B (I Wanna Go Home)” emanates from the pilot house through a cranked up, trebly speaker. Landy’s son captains the boat. Brian and Melinda sit toward the bow, and Brian asks the captain to turn it off. Clearly not understanding Brian, the captain yells toward the bow, “It’s a tribute to you, Brian.” Then Brian casually explains, “It sort of destroys my brain.”

It’s a sad way to show how negative the specter of his old group has become to him. Besides that moment, there is no Beach Boys music in this section of Brian’s life. There’s one lovely moment, however, of Brian sharing his talents with Melinda that also LOVEANDMERCY081431647886serves as a subtle musical declaration of the film’s title. When she comes over to his house for her first visit, he sits at the piano to play a romantic melody and suddenly stops. Her jaw drops, and she asks what it was. Brian replies, “Something I came up with when I first saw you.” She asks what he might plan to do with it. He says, “Nothing … Every once in a while your soul comes out to play.”

Those with a sharp ear and a familiarity with Wilson’s solo work will notice that melody is the first utterance of the film’s title, “Love and Mercy,” which also happens to be the opening track of his 1988 debut solo album Brian Wilson. That the director chooses to reveal the film’s title through music speaks to how important music is not only to Wilson but the film itself. Brian Wilson fans are bound to have a blast with this film, but it also goes to show how important music is in driving the film’s narrative in subtle ways.

Still, the music also works without much context, which invites any member of the audience to find their own way to appreciate how music works as a narrative device. Pohlad constructs his story musically, as well, trusting in all the film’s separate parts to work on transmitting the story. It’s easy to fill in the blanks of Wilson’s relationship with Dr. Landy when Giamatti gives a powerful, stark performance. Landy’s intrusiveness is first revealed during Brian’s and Melinda’s first date: a Moody Blues concert. During the climax of wails of “Nights in White Satin,” Melinda leans over to tell Brian, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks Love & Mercy“This song is so great.” Brian quietly agrees, “Yeah.” Landy, whose sitting on Melinda’s other side, leans to her to ask, “What did you say?” where she must explain her exchange with Brian. Landy will later corner Melinda at his office in an attempt to win her over to his side, explaining that, as Brian’s doctor, he will need her to report to him whatever Brian tells her. It’s a twisted scene that also features one of several moments where Giamatti is allowed to show off his grand acting without a pause for reverse shot. He blends malice and sincerity to creepy, riveting heights, and Pohlad gives him room, not allowing for any edits to taint or manipulate his performances. It’s not slow-paced editing but the creation of tension by expert acting. Cusack is also allowed moments to shine in this way.

Mike Love (Jake Abel) and the Wilsons’ patriarch (Bill Camp) are the nemeses of the other part of Brian’s life. Mike is comfortable with the early hits about California girls and surfing, and he becomes resentful with new tangents in the songwriting, impatient with Brian’s meticulousness and resistant to any rule breaking, like including studio banter during a solo in the middle of “Here Today.” He calls it “unprofessional.” When he’s given the lyrics to “Hang On To Your Ego,” Mike asks Brian, “Is this a druggie song?” and refuses to sing the lyrics until Brian explains otherwise and the other Beach Boys take Brian’s side. Love is also the one to say Pet Sounds won’t even make gold, so now it’s time to go back to writing “real music.”

Murry Wilson is the precursor and parallel to Landy, who like Mike, is also turned off by attempts at more profound songwriting by Brian, questioning the ironic lyrics of “God Only Knows.” After he’s fired as the band’s manager, the elder Wilson interrupts a recording session to present the band with his new discovery, The Sunrays, and their Beach Boys imitation song, “I Live For the Sun.” Brian retreats to the studio, where he can hear the grating single through the walls, and he’s overtaken by a nightmare blur of his own creative voices clashing with the din of The Sunrays’ amateurish harmonies.

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Love & Mercy is filled with these small details also expressed by even slighter but still fascinating supporting characters. Van Dyke Parks (Max Schneider) was an important collaborator of Wilson’s, but the narrative stays focused on Wislon’s experience. Van’s biggest moment comes when Love bullies him out of a Beach Boys meeting at a pool. Brian is treading water in the deep end, pleading with his band mates to join him there so Phil Spector (Jonathan Slavin) can’t hear them because he has the house bugged. Dennis Wilson (Kenny Wormald), who’s standing in the shallow side of the pool that the others are sitting around, counters, “We’re too shallow for the deep end.” It’s a sly metaphor for the gulf between the members of the group.

The film is rich with these musical and dramatic instances that capture life moments with musical and creative resonance. Pohlad does more justice to a life lived by focusing on the details and showing less concern for a big story arc. That’s not life. Life is a chaotic mix of moments filled with their own highs and lows. It’s not unlike the shredding given to Smile, torn apart across other albums, including Smiley Smile (1967) and Surf’s Up (1971). Wilson also comes across as a person torn. It’s about music in abundance and the absence of it, and how it tears about a creative and crazy person whose legend has become inextricable from his music. “These things I’ll be until I die.”

Hans Morgenstern

*Into the 2000s there’s also Grizzly Bear.

You can read my interview with the director here:

Director of Beach Boys pic Love & Mercy talks about externalizing Brian Wilson’s musical madness and how to deal with the character of Mike Love

Love & Mercy runs 120 minutes and is rated PG-13 (for cussing and the depiction of complications with drugs and rock ‘n’ roll). It opens in limited release in the Miami area this Friday, June 5. In our South Florida area, the venues hosting the film are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

Update: The film expands on June 12 in South Florida at these theaters:

  • Silverspot Coconut Creek Cinemas Coconut Creek
  • Cinepolis Grove 15 Coconut Grove
  • Oakwood 18 Hollywood
  • O Cinema Miami Beach Miami Beach
  • Sunset Place 24 Theatres

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema for the purpose of this review.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

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The story of The Beach Boys is so much more fascinating than most assume. The band behind such early 1960s hits as “Surfin’ Safari” and “I Get Around” were a family affair, made up of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love and a friend named Al Jardine. Among them, though, was a musical genius: Brian Wilson. It was his vision in the studio — from the band’s signature harmonies to angular musical ideas to putting dogs barking on a record — that took the band from hit factory to more complex levels that would gain them critical acclaim and go on to influence many other artists for decades to come.

But the thing about Wilson is that he was also clinically crazy. From the physical and mental abuse suffered by the band members’ father/manager to the abuse of LSD, Wilson spiraled downward. He was also very sensitive and introverted. He had a fear of flying and preferred working in the studio to touring live. By the 1980s, after he legendarily retreated to bed for three years and some failed solo work, people wrote him off as helplessly crazy, not unlike Syd Barrett. But gradually questions arose about his personal psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy. Wilson’s brother Carl had to fight in court to free his brother from Landy’s obsessive care that took away the musician’s autonomy and even the rights to some of his music.

No one can point to one thing that broke this man down, but his musical highs were heavily balanced out by his personal lows. In a new biopic, Love & Mercy (Read our review: Love & Mercy harnesses the music & madness of Brian Wilson), director/producer Bill Pohlad finds a way to focus on both yet still make the music the most important element in Wilson’s life. It’s an amazing achievement by the producer of Wild (Wild features brutally honest and vulnerable performance by Witherspoon — a film Review), LM_01332FD.psd12 years a Slave (The Florida Film Critics Circle announce `12 Years a Slave’ big winner for 2013… and the picks by Indie Ethos) and a personal favorite, Tree of Life (An antidote for Oscar hype: My 20 favorite films of 2011 [numbers 10 – 1]). On May 15, after watching the film twice, I spoke with Pohlad via phone. I could have easily gone on a tangent to talk about these other amazing films, if we had had the time, but amazing in its own way, is his return to directing after almost 25 years. Few know his debut feature film released in 1990, starring José Ferrer and James Whitmore called Old Explorers, which is only available on VHS on the secondary market (Support the Independent Ethos, you can try to purchase direct through Amazon via this link). Like many, I haven’t seen it, so I cannot attest to its quality. But I can only imagine Pohlad has learned a lot as a producer because Love & Mercy stands as one of this writer’s favorite movies of 2015, so far.

I’ve already written one article from our interview in the Miami New Times’ Art and Culture blog. The piece mostly covers Pohlad’s acting choices (two actors play Wilson: John Cusack and  Paul Dano) and how he uses Wilson’s music in impressive sound collages based on actual music by Wilson and re-contextualized by Atticus Ross. You can read that article by jumping through the blog’s logo below:

NT Arts

We spoke about other topics, but I couldn’t fit it all in the article, so here’s an abridged Q&A of material missing from that article, which is still no less interesting for those who plan to see this extraordinary film about a man, his madness and his music (my glowing review, which will focus on the presence and absence of music in the film’s narrative, is coming soon).

Hans Morgenstern: I want to talk about the creative way you declare the title of the film within the narrative. There’s this scene where Brian Wilson sits at the piano playing what turns out to be the melody for “Love and Mercy” for Melinda.

Bill Pohlad: Not everybody catches that. In fact, you’re the first one that actually mentions it.

I’m big on music. So I imagine you must be very attuned to music.

I’ve always been a big music fan. I find a lot of filmmakers are frustrated musicians and a lot of musicians are frustrated filmmakers, I think, once you talk to people. But I certainly fall into that category. I love music, and I wish that maybe I’d pursued that. I’ve always loved it and followed, and I think one of the attractions to this movie was trying to capture — like the Pet Sounds era and that kind thing — what’s inside the head of an incredible, creative musician.

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You certainly capture that when representing what’s going on inside his head. You capture his music as well as his sickness. How did you decided on this manner to represent that?

Well, I think it comes from learning about Brian and talking to him and [his wife] Melinda [played by Elizabeth Banks] a little bit and trying to get a sense of what he actually experienced. As I got to know the story better, and I got to spend a little more time with him — both of them — you get a sense of what goes on in his head. He’s admitted, of course, and it’s very well known that he hears voices and things like that, but there’s also the musical element.

I think you do something great with the editing: you let the actors perform. A lot of times you see actors’ performances chopped up in the editing, but you had some longish takes.

Yeah, I believe in actors’ performances, and certainly the other directors that I worked with as a producer in some of the other films, that I admired have kind of allowed me to push more in that direction and have more confidence about that.

Speaking of some of the people you admire, there’s a sequence at the end of the movie [that we see in the trailer] in Brian’s bed that reminded me of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Yeah. You don’t necessarily want to do those things blatantly. I was afraid, I’m going back and forth thinking that people would think that was a total rip-off. But to me because of the role that that bed played in Brian’s life … where that sequence at the end came from was the fact that we’re trying to create a film here that’s true and kind of authentic … When I first started talking to John Cusack about the role, he was like, ‘Well, you know, but at the end, isn’t there a time when Brian could, you know, like get up and leave and walk out … on Landy or something like that?’ As a filmmaker or a storyteller LM_04823.CR2you’re always looking for those ways to end the movie or something like that, but the problem is that never actually happened. Brian never did walk out. There wasn’t any dramatic storming away from Landy, so I wanted to find a way to end the film that was more true to what actually happened and true to life. Our lives just don’t go that way: clean and neat, so the idea of like having this period where you’re able to like see Brian struggling within himself, with who he is and where he’s been and coming from some kind of peace, that felt more authentic than trying to force some kind of ending, so that’s where that sequence came from. Then, when you’re visualizing it with the bed and all, yeah, someone can think of Kubrick and all that, but hopefully it’s organic to the movie as well.

Mike Love [played by Jake Abel] comes across a little, I would say acerbic in the film. Have you had any reaction from him about the movie?

I don’t know. We haven’t heard yet. The whole Mike Love thing is tricky in the sense that certainly he has a reputation, either fairly or unfairly, of being a tough guy or whatever, and not a particularly pleasant guy. I mean, the first thing I wanted to do is deal with that in the storytelling sense. I don’t like the idea of creating arch villains or one-dimensional guys, and Mike was a great example of that. I didn’t really want him to be seen in that way, as the bad guy. It’s too easy, and I wanted to relate to LOVEANDMERCY071431647756him and tried to. I hope it comes through a little bit. He’s just a guy. He’s a human being. He’s different than Brian. That doesn’t make him bad. You just know that Brian’s a creative genius, and we’re telling this story about this extraordinary, creative artist, but the guy next to him is just a regular guy. He’s got talents of his own, but he’s not that kind of guy. That does not make him bad. I wanted to portray it in that way, saying, Hey, maybe you can relate to this guy. He’s got a good gig going, and all of a sudden his cousin starts going off, and starts doing these really weird things. It’s like, ‘Hey, c’mon what are you doing?’ As opposed to making him like that bad guy, so hopefully there’s some balance there.

Hans Morgenstern

I’ll leave you with a featurette with more information by the actors and Pohlad:

Love & Mercy opens in limited release this Friday, June 5, across the nation. In our South Florida area, the venues are as follows:

  • Miami-Dade: Coral Gables Art Cinema, Aventura Mall 24 Theatres and Regal South Beach 18
  • Keys: Tropic Cinema Key West  
  • Broward County:  Cinemark Paradise 24, The Classic Gateway Theatre
  • Boca/Palm Beach counties:  Living Room Theaters/Boca, Regal Shadowood 16/Boca, Cinemark Palace 20/Boca, Muvico Parisian 20, Movies of Delray 5,  Delray Marketplace 12, Cinemark Boynton Beach 14

For other theaters across the U.S., visit the film’s website and put in your zip code in the box in the upper left corner via this link. All images courtesy of Roadside Attractions, who also hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this interview.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Mitch Kaplan of Books and Books, Jaie Laplante of MIFF and Chef Allen SusserIn its 33rd iteration, Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival is putting artistic talent at the forefront of all its competitions. Festival Director, Jaie Laplante announced changes to three of its competitions: the Knight Competition, the Lexus Ibero-American film competition as well as the short films selection. The announcement came Monday afternoon, over lunch by Chef Allen Susser on the outdoor patio of the Cafe at Books & Books, outside the Adrienne Arsht Center in Downtown Miami, and Independent Ethos was invited at the table.

The Knight Competition will now be open to any feature film, including documentaries, that have been directed by a filmmaker who has been part of the festival’s official selection in the past; allowing any talented filmmaker (local or international) to take part in the competition. Previously, the Knight Competition was reserved for films only from Ibero-America. Now, it is open to films from anywhere in the world, including Miami filmmakers who have been a part of the Festival’s official selection in the 32 previous years.

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The second development, is in the Lexus Ibero-American film competition category, which was expanded to include all Latin American and U.S. Hispanic films, not only those that are opera primas. Filmmakers that create original works will now have more chances to compete for the $10,000 juried award. Finally, the shorts program will have more entries this year, as eligibility will include those films that have been previously shown in other Florida locations or streamed online, which used to disqualify many other shorts. “We’re excited as programmers because we really get to choose from the best work, not just the best work that meets our criteria,” said Jaie Laplante, Miami International Film Festival’s executive director.

The festival announced its call changes and call for entries among some of Miami’s filmmakers, film lovers and industry colleagues. IMG_9666Laplante said, “It’s very exciting. It expands our international content. It also expands our relationship with our Miami and Florida filmmakers that we spent a lot of time nurturing and supporting, especially in the last five years.” The new rules also mean that the Film Festival will become more competitive, which for audiences can only mean more to choose from all around the world. The 33rd Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival is already promising to be an exciting ride that will open the door to artistic merit above all other criteria.

The festival is now accepting submissions and will continue to do so until Sept.30. Filmmakers should direct their entries via IMDB’s Withoutabox’s Secure Online Screener System (link here). For submission rules and requirements you can visit the Festival’s webpage here. The festival will take place in Miami March 4-13, 2016. Stay tuned to hear the latest and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The last festival featured one of my favorite movies this year, Voice Over by Cristián Jiménez (Miami Film Festival Day 2: Voice Over reveals gargantuan obstacles of familial communication with humor and subtlety). We are looking forward to discovering new gems next year!

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Ana Morgenstern

All photos by Rachel Lauren Bleemer. Mouse over the images to see the names of all these fabulous people.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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