Friday, November 30, 2007

MADAME TUTLI-PUTLIThe Evening Class Interview With Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski

As part of its "Maker's Dozen" program of animated shorts at the 2nd Annual San Francisco International Animation Festival, the San Francisco Film Society screened the award-winning Madame Tutli-Putli by Canadian filmmakers Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski. Since mid-Summer the Twitch team has been championing the film. Todd Brown writes: "Madame Tutli-Putli is flat out one of the greatest pieces of stop motion animation I have ever seen and should have creators Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski treated as equals of the Brothers Quay for the rest of their days. It really is that good. …An absolutely stunning piece of stop motion animation rendered all the more unsettling by the creators superimposing actual eyes into the faces of their models. Dark, surreal, richly detailed and flawlessly executed."

Kurt Halfyard, in turn, describes Madame Tutli-Putli as "jaw dropping" and claims, "If Salvadore Dali was giving David Lynch a shiatsu massage during an overnight train ride between Calgary and Vancouver, then this might be the film that takes place just behind the caffeinated ones eyes or the cloud of cigarette smoke in front of him. Stop Motion animation has never looked this good…."

On May 28, 2007, the film won the Canal + Grand Prize for best short film along with the Petit Rail d'Or, chosen by a "group of 100 cinephile railwaymen," at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. In June 2007, Madame Tutli-Putli won best animated short at the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, qualifying it for Academy Award consideration.

The film's official website is a fount of information with some keen videoclips of interviews with Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, as well as the film's producer Marcy Page. Further, collaborator Jason Walker's website fascinatingly details the process of grafting human countenance onto puppet models.

I met Lavis and Szczerbowski for lunch in their Japantown hotel and was completely charmed by their enthusiasm and their intelligence. Despite being jetlagged from a whirlwind publicity tour, the two offered their all.

* * *

Guillén: You guys met up about 15 years ago in college, I understand?

Maciek Szczerbowski: Something like that.

Chris Lavis: That's about right.

Guillén: And you were in Near East religion studies?

Lavis: That's exactly correct.

Szczerbowski: Assyrians, Babylonians.

Guillén: I'm familiar with those texts having studied with the Greek poet Nanos Valoritis and with mythologist Joseph Campbell.

Lavis: There's a lot of Jung in Madame Tutli-Putli. We threw in a lot of archetypes from the collective subconscious.

Szczerbowski: The hero's arc.

Guillén: Yes, I was picking up on a lot of that.

Lavis: We're very interested in that kind of storytelling.

Guillén: And the name "Tutli-Putli", I understand, is a Hindu reference for a puppet and a delicate woman?

Lavis: You've done your research, sir! That's a first for us.

Guillén: You deserve no less. But I'm intrigued by what toggled the switch from religious studies to archetypal animation?

Szczerbowski: We're not really graduates of religious studies as much as we met in a religious studies class.

Lavis: I had a minor in religious studies but my major was actually history.

Szczerbowski: You need a rounded education, y'know? A little bit of everything.

Guillén: You're talking to someone who went to college for seven years and managed never to get a degree.

Lavis: I never got mine actually. I think I have seven years in. We were quite conscious of the importance of feeding art from other disciplines from the very beginning; that going to school for art, referencing your film to film, referencing your animation to other animation was an easy choice and was not a way of making interesting new cinema at all.

Szczerbowski: Studying film to make film.

Lavis: To really get interested in paintings, in history, and science, whether it's [C.G.] Jung, or the history of DNA, the story of [James] Watson and [Francis] Crick, all that kind of stuff feeds into our work. We did a comic "The Untold Tales of Yuri Gagarin" for Vice Magazine influenced by the space program.

Szczerbowski: That's been very important to us over the years to draw our new education from sources outside the medium we're releasing them to.

Guillén: That strengthens the creative genetic pool.

Szczerbowski: I think it really does! There is an incestuous and insipid recycling that happens—you study animation; you're involved in the pipeline of animation; over lunch you're discussing animation with animators; and the only people you're actually relative to are within your own medium—and the people in your own medium can have a ghettoized understanding of art. The idea of animation, per se, is a tangent of film. To us it's never authoritative. Film is authoritative. We don't necessarily go to art shows to see the acrylic paintings or water colors. We're not fetishists for any kind of purism like that. We go to see paintings. You can restrict the mental growth of your audience by giving them works that only feed off themselves.

Lavis: Animation is a silver bullet in the film gun. It's one of the magical resources. One of the great magician tricks of filmmaking.

Szczerbowski: You fire it at a werewolf. You don't fire it at everything around you. There are other bullets to use for that.

Lavis: It's hard to tell too because it was like four years of fighting werewolves, only using animation; but, in our other work, we tend to let the story decide what the process is going to be. In the case of Madame Tutli-Putli, it wasn't entirely purist animation either because of, for example, the eye technique.

Guillén: You mentioned your comic strips for Vice Magazine, have they been gathered together in a published volume?

Lavis: No. We're sitting on it.

Guillén: Will it be?

Lavis: We'd like to someday, yeah.

Szczerbowski: We're not keeping "Yuri Gagarin." Nobody's asked. If somebody says, "Listen, I'd love to republish [your comics], for sure, you can. We just don't have the time to do it ourselves.

Lavis: Our new management has a comic book bent, so maybe we'll show it to them someday.

Guillén: When I first saw Madame Tutli-Putli, I was reminded of Clutch Cargo where real mouths were superimposed onto the animation.

Szczerbowski: We've done that ourselves.

Guillén: But Madame Tutli-Putli is singularly unique for transposing human eyes onto the animation, engineered by Jason Walker who you brought into the project.

Lavis: We didn't "bring him in" so much as he was a colleague of ours from way back. He was in collaborating with us for many many years and then Tutli was the next project. We all sat around and talked about it.

Guillén: You guys are clearly a little bit crazy, would you agree? [Laughter.]

Szczerbowski: We've become.

Guillén: For four to five years you've been working on a 17-minute animated short, advancing technical ground, and furthering this project somewhat from the inside out. C.G. Jung used to say, "Proceed from the dream outwards" and that's exactly what your film seems to have done.

Lavis: Great quote! We're going to use that.

Szczerbowski: There's another quote: "When you build something from the inside out, you will have no difficulty penetrating from the outside in."

Guillén: That's good too! Talk a little bit about that structure. How did you architect Madame Tutli-Putli? Where did the original idea come from?

Lavis: The original idea came from who knows what; the image of this woman on the platform came from Planet Idea. Who knows?

Szczerbowski: Ideas don't come from any sources.

Guillén: You guys just starting riffing on it?

Szczerbowski: Oh yes, intensely, for a year. It's not a recipe. It's not like you know you're going to end up with a pie of this color [Maciek references my apple pie] or that flavor. You start with salt. You start playing and then realize that—with a little bit of milk thrown into that—it becomes a different consistency. If you keep doing that, four years later you have a film.

Lavis: We wrote it a hundred times possibly and the next to the last time we wrote it was for the edit and the last time was for sound. Everything changed the architecture of the movie just a little bit, y'know? At some point in that process we became frustrated with the linear quality of the way we were thinking and we actually did the old Tristan Tzara trick of putting all the stuff we liked in a hat and randomly writing three new movies and just see how ideas collided….

Szczerbowski: And what kind of tensions they formed when they're strung together. Yeah, we made ourselves three intuitive versions of the film, each completely different, but each having connections and similarities in its accidents, in the serendipities that took place from this kind of arrangement. We never actually solidified that. We kept going with that, knowing that we were not building a narrative; we were [creating] atmosphere.

Guillén: A poem.

Lavis: Precisely.

Szczerbowski: And a poem has a very different structure than a novel does. It isn't necessarily linear. The first line of a poem does not necessitate the second one. And the second line does not force into existence the third line. But the third line informs the two lines that came before it. It works in compounding ideas and compounding metaphors and feelings and, in a way, at the end of [the poem] you're left with a concrete yet ethereal new balance.

Guillén: I would phrase it even more kinetically. Poet Robert Bly has said that when you take two disparate images and create the tension that you're talking about, the act of poetry is leaping over the tension. I would say that the movement audiences are feeling in your film that is so compelling is precisely this poetic act. In some ways the images of Madame Tutli-Putli don't make sense and that's exactly right.

Lavis: Yeah, we're giving you cinema language but without the normal sense of that kind of cinema language, leading from A-B-C-D. It's classic Hitchcock tension for a moment then it's classic absurdist comedy of the chess match and we jam it all together.

Guillén: Another quote that Madame Tutli-Putli brought to mind was novelist Lawrence Durrell's comment that "traveling is the best form of introspection." Your film renders introspection as surreal and phantasmagoric with elements of fantasy accompanying a physical journey.

Lavis: That's true. No, you're right.

Szczerbowski: Well, we were trying very much to undig the true meaning of train mythology; of what happens on the night train. Not the trains to New York at 7:00AM; but, a train through the northern boreal forests at night. There's a lot of clichés that come with that; a lot of things you think you know about that from watching films mostly and working off secondary sources of that romance. We knew we would not be able to strike that balance if we didn't totally internalize it, if we didn't absorb it, if we didn't actually take a train and live it. So we bought train tickets to go across Canada for two weeks and just didn't get off the train for two weeks. We talked to lone women traveling. "Excuse me, you slept here on the train last night, yes? Did you dream something? Do you mind telling us? Did anything fun happen? Did anything strange happen? Tell me, what were you worried about as you were losing consciousness? Where does your anxiety come from—if at all—on a train like this?" We gathered interviews. We talked to staff; people who had been on the train for 40 years who told us crazy things—levitating torsos over Lake Superior glowing blue—like almost hallucinations they had had on behalf of that kind of immersion, y'know? It was super. We realized we were fit to address this mood when it took us entirely and it was that moment we illustrated with the train standing still and Tutli looking left and right. For us the exact same thing happened. We realized that was the true dread of the whole situation; the idea that the train—which is supposed to be moving forward, the only predictable thing it can do—stops. It's like a piano that you put a refridgerator on top of. There it is but it's not working as a piano. You can't open it. You can't play it. It becomes frustrating, terribly frustrating. You don't know what's about to happen. We had this thing where we opened the windows and asked, "Where are we?" We looked this way. We looked that way. We knew that looking [each] way was the exact same view. We knew there was a 100 kilometers of absolutely nothing in every direction. It was like the picture of the Titanic on the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. As a dot. We had this radically irrational impulse to leave our stuff on the train, go to the exit, step off and walk that way, north, north southwest, whichever, and walk that way for the rest of our lives and dissolve into this beautiful northern landscape, which was haunting.

Lavis: The landscape was quite specific in the film. It's a particular day of train travel between northern Ontario and northern Manitoba where it's just woods, virtually no towns at all.

Szczerbowski: For three days at a time!

Lavis: As far as introspection goes, that will do. No towns. There's none of the "events" that makes a train trip pass in chapters. It was a singular forest. Little groups of Native Americans getting on the train for an hour going from one little town to another. They'd get on at 3:00 and get off at 4:00.

Szczerbowski: It's such wild country. There's no recourse to the law. The train isn't going to stop and arrest you. [Thus,] wild Indian kids commonly start camp fires next to the train in a situation where the train cannot stop and they whip hot burning coals at the train. From time to time you could be sitting on the train and a window smashes and a burning giant rock lands next to you while you're eating dinner. That's the kind of fun that's to be had in that landscape.

Lavis: It's beautiful but it's not like cottage country.

Szczerbowski: It's wasteland.

Guillén: I would question calling it "wasteland"!

Szczerbowski: No, it's the end of the world actually.

Guillén: It sounds like a landscape that engenders imagination; far from a "wasteland."

Lavis: Precisely.

Szczerbowski: It's like sensory deprivation to a certain extent.

Lavis: In one of the early versions of the script there were mountains she went through and much more dramatic landscapes that we ended up [editing out]. There was something about the simplicity of that singular landscape that stimulated the imagination that [matched] her internal landscape.

Szczerbowski: The landscape became for us a character. It became the soul of Canada in a way represented in that landscape. It's not overtly a Canadian story—of course we tried to make it universal and everything—but, for us, we wanted to ground it in something we understand. Not everybody gets this. The Portuguese have their own word for their own concept of a certain kind of sadness—saudade—and I think in Canada, though I don't know the word for it, I'm sure the [Inuit] must have one….

Guillén: Or at least 10….

Szczerbowski: …but there's a particular loneliness—when you find yourself alone [in a landscape] with 100 kilometers around you with not a single other person—that is very particular. There's an unmooring that happens. Your soul almost dissolves in that kind of landscape. You're not a character.

Guillén: The brilliance of Madame Tutli-Putli is not only that you have an idiosyncratic Canadian perspective on a particular landscape; but, it is the journey itself, the experience of her journey, that becomes this invisible character and anyone in the world is going to relate to that character. We have all traveled and have all experienced that introspection that is defined by landscape, light, the time of day, all of which you have captured in your film.

Szczerbowski: Time of day is light. For us that had very much to do with Edward Hopper and the school of how to light with oil paints, not to mention the penchant he had for painting lonely mute ladies traveling alone, caught in a moment inbetween things.

Guillén: I frequently think of Edward Hopper when I'm riding public transit—our MUNI or BART—but public transit anywhere in the world really. Watching passengers, I am amazed by the unbelievable amount of variations on where the eye can focus within a crowded space to preserve privacy. Nobody violates each others' dotted line of vision. I'll look around in a crowd to see if anyone is making eye contact but more often than not no one is and they carve out a private niche for themselves by looking where no one else is looking. I find that capacity of the individual within the crowd to be fascinating. And no one more than Hopper has captured the sadness of that modern alienation.

Returning to Madame Tutli-Putli, and the passing landscapes glimpsed through the train windows, I was struck by a comment you made on your website that one of the aesthetics informing this film is your usage of found objects. Can you talk about the value of that aesthetic in your work generally and specifically for this film? It's my understanding that your artistry before this film involved tableaux assembled from found objects?

Lavis: Yeah, we come from a school of building things in cardboard. You can make anything look like you want it to look with a little paint and a little ingenuity.

Szczerbowski: We have a back room in our studio which is filled with what we call space Lego. Every day when I walk to work, I'll see a rusted spring or the inside lining of a construction hat and I collect this stuff. I don't know what it's for. A broken rear-view mirror from a van which is cracked in a unique way. We have 20 boxes of that stuff. Broken F-16 fighters. Things you find at the art sales. Bits of fur. You never know [when they will come in handy]. Art is basically solving problems as creatively as you can, trying to come at it from a different direction every time. We have object fetishes. We like touching things. We like understanding our materials. Our elementa, so to speak. It's good to sometimes work in an instinctive way where you think that you're building a character but the feel of this fur [for example] has a lot to do with that character. It's some kind of synesthesia: where this sense is giving me a confused idea towards another sense.

Guillén: As if you're seeking out the inherent text in texture?

Szczerbowski: Yeah, precisely.

Lavis: [We're influenced by] the serendipity of finding things. The fur on Tutli-Putli's collar was from the floor of a furrier's. Her fur was going to be whatever was on the floor that day. It was time to get the fur collar and there was a store with cast-offs that day and we were going to find it that day, without getting too precious about it.

Guillén: In my training in Mayan studies, I was influenced quite a lot by a concept they have where—when you are out and about in the world—things are given to you. Coins on the street. Touchstones on the beach. A brightly-colored leaf that catches your attention. Little bits of detritus in the gutters. Those are things that are being given to you and—if you don't take them, if you don't use them—things will not be given to you. I've long liked that concept. It's like an early recycling aesthetic that Amerindian groups have long been into.

Lavis: In a more abstract way, I think that's how storytelling works as well. Ideas when they pop up, if you use them they will keep coming. Stories and inspiration work much the same way for us and it is that feeling like you've been given [something]. You take a woman standing on a platform, then the next thing that will come to you is a night train, and then you realize, "Ah, if I put those two together, we have the beginnings of something very interesting and all that implies."

Szczerbowski: You're creating parameters into which you're inviting a whole bunch of accidents. Within those parameters, the accidents balance. For example, you then get on a train and see what that woman would experience. But you're prepared for anything. You're not [just] prepared for what that woman is going to experience; you're prepared for the unknown. And one of the things that happens is that your train parks in Jaspar and you get off the train and in that hour when you're off the train something happens in that town. Some kind of Biblical infestation of moths. I don't know what happened. When we came off the train it was totally normal and—within the hour—there were billions of moths everywhere.

Guillén: Ah, an instant hatch.

Lavis: Right.

Szczerbowski: They just hatched. All their pupas burst at that moment. And it was nuts! They were crawling all over us. I was standing there with a video camera watching my body crawling with moths. You were walking the ground going, "Why is the floor crunchy?" It was precisely that. And one of [the moths] got on the train with us. The next thing we knew, it got itself trapped in one of the light fixtures. It was a beautiful, poetic moment visually for us—not just visually but on many dimensions—where you're on this train, which is a kind of impulse of modernity, you know that when this thing was built at Expo '67 or something like that it was a hint to the future, to progress, to a new mode made by us humans, perhaps unnatural but an evolution for us. All right? You plan that hermetically. This is what it's going to remain in your mind. But then life always finds its strange ways. There's a gap that big between the lighting fixture and the ceiling and—once a moth gets in there—it can't get out. It dies within a few minutes and then you have a black dot staining that beautiful clean modern light fixture forever. It's never going to be opened. It's never going to be cleaned. It will be there in 2025, if the train still exists. That was a beautiful moment for us. And that was what happened to Tutli-Putli essentially. We realized, "That's it! This is the metaphor."

Lavis: Also then you start to notice a woman and a moth started appearing everywhere. Once we put those two things together we realized we had tapped into another collective archetype.

Szczerbowski: Something got revealed to us, like a triangle, like a mystic trilogy between a woman, a train, and a moth. We came to trust that. We came to recognize that model in all sorts of works. Believe it or not, that model exists in A Streetcar Named Desire. Tennessee Williams apparently wrote Blanche, who arrived by train, as a moth.

Lavis: That she had the soul of a moth. We had written our story, we had made the connection, and it just kept appearing over and over again.

Szczerbowski: Which confirmed something for us.

Lavis: Virginia Woolf also had an obsession with women and moths. Then we knew that the plot didn't really matter because we felt we were on the right direction. There were these archetypal signposts leading us towards our story and—if we were just sensitive enough—it would all reveal itself.

Szczerbowski: Then great things happened. We went to the entomology department at the Royal Ontario Museum and talked to "moth men", talked to people who think that moths are more interesting than humans. [Laughter.] They can be! The whole idea of a moth going towards light is a misfiring of synapses. This is a confusion that is taking place. A moth is triangulating its navigation through the moon. The idea that it hits your light bulb is because it thinks that that's the moon or it confuses its navigation. We realized that that also matters for the woman. That also matters for the whole arc. Ultimately that flying towards the light bulb is an irrational, self-destructive impulse.

Guillén: What I've been taught about light, especially a flaring light that one dissolves into, is that it's an image of undifferentiated consciousness, which is completely threatening to the self-understood identity of the Ego. Your film is textured with so much detail and Madame Tutli-Putli is dealing with all these phantasms that are partly real, partly imaginary, and she's trying to gain her bearings off all this stuff, all these signifiers, that the final light frees her from.

Lavis: Precisely.

Guillén: Let's talk a bit about Madame Tutli-Putli's femininity and how the two of you constructed her sensibility. Her femininity borders on the archetypal. I would say that every person who watches this film….

Szczerbowski: Knows that woman?

Guillén: No. Is that woman. That's its archetypal valence.

Lavis: I don't know. I think it's a certain kind of woman. She's the kind of person you see on the bus who is a deer, not a lion, and it's not just women. There are men like that too. It's that personality of someone who's afraid and not a predator.

Guillén: And yet she's fierce.

Szczerbowski: She's forced to contend.

Lavis: Deers have some guts to them too when it comes down to it; but, she's on that side of the equation. We worked with her quite a bit and then we found an actress Laurie Maher who played both the eyes and improvised for the animation of the gestures. Laurie describes herself as a muse to Madame Tutli-Putli and in some ways that was true. Though we directed her fairly specifically, there was some quality that she had that gave us all the nuance that we didn't have by simply writing the character.

Szczerbowski: Or referencing ourselves in the mirror.

Lavis: Laurie was the final piece of the puzzle with regard to the femininity.

Guillén: Was she who brought in—what you discussed so eloquently on the website—Madame Tutli-Putli's hesitancy?

Lavis: Exactly. Her gestures, like when she waved at the boy, I don't know how we would have filmed that without Laurie.

Szczerbowski: We would pay attention to how she said good-bye to us at the end of the night. We would have drinks with her and—when she would go to the washroom—we would say, "We're sitting at the table with our puppet! Pay close attention."

Lavis: One of the reasons we hired her actually was she showed us a film she had made, an amateur but quite great B&W 8mm silent film where she played a Jacques Tati character, like Chaplin, and there was a single gesture in that where she [bats] away a fly and that was a key to our character. We stole it actually. But that one gesture was probably the reason we hired her because it nailed what we wanted.

Szczerbowski: There was physical comedy in it as well.

Lavis: And a charm.

Guillén: Plus it initiated a distinctive arc in the film, from her initial dismissal at first, batting away the moth, to her subsequent obsession and fascination with the moth by film's end.

Lavis: Exactly.

Szczerbowski: Coming to terms with the idea of destiny.

Lavis: I love that scene at the end because it's a really unusual scene in the movie; this meeting of woman and moth. Whatever passes between them, I'm not even sure; but, it's really powerful for me still. I've seen the film about 200 times and there are still a couple of moments where I don't feel like I made the movie and that's one of them.

Szczerbowski: For me that's the only one that's left.

Lavis: That first segment of the train after the moth still gives me a visceral thrill.

Szczerbowski: It's that moment when she relinquishes her anxiety. It's a frightening moment because she knows—if she stands up now and goes—this is the final walk. This is the walk towards the next state of being. It takes massive courage and it gives me shivers watching it. It's like one of those dreams where you die and you wake up with a weird feeling of almost a loss of yourself? I feel that's what's happening to her at that moment. She's realizing that she has lost herself and that is her freedom; that is, in a way, what allows her to stand for the first time with confidence, having dropped all her weight. She's essentially naked at that time.

Guillén: I'm assuming this film is on a gradient towards an Oscar nomination and a possible win for animated short. But I'd like to leap over that gradient to ask what's coming up next or what you're working on now? Once you can get out from under the grip of the PR machinery for Madame Tutli-Putli, what will you be doing?

Lavis: We're going to probably begin a project within a week but—if we don't do it—it would be horribly embarrassing to [discuss it] in print.

Szczerbowski: So we'll be cool on that one.

Lavis: But it's really exciting.

Guillén: Well, without giving away particulars, can I ask what attracts and excites you about the prospective project?

Szczerbowski: The fact that its story has revealed an axis to our work. Ultimately, we've realized a journey of loss and dissolution.

Lavis: It's an adaptation of a popular children's novel.

Guillén: Recently, I was speaking with Wes Anderson about criticism levied at his most recent film The Darjeeling Limited, which in essence revolves around the repetition of themes. I find this a spurious criticism because it strikes me that any artist, any creative sensibility, has certain themes they wish to address and that they will use their projects to address those themes. Thus, it's interesting to me that you mention this new project reveals a thematic axis to your work.

Szczerbowski: But everybody has that though. In every single Stanley Kubrick film, you'll notice that every window to the outside is a white-lit panel. There is no view to the outside in a single one of his films. Every one of his films has white glowing windows with no details behind them. All those films develop a dialogue because of that. You realize that every one of those films is about isolation and man losing his mind in some kind of unnatural confinement, whether it's the Overlook Hotel buried in snow or whether it's the Discovery on the other side of Jupiter, or whether it's a soldier in Viet Nam. The theme is the same. An artist moreorless makes the same story over and over again his entire life because it's probably their story.

Lavis: You'd probably find that through line even in David Hockney. Even if an artist appears to be going everywhere, once you get the 70 years of work there's a lot of themes that keep [reoccurring].

Szczerbowski: The idea of working on a film for four years and addressing simply that one idea gets to a point of sort of banging your head against the wall because you're daily coming up with new ideas. Something funny happens. You invent a new character and a new title and you feel like there's a new story; but, you can't address it until you're finished, which sometimes can take four years. So, in a way we're sitting on four notebooks of ideas, which we are presently throwing out there to anyone who will listen to see if we can get some money to make the most crazy, perverse things we have ever come up with. Hopefully somebody will give us that money, though I doubt it.

Guillén: Another thing I wanted to discuss: it's my understanding that at Cannes you received the Petit Rail d'Or audience award from a group of railmen, is this correct?

Szczerbowski: A group of 100 French railroad workers/cineastes. That was the most awesome blue collar prize we could have ever gotten.

Lavis: They had the thick, strong hands of French railway workers when they congratulate you. They had gruff voices and were a little shy with their wives at Cannes.

Szczerbowski: It's absurd comedy. They gave it to us pretty much unanimously and we kind of went, "This is ridiculous. There's a prize from railway cineastes?!! Has this been invented for this film?"

Lavis: It's a lovely prize.

Guillén: Is it given out every year?

Szczerbowski: Yeah. And do you know what the prize is? This is the cool thing. Right down the track a few miles from Cannes along the Mediterranean is a little train station where the Lumiere Brothers set up their camera and made that first film with the train coming into the station, which—when it played in Paris at the Cinémathèque Française—everyone ran out of the cinema thinking they were going to be crushed because they didn't understand the abstraction of two-dimensional projection. They thought the film was going to come through the screen and kill them. But that [was filmed] right down the road from where we were. Also, you'll notice that we stole that moment. We did the train coming into the station just like the Lumiere Brothers in the beginning of the film. The third connection to that being that the prize they gave us was a slice of that rail.

Lavis: Spray-painted gold and put on a glass base, which was promptly smashed into a million pieces being Fed-Exed from France.

Szczerbowski: But the rail itself, though beautiful and romantic, while you're traveling through France is not something you want to put into your suitcase, this chunk of train rail.

Lavis: It's 60 pounds of ore. But I talked to the director of XXY, the film that one Best Feature at the International Critic's Week and which also won the Rail d'Or. She told me afterwards that her favorite prize that day was the Rail d'Or, that there was just something so fun about it, because it was so pure. There was a great little award ceremony right by the water.

Guillén: Of course. That's your audience.

Szczerbowski: For that to happen in tandem with recognition from your peers, recognizing you as an auteur at ground zero where the word comes from, this was a fantastic balance. This was an induction into the world of art and at the same time understanding that somebody's grandpa really dug it!

Guillén: You're making me laugh because when I was reading one of the write-ups from Cannes, you were talking about when you won best animated short and how you both were jumping up and down as if you won the Miss American pageant.

Szczerbowski: [Laughing.] Yeah, it was ridiculous! Do you know how high we were?

Lavis: There's such tension over the 10 days, partying every day, and we didn't expect to win. We forgot to thank the National Film Board of Canada.

Guillén: I'm sure they understood. My final question: Will you be animating Bruce McDonald's Ed the Happy Clown?

Szczerbowski: Listen, Ed the Happy Clown seems to be a very difficult project to get off the ground for Bruce McDonald. He's had the rights to it for more than a decade. We heard about the film for the first time when we were in high school. I think I was in the first year of college when I saw the postcard for Yummy Fur with Ed's legs and the severed hand. It's such a crazy movie to try to unload on people and convince them to be made, not just in terms of addressing the plot points; but, how do you do that film? How do you do the pygmies? How do you translate a comic book into a film? Would it betray the auteurish nature of the comic? Because it's not like a Marvel comic; it's an underground punk rock comic and its aesthetic is deeply rooted in that. How do you make a movie out of that? It's not drawn by CG; it's drawn by Chester Brown. All the lines have a particular sensitivity. How do you get that look onto film? They haven't been able to figure it out yet. They've thought of CG. They've thought of full animation. And it's the kind of thing that—no matter however many times they've attempted to raise it off the ground—it raises and then it goes back into slumber for another five years and then it raises and then it goes into slumber. For all we know, this is the latest time it's raising.

Guillén: Is that possibly because they think—if anyone's going to figure it out—you two are going to do it?

Lavis: Maybe. And we'd love to do it because it's really great. We would love to do it.

Szczerbowski: And we are uniquely crafted to do this. We can do it. Except there's a few things. [First,] it's not our story and we have a kind of conceit for our own stories taking the trump on our time. There's the idea that we're not really certain whether we're being asked to direct it, or art direct it.

Guillén: So, bottom line, it's just an idea that's out there floating?

Lavis: We've talked to Bruce about it a lot, actually, and we would love to do it.

Szczerbowski: I honestly don't know where we're at with that project. Maybe it will happen and—if it did—we'd love to have something to do with it. It's a wonderful story and we have a great relationship with Bruce except that this is a monster of a film to try to get made.

Guillén: Well, I look forward to whatever new projects get greenlit for the two of you. Madame Tutli-Putli is a beautiful film. Congratulations and thank you so much for your time.

Cross-published on Twitch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

THE SAVAGESThe Evening Class Interview With Laura Linney

Director/screenwriter Tamara Jenkins and actress Laura Linney accompanied The Savages when the film screened as the opening night feature for the 30th Mill Valley Film Festival. I welcomed the opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite actresses, and likewise with one of my favorite film writers Omar Moore of PopcornReel.Com. I'm not a great fan of roundtables; but, when it's just me and Omar and visiting talent, I'm not only enthusiastic but at ease. I was immediately struck by just how beautiful Laura Linney is in person, in contrast to some of her less-than-attractive screen personages. I was smitten! A bit flustered, I let Omar start off.
* * *
Omar Moore: There's a lot of things to say about this film; it's a wonderful piece of work and, of course, you're one of the hardest working people in the business these days and for the last few years. You come to a point where you get immersed in a lot of characters; but, has there ever been a character that you've been so immersed in that you actually think, "Wow. This character could actually help me to become a better person in my real life"?

Laura Linney: They all help me. I'm fortunately one of those people who's able to work and then go home. [Though] I keep working at home. When you're working on a film it's non-stop because you're constantly simmering, ideas are constantly coming to you, you're daydreaming and fantasizing about the character and circumstance, maybe something technical or maybe something about their background; but, I think I learn from all of them. The joy of being a perpetual student, which is what I treasure the most about what I get to do.

Guillén: I'm a great fan of your work and have watched nearly every movie you've been in since Tales of the City. These characters that you've embodied as an actor, do you carry them around with you? They're such real people. It sounds like you have the professional skill to detach yourself from your assignments, but I was wondering if they don't pop up while you're shopping for produce in the grocery store?

Linney: [Laughs.] No, they don't actually. It's fun to think back on the work and try to remember what [was involved]. Claire from Jindabyne is so completely different from the girl in Love, Actually, who's so completely different from the Mystic River woman. It's fun to think back on them. They're like people I've met in my past.

Guillén: I ask because—knowing you were returning to San Francisco, the setting for Tales of the City—I was wondering if Mary Ann Singleton was coming up?

Linney: If there is a character and an experience that I carry around with me, that I enjoy carrying around with me, it's that one. A lot of that has to do with that [being] an extremely important experience for me. It was the first thing I did on film in front of the camera [where] I was on from beginning to end. I learned an enormous amount. The friendships I made during that are lifelong friendships. I consider Armistead [Maupin] one of the most important people in my life. My dear friend Stanley DeSantis—who played Norman Neal Williams and who, unfortunately, is no longer with us—was one of my best friends in the world. It was an extremely important very happy time and I loved playing her. There was a sense of joy and excitement about it and a lightness, which I treasure. Tales is something that I don't want to let go of.

Moore: In The Savages you play a writer who, I guess, undergoes a certain sense of self-delusion and perhaps also tries to find herself in many different ways but does so through a variety of unfortunate circumstances with some characters that she deals with….

Linney: She's a mess. She's not your typical protagonist.

Moore: Do you try to find different ways to look at this character? You might look at a script—of this film for example—but how many different ways do you try [out a character] before you even rehearse? Conceptually, as you read the script as an actor, and you look at your character jump off the page, are there any things prior to rehearsal that you do in order to really gear yourself up for this character?

Linney: Oh, of course. There's an enormous [amount of preparation]. In this situation there was. There's not always in every movie. With films that have spectacular scripts, those are the ones where you sit with the script the most because you know there's so much in there and—like a really good detective—you've got to find it. You know it's in there somewhere. It's maybe not in the script but it's in you somewhere and through the script [you'll be prompted] to think about things and you'll follow a line of thought and then you'll get to an answer, which will illuminate a lot about a character.

Also, I had this script for a while. It didn't get made right away and there was a time when we all thought Phil [Hoffman] and I were going to be replaced by other people. Thankfully, for us, the movie then went to another company and Tamara [Jenkins] stuck by the two of us. I'm extremely grateful to her and to the producers because they could have had it made by other people.

It's almost one of my favorite parts of the process, that sort of hunting and finding the answers. You're like, "Why? Why does this happen? Why?" And then really finding an answer. Not the why of just because she does this; but to find the real origin of behavior.

Guillén: I'm glad to hear you say that because it's such a well-written script, there are so many great lines in it, but what was really expressive to me was the behavior of these people. Your exercising in front of the television speaks volumes about your character's aspirations, how she's always trying.

Linney: Isn't that funny?

Guillén: So this eloquent behavior, these behaviorisms, did you work them out with Tamara? How do you come to those bits?

Linney: No. That's my own work and it develops over time. It's influenced by the other actors. Certainly my relationship to Phil, he'll say something that will affect you and you respond to it physically in a way and the characteristics will develop. There's different phases. There's the script stuff, which I sort of love because it's private and you usually have time and it's your own personal connection to the script; the real intimate work that you do just with your self and the script. Then, there's the phase where you're putting everything together. Decisions are being made about costume, look, design, those things, and that's another layer that will influence you. Then, there are the other actors, which is the greatest of all. Everything will contribute and effect. Everything will have a cause and effect. Everything that comes into will add on; they'll be another layer and another layer. Hopefully, you get to a point where the script starts to work on you. You are no longer working on the script. The script is working on you. And it's a fantastic moment. It happens in theatre a lot; the moment where it lifts off and the play will work on you. Then things start to really gel and deep connections are made that you're not generating, that just sort of grow and happen. That's difficult to do on film sets because you just don't have the time if you're working with an actor and a script that is accessible and rich and giving and complex. That's when the pinball machine really starts to go. [Laughs.] Things start clicking and flashing….

Guillén: [In my best impersonation of a pinball machine] Ding ding ding ding!

Linney: Yeah, it's just fun. It's a team sport in many ways. While I was certainly never an athlete, I can sort of imagine that there are those moments in soccer, in basketball, in football, in synchronized swimming, whatever, where there's a collective moment that pushes everybody forward.

Moore: Philip Bosco and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this film are both tremendous as well. There is one scene that's really remarkable—without giving it away—where you're all in the car and there's a fight going on between you and Bosco where he does this thing….

Linney: Yes, isn't that wonderful? It's a beautiful moment, isn't it?

Moore: Talk a bit more about your collaboration with Philip Bosco and how that all came about for you and how much time you had to spend with him?

Linney: Philip Bosco is a legend in the Broadway theatre. He is a colossal figure for actors in New York. You can't say enough about Philip Bosco. When I was growing up, I saw him. I grew up in Manhattan and I went to the theatre a lot as a kid and I saw him in a lot of plays and he was just this bigger-than-life character, even to the point where—I don't know if you remember there was a chocolate syrup called Bosco?—and I called it Phil Bosco milk. That's how much a part of my life he was without even knowing him when I was little. So it was wonderful to get to have him play this larger-than-life imposing figure who I knew very well but was very distant. I didn't know Phil Bosco from Adam. As a human being I'd met him maybe once or twice but I had seen him for years and I was a fan. Phil Hoffman would probably feel the same way. So both of us had this sense of this man who has impacted both of our lives and for whom we have tremendous respect but don't really know. Bosco was fantastic. The man is happy to be there. He's always in a good mood. We were three theatre actors hanging on set. It was fun. There was the occasional dirty joke.

Guillén: I was just telling Omar before we came in here that I had just seen the film a few days ago at a press screening and I had just come in from Boise, Idaho where my sister and I had just put our mother into an assisted living facility and—though I had heard of the success of The Savages at Sundance—I had not yet researched the reviews and didn't really know what the film was about. So I came into the movie thinking, "Oh good, I'll be taken away from my family issues…"

Linney: And there it is.

Guillén: There it is; but, what I wanted to say was what I appreciated so much about the film—having just gone through this fire myself—was the film's strong humor. I phoned my sister up after watching the film to tell her about it. The jokes we made about our mother during the process….

Linney: God bless, you have to! It's to take the curse of the dread off it. Doing this film, and also my age, it's made me think a lot about what's ahead and what I'm responsible for. There are several people who I will be responsible for, helping them through the end of their life, and it's a privilege.

Guillén: There was some commentary after Sundance that several of the films featured at Sundance addressed the theme of parental aging, intimately linked to an aging process among the filmmaking community.

Linney: I think so. Yes. Absolutely. It certainly made me think about getting papers in order for everybody so we can do it now while everyone can still….

Guillén: Crack a joke?

Linney: Yeah, crack a joke and honestly just prepare for it. I don't want to feel guilty. And I don't want them to feel unloved or deprived. I don't know what will happen with my parents or where they'll end up or even if they'll be lucky enough to reach that age where they'll be put into [a facility] like that. A lot of people just drop dead out of nowhere. So it's sort of the blessing of being able to live that long and the curse of the reality of the world in which we live, where people live far away from each other and lives are not intertwined the way that they used to be. They're difficult issues and people don't really talk about it. There is that unspoken thing when someone says, "I just had to put my father in a home." That's all people say and it reverberates intensely throughout the room because people know how difficult that is. And then the things you find. I don't know if you'd had to clean out a house but the delicious things you find that were left behind! Whoo-hoooooooo! [Laughter.] It can be so funny. The things you learn; it's just delicious and fantastic.

Moore: Within the context of your question, Michael, in American society there really is a much more cynical and, unfortunately, a more unpleasant outlook towards people as they age. When you go into other cultures in Africa or Asia, the elderly are respected on high. In this film there's a certain sensitivity and it's textured. The film is not being played in the way that a lot of films might look at the elderly. It's something that's really very very refreshing and even for the characters—the character you play and the character Phillip plays—there's a sense of hope that these characters are trying to travel towards. Was there anything in the collaboration with Tamara [Jenkins] that dictated this? Was there something in the script that was different from the way it felt at the end? When you first read the script, was there anything in the drafts that you read that changed from the actual finished product?

Linney: The script was almost in word perfect condition when we started and almost in word perfect condition from the time I was handed the script, which was almost a year and a half before we started filming. She had been working and working and working on that. It's also an unusual situation because it's also these people who are going through this experience. It's not like normal people going through this experience, which would then make it a Lifetime movie. It's these people. It's this trio. This wild trio of people going through this experience. And with a parent who did not treat them well. What do you do with that? I find that topic really interesting. How do you handle that? How do you handle a parent who didn't treat you well who you then are responsible for? There's that line where Phillip says to me, "Y'know, we're taking better care of him than he ever did of us." They have to for their own sense of self and for their sense of character. It's interesting when you treat people better than they deserve. What is that instinct in someone's character to do that?

Guillén: That hit me because I actually said that about my mom. But it also brought into focus this process of family crisis where you get pulled back into the family to do the things you need to do that actually betters you as a person.

Linney: And it's interesting to find yourself sliding back into a fourteen-year-old mind. Or you become twelve. Where you're surrounded by certain people where the dynamics and the relationships that are calcified at an early age that you try to break out of and grow out of but the core of it never really changes.

Guillén: One of the things I admired about Tamara's script was how she inferred commentary without voicing it. For example, that final scene where your character's play is on the stage and you're mixing the magical realism with the literalism, the audience realizes that obviously Phil's character had been beaten by his father as a child and that his strategy for survival was to disembody himself. It enrichened our understanding of his behavior throughout the movie.

Linney: That's right. That is, in some ways, the result of someone who's been working on a script for a long time. There's not one moment that hasn't been obsessed over and thought of and cared for. There are connections in this movie that I'm not even aware of yet. People will bring things up to me and I'll think, "Oh God, I didn't even think about that." When clearly it's all there.

Guillén: You've mastered these portrayals of siblings. You Can Count On Me hit us by storm and then you've followed suit with The Savages, which only highlights that you don't see complex portrayals of brother-sister siblings that often. Do you come from a family of many brothers and sisters?

Linney: No, I don't have a brother. I have a younger sister who I adore. She's my half-sister. We didn't grow up together but we're very close.

Guillén: All the more remarkable that you've skillfully captured that dynamic.

Linney: These two jobs [You Can Count On Me and The Savages], as far as the quality of the work is concerned, are two of the things I'm proudest of. Certainly my relationship with Mark Ruffalo and Phil Hoffman are two that I absolutely value.

Guillén: The best brothers you've never had.

Linney: Best fictional brothers. It's funny because a lot of people were like, "Well, do you really want to do another brother-sister movie?" I thought, "What does that mean? I can never be another wife in another movie? I can never be another girlfriend? I can never be another lawyer in a movie?" It was so funny for people to say that to me. I was like, "What are you talking about?"

Guillén: Boy, am I glad I didn't say that! [Laughter.]

Linney: I understand it in some viewpoint but then I was like, "Well, if you really think that logic through, it's absurd." Besides, they're totally different relationships.

[At this point the publicist stuck her head in and signaled we had a couple of more minutes and Laura smiled and cooed, "Give them ten more minutes. I like them. Give them ten." We all laughed.]

Moore: I wanted to ask you about Jindabyne. It's a tremendous piece of work.

Linney: Thank you.

Moore: When you're in a different location like Australia and you have these kinds of things going on in the film and you tap into these dynamics, what are you driving into? The whole racial aspect of the film, what kind of things do you as a performer draw upon? Real life? Your own experiences? How do you mine that as a performer in a film like Jindabyne?

Linney: That's a very good question in relationship to that movie. There are many different currents to that film. There is the place itself, southeastern Australia, which is an incredibly powerful place. I had never been to Australia before. I had never felt nature that was that powerful and I lived part of the time in the Rocky Mountains. I'm not just a city girl although I grew up in Manhattan. The power of that country. The vibrations of the nature. It's a whole other thing. So there's that element, number one.

We were also shooting in a location where the town was submerged in water. Just that can give you pause to think about. That character, I found her really interesting. A woman who had postpartum depression to such a degree that she left. What must that be? If you have to ask, that was a situation where I had to ask, "Why?" Other than just accepting a generalized reason, I really had to look at what is postpartum? What does it do? How bad does it get? What is it? And why would she leave? Then I realized she left because she was scared she was going to kill her kid. She was scared she was going to hurt her child. Just exploring all of that and being a foreigner in a foreign land, marrying another foreigner, it was so layered and everyone was so haunted. It was all so visceral and thick and another script that was beautifully written. So where I "got it" was from all over the place really, I guess, but it was very deep, emotionally it was very demanding. It was very murky.

But, at the same time, it was a one-shot film. Everything was in one take. There was only natural light. Days went fast and easy and breezy. Ray Lawrence was fantastic and we all had a jolly good ol' time doing this very intense film that dealt with murder and race and home and emotional politics and disappointment and shattered expectations and youth. Those children were just delicious. I loved those kids. My God, did I love that little boy. Looking at that little face and thinking [about] coming back and the guilt of knowing whatever was possessing her at the time that scared her so badly that she had to abandon them and then have no one understand what she was going through. For Americans, mental health is here if you need it. It's accepted. Should be required. I just found the whole thing so interesting. It was a fecund script. It was teeming with stuff.

Guillén: Viscerality is clearly an adjective that can be applied to many of your performances. Do you have a meter when you're reading a script? Is it viscerality that appeals to you? The idea that you can take an unattractive figure and find what will physically make them acceptable to an audience, perhaps even loveable? Can you tell that when you're reading a script?

Linney: What I clue into first and foremost is: "Is this actable?" I've said this a lot but many scripts are not written now to be acted. The agenda behind the script is to be greenlit, to be financed. They're written for people who are not trained to read a script. That's not a criticism; that's just a reality. When those scripts get to actors who are trained and are looking for certain things, who have requirements of scripts to help them, and it's not there, [then] you have to do an enormous amount of work and 90% of the time the movie's not going to work. It might work financially but it's not going to be a satisfying experience. It's going to be hard.

So if you have a script that's actually actable, then you know there are places to go, there's things to unearth, dynamics that are there, the narrative's going to work, you can see it. It's the equivalent of an architect looking at a blueprint. They can see the angles of the house and it's just on the paper. They can feel the wood even though it just says, "This will be cedar." It's like a chess player who can see five steps ahead. There's something that actors have, who work in this way, and we can see it or we can tell, "This scene is off and I need it to be different so that the scene down there will make sense." That's fun. Tinkering that way is really fun. I just did this huge mini-series for HBO and we were constantly figuring out how to reshape and what did we need and—if we do this in episode two—will it pay off in episode six?

Guillén: Those are the brilliant bits in The Savages. I loved the scene in the airplane where you're guiding your father back to the bathroom and his pants fall and it's your fault because, earlier, you took away his suspenders!

Linney: That's right.

Guillén: And you had that guilty realization on your face: "I'm trying to help and I'm completely messing things up."

Linney: That's Tamara. That was all Tamara.

Guillén: Well, you had a little something to do with it too….

Linney: Well, you're aware, but you have to place it, you have to pitch it. It has to be the correct pitch. The right note has to be played. You can't do it too high or too low. A perfect example, Mystic River. It was a small part with this thing in the end. In some ways it was like, if you envisioned the thing at the end as being a blob of paint, I had to take the paintbrush and go, "This way." So that it would build. You'd see more and more paint as you got into it. There had to be hints throughout the rest of the movie so that when that monologue hit, the audience was prepared for it subconsciously and then it would hit hard. It couldn't just come out of nowhere. It had to be set up. The fun for me was, "Okay, how do I set this up?" I'm in the first scene of the movie or one of the first scenes of the movie and you don't know who the hell she is really until that scene and then it all becomes exposed. But how do you set it up that way? That's what's fun.

Moore: But is that always going to be in a subtle fashion that you have to set it up?

Linney: You can't tip your hand. I mean, you could tip your hand if you wanted to. You could tip your hand from the very first scene but then that monologue's not going to land the way it's supposed to. It's not going to have the sense of surprise.

Moore: But in any situation—whether it's Mystic River or any other—you would obviously have to do it in a subtle way as a performer, would you not? Or would that depend on the character, or the situation that you want to lead to at the end?

Linney: It depends on what story you're telling. Story first. That's the first priority.

Guillén: Here's a broad question for you then: in telling the stories, what varies between telling the story on stage and telling a story on film? Because you're adept at both.

Linney: They're completely different. The most important difference is just the sense of time. You have much more control in the theatre. It's much more intimate. There are things that will only happen in the theatre because of time. You can't push it. Only time will deepen a relationship. Only time will let language fly in a certain way. Only the ritual and the repetition will make something grow. It's like a slow cooking stew. Eat it at day two and it ain't going to be as good as at day seven. It's just not. There's nothing you can do. You can't force water to boil. You have to earn it. That really has to be earned, gently and consistently in a very focused way and then it will start to go.

With film, you're never really going to get that. You can get a semblance of that and at times—if you connect with your actors and if you connect with the script—then you can go deeper than most films. But a lot of times you feel like you're sliding on ice.

Guillén: So you would prefer to remain a stage actress?

Linney: No. The answer used to be yes, by the way. The more film I've done—which is a big surprise to me….

Guillén: Not to me.

Linney: Well, it was to me—the more I enjoy it because of everything we've discussed; the challenge of it is huge. It's amazing to me when any good movie gets made. It's miraculous.

Guillén: Would you say your theatre training helped you develop the ability to come onto a film set and go deeper quicker? In contrast to an actor, let's say, who's not had the benefit of stage training?

Linney: I don't think so because I've seen actors who have only done film who are unbelievable.

Guillén: They just go right there?

Linney: Oh yeah. Look at someone like Jodie Foster. I know that Jodie Foster knows things in her bones about film that I will never know just because it's what she's been doing since she was small. Her whole professional life has been about film and, similarly, there are things that I know about theatre that other people will never know, just because I grew up in it and I've been around it my whole life. I'm fluent in the language of theatre. [Laughs.] But as the years go on, the more film I do, the more I enjoy how challenging it is and I'm hoping that I'm getting a little better at it. I still feel like I have so much more to learn. There are things I still struggle with that I know I need to work on and the only way you can work on it is by doing it.

Moore: You talk about struggling, and you talk about how you don't necessarily take all these characters home with you, but do you find yourself being more critical about your own performances on film vs. theatre?

Linney: Well, in the theatre I don't watch myself. When you're bad, you just feel bad, no matter where you are. It doesn't matter if you're on TV or the radio. When you feel bad, you just feel terrible. And then there are these wonderful moments where you realize, "Oh, I've outgrown a bad habit." That's really nice. Then there's another bad habit, but you've gotten rid of one. You've outgrown one and maybe grown into another one.

Guillén: Could you be specific about that? What was a specific bad acting habit you've grown out of?

Linney: Fears or blocks. There was a time when I was still a student in school when emotional access was not easy for me. I would force it and it was terrible and I knew it was terrible and I felt like a fraud. Something clicked at one point and now it's not an issue.

Guillén: From my perspective that's one of the things I love about your performances, or your choice of roles: you're fearless. You aren't afraid of how fallible some of these people are that you're portraying. It's not like you—as an actress—have to be loved for the characters you play.

Linney: No. That's one of the tenets of the theatre. Correct. I don't feel that's my responsibility. I feel my responsibility is to tell the best story that I can tell and to fulfill the desires of the writer, the director, and what I feel the character wants. The likeability thing is just a different way to go. I don't find it interesting. For me, I find it boring. There are some actors who have whole careers built on that and they're wonderful at it and I love to watch them do it. I find it refreshing and delicious and sparkly. I love it! But I wouldn't know how to do that. I wouldn't be any good at it either.

Moore: Wouldn't likeability compromise you as an actor?

Linney: Absolutely. It can. If that's what you're thinking about. I can remember that there was a movie I did early on and I was so shocked because the director came up to me at the end of the movie and said, "Y'know, she's not going to be liked. She's not likeable." I was like, "What do you mean? She wasn't likeable from day one and now we're at the end of the movie and you want her to be likeable?! Are you insane?" I was like, "Don't worry about it. It's okay. She doesn't have to be likeable."

Guillén: The only reason it even crosses my consciousness is because Mary Ann Singleton was nothing but likeable. She was like a beloved sister.

Linney: But she should have been!

Guillén: But by contrast, I didn't like you very much in Jindabyne.

Linney: Understandably. That's complex.

Guillén: In The Savages, I think you're so messed up but I love you. [Laughter.]

Linney: She's so fun because she's so narcissistic but she has great empathy. She flipflops back and forth. This topic came up in an interview with Tom Wilkinson who I've worked with several times. I was reading the paper and there was an article about him and he was talking about the exact same thing. He was saying, "With parts that are supposed to be likeable, I'll play as likeable. But if they're not supposed to be likeable, I'm not going to [be likeable]." Besides, it doesn't work if you go against the grain or the truth of what something is trying to be, if you try to manipulate it and change it, it just doesn't work.

Moore: Can I ask you the question that you've probably been asked a thousand times?

Linney: A thousand and one. Which one is it?

Moore: What might you be working on next?

Linney: Oh, that's not a bad one, that's easy! There are two things that have been completed: City of Your Final Destination—which is a Merchant Ivory film—and then I've just done this huge HBO series on John Adams. Next, I'm going to sit down for a bit and hopefully do a play in the Spring.

Cross-published on Twitch.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?The Evening Class Interview With Bill Talen and Savitri D.

What Would Jesus Buy? conspicuously wears its political sensibility on its choir robe sleeve. That seems to irk Slant's Bill Weber to no end (he describes the documentary as "the feeblest entry yet in the anti-corporate theatre-of-muckraking genre" and "tepid" leftist agitprop), while A.V. Club's Noel Murray goes a step further and declares that anyone who likes this movie is "smugly complacent." This is, however, the feel good Christmas movie of the year precisely for turning our consumerist expectations on their pointy little debt-ridden heads. No, it's not George Jackson's prison letters—I'm not too smugly complacent to be aware of that—and, no, it's not really anything new. We've all been aware for some time now—as the press notes attest—of "the pervasive notion, especially during the holidays, that to give a gift you need to buy a gift and that love for one another must be negotiated through a sale"—but, the film is still "tremendously entertaining" (Julia Wallace, The Village Voice) and still a good old-fashioned tip of the hat to performance activism. I suppose, especially when you're addressing consumers, the obvious still communicates. I'm more opposed to critical ennui blithely dismissing the obvious because that breeds the potential for self-censorship to really kick in and shush up what perhaps needs to be said again, and maybe even again, no matter how obvious. Laura Kern suggests at The New York Times that the film might effectively get shoppers to "think twice about that next purchase at the Gap." And SF360's Dennis Harvey—in his interview with Talen—confirms that Talen makes the obvious and the depressing "go down easy."

Eric Kohn has a much more fair review of What Would Jesus Buy? for the New York Press. He recognizes "the clear-cut delivery of brilliant performance art" enacted at "a level of immediacy that's startlingly distinct"; takes note of the built-in humor of its "all-inclusive condescension"; and praises the film's "real feat" of convincing the audience "that the Reverend isn't utterly insane" and that his "movements are always quite calculated to instigate reflection." As his wife Savitri D. advises: "Don't go to the performance; let the performance emerge from a real situation."

I recently met up with the duo and—while Savitri D. French-pressed some coffee—she likewise advised that next week Reverend Billy is due to be sainted by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. "They're calling him Saint Holy-Moly," she laughed, "which we think is funny because it's Saint Ho-Mo."

* * *

Guillén: It's my understanding you started—or at least went through a phase of performance—here in San Francisco?

Bill Talen: A pretty long phase, almost 20 years.

Guillén: That's what I thought; but, the press notes make it sound like your career kickstarted in Times Square.

Talen: The Reverend Billy project actually started in San Francisco but it figured itself out in Times Square.

Guillén: Did New York turn you into a performance-activist?

Talen: When I was here in San Francisco I started the Life on the Water Theatre with Ellen Sebastian and produced the Solo Mio Festival, and I would have a play once a year. Oftentimes I was a character in the play. One of the characters went out into public space. He was a presidential candidate named George and part of an interactive play [staged] in hotel banquet rooms. It was a corrupt political dinner and each table was a surreal special interest group. This was around 1991 and it was an exaggeration of what was becoming rampant at the time. I had a spin doctor whispering in my ear. Another spin doctor whispering in the spin doctor's ear and so forth and so on, like a barbershop mirror into the distance.

George had a wife who was very much like Hilary Clinton. The first wife was an actress named Ann Dara who looked a lot like Jackie Onassis. When Ann left the project, the second wife was Laurie Holt and she looked exactly like Hilary Clinton. At that time Clinton was winning and we went out to New Hampshire and actually rented banquet halls during the primary and did our interactive corrupt play. It was called The Just Desserts of George and Jane and, because of that, I went into public space a lot with that character because I was campaigning in front of City Hall. I gave a speech in front of the San Francisco supervisors. Laurie Holt looked so much like Hilary Clinton that one time six or seven female restauranteurs, including Chez Panisse, gave a series of expensive luncheons to help raise money for Hilary and Bill and—obviously, you can see the punch line—the proprietress of the luncheon would stand up in front and say, "Ladies, we have a wonderful surprise. You're not going to believe what's happened. We're so blessed. Here she is—Hilary Clinton!" And Laurie Holt would come through the door. It was one of those things where she looked so spot-on that it messed with them for quite some time.

Guillén: You like messing with people, dontcha?

Talen: So we did a lot of public space work with that previous character but then that character died when Clinton was elected because the parody became real.

Guillén: So you could almost say the cautionary aesthetic of your performance was ineffective? It didn't quite accomplish what it was supposed to?

Savitri D: Yeah.

Talen: What we were doing was so close to what Clinton was doing. We had an interactive play that featured a young lover, a Monica Lewinsky character, and a couple of the New Hampshire actresses that we hired from local colleges looked exactly like her!

Savitri D: Honey, you're a prophet!

Talen: The nightmare we had anticipated became real. We were then basically out of work at that point. We just stopped it. We said, "You know what? It's not working now. It's an imitation of reality." So that was when I was in public space [in San Francisco]. I was on the sidewalks. We had parades through San Francisco where I was on the back of a convertible campaigning and I learned to use public space as a stage. But the beginning of the Reverend Billy story in the press releases is accurate; I really didn't start with Reverend Billy until the Disneyfication of Times Square.

Guillén: I'm fascinated with your usage of public space. Not only that you're using public space as a stage for performance but that the political nature of your performance draws attention to the privatization of public space. As someone who's lived in San Francisco since the mid-70's, I've taken note of the increasing and alarming privatization of public space over the last few decades. I've spoken with filmmaker William E. Jones about this subject on a couple of occasions because he likewise is an artist concerned with these issues. Jones has one project where he takes gay porno from the '70s, cuts out the sex, and explores the remaining interstitial public environments because at that time, in the gay subculture, these streets and parks and beaches were public space, which over the years have been unfortunately demarcated by private interests. Almost every "public" space that you are performing in is actually private property at this stage.

Savitri D: Right.

Guillén: Can you speak to that?

Talen: I'll start my answer by talking about the court date we have tomorrow morning in New York. Savitri and I were reciting the First Amendment before the Critical Mass bicycle ride this summer on the weekend before July 4th in late June. We strayed over too close to one of the old Giuliani henchmen and I spent the night in The Tombs. It's become this trial. I was reciting the First Amendment in Union Square in New York City, which is our speakers corner there. Emma Goldman spoke there. Malcolm X. It's a famous speakers corner, especially for the Labor Movement in securing the 40-hour week. Our lawyer Norman Siegel—who as a younger man was part of Dr. King's staff and who for years was the president of the ACLU in New York—put the quote in The New York Times: "Reverend Billy has the First Amendment right to recite the First Amendment." To be arrested for reciting the First Amendment in Union Square is some kind of super symbolic act by the New York Police Department. That is a kind of death pronouncement. Anyway, we have our trial tomorrow and we hope it's dropped tomorrow. Norman was curious under what statute they would charge me and they're charging me with second-degree harassment, which is exclusively used in New York state for violent ex-husbands who beat up their wives.

Savitri D: It's the same charge that was brought against Billy here in California by Starbucks. He was initially charged with harassing a cash register. It's interesting that they're using a sexualized, gender-based language to keep Billy away from commerce. In New York the situation is simply extreme. There is no public space at all. Even on the sidewalk, the level of self-censorship—which is what fascinates us; the level at which people censor themselves in so-called public or private space—they don't even know that they're shushing themselves. If you go into a Starbucks and just listen, the language, the talk is at a certain level. It's a hushed tone. If you start talking a little bit loud, suddenly you're outside that range. We're censoring ourselves into this very narrow expressive range and it's so dull, not to mention apolitical. That's the thing. Not only is it not entertaining at all but it's completely depoliticized.

Talen: Consumerism controls public space. It makes us not conversationalists.

Guillén: I've given a lot of thought on this in recent years and it's just one of the reasons why I so admired What Would Jesus Buy? and why I was going, "Yes, yes, YES!" watching the film. It's not only that advertisements prompt us what to do; it's that we are becoming embodied advertisements, not only in how we wear logos, but in how we move through space. In our BART stations here in San Francisco, for example, advertisements are now not only on a wall in billboard space, but impressed upon every aspect of the architecture: the floors, the columns, the treads on the stairwells, even on the subway tubes. The words of the prophets are no longer written on the subway walls. The entire subway space has become commercial space which we, as consumers, move through. This only deepens my concern over the dwindling of true public space. Do you think it's because you're focusing on that issue that you're being precisely targeted?

Talen: Absolutely. Putting your hand on a Starbucks cash register and asking some mysterious and fabulous Unknown that some of the money in the pocket of the billionaire Howard Schultz blow the other way through this cash register out to the coffee families who bring the beans to market and are essentially unpaid, kids are starving, to say that with your hand on the cash register freaks them out. It's obvious it's a Biblical moment. It's a moment of scabrous, scandalous taboo. It's taboo language. And we're exploring it. We're theater people. We like to do something that's charged. How is a phrase electric? If it was John Barrymore on a stage, it's charged; but, right now we're finding no stage as charged as the taboo language of going in and placing your hand on the genitals of that corporation.

Savitri D: Or even being in the midst of people's shopping. What we don't recognize is how much of a person's day at this point is shopping. You talk about the BART station, for a lot of people that transit time is part of their shopping day. They're on the way to get something or on their way back from shopping so that the whole set of gestures that go along with shopping is reaching into more and more of our lives.

Talen: The things that you can't avoid about your life like taking a piss and taking a shit, well now you've got a series of billboards in front of your face as you relieve your bladder. In New York now you go and you sit down and you defecate, you relieve yourself of your solid waste, and there's an ad on the inside of the door of the stall. They know you'll be there.

Savitri D: Sometimes it talks to you.

Talen: Sometimes it's animated.

Guillén: I know a restaurant here in San Francisco where in the men's room there are TVs over each urinal providing commercial interruption.

Savitri D: It's like, "Can't I be alone for even one moment?"

Talen: No. Being alone is a market. Being alone is a commons. Being alone is the last frontier. The psychology is that being alone is the dark continent across which the missionaries are pulling their products.

Guillén: I like what you're saying about the self-censorship, the shushing, and being robbed of the power of language. The reason I would say the word is so powerful is precisely because it's an informing vibration. If you were to place metal shavings on a drum skin and hit a tuning fork, those shavings would form into a pattern. That's why in most cosmogonies creation is manifested through the spoken word. The word gives form. It informs. In your performance pieces, your scripts, and the tone of your scripts, are precisely creative, and not to everyone's liking. How is it that the two of you became connected and that Reverend Billy found his choir?

Talen: At the time of 9/11 we were blundering our way to some kind of church service. Coming out of San Francisco, coming out of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, coming out of Beach Blanket Babylon and coming out of the traditions of public space performance that are here, the idea of having a church service was increasingly forming before our eyes. 9/11 happened and our role in the community suddenly changed and I was a pastor.

Savitri D: The community made a demand of Reverend Billy that he essentially abandon irony and become a real pastor to the community.

Guillén: By "community", what are you referencing?

Talen: Brooklyn East Village.

Savitri D: Initially, it was this certain predictable group of people.

Talen: The website community. Independent shops.

Savitri D: The garden community or the bicycle community; it's a group of people who have activist tendencies. Very progressive, radicalized people, who—many of them—are believers in something but who knows what? These are not atheists but they would probably not go to church; but, there was a sense of wanting to be in a room together….

Talen: …and have fellowship…

Savitri D: …and have hope for the future. What are we going to do? Our country's going to war forever as far as we can tell, there's advertising on my eyeball, and what are we going to do? I think that Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping came out of the community. There was a demand that there be a place and a ritual forum that would answer some of this desire.

Talen: That's when Savitri came. That's when she showed up. We fell in love.

Savitri D: That's right. We were having sex by then.

Talen: Then she started directing the choir and the choir became more professional.

Savitri D: It matched my skill set. I'm a theater person, a dancer, a performer and a director, and I was feeling that sensorious hush in the theater. I thought, "What is this? This is crazy." It's like a chemistry project. I'm walking around New York City, I turn left and go into a theater and suddenly New York is gone and I'm in a room with all middle-class white people.

Guillén: The arenas of privilege.

Savitri D: It has nothing to do with the street anymore. I have a love affair with New York City. I want there to be a relationship between my work and my city and my place. It's very important to me. For me the choir was a great opportunity to do both.

Guillén: Was the choir already in place in a nascent kind of way and you developed it?

Savitri D: Yeah. There was some wonderful talent there, a couple of great singers, but I'm being charitable here. It's become a great vehicle. The church services have remained the same for a long time. It's a wonderful forum. I'm a formalist. It has a form, it has a shape, and a structure that's necessary.

Talen: It's the ancient variety show. There's the song and then there's the reading of the word, a little ritual, community announcements.

Guillén: Are you an official pastor?

Talen: I think it's important for Reverend Billy not to be ordained.

Guillén: I wondered because of the rituals in the film, like when you baptized the child. My eyebrow went up. Did the child's parents truly believe you were baptizing the child? Did they think you were ordained to do so? To put it more accurately: you were baptizing that child?

Talen: Yes. They know what our church believes and they were interested in wishing for their child, with the support of a community, a life free of consumption. That's a powerful thing to wish for a child, especially nowadays when it's so hard to raise an unmediated kid. So many young parents are coming up to us and saying, "You don't know how hard it is to raise an unmediated child. We're having trouble finding diapers that don't have logos on them." You've seen the film. The first thing we say after we're on the road is we deal with child hypnosis and how Christmas has become a hypnotizing event for kids.

The one thing we did that was formal [in terms of my pastorship], we decided to go and get certified permission from the city to marry people. We signed that document. Baptisms are not formal that way with governments.

Savitri D: You should know we got that certificate to marry couples during the Republican National Convention because one of the things we decided to do during the Republican National Convention in New York in 2004 was to marry people on the Great Lawn in Central Park where we had been told we couldn't go and protest. We weren't allowed to have a rally in Central Park. We thought, "Well, we'll go have weddings in Central Park instead." Billy got his certification so he could perform formal marriages. We thought, "This will trump the police." When the police come to say, "You can't protest here", we can say, "Oh, we're not protesting, officer; we're getting married." We know these institutions usually trump policy to some degree.

Talen: Most of these people back away from the act of a wedding. Also, when we're exorcizing a cash register or our retail interventions, if Savitri indicates that she's married to Reverend Billy and I indicate back that Savitri's my wife, the policemen back away.

Savitri D: I get two or three more minutes in if I say, "Honey, please, I'm begging you, I really wish you would stop. Honey, would you please stop?"

Talen: "But you said when we talked about this at home that you wouldn't do this."

Savitri D: So the police think, "Oh, she's going to do it. She's going to get him to stop."

Talen: They think, "Let them work it out."

Savitri D: And they back away. So we buy some time that way.

Guillén: Who's writing the songs the choir is singing? Are you writing these songs?

Savitri D: Billy writes the lyrics and various composers write the music. Right now we're working with a guy named William Moses who wrote a fair amount of the incidental music in the film but not any of the songs in the film.

Talen: "Lover Logo" at the top of the website is a torch song—"Are you my lover? Are you my logo?"—that was written by William.

Savitri D: But Billy writes all the words to the songs.

Guillén: When you are training the choir, do you likewise teach them nonviolent civil disobedience?

Savitri D: Yes, we do have trainings.

Talen: That's true in some cases but in other cases they teach us! Saru from the Retail Workers. Donald Gallagher, the Radical Faerie.

Savitri D: We have some old-time activists in our group.

Talen: They bring a history of activism to us.

Savitri D: But we do have formal trainings in civil disobedience and police awareness, what to do if you get arrested, because we're up against arrest a lot. Only on one occasion has anyone in the choir been arrested because they usually just take Billy away.

Talen: All of the end of the film the entire choir was detained in that weird magical warehouse behind the surface of the Anaheim Disney theme park.

Savitri D: The door [to the warehouse] is in the back of the bathroom. We walk into the Mens Bathroom and there's a door—and you can't even tell that it's a door—and you go [through] the door and it's backstage Disney. It's just like you would imagine, people smoking, it's disgustingly dirty, there's trash everywhere.

Talen: A completely bored Snow White smoking a cigarette. An actress full of regret looking like Tahlullah Bankhead with a hangover. Snow White! The entire choir got brought in there and then they decided to formally arrest only me.

Guillén: And you've been arrested more than 40 times?

Talen: With the work that we do, especially the beginning of the process of being arrested, from the hand on the cash register, that is our stage. It's very charged. Words, as you say, are like the filings moving the greatest distance at that moment. We are continually researching how to slow that process down; what we call "marriage spat theater." It's one of the things that we use. Also, if we're working with UFCW and we're at a picket line, a labor leader will come up, or an ACLU lawyer will come up and talk about the particulars of this state's [civil rights] if we're in a parking lot. In California we have more first amendment rights in a parking lot than we do in New Jersey, for instance.

You just want to open it up to different kinds of rituals, different kinds of language. Abbie Hoffman said, "Stay out of jail if you can." We're dedicated to slowing down and deepening the beginning of that [arrest] process. Of course, once the canoe's going off the waterfall … I'm in the back seat of the cruiser.

Savitri D: There's a point of no return. You're just arrested.

Talen: There's a point when you're in the precinct's holding tank and then you're down in the tombs and then Rykers Island or whatever.

Guillén: But you have an infrastructure that's protecting you and you're aware of that?

Talen: Very much so. I'm not in jail without it being known. Many many people in the tombs overnight, they're trying to reach their first possible relative. A lot of them are there and it's not known they're there.

Savitri D: That's the real problem with these public space issues; is how discretionary enforcement is in the cities that police can, on a whim, arrest a 17-year-old Hispanic kid and take him to the jail and hold him for three days.

Guillén: I have a healthy disrespect for the so-called legal processes of law enforcement, which sometimes move much too arbitrarily and much too swiftly. I'm intrigued by your explorations into slowing that process down. Are you hoping someone is listening while you're stealing those few extra minutes?

Savitri D: Yes. They often are.

Talen: We have media. We have a performance. I remember the old Eureka Theatre when it was on Noe before it burned down.

Guillén: I remember that too. I took mime classes there.

Talen: I remember the Intersection Theatre when it was in North Beach. I go back into the late '70s and early '80s of San Francisco theater. I was in a lot of little black box performances with duct tape and coffee can lights. When we're at Astor Place and the cops are trying to surround the Reverend and get him into the cop car, and we're [letting this] alternative theater kick in, [I realize] we have more of an audience than I had for years!

Savitri D: It is an incredibly dramatic stage when the cops are players in your play and you are directing this event, which of course has elements of surprise in it. The stage is the street. It's an amazing, creative forum.

Talen: Just the people that stand around. You have a couple of hundred people there. And now in this era they've all become [filmmakers]. There are like 142 Reverend Billy YouTube movies?! All these people have their cellphones up and making movies. That's interesting. That's democratic. If we're losing the first amendment in the commons, something else is happening, which is this witnessing.

Savitri D: But is witnessing enough? I'm not sure it is.

Talen: Where does that go? That is the question.

Savitri D: It makes voyeurs of us all in our own culture.

Guillén: So all of this performance activism has made its way into What Would Jesus Buy? Can you talk a little bit about how then this street theatricality transformed into a film project? And what you hope will be achieved by the film?

Savitri D: We decided to hang this movie on the lens of Christmas essentially. We felt like you could amplify a lot of the issues through Christmas. It could have been a lot of other topics; but, Christmas seemed like a time frame we could work with. This trip across the country, again, we're lovers of America the place. Never tour in the winter!

Talen: Damn! Those buses are cold! Damn!

Savitri D: Movies still are the king of the artforms. A movie is an amplification system. People in the media, housewives in Kansas, they take movies seriously. [The message becomes more] meaningful. "So you've made a movie? That means you've done something." And they'll watch it. And they can see it as a thing you send into their house and they can look at it; but, for us, we are theater people, and I'll be honest with you the movie—as a medium—is laborious. It's hard. It's slow. We want to put up a show tomorrow but it took two years, which isn't even that long for a movie. What I feel happiest about is that I learned from the movie itself. I met people in the making of this movie that taught me so much about shopping. There are people you see talking in the movie that I think, "Who are these people?" I never would have met them any other way. So there's a certain self-education process.

Talen: Morgan Spurlock had these wonderful people fanning out across the country talking to Americans about shopping at Christmas.

Savitri D: And then they're talking to each other. Another shopper sees a shopper in the movie telling her story. We had a woman in L.A. come up afterward and say, "On the way here I bought a Gucci bag and on the way home I'm going to return it."

Talen: Isn't that fantastic? If the big boxes are causing us to be isolated and to be hushed by the language of advertising and packaging, perhaps our movie—where some of these brave people with cameras caught people in the parking lot as they were leaving and so forth and they turn and talk about what's happened to them and then sign a waiver and then another shopper's in the dark audience looking up at the silver screen—we've caused a conversation to take place that was denied to us as American citizens by commodification.

Savitri D: Advertising controls the media, right? You don't hear shoppers talking about the bad part of shopping. You only hear the good part of shopping. So let's talk about the other thing. That's why I think this movie's really wonderful because it teaches us how much we all have in common. Yesterday we were in Los Angeles and a rightwing Christian blogger was talking to us, quite enthusiastically, and five minutes later the editor of Hustler walked in and said almost exactly the same words about the film.

Talen: Suddenly [we recognize] how we dichotomize people into opposites. This is a gift from Morgan Spurlock. I have to say, there's something radical about this guy. He's a West Virginia working class kid and he's dedicated to revealing the falseness of the Red State Blue State divide. He's on this compassionate campaign. He's taught me something about, "Don't assume that person's your enemy necessarily." It's an important lesson for us right now. If consumerism is all the way from the climate crisis, the wind and the rain, all the way down to our relationships in our families, and lovers, there's this impact of this giant thing called consumerism, we have to partner up with people that we may have thought were our enemies. We have to be able to let it go and join with others.

Guillén: Do you have a game plan about how you want to distribute the film and if you'll be making appearances with the film?

Talen: We're traveling from place to place. This last travel is New York, L.A., San Francisco, back to New York; but, we have this wonderful team Morgan's put together. A key marketing person is from the Al Gore film, Nivette Previt. We have turned over to her team all of our 10 years of contact with activists. She is methodically contacting activists. She wants the credits to be interrupted by somebody from the community saying, "Okay, this is what we can do!" No matter where it is. It's on about 40 screens now; 31 screens in the United States, we're not quite sure how many screens in Canada yet, but if the opening weekend trips and they put us ahead of the queue where another movie bombed and we get in, there's this whole process, we definitely can reach into some communities where they've been having struggles against supermalls and bad development, highway projects and false eminent domain claims that are kicking people out of their homes. There can be some energizing of activists with this film.

Cross-published on Twitch.