Monday, December 29, 2008

LISTS 2008—My 10 Favorite Interviews

In 2008 I conducted nearly 60 interviews! Dependent upon which perspective you take, that's either borderline insanity or richness beyond measure. Contingent upon the time of day, day of the week or increment weather, I vacillate between these two perspectives. Yet, in gist, it has simply become my life and what, perhaps, truly needs to be kept in perspective is that these last few years of conversing with the talented creators of and participants in the world of cinema is merely a continuation of an ongoing lifelong journal project inspired by the diaries of Anaïs Nin.

In my late teens growing up in rural southern Idaho, I felt oddly isolated from my surroundings and vainly destined for something more. As fatefully as Henry Miller's visit to her country home—which ushered Nin's introduction to the artistic life of Paris in the 1930s—the diaries of Anaïs Nin ushered me into an imagined life. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say her diaries were my sensual revelation. Early on I learned that life is for the making and that the sole purpose of the dream is to manifest itself in detail. Further, nowhere is that manifestation more acute than in the intrapsychic process that shapes and determines the interpersonal sphere. It might be more exact to say that—in my mid fifties—I have come to understand these are not interviews at all, but intraviews, by which I understand myself through understanding others. At certain phases of my life this process of social and self-discovery has been in turns literary, psychological, mythopoeic, archaeological, political and—most recently—spectacularly cinematic. The medium has shifted from private entries in handwritten diaries, to nurtured correspondence with authors (including Anaïs Nin, the muse herself), through seasons of symposiums rubbing shoulders with mentors in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and theology, through street activism, onto this most current manifestation of the one-on-one conversation whereby my creativity expresses its curiosity in the creativity of others.

I love each and every conversation I have been gifted to claim. In some sense, though 55 and frosted at the temples, I remain 16, writing by candlelight into a diary: "Someday I want to meet Anaïs Nin. Someday I want to meet Joseph Campbell. Someday I want to meet Linda Schele." The only difference is that now the diary is The Evening Class and I speak to myself with unerring confidence: "I met Pedro Costa. I met Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I met Catherine Breillat." Ultimately, from whichever perspective you choose—insanity or an embarrassment of riches—I hope these conversations remind and inspire those younger than me to enter the world, to question it, and to make the answers their own. As the field of film writing becomes more democratized, my wish in 2009 is that more and more young writers enter the field to enrichen and diversify it with their own perspectives, their own dreams. Afterall, harmony can only be achieved by more than one voice.

So because it's easier to sift my 10 favorite interviews from 60 than it is to choose 10 films from the hundreds I've seen this year, here's my year-end list.

For sweetness alone, and the sense of reaching back to peer into yesteryear, my conversation with Ann Carter-Newton—the child actress of Curse of the Cat People—was a thoroughly satisfying experience provided by Turner Classic Movies. I offered that interview as a contribution to the Val Lewton blogathon. My heartfelt thanks to Sarah Schmitz, Charlie Tabesh and Robert Osborne at TCM for their ongoing collaboration.

Meeting Pedro Costa during his Pacific Film Archive residency proved a rapturous examination of Costa's body of work and deepened my appreciation of his aesthetic philosophy. I'm grateful to Shelley Diekman and Susan Oxtoby of PFA for facilitating the opportunity and to Dave Hudson at The Greencine Daily for optioning the piece.

Greencine likewise picked up my interview with provocateuse
Catherine Breillat who charmed me for being equal parts frail and fierce. Celebrating the critical success of Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress)—which opened this year's San Francisco International Film Festival—my thanks go out to Karen Larsen at Larsen Associates for setting me up to experience the wit and wild wisdom of Ms. Breillat. Who else could equate blood with rubies?

As a Chicano, I thoroughly enjoyed being a fanboy and speaking with Elizabeth Peña on the long-awaited release of How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer. Sonia Rosario, Vice President of Marketing at Maya Releasing, and Susan Steeno of L.A.'s GS Entertainment Marketing Group arranged for this homeboy's sueño to come true. Muchisimos gracias.

As for dreams coming true, shifting from a fanboy soliciting an autograph to a journalist sitting down to talk with genre-masher
Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the Toronto International Film Festival on the occasion of the North American premiere of Tokyo Sonata is right up there with my top five. Maybe one can't make a living writing about film but one can sure make a life at it!

Another complete pleasure—for being able to talk about dreams as much as film—was my conversation with
Charlie Kaufmann for Synecdoche, New York. Dispelling the mythos of his inaccessibility, Kaufmann was generous with his intelligence.

Arnaud Desplechin also impressed me with his friendly, down-to-earth manner and his considerable wit. It was an early gift underneath the tree to converse with him about A Christmas Tale. My thanks again to Karen Larsen at Larsen Associates.

For being nearly poetic in his maverick spirit,
Lance Hammer earned my respect with Ballast. My thanks to Susie Gerhard for optioning the interview for SF360.

With all bases loaded, author Matthew Kennedy scored a triple with my two-part interview with him (
here and here) on the publication of his biography of Joan Blondell and his commentary on Marie Dressler. Not only is Matthew fascinating, funny, and informative; but—as sometimes happens when one is lucky—he has become a good friend, living right over the hill on Bernal Heights.

Finally, as much as I enjoy talking with actors and directors and authors, 2008 confirmed one of my prime objectives here on The Evening Class: to profile the programmers who bring films to the Bay Area. Unsung heroes all, I group together Joel Shepard from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Konrad Steiner for Kino21 (here and here), Stephen Salmons for the San Francisco Silent Film Society (here and here), Steve Seid for Pacific Film Archives (here and here), Sean Uyehara for the San Francisco Film Society, and Michael Lumpkin for Frameline. I've gained tremendous insight into the machinations of film festival culture by conversing with these gentlemen. May they continue their fine work in 2009!

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