Saturday, December 29, 2007

CINEMA NOW—The Evening Class Interview With Andrew Bailey

Andrew Bailey's Cinema Now, handsomely published by Taschen, wields considerable heft. Not only because its heavy paper stock will earn you a bicep or two; but, because intellectually it's a rich overview of contemporary filmmaking. If the logical depth of a film is the invested meaning harbored within it, then Cinema Now reflects a logical—indeed necessary—breadth to any focus on film culture. Andrew Bailey takes us on a guided, visually-articulated tour through today's world cinema. Along with his directorial profiles and capsule reviews of their respective films, the volume includes a DVD with such extras as trailers, music videos and short films by Alexander Payne and Carlos Reygadas. His research is supplemented by working indices of film festivals, awards and websites (including Twitch).

Quoting from the press release for Cinema Now: "Andrew Bailey is a freelance writer and cinephile based in San Francisco whose articles on film and filmmakers have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, and many other publications. His favorite works include The Last Picture Show (1971), Vertigo (1958), Les Enfants du paradis (1943-45), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and 3 Women (1977); his cinematic heroes range from Hitchcock, Lang, and Bergman to Lynch, Haneke, and Denis. His idea of unadulterated movie bliss is the moment Ann Savage turns vituperative on Tom Neal in the front seat of his vehicle in Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour (1945)."

After working in New York in print journalism for 10 years under his nickname "Andy", Bailey has since shifted to "Andrew" to cater to his European market. "In Europe, you don't use your nickname." Bailey covered festivals for indieWIRE, and became a contributing writer to Filmmaker, The Boston Globe, The New York Times, Screen Daily and Screen International.

After moving from New York to Los Angeles for a brief stint, Bailey decided L.A. wasn't a "proper city", and relocated to San Francisco. He suggested we meet for lunch at Café Gratitude where the food went way past being mere chow to being "thriving", "satisfying", even "courageous"; very much like our conversation.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Andrew, Cinema Now is a marvelous volume and it made me happy reading it because I've been focusing on film only for the last decade or so, which is—in effect—the period of time this book covers and, therefore, I'm largely familiar with the directors and films you're profiling. The book is aptly named. So current, so contemporary, with no slight to the old guard but a sharp focus on the new, up-and-coming directors on the scene; the directors I've been meeting. How did that focus come about?

Andrew Bailey: It was a combination of things, mainly passion. I had free rein, with the exception of a couple of suggestions from my editor Paul Duncan, who is based out of London. He let me run with it. It was the passion as well as what I could get images for and who wanted to participate, since it is image-driven and Taschen is mainly concerned with photos.

Guillén: And you've actually seen all these movies?

Bailey: I have! I'm proud to say that I have.

Guillén: I'm impressed. Who did not want to participate? I can't imagine anyone not wanting to participate with this project.

Bailey: Werner Herzog was resoundingly no. He just didn't want to be in a book like that because he's just a man apart, I guess. Some people were working. Claire Denis was tied up; she was probably my first choice. She's [currently] inbetween films, which is good, because—if there's a second volume—we can put her in the next one. But, you know, filmmakers are hard to get sometimes. I wanted Olivier Assayas, but he was shooting Boarding Gate and was focused on that. So, I took who I could get and the best images I could get within the framework of the filmmakers that I was passionate about.

Guillén: Which is a group of about 60?

Bailey: Yeah. There was initially 100 and we whittled it down to 60 and probably in a year and a half or so we'll start on Volume Two; but, I've already drawn up a list of about 50. Film changes so quickly now and new names are born every year.

Guillén: They just won't stop, huh? God bless 'em. They'll keep you busy for years. I love the breadth of Cinema Now, its multiple languages; Taschen tends to do that with all their publications, don't they?

Bailey: Especially in that series. There's actually another volume of the same book that's in three different languages—Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese—that you obviously can't get in America. So [Cinema Now is published in] actually six languages. It's internationally designed for the world cinema crowd.

Guillén: Wow. I consider your preface quite prescient in your awareness of how cinema and the cinema experience is changing. I was delighted, of course, to read your tip of the hat to Todd Brown at Twitch. ["More than ever (and for better or worse) it is the internet bloggers who drive film culture, breaking new names and heralding hot titles months in advance of their film festival premieres or theatrical and DVD releases. Bloggers like Todd Brown, at his Twitch website, cultivate instant word of mouth for new films and filmmakers in every corner of the world. Twitch introduced Russian upstart Pavel Ruminov to film fanatics in their living rooms. Ruminov's brilliant internet marketing campaign for his baroque Russian horror film Dead Daughters (Myortvye docheri, 2006) includes a series of web-only teasers that created an eerie mythology for the film months before it entered post-production." (2007:20) How do you know Todd?

Bailey: I know him from his site and I contacted him to get some information. I wanted to include a filmmaker who was "broken" on the blogs and Pavel Ruminov, the Russian director, is in there. I wasn't so much a fan of Dead Daughters as I was of Pavel in his enthusiasm.

Guillén: His strategy?

Bailey: His strategy! Well-put. And I liked the fact that there are sites like Twitch that are breaking genre filmmakers that I think are deeper in their craft. [Pavel] is still finding his way and I wanted to [include] a younger, possibly unheard-of filmmaker that some of the highbrow crowd might balk at. I've been following Twitch for a few years and I like what it's become. [It's] for people who follow genre and I think we're in a golden age of genre filmmaking.

Guillén: I'm lucky that Todd pulled me on to the Twitch team but I often wonder what the heck I'm doing there. I'm kind of their Hollywood connection and sometimes I think, "Who cares about Laura Linney on Twitch?" [Laughter.]

Bailey: As all of those sites tend to do, they evolve over time and I really like what Twitch has become. It's less niche than it was. I can feel Todd's passion and it's always nice to see that on another site. Pavel's entry is for Todd.

Guillén: Are you touring with the book?

Bailey: No. [The San Francisco Film Society signing at the Paranoid Park screening] was it. There was initially going to be some signings at the Taschen store in Los Angeles, and there's another store in New York, but they wanted filmmakers involved too and it was just too hard to get people together at this time of year.

Guillén: As I've been reviewing Cinema Now, I've enjoyed the concise profiles and the images, of course, are spectacular. What was the process involved in actually selecting the images and putting the book together?

Bailey: Again, it was the access to images. I would either go through the producers or the directors themselves, using my contacts of when I was a journalist to get a hold of people. Usually people were enthusiastic because Taschen has a name. They submitted [images]. The shocking thing about the book is that there was no photo budget. It was all press stills or photos from the directors' own archives. There were a lot of photos, [for example] in the Carlos Reygadas section that were straight from the set that you wouldn't have seen anywhere else. Tip of the hat to Carlos and folks like [him who] were participatory and willing to give their stash over to us.

Guillén: When you configured the book, you had this aesthetic of minor text, major image?

Bailey: Yeah. It fits into a series that Taschen has already done. They've done Art Now and Design Now and Animation Now, and I had pitched Cinema Now. I had had a meeting with film editor Paul Duncan—he edits a lot of the film books—when I was living in Los Angeles. We hit it off. He was interested in finding a writer who would be able to do something like this so we both had the same vision for world cinema, something that goes from the high to the low, not discounting genre, not discounting animation. We were on the same page and it was a good match.

Guillén: So we can now anticipate a second volume with a separate set of filmmakers?

Bailey: I wouldn't overlap. I would do a holding slate for the ones I wanted—like Claire Denis and Assayas—hopefully, they'll have new work in two years.

Guillén: Have you any opinions on what I might call the "false hierarchy" of print and on-line journalism?

Bailey: It's changing as rapidly as the film business. In the next 5-10 years, what's print media going to be? Nobody knows.

Guillén: What I enjoy about online journalism is the capacity to create community through hyperlinking. But I prefer the writing adhere to print journalism standards whenever possible.

Bailey: I like the egalitarian democratic voice that comes off the web; the academic film community is pretty much exclusively there now with Rouge and more academic film journals. I'm glad those are there and easy to get. I remember a time when I was in college and I was more interested in academic writing, it was hard to get. It was almost ghettoized. Now the Internet makes more voices readily available. There's more voices in the mix and I think that's only healthy for film culture. [Online journalism] is now a legitimate sector of film journalism and it's only going to evolve more in [contra]direction [to] the way print film coverage is going. I felt this frustration when I lived in New York and was working as a stringer for The Boston Globe covering press junkets of celebrities that I didn't care about and realizing there was less of a free press in that world.

Guillén: Absolutely! That's exactly where I am right now. Battling self-interest with self-respect.

Bailey: You can't say what you really feel. I don't care about Kate Hudson and yet I was sent to cover her. You have a publicist sitting in a room with 10 other journalists, many of whom are trying to get Kate's autograph, and taking personal pictures. [I asked myself,] "What is this? It's insane!"

Guillén: That really interests me because I have been wrestling with this of late. I'm in a somewhat rebellious mode of wanting to relinquish my press credentials with particular publicists because they don't understand what I'm doing.

Bailey: I did that to a degree.

Guillén: Good counsel, thanks. Have you already started work on the second volume of Cinema Now?

Bailey: I'm going to wait. I've pitched Taschen three specific volumes: French Cinema Now, Latin-American Cinema Now, and Asian Cinema Now. Whether or not they go with those depends on the sales of this one.

Guillén: Oh wow, you want to break it down like that, eh?

Bailey: There are enough filmmakers to do it. I've outlined French Cinema Now. Of course, that one would be the easiest to do. Asian Cinema Now would be a challenge because of the language barrier but there's a strong wave of Asian filmmakers and there have been for about the last 20 years. Latin-American Cinema Now, that's a huge possibility there. There's a lot of great films coming out of Argentina, Mexico.

Guillén: Have you any thoughts on how exhibition formats are shifting towards home entertainment rather than the moviehouse experience?

Bailey: I feel so lucky to be within walking distance of the Castro Theatre. I spend a lot of solid time there. There's something magical about that room. I watched most of the Bergmans again recently in that room. Even though I was familiar with most of that work, it was a combination of the films and that room. You don't get that at home. You don't get that on a small screen. You need a shared catharsis with the audience. We're losing it. We're losing the big houses. Multiplex theaters don't have the same ambiance that the Castro Theatre has. My favorite movie of all time is The Last Picture Show and there's a reason for that. It's the end of an era. It's the end of the Mom n' Pop single screen. I don't think they'll fade irrevocably but our whole notion of moviegoing is changing as we speak.

Guillén: Watching a movie on celluloid is going to become an elite cultural activity, like going to a museum or the symphony, opera or ballet. And it's going to cost a lot; that's what's unfortunately going to make it elitist.

Bailey: Well, we just experienced the Reygadas film Silent Light at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. The sad fate of that film is that—in this country—its distribution offer was shockingly low. It says a lot about America more than anything else because there is an active arthouse tradition in other parts of the world.

Cross-published on Twitch.


James McNally said...

Michael, great interview and sounds like a gorgeous book. I'm hoping to get my hands on it soon!

Michael Guillen said...

Thanks, James. Let me know what you think once you've had a chance to thumb through it.

Bob Turnbull said...

I'm going to have to wait another 2 years for Volume 2?! Argh! But if he's going spend time on those volumes specifically devoted to French, Asian and Latin Cinema, I guess I'm OK with that...

If I haven't completely devoured "Cinema Now" yet, it's simply because it gives me too many new options to explore along with reminding me of filmmakers I've dabbled with, but haven't further investigated. I think I'll finally pop that DVD in tonight though.

I love Taschen books. Their volumes on the different decades (the most recent - and I guess last one since they've been working backwards - being "Movies Of The 20s") are just gorgeous and I'm afraid I'll never be able to fully digest their art books (but I'm willing to gorge anyway...).

Great interview Michael. I can't wait to see what else Andrew puts together.

Michael Guillen said...

Hey Bob, how goes it? Thanks for stopping by to comment and I'm pleased that you share my enthusiasm for Andrew's book. Quite the visual feast, eh?

I'm in festival mode!! Currently at the Palm Springs International. It's sweet to see some of the titles on the lineup, reminding me of our shared experience in Toronto. Hope all is well with you and yours.