Crazies, Creeps and Living Dead: Interview with George A. Romero

Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead

In autumn 2013, acclaimed horror film director George A. Romero visited London to conduct an on-stage interview and special screening of Night of the Living Dead as part of the BFI’s Gothic season. Alex Fitch caught up with the director to talk about his career so far, concentrating on his genre-defining zombie hexalogy, which began in 1968.

Alex Fitch: This year is the 45th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead.

George A. Romero: Don’t remind me! (laughs)

It’s astonishing how influential and continuingly popular the film is from generation to generation. I wonder if part of that is the political resonance that the film has, whether that was something you intended in the first place or not. If you look at the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s, the students’ strike and other political unrest, these are themes in society that keep coming back, even in the present day.

Yeah. Certainly the racial aspect was not intentional, it was purely accident, because of the actor. He was the best actor from among our friends who we could get on the phone, and when he agreed to do it we consciously didn’t change the script. When we wrote the script, we never described his colour, and exactly the same things would have happened to him if he was white. So there’s that aspect of it…

Right when we finished the film, we were actually driving the first answer print of the film to New York, and that night we heard on the car radio that Martin Luther King had been assassinated. So, obviously, it then resonated that much more. When we were working on the film with Duane Jones, he was sensitive to it. We were all saying: ‘Come on, it’s 1968, we don’t have to worry about that’, but he was conscious of the fact that putting a black man in a role that wasn’t written for a black man was unusual. He thought it was bold, and we never recognised any of those issues, except only in conversation with him.

After Dr King was shot, did you think at all about changing the ending, or actually whether that happenstance made the film more powerful?

We had conversations in the car that night. We never talked about changing the ending, but in fact Columbia – who were the first ones who were interested in the film when we screened it on that trip, and wanted to distribute it – insisted that we change the ending, and we boldly said: ‘No! Of course not!’ We left New York without any distribution and then it took us a while to find some. We had to hire a producer’s representative to represent the film and he only found Walter Reade after Dr King was no longer in the headlines. I guess they weren’t as sensitive to it.

Most of the atrocities that were taking place in Vietnam at the time wouldn’t come to light until 1969 and beyond, but I assume you still felt that you were tapping into the zeitgeist.

It did, it felt that way. The documentary The American Nightmare (2000), puts the relevance right in there. There are some interesting parallels. There were some things we recognised, were conscious of. When I was shooting hand-held stuff, everyone was talking to us about the film as if it were like a newsreel. I was actually completely encumbered by the fact that we were using a ‘Blimp’ 35mm camera that you couldn’t move at all. We had no Dolly, so I think it’s a very static film, but that same camera would come out of the Blimp and you could hand-hold it with a pistol grip in one hand. In the posse scenes at the end of the film, that was where I was running around like a newsman, and consciously trying to make it look like news footage – the stuff with the dogs coming out of the wagons, the posse coming across the fields and all of that. I was conscious that I wanted those scenes to look like news footage, but that’s the only part of the film that looks that way.

You finally got to realise the idea of doing a movie in the style of cinema vérité when you made Diary of the Dead in 2007 – shooting it as if it was found footage that might have been distributed on the internet. Was it that new technology finally got around to bringing you the kind of equipment that would allow you to make a film that way?

No, it wasn’t that. The idea came from doing a piece on ‘citizen journalism’, which is something I find dangerous! So, that’s really where that came from. The second thought was, ‘let’s actually shoot it that way,’ and I developed the concept that these kids are out shooting a film and that’s how the plot develops, through their use of portable equipment.

Watch the original trailer for Diary of the Dead :

But since you have been cast as a political filmmaker, whether by intent or design, it seems that some of the found footage that you also included in that film – such as bombs being dropped on people in the Middle East and so on – is commenting on how on the internet you can quickly go from channel to channel and have someone’s self-aggrandizing YouTube video be followed by horrendous atrocities from across the globe.

Yes, and we were conscious of that. We were cherry-picking from archives all over the place – Getty and all the standard images that we could afford on our budget. Unfortunately there are too many of them out there, but we were very conscious of trying to do that. I’d say that I get too much credit for being a political filmmaker, but I do care about that. I also want to have something to say, even if it’s just simplistically said.

Not with the first film: with Night we were only concerned with the disintegration of the family unit – things like that. That’s what we were rapping about. We were living in that farmhouse. It was never about race, and largely I think that was the big thing that made Night noticeable.

Based on the success of that though, you cast another charismatic black lead in Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Oh, I did. That was conscious! Dawn of the Dead I had resisted doing – people were already writing about Night as if it was ‘important’, so I thought, ‘I’ve got to have some kind of an idea before I think about trying to make a second one’. The idea came from the shopping mall. I knew socially the people who developed that mall, and it literally was the first one, the first indoor temple to consumerism that we’d ever seen, the first one in Pennsylvania.

When people talk about malls in Britain in the present day, they’re regarded as a bit of a scourge – they open these things on the outside of towns and then the town centres start to disintegrate.

Like Milton Keynes! (laughs) That is a mall, a city that became a mall!

That sort of potentially malign influence, was that something already present at that time?

Not at all. Like I said, this was the very first one. Once it was up and operating, that was the very beginning of young people hanging out there instead of on street corners. Soda shops disappeared then and everyone started to hang out at the mall. Even within the film, the characters don’t know what it is. When they’re looking down on it from the helicopter, one of them says: ‘It’s one of them new shopping malls, or something’. None of us had any idea that the mall culture was going to develop the way it did. I was responding to just the idea of this. Instead of a small farmhouse, it was all about having people holed up in a supermall – at that time it was a supermall, nowadays some of them are way more elaborate than that one – where you can buy anything you ever wanted.

It’s interesting that people mainly credit Night and Dawn in creating the modern zombie movie, but I think The Crazies (1973) also, in its own way, is responsible for some of the more recent films that use the idea of a pathogen spreading, of the enemy being a fast, mutated people. Do you think that film is appreciated for its legacy as much as your Dead movies?

Not that much. It’s amazing that my films have such a shelf life! When I go to these conventions – horror conventions and so forth – there are fans of all of the films, and that’s really great. I love talking about them with people, people who are discovering films that no one went to see in the first place. I don’t know about The Crazies… It has its fans – people who really like it a lot – but I don’t know about its legacy. Certainly the remake, that was a zombie movie, but I never thought of it that way. Thematically, I was sort of doing the same thing with The Crazies as Night – people responding to a situation, except there I made them mad!

Watch the original trailer for The Crazies :

It’s not easy from our modern standpoint to think of the cultural resonances that might have influenced The Crazies at the time. Were there concerns in the media about bioweapons, chemicals and the spread of diseases?

No more than at any other time. I would say that it was heightened, there was Vietnam and all that going on, so it was about Agent Orange, napalm, that kind of stuff. There wasn’t any particular concern at that point, as there is today, about dirty bombs, sarin and whatever else.

But, in terms of the military and scientists being responsible, or at least exacerbating a bad situation, Day of the Dead (1985) seemed to pick up on some of the themes of The Crazies and develop them still further: this is all that’s left and we’re stuck with the people who were responsible for it in the first place.

Yeah. Well, that’s exactly what the idea for that film was. Originally I had written it bigger in terms of the script, but the finance company wouldn’t do it unrated. They said, ‘we’ll pay to shoot this, but it’s going to cost a little bit too much to risk releasing it without a rating’, so they asked if we could do it for $3 million. They’d go for $3 million without a rating and there were negotiations based on the ratings, so I said, ‘sure’. I chose then to go for the unrated version and cut the script back. It’s essentially exactly what it was and that’s the theme of it: that the military that caused the infestation are preventing the people who were trying to cure it from solving the problem.

I think the claustrophobia really works in the film’s favour. If the apocalypse happens, it is just going to be handful of people in a hole in the ground…

…somewhere! Unfortunately, it’ll probably just be the President and his cabinet!

In the 80s, you got into adaptation as well, particularly stories by Stephen King, films like Creepshow (1982), Creepshow 2 (1987), and The Dark Half (1993). What was it about his books that attracted you?

I think it was being comfortable with Stephen himself, and we became friends. We were introduced by Warner Bros., years before, because they had seen Martin (1976), and in typical studio fashion they reasoned that Martin was about a vampire in a small town, Steve had just written Salem’s Lot, which was vampires in a small town, so they thought we should meet! They sent me up to Maine and we hung out. My doing an adaptation of that book never happened, but on that visit Steve gave me a copy of The Stand and said: ‘Let’s make this!’ and I said, ‘sure…

…but how many movies is this going to be?’

Quite. So, I never did make The Stand, but at that time, Steve didn’t want to do it for television because they’d water it down too much, and he never made a film deal to produce it. In the end he did do a television version, with my ex-producing partner – Richard P. Rubinstein – who we’d worked with on the Creepshow films. So, it was just really being comfortable with Steve and having access to him. When he wrote Pet Sematary, right away he called Richard and me, and said: ‘What do you think about this?’ That’s how that relationship went.

Watch the original trailer for Creepshow :

The Creepshow movies are the first obvious example of your interest in comics in your career. Had you been interested in EC Comics’ horror comics in the preceding years?

Under the covers, with a flashlight! They were the forbidden fruit! Of course that’s before the 1950s Comics Code Authority came in. The censorship code busted EC Comics and turned Mad into a magazine instead of a comic book. At least that lived on, but Tales from the Crypt and other comics like that were thought to be amoral! Stephen, in fact, wrote a tagline for Creepshow: ‘A Laurel Comic is a Moral Comic’!

In them, I always thought the bad guys got their comeuppance, good basically triumphed over evil, even though the Crypt Keeper always was there to chuckle, and there’s that dark humour… It’s funny, the humour was an important part of those comics. Even though it’s so hard to convince people today that humour is the flipside of the same coin as horror – they don’t like to mix it.

You’ve had elements of that mix of horror and slapstick comedy in your more recent zombie films. A particularly memorable scene in Diary shows an Amish character stabbing himself in the head with a scythe! It seems that when you can put in a gag, there’s no reason not to…

There is no reason not to, and I can’t resist doing it! Also, there’s that fire extinguisher gag in Survival of the Dead (2009), with the eyes popping out; that’s completely like a comic book. I love comics, and actually as a defence against all of these zombie things that are out there now, I’m writing a 15-issue Dead story for Marvel Comics right now. Hopefully when the zombie furore dies, if it ever does, I can come back and turn the comic into another film.

I certainly can’t do what I used to do. I used to be able to hide in the corner somewhere and bring the zombies out once in a while, when I had something I want to talk about. But for now, it doesn’t work. In order to sell a zombie film these days, you have to promise that you’ll spend $250 million at least!

…and with a comic book you can show what a $250 million zombie film looks like…

That’s right!

Interview by Alex Fitch

Hell Is a Teenage Girl

Carrie (1976)

Though the words ‘hell is a teenage girl’ may have been the first line of dialogue in the 2009 Diablo Cody-penned horror movie Jennifer’s Body (directed by Karyn Kusama), it was over 30 years before in Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) that Hollywood’s penchant for depicting damaged, dangerous and deadly female teens began to make its mark on the genre. Previously fodder for all manner of monstrous villains, the teenage girl began to transform on screen into a character to be feared with the arrival of Carrie White, whose tormented existence was so memorably portrayed by Sissy Spacek. The ugly duckling outsider possessed of supernatural powers, who wreaked a terrible revenge on the peers who made her life a living hell, opened the doors for future representations of teen killers of the female persuasion. Of course, Carrie White also engendered feelings of pity, sympathy and lust, muddying the waters in regard to audience identification. She was monstrous, but she was also lonely, put upon and wholly insecure. The female teen killer in horror movies flits between naivety, cruelty, seductiveness, deceptiveness, awkwardness, hormonal angst and outright murderous aggression. Are they projections of a patriarchal fear of females becoming more powerful in society? A humorous riposte to the countless depictions of females being helpless damsels in distress and/or objectified, sexual playthings? Do they break down the gender barriers, allowing for identification across the male/female boundaries? They’re a mixture of all of those things, and they make for complex, fascinating ‘monsters’.

On screen, the menstrual cycle, peer pressure and social status, bullying, sexual awakening, pushy parents and good old teen angst have driven a motley collection of adolescent girls to explode with vengeful fury. Off screen, second-wave feminism, tired genre conventions, changing cinema-going demographics and a growing fascination with the ‘cult of youth’ have all played their part in teen females morphing from always being the victim to just as easily being the victimizer perpetrating the horrors depicted. Sure, it hasn’t been a wholesale change by any means; teen girls still get slaughtered by the dozen in horror movies, but now there are a sizeable number of witches, psycho-bitches and the supernaturally gifted ready to seek revenge, cause chaos and generally flick the bird to the notion of adolescent females being any kind of weaker sex. Whether they are seen in TV movies, low-budget oddities, cult hits, slashers, body horror comedies, sequels or remakes, these contemporary daughters of darkness critique, reflect and exaggerate the fears, fantasies and troubles experienced by female adolescents in the modern world.

Watch the trailer for Carrie (1976):

Within two years of Carrie hitting the screens, producers eager to cash in on the unexpected success of De Palma’s breakout hit had given us the TV movies The Spell (Lee Philips, 1977) and The Initiation of Sarah (Robert Day, 1978; remade by Stuart Gillard in 2006), as well as the low-budget, big screen offering Jennifer (Brice Mack, 1978), with all three revolving around supernaturally gifted outsiders. A bullied, overweight teen, a belittled fresher and a poor girl among rich peers respectively may all be cardboard cut-out Carrie-lite figures bent on righting the wrongs inflicted on them, but they reflected the wider changing representations of females of all ages on the silver screen. The other unifying factor between them was that audiences related to them, not to their violent actions you’d hope, but certainly to the alienation, peer pressures and insecurities they displayed and experienced. Damningly, aside from Carrie, The Spell and Jennifer are two of the only films where the central figure genuinely looks like an ‘outsider’ or someone who doesn’t conform to the idealised ‘look’ that a patriarchal media is so keen to push on us, as most directors still cast pretty young starlets in the leading roles.

The 1980s were a fallow period for the female teen killer, in a decade dominated by alpha male action heroes and dream stalking killers, but in Sleepaway Camp (Robert Hiltzik, 1983), social misfit Angela (Felissa Rose) blew a complex hole in the gender balance of male/female killers and slasher genre conventions by being… well, if you’ve seen it you know, and if you haven’t I won’t spoil it. Two decades later, in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (Jonathan Levine, 2006), the slasher genre’s conventions were again toyed with, as Amber Heard‘s popular, titular figure proved to be less wholesome than she first appeared.

Watch the trailer for Sleepaway Camp:

Fast forward to the early 1990s, a few years after Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer helped cause chaos in Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988) and Drew Barrymore, then a 17- year-old hellraiser in real life, turned up in the lead role of Poison Ivy (Katt Shea, 1992). [SPOILER] Though not a horror movie, Poison Ivy deserves a mention, as Barrymore’s Machiavellian teen, a poor white trash ‘bad’ girl, inveigles her way into the affections of a wealthy family before offing the mother, attempting to kill the daughter and seducing the father. [END OF SPOILER] Ivy was a ‘monster’ in very human form; seductive yet deadly and a cold-blooded killer bent on getting what she wants, when she wants it. Ivy fits the mould without possessing the telekinetic powers or gifts/afflictions seen in other killer teen girls, her actions are grounded in reality, and that makes for a very dangerous ‘monster’ indeed.

Two more non-horror movies, Swimfan (John Polson, 2002) and Suburban Mayhem (Paul Goldman, 2006) continued in Poison Ivy‘s vein. Swimfan gave us Erika Christensen as Madison going into full blown Fatal Attraction mode after a one night stand with the object of her affection/obsession, while Suburban Mayhem, loosely based on a real Australian criminal case, saw Emily Barclay’s manipulative single mum Katrina plot to have her father killed. Ivy, Madison and Katrina stand out from many of the other unhinged characters seen across the spectrum of genres specifically because of their age and gender. What demons push ones so young, and ostensibly of the ‘fairer’ sex, to the edge and beyond? Though the real life rise in violent crime committed by adolescents (especially against other adolescents) is largely male driven, their onscreen female counterparts still reflect the unease at this grim statistic.

Perhaps the queen of the psycho-teen females, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy), crashed onto our screens in 2009’s Ozploitation horror The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne). A demented, vicious and tongue-in-cheek spin on teen horrors and high school movies, The Loved Ones placed Xavier Samuel’s Brent in the, very dangerous, hands of Lola and her equally twisted father. Ivy, Madison and Katrina are mere amateurs in comparison to Lola Stone, whose monstrous behaviour stems from her father’s besotted, incestuous, attitude towards his ‘Princess’. An equally disturbing vision of female adolescence gone awry came in 2012 with Richard Bates Jr’s Excision. Replacing The Loved Ones‘ dark comedy with an hallucinogenic, nightmarish tone, Excision also flips its parent/child power play, as the desperately troubled Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) sinks to horrific, surgical-based lows, to win the approval of her cold, domineering mother.

Watch the trailer for The Loved Ones :

Though the psycho-teen females are a striking bunch, those with supernatural abilities or body horror issues are more sizeable in number, in some cases proving to be catnip for both genre fans and academics. As the horror genre evolved, the representation of witches and witchcraft eventually moved away from traditional period pieces and into the modern world, and Andrew Fleming’s The Craft (1996) presented us with a coven of high school girls embracing their new found supernatural powers. The high school or college is, understandably, a central element to many of the films featuring adolescent females going gonzo, as it is often their whole world; a status-conscious battleground, fashion catwalk, tangible psychological minefield and potential mating ground.

Seductive and deadly, the girls in The Craft were no white witches, but ones putting their powers to use for their own selfish, sometimes murderous, gain. A spate of similar movies followed in its wake, including Little Witches (Jane Simpson, 1996), Kill Me Tomorrow (Patrick McGuinn, 2000), Birth Rite (Devin Hamilton, 2003) and Tamara (Jeremy Haft, 2005). Tamara upped the ante somewhat by having its central figure, a vengeful witch, carry out her monstrous acts from beyond the grave; in Haft’s movie even a dead teen girl is something to be feared. Veering in quality from OK to awful, these low-budget offerings all riffed off teen girls being ‘evil’, manipulative and selfish. Ostensibly disposable entertainments they may be, but the view of female adolescents as inherently dangerous is both troubling and intriguing.

Lucio Fulci returned us to the realm of telekinesis and psychic powers in 1987 with Aenigma, which nods its trashy, Euro-horror head to both Carrie and Patrick (Richard Franklin, 1978). Comatose teen Kathy (Milijana Zirojevic), victim of a prank at the girls school she attends, uses her telekinetic and psychic abilities to control the mind of fellow pupil Eva (Lara Lamberti), compelling her to carry out Kathy’s vengeful bidding. Kathy may have virtually disappeared from our collective movie-going consciousness but Carrie White is still very much alive. To underline the lasting resonance – culturally and financially – of Carrie (both King’s novel and De Palma’s adaptation of it), Katt Shea directed the less than stellar The Rage: Carrie 2 in 1999. Three years later a TV adaptation of King’s novel, starring genre regular Angela Bettis in the lead role, appeared, and last year Kimberly Peirce updated the story for the smartphone generation in a wholly unnecessary quasi-remake-cum-adaptation with Chlo&#235 Grace Moretz, somewhat miscast, as the outsider telekinetic teen.

One of the few horror movies, other than Carrie, to overtly place the menstrual cycle as a key narrative element was 2000’s Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett). The psychological and bodily effects of the transition from childhood to maturity are symbolically aligned with lycanthropy in Fawcett’s movie, as Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins’s sisters discover that ‘the curse’ is worse than they could possibly have imagined. More bodily horrors were experienced in Mitchell Lichtenstein’s Teeth (2007) and the movie which kicked off this piece, Jennifer’s Body. A teen with vagina dentata in Lichtenstein’s comedy-horror and a possessed cheerleader in the Cody-Kusama movie cut a bloody swathe through their respective male gene-pools as sexual dominance and appetites, high school cliques, gender stereotypes and adolescent anxieties played out in both films in bloody, graphic fashion.

Watch the trailer for Teeth:

In a world where ever younger females are bombarded by ‘ideal’ body images by an unscrupulous media, social media sits in ever more savage judgement and society’s corrosive fascination with youth continues, these slices of pop culture remain pertinent and provocative. If hell is a teenage girl, then society as a whole has made her that way, and the movies in which teen girls go loco do a good job of reminding us of that.

Neil Mitchell

Kiss of the Damned: Score to Imagine a Movie To

Kiss of the Damned
Kiss of the Damned

I have a confession to make. I haven’t seen the movie that this score is taken from. For one reason or another Kiss of the Damned has just eluded me…

I first heard the score when director Xan Cassavetes emailed me asking if I’d like to release it. She sent me the (then unfinished) music and I instantly fell in love with it. I wanted to release it on my label, Death Waltz, but schedule-wise I couldn’t make it work.

Kiss of the Damned is released on DVD in the UK on 27 January 2014 by Eureka Entertainment. Watch the trailer here.

It’s interesting to review this because I have none of the usual markers in place (the piece of music fits this scene perfectly, etc, etc) but this is a record I listen to all the way through, from start to finish, several times a month. Steven Hufsteter (Repo Man) delivers a quite frankly gorgeous, sleazy and sexy music that conjures up blue and orange-lit rooms, writhing bodies on beds viewed through fish tanks and all manner of things you shouldn’t do in public – in fact, Jess Franco would most definitely be using this if he was still alive. It’s beautifully orchestrated and delicate too, with flashes of Bruno Nicolai and Ennio Morricone, and some very cool smokey jazz stylings thrown in there for good measure. This alone is enough to recommend it, but music supervisor Dina Juntila also dropped in tracks from HTRK, Jane Weaver and German punkers Der Fluch, who all add a contemporary edge to the score, bringing it right up to date.

Its inspiration is obvious, of course, but it’s the execution that makes this a step above a simple retro nod to the great masters. The ‘KOTD Love Theme’ has a break so crisp you can imagine Ghostface Killah spitting a verse over it; ‘Vapeur’ stands proudly with any experimental electronica of the 1970s; and ‘Bath of Tears’ is a beautifully down tempo baroque piano piece.

The score works so well as a stand-alone record that I don’t know if I’ll ever see the film. When I listen I conjure up my own images and story, and it is so vivid that I’m not sure anything would live up to it. This is the perfect example of a soundtrack you can listen to without knowing anything about what it accompanies – this is no putdown of the film either; in fact, it’s testament to all the creative talent involved in it.

All in all, Kiss of the Damned is a rare instance of a contemporary score standing proudly with its inspirations and holding its own with very little effort indeed. It also manages to be very fucking cool and aloof doing it.

Spencer Hickman

Spencer Hickman is the founder of Death Waltz Recording Company, the leading soundtrack label specialising in horror and cult films. Forthcoming releases include the scores to Ms. 45 and The House of the Devil.

Oh Boy: Interview with Jan Ole Gerster

Oh Boy
Oh Boy

Format: Cinema

Release date: 17 January 2014

Distributor: ICA Cinema

Director: Jan Ole Gerster

Writer: Jan Ole Gerster

Cast: Tom Schilling, Katharina Schüttler, Justus von Dohnáyi

Germany 2012

83 mins

Best Film Director. Best Actor. Best First Film. Best Screenplay. Best European Film of 2013. After a gruelling 18 months on the festival circuit, German director Jan Ole Gerster’s first feature film Oh Boy is about to have a limited theatrical release in the UK, and as can be discerned it arrives with a bucketful of accolades including both critics and audience awards – rarely one and the same!

Oh Boy takes a wry look at a young man, Niko Fischer (impressively played by Tom Schilling) as he traverses Berlin – a Berlin of alienated people and locations not usually seen in the tourist brochures. He is an unemployed law student hailing from a wealthy family although, as the audience learn, his father is about to cut off his allowance, having discovered that his son has not actually attended classes in two years. He says he has been ‘thinking’. Now with no means of support, this Candide-like figure drinks and drifts across Berlin in the company of an actor friend. The pair find themselves in a variety of slightly surreal and absurd situations, resulting in a beautifully paced – and performed – cinematic text containing a reflective and moving series of vignettes that add up to an impressive and very confident first film.

It took a bold and assured directorial hand by novice filmmaker Gerster (who wrote the excellent screenplay as well) to decide on the visual style – it was remarkably shot in black and white – and to rein in the plot progression in order to allow generous amounts of shooting time for the story to unfold. His choice of lead actor, Tom Schilling, is an inspired one and Schilling turns in a remarkable performance as he makes the character sympathetic and charming while subtly hinting at his existential dilemmas. Even the opening scene is excellently judged as our (anti-)hero starts his day by rising from a bed shared with his girlfriend, from whom he is about to separate. A scene ensues between the two and as the camera focuses on this guilt-ridden and uncertain lone figure sitting at the end of the bed, the title, Oh Boy slyly appears on the screen, over-writing the shot. Then the credits roll as we begin our long day’s journey into the night.

James Evans talked to Jan Ole Gerster about the director’s interest in distanced characters, making a road movie inside Berlin, and looking for that timeless feeling.

James Evans: How did your screenplay come about – what impelled you to want to make a youth culture film about contemporary Berlin?

Jan Ole Gerster: I wasn’t thinking about making a ‘youth culture’ film, or a portrait of our generation or a portrait of our time or young people in Berlin because I think that this is the wrong intention to start out with. I had this character in mind that was somehow inspired by all the characters I always identified with in literature and films. I found it appealing to have a character who does nothing, who is very passive and still, but is wide awake and noticing things, and I thought it would be interesting to send him on a road trip without really leaving Berlin.

Your choice of visual style and the interesting and fitting use of black and white – was a gamble and, unlike some recent examples, did not seem to be gratuitous, modish or a ‘knowing’ visual gimmick. How did that decision come about?

I was afraid that it was going to be, as you said, received as a youth culture film or some sort of generational portrait that claimed to speak for how 20-somethings feel these days, but I was trying to do the opposite. I was trying to find a timeless atmosphere for the film and so every decision that I made, whether we were looking for locations or the visual style or even the music, was about finding that timeless feeling. I didn’t want electronic music, I didn’t want colour, I didn’t want super-modern architecture. It was important to me because there’s something old-fashioned about this character as well because he doesn’t seem to connect to the world he’s living in. He is distanced and alienated, and black and white provided this sense of distance that I was looking for. Of course, I am depressed that black and white has disappeared from the screen these days, but as you mention there seems to be a bit of a revival of it.

Watch the trailer:

The cast is very strong and Tom Schilling in particular is an inspired choice. He turns in a nuanced, balanced and finely honed performance and you give him and the other characters generous amounts of screen time to inhabit these characters. How did you cast him?

He was a friend…Well, he is still a really good friend of at least 13 years. We lived in the same neighbourhood and we hung out. We had the same interests and the same sense of humour, and we would go out and see films, and drink together and talk about life and work and the films that he is working on. So when I wrote the first draft of Oh Boy I sent it to him and he called me and said ‘Yeah, I like it, I’m gonna play that part – it would be an honour’. And I was pleased about this, but I said, you know it’s not really an offer, I just wanted to hear what you thought of it (laughs). But then he kept calling me and saying that he would be perfect for the part…And to be honest, the only reason I didn’t think of him was because I envisioned the character to be in his late 20s, and he looks about 20 but in the ensuing year he was smoking a lot, drinking a lot and then he became a father and something happened – he aged a lot in that time! I really think that it just took a lot of time to get used to the idea of working with a friend and of course I don’t regret it, it was the best decision of the whole process.

There are some discernable cinematic and literary chromosomes in the DNA of your film. I feel the spirits of Truffaut, Wenders, Salinger, Ashby, Cassavetes inhabit it. But I especially sensed Rafelson, and in particular his masterpiece Five Easy Pieces.

This is very interesting, you’re the only one who has mentioned Five Easy Pieces, and it was a film that I had in mind. People ask me if I had Manhattan in mind, but of course I wasn’t thinking about Woody Allen at all. I had Truffaut in mind and I watched Five Easy Pieces with Tom [Schilling] many times and we talked about this film a lot in preparing for our journey. I have just been re-watching all the films that I admire like The 400 Blows and Who’s That Knocking at My Door, which is a super personal film about growing up in a Catholic family among American Italians and in a gangster environment, and it is incredible because the whole Scorcese universe is in that first film. And it’s the same with the Jarmusch and Cassavetes films. So I thought there’s the key to finding your own handwriting – you have to talk about something that you really know and that you want to express – no matter what it is. And you’re right, it was more the spirit of these guys that inspired me than trying to be like them.

One question remains: what next? With all the road showing of the film, have you had any time to write?

Yes, I had a scholarship last year to spend three month in Los Angeles at a residence called Villa Aurora, which is funded by the German consulate and the Goethe Institute, and I’m going to Rome on a similar thing for two months, so I’m writing something new and enjoying it. After almost 5 years living with Oh Boy, I’m really ready to move on and do something else. It’s fun and it’s tough at the same time because, not being a full-time writer – I have only written one script – I don’t really have a routine, and it takes time to figure things out. I am not a fast writer and not a very patient person so it is torturing me a bit.

I guess there are now new pressures because presumably you can more easily attract higher amounts of money this time and there are high expectations for the dreaded second film after such fanfare for the first.

Maybe I should just do a high-budget flop next time!

Interview by James B. Evans

Interview with Vivienne Dick: Punk, Art, Politics and Feminism

She Had Her Gun All Ready
She Had Her Gun All Ready

London Short Film Festival

10 – 19 January 2014

London, UK

LSFF website

Irish filmmaker Vivienne Dick looks far younger than her 63 years with her short thick hair and forceful stare. When we met in a pub in London before Christmas, I was reminded of film critic Jim Hoberman’s 1980 article on her No Wave films, where he wrote about her ‘obsession with female macho’. Cut to 2010: at the time of Vivienne’s major retrospectives, perhaps echoing Hoberman, there were articles written entitled ‘Dick Flicks’ and ‘Dicking Around’. This ruffles, because, if anything, her work, then as now, is rigorously gendered and firmly rooted in French feminism. Since the heady days of 1970s radical art and feminist thought, the bright lights have certainly gone out in New York’s Lower East Side, and Ireland’s Celtic Tiger has bottomed. Despite this, Vivienne’s films remain consistently uncompromising and consciously connect the personal with the political, reminding today’s audience just how vital oppositional filmmaking is.

Born in Donegal in 1950, after a bout of global travelling Vivienne settled in New York’s Lower East Side in the mid-70s and became friends with a group of artists whose connection to music and a radical punk aesthetic suited her own emerging politics. Conjuring up the spirit of Maya Deren and 60s underground filmmakers such as Jack Smith and Marie Menken, her trangressive Super 8 shorts became known as No Wave films as she turned a fresh Warholian camera on intimate performances and (at the time, underground) New Wave music from her friends such as Lydia Lunch and Pat Place. Some of her key films from this time are Guérillière Talks (1978) and She Had Her Gun All Ready (1978), both of which had an influence on 80s feminist filmmakers Lizzie Borden and Bette Gordon. In the early 80s, she marked her return to Ireland with a biting satire on her birth country’s shameless tourism called Visibility Moderate (1981). She relocated to London in the mid-80s and became involved in the London Filmmakers Coop. In 1990, she made a film about her friends and London’s cultural diversity called London Suite (Getting Sucked In) . Then in the mid-90s she moved back to Galway to teach, make films and raise a family. Finally, last year she settled in Dublin and turned back to making films full time.

In anticipation of the UK premiere of Vivienne Dick’s new film The Irreducible Difference of the Other presented by Club Des Femmes and Open City Docs at the London Short Film Festival on 11 January 2014, which the filmmaker will attend, Selina Robertson of Club Des Femmes talked to her about art, politics, feminism and No Wave film.

For information on screening times and tickets for the premiere of The Irreducible Difference of the Other, visit the ICA website.

Selina Robertson: You always pick strong titles for your films. Can you tell us how you came to find the title for your new film The Irreducible Difference of the Other?

Vivienne Dick: The title comes from the writings of Luce Irigaray, whose work I am very interested in. Woman is the primordial Other, but otherness can be displaced in colonialism, and war, and through caste and class. We have to find a new way of relating to the Other which is not based on dominance and brute force.

In The Irreducible Difference of the Other, we are taken on a personal journey through many portals: literature, song, poetry, performance, pop music, landscape, gardening, welding, the Arab Spring, war, politics in Ireland and feminism. On first viewing, the film unfolds like a collage – where or what was your starting point?

The starting point was war, vulnerability and otherness. I set out to make a film that would be very open to different pathways or directions. It can be a risky way to work because it is only when you are editing that it begins to coalesce. Fortunately the Arts Council in Ireland is still willing to fund work like this.

Three artists, Olwen Fouéré, Antonin Artaud and Anna Akhmatova are woven into the narrative. How do they relate to each other in the context of the film?

Olwen performs Antonin Artaud and channels, rather than plays, Anna Akhmatova. I see Artaud as a seer for this century. With all the technology we have in our hands we seem to be killing each other with ever more ferocity. It seems to me there is a connection between our treatment of the Other and our treatment of the planet. We all belong equally to nature and culture.

For the London Short Film Festival programme, we asked you to pick another one of your films and you chose one of your early No Wave films She Had Her Gun All Ready from 1978. In what way do you see the films as companion pieces?

She Had Her Gun All Ready is about relationship. The two main characters are performed by Lydia Lunch and Pat Place. I have been interested in the politics of relationship from when I first began to make films.

Your No Wave Super 8 films were so incredibly cool. They captured an underground punk art scene in downtown NYC as well as critiquing patriarchy, power, capitalism and gender relations. Can you expand on how your feminism and politics today connect with your filmmaking practice?

I have many of the same concerns I had when I began making films almost 40 years ago. I am going back to researching prehistory and images of women. It is about using images as a creative impetus for change. The starting point for new work is often people I meet, or a place, or music. I was in Cairo recently and would like to get to know the city and culture better.

Interview by Selina Robertson

Anna Hope is Luna Schlosser from Sleeper


The moving debut by Manchester-born actress Anna Hope (she was Novice Hame in Doctor Who), Wake takes place over five days in November 1920, as the body of the Unknown Soldier makes its way from the fields of Northern France to its final resting place in Westminster Abbey, and hones in on the worlds of three very different women who are attempting to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the Great War. Wake is published in the UK on 16 January 2014 by Transworld. Below, Anna Hope tells us why her cinematic alter ego is Luna Schlosser from Woody Allen’s Sleeper (1973). Eithne Farry

Sleeper was my favourite movie from earliest adolescence, and I watched it over and over again. There was Woody as Miles Monroe – the clarinettist and health-food shop owner who is cryogenically frozen when in hospital for a peptic ulcer, and wakes up 200 years into the future – giving us his best Buster Keaton, bouncing on top of evil guards to knock them out, nicking giant bananas and slipping on their skins; and there was… Diane Keaton.

As far as I was concerned, Diane Keaton’s character, Luna Schlosser, was brilliant. She got to swan around in feathers and slinky silver 1970s-version-of-the future-shirt-dresses. She got to say things like, ‘It’s keen. It’s pure keen. No, no, it’s greater than keen, it’s kugat’. She got to handle the orb, which looked like a lot of fun, and go into the orgasmatron whenever she wanted. And then, mid-caper, she got to throw off the shackles of totalitarianism and come to political consciousness in the great outdoors, while wearing all black and lots of kohl, and snogging that gorgeous one who was in Dallas for a bit. What’s not to love?

But then I re-watched Sleeper for the first time in years for the purposes of this piece, and, while the film remained as wonderful as ever, I have to admit, I was concerned. Was Luna too passive? Should I be championing such a crap poet? Someone who doesn’t know which comes first, a caterpillar or a butterfly? Shouldn’t I choose someone a bit less dippy? Lauren Bacall, say, or Katherine Hepburn – those women who exude cool and class and intelligence – who always know just what to say, and say it with a cocked eyebrow and a smoulder I’d find hard to summon in several lifetimes?

But I can’t help it. I love Luna. She may not be the sharpest space cadet the future has to offer, but she does a mean Marlon Brando impersonation. And nothing can beat her glorious hymn to liberation, sung in the woods in the Western District to the accompaniment of solo guitar:

‘Rebels are weee! Born to be freeee! Just like the fisshhh, in the seeeea!!’

Anna Hope

Teeth of the Sea’s Film Jukebox

Teeth of the Sea
Teeth of the Sea

Inspired by French prog, Angelo Badalamenti soundtracks, electronic experimentations and psychedelic rock, the genre-defying Teeth of the Sea continue to push boundaries with their brilliant third album Master which mightily combines potent riffs, hypnotic rhythms and filmic atmosphere. Teeth of the Sea play Electrowerkz, London, on 11 January 2014, and present a visual and sonic remix of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England on 15 January as part of the London Short Film Festival. For more information, visit the Teeth of the Sea Facebook page. Below, the band tell us about the films that have most thrilled and influenced them.

1. Doomsday (Neil Marshall, 2008)
NEEEEEOOOOOW KERSPLATTT! What is it you want from your drunken Saturday night entertainment? Is it killer viruses? No, it’s knights on horseback! No, it’s Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic meltdown! In Scotland! No, it’s a car chase soundtracked by Frankie Goes to Hollywood! Can’t decide? Well fear not, lover of yucks, because Neil Marshall’s balls-out gonzoid masterpiece has all these things and exploding bunny rabbits besides. When we were asked to do our first live soundtrack event for Branchage festival a few years ago there was only really one film in the running. Doomsday‘s maniacal approach isn’t everyone’s cup of Irn-Bru, but its outrageous attempt to ransack every element of trash movie culture and bundle it into one 90-minute hymn to tasteless excess means it has remained a firm band favourite. Fearless and frequently unbelievable, one senses that in time it will get its due as a true pièce de resistance of lovingly sculpted trash cinema. (Mat/TOTS)

2. Phase IV (Saul Bass, 1974)
A psychedelic sci-fi head-spinner concerning ants (yeah, ANTS) developing a collective super intelligence and seriously fucking with some scientists in the desert, pioneering graphic designer Saul Bass’s Phase IV remains an overlooked masterpiece. Dialogue is scant at best, there is no action to speak of, and the soundtrack (by Brian Gascoigne) is a collection of abstract electronic noise, all of which adds up to a deeply unsettling trip of a film. Unfortunately it was Bass’s only full-length feature as a director, though he did make some great shorts (The Quest in particular is well worth seeking out). If David Bellamy took mescaline then watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, Phase IV is the film he’d make. (Mike)

3. Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955)
Jules Dassin’s first film after being blacklisted by Hollywood in 1950 (during the making of Night and the City, another gem) meant he was fully based in Europe by this point. His knack of placing the city at the absolute heart of his films was undimmed, though, and the nightclubs, backroom card games and early morning street scenes of Paris exude exactly the right blend of allure and decay. Ostensibly the story is of an old-time robber arriving home from prison, determined to go straight until he discovers his ex-lover has taken up with a gangster and rival of his, whereupon he plans the perfect heist on which to retire. Whilst all noir is based on tropes such as this, the real genius of the film lies in conveying the requisite level of existential doom and amorality whilst keeping you on tenterhooks. The heist scene at the heart of the film unfolds in real time in virtual silence and lasts about half an hour – probably one of the greatest pieces of cinematic tension I’ve ever witnessed. (Sam)

4. Daft Punk’s Electroma (Daft Punk, 2006)
I don’t think anyone saw this coming: the world’s most successful dance duo make an abstract, wordless homage to 70s science fiction cinema, featuring no music by themselves but rather that of Brian Eno, Jackson C. Frank, and Todd Rundgren, amongst others. Featuring two robots wandering the desert and not a great deal else, Electroma is a hypnotic and considered piece of filmmaking. Whilst clearly influenced by films such as Phase IV, THX 1138, Zabriskie Point and Westworld, it never descends into pastiche (let’s not mention Random Access Memories, *shudder*) – instead becoming an unexpectedly emotional experience, and one that bodes well for Skrillex’s forthcoming remake of Last Year at Marienbad. (Mike)

5. Altered States (Ken Russell, 1980)
The chutzpah-laden and occasionally wayward oeuvre of Ken Russell is a Teeth of the Sea aesthetic mainstay, from the thrilling transgressions of The Devils right through to the heinous hi-jinks of The Lair of the White Worm. Yet Altered States will always stand out from the rest of his lineage for us, partly due to the gung-ho trip-out sequences that found this film a home in the stoner fringes of the early 80s midnight movie circuit – and also on the sleeve of Godflesh’s legendary Streetcleaner album – yet also due to the incredible dialogue of Paddy Chayefsky, the maverick also responsible for the drop-dead velocity-verbiage of Network. Chayefsky may have thrown a wobbler and disowned his part in the movie, but hearing William Hurt and Blair Brown rabbit out that insanely verbose metaphysical rhetoric, in between either carnal carnage or a return to man’s simian origins, will never cease to raise our own primordial pulses. (Jimmy)

6. The Doom Generation (Gregg Araki, 1995)
A gloriously trashy, hilariously violent, pansexual road movie, the second part of Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse trilogy. Amy Blue and Jordan White are dysfunctional teen lovers who give the nihilistic (and, dammit, hot!) Xavier Red (geddit?) a lift one night. When stopping at a convenience store Xavier accidentally kills the store owner and the trio are forced to go on the run. The film plots their course as they move from incredible-looking motel rooms to fast food joints to thrift stores. Xavier gradually seduces both Amy and Jordan and they are pursued by violent, reactionary forces across the USA, always resulting in yet more bloody carnage. Gleefully anarchic and genuinely sexy, it’s also rather touching in places. (Sam)

7. Outer Space (Peter Tscherkassky, 1999)
Simple, unforgettable and more genuinely unsettling than any of the host of frighteners that get pumped into today’s multiplexes like so much rancid mayonnaise, Peter Tscherkassky’s Outer Space‘s marriage of horror movie assault on the senses and avant-garde technique ensures that it’s pretty much the ultimate Teeth of the Sea film. Tscherkassky takes a single reel from forgettable 80s scare-fest The Entity and brutally attacks it in real time; twisting, mangling and unspooling it until it resembles nothing less than the horrific death dance of the screen itself. His fetishistic revelling in the grainy matter of the film reel and its punctured, eruptive soundtrack means that the sensation of watching Outer Space is almost textural, lending it a powerfully psychedelic pungency that sticks with you like the memory of a bad trip long after your first viewing. (Mat)

8. Wild Zero (Tetsuro Takeuchi, 1999)
Herschell Gordon Lewis, eatcha heart out. Wild Zero, starring Japan’s three-chord gods of gonzo Guitar Wolf, remains an unequivocal triumph of sheer stupidity over common sense, and of style over content – one indeed so potent that the average trash connoisseur has to pinch themselves to check it hasn’t emerged screaming from some dope-fugged fever dream. Yet, as fast, loud, stupid, gory and relentlessly invigorating as one of the band’s Ramones-on-PCP tunes, this outrageously over the top and life-affirmingly guileless orgy of ravenous zombies, seedy nightclub corruption, obsessively teased Brylcreem quiffs, overheated amp stacks, utilitarian special effects and heart-warming romance is enough to put a smile on the most jaded second-hand record shop employee’s face. ‘FUUUUUCCKKK!’ is a key repeated line of dialogue here, not to mention the average reaction of any sane audience member. If only the director of Bula Quo! had watched this first. (Jimmy)

9. The Thing (John Carpenter, 2013)
A chucklesome Arctic groo fest? A beautifully balanced study of paranoia and alienation? A Cold War metaphor with teeth and tentacles? The ultimate celluloid example of Artaud’s theory of the screaming body? That John Carpenter’s The Thing is all of these and more is testament to its unforgiving and relentless power. Everything is so perfectly set up, from the desolation of the snowbound setting, to the inability of the protagonists to deal with the horrific events that ensnare them, to the hideous, ever mutating unknowability of their vile assailant, the stakes ratcheting up ever higher as the film draws to its hopeless conclusion. In its perfectly weighted balance of suspense and explosive, unbelievably vile body horror (‘You gotta be fuckin’ kidding…’) The Thing remains that rarest of entities: the practically perfect horror film. (Mat/TOTS)

10. Purple Rain (Albert Magnoli, 1984)
Movie vehicles for musical megastars have an uncanny habit of flirting with disaster, the métier of their subject matter being so ostensibly foolhardy that any attempt to elevate them to the celluloid form proves gauche at best – just ask any poor thousand-yard-stare-toting soul who’s made it all the way through either The Doors or S Club Seeing Double. Yet Purple Rain, for all its (many) flaws, is a different box of sequins altogether. At the culmination of one memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons evening in 2013, the members of Teeth of the Sea found themselves in a minus-one-star Nuremberg hostel with only a laptop and a DVD of this movie for company. We could have made mincemeat of Prince’s somewhat threadbare thespian abilities, the constantly irksome presence of Morris Day, the risible plot and any amount of other weaknesses all too apparent in this Herculean cinematic leap of faith. Yet instead, to the sound of the fellow in the next room apparently attacking his door with a claw hammer, we found ourselves strangely enervated. It wasn’t just the mesmerising concert sequences – in which the diminutive boy Nelson comes over as little less than some Weird-Science-machine-created vision of the perfect pop star beamed in from Venus. It was more importantly the sheer gall that was required to carry off this flimsy yet outrageously outtasight folly. In an era in which pop music frequently seems a gruesome treadmill fit to manipulate its audience’s emotions as vigorously as the stars it creates, the power of raw charisma can’t be quantified. Purple Rain is a magnificent playground for a particularly potent example of exactly this elixir. (Jimmy/TOTS)