FEATURE: 8 MAY 2009
It has been a hectic week at Killer – Christine Vachon has returned from her trip to Europe and is now channeling energy into projects that have been sitting in the doldrums.
Top of the list is Cinemuerte. The story follows an aging cult horror director who meets two young adoring fans at a Spanish film festival. Months later, the young Spanish couple arrive at his house demanding to film him. But before long, the director realizes he and his wife are prime targets for the couple’s twisted snuff film that mimics his own movies.
Think Michael Haneke’s Funny Games meets Dario Argento’s B-Grade Horror classics.
The production of Cinemuerte has been checkered. It was the last film funded under the previous New York tax incentive programme (a tax break for shooting in New York). We got in just before the deadline, and there are now no more incentives planned until 2013.
John Turturro was attached to star as the older director, and we were supposed to be shooting in March, but the financing fell out. Turturro is still tentative, but has other films in the works as well, so we are scrambling to try and get it ready for a summer shoot.
The one constant in all this, however, is Gael Garcia Bernal. He plays Jordi, the Spanish boyfriend who plans the snuff film, and has been attached from the outset. Thanks to Gael, the project still has a heartbeat, no matter how faint it may be.
It’s one of our more original scripts, and fingers crossed it should be shot by the end of the year.
It was the usual madness – queues of eager fans and critics alike, i-phones going off in screenings, sweaty interns trying to maintain their sanity.
First up, early on a Friday morning, armed with a bagel and some burnt coffee, I went to see Pandora’s Box. It was touted as the must-see of the festival – three generations of a Turkish family bond together to help their Alzheimer riddled grandmother. While it did have some original moments (the grandmother’s weak bladder and memory create some truly hilarious scenes) it dipped into melodrama once too often. It’s worth a watch for its authentic Turkish setting, but feels like a lesser version of Fatih Akin’s films (Head-On, The Edge of Heaven) .
But I’m sure the coffee didn’t help my mood.
Next up wasBurning Down the House. It’s a documentary about the historic punk bar/club CBGB’s, which is actually situated a five minute walk from my apartment. It chronicles three decades of cutting edge music and interviews with legends like Patti Smith, Tommy Ramone and Brian Ferry. It also featured a bathroom dirtier than the one in Trainspotting.
The film was a love letter to the lower east Side, and lamented the change in the neighbourhood in the last decade. Musicians have been replaced with young professionals, clubs with organic food markets, pit bulls with shaved Chihuahuas and the character that gave the area such a vibrancy faded into middle-class America under Mayor Giuliani.
It’s strong, broad and imminently accessible, but it has to cover thirty years in eighty-five minutes, which is not an easy feat.
The last film I saw was Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. The combination of Soderbergh going back to his independent roots, and adult film star Sasha Grey playing a call girl made it the hottest ticket in town.
Even the tagline was enticing, and uber New York – “See it with someone you f***”
Just as I was about to turn on my heel and head off into the rainy night, a guy in the line said – “I think you go in over there.’ He pointed at my badge that said Christine Vachon (Killer’s CEO) on it. I must have looked dumbfounded, because he had to say it again. “Over there,” he muttered, and pointed towards the side of the theatre. I turned to see a line of twenty five people, casually playing with matching passes with a big ‘A’ inscribed on the front. Just like mine.
After a mumbled ‘thank you,’ I sauntered over to ‘my’ line and soon got in. The theatre’s 150 seats were almost filled. But I managed to get a great view, sitting to next to two guys who had bit parts in the film. I asked them about the line privileges. “Oh they’re just waiting in case it doesn’t fill up,” my greasy haired neighbour told me. “Guess they’re in for a long wait,” his fellow actor said. They laughed. I nodded my head like an obedient child.
Like me, they had matching passes dangling from Heineken sponsored lanyards. We were the chosen few.
The film follows a high-class call girl (Grey) on her exploits across Manhattan. She tries to maintain her relationship with her long-term boyfriend while trying not to get involved with her clients. The title refers to her services. Other than the physical side, she gives her customers whatever they want – be it a shoulder to cry on, an opinion on their problems, and for one customer, a simple yet messy hug.
Plus, Grey and the rest of the cast are non-actors, given their motivations only seconds before the camera rolls. But there’s no sex on screen, and it feels like we are looking in on someone else’s life. It’s engaging, thought provoking and original.
After the film, Soderbergh and stars Grey and Chris Santos took to the stage. They said some interesting things. About how what interests an audience now is not titillation, but reality. How in the 70′s sex sold, but now it is the trivialities of the sex industry that fascinates us. How society is so desensitized to sex that they want to see call girls eating lunch, shopping, falling apart.
That what we want to see is what we can’t have.
Soderbergh made some good points, and was somewhat inspiring for a young filmmaker to listen to. He used non-actors and improvised, had a rough idea of the story; kept it cheap and simple; only used a light twice.
But it made me wonder about the hype.
Is most of it due to Soderbergh’s duality as a Hollywood director and indie auteur? Just like Sasha Grey has a dual identity as a porn star and now an actress. That, if someone else had made this, cast a different lead, would it just be another low-budget feature, albeit on an interesting topic?
Without these elements, would those people be standing outside in the rain, hoping desperately that one of the pass-wearing classes had a personal emergency rush from the theatre, i-phone in hand, and open a spot for them?