By Hannah Eaves
April 24, 2005 - 11:39 PM PDT
The Girl From Monday seems to be edited very rhythmically. There are flowing shots, followed by stills and that gives it a kind of punctuation.
It's very musical. I mean, any editing is musical. There's always rhythm. My editing teacher was a musician, for instance, and that's not unusual. Back in the day, in the 30s and 40s, a lot of editors came from a musical background. They knew about rhythm. I tried to conceive of the movie audio first, pictures second. One day I will do this. I will make a movie entirely audio. We'll record the dialogue, we'll edit it together, we'll put sound effects in. Make a radio play and then use that as a script. Say, now we have to make pictures to go along with this. That's very freeing. Now obviously, I couldn't do that with this one, for time reasons, really. All the music was made first. I composed it to the script.
Did you play it at all while you were shooting?
No, but we'd listen to it. Sabrina [Lloyd] always wanted to hear it, Bill [Sage] wanted to hear it. I told them it's going to be a world that's noisy, so that seemed to help them a bit. But we wound up cutting very much to the music. I remember one day cutting with Hamilton and he was having some trouble and I didn't see it because the music was down - he was working with headphones. I asked him, "What's the problem? Why's it such a struggle? It seems kind of obvious that you go from here to here." Then he turned up the music and I saw what he was trying to do. He's really good. He didn't want to cut on the "one" of the music. For a little while, it was on "one," but now he liked to cut on the "three," to mix it up a little. It's that musical.
Do you think that it's dangerous, in a way, to get that in to editing towards the music. That you might feel isolated from the scene that you're cutting?
For the editor? One of the things you do as an editor is you constantly, after a couple of days, decide, "Okay, let's have some friends over and have some beer and look at it casually a couple of times." You learn lots of things that way. But you do that to step out and then go back in. But being in there, deep in there, is important, too.
I think of this as one of the films of mine that's a bit more challenging for a casual audience. From the very beginning, I thought that this was something I wanted people to establish a relationship with the same way I've established relationships with certain films or music - like a Radiohead album that it's taken me six months and many, many listens to really hear and it's beautiful, and I like it, and it's compelling for all that. I like the idea of making movies that insist on multiple viewings. That they'll live with you longer is exciting to me. That's another reason why making this film on a very low budget and thinking of its release or output in totally radically different terms - it all kind of came from the same place, the same brain, heart, or space. But it took us a while to figure it out. So you have conversations about editing and conversations about multiple viewings, and you're having conversations about distribution and it took us about a year to realize that we're talking about the same thing. It may be a different conception of storytelling, although I don't think it's really so different than most movies, but it's tied into a different notion of distribution.
Whenever I view the film with an audience, or introduce it, or Q&A, I try to bring this up. I can see the audience nodding their heads going, "Yeah, okay, that's good." Because the first twelve minutes of this is extremely aggressive. There's a lot of information that's visual, there's a lot of information that's coming through the voiceover, and they're not always talking about the same things. Again, I wanted to start this piece off with just the noise and the clamor of the world. We get through it around minute twelve and the movie starts to operate pretty much like a normal movie. We're doing whatever we can in the interviews and in talking to audiences to help them know that they don't have to digest the movie all in one sitting. And of course, movies that are released on DVD, that's what they do. The Criterion collections - they just sent me Fanny and Alexander on DVD as a Christmas gift - all the extras they have, a behind-the-scenes movie, outtakes and things - it's all encouraging us to have a more intimate and longer lasting relationship with a particular film. So maybe we're not really so far from that.
Tatiana Abracos as The Girl From Monday
Did you do much rehearsal for The Girl From Monday?
No. My earlier films I used to rehearse very much; it was almost theatrical. I'd have the actors on salary for a couple of weeks and we'd rehearse scenes. If possible, we would rehearse them in the place that we were actually shooting. But I feel confident now that I don't need that and there's a freshness and a spontaneity that I prefer, even though my films are very designed and very conscious. I'm still after a spontaneity, the real human being in collision with well understood and articulated dialogue and shots.
How has the audience reaction been to the film so far?
It's always quite moving and exciting, and the discussion's great, as long as I can introduce it. Their expectations need to be appropriate. I say that there's a lot of information, just like I was saying before, visual, audio. To appreciate a movie like this, you really don't need to get it all. Just find what interests you. And sometimes just synposizing it simply helps. This alien falls from outer space; she's looking for her friend. A lot of times, that's enough. At a screening in Ottowa, there were about 350 people and clearly these people didn't watch these kinds of films. They were mostly professional people, too, Canadian film distributors, and it was a really great experience. I stood in the back and I could see them freaking out a little in the beginning but, by the middle of the movie, they were really with it, and at the end, it was one of the best conversations I've had. People had never thought about what the movie brings up about how we commodify ourselves. A lot of people said, "Yeah, I've always felt that way and I've never seen it articulated." It was the kind of conversation where I could admit, "Yeah, I know I have a distinct message here." It's less like a full-on fiction than a digression of some kind. I'm ranting, I'm feeling a lot of things. Someone else really ought to investigate these things that I'm bringing up, but I don't think I'm capable. I don't have the intellectual or the whatever ability to really do that. But somebody ought to. And I think that's legitimate. I really do think that other art forms are much more open to this type of digression. Novelists will sometimes write book-length essays, musicians will do different things, but film? It's probably because of the money quotient. It's kept it very conservative.
The implication of the film seems to be that any one of us at any point could slip into a science fiction world with out really noticing. Our world already feels as though, if it were shot in a certain way, it could easily be seen as a science fiction world, a kind of dystopia.
That's exactly where it comes from. That's why I call it a "fake" kind of sci-fi movie. I got a little excited at the beginning and said, "Let's really try to do some sci-fi things," but then I lost interest immediately. Because my real interest is, as always, how we are now. But sometimes we need a distancing effect, to help us see the contradictions inherent in our shared experience. I think this is a very realistic movie about the way we live now. Simply the decision to tell it as if it were a science fiction movie, how the people talk as if they're in a science fiction movie, should necessarily create this disconnect, which is a way of thinking about what irony is, this awareness of this disconnect about the way we perceive the world and this momentary view of a different way of looking at the world. Most of us, when we experience this disconnect, we giggle, we laugh, we spasm, and I think that's kind of what I tried to do with it. I never used to use the word "irony" myself about what I did, but so many people use it about what I do that I feel I should address it.
Did being involved with a dancer change the way you make films at all?
Certainly. It was a big learning curve when I made Flirt, which was why I made a film that way. I didn't feel I wanted to make a feature film. I wanted to make short films where I could investigate. I felt dissatisfied within my working. I don't like establishing shots, I don't like shots that just do one thing, I like them to do something else. Necessarily, my films always felt cramped to me, or I didn't show enough, sometimes just on a story level, like, "Yeah, how could my audience know that she's at the hospital? I don't show anything that says 'hospital.'"
Going to foreign lands helped, because you don't take anything for granted. By the time I was in Japan, I was also committed to reducing the use of dialogue, and then, of course, working with Miho [Nikaido] - we couldn't really speak the same language too well - we picked up some things. But it was a real give and take. I'd show her what I wanted her to do, you know, pick up the tape recorder and put it over here and then she would do it of course differently, because of her physical difference, but then I would see something. Then I would have something concrete to work with that we'd build on. It worked very, very well. It was also in language, too. Not being able to speak the same language but having the English script here and the Japanese script here, and the dialogue numbered, I found that being deprived of the one-to-one communication with somebody made me a better director because I paid attention so much better. I'd be watching an actor, Miho or one of the other Japanese actors, and they would do something a little different than they had done in the other take - it seemed less confident or something - and I would turn to the assistant director who was also the interpreter and I would say, "What happened?," and he'd say, "Well, she said the correct line but in an idiom that's different. And it could change the meaning." But I was seeing that little moment of a lack of confidence or confusion, so I became much better in working with them.
Miho Nikaido in Kimono
It was around then that you seemed to take an interest in making films without dialogue.
I've been interested in making films without dialogue since Trust. But dialogue comes easy to me and a lot of the time it's just that I'm making a more conventional fiction than maybe I thought of at the beginning. Dialogue is the best way to move the story forward. This [gestures to his DVD Shorts Collection] is filled up with probably all the attempts to make short movies without dialogue in one way or another. And then with Kimono, for instance, I was just dying to work with Miho when she didn't have to worry about speaking English. Just trying to capture some aspects of that movement, that very special movement that she has. Some of the work that Miho has done on stage is just really some of the most interesting dancing I've ever seen.
Jonathan Marlow: With your next film, will you take this experimental path a bit further?
No, it'll be less experimental, in a sense, than this. It's Henry Fool, Part II. It's called "Fay Grimm" and it's about Parker Posey's character, in the first one. She goes out into the world looking for Henry. It's rumored that he didn't get on the plane. He might have gotten on the plane, but they're not sure. So it's sort of a big espionage thriller, but it's all about Parker. Some people find Henry Fool very aggressive. I don't. But it's more like that than The Girl From Monday. Although I'm not certain about the look yet. I haven't ever shot HD, so Sarah Cawley, the DP, and I, when I get back to New York, we're going to spend a couple of weeks investigating different cameras and doing what we did with the VX2000, asking ourselves what we can do that's interesting.
JM: Has it changed the process of your work by consistently using the same actors at different points in their careers, particularly in the case of working with Parker Posey again?
A relationship of any sort helps. It's funny with Parker; I've always been kicking myself in the pants for not casting her when she had just got out of college in Surviving Desire. She auditioned for Surviving Desire and she went to the same college as me, but graduated many years after. The teachers of the college had called me and said, "You've got to see this girl. She's completely in trouble academically but she's definitely the most talent person over here."
She's kind of a wild type, too. There was some suspicion that she wasn't as disciplined as she needed to be, and I think these things affected me and I didn't cast her. But she really would have been good. Mary Ward, who plays the girl, is fantastic, but I think Parker was closer to the right age and it would have really been the beginning of a great relationship, I think. As luck would have it, she started dating my cousin, so I would see her all the time and we became like family. I was telling her about Fay [Posey's character in Henry Fool] for a long time because I would watch all the movies she was doing; I could talk to her about character. She's really, really intelligent and, in fact, [she became] incredibly disciplined as the years went on. So by the time we made Fay in Henry Fool, again, I was kicking myself, thinking, "God, it's a supporting role. I really wish it was a starring role." So, even then, I was beginning to think of a sequel. Now I'm really excited about this.
JM: Is there a certain comfort in finally crediting yourself for the music in your films?
Yeah, I started crediting myself probably with Henry Fool. That's exactly it, it's comfort. When I started out making these films, I made the music but I didn't even think of putting a credit in because it didn't even seem like music. But then I got more and more interested in music, and then, in the mid-90s, working with Jeffrey Taylor, who composed with me and produced, he started producing my music, and I just learned a lot. He had moved away, our creative relationship ended, so I took a night course at the New School for sight reading and music notation. I loved it, taking one night a week to go to this thing and just learn a craft. And it made my music just so much more confident. Henry Fool is really where I start making music on my own entirely.
JM: It seems that there is a "created expectation" about what a Hal Hartley film is, based on your first three films. To break free of that, there is a critical bridge that you have to cross in order to get to the audience, since the detractors are evaluating your recent films on the standards of your earlier work.
Yeah, if you really do want to grow through your work and develop, which, to me, is interesting. Anything else is being the craftsman of anticipated product for known markets. So you do what you can to prepare people. I'm always getting comments like, "Why don't you make films like Trust anymore?" I'm like, "Because I was 28; now I'm 45. Life's different." Besides, other people make films like Trust now. It's sort of like a template for a particular type of contemporary melodrama and other people are doing that. I'm now free to investigate other things.
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"We call it the Wong Kar-Wai button."
"I will make a movie entirely audio."
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Originally hailing from Australia, the home of greatly-missed Victoria Bitter and the 'laid back life,' Hannah is currently based in San Francisco. Her writing can also be found in SOMA Magazine, The Santa Cruz Sentinel and Intersection Magazine, which she co-publishes with Jonathan Marlow.
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