Thursday, January 26, 2012

I Wish "brilliantlove" for Everyone

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I Wish brilliantlove for Everyone

(from 5/25/10)

Of my favorite films at the recent Tribeca Film Festival, none got me more pumped than Ashley Horner's brilliantlove, a bold erotic film from England. Maybe it's because I got no resistance when I championed the splendid narratives When We Leave and A Brand New Life and documentaries The Arbor and Budrus, but briliantlove was a harder sell because of the jarring sexual content. brilliantlove was made by the Newcastle-based Pinball Films, comprised of director-producer Horner, screenwriter Sean Conway, and coproducer Karl Liegis, who boast on their web site that their company is the "Producer of extreme outsider cinema." brilliantlove fits that criteria.
It stars risk-taking, movie-neophytes Nancy Trotter Landry and Liam Browne (middle in my photo), as Noon and Manchester, an attractive, obsessively-in-love young couple who live in a one-car garage. Though she dabbles in taxidermy and he is a house painter, they spend most of their waking hours having sex. He purchases an instamatic and begins filming their kinky acts. The pictures fall in the hands of a porno filmmaker, who sets up an exhibit of the photos at a gallery and tries to make Manchester into an art celebrity. When Noon discovers Manchester agreed to the exhibit, she breaks off their relationship. The tormented Manchester tries to win her back.
Art is by nature subversive and Horner's artistic endeavor surely challenges the rules for what filmmakers can include in erotic non-porno films and what audiences can expect to see. I told Conway that I saw someone flee the theater during a Tribeca screening and we agreed that was a good thing. If everyone is comfortable with this film, then it isn't doing its job. Unfortunately some critics, particularly young bloggers without knowledge of the history of sex in the cinema, were so unresponsive to what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish that I felt like going through their reviews and refuting all their negative assumptions. I won't do that here, but I do want to say that even if critics were correct in saying the filmmakers wanted to shock for shock's sake, which I doubt is the case, that's certainly a legitimate way to shake up the complacent, as Madonna well knows. Also: maybe we have no inclination to hang out with Manchester and Noon, who the filmmakers didn't try to make 100% appealing (indeed Manchester is at times a bit repulsive), but we must applaud them for being the two people in the world to achieve true love and show us that obsessive love, with a lot of sex, can be a great thing. And: rather than there being neither rhyme nor reason for what we see on the screen, there were many intelligent choices made by people (cast and crew) who deeply believed in the movie's romantic/sexual themes. This is exactly the film that Horner, Conway, Liegis, Landry, and Browne wanted to make, partly because no one had dared tackle such a film before. There are a number of times I thought "that's something new" when watching this movie, and I think you'll have the same positive reaction. Kudos to Tribeca Film Festival for showing it.
Below is an an informal Q&A between the audience at the screening I attended and Horner, Conway, Browne, and Landry (a model, dancer, classical singer, cabaret performer, and former Ring Master with the Giffords Circus). That is followed by an enjoyable interview I did with the enthusiastic director and his two amiable stars.
Audience Q&AQ: Where did you get the idea for the story?
Ashley Horner: I met Sean about four years ago. He came to my office and had the idea for a short film called Erotology, about two characters who live in a garage, and it was comprised of vignettes, a series of images. It was kind of a study of sexual lovemaking. I thought it was really fascinating. I was finishing my first film and said, "Sure." We were from similar places and had similar ideas about making a really interesting British erotic piece of cinema, because it's not a genre we do very well in Britain. We're kind of sexier than that sometimes. And that's kind of where it began. We'd been trying to make films for about ten years and we got to a point where we decided to make a certain type of film that nobody else was making. It may have been brave but it was also pragmatic because nobody was allowing us to make the films that we thought we wanted to make. Once you lay out that this is what you are doing, it brings people to you who have the same philosophy and spiritual blah blah blah. Basically you say, "This is what were going to do. Were going to be brave about it and make the fucking cinema nobody else is making"--and that brought people together. Thats how it happened.
Q: Where was it filmed?
AH: In northeast England, meant to look like a generic northern England, and we shot it in twenty-six days, with a crew from around the world.
Q: Has it been shown in the U.K. yet?
AH: We sent a real rough cut to Tribeca and they were really interested. They seemed committed to filmmakers who were trying new stuff. We finished the film seven days ago and delivered it the day before it was to be screened here. We beat the volcano by about five hours. It hasn't been shown anywhere, there are no deals in place. You are among the five hundred people who have seen this film and I love you for coming to see it.
Danny Peary: Because of all the graphic sexual imagery, are the actors scared about screenings of the movie?
Liam Browne: Not really. More people masturbate than take drugs. [Laughter]
Nancy Trotter Landry: I was scared. I think it is a bit scary anticipating viewer reactions. This is only the second time I've seen it.
Q: Liam, what is the most important message of the film?
LB: Love. It's about two people who love each other without all the bullshit of jobs, friends, and other interests, and are just completely entwined with each other.
Q: Is the film also a satire on the commercial art world? Was that added to the script later on just to bring a crisis to the characters?
Sean Conway: It was in there a little bit at the beginning. One of the original titles of the film was Fuck Art. But it was never intended to be an attack on the art world. That was never what the film was about. It is just part of the trajectory of what happens to the two of them.
Q: One of the elements I really like in the film is the music. How did you use it?
AH: I use the music in the film to place you somewhere emotionally. It's music that works for me as well. Music is really difficult in film. You may have something in mind that works but you can't afford to use it. You may have something else that really doesn't do it, but you try to make it work emotionally. There was a point that I didn't want to use any music in the film at all, apart from the music that the two characters would have found in their lives, like on CDs they got on the street or was left to them. That would have been beautiful and it would have worked but it was too expensive to do. So the music in the film is a combination of my record collection and the work of a fantastic music supervisor. Connie Farr, who worked really hard and provided me with about seven hundred tracks to go through to hit the note I was looking for. I used to be a musician and now I'm shocked that I'm a filmmaker. Music is really important to me. I love all the bands who said yes to doing this film.
Q: What's next for you guys?
AH: The next big thing will be Sean's directorial debut. He'll write it also, and I'll produce it and hopefully you'll come back and see it!

My Q&A with (L-R) Landry, Browne, and Horner
Danny Peary: After the screening, you said really wanted to go all the way sexually with this film.
Ashley Horner: Did I say that? [Actually, he did not say that exactly, but I thought it was inferred.]
DP: Did you ever want to hold back at all?
AH: I think I held back a lot. I don't think the film is all that explicit. It has some beautifully-choreographed sequences of lovemaking but I don't think we went that far. For me the love-making scenes are about two characters connecting and the way they express their physical and emotional love for one another. I wanted to be emotionally extreme rather than sexually explicit to the extreme.
DP: But whats wrong with being sexually explicit to the extreme?
AH: Theres nothing wrong with it but I'm trying to make art cinema.
Nancy Trotter Landry: You're trying not to separate the two themes--the lovemaking and the emotional; you're trying to move them together.
AH: Exactly. I could have made a porn film with a cum shot every ten minutes, which is the very traditional construct.
Liam Browne: You could have made it more explicit because of the way it is on the page.
AH: Yeah, the screenplay is actually much more explicit than the film that we made.
DP: Does that mean more sex?
AH: More graphic and more gynecological, with language that is less poetic.
DP: A lot of people who make porn films, particularly women directors, have all that deamy "lovemaking-is-beautiful" stuff and you fall asleep watching it. Your film, the way I see it, is really graphic and raw and stays away from that beautiful stuff-- but ironically, even paradoxically, the result is kind of beautiful.
AH: Is that a good thing?
DP: Yeah. In fact, in the early seventies when people started making XXX films like Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones, which are about obsessive sex, many of us who were really into movies and against censorship were excited by this revolution. We predicted the injection of explicit sex into mainstream cinema, whereby barriers would be broken down and characters would have a new, sexual way to express themselves. Your film is exactly the type of film we were hoping for, which never happened.
AH: My goodness, that's a fantastic compliment.
DP: What characters don't do in movies, other than in a rare film like The Last Tango in Paris, which I assume youve seen...
AH: It's one of the first movies that made me want to be a director...
DP: communicate through sex. For some reason, filmmakers will have "sex" scenes just to show characters in bed making love but they dont think of sex as a way for their characters to communicate. In this film, Manchester and Noon communicate through sex. Is that how you see it?
NLT: This relationship is full of vigor and they have excitement to be together, and, yeah, sex is the language that they are speaking.
LB: They express their love through sex. They express it more and more, which is why they experiment more and more. They're being artists in how they do it.
DP: If people described these two lovers who live in a garage as hedonists, would you agree?
LB: I dont think a hedonist would be committed to one person, as they are to each other.
AH: A hedonist could be committed to one person but he'd have sex with other people and do things away from the other. Whatever Manchester and Noon are doing sexually is always about one another, even when they're just fantasizing.
NLT: They aren't doing much without the other. They aren't going to jobs, they have a lot of free time that they spend with each other. They're just tinkering along.
AH: Manchester has a job cleaning windows, but there are a lot of things we shot that didn't make it into the movie.
DP: Did you cut a lot?
AH: Sean's screenplay is wonderfully structured and poetic but it's free-wheeling, so I could have shot enough for two films. In the cinematic tradition, like Hitchcock, I wanted to make the film for an audience so I trimmed it to about 95 minutes rather than having a sprawling, indulgent 120-minute film.
DP: Was being indulgent the big mistake you could have made with this movie?
AH: Absolutely.
DP: Was there an audition process or a lot of discussion about whether the actors could do this?
AH: I held open casting because nobody would touch the film, meaning no casting director would come on board to help me find the actors that might play the parts. But I also wanted fresh faces. A lot of actors who are making their livings in the UK on television couldn't consider taking this film because it would destroy their careers. I found five or six strong actors but needed the chemistry to work. I never did this before, but I did a call back and tried four actors, before casting Liam and Nancy.
DP: How much did you guys know about the film before you went to the first audition?
NLT: We'd seen the script.
LB: The story captured me and as I said, the sex on the page was even more shocking then what is in the film now. But the story just got me and through the last page there were beautiful moments in the script. But I didn't know anything about Ashley or Sean Conway or Pinball Films. So I did some research, just to protect myself and be sure nobody was going to take advantage of me in some way. The Pinball Films web site had artistic elements and I read about Sean and it was clear he was a fucking genius. So I made the decision to do it. My agent was asking me, "Are you sure you want to do this? You dont have to." When I was offered the part, he was still asking me, "Do you want to do it?" And I'm never asked that with anything else. And I said, "Of course, I want to do it."
NLT: I'd question doing any script but more so with this one. I was deliberating quite a lot. I hadn't made a film before. I was intrigued when I first saw the announcement for it and invite for auditions. It was edgy and trying to push boundaries and I liked the sound of that. And I was interested in the character, Noon.
AH: Nancy, you were casting yourself against type, werent you!
DP: When you auditioned, what scene did you do?
LB: It was the scene where Manchester gets himself off, when he hadn't had sex for a long time and they try doing it doggie style.
AH: There was no holding back! But what was the initial audition scene for you, Nancy?
NLT: Sitting next to each other in the car.
DP: After the screening you said that the film was scary to you, and I'd think that is what made it exciting as well. Or was it just, "Oh, I got a job!"?
NLT: The prospect of doing it was exciting because I liked the idea it was breaking boundaries.
DP: But did you realize that you would play a sexual female who was breaking new ground for females in the cinema?
NLT: I hadn't thought of that, but that's exciting to hear.
DP: And Manchester does things on screen that will shock people.
LB: I was scared as well, I was nervous about the sex.
AH: We all were!
LB: But I like scary things. I don't like when people just do the same thing all the time.
DP: Well, this is a one-time thing. I can't imagine you doing anything like this again.
AH (laughing): I just booked them for brilliantlove 2. It's a franchise now!
DP: In the movie, Manchester and Noon have an obsessive love. In movies, particularly French classic films, when characters love all the way typically the love burns out and if they survive they can look back and recall the other person as the love of their life. Is that what will happen to these characters or will they go on and on and on and have grandkids?
NLT: I think that has to do with the slight allegorical element of the story. There is a sense that they will go on forever, that it was hot like that and it would go on to infinity in that way.
AH: There was actually a scene that we shot in which Manchester meets his older self. You still actually see Old Manchester very briefly in the film. The guy who opens the shed is Manchester at sixty-years-old. I thought we didn't need more to explain that this is one of the greatest loves ever.
DP: Which is what you wanted.
AH: Absolutely.
DP: Nancy, in Noon's poetic narration she says a line about how her soul comes out of hiding with Manchester in her life. That's an amazingly romantic thing to say about anybody.
NLT: I understood what she means. As an actor I could imagine and bring out that feeling of freedom and at the same time sacrifice and commitment.
AH: Sean Conway wrote that line. He's brilliant.
DP: When Manchester masturbates he's always thinking of Noon. But Noon can masturbate just thinking about sex. That's the ideal girlfriend who is sexual all the time. [Laughter] But I found that she's not thinking about him a bit problematic because I think they should love each other in exactly the same way, loving each other equally. What do you think?
NLT: To be honest I don't completely grasp the scene where she's masturbating while watching the porno film. But I got from Ash that without a man she is just giving herself reassurance through physical gratification.
AH: I think that scene is really important because it shows that even without Manchester she's still sexual. We felt that every time Manchester masturbates Noon is in his head but when Noon masturbates it's all sorts of other things. I think in that scene she's trying to get Manchester out of her head. There was a scene we shot that we didn't use when she says, "I tried thinking about other men but kept coming back to Manchester." Thats what that scene is about. That's actually the physical embodiment of what she talks about.
DP: As much as Manchester and Noon already love each other and have obsessive love for each other early in the movie, at that time I dont think they know what they have. I think they do near the end of the movie.
AH: Exactly. After being through hell, they know what they've got.
DP: Noon must realize she doesn't ever want anyone but Manchester, because there is something that pulls her to the garage when it's on fire and he is in danger.
AH: There is a sixth sense, some fantastic connection between these two that allows her to come back there at that moment.
DP: At the screening, someone asked if there was some satire in your film regarding the commercialization of their amateurish sex photos, when they end up as a museum exhibit.
AH: It's not a full-on satire, but the art world is represented in a one-dimensional way.
DP: I guess what Im wondering is: Can you take what they have and make it commercial? It's all about purity, which is why Noon gets mad at Manchester for agreeing to exhibit them. He perverts something that was beautiful and personal.
AH: She didnt know what he was doing until she arrived at the gallery.
LB: That's why there is a scene in the film where Manchester comes by with the camera he bought on the street and she tries to have sex with him and he is annoyed for the first time. He's trying to tell her what he's doing with the camera but she's not giving him the opportunity to explain what's going on. I think it's a difficult thing for him to tell her because of the way his head works, just coming and going and never getting around to doing it.
AH: He can never spit it out.
DP: What they are doing when there is no camera there, and even when Manchester has his little camera and is photographing their sex--isn't there some performance art going on, even if only for each other? Liam referred to their being artists in their lovemaking. Maybe Manchester realizes that.
NLT: Right, when she's riding on the bicycle and stuff like that and he's taking pictures.
AH: Would this story exist if Manchester hadn't left the photographs in the pub? They could have just gone on forever.
DP: Do they need anybody else?
NLT: I don't think they think they do. In reality, I don't know if that's the case.
DP: I like the concept of mad love, but in other movies the couple usually has to go out and rob banks or shoot up things and commit crimes. Or in In the Realm of Senses, the female finally needs to mutilate and murder her lover as part of their natural progression sexually.
AH: You should try to see a Japanese film called Jitsuroku Abe Sada that was directed by Noboru Tanaka. Its English title is A Woman Called Abe Sada. It was made in 1975 and was top ten box office in Japan, and I found it on VHS on the old Pagan Films label in the UK. The film was inspired by the same real life story as Ai No Corrida, which I saw very early in my cinematic education but was made about fifteen years earlier. I think it really holds up today. I finally saw Ai No Corrida in the the early 1990's and it stayed with me when we were developing brilliantlove. At one point we discussed whether our film should end tragically, but I couldn't punish Manchester and Noon for enjoying the sexual side of love. That would be miles away from what I am trying to say with the film.
DP: Finally, Ashley, do you want to shake up things with this movie and/or to lead other people to make films like this?
AH: I don't think anybody should be making films that ape someone else's. I do think everyone should be making more extreme, brave, question-asking, philosophical, beautiful films. My intention as a producer-director is to make many more powerful pieces of cinema. That's my raison d'etre.


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