Dave Andrae Interviews Himself
So you're doing a self-interview. My first question is why,
and how would you respond to someone who would consider this narcissistic and self-serving?
Many people have done self-interviews as it turns out. But initially I got
the idea from Peter Watkins. His reason for interviewing himself is that publications have often omitted the
political content from his answers to their questions. So interviewing himself on his website and for the
liner notes of his DVDs just became a better way of getting things across without someone minimizing or
distorting his viewpoint. My reason for doing this is more basic as The Plants Are Listening is still
somewhat fresh in my mind and I think reading about some of the ideas and processes behind it might
be a good supplement to watching it. Ideally someone would read all of this after having seen the movie.
I'd hazard a guess you're also interviewing yourself because
Film Comment and Cinema Scope aren't on the phone.
Right. But I don't think it's ill-advised or inherently disingenuous
to do a self-interview. One reason I don't mind doing this is that in the past when people have written
about my work for magazines and websites it often felt cursory, like they weren't digging deep enough and
asking the right questions.
How would you choose to position The Plants Are Listening in terms
of its style? What films or filmmakers would you say it has the most in common with stylistically?
I could rattle off a laundry list of many of the films and filmmakers that
have meant a lot to me over the years, but I don't know how much The Plants Are Listening has in common with
any one of them in particular. When I only had the first several minutes of it edited together, before we shot
the main conversation, I wrote on my blog that it reminded me a bit of Godard's JLG/JLG: Self-portrait in December.
But then when everything was in place that didn't seem like the most accurate reference point as Plants felt closer
to a conventional movie. I've been told it has some things in common with the work of Eric Rohmer, presumably because
significant parts are oriented around conversation. But my movie doesn't dwell much on the mechanics of male-female
relations, so that might be a misleading reference point.
Would you say that your movie is somewhat isolated?
It does feel like a kind of an isolated thing in some ways. Cinemawise I don't
feel a strong kinship with the current American zeitgeist. When it comes to my cinematic influences what separates
me from them more than anything else is time and place, and budget. Indeed, most of the narrative films I like are
older and they were shot elsewhere and weren't done for well under $10,000.
It seems like Florida is a significant part of the movie, and
The Plants Are Listening is more place-oriented than any of your previous films.
It's less inward-bound than something like Robert on his Lunch Break. But I
don't know how much it has in common with Florida as a whole. It's more like a glimpse into what might go on
during one specific afternoon in one specific house in one specific neighborhood.
Can you talk a bit about Florida, what it means to you, and how
this factors into the movie?
Florida's a large and populous state. I think it's difficult for anyone to
have a coherent view of everything that's gone on here. It's a mixed bag. A lot of people who live elsewhere
seem to dislike Florida, and while I could mention some trivia that might make them think of it in a more
favorable light, I don't know how much bearing that stuff has had on The Plants Are Listening. To me,
Southwest Florida, living by the coast in kind of a quiet, "unhip" area, what comes through the most
about this place is its most basic, elemental qualities. So the beautiful weather, and the nice light
at certain times of day. And the moisture in the air, and palm trees and birds and lizards, and the
breeziness off the Gulf and things like that. And all of the greenery in the peripherals and being able
to go for a bike ride at four in the morning in the middle of December while wearing a t-shirt. Given
that I'm kind of older and not really much of a scenester at the moment, it's not a bad fit and I
generally feel relaxed here. I think if you lived in a much "cooler" place and drove along the nearby
highway you'd be unimpressed by all of the stripmalls, plazas, and chainstores. But if you were to get
out of your car and go down by the water at the beginning or end of the day, or you strolled through
the more residential areas, you'd find more beauty and tranquility.
Is the long tracking shot near the end, Kaleigh's car ride along
the edge of the Gulf, an attempt to convey that?
Yes. If someone disliked The Plants Are Listening and wanted to
criticize it harshly he could accuse me of trying to glorify well-to-do people there, since a lot of
those homes are owned by the wealthy by and large. But I see it differently. The intended emphasis
there is on the plants and trees surrounding the houses. The title of the film after all is
The Plants Are Listening and I see that scene as creating a mood more than anything else.
My knowledge of architecture doesn't go very deep but I think it's safe to say that several of those
homes aren't really that impressive from the standpoint of aesthetics and design. In fact, some of
them seem kind of silly despite being super expensive. But the general area around the houses, the
greenery and beaches and so on, it has an enchanting quality, especially at that time of day. And
I wanted to capture that.
One thought that might run through the viewer's mind during
that scene is "How long is all of this going to be here?" what with the sea level steadily
There's a brief allusion to that at the very beginning, right before
the opening credits, when the map of Nokomis drops into the blue background. It's been hypothesized
that by 2070 much of this part of Florida will be submerged in water and uninhabitable, and I was
conscious of that while making The Plants Are Listening. But I still don't really see this as a
pessimistic movie. It feels reasonably goodnatured to me.
Aside from the shots that were filmed in the car there doesn't
seem to be much camera movement. Was that intentional?
It was. I usually prefer it when the camera stays still most of the
time and only moves when necessary. That turned out to be a good thing here because a DSLR isn't an
ideal camera for doing handheld work. Several years ago I saw Lukas Moodyson's Together and
really disliked the excessive zooming in and out that went on in the middle of shots. It rubbed me
the wrong way. Some newer television shows do this too. If I had to guess why I'd assume it's done
in order to create an air of spontaneity, like a scene's being shot in an off-the-cuff manner. But
instead it feels distracting and comes off like a cheap technique.
Are there any other stylistic pet peeves you have that had
an effect on the way you went about shooting The Plants Are Listening?
I don't like using over-the-shoulder shots when two people are
talking opposite one another. That might have been groundbreaking around the time your parents
were born, but it feels pretty stale now, and unnecessary. It usually looks better when a
person has a frame to herself. Another thing I tend to dislike a lot is when a director has
people chattering over music, especially non-diegetic music, like a pop song that's just kind
of slapped on top of a scene or sequence to bolster it. Of course over two thirds of all movies
do this, but I feel it's usually a device that should be avoided.
I noticed the movie is bright, in a literal sense. Was
For this particular movie, I found that I liked the look of it
when exposures were amply bright. Florida is generally pretty bright after all and there was a
desire to present the story during the day, when it feels like everything comes alive. But none
of the exposures are blown out, with the exception of the small strip of sunlight that briefly
hits the character Dave's back as he brings the dog inside.
Did you have a specific idea in mind for how to
The approach for the whole movie was to use natural lighting and
try to shoot each shot at the time of day in which the light would look best. Figuring this out
involved a lot of trial and error, a lot of waiting around and bracketing. So even though the movie
takes place in the late afternoon, parts of it were shot anywhere from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you
want to be a stickler about shadows and light angles, you might notice that when Simon goes out
for a cigarette the shadows around the burned out house across the street are slanted in the
"wrong" direction. And when he and Kaleigh are talking opposite one another, if you look at
the shadows you'll might notice that each half was done at an opposite time of day. A small
amount of additional, artificial lighting was used for a couple of shots, but most people
wouldn't notice it.
The movie seems to have a fair amount of
colorfulness. Did that come natural or was it more of an imposed decision?
It was deliberate, though in the case of footage that was
shot outside of the trees and plants and the like, just shooting them in optimal lighting
gave the images more radiance than usual. Unfortunately we didn't have the money to get a
colorist to professionally grade the film in post-production, but I did manually adjust
the color saturation level of each shot. All in all I think the quality of the imagery
is pretty good, especially compared to the kind of video that was shot even less than
ten years ago. And I like the way that some of the colors kind of pop out at you.
You mentioned on your blog that you
painted the wicker furniture red.
It was originally an off-yellow. While sizing up that
room for an earlier version of the movie a few years back it became clear that the color
needed to be less bland. And the coffee mug was already a vibrant red. So we spray-painted
the furniture red and the room looked much better. Later on we also painted my room sky
blue for a scene that only ended up lasting about a minute or two.
Let me guess. The walls were originally
What don't you like about the color yellow?
I don't dislike it across the board but for the bedroom
scene the yellow walls reminded me too much of Rosemary's Baby. And I don't like
Rosemary's Baby much at all. It has a stuffy feeling to it.
One of the larger points that could be
drawn here is that a lot of work can go into the final movie, including things that the
viewer might completely take for granted.
That's true. Some components are there by happenstance,
but a lot of things are intentional. There are many little things that are really basic,
like trying on a bunch of different outfits and heading across town to have one of the shirts
tailored. And arranging the photographs and artwork on the wall so that they would accommodate
the space occupied by the characters. And taking the car for a test drive around the block to
see if a monopod would suffice. I tried to be meticulous but there are still some "mistakes"
that made it into the final film.
What are the "mistakes" you mention,
if I may ask?
Nothing quite as jarring as that funny part in I'm
Gonna Git You Sucka wherein the mother character turns into a white guy with a mustache
as she's lifting a bad guy off the ground, but I think the most obvious "mistake" would
be how the brothers' hairdos sometimes look. In some shots during the main scene their
hair is neat and others it's more unkempt and shaggier looking. This isn't really a
dealbreaker for me and I would assume most people encountering the movie wouldn't
notice or care too much, but it is kind of nice when you see an old movie and everyone
has perfect hair and makeup throughout.
I would've guessed you might be the
kind of moviemaker who would prefer no makeup.
No. I don't think it's a concession toward patriarchal
Hollywood values for a person to have makeup on in a movie. For Plants, Dominique
and Robin wore their own makeup for their respective scenes and I just used a very
light powder to reduce shininess and even out the skin tone a bit. Since it was filmed
kind of piecemeal, in some shots my skin is a little less clear than in others. In the
first scene, when Jana and Simon are talking on the phone, my nose is rather shiny and
that's because we'd done a bunch takes earlier that afternoon, but after they were
imported to the computer an hour later I realized they were slightly out of focus.
So what you see is us rushing into it and doing all the lines in one quick take with
barely any time to spare, and I'd neglected to powder up again.
How much of shooting a movie do
you think boils down to logistics?
It seems too vague to put a percentage on it, but
in some ways logistics are the bread and butter of moviemaking. I know that when I'm
planning a movie it's a given that I have to think in terms of what can actually be
accomplished with a low budget and limited resources. Constraints dictate what the
film will be more than anything else. Unless you're doing animation or using green
screens or something like that, in order for something to exist on screen you have
to find a way to make it exist before you in real life long enough to capture it.
This means that narrative filmmaking is usually governed more by limitations than
possibilities, especially if you're working with a low budget.
It's not like writing where you
can make an old Victorian mansion exist simply by looking at one or researching
it on the internet and then describing it with words.
You have to find a Victorian mansion first and
then somehow get permission to shoot there. And then you have to figure out how
to light it, what to film it with. And you have to shoot your scene when none
of the next-door neighbors are operating machinery or blasting music. And the
actors have to show up and have their lines memorized. It might sound like I'm
complaining here, but really it's nice that I can use objects in the real world
to make movies with because I wouldn't be able to paint or draw them well at all.
Were peripheral noises an issue
for the shooting of Plants?
They were. Every time we shot sync-sound we
unplugged all the phones and turned off all the fans and air conditioning, and
the dog had to be put elsewhere and watched by someone so he wouldn't start
barking or paw at the door. And then the house across the street, the one that
had burned down, toward the end of the shooting phase they had a bunch of guys
over there who finally started building on its foundation. So I was in a little
bit of a pickle trying to find slots of time when it was sunny, my skin was
clear enough, I could get an assistant, and they weren't sawing and hammering
away across the street. A tiny amount of external noise did nonetheless make
it into the final film.
Here and there, during the main conversation,
you can hear a small discrepancy in the noisefloor from one shot to another. This
was likely caused by someone a block or two away mowing his lawn or something like
that. And when Kaleigh and Simon are chatting outside there's also a faint but
noticeable difference in the background noise. One half was shot a few months
after the other and someone in one of the nearby houses had turned on his air
conditioning when it got hotter. I would love to have had the budget to hire a
professional to mix and master the soundtrack in post-production, to filter that
out a bit, but it still sounds acceptable to me and I did a lot of crossfading
to blend the audio anyway. I was worried that it would be noticeable in the
theater, but when the movie screened in Tampa Bay at this huge complex you
couldn't hear it at all.
What was the time table for
shooting the movie? You said there was an earlier version.
My blog chronicles some of this. I forget the
exact chronology. But The Plants Are Listening was originally conceived about
two-and-a-half or three years before we had the final cut in place. It started
out as a different beast, not really an avant-garde movie but closer to being
an experimental narrative in that it was a little more conceptual and didn't
have a linear plot. It was at first going to be four unrelated conversations
in which pairs of people aired their grievances about this or that. And then
there would be shots of plants in the breeze after each one with minimal
electronic music to suggest the plants were absorbing the words and feeling
people's pain. Just talking about it now, it sounds kind of boring and prosaic,
but I planned to make it interesting and evoke this hypnotic feeling that the
plants were bearing witness.
Is that where the movie's title
It is. The idea that plants have ears somehow
and can feel more than we normally think they can seemed intriguing. I've never
studied botany and don't really know much about plants, to be honest, but in a
broad sense I appreciate them as a living, non-manmade presence in the world.
And I've grown to dislike environments in which there's mostly a bunch of
concrete and metal and glass at hand. In a lot of post-apocalyptic sort of movies,
like Mad Max or Snowpiercer or THX-1138 or something like that,
you don't really see a lot of plants or much of anything green anymore. So in a
general sense greenness can be seen as an indicator that things aren't too terrible.
I noticed there's a movie called
The Plants Are Watching. Have you seen it and were you aware that there was
already a movie with a similar title before you shot yours?
It's a thriller of some sort that was made toward
the end of the Seventies. I haven't seen it yet, but I did become aware that
there was a similarly titled movie after coming up with the title for this
one. Usually if it happens that something with a similar name already exists,
I'll try to come up with something different. But with this one, since I felt
drawn to the title and came up with it independently of knowing about the other
one, keeping it seemed like the right way to go. It doesn't seem like there
will ever be much confusion between the two movies.
Getting back to the timeline of
the production, how and when did the movie transition into what it finally became?
My blog chronicles most of this, perhaps in more
detail than I'd care to revisit now since it's all water under the bridge.
What do you mean?
While making a movie, since I usually tend to work
slowly, there's a desire to share what's going on at various stages as it's happening.
I find it trying to sink so many hours into something without having a finished
piece to show yet. There's a lot of getting up in the morning, having coffee and
breakfast and relieving yourself, and showering and so on, and then meeting various
people and rehearsing and writing and revising. And there's a lot of sending out
emails and making phone calls. So periodically writing about what's happening,
while it's happening, is a way of marking time. But I don't know how interesting
it is to read about all of that after it's all said and done.
So you don't really think the
detours, and frustrations, and stops and starts are that important in light of
the final movie?
I would say that while I'm in the thick of it a
lot of these things seem much more significant than they do later on. But that
probably has to do with there being doubts as to whether the movie will turn
out in the end. There can be a fair amount of uncertainty at times. But if
everything falls into place there's a giant sense of relief, like things have
settled and reached their logical conclusion. It's similar to how someone can
have a very stressful week but then when Friday rolls around and she punches
out and has a couple drinks with her friends at happy hour, all of a sudden her
troubles don't seem so bad and none of it feels like a big deal.
How did you meet Dominique Joelle
who played the character Jana, and what do you think she brought to the movie?
I first encountered Dominique online. That's not
how I would usually prefer to meet an actor, but I chanced upon a trailer for a
feature she'd starred in and it occurred to me right away that she would be a good
fit for one of my movies. I was working on the first version of Plants and the
second scene involved a conversation between a couple of young playwrights and
it seemed like she would be a good match for it. She's of Asian-Middle Eastern
descent and easy on the eyes but I was just as drawn toward her demeanor, which
gave me the impression that she was funnier and more dynamic than you might think
just looking at a still photo of her. So we got to know each other a bit and it
became feasible for her to play the part. I think she brought a youthful vitality
into the fold which served to offset the older nature of the philosophy and
literature discussed in the movie. I wasn't originally slated to play the part
of the character Simon who talks to her on the phone, but after the movie
transitioned into the final version and my half of that scene was in the
can, I realized it was a good idea to cast someone younger for her part.
Why do you say that?
I look a bit tired from the passage of time. And
in general the Simon character seems a little jaded from experience, so it's nice
that there's a discernible contrast between him and Jana. She has more youthful
idealism left. She's young and pretty and looking to move somewhere new. But as
Simon points out, the plays she puts on are delicate in nature and very refined,
so ideally she needs to relocate to somewhere that isn't too provincial and
apathetic toward such things.
When Simon declares that the
small city, which is never named, is stifling, did you have a specific place
in mind when you wrote that?
That scene, which was originally longer, was
born out of the very basic idea of someone feeling that the ocean is
preferable to a small pond. I might have had a little bit of a chip on
my shoulder when I wrote it but I didn't have a specific place in mind,
no. It's a perennial conversation, especially among people in the arts.
But it's more of a younger person's dilemma. Personally I think a person
can make good art anywhere and that in a lot of cases isolation can breed
uniqueness. That scene might make the viewer think otherwise, but in general
I don't think a "one-horse town" is necessarily a bad place to be.
You said that first scene
was originally longer. Why did it get cut down?
It felt too static in its unabridged form.
Two minutes seemed like enough. It's a little similar to the beginning of
Aki Kaurismaki's Lights in the Dusk in which a few guys walk by and
briefly have a conversation about Gogol in that it establishes a somewhat
literary context but doesn't overstay its welcome. Even though she doesn't
have a lot of lines, Dominque's acting is especially strong during the
parts that made it into the final cut, and I wanted to leave the viewer
hungry for more there.
How did you meet Robin
Morrissey-Jones who played the character Kaleigh, and what do you think
she brought to the movie?
For a few months Robin lived a stone's
throw away from where we were shooting. I met her one morning when she
was walking by the house with her son. Before I encountered her I was
having trouble finding someone local to play the role of Kaleigh. If the
movie were being made now I would know where to put the word out, but at
the time it was difficult trying to find someone to fill those shoes.
Robin came through though. I give her an enormous amount of credit for
being a "non-professional" actor with no prior experience who stepped
up to the plate. I think she brought a gracefulness and maturity to the
movie, and I absolutely love her response to the Vicekopf record. Even
though we paid her a little money for the job, she did me a huge favor
just by showing up and doing the work that was needed. It was an added
perk that her mom had a convertible, because we ended up not having to
rent a car for the scene in which she drove along the Gulf.
There's a scene in
the movie wherein Kaleigh and the brothers listen to a rather unusal
record, the piece "How to Pronounce "Prosthesis'" by the aforementioned
Vicekopf, a.k.a Gregory Whitehead. What inspired you to feature that
piece in the movie?
I felt that since the movie featured
some discussion on experimental art and its viability in the marketplace
it would be wise to include an example of something experimental. This
way the viewer wouldn't just hear talk about something but instead he
or she would get to experience the real thing, possibly even for the
first time. A similar impulse was behind including a couple of quotes
from Schopenhauer instead of just featuring discussion of his philosophy.
But even though I've made some reasonably experimental work, I'm much
less a connoisseur of experimental films, music, and books than I am
someone who was influenced by such things to extent that I understand
now that a work of art can be any number of things, regardless of
whether it's my cup of tea. So in a general sense experimental art,
or what we call experimental art, has opened my mind a bit. But the
Gregory Whitehead piece is brilliant! My friend Matt Simmons turned
me on to it when I was about nineteen, before I'd managed to see that
many avant-garde movies, and ever since then it's stuck out in my
mind as one of the most successful examples of someone playing with
expectations, in any medium.
Was there a specific
way you chose to directed Robin to get that particular response out of her?
When Robin came over to the house to
discuss the movie in more detail, I poured her a Duvel and showed her
the first several minutes of the movie so that she could see how it
looked so far. Then I said, "I'm gonna play you a very strange record,
but I won't play the piece for you now because I want you to hear it
for the first time right before I record your response to it." I told
her that I wanted her honest response, in plain words, and that it
should last between forty-five seconds and three minutes. I only
wanted to shoot one take so hopefully what she was going to say
would be compelling. I didn't tell her this, but I didn't want her
response to be full of references to other artists and sound collages
and things like that as that would have been implausible. Instead I
wanted it to sound like someone just down the street who was maybe
into art but not as much of a nerd as the boys had heard it for the
first time and then offered her two cents.
because there's this sense that in the rest of the film the lines
that are spoken are scripted, but there it comes off like a slice
of life that was plucked from a documentary.
I don't know if it's my place to
rate the overall believability of The Plants Are Listening. To me
the suspension of disbelief in cinema has become kind of an odd thing
to talk about because I'm nearly always aware that a movie is a
constructed thing. Watching a movie is sort of like being put
under a spell and what makes the spell compelling or not...sometimes
it has little to do with what we call realism. I'm much more
interested in the creative choices that are being made and how
they resonate and mingle with one another in the mind. But
Robin's response there does sound different. The acting
elsewhere in the movie is probably more subdued.
You ended up playing
two roles in the film, those of twin brothers Simon and Dave. Did you
have a specific idea in mind regarding how to render your performances?
Acting in this, for me, was a necessary
evil. I didn't really approach it as a means of self-expression, like
a Hollywood "acTOR acTING" sort of thing. Instead of assuming the tone
of a social butterfly at a bustling dinner party, I wanted the lines to
feel more casual. There was some assertiveness, I think, but in some
ways the acting was kind of like breathing, or at least that's how
I'd prefer to see it. Unfortunately a few of my lines that made it
into the final cut sound more affected than I would like, but I
still think the overall tone ended up being fairly consistent and
appropriate for the subject matter.
Your dog Kaji had a
major role in The Plants Are Listening. Why did you decide to feature
him in the movie, and what do you think he added to it?
Kaji is a little bundle of joy, and he
helps everyone around him take life less seriously. Including him just
felt like the right thing to do because he's very photogenic and a lot
of fun to be around. He kind of stole the show. In the movie, right
before Kaji is introduced, the Dave character reads a passage from
Georges Bataille that touches on mortality and then we see an image of
his face. And while he might not exactly look old, he doesn't look
young either. He's a little puffy and tired. It seems the years are
catching up to him a bit and he's about to brood. But before he can
dwell on anything too much Kaji comes running into the room looking
to be let outside. So there's a brief moment of reflection and then
life goes on.
Do you think the presence
of Kaji negates the movie's philosophical and literary impulses?
I don't know if he cancels them out
so much as he shows that it's possible to be unconcerned with such
things and still engaged with your surroundings. Having spent a lot
of time around him, just observing his behavior, it's safe to say
he has an elaborate range of emotions. Dogs in general, their
feelings are more nuanced than a lot of people think. I can
spend hours around Kaji and not feel bored because he's dynamic
and fairly excitable. The last couple of times I had a woman
over to the house, he wouldn't stop barking at her, and sometimes
he'll be demanding, but in general he's great company. We've talked
about doing another movie with him, in which he has a more prominent
role, but it's difficult filming him with a DSLR because he doesn't
stay still very long.
The music pieces featured
in the movie range from experimental sound collage, to ambient electronic
music, to moody indie rock. Was there a specific set of criteria at play
in selecting them?
Some directors will employ music
supervisors to select various pieces for them. But I'm more the
kind of guy to select pieces myself since at any given moment I'm
preoccupied with a lot of different music and my taste is very
particular. The common denominator here is that all of the pieces
are things I liked and things that weren't difficult to secure. I
got permission to use the Gregory Whitehead piece just by looking
him up on the internet and shooting him an email. People's Palms
is a friend, Austin, who I met by chance when a friend was recording
a band of his. The Robert Scott song was originally featured on The
Clean's record Getaway, but after I saw a clip of him performing
it solo in a New Zealand library it occurred to me that a stripped-down
version of it would work well in a movie. I knew Bob a bit so I asked
him if he'd do it and he was game. The song turned out really well and
I remember listening to it for the first time and playing it on repeat
for a while, just sort of enjoying it for the sake of its vibe.
Is that why the song
gets played several times in a row at the end of the movie?
Yeah. I felt that the tracking shot
was kind of lulling and beautiful in its unabridged form and since the
song was nice Kaleigh could just listen to it on repeat a few times.
That might have made the film less accessible to film festival programmers
who were trying to size up how general audiences would respond, but I
think it's best to make exactly the movie you want to make rather than
streamlining things for short attention spans.
The editing speed of
The Plants Are Listening seems idiosyncratic since certain shots
last only a few seconds while others linger much longer. Was there a
particular logic behind this?
Timing is such a personal thing.
I would say that some of the images in the movie almost serve as
palette cleansers in that they're meant to slow the viewer down a
bit and recalibrate his or her senses. I remember, in Mai Zetterling's
film The Girls, there's a brief part in which the troop of
actors in the film are on a bus driving through the wintery night.
And for only fifteen or twenty seconds there's this relaxing shot of
the exterior of the bus with the bright lights on top whipping through
the snow. When I saw that for the first time, in the context of the
film, I wanted it to last much longer. So in The Plants Are Listening
certain images or scenes aren't whittled down to expedite the narrative
progression but instead they're allowed to unfurl at a more meditative
pace. Some viewers might find it boring but as a whole I think the
movie is put together in a harmonious fashion.
The movie is only 51
minutes long. That's rather short for a feature.
By some people's yardsticks that's
not a feature, but by more and more people's it is. One of the best
films I've seen in the last six months is Jean Eustache's Santa Claus Has
Blue Eyes. It's just this really cool low-budget movie and unfortunately
I've only been able to see it on YouTube because it has yet to be reissued
here. But one of the things that's impressive about it is that it's exactly
as long as it needs to be. So many people who make movies, in order to
conform to the demands of the marketplace, will take an hour's worth of
material and drag out it to ninety minutes, or even longer. When I make
a movie I never have a predesignated idea of exactly how long it will
be. I didn't even know The Plants Are Listening would be my debut
feature until most of it was in the can.
The bulk of the main
conversation that takes place in the movie is about German philosopher
Arthur Schopenahuer and his book The Wisdom of Life. What inspired you
to feature several minutes of dialogue about him?
I'm not that well read compared to
someone who's studied literature, but I do like to read when I can find
the time. And of everything I've read in the last ten years,
Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralimpomena, which contains The Wisdom of Life,
easily lands in my personal top five. Now, if you want to know who I'm voting
for in the upcoming primary election, it's Bernie Sanders. His form of
populism is one that appeals to me and I agree with him on probably at
least 90% of the issues as I think his positions reflect what's best for
most people. But matters of taste are a different kettle of fish, because
what "the public" thinks is best can be wrong. This is especially the case
with cinema, as it's every other day that I discover some great, new-to-me
film that didn't get its due at the time of its release. If you read
Schopenhauer's essays about writing in Parerga and Paralimpomena, not
only are they still relevant to literature today, but they also apply
just as well to moviemaking. I agree with him on so much of what he had
to say there that its almost as if his politics don't even come into play.
It's interesting because
you do take him to task over some of his shortcomings during the main
conversation in the movie.
In hindsight, I think I might have been too
hard on him. He was vehemently for the abolition of slavery in America, at a
time when not a lot of people in his position were writing about it. He was against
eating meat, which I think is the more noble position to take even though I'm
not vegetarian. He was heavily referencing Buddhism, Hinduism, and in general
Eastern philosophy at time when most of these things weren't even on most
Western intellectuals' radars. The quality of his prose is great and in general
I think he studied a great deal, things from all around the world and different
eras. If you go on Wikipedia and look up Schopenhauer, there's a scathing quote
about him from Bertrand Russell in which he claims there's no evidence that
Schopenhauer ever behaved anything but selfishly. Someone recently followed
it up with a specific quote from Schopenhauer himself that sort of cancels
that out, but more generally I think his body of work as a whole negates that.
Why do you say that?
If you look at what he wrote, especially in
Pareraga and Paralimpomena, he was concerned with things that were germane
to everybody. The stuff of life, essentially. A lot of philosophers will write
about matters that are so theoretical that they're only relevant to people in
their specific branch of philosophy, which is kind of arcane, and you have to
formally study it in order to even know what they're talking about. And there
can be a tendency to obfuscate what a person means, as a way of dressing up
prose instead of being plainspoken. Schopenhauer believed that you should
use ordinary words to say extraordinary things, and not the other way around.
So I think his whole enterprise was an effort to communicate genuinely on a
plane that was lofty and well reasoned but not inaccessible. I can forgive
him for making some silly comments here and there.
One thing I noticed is
that a lot of the art in your movie was made by males. Is that just a coincidence?
Some of the photographs are by women, including
my mom, and some of the books in the bookcase are by women authors and I namedrop
Virginia Woolf, but I think it was just a coincidence that all of the music was
made by men. I wouldn't mind doing a movie where I discuss women filmmakers but
with this one I didn't want to directly discuss a lot of cinema.
Who are some of the women filmmakers
you like, if I may ask?
I just saw a pretty great debut feature from
Chile called Thursday Till Sunday that was made by one Dominga Sotomayor.
It's very charming, well shot, and underrated. It's something cinephiles should
definitely seek out. And about a week ago I watched Joanna Hogg's Exhibition
and thought it was enjoyable. Agnes Varda's Vagabond has Permanent Top Ten
Status and I plan to check out that upcoming boxset of her films on Eclipse. I
love The Headless Woman and have enjoyed other films by Lucrecia Martel.
Gulshat Omarova's Schizo a.ka. The Recruiter is a super great
boxing movie with fine cinematography. Probably to a fault, I gravitate more
toward feature films, but there's a lot out there I have yet to see. As a
cinephile I'm always learning about new things.
So what's next for you
I have a musical concern called Tired of
Triangles with an album in progress called Up at 4 A.M..
I don't know how many people outside of from my small cricle of friends will
care about it, but I hope to complete it by the end of Winter. [Editor's note:
You can hear the new Leila M. and Tired of Triangles 7" ("Intertwined Destinies"
b/w "Crimson Gold") HERE.] And there
will probably be more movies at some point, though I'm not working on
anything at the moment.
Okay, well, good luck with that.