A slow-burning chamber piece tracing the steady drift of two couples, Golden Exits finds Perry working in a lower key to fathom the disappointments of friendship and the perils of believing in unspoken promises. Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz is revelatory as Nick, a frustrated archivist channeling his unspoken angst into his work on his late father-in-law’s papers when interrupted by the arrival of a wide-eyed and beautiful Australian intern who comes to work with him for the summer. Chloe Sevigny brings a world-weariness and creeping misanthropy to her role as Nick’s wife—tellingly, a psychologist—cursed with the ability to read the larger patterns of bad habits. Rounding out the cast are Jason Schwartzman as a music producer secretly searching for a new direction, and an electric Mary-Louise Parker as Nick’s overbearing and harshly judgmental sister-in-law whose pronouncements are as cruel as they are correct. The late summer glow of Williams’ gorgeous close-ups and camerawork gently counterpoint the simmering resentment and miscommunication that pull these talented but deeply self-absorbed professionals into stylish traps of their own making. Golden Exits may echo the musical symmetries of Rohmer, but it also injects an assertive dissonance. With its sympathetic but hard questioning of neo-Yuppiedom defined by the artistic/artisanal class, Golden Exits reveals Perry as a wise but bracing antidote to the cloy whimsy and hipsterism that typically imbues contemporary indie films set in Brooklyn. – HG
Screening of Golden Exits, with introduction by Haden Guest and Alex Ross Perry and post-screening discussion and Q/A with audience. Sunday 3 November 2019.
John Quackenbush 0:00
November 3 2019, Harvard Film Archive screened Golden Exits. This is the audio recording of the introduction and the Q&A that followed. Participating is director Alex Ross Perry and HFA director Haden Guest.
Haden Guest 0:17
-- to the Harvard Film Archive. I want to thank you all for being here tonight, as we welcome Alex Ross Perry. Alex Ross Perry is a prodigiously talented filmmaker whose work defines the cutting edge of contemporary American independent cinema. Perry was first widely recognized with his cutting, darkly comic, and willfully divisive second feature The Color Wheel, from 2011, which we screened a few weeks ago, in which Perry himself stars as an insecure, and almost wholly unlikable, young man reluctantly pulled on a rambling road trip by his headstrong sister. An uncomfortable portrait of the darker side of sibling intimacy, The Color Wheel is a cantankerous black comedy whose subversive design is to offer two unsympathetic characters, misanthropic, self absorbed, mean spirited, and yet, reveal within them unexpected depths, contradictions, and complexities. The whole idea of character identification that remains a stubborn bedrock of mainstream cinema was not just abandoned, but was thrown out the window by The Color Wheel, which was not only directed, but also co-written and produced by Perry. Subsequent films by Alex Ross Perry also centered around edgy, angry, frustrated antiheroes whose lacerating misbehavior is at times suddenly upended by the revelation of repressed vulnerabilities and longings. By moments even of something approaching kindness. In Perry’s breakthrough from Listen Up Philip, which we screened last weekend, Jason Schwartzman gives an arresting performance as an arrogant writer convinced of his genius and the entitlement that his gift, he thinks, bestows upon him. Yet giving added nuance and complexity to this film is Perry’s decision to carefully counterbalance Schwartzman’s insufferable novelist with two other characters, his photographer girlfriend played by now a regular, a Perry regular, Elisabeth Moss, and a once famous author in his autumnal years played by the great Jonathan Pryce. Tonight's film, Golden Exits, extends this counterpoint strategy in Perry’s interest in interrelational dynamics. Golden Exits finds Perry working in a mellower, more introspective groove, as he studies a group of characters all living and working in a very particular time and place, present day Brooklyn and a small world entirely contained, it seems, within a few blocks. Rather than focusing steadily upon an individual character, Golden Exits offers a portrait of particular milieu and social class. A mosaic of sorts that is composed of two couples and their friends and families, almost all artistic professionals stumbling through midlife and mid-career with various degrees of trepidation and self denial. With its study of the problematic indistinguishability between professional and personal relationships, Golden Exits seems to hold a generation and cultural moment up for profound, careful scrutiny. This film has been compared favorably to the work of Eric Rohmer, and Ingmar Bergman. For the ways it measures the moral weight of decisions and indecisions. And the ways that Perry reveals, with precision and nuance, the insidious lies and half-truths that define so much of the everyday interaction between his characters. In the way as well, in which the different partners, and the men in particular, make intimacy a kind of careful game. A performance based on shifting assumptions about what and who others want them to be. Now, credit needs to also be given to the work of a really excellent cinematographer, Sean Price Williams, who has worked on all of Perry's films, and who here creates these marvelous lingering close ups that allow us to study characters' reactions. And it's the work of Sean Price Williams that also captures a kind of crepuscular glow around Brooklyn in the film. The sense of an earnest luminous promise. Alex Ross Perry is an ardent and dedicated cinephile whose talent draws from the deep well of film history, as revealed by the group of films that he's selected to accompany his retrospective. And we've screened a number of them already, but there's still some gems to come, including The Family Jewels by Jerry Lewis. Proof of Perry’s unfettered love of cinema is that even though he arrived just late yesterday afternoon, he's already seen four films in this theater, all in 35mm. I salute him for this. Now, Alex Ross Perry is here tonight as a Baby Jane Holzer Visiting Artist in Film. This is courtesy of a very generous gift that's been pledged to the Harvard Film Archive, the Department of Art, Film and Visual Studies and the department - the program in Theater, Dance and Media by the eponymous Warhol superstar, and we're really grateful to her and to Rusty Holzer, her son, for making this possible. This residency means that Alex Ross Perry will be here at Harvard for a few days. He's going to be not just here in the theater, but he’ll also be visiting classes and meeting with students. And we're really thrilled that he can be so generous with his time and his insight. I want to thank our colleagues in AFVS, Denise Oberdan, Laura Sargent, and Erin Holder, for all their work in making this visit possible. I’d like to ask everybody to please turn off any cell phones, electronic devices you have. Please refrain from using them. We're going to have a conversation afterwards with Alex Ross Perry, who is now here to introduce this film. Please join me in welcoming Alex Ross Perry.
Alex Ross Perry 6:26
Thank you. Certainly, nothing I could possibly add to that incredibly kind introduction. I feel like you all know more about me now than I could put into words. So, I'm just very grateful to see so many people here on a Sunday night, my own personal least favorite time to leave the house. So, thank you all. Yeah, I mean, I'm not joking, there's nothing else to add. That was a comprehensive introduction. Of course, we'll be here after the movie. This is my fifth movie, so perhaps some of the other ones have been seen or perhaps we can provide context for them in the discussion. Doesn't really matter if you didn't see the other ones, perhaps, but as a matter of fact, there's four before this and one after it, which plays tomorrow. So thank you all, and we'll be back for discussion afterwards. I hope you'll still be here. Thank you. All right. Thank you.
Alex Ross Perry 7:37
Thank you. Thank you.
Haden Guest 7:43
Thanks so much Alex for this, this wonderful film, and thank you for allowing us to screen it as it should be screened in a beautiful 35mm print.
Alex Ross Perry 7:52
Yes, I'm glad. All the movies that have screened so far are my own prints and then Her Smell, tomorrow night, is the only one that there's no print of, for various technical reasons.
Haden Guest 8:05
Talk about that, for sure tomorrow.
Alex Ross Perry 8:06
Oh, it's just money. There's nothing to talk about.
Haden Guest 8:08
Ok, well that's not really technical.
Alex Ross Perry 8:11
Technical reasons I can explain in that Q&A.
Haden Guest 8:13
Okay, good, good. Well, I wanted to maybe start the conversation with something I mentioned in the introduction. This idea of -- all of your films take place with, I feel, like focused on a small group. A family -- well, let's leave [UNKNOWN] your first film. But there's a tendency, an interest in families, in small groups, in kind of interrelational dynamics. The ways in which characters are defined through other people this -- and how in terms of, in this film, we have this portrait of Brooklyn. Of a sort of thirtysomething generation in this sort of limbo, in this state. I was wondering if you could speak about how much this is an exploration of a current moment, of a time and place that you perhaps know, as well?
Alex Ross Perry 9:16
Well, I can try. You know, I haven't done a Q&A for this movie in a really long time.
Haden Guest 9:20
Oh, that's good.
Alex Ross Perry 9:21
I haven’t done a Q&A at all in several months. So yeah, it's especially hard to access, you know, the writing of something which at this point is almost five, four years ago. But I'll do my best. I mean, that's a very specific way to assume - it's probably pretty much what I was thinking of - like a moment, like the moment in our current time or a moment in life? Which is the thing that you're more --?
Haden Guest 9:55
Well, it could be either. I mean, in this sense, I'm just thinking about, also, the kind of professionals that we have depicted in this film. Again, this sort of artistic professionals. This whole sense of sort of malaise. This whole sense of wanting to be -- have this sort of independence. To be alone, as people said, but then alone as being the sort of condition, the sense of autonomy. Just thinking about, like, this current moment in which we're in. This idea that one can be, you know, could have one's home, sort of, profession be like entirely self sufficient, in a certain sense, but realizing that for each of these characters that seems to be both an aspiration and a kind of a trap. And I was wondering what ways you could speak about that yourself, as an artist working independently as we say and --
Alex Ross Perry 10:50
Yeah, well, I suppose it's more just that I'm fascinated -- I live in the neighborhood where this was all filmed. Actually, currently I live closer to one of the locations than I did to any of them when we made it. The Adam and Chloë house is now only a block away from where I currently live. But you know, even shooting there is a perfect example where it's a very nice house. And the person who lives there is younger than I was, who rented it to us. And, you know, there's this thing in the movie where these people just, you know, everyone just sort of has these homes, or these jobs, or these opportunities and you never quite understand where anybody's lives come from. And it's for some reason incredibly taboo to ask people, “How did you get that job? What does it pay? How did you find your apartment? Oh, you own it! Oh, how does that happen?”
Alex Ross Perry 11:51
For some reason, it's incredibly hard to ask people about this. At least it is in my world, in artistic communities, where, you know, chances are you're running a 50/50 gamble of someone's answer being a kind of uncomfortable “I guess, I just kind of come from money.” And then you're like, “Oh, okay. How do I get out of this now?” And there's so much of that in the movie, because, I guess if there's anything that was particularly pressing in the years, you know, not really years, but year or so of it gestating, and making it and writing it, it was when I was first starting to really, you know, just make a living screenwriting for other people, and for companies, and so on. So all of a sudden, you know, I didn't really have to go anywhere or do anything. And most days of the week, the only time I'm leaving the house during the day is just to take a break or go grocery shopping. But then the neighborhood is full of people. And nothing about that makes sense to me. Because the only thing that makes sense to me is what I'm doing. So what are all these other people doing out here at 3pm? Don't they have jobs? And then, what do they think of me?
Alex Ross Perry 13:06
Because I certainly don't look like I have anything to do.
Alex Ross Perry 13:11
No more than they do. And I think I just became very fascinated in doing a story that sort of spans seven characters, you know, over roughly a 25 year span from, you know, a 25 year old to a 50 year old. With a character roughly every five years. Sort of just becomes this, you know, like grayscale of the different ways that that manifests. Which you sort of see in the bridge between the oldest and youngest character, which is the Mary-Louise Parker character and the Emily Browning character. And, you know, the way that generations sort of just see something in the younger generation. Or, you know, then there's just a few characters, or really just one I think, the Lily Rabe character, the only character you never see where they live. Yeah, the blonde sister-in-law of Jason Schwartzman. Never see where she lives, which I always thought was kind of interesting, as something that never even occurred to me, because, you know, like she probably lived somewhere else, from these people. And that's kind of the twist, is that she probably lives like in Manhattan or something, and comes to work here. And stuff like that. It's not the biggest, you know, fulcrum point for drama in the world, but I find it endlessly compelling. Because, much like some of the other thematic notions of the movie, are just sort of things that go on spoken. I do feel like livelihood, and financial stability, and employment, and all that stuff is something that weirdly does not get talked about in a very open way. And something that's been kind of rewarding in the last couple of years is friends of mine who, you know, much like myself, have sort of had the good fortune to make a living in some reaches of some industry. It's that people are now very open and talking about it. You know, my friends and I, we can do the thing that I never thought was possible. Someone says “I got an offer on a job,” and the first thing anyone says is “What does it pay?” And we can just talk about that. Because it's trading information. But just talking about lifestyle or, you know, you go to someone's house, and you kind of think you know what they do, and then you go in and you're like, “Guess their significant other’s incredibly wealthy.”
Alex Ross Perry 15:32
Because there's something here that makes no sense. I find that to be very interesting. And it's definitely something that culturally feels kind of part of the nucleus of this movie. I mean, from walking around this town in the last couple of days, I have to imagine it's not dissimilar. In that it seems like a very nice place to live. But even like the nice homes between the B&B that I'm in here, every time I walk by them, I think like, “What do you have to do to live here?”
Haden Guest 16:02
I mean, and this is perhaps, this is certainly true of here. I mean-
Alex Ross Perry 16:07
Is someone just yelling out the answer? Is there?
Haden Guest 16:09
I mean, one of the answers -- what’s that?
Alex Ross Perry 16:11
Buy it 40 years ago, that's good. They said “Buy it 40 years ago”.
Haden Guest 16:14
Exactly. And you're right by the home of Julia Child, by the way, who’s one of the houses just on your street. But one of the answers to this question, too, in your film is, of course, family and the idea of family is, I mean, is you know, the whole idea that the, you know, the absent father sort of looms over. You have absent mothers, as well. It seems that this is something that is a constant in your films. Think back to The Color Wheel as well. There's a sense in which there's ways in which sibling relationships, family relationships define a certain power dynamic kind of role, that characters, in a sense, are constantly playing variations of. In a way, the sense of, you know, the elder, the father figure, the mother figure giving advice, giving guidance. The sort of sisters, you know, offering kind of, you know, sisterly advice. So that's the brother -- the friends together, is kind of like a fraternity -- fraternal. And so I just wonder if you could talk about ideas of families in your film. In the way in which idea of a sort of fractured, and yet, unifying family exists in this film.
Unknown Speaker 17:35
Well -- there’s no one here from my family, is there?
Haden Guest 17:39
Maybe seven generations.
Alex Ross Perry 17:41
I have like some extended family who I think live around here, I don't know. I mean, it's sort of the most, like, American literary kind of thing to glom onto. Certainly this is like something that excited everybody, you know, like when we all got our hands on The Corrections. It's just, any sort of examination of family done well, but done through a sort of American cultural specificity is just so compelling to me. Because no matter what the social strata or the milieu is, there's these universal truths that I think -- you know, you can do a story about jobs, and that sort of becomes unrelatable -- blue collar jobs, these kinds of jobs. But once you enter in these sort of sibling dynamics, then there's something to kind of just see some truth in. But you know, it's just, it's the sort of thing that whether in writing, or just in living life becomes so hard to understand. Because everybody, you know, everybody believes that their family should be devoid of any sort of narrative. And then when any sort of trouble appears people are so taken aback, so annoyed that this is encroached upon their family. A recent example. Perhaps this will answer your question and decode all these movies for you. A cousin, who I don't really know, was getting married over the summer. First cousin, but nevertheless. And it was inconceivable to me that I would go to this wedding. Truly, I mean, it's, you know, if it was like in my neighborhood, and I had nothing else to do, yes.
Alex Ross Perry 19:29
I couldn't commit to it four months in advance, like you're supposed to. And people kept asking me, “Are you going?” And I kept saying, “I don't know. Probably not.” It was also the weekend of my birthday, which is not a big deal to me. It's not like I'm having a party. It's just an excuse to not do anything else. And people just kept saying, “But it's family”. And I said, “What does that mean? Like, truly, I'm not being combative, but what does that mean? I don't want to split hairs here, and I'm not comparing, and truly, I don't care. I’ve never seen this person at one of my screenings. Why should I go to --? Why should I?”
Alex Ross Perry 20:05
It's not like we have this relationship of like sharing our lives with each other. And whenever I would point this out, people would say, “But, but it's a family thing.” And I would say, “I don't really understand what that means. Does that mean I have to do this? I don't want to spend my birthday at this. I have other things I'd rather do. And quite frankly, like, this just doesn't even make sense to me that you would expect me to go to this,” because I would never expect this person to do anything. I've never, you know -- it would never even --. It just doesn't make any sense to me. It's not even that I have the answer to it. It's that I can't wrap my head around it. So then in the movies, there's always this sort of omitted family figure. In this case, you know, very literally. And then tomorrow night, in Her Smell there's this whole sequence with the main character and her mother and they're talking a lot about a father who, you know, has nothing to do with the physical action of the running time of the movie, but you learn in this scene is apparently something of a figure in life. You don't learn this until almost 90 minutes into the movie. And, you know, there's just always a reason for some character to not be there. Or in, you know, The Color Wheel, which is a movie about siblings, but there's no parents in it. You know, these things are just more interesting to wonder. Like, you know, like, my wife is an only child and has, like, very few cousins. And this makes perfect sense to me. This just makes perfect sense to me. She sees her family once a year for four or five days and they live on the other side of the country. It's very easy. It makes perfect sense, to the two of us. It's just, you know, some things just don't happen with your people.
Haden Guest 21:47
Oh, great. I mean, this is a sense of a weight, of a shadow that comes from without and then from within, in the sense of family and I think that's -- it is unspoken. But I wanted to speak about the spoken and talk about dialogue. In this film and in your films, I feel like there's a sense of performativity, a sense of every word being sort of measured and weighed, in a sense. I loved early in the film, Nick, you know, says to the Chloë Sevigny character, like, “You said great twice, you said, like, work twice.” Like there's a sense in which words are being sort of, like I say, sort of weighed and parsed. There's a sense in which characters are both trying to avoid speaking cliches and at the same time also use or, let's say, formulaic expressions, you know. And at the same time using them, like as deliberate instruments, to both sort of, like, insulate themselves and to also try to, you know, they can be sharpened into sort of barbs at times.
Alex Ross Perry 22:50
Well, perhaps. I mean, you know, this movie sort of as I was mentioning in the introduction is the fifth movie that I made and it was sort of the first attempt, of which Her Smell is a very extreme continuation of, for the first time really making the actors aware that the commitment to the script was expected to be very, very total. Whereas the earlier films, just because of coming from sort of, you know, a ramshackle very fast production with non actors, and then kind of learning to work that way. The earlier movies all have a sort of, you know -- well, we'll just you know, sometimes we're just saying things in between takes, and then we’d make ourselves laugh, so we put that in. And then this movie was very consciously an attempt to do away with all of that. Even the sort of, you know, rambunctious scenes in the bar with a bunch of guys is all very much as written. Just because there's a way to then -- especially in this, where the sort of use of language had to become very delicate and very specific. Where people are just kind of riffing, they might accidentally say the exact kind of thing that the whole point of the movie is not saying. So we had to make sure that the language was very precise from the very beginning, where you're talking about these sort of, you know, little turns of phrase. It's just, there's a nervousness, you know, that I think everybody is sort of victim to when you're kind of trying to talk around an issue, which in the movie is mostly what characters are doing. You know, you use the same word twice for no reason, which is something that I'm often accused of doing when I'm like, clearly don't really want to talk about something. And, you know, you come home, it's like, “How was it?” “It was really nice.” It's like, “Yeah, anything else?” Like, “No, it's just nice.” It's really not like you have --
Haden Guest 23:43
You said nothing twice.
Alex Ross Perry 24:45
Yeah, like you have the same -- you only have one word to say about this. It becomes very peculiar. But it was just important because, in this movie in particular, you just always had to know what people were thinking of saying and what they would just relish to say, just bluntly, and know that this is a movie where that blunt statement is never going to be laid out. It always has to be held back. But hopefully if the performances and the editing rhythms are correct, then what people are thinking is very apparent. But we're not saying it.
Haden Guest 25:24
The role of Naomi is really key here as the outsider coming into this in-group, and the fact that she's, you know, Australian as well. And even the language itself has held up in the kind of slightly, you know, ridiculous -- You know, the Jason Schwartzman where he calls out for a translator in here. But it feels like there you’re signaling again, just, you know, that there's a kind of insider language here of this particular, like, you know, subset, if you will.
Alex Ross Perry 25:56
Yeah. Well, you know, Australian is a difficult language to master. Well, I mean, as you mentioned in the introduction and as I was very open about in the making of the movie and in the promoting of it, you know, the Eric Rohmer influence is very strong. For me, really specifically, the slightly, I guess, ultimately because he lived so long, mid-period Rohmer movies, ‘80s and ‘90s. And Emily's character is sort of in that mold of the classic, you know, Rohmer girl who's on vacation for whatever season the film is named after, or that sort of thing. And a lot of those movies, like we ended up doing here, are very, you know, specific in their dates and in their timing, largely because they're taking place over a fixed period of time, which is a real consistent thing in his films from, you know, the very beginning. You know, a weekend or a month or something, it's always very clear and that was very important. But yeah, her outsiderness, this kind of -- I mean, the most important thing for her character that we talked about was that she's, unlike everyone else, very untethered to partners or to family. And then throughout the span of the movie, almost every one of the characters she interacts with at some point tries to lead, you know, lead a horse to water and try to say to her, like, “You're pretty much this.” Like, “You kind of seem like you're a little bit like me, or you seem like this is who you are.” And her point as a 25 year old is like, “I don't know who I am.” That's not the point of the movie. This is not like a soul searching, you know, girl abroad kind of story, but it's in the background of her arc. Of saying like, “The whole point of me doing this is that I don't know who I am. I'm not you. Or I’m not on my way to being you, in your job or in your, you know, domestic situation, or in your, you know, being 50 and single. Like, I'm not necessarily on the way to being any of these people. But I might be, but I don't know it yet. And that's fine. Because I'm sort of just a floating object that is passing through, but you're all stuck here.” That was sort of the bigger interesting thing about her.
Haden Guest 28:16
Well it's also this idea -- I feel like characters are constantly talking about their age and the difference in age. Especially, you know, Jason Schwartzman's wife, he refers to her as younger and there's only three years difference. Birthdays are being marked here as well. And the ways in which, you know, there's this constant measuring up of oneself and one's place, through thinking about age, is something that I feel like we're also seeing repeated in the film. I think one of the great moments with Naomi is with Gwen, you know, where she tries to tell her like, “Oh, this is you know, how you should be. Like the single, you know, independent woman.” And as you're saying, she resists that. I was wondering if we could talk about the figure of Gwen though, because she's the one character, I mean, who there are times where -- really largely, you know, the performance Mary-Louise Parker is so forceful in a sense -- but there’s a time when she borders almost on caricature. And I was wondering if you could talk about that sort of balance there. I mean, she's given this ruminative moment at the end, but -- towards the end -- but still, she's kind of, yeah.
Alex Ross Perry 29:28
Well, she certainly is sort of, of the seven main characters, she's the only one who really speaks her mind with any real transparency, which is both a character trait, but also sort of the only kind of like, comedic character trait that any of these characters have other than Jason's just general personality, which is obviously very gregarious and very humorous. But no, she really, you know, as written in the sort of dynamic between her and Chloë, it's -- obviously she really speaks her mind and enjoys doing that. And then just in the performing, again, this is just how it's written, with no real sense of what she would do with it. And you know, everyone in the movie is such a respected, you know, professional, but no one has more experience in this cast than she does. So when she came in there was no -- and I wasn't going to step in and just modulate what she had clearly put a lot of thought into, because it was so exciting to see the way that she just kind of took these moments and ran with them, and made some very funny. And you know, some of the scenes where she’s with the Sam character, who's her assistant, she's being kind of funny with her. And then the scenes where she was with Chloë, you can just tell she loves that she's like sitting on this information that could hurt her sister, and she wants so badly to retain the upper hand. And watching her just relish that upper hand is kind of funny as well, because it says a lot about her as a person, as does eating takeout in bed. You know, everything about it kind of has to say something. She's so outspoken about her comfort and her happiness about where she is. And then you see her in these moments that no one else does where you wonder, you know, what exactly is her deal? Lives in this big house by herself. Kind of strange.
Haden Guest 31:30
I mean, the role -- Chloë Sevigny as a therapist also seems like really -- the fact that she's a therapist seems to be really key here, because there's a sense in which character, there's -- a lot of the dialogue feels almost like the relationship between a therapist and their patient. It seems a lot of times you have these almost monologues where there's something close to a confession or to a revelation that’s being made, and then being held back. And there’s this almost asking for advice, asking for, but not quite knowing how to do it. And so I’m wondering if that's something you could talk a little bit about. Sevigny’s role, the ways in which --
Alex Ross Perry 32:11
Choosing that profession?
Haden Guest 32:13
Well, just the ways in which there's a kind of therapeutic dynamic, shall we say, in key scenes throughout the film.
Alex Ross Perry 32:25
Well, I don't know. It just seems like, much like everyone else, she sort of has to be defined by a sort of isolated thing. Obviously, she sits in an office and has patients cycle in and out, but, much like the other character, she sort of just has a little, like, womb that she lives in. And it's very clear that she's looking, in her interactions with, you know, her husband or other people, she’s just kind of looking to decode the behavior. But yeah, I don't know. I feel like that's kind of a mystery to me too, all these years later. Well, I guess --
Haden Guest 33:09
I mean, one of the things I'm starting to realize now, there’s a sense of alienation. Again, going back to the original point about, like, in what ways does this film tap into a certain zeitgeist, a certain milieu, a certain generation. It seems to me the ideas of alienation -- or here, this idea that despite the sort of autonomy that's given one by these, you know, these kinds of creative professions that seem to allow, right? One's own office, one's own space, that you know, Nick is going on about. Nevertheless, create a kind of alienation that's perhaps even more like a kind of bespoke alienation, if you will, that fits like a glove, no? And it even creeps into the most intimate relationships. It seems like that's something the film is sort of suggesting,
Alex Ross Perry 33:57
Well, perhaps. I mean, you know, within the sort of two marriages and the two sister relationships in the movie, I think if anything, these are dynamics that inherently people assume are bountiful. And my question is, sometimes they're not, right? Like, you can have that, and it's still okay to feel isolated from that person or alone sometimes, right? Like, it’s insane to imagine that you would be in that dynamic, and that it would be fulfilling at every time you need it to be fulfilling. To assume that a person that, you know, are related to, or with whom you’re spending your life with is never going through something that makes them one step further away from being able to be there when you're going through something. And then at that moment, suddenly you just realize, “Yeah, everything feels kind of isolated right now. Feels like nothing's connecting.” It feels like this is just a weird period and then those periods hopefully tend to pass.
Haden Guest 35:03
In terms of, I mean, you mentioned Rohmer, but in terms of sort of cinematic references, I can't help but think about -- and again, it's very, very different here, but just in terms of having this sort of choral structure, an idea of symmetry, and I can’t help thinking about Robert Altman at times, you know, where just again, where you have this larger sort of time space created through multiple characters and I was wondering if that's something you could talk about. And just also, I mean, I feel like ‘70s cinema is a kind of touchstone.
Alex Ross Perry 35:35
Perhaps. Well, kind of the monolithic, unavoidable thing that no one can avoid. I mean, you know, like, certainly like Shortcuts, or you know, a later version of that, like a Magnolia. I really -- you know, you think as a writer, the structure of these movies, in the sort of delicate balance in the case of those films, with 15 or 25 characters, is very specific. But those movies, and Nashville as well, do the same trick, which is that they're all three hours long. And they all take place over about two days. Which in the case of those movies, and the drama of them would seem to suggest, the longest you can have that many spinning plates without them crashing is like 48 hours. Because eventually everything would have to come together.
Haden Guest 36:24
You do actually have a crash of all the plates, with the earthquake.
Alex Ross Perry 36:29
Not in this movie.
Haden Guest 36:30
No, you don’t.
Alex Ross Perry 36:32
Yeah, but you know, I was very interested to think, can you do a version of that, that's roughly half or fewer characters, half the runtime, but that spans much, much more time? Because I really love those movies, or anything like that. There's not a lot of examples of them. But just that sort of fun, you know, like canvas of characters. But they're always a very brief period of time. I mean, that seems to almost be the point of them.
Haden Guest 36:58
A Wedding, or something.
Alex Ross Perry 37:00
Yeah. Or you know, well, the Altman movie A Wedding or an actual wedding?
Haden Guest 37:04
No, the Altman movie, A Wedding.
Alex Ross Perry 37:06
Yeah, sure. They're always like a very finite thing, you know, like a conference. Like a thing in a hotel or something like -- So just to do that where it's eight or 10 weeks of this, but there isn't that ticking clock of urgency, of, you know, this is just this weekend, was very appealing to me. Because yeah, as a writer, it's very tempting to try to see how many characters you can set up that don't sort of end up touching each other. Like the opening scene has Chloë and Emily in it, but then there's no more scenes with them. And then Chloë and Lily don't have a scene together. So there's like pockets -- and like Mary-Louise and Jason have no scene together. It's like, it's almost impossible to imagine them having a scene together. I think there'd be no reason for them to have a scene together, at all. Even though the only way to do it would just be that they bump into each other and don't realize who one another is.
Haden Guest 38:04
Or you have some fire or something like that.
Alex Ross Perry 38:07
Yeah, which would be you know, excruciating and on the nose, just to have, you know, him picking up a, you know, bag of chips, and then he walks out and bumps into her. “Oh, excuse me.” Like that's the only way you could write it, even though his sister-in-law works for her. So you know, like, but there's no reason that he would know who his sister-in-law's boss is, or what she looks like. And Jason and Chloë. There're so many actor pairings in this movie that don't have a moment together that I would loved to have seen them in a scene, just to see what the chemistry was. But for writing, it makes no sense.
Haden Guest 38:44
In terms of speaking about the neighborhood, I was wondering if we could talk about these, to bring up your work with Sean Price Williams. I mean, just the sort of glow and it seems like this is a really loving portrait of this neighborhood. There's a certain, just, like I said, sense of promise, a sense of quietude and peace. And this is obviously something that this is a certain interpretation of Brooklyn. I was wondering if you could talk about the ways in which you worked with Sean to define this place, to define the quality of light that you were looking for.
Alex Ross Perry 39:22
Sure. Well, that's a very lofty supposition on his part. He lives in Brooklyn and hates it.
Alex Ross Perry 39:33
And hates these, you know, more upscale neighborhoods. I mean, he lives in a pretty scummy neighborhood and even still can't -- but, you know, like, to him living in New York just means living in the East Village. Which he has never once done. So you know, he comes to the sort of nicer parts of town and he’s just like -- Yeah, he can't understand the lifestyle. So if there's something in the quality of the photography, it's clearly someone struggling to comprehend, like, what this society is that they're a part of. When we shot in the Adam and Chloë house, just as I mentioned, is owned by a fairly young person for such a nice house. We got it for a steal through a production designer’s friend. The one rule is you got to take your shoes off.
Alex Ross Perry 40:25
That was all. The homeowner asked that. We're lugging in all this gear. The gear has to have little pads on it. Everyone has to take their shoes off. And as a rejection of upper class values, he refused to do that. And basically sat in the truck and refused to even enter the premises for hours. To the extent that like basically we were ready to go and the actors were there and everything. So like, his ability to understand how to culturally exist in a world where -- And by the way his original house that he lived in with his ex-girlfriend was the strictest shoes off house I've ever been in.
Haden Guest 41:07
Oh, the one by the Natural History Museum?
Alex Ross Perry 41:09
Yeah. The strictest shoes off house I've ever been in. So his inability to grasp why someone would want that when we're giving her money was so confusing to me. But it really made perfect sense, because you know like a home that is nice and clean and has things on the walls, where you cook dinner. And like, it just makes no sense to him. So yeah, the movie tomorrow night, Her Smell, which is largely like a very cacophonous and like, movie with, you know, like carpets that have burn marks on them. Like that made more -- like that was his kind of headspace that made perfect sense. And then, the sort of like interstitial landscapey shots Shawn didn't shoot, because we shot them later. The whole movie was shot in April and May. We shot those in August, which is certainly why they have a different light quality. And yeah, he refused to do it.
Alex Ross Perry 42:04
He said, you know, the AC, who’s also named Sean, he said is much better suited towards capturing what we need for those. So, you know, he goes “On a real movie the DP wouldn't be shooting second unit stuff anyway. So I refuse. I'm not going to. I don't want to. I don't know what you need, when you say you need like a sunset shot.”
Alex Ross Perry 42:23
“To me, there's like no image there. So have other Sean do it.” But to me, it's, I mean, it's the way I view that part of town, which is where I've now lived for, you know, 12 years. So it's exactly how I see it, which is that it can be very spacious and very empty.
Haden Guest 42:43
And also there's kind of a camera, this constant, like, almost as if like the very end of a sort of crane shot. This sort of movements that we have in the -- I was wondering, is that something that you -- there was this gesture, was this something of yours?
Alex Ross Perry 42:58
Well we certainly didn't have a crane.
Haden Guest 43:00
Well I know, you didn't, but there was a sense of, just, the slight -- as the camera’s just discreetly about to rest on the ground
Alex Ross Perry 43:07
In the exteriors?
Haden Guest 43:08
Yeah, in the exteriors, it’s almost as if it's floating. And it's just --
Alex Ross Perry 43:12
Well, it's very kind. You know, we made the movie in three weeks. So we did what we could. Sometimes we would find a really nice, elevated spot. But these interpretations, I think, are just a result of the editing, and the rhythms, and the music that the movie sort of takes the footage -- which again, you know, this was a very inexpensive movie, made fairly quickly. And then all the other elements sort of create a feeling that is so clearly not achievable on that budget, when you're shooting for 15 days. But then you can edit for as long as you want and you can make the music, whatever it is, and then suddenly, it really feels tonally like a completely different piece.
Haden Guest 43:54
Let's take some questions, comments from the audience, and we'll start right there. There's a microphone coming to you.
Thank you for this movie. I really enjoyed it. I've noticed that you have a theme of taking care of someone's legacy. Also, in Queen of Earth, and this film, there's sort of this feeling that slowly seeps in that maybe the greatest achievement that these people can be a part of, can be in contact with is the past. And, you know, I wonder what you think about that? Is that part of the zeitgeist?
Alex Ross Perry 44:28
Hmm. Taking care of someone's legacy?
Yeah, and that they can't ever equal it. They can't ever surpass it.
Alex Ross Perry 44:34
Hmm. Well, it's an interesting question.
I mean, there's this line that's repeated: “Is that all there is?”
Alex Ross Perry 44:42
Yeah, well, it's an interesting question. I mean, if we're talking like a theme across all the movies, that sort of -- you're correct, these two movies which were made back to back, do have that. But then Listen Up Philip and Her Smell, which are on either end of these two movies, are sort of about the kinds of people who leave behind that sort of legacy. Public figures, and artists, and, you know, people who have a reputation or a public persona. So I guess if there's a connection between the four movies, it would just be that it's either or. I guess I just find it fascinating. And that's kind of what the Adam character in this movie is talking about, which was for me, coming from a time where, you know -- like Paul Thomas Anderson has a great line about this, where he would say, like, when he was younger, he would really, you know, like, give up his whole life when he was working and make a mess of his personal relationships and this and that. Then he says, you know, “At the end of two years, you just have like a DVD. It's like a piece of plastic and you're holding it, you're thinking like, was this really worth, like, ruining relationships for because like, this is all I have, at the end of it.” And that always really made a lot of sense to me. And so at the time of writing this and thinking about the sort of work that the Adam character is doing, and just getting to a point where I had enough stuff that I had made, but it all just sort of amounted to like, crap sitting around. It just sort of is like, I actually don't think any of this is, you know, like worth disrupting my whole life for, because then eventually it's just banker’s boxes of, you know, this or that. I think that there's something kind of compellingly futile about that. And then it's even more compelling to, you know, it’s someone else's job to have to go through it. Like my dad's moving out of the house I grew up in and I've been back and forth, going through stuff of mine from my entire life, and it's just, why does this stuff still exist? Like what a bunch of junk. But my parents, you know, thought my notebooks from elementary school, were just, you know. Put it in a drawer, I don't know. It'd be weird to throw it away on the last day of school and now 30 years later, I have to throw it away, because no one thought to do it at the time. But then it's also like, is this a value? Like, you know, you read a biography of someone and it's so interesting when they have like these childhood journals, and then you're throwing these things out and you're like, “How dare I think that someone would write a biography of me?” Like what a horrible thing to think about yourself? Like, I should be arrested for even assuming that this stuff will ever be of historical value. That's such an arrogant thing to assume. As punishment, I should throw it away now to ensure that that never happens.
Alex Ross Perry 47:30
And then you're like, Bbut I guess it's possible somebody might need to go through this stuff someday, and then maybe I should just scan it all and then throw it away.” And then it's just, I don't know, it just sort of feels like, as Adam’s character says a lot, like, “What is a life really amount to? What does it mean?” You know, people die all the time. And you know, a legacy is a very interesting thing. A pile of junk is really not. I don't know, it's kind of sad, because I do think people kind of really like having stuff around them, which I did, too, for many years. And now in the last couple of years, I've really tried to throw things away as quickly as possible and acquire very few new things. Just because, you know, it just seems so stressful.
Haden Guest 48:19
Yeah, go ahead.
There's a moment in the movie where you see a shot of Chloë Sevigny with this artwork of a gun pointed straight at her head. I really liked the set design in this movie, and that in particular, just sort of seemed to crystallize the feeling of strain that she's in.
Alex Ross Perry 48:34
Do you remember which room that's in?
Well, it's in her house.
Alex Ross Perry 48:37
Okay. So it's in the house.
It reminded me of a series of photographs that Terry Richardson did of Lindsay Lohan, with a gun.
Alex Ross Perry 48:42
I don't know if you've seen those.
Alex Ross Perry 48:45
Probably have, but I don't remember. Um, you guys have Terry Richardson's collection here? Do you have Terry Richardson's collection here?
Haden Guest 48:52
Actually, there might. In the museum here.
Alex Ross Perry 48:54
The production design team on this movie are great. I mean, it's, you know, and Nick's office was a set that was built, which I was very excited about. Which is very fun for me. But that is a very talented team, that in one capacity or another, from Listen Up Philip on to Her Smell, has been the same people. So this movie was kind of co-designed by Scott, who designed Listen Up Philip, and Fletcher, who then designed by himself, Her Smell. So yeah, they really leave no stone unturned, especially in a set that we're building from the ground up on a soundstage. But the art department knows how much I really love and am completely amazed at what they do. And Her Smell, which was all set builds, it's taken to the most extreme. Where you know, nothing is accidental, because we built everything and we brought everything in, so there's no, there’s nothing there that was not discussed. And that was extremely fun. I want to look up that Lindsay Lohan picture though.
Haden Guest 49:57
This, yeah right here.
Hi. A process question. If you shot in three weeks, how much of a rehearsal process were you able to have before you shot and did cast watch rushes?
Alex Ross Perry 50:12
There's really no -- there's no reality for an independent movie of rehearsing anymore. I mean, you hear actors who've been doing it for a while talk about that. And it's very -- really creates a lot of envy. Because it used to really be something you could count on. The best we can do is that Emily, who sort of is the center of the movie and worked the most of anybody, for months, she and I would Skype every time I sent her something new and we would just kind of have discussions. That's like what you get on a movie now, instead of a rehearsal period. It's just, maybe you'll attach someone with enough heads up that you can have those conversations and just sort of take on a friendly discourse. But you know, with pros who have been doing this since I was, you know, very young, like Mary-Louise or Chloë, they're going to show up and be very prepared. And part of their job is just bringing themselves into the stride of things, right away. It just depends, though. I mean, this and Queen of Earth we just shot and we just had to shoot. And because of the sort of structure of this movie, there were actors that were starting, you know, once we were shooting already. So like, Analeigh Tipton was only in week three and Mary-Louise is only in week one. So like, there'd been a week of different configurations. So like, when Analeigh comes to New York, like, she's coming to set for her fitting, like, while we're shooting something else. And that's like the first time the crew is meeting her in person. I've met her already, but you know, it's just very tricky. But then on Listen Up Philip, Jason came to New York for three weeks before the shoot, and we met every day to go over the script and just talk through it. And then, because he's in this movie, and he's sort of on the wavelength, it's really up to him to bring other actors into how the process is moving. And I have a great answer about the rehearsal for Her Smell, which we can talk about tomorrow after that screening, if anyone's here. It wouldn't really make sense to explain it now, but on that movie, we sort of found a sneaky way to rehearse on a movie on a very tight schedule, which I was incredibly pleased with. But no one's really -- most actors don't like watching things, I have found. You know, they don't want anything. And some of these actors don't even watch the movie. They’re so -- you know, the work is the work. Whereas, when we were shooting on film, there's a slight turnover in the footage. Let's say, Monday's footage. It's probably viewable by Wednesday. I don't think I've ever worked with an actor that really wants to look at the footage, while we're shooting. I love that idea, it's very romantic, and it really sticks to a classic idea of how things were done, but for some reason everyone seems so freaked out about. Because you're doing -- it's not a -- I feel like that concept applies more to an older movie that would have been shooting for three months. You know, like a big movie, where if you're watching rushes, you’ve maybe only done two or three days, and you can still figure out “where am I going with the performance?” Whereas in this, if you're going to do that, you know, you might only have one day left, by the time we're watching anything. Or we're moving so fast, that there's no possibility of saying like, “Can I please reshoot that scene?” So I think on an independent schedule, actor’s probably intuit. It would really just be -- it would do more harm than good to ask any questions right now, because we're just moving so fast. Whereas, you know, on a movie that's shooting for months, you could really say like, “I need to change my performance now.” But on this, it's like, we're done, there's nothing we can do.
Haden Guest 54:08
Also in the past, it was the role of the producer to be watching the rushes, to make sure everything was right.
Alex Ross Perry 54:12
Yeah. People you know -- I mean, we were all excited to watch them when they come in. The crew. Now, on our screens, we just watch them on a phone during lunch. It's pretty easy. A lot easier than it used to be. Well, yeah, I don't know. The only time -- it's really only on Her Smell where Elizabeth Moss is, you know, a producer on the movie as well and really, really focused on modulating her performance, that she's the only -- and on that movie she would look at some of the footage, but really, just as a way of understanding the visuals of how we were shooting, because it was so chaotic.
Haden Guest 54:47
Right, let's take a question right here, and there's a microphone coming to.
So I find myself still obviously very drawn to the -- obviously, sitting in a theater watching a movie. And also the kind of hour and a half to two hour format. But I'm curious, how you think about those things. Obviously, with the rise of all of the many, you know, Netflix series, and there's so much more capacity to do longer stories. And I'm curious if you ever think about that, or whether you, you know -- obviously, you've done great work in this sort of format, but I'm curious how you think about that, now that that's become such a popular thing.
Alex Ross Perry 55:38
You just mean, as a fan of things? Yeah, well, I don't really think about it. I guess. Yeah, like, because I don't really -- I just, it doesn't really make sense. I think you hear a lot of people talk about that give this answer, I didn't come up with this. But like, it doesn't make sense, I think, from a writing perspective to start writing something that you don't know the ending of. Or that the ending -- you don't understand, you don't know how much time there will be between the beginning and the ending. I think that's a very interesting answer. I think that if I've thought