Scarcity is a defining logic and theme of Reichardt’s films, equally expressed in their carefully distilled stories as in the modest productions that resourcefully glean complex meaning from each measured performance and location. Wendy and Lucy is exemplary here for its transformation of a streamlined narrative (adapted from a Jon Raymond story) of a young woman and her dog into a vivid portrait of post-Katrina America that soberly contemplates the fine and frightening line between barely getting by and dire poverty. The well-deserved critical acclaim that greeted Reichardt’s minimal masterpiece was helped, no doubt, by the presence of a deglamorized Michelle Williams in an admirably understated turn as the proud Wendy, who is convinced, despite many signs to the contrary, that a new future lies in her waylaid and increasingly difficult journey to Alaska and the promise of a cannery job. The presence, and sudden absence, of Wendy’s dog, Lucy—Reichardt’s own beloved pet—becomes a poignant test of Wendy’s resolve. A high point of Reichardt’s career, Wendy and Lucy also stands as a defining work of the neo-realist filmmaking that transformed American independent cinema in the early 2000s.
For more interviews and talks, visit the Harvard Film Archive Visiting Artists Collection page.
Screening of Wendy and Lucy with introduction by Haden Guest and Kelly Reichardt and post-screening discussion and Q/A with audience. Tuesday, 10 March 2020.
Haden Guest 0:03
Please join me in welcoming back Kelly Reichardt.
Kelly Reichardt 0:10
Thanks. You guys again?
Haden Guest 0:17
Thank you. Thank you, Kelly for sharing this film with us and it was so great to see it in a beautiful 35mm print.
Kelly Reichardt 0:25
Haden Guest 0:26
I have to say, from the HFA collection. And I’d like to ask you a few questions first before taking questions from the audience, especially questions from students in the Art of Film class who are here tonight. And I love this symmetry between the beginning and the end which is so haunting and really ... and heartfelt. You know the train, the girl and her dog, if you will, and the throwing of the stick—and I wanted to talk about the first shot, this really mysterious like travel—well, after the train—of this mysterious traveling shot and then the announcement of this musical theme, which places us. There's something really interesting about it because it sounds like Wendy humming it. And yet we hear her voice speaking to the dog.
Kelly Reichardt 1:21
She’s haunting herself. I know. I haven't seen the film in forever. And I just saw the opening and the end. But yeah, that's quite—it is quite strange. I will admit that. Yeah, it's quite strange. It's like she's haunting herself, but who knows what I was thinking at the time but Will Oldham wrote that little piece for her to hum. And it is a strange way to be in someone's head while they're talking in a distance. Yes, I'm sure there was a thought— [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 1:50
Well, it's a—
Kelly Reichardt 1:52
—behind it but it is odd. It's ... yes, Haden go ahead. You can make sense of it. [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 1:59
Well, I'll tell you one of the things I was thinking of, in a way, it's this, I mean, this is this idyllic moment of this real bond; this space—this time with Lucy and her true friend. The next time we see them together Lucy is of course enclosed in this fence and she’s become property of exactly which—the thing that Wendy can no longer afford and take care of. But this idea that this beginning moment is sort of suspended, you know, with this theme, I think, is really quite haunting, if you will, you know. But I wanted to ask, though, about you know, the music as well and the way we hear it again in the supermarket is something that I find—there's a kind of subliminal effect in you know—so it's both hummed by her, it seems to be in the air, it seems to be, you know, the moments in which it seems like this mindset at the beginning of the film, sort of pervades in the first—that opening, second scene that pervades the whole film.
Kelly Reichardt 2:59
I think it’s also a little bit—since I've seen it recently—like Altman’s The Long Goodbye when he goes to buy the cat food in the grocery store. I'm sure I was thinking of that somehow. But yeah, it takes on a muzak-y thing in the store. I mean, the idea is just this isolation and being in your own bubble of your head kind of space for Wendy, yeah.
Haden Guest 3:42
I actually would love to talk about Robert Altman, just a little bit because I wanted to last night in the ways in which, you know, this kind of ramshackle wandering Western, and the figure of course of the late René Auberjonois who appears in M.A.S.H. and in other films and it seems your position or the ways that you work with genre, or against genre seems so very Altman-esque at times just in terms of like the Western or the Road movie, if you will, just sort of knocking it slightly off its tracks and allowing time to expand in different ways, the ways you also work with—which I also want to talk about—with known and iconic actors and put them at the same level as like you know character actors or non actors. I feel like all these are very sort of Altman-esque and you've brought them up many times. I was wondering if you could talk about the ways in which his cinema might be important to you or—
Kelly Reichardt 4:44
Well, I worked with René in Certain Women and in First Cow, he's in M.A.S.H.—he's like the priest in M.A.S.H., he was in Brewster McCloud, and in McCabe and Mrs. Miller he's the bartender. And I mean, Altman's characters that are around the edges are so rich and have so much depth and personality. Like, René was always who I most remembered from McCabe. He’s like the one I find myself sort of, in my head, you know, quoting, but you know, that's just because he gave them all like... They all obviously had a story and were... and so I admired that about his filmmaking and also just that he brought that way of thinking about sound, where it wasn't always this frontal thing of like the two lead actors, but it was a community of voices, and everybody's—you might, you know, be a more Warren Beatty but you're hearing the voice of some background person. So nobody's really background; everybody's part of his world. You know you think of The Long Goodbye, I always think of those women dancing on the balcony outside. Your mind doesn't go directly to... You think of the guy who in the grocery store who's like, you know, "I've got a girlfriend, I don't need a cat," or whatever it is, you know, like there's... all those things and just how he manages to create a world. I mean, it's nothing I– Well in the littlest way in First Cow we got to do that, but creating like a sort of full community of people. But yeah, he's definitely an inspiring person. Yeah.
Haden Guest 6:57
I mean, I also wanted to talk a bit about landscape and place in your films. I know, we spoke about this a little earlier in our last conversation for the interview, just the ways in which you resist specifically sort of iconic-like locations, the sublime landscapes associated with Westerns, the sort of lonely diners associated with the Road movie. And you seem to gravitate instead towards these kind of, in between places, these sort of sites, if you will, that seem to be marked by something that's gone past and it's gone before like, you know, in industry, and I'm just thinking of these freight yards, these parking lots and I was wondering if you could talk about, you know, the high school in Certain Women—just these sites that seemed to be sort of longing for something and how you... the importance of–
Kelly Reichardt 7:59
It’s just ugly America really. I mean, just what's ugly; embracing the ugly that is all around, you know.
Haden Guest 8:08
You would call it ugly as opposed to the now or something?
Kelly Reichardt 8:11
Yeah, I call it. It’s ugly.
Haden Guest 8:13
It's ugly. Okay.
Kelly Reichardt 8:14
I mean, you know, it's not specific. Like honestly, I've been, you know, I went to school here for four years and I've been walking around trying to have a memory of something but I’m just like, “Oh, was that CVS always there?” I’m finding it hard to remember. It’s been 30 years.
Haden Guest 8:36
You don't give us any landmarks ... like it's Portland ... it's—
Kelly Reichardt 8:39
No because it's America. I spent a lot of time when I had Lucy, driving back and forth cross country between New York and Portland, a lot of drives—like four times a year at least. And you just feel so defeated. You're like, oh my god. They really won. I mean really like there was no better idea than this like of what– You know every hotel is near the– There's nowhere to walk, there's nowhere to eat that's good... This is it, this is the ideal? This is what we wanted it all to be, because that's what it is state after state?
And when I was younger I used to go from like Miami to Montana or in my early like 18, 19, 20 years I used to do drive away and drive cross country, like where you take a car to the next place it's going like this car is going to Tennessee and then you wait there till the next car’s like going to Texas or San Francisco, and you end there it was so exciting to get to the next state and get the next local radio station and … you know now just it's like ... it's a wash and everything is... Like granted I'm no longer going that far off the highway. I will say that, but there is a difference between, like when you hit Missouri, which is like a big box store kind of like—just from then on to the east it's really bad but it is like I guess we're just like ... I don’t know ... we wanted everything to be the same and non-distinct. So it's nice to photograph beautiful things and I would like things you know ... and I look at Stephen Shore’s photos and I go, “What a great parking lot.” And I look at the parking lot in front of me. It's like gray, silver, beige minivans, and there aren't all those great looking cars. But I think I want to shoot the good-looking car as much as anything or the good-looking building but t's just easy to romanticize the West or the idea of—like we were having this conversation—did you say I have a jukebox in this movie?
Haden Guest 11:08
Oh, you have a jukebox in River of Grass.
Kelly Reichardt 11:12
Okay, I was, yeah. It was my youth—oh in the bar. Right. Okay. Because I was talking about Wim Wenders sort of romanticizing of the West, and I was saying I use the example like jukeboxes, and then Haden pointed out that I have a jukebox in a film. So, but it's easy—it's not that like, I mean, that Walgreens that's there. I think I went to 39 states to look at Walgreens and Safeways, and I did it in the winter.
Haden Guest 11:54
The one that becomes Jack's, or—
Kelly Reichardt 11:57
The one that—where she—where Wendy's hanging out in front of—it's a Walgreens. Is it a Walgreens?
Haden Guest 12:03
Kelly Reichardt 12:04
So I went to—finally I was in Montana. And it was like, I slid off the road, like off the road. And I was like just, I was so ... it was so scary to go back on the highway. So I remember, I called Todd Haynes just like, “I'm stuck in this Walgreen’s parking lot in Montana.” And, you know, I was just kind of exhausted, and then he made me describe the parking lot and what I was seeing. And I described it—'cause this Walgreens is like the Walgreens Jonathan Raymond wrote the script for ... which was outside his window and it just seemed too easy. Like Jon just like, “Oh, yeah” ... and I was like, “I’m not going to shoot there. It's too easy.” So I like went around the country looking at Walgreens and then I was in this Walgreens and Todd said, you know, just describe everything you see to me, and I describe the beige wall and the depressed looking—the little people on the go-karts that are going to buy the packs of cigarettes, smoking on the carts and all, and everything I was describing—and he was like well describe what's different than the one in front of Jon's house. And I was like well they have heavier coats on but that was you know the people but they will all look like—you know you're going to get your prescription—it's like not an errand anybody wants to run. Something really depressing about Walgreens parking lots, but they're all the same color. And I don't know I fought with that location for—so anyway, I ended up coming back to Portland to shoot in the place where, you know, Jon Raymond could walk over in his slippers at night with a cup of tea and be like, “Hey, how's it going?” But then I still like endlessly battled with this beige wall because I just—like how am I going to film this beige wall? It's always going to look like a stage that someone will—I mean, I never really conquered it. But I just spent so much time sitting in that parking lot looking at that wall going ... how to crack this nut to make this look interesting. And then I guess that's like, besides the point that it's not interesting, and that's kind of ultimately what happens.
Haden Guest 14:23
I mean, in wanting to make this film about these kind of everyday, sort of worn down, defeated spaces, and then we have Michelle Williams ... and I find this, I mean, the sort of tension, and I wanted to talk about the risk and the sort of possibilities of casting her and there's a wonderful moment in the film, where she’s in the supermarket. You know, she flips through Stars magazine, and I couldn't help but think that's a little—like a sort of little joke about her celebrity or something?
Kelly Reichardt 15:00
No, no. I wouldn't want to pull– no, it's more supposed to be the life she's not leading, but I can see where that's confusing.
Haden Guest 15:06
Kelly Reichardt 15:09
Michelle wasn't like a major star when we made this or anything.
Haden Guest 15:12
But she was still, you know—
Kelly Reichardt 15:14
She was about to be but yes, yeah, yeah, she was somebody. But I mean, she was sitting on the curb all the time and nobody was bothering her. That could never have happened now, but I wrote the part—We, Jon and I—in my mind, it was for Sadie Benning. I wanted her to play the part. And I sent Sadie the script.
Haden Guest 15:36
James Benning’s daughter, right?
Kelly Reichardt 15:38
Yeah, she's her own person. Yeah.
Haden Guest 15:42
Kelly Reichardt 15:42
No, it's okay. Just—it was an easy one.
I sent her the script the week her dog died and she was like, “Oh my god, I can't read the script, I can’t [BAH] go away.” So and then weirdly, Michelle turned up through—she'd just done something with Todd Haynes in I'm Not There I guess. And anyway, she had seen Old Joy and she got in touch and wanted to—you know wanted a role like Will Oldham’s role or something, you know. So I was like, “She’s not gonna really come and do this?” But it was a thing of like, you know, I see her on the train at the end. I'm like, she's not gonna make it to Alaska. She's in big trouble. But, yeah, I tried to like... I didn't let her shower forever. And I tried to mush her up but yeah, she’s got a face, you know, so but it was my first time working with—I was like, “Oh my god,” you know, you can just do all these sort of technical things. You can actually you know, you're not just pointing the camera and you're like, “Okay, I hope I get what I get, and I'll get—” you know, sort of casting for as close to the part as you can get it was just this other thing that I really came to appreciate the craft and art of—not that I totally understand it still—of acting and performing or being or … I can hear her right now and I'm sure I'm saying it wrong. But you know, just reacting I guess really, is what she would say. But that just as an experience was really different for me to be in this search with someone about what the character, who the character, what you know—we're kind of finding it as we went along and … yeah.
Haden Guest 17:52
So you worked with Michelle Williams to define the character, how she would move, how she would—
Kelly Reichardt 17:58
Yeah, what would happen was—I’ll say this because there are students here. You know I’ve told this story before. But scouting—like I didn't find another Walgreens that I wanted. But scouting has always been where I come up with a lot of things that I'm not looking for. And while I was out scouting for Walgreens in Texas, I was on Highway 10, and this van in front of me went off the road into a ditch. And this Mexican woman was in her socks. And I pulled over to see if she was okay. And she said her tire was totally done for, and I said, “Do you have a spare tire?” And she's like, “Well, that was my spare tire.” And I said, “Oh, do you have a jack?” And she’s just—“No.” And I said, “Well you don't have a spare anyway.” But you know, she said she had $3 before she bought this Coke that she was holding. She had no shoes on. I was like, oh my god. So anyway, she got in my car and we went to look for a spare tire and a jack of which on Highway 10 the exits are like—this is a big commitment just to find an exit and then find these things like I was feeling quite heroic when I pulled over like ... “I'm here to help. You don't really need any help, right?” [LAUGHS] But suddenly she was in my car and I was having this conversation with myself like, “Oh my god, what is my obligation here? Like how far into this do I have to get?” And then we found a jack and we went back and we were going to get her tire and then bring it back to get repaired. So this is like—I'm like, “Oh wow, this is you know—I've got Walgreens to get to—tick tock.” So I'm with this woman, but she stayed so calm. She was just like—we got back to her car and she was under the car on the side of the road in a very precarious way, putting her car up and these cars are flying by and this cop came and I was in my Subaru, white, and he just kept saying to me, “I want you to be safe. I want you to be over here.” And I was like, “What about the woman that's laying under the car?” She expected no help from him and he offered her no help and she just dealt with the whole thing. When we finally got her back on the road—and honestly I think I just like at some point bought my way out of it like, “Here, have everything I have.” You know you've got—we took the jack back. She was in okay shape, but it was this constant all day. The two things I learned, I was like, “Oh, this is what my movie is about.” Like it didn't really dawn on me till the next day. I was like, “Oh yeah, this is it. This is like the question I've been dealing with all day long.” That’s what the security guard is saying. And that's what the cab driver is saying. And this is it. This is what this movie is about, like, what is our responsibility to each other? And what do we owe each other and what's the right amount to help and, or—
Haden Guest 21:18
Kelly Reichardt 21:19
Or is it luck? Yeah. And also the other thing that really impressed me about her was that she was going to the prison to visit somebody. She had, like her socks on, she had no money. She had no spare tire and she knew she had a bum tire. And that's how her life goes. And so if it had been me, I would’ve been like “Oh my tire, I got a flat tire on the road,” you know, been like the big story, but to her it's like shit is happening all the time because she has no net and so she just dealt with it like—get the jack, get the tire fixed—it was like a laundry list. As opposed to looking at the whole thing and just freaking out over her overall situation, which became like my main direction for Michelle, like she wasn't ever supposed to look at the big picture of her situation. And she was only supposed to look– It was like what was right the next thing in front of her, and so that... So many times scouting has happened that way for me where I'm finding something that's not the thing that I think I'm looking for, but—
Haden Guest 22:35
And one of the ways you keep it in that sort of present moment is by not giving us her, you know, backstory if you will, her past, and I find that so remarkable with just that one poignant telephone call and that notebook that we just get a glimpse of ... and I was wondering, is that something a matter of distillation or erasure kind of thing or how—
Kelly Reichardt 22:55
No, I thought of it always like it's a Road movie. And there's a few of these films I've felt this way about where it's almost like you're picking up a hitchhiker in a way and you're with them for this amount of time. And then they go their way and you go your way, like as a viewer, we're just with her. Here she is, this is what's happening. And then off she goes, and we don't know exactly all her backstory, we don't know all of what becomes of her. Certainly she gets killed on that train.
Whatever becomes of her—but that was sort of the idea with it. It was like a little glimpse of being with someone. Yeah.
Haden Guest 23:42
The students who are in “The Art of Film,” please raise your hand. Oh, good. All right. Let's take a question from one of you. Please. I know some of you are reluctant to raise your hand because this is your chance to speak with Kelly Reichardt. Raise your hand. I know you've had some—
Unknown Speaker 23:59
You guys want to—who wants to go here?
Unknown Speaker 24:01
So many people.
Hey thank you for coming.
Kelly Reichardt 24:06
Yeah, thanks for having me.
I gotta say, the only other film I've seen by you is Certain Women. I saw it last week. So I can't say I'm that familiar with your work, although I love Altman. I also can't say, based on just the two films I've seen by you that ... I mean, you both seem to be able to do what you want, which is maybe atypical in American film. But I need to see more of your films to draw some more connections, but my question, specifically about this film has to do with the character, as you just mentioned, doesn't really have a past. And I think we realized that early on, there's not much point in looking back at her past, but also there's just so little, I mean, about who she is to give us any sort of justification for why she's in her position. If she were a black man or a number of different things, you could point to some specific systematic problem about why she's in this position. But it seems very intentional. I mean, she doesn't even seem that active a criminal in the scene where she's trying to steal food. So it made me on the one hand wonder if you were just trying to go for an aesthetic thing? We're studying realism this week in my class, I guess is why it’s on my mind. On the other hand, I was wondering if you were trying to make a bigger point about the effects of neoliberalism in America and how that kind of just guts all sorts of relationships or again, are you really just thinking about aesthetic things and presenting this woman as she is?
Kelly Reichardt 25:39
So are you under the impression that there aren't white women that live below the poverty line or that struggle in America?
No, certainly not. But at the same—
Kelly Reichart 25:52
Well, somehow it would be a signifier if the person was black. I mean—
It's not even just—it's not just color. She didn't seem to have any mental health problems. She didn't seem to have any drug problems, you could have made her a single mother. Somehow I just thought that if you were more careless—I just couldn't—she was a very mysterious woman to me. And maybe that's just—
Kelly Reichardt 26:16
Well, that's kind of the point, I guess of what I was saying. I wish I wouldn't have said that the woman I met on the road was Mexican now. That was not good. Because, that being the sort of idea, like strangers, and what are we—I mean, we made this film right when, you know, during the Bush years, and there was almost like a criminality put on poor people in America and what it is to—hey, you didn't make it. That's obviously your own doing. You just didn’t pull yourself up from the old bootstraps and that was really profound at the moment we made this film. And so it's far from an aesthetic idea for me. It was more of the question of what—though it did have relations to you know, like Italian neorealism, of feeling like you know, just—if you don't have a sad, hard luck story, and your thing is like, you know, you've got X—we know about her that she has X amount of dollars, that she's from Indiana, that she's trying to get to Alaska. She's got X amount of dollars, and she's got a car that doesn't work. And you know, the only way to make the next buck in her plan is to get to the canning place. And so just this idea of living without anything, as obviously many, many Americans do, without living with any kind of net. Can you just—is this American myth a real thing that you can just pull yourself up from your bootstraps? And all you need is a little gumption, and I mean to me if she were an African American woman it would almost be like, too easy to categorize in some like, I don't know... You know, I understand what you're saying that because she doesn't have a lot of– But let's say she is sort of a blank. [LAUGHS] You know, I mean, it is the question of the stranger I guess to me. Like, do you want to give up your health insurance so everyone can have health insurance? [LAUGHS] Do we owe anything to the stranger? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I mean, when the film came out, like a lot of people really, like it was really weirdly you know, divided. It was like the beginning of this like being able to see these stark lines. And I really like the way your socks and pants are playing off the wall here. It's great. [LAUGHS] But like a big issue with people in Q and A's were like that she stole, so you know she gets what she deserves. You know, that kind of thing. Like, well, she just stole the dog food? Like for people that yeah, have bad plans in their life and they screw up and all that kind of stuff, are they maybe—I don't know that like—is that it? They're on their own, they made some bad plans, they whatever it is, you know, in the kitchen sink films, you know, for example, it's like “I went out on my first date and I got pregnant,” like, you're screwed, you know this kind of thing. I mean, maybe it doesn't translate to the moment. In the time, it did not seem like an aesthetic thing to me or a comment on filmmaking. It seemed like, really, desperately cruel time towards the have-nots. And well that's been fixed now, so it probably doesn't transfer anymore.
Haden Guest 30:54
Or I have to say just, I mean, my response to the question, just how understated this film is. This film has this refusal to explain to give—she doesn't have you know, some mental—you don't give this easy explanation at all and if anything, she seems to be convinced until the very end that somehow this plan of hers is going to work even when she is faced with this you know, these steampunk drifters around the fireplace who've been to Alaska and have seemed to, you know, really be going absolutely no place. It's so this, if anything she seems to—and I feel like the question is that—
Kelly Reichardt 31:34
I get it, I mean I think it's a legitimate question. Really. I mean, I do get what you're saying.
I guess it's, I don't know. Yeah. I mean, I don't know she could be even—I mean, the thing is, I will give you this ... like if she had been Sadie Benning, I mean, whatever, Michelle's like, you know—she's being played by a beautiful woman but there's poor—I mean beautiful people have problems too. But you know, I mean, I can see the—
Haden Guest 32:16
I guess one way I was just gonna say to extend the question, which I do think is good as well is this idea of her being blank and like the way in which you're asking the audience to fill in that blank and what you're asking the audience to do and how the kind of cues you give the audience to fill that in, I find that's where the sort of real intelligence of the film lies as well. I mean, this idea that this American dream of, you know, again, go west, go north, go where be it to find this, you know …
Kelly Reichardt 32:48
Making her some kind of minority puts in a not comfortable way people in a like—I think in a zone of like, “oh yeah, I know about those problems” or something. I don't know that something seems not like good for me to tell that story. I don’t know …
I was going to say, sorry … I actually was thinking a big point of your film was talking about these neoliberal ideas of the haves and have-nots. And I thought by stripping her of every other possible excuse, it was drawing more attention to that. I just didn't know if I was obsessing over it too much.
Kelly Reichardt 33:25
No, I mean—
So I do think you were successful. I—
Kelly Reichardt 33:32
Interesting. Yeah, I mean, I wish I had seen the film more recently. [LAUGHS] Because, I mean, I knew what my intentions were, but you know, I don't really have the objective to you know, to know how it feels today, what it feels like, you know, as time has passed, and yeah, interesting though. Yeah, I appreciate the question.
Haden Guest 34:01
Right. Let's take another question. Oh, Emma Lika.
Thank you so much for being here tonight. Along with this film and also what Haden mentioned, to the point about the Western and the idea of the rogue and the genre that that represents. I was wondering what creating films about the frontier particularly in America means to you particularly now and how that might have changed through different films because I also know First Cow is to a certain extent situated in that sort of—
Kelly Reichardt 34:37
Okay, getting back to this other question. [LAUGHS] No, I do want to say like, you know, it is a weird thing that I have been teaching film for over 20 years and who knows, we were quite obsessed with Italian neorealism when we made this film, so you know. But okay, the West. Another genre. Another thing. It's all about the West all the time. I mean, everything at some point seems like it's a Western or a Road movie or both, right? I mean I guess it's funny because I'm from Florida. So, what am I doing out there making these movies? I guess I am interested in all the films. I think this question keeps re-arising about the West and this idea of manifest destiny and just the strong will survive and the, you know, endless possibilities. And, you know, I’m interested in those themes and I'm interested in ideas of like capitalism's too big to look at in a big way but looking at it in small ways, and how it affects the people not on the top, and how it affects the natural world and animals and really just this—and how it affects, you know, like, obviously the heroes of the Western are the white men, you know, they're strong, they're right. They get the troublesome people that were here before out of the way and clear the path. All these things that come up with that mythology of the West, I guess, interests me, because they're all tied into our idea of, you know, the righteousness of America and I mean, like Ronald Reagan, say no more. You know, George Bush. I mean, it never ends ... the cowboy. I guess the cowboy theme is over for now. But there's still the, you know, yeah. But you know, I mean, I'm interested in that and just looking at it in the small measure, as opposed to the big measure and in the details of it and who it works for, and just what a different point of view might be like to take in the sort of footsteps of that genre.
Haden Guest 37:48
In terms of the landscape too, because I think this question of the frontier is the kind of romanticization of the landscape; this kind of, you know, beauty that so often is given to us as sublime, and a Western as a way of justifying like that move west. It seems to me you're—these banal or ugly spaces, as you say, as a way of sort of like saying stop, you know, like don't—like that romanticism, that pull of the West you seem to be resisting in a way, so that kind of like raison d'etre of the Western your films seem to be actually like saying no to—
Kelly Reichardt 38:23
Well the Western ... so the whole like, you know, you go out and you’re gonna dig up your pot of gold with like in the individual and the individual, but it's like a big corporate world out there in the [West] I mean, it's everywhere I guess but and you know, I guess in the new film First Cow it's sort of like, it always was, you know, it began with the corporations coming for shoppers or whatever it was, but yeah—I've lost my way. What are we talking about? The issues have gotten too big for me.
Haden Guest 39:01
Let's take another question.
Kelly Reichardt 39:03
Hey, I really want you to like the film. [LAUGHS]
Haden Guest 39:07
This is your last chance, students, to ask ... what's that? Alright. There we go.
Hi. Thank you for coming tonight. Kind of a simpler question, but was it a deliberate creative decision to kind of limit our knowledge. We didn't really learn the names of many of the characters. Was that more of a deliberate decision or kind of just a byproduct of the nature of the film.
Kelly Reichardt 39:37
Yeah. Even if it is a byproduct it can't be that way. We have to look at it as a decision but you know, because she doesn't know anybody. Everyone's just like passing through. I mean, I've made so many trips cross country with that dog and been in so many weird predicaments. But yeah, you run into people and you know them for a minute, but everybody's kind of a stranger, I guess I kind of want to keep coming back to this idea of strangers and how, even like someone would reach out and take care of an animal maybe faster than—but maybe be put off by a person that's not like, maybe bringing anything to the party or whatever it is. Or the security guard who really doesn't have anything to give but is closer to her situation so understands her predicament and so that he gives her what he can. But, everyone is essentially—yeah, she's in a world of strangers. And so it’s a very minimalist film.
Well, great, thank you.
Haden Guest 41:03
Let's take a couple more questions so we can take them from anybody. Questions. Yeah, Sophie.
Hi, there. I love the film. And I wondered, what was it like to work with—
Kelly Reichardt 41:16
A plus. A plus. Whose class is she in?
Haden Guest 41:18
She's a teaching fellow so she’s not looking for a grade. Sorry.
Two years ago.
Haden Guest 41:26
She's doing a great job.
What was it like to work with your dog when you made this film? And what is it like to see your dog in this film now?
Kelly Reichardt 41:36
I can't watch it. I can't bear it. Yeah. But she just, you know, we wrote the part for her because she was in Old Joy just because I could never leave her alone. By the time I got her she had so many issues. She was just a great dog as long as she wasn't alone. In which case she was a really destructive dog so she just kept being put in the movies. But, this one ... I mean, I was editing this in my apartment in Queens which is like a one-room apartment and her having to hear someone call her name all day. It was like kind of torturous. And in hearing the dogs at the pound, I was like, this doesn't seem fun for her anymore. Like Old Joy was more... she liked the opening with the stick and all that kind of stuff. But the problem at the end was, you know, every time Michelle would cry, she would just hop over the fence and be like, “Hey, what's up?” Just like keeping her in the fence was the major problem but I don't know somehow this dog got it. She was like a really good—I mean, I've worked with a lot of animals since her and dogs and she just—especially in Old Joy. She could really find the center of the frame. She was kind of a ham and would be like "hey my moment!" but she just kind of understood somehow, I don't know. Yeah, it was good. We had a good run.
Haden Guest 43:05
And First Cow by the way, it's dedicated to Lucy, which is—
Kelly Reichardt 43:09
No, not First Cow.
Haden Guest 43:11
Oh, no, I'm sorry. Certain Women is, yes.
Kelly Reichardt 43:14
Oh yeah, yes. Certain Women. Yeah, right, right, right. Yeah. Someone's always dying around filmmaking time. Yeah, it seems.
Kelly Reichardt 43:23
Haden Guest 43:24
Okay, final question. Do we have a final question? Oh, great, Kate.
Thank you. It's so wonderful and I'm so happy to have the students be able to engage with you. It's been great. So one question after having watched again Meek’s Cutoff recently and First Cow in relation to this film. A theme I've seen constantly and it's interesting when you mentioned that capitalism is sort of too big of a problem to think about. One of the things I love about these films is how they so elegantly set up a notion of a limited economy of something. Whether it's water in Meek’s Cutoff, the milk in First Cow, like food ingredients, or here, money. And I'm just wondering if this is sort of something that you're thinking about in your own work, this notion of the kind of economy ecologies of different things, limited properties? I'm just interested to hear a little bit more about that.
Kelly Reichardt 44:12
Yeah. Scarcity was like a main theme in these films. And there's something about whatever you're making a film about, you kind of end up living out somehow. So Jonathan Raymond, a lot of these films come from his writing. The last more recent film, there is scarcity, but it's also mostly about friendship. It was like such a relief, like, okay, this is a nicer experience of making it. But there is something about the—maybe to your point—the economy that we're working in where the crew is sort of like you know, if one thing goes wrong, this whole thing goes down the drain that mirrors what's happening in the films and which is not the ideal, but I always would be trying to tell myself that like, “Oh, you know, it's better that we don't have that. It's better working this 24th hour in the freezing cold and don't have any money because it's helping the movie,” but I've learned that's not true, actually. But, I mean, you could walk down the street of Boston and... I mean, we are a rich country and a lot of people don't have enough in all different ways, and just dealing with, just looking at whether emotionally undernourished or intellectually or financially or all these things, and how they can sprout off of each other. I don't know, those are sort of themes in Jonathan Raymond's writing. And I think what sort of draws me to his writing. And, but yeah, it's there. I mean, there's just, you know—I don't really believe like films, you know, it's not like I think these films change something or anything, but I don't know, what do you do? And so I guess just maybe trying to... I don't really know what I'm saying anymore. It all feels too grand and big of a plan. It's really not. It's like this was sort of the next story we wanted to tell but they've all felt really kind of like Meek’s Cutoff and all was, you know, they felt like dire to the—to us like, in what we were making, not because it was going to change anything but just like because like it's an expression of you know what you are witnessing or something.
Haden Guest 47:23
I love the way you went from scarcity to friendship because I feel like the theme of friendship, which is such a sort of fragile anchor of these films, like friendship itself is a scarce commodity, and it's something that just evaporates so quickly and the ways in which you ask, you know, how much do we owe to each other? But the other question like how much can we depend on each other, that's something that's also—it's another fragile economy in your films that I find really, you know, meaningful. It's something that you come back to again and again, and it's ambiguous, there's a hope for more but oftentimes there isn't. It's a reaching for something that isn't quite there. Except perhaps in the case of Lucy here.
Kelly Reichardt 48:09
But the films do fall around these—I mean, again, getting back to your comment—they do fall around these sort of schools of film or genres or whatever. So, you know, yeah, that's in there too, you know, to say. Oh, my goodness, thank you very much for having me and—
Haden Guest 48:31
This has been a really rare and wonderful evening and I want to thank Kelly Reichardt for being with us tonight.
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