Reprinted From the Independent Weekly. A longer transcript of this interview will appear on this site at a later date.
Local Art Houses—For her first feature film, writer/ director Courtney Hunt chose to highlight a class of Americans who are often ignored in cinema—the working poor. “I’m interested in people who are marginalized,” says Hunt, whose film, the acclaimed Frozen River, premieres in the Triangle this week. “We go so far out of our way to create these hyper-realities—all these escapist-fantasy-adventure dramas—and there is just so much drama going in people’s lives. You don’t have to go far to create big drama—there is a lot of stuff going on in people’s everyday lives that is worth a movie.”
Frozen River earned the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival for its depiction of two mothers in upstate New York, played by Melissa Leo and Misty Upham, who become human smugglers to earn desperately needed extra cash. Hunt says her goal with the film was “to capture the feel of a documentary.”
“I wanted the feeling that the characters were on the edge—I wanted them to know it and to see it, because that’s the way many people who are poor are sometimes [living], and I wanted you to go into their houses and walk in their shoes and feel that,” Hunt says.
Hunt discovered the story through news stories of women smugglers and says she interviewed residents on a Mohawk reservation, incorporating their lifestyle into the story: “I had a sense of how that culture played out in the present day in these people’s lives, and that’s how I developed the character of Lila.”
Hunt is currently looking for her next project as Frozen River heads into wide release with rave reviews. Though the film’s 24-day shoot was “fast and intense,” she admits that she’s imagined continuing the story: “In my mind there’s a 10-part sequel where every week a person of a different nationality or different culture could jump out of [Leo's character's] trunk.” —Zack Smith
The Servant of Two Masters
Deep Dish Theater
Through Sept. 13
Commedia dell’arte is one of the most influential forms of stage comedy, but be forewarned—anyone who’s complained about the two-hour-plus running times of Judd Apatow’s comedies has never sat through an 18th-century farce.
Such is the case with Deep Dish Theater’s production of Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters, directed by Derrick Ivey. Masters is a classic of Italian theater that employs many of the tropes associated with classic farce—lots of slammed doors, mistaken identities, threats of tragedy and a resolution that brings everyone together in the end. However, the farce is structured in such a way that it sometimes slows down the overall plot—while the plot sometimes threatens to drag the farce to a halt.
The play’s titular servant is Truffalindo (a male role played by veteran Laurie Wolf), a servant of Beatrice (Susannah Hough), who has disguised herself as her deceased brother, who in turn was promised to Clarice (Flynt Burton), who is now engaged to Silvio (Lance Waycaster). Adding to the confusion, Truffalindo decides to moonlight for Florindo (Hampton Rowe from Dearly Beloved and Orson’s Shadow), who also happens to be Beatrice’s lover. Additional complications ensue.
The play is at its best in the scenes where Truffalindo struggles with his double-duty—there’s some impressive physical comedy from Wolf, and also from Lamont Reed as the ambidextrous Portino. However, this particular translation often feels like two plays, with the various relationships existing separately from Truffalindo’s antics. It might have helped the production if they’d focused more on the servant part, which has been highlighted in their promotions. With intermission, the whole play runs about two hours and 20 minutes, resulting in funny scenes that drag because they have no purpose in moving the plot forward.
Masters clearly has a few updated touches—characters regularly sing 20th-century songs as they head in and out of scenes—so it might have been nice to trim much of the mistaken-identity plot and focus on Truffalindo’s tumbling. The play has an undeniable energy and good cheer when it emphasizes the physical hijinks, but as a whole, it might tend to wear an audience down. —Zack Smith
Reprinted from the Independent Weekly
Gods of Autumn
Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
Kennedy Theater; Progress Energy Center
Through Aug. 31
With a script and direction from Tony winner Jack Murphy and another Tony winner, Jarrod Emick, in the lead role, a certain amount of excitement swirled around Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s world premiere of Gods of Autumn. That excitement, unfortunately, soon evaporated over the course of a play that employs seemingly every pretentious cliché known to theater.
Let’s start with the plot, which can best be described as: “Tony Soprano, Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada and … I don’t know, one of the nuns from Doubt, all get cancer.”
At a hospital, mob fixer Jimmy (Emick), fashion magazine editor Evelyn (Dorothy Recasner Brown) and shy Mary (Broadway actress Jessica Phillips) regularly find themselves in the same room awaiting treatment while a black-clad gentleman called “The Other Part” (Holden Hansen) wanders about, interacting with each in the form of their internal monologue. Jimmy, who’s tormented by an earlier incident involving his girlfriend Bernadette (also Phillips), finds himself drawn into a relationship with Mary, while Mary hides a secret and Evelyn deals with her abandoned rural roots in the form of her mother (Gilly Conklin, who plays two other roles).
Where does this go wrong? For starters, there’s Jimmy and Bernadette’s Long Island accents, Evelyn’s hackneyed character, the voiceover that awkwardly announces the flashbacks, the rear-projection that even more awkwardly introduces the flashbacks, the absolutely painful moment where The Other Part wanders into the audiences as he explains his true nature, and the lame running gag about Indian doctors.
Emick and Phillips give their all to their parts, and an extended sequence in a vertically mounted bed set actually works well as a short play on its own. But they can’t overcome the shortcomings of a script and direction that substitute broad stereotypes for perspective and insight. If the play were rewritten to focus on the relationship between these people from different backgrounds who bond over impending death, then you might have a sensitive, powerful story. Gods has potential, but it desperately needs to trim its fat. —Zack Smith
Catching Up with Dwight MacPherson – M-Theory and More
By Zack Smith
Dwight L. MacPherson has established himself as a prolific creator, with multiple new graphic novels and miniseries in 2008 alone. August sees the release of the second volume of his dark fantasy series, from Image, The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo, along with a collection of his pirate-themed horror series, Dead Men Tell No Tales from Arcana Studios. And September brings a project MacPherson’s especially proud of, the 1950s-set pulp thriller M-Theory, co-written with Bruce Brown and featuring art by Mark Barentine. With all this going on, we went straight to MacPherson to find out more about these projects.
Read the Full Interview Here!
P. Craig Russell – Adapting Coraline and More
By Zack Smith
It’s hard to think of a genre that P. Craig Russell hasn’t interpreted in comics. From Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales to Mozart’s operas to Michael Moorecock’s tales of Elric, Russell’s unique combination of prose and pictures has made him one of the most popular and acclaimed artists around. His latest work is an adaptation of Coraline, the dark fantasy novel by his frequent collaborator, Neil Gaiman. Russell stopped by to talk with us about his history of adaptations, his collaborations with Gaiman, and the recent film and book looking back at his career.
Read the full interview here!
What the Frock
Photo Courtesy of Carolina Theatre
North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
Carolina Theatre—Though he was the only one of the Village People to actually live in Greenwich Village, Randy (“the cowboy”) Jones was born in Raleigh, attended Enloe High and UNC-Chapel Hill, and considers himself a Tar Heel through and through. “I always call North Carolina my home, and it’s always been my home,” says Jones, whose main duty at the fest is to introduce Saturday night’s screening of Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild and sign autographs.
Despite the Village People’s iconic status in the gay community, Jones’ busy schedule of touring, recording and acting has kept him from attending the N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in the past. He’ll be there for the first time this year to help promote it, and he is looking forward to the experience. “I’m so happy that this provides me an opportunity to get a close-up look at the success of this festival,” Jones says. “From all the comments I’ve heard, it seems to be extremely successful.” He also hopes to network: “It seems like every time I attend a film festival, I get a job in a movie out of it.”
Jones says that even with gay themes becoming more mainstream in Hollywood, the festival still offers an important opportunity for a venue where gay-oriented films can gain exposure and a wider audience, citingBrokeback Mountain‘s Sundance buzz as an example. “There are always going to be film festivals that deal with pointedly focused groups in a community,” Jones says. “A lot will either break out and become mainstream, or at least provide a place where filmmakers can get their work seen by a broader audience.”
Jones, who’s currently working on the film Against the Wind, which includes exteriors shot in Boone, N.C., says he’s been talking with the chancellor of the N.C. School of the Arts about possibly becoming more involved with the school. “Without my training at that school and UNC, I wouldn’t have had the career that I’ve had,” Jones says.
What’s his secret? “I’m like the Energizer Bunny—I just go on and on,” Jones says. “Rust never sleeps, and neither do I.” Yes, you just read one of the Village People quote Neil Young. Is your mind blown? —Zack Smith
The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival opens tonight.
Art Houses—Nanette Burstein doesn’t remember high school fondly. “I struggled socially, I struggled with my parents … it was not a fun time. But it was a formative time, and it played a big role in who I became.”
Who she became was the Oscar-nominated co-director of such documentaries as On the Ropesand The Kid Stays in the Picture. Her newest film,American Teen, which opens this week in the Triangle, received a special prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year for its depiction of five seniors in Warsaw, Ind.
At the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham earlier this year, Burstein said that Teen appeals not just to teenagers, but to people who remember what it was like to be in high school as well. “A lot of people in their 20s and 30s relate because they had similar experiences … and parents want to know what’s going on with their teenagers,” Burstein said. “I think it has that crossover appeal to different generations.”
Despite some wince-inducing moments that made it into the film, Burstein said that the subjects didn’t mind how they were depicted: “It’s pretty tame compared to some of their experiences that weren’t in the movie.” She sometimes broke her distance as a filmmaker to give the kids advice, such as encouraging aspiring filmmaker Hannah to see a counselor when she was in the throes of a deep depression. “It was impossible for me to stand by and not give my input, for whatever it was worth in the end,” Burstein said.
Burstein said she’s stayed close with the teens since the film wrapped, particularly Hannah, to whom she’s “a mentor, or a big sister.” She doesn’t plan to make a follow-up, though: “I stay friends with the people I make movies about, but filming them is a one-time thing.” —Zack Smith
American Teen opened Friday, Aug. 15, in area art houses.