St. Vincent gets fake in the rock star documentary takedown The Nowhere Inn; Justin Chon relocates from Los Angeles to Louisiana for the immigration story Blue Bayou; a Beyond Fest screening is thematically perfect. All in today’s Movie News Rundown.
But Second: There will be no Rundown tomorrow because I’ll be travelin’.
St. Vincent: The new film The Nowhere Inn is a collaboration between musician St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and Portlandia co-creator Carrie Brownstein that makes fun of all those musican-approved “documentaries” that claim to shed light on this inner life of Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber or whomever. The Nowhere Inn is about the “ego purgatory” of celebrities who “surround themselves with people who only tell them yes,” St. Vincent tells Margeaux Sippell.
Blue Bayou: Justin Chon, director of the new film Blue Bayou, talks to Caleb Hammond in this piece about why he left his film-mad hometown of L.A. to shoot in Louisiana. Blue Bayou is the story of a Korean-born adoptee who faces the threat of deportation — even though he has a new young family in America.
Killian and the Comeback Kids and a Comet: Taylor A. Purdee, the writer-director-and-so-much-more of the new musical drama Killian and the Comeback Kids, wrote this fun piece for us about preparing for all kinds of big cinematic challenges — and then facing down real ones like Muzak that won’t stop playing in the background and a key location. Some big cosmic things broke his way, though, as he explains. The film is out tomorrow. Congratulations!
Beyond Brings the Heat: Beyond Fest, one of our 50 Best Genre Festivals in the World, just announced a dynamic lineup that includes the West Coast Premiere of Julia Ducornau’s Palme d’Or Winner Titane. It will have a simultaneous indoor and drive-in screening, which is fun because the film involves a woman’s very unusual relationship with a vehicle. Yes, your car can be your date. Beyond Fest films will also include Blumhouse’s Halloween Kills and The Black Phone, and Halloween Kills director David Gordon Green and producer Jason Blum will be on hand to discuss the film. There’s also a 50th anniversary screening of A Clockwork Orange and a salute to the great Michael Mann. The festival will be held in Los Angeles from Wednesday, September 29th through Monday, October 11th. Here is a lot of additional detail.
That’s Cool, Where Are You Travelin’? Los Angeles! I’m back and forth between L.A. and Boston a lot, but have actually been away from L.A. for a long time. It will be nice to eat at Plancha Tacos and go to Largo. Also Team MovieMaker is going to go to some magic shows. Fun!
Annie Clark, better known by her stage name, St. Vincent, wanted to make a documentary concert film about her life on the road — but she didn’t want to make just another doc about an artist from the artist’s own perspective. So instead, she and Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein teamed up with director and frequent Portlandia collaborator Bill Benz to make The Nowhere Inn — a trippy, mind-bending mockumentary that will make you question everything about St. Vincent.
“The genesis of it was that I was doing touring for Mass Seduction, my last record, and I wanted to make a concert film originally and I asked Carrie to help me. And then it sort of dovetailed into these conversations that we’ve been having forever, which is just kind of about authenticity as currency. How much do we really want to know about our favorite artists?” Clark told MovieMaker ahead of the film’s release this Friday.
“One of the things we came to is that if I were to make a concert film, ultimately, it would need some kind of a narrative arc. So, okay, you’re inserting a somewhat outside narrative. Then it would need to be cut, and I would have final cut because I’m the artist in question… basically, it would be propaganda for myself,” she said. “I don’t want to make that. I want to acknowledge kind of, first off, that documentary is a narrative, and is a scripted narrative in its own way.”
Annie Clark, A.K.A St. Vincent, and Carrie Brownstein pictured in The Nowhere Inn, courtesy of IFC Films.
So instead of making a documentary, Clark and Brownstein decided to make a scripted movie about making a documentary. The plot of The Nowhere Inn follows Clark and Brownstein as they play versions of themselves. Brownstein plays a good friend of Clark’s (they’re friends in real life, too) who decides to make a documentary about her life as St. Vincent. As Brownstein desperately tries to find the narrative within Clark’s life on the road, she finds it harder and harder to catch Clark’s authentic self on-camera. The more she tries to coax it out of her, the more dreamlike the film becomes, as Clark descends down the rabbit hole of her own self-image.
Clark says the mockumentary style of the film is a reaction to the music documentaries that have been released by countless mainstream artists: You know, the ones meant to show fans the “real” person as they are behind the scenes with friends and family. But as much as Clark wanted to partake in that trend herself, she didn’t want to pretend that the resulting film would be based entirely on reality.
“I grew up just believing that every documentary was the truth, you know? Like, it didn’t occur to me until probably in the past couple of years… they have to tell a story, too, and it has to be a shape, and it has a point of view, and that point of view is the person who’s making the documentary,” she said. “Carrie and I were like, well, if that’s the reality of documentaries about artists commissioned by the artists themselves, we should just run with an actually scripted narrative piece, because that will be actually truer.”
The Nowhere Inn script fuses fact with fiction, poking fun at both St. Vincent herself and the trope of the ego-maniacal rockstar.
“We started off just coming up with the story that was not entirely dissimilar from me and not entirely dissimilar from [Brownstein], and kind of pokes fun pokes fun at each other and definitely me, and also pokes fun at the idea of like a quote-unquote rock star, [with] pitfalls and trappings and all that,” Clark said.
“The Nowhere Inn is a sort of like ego purgatory where people go, where they’ve pushed out everything that is good and true in their lives to feed their own narcissism, and then they are just kind of in this just liminal space,” she added. “I think what happens to people is that they can become slaves to their own ego and surround themselves with people who only tell them yes and kind of stop living in the world… in order to be a writer and to be good at making work that’s resonant with people, [you need] to live in the world.”
The Nowhere Inn is in theaters Friday.
Main Image: Annie Clark, a.k.a St. Vincent, pictured in The Nowhere Inn, courtesy of IFC Films.
Killian and the Comeback Kids is the story of a young mixed-race musician forced to return to his rural hometown after an expensive college degree. A chance encounter with a childhood acquaintance leads unexpectedly to big plans that could unite a divided community. In the piece below, Taylor A. Purdee, who wrote and directed the film — among other things — talks about unexpected obstacles — and some nice surprises.
I shot a film a while back. It’s out this week, big screen, whole classic thing. Finally at that “made it look so easy” phase. But anyone reading this knows better.
Sure, it was a lot of work. In all the normal, unfathomable ways that making a film is.
I’d written it. I was directing it.
I was producing it. Really, on the ground, dirty-hands producing it.
I was playing the lead.
I was co-writing the music.
Because of course, why wouldn’t it be a bit of a musical. (Once, not La La Land)
I was playing my character’s instruments.
I was singing my character’s part.
I was directing my father.
But none of those were the problems. It’s never the ones you’re ready for.
We all know the mythic cinematic pitfalls to look out for. Uncontrollable stars, slimy producers, thieving distributors, insider trading on the festival circuit. Even a cursory reading of film history gives you the sense that of course you know which of Coppola’s mistakes to avoid, what made Scorsese clever, how Truffaut did it first.
It’s hard enough to create a family on screen. The chemistry, the shared look, it’s a lot of alchemy. We got a head start by casting my father as my father, one of those times it’s good to have an actor in the family. How do you get through directing your dad while playing opposite him? I’d suggest the same rules that always applied to playing pretend together: In the end, Darth Vader always lets Luke win.
But for all the effort that saved us, we made it up by trying to cast a child actor who had to:
Match me, in all my ethnic ambiguity.
Match the Black Father.
Match the white mother.
And then you know, be able to pull off doing the role.
It felt like we saw every not quite white pre-teen girl in New York. Finally someone in the town we’d be filming in said, “If you really can’t find anyone, I saw this kid at the community theatre that kind of looks like you.” Well, the kid was great. Of course filming was set to start just about the same time as the fourth grade, but that’s Chinatown.
Story continues after the trailer for Killian and the Comeback Kids:
It always seems like good advice to “write what you know” and follow in the wake of works that inspire you. But when I decided that meant I should audition every actor in New York I could find who had done any stage production of the film Once, I may have gone too far. But still, we pulled one of our dream cast members from that show.
That would have been flawless, except that she was under contract for the great white way’s new production of Kinky Boots. She came in to read for us between her matinee and evening shows, and I took that to mean she was pretty committed.
Sure, a picture can fall apart the week before, maybe even the night before. But only ever other people’s pictures. We got a rather confused message from our Broadway darling’s agent that somehow, though it had all been cleared weeks before, our star suddenly couldn’t miss the eight or so consecutive shows our schedule required. She still wanted to do the film…but how could she?
In the end, we got her. It blew up the schedule. It meant that what would have been eight straight days with the core cast had to be broken up over three weeks, allowing her to only miss one show a week, the Sunday matinee.
What the fabulous writings of historians like Peter Biskind don’t help you even consider preparing for are things like shooting in a town that is so small that — while the community mowed whole fields for the film crew to park in — the same people couldn’t quite imagine that call times, or even whole shoot days, aren’t exactly malleable.
They don’t prepare you for the fact that, even with every permit imaginable and the mayor on speed dial, you still won’t get the scene unless someone on your crew happens to know the soccer mom who controls the Muzak that plays in the town square… and can turn it the hell off.
They don’t prepare you for clearing a fantastic countryside location with the owner of the farm, only to have the other side of the family show up the day of filming to claim that one corner of the field is theirs and has been since such-and-such a blood feud in 1902.
But luckily, there’s still some magic in the movies, and who doesn’t want their favorite grandfather’s cornfields immortalized on binary celluloid?
You expect music clearances to be difficult. You don’t expect the godfather of folk to force you to write and record and mix into a close-up a new opening moment, a month before the absolute last picture lock.
You expect a struggle over final cut. You don’t expect your focus puller to be convinced he’s watching a North Korean nuke falling in real time. When you try to get to the bottom of the commotion in playback, fair enough — there is an unreasonably bright something falling from the sky. And even though you can get down with “wow, great shot of a shooting star,” you can’t believe that it happens in the middle of a monologue about, well, stars.
You can, however, believe that people will think it’s a slightly over-the-top CGI choice. So you add “No shooting stars were faked in the making of this motion picture” to the credits. Who are we to argue with the cosmos.
The further I get into my life as a filmmaker, the less every legend and story and mythical warning from the romantic celluloid past proves useful, and the more it’s the nonsense that loses you a location and finds you a comet.
One way this film differed from his others was the level of research during the scripting process. In order to build an authentic portrait of Antonio and his family, Chon spent a lot of time interviewing Asian adoptees from all over the country.
“I spoke to somebody that grew up in Jersey. I spoke to somebody who grew up in Southern California. I spoke to somebody who grew up in New York. I spoke to somebody from the South,” he says. “Just like any of our experiences would be different, so are theirs.”
He continues: “But there are common threads of being adopted from another country that I think ring true, generally, no matter where you grew up. Like, not having people that look like you in your family.”
One of the people he spoke to shared an insight that made its way directly into the script.
“An adoptee consultant told me that one of the biggest, most influential moments in her life was when she had her own children,” Chon says. “Because it’s the first time as an adoptee, that you’re holding somebody, or looking at somebody, that’s actually blood related to you.”
“So that’s in the film. When Antonio holds his child for the first time, it’s a very emotional moment, because of the conversation I had with this particular adoptee.”
Blue Bayou, written and directed by Justin Chon, opens in theaters on Friday.
Main image (above): Alicia Vikander and Justin Chon in Blue Bayou.