Without question, one of the more distinctive voices in indie cinema right now is filmmaker Rick Alverson. Especially with The Comedy a few years ago and now the recently released Entertainment, Alverson is making a name for himself within a certain niche realm as a writer/director to watch out for. Having been intrigued and puzzled by Entertainment (as seen in this mixed review here), I was thrilled to have a chance to sit down with him and his co-writer/star Gregg Turkington to discuss their film. We had a short time and mostly just mused about the changing nature of how audiences watch movies, but you can see the highlights of the interview. Entertainment is in select theaters now!
Here now is the best of my chat with Alverson and Turkington:
On the specific nature of the film and how it may not be for everyone
Rick Alverson – Although they are welcome! I mean, you know, it may be a little ambitious to hope that that would be the case, but I’m entirely interested in people that are not…that are unprepared for the thing and unaffiliated. It’s somewhat designed for those people. You’re going to lose, shave off the top percentages anyway! (Laughs)
Discussing the ironic title of the film and how some folks may have watched The Comedy by accident due to its title
Gregg Turkington – Well, that’s just silly.
RA – It’s also about entertainment, you know? I mean, there is a bit of a fuck you to it as well, yeah.
GT – It is an odd idea to me too that someone would go to a movie that’s called Entertainment because they like entertainment! (Laughs) It’s just so broad!
On how the film is boundary pushing but also structurally a very simple story
RA – Oh sure. I’ve told people before that the thing is built on, you know, structural peers of cliche and tropes. You know, the desert as a place of spiritual renewal, the unattainable daughter, the road trip. It’s all, just loaded full of it. But then the idea is, you know, it’s like seeing the Neill (Hamburger) show, there’s an instant recognizable trope, and then when you get inside you realize that those are very unsound foundations and the thing is going to collapse while you’re in the building. That’s sort of an exciting thing. There’s a horror to it all.
GT – (Laughing)
Talking about the genesis of the idea for the film
RA – Again, I think it’s about the way the story was told, because that story is sort of universal. I think that both Gregg and I have an interest in…to some degree, it’s about the form of the thing and moving away from our infatuation with the concept that people come out of movies and say it’s about this or that, you know? They liked the story or they didn’t like the story, when in fact there’s something else happening to you that you’re unaware of and probably responding to, you know? Something like visceral and tonal. I definitely have an interest in bringing people back to that and even trapping them in this position where they have to contend with watching a movie and what it’s doing to them. Be skeptical! Critical audiences are, it’s more exciting when the critical faculties are interrupted and it goes into the body and people are squirming. It’s nice.
GT – It seems like a delayed response too, which I really like. What happens to me with movies that I either love or hate is that it takes a couple of days of reconsidering them before I even know what I feel about them. I like that feeling.
RA – There’s an overabundance of disposable media out there in the world right now, as we all know. I think, just to contribute to that, as more content, god it feels like there should be a sort of environmental protection against that.
GT – At least they don’t press as many DVDs of this junk as they used to. At least a lot of this stuff can be deleted and just disappear! (Laughs) So the landfills can have space for more toilet paper.
RA – What about the emotional and mental landfills?
GT – (Laughing) Yeah. Don’t talk about the American public like that!
Talking more about tactile vs digital media
GT – Well, I’m a big record collector, I like that, you know, you go to a thrift store on a pile of things and you take it home, take it out, put the needle down, and it’s just some terrible lounge act that had a show at the Iowa fair and sold their records at the show and afterwards they signed them and gave them to somebody and it sat in that person’s collection and then they died and that person’s family put it in the basement…but eventually it comes to you! It comes to you and you put the needle down and you’re getting the same experience as someone would on that day. It’s just this beautiful time capsule and with these stupid viral videos and all this crap, they’re not time capsules at all, because they’re just going to vanish. Even though it’s easier to disseminate this stuff then ever…
RA – But likewise they don’t vanish! They just, it’s a sea of noise…
GT – At the time it’s like that, but I don’t know, I think hard copies are our only hope. These companies are trying to stop printing books and just sell you these Kindle editions, mp3 instead of albums, and it must seem like this stuff is here forever, but operating systems change and people’s hard drives fail and all these things happen. These things start to disappear, you know, and being that they’re gone forever…the people at these companies that determine what’s out there, like at Netflix, they might come out with a bunch of these weird films, but they’re disappearing and the content is becoming more normal. If you get something going where you tell people you don’t need DVD collections and that you can watch anything you want, but then they start eliminating the things you want, where are you? You’re fucked!
Or somebody sinister gets a hold of one of these…these companies merge all the time. If someone purchases, these companies are so huge, like Amazon, if somebody purchases it and decides they want to get rid of movies with a certain point of view, if you didn’t have people archiving them on a format that will last, then what?
RA – It’s like Rupert Murdoch and National Geographic. That doesn’t seem like a good mix.
GT – No, no it doesn’t.
RA – Suddenly you open up and the pyramids are gone!
Responding to how Entertainment might have a future as a cult classic
GT – When I was ten and I was into watching the weirdest things I could find, really early on I liked these kinds of films and my dad told me that I needed to see The Pawnbroker, with Rod Steiger. It’s the bleakest, bleakest movie ever made. It’s pretty bleak! It’s from the mid 60’s, this guy ends up with one of those letter holders, he just slams his hand through it just to feel something…
RA – (Gasps)
GT – It’s this Holocaust survivor who runs this pawn shop. It’s really grim, but it’s stuck with me. I wanted to see it, and then I did, and I felt horrible. It was great! Horror movies no longer work for that feeling of revulsion either. If you want that from a movie, you need a drama to feel repulsed.
RA – That’s because the majority of modern horror movies are just piling on the titillation.
A bit on mixing the surreal humor into a somewhat road trip story
RA – There was an interest for the thing to be really dynamic. It’s called Entertainment. It essentially covers the gamut of that experience, you know? It’s a cat and mouse game between amusement and repulsion…we wanted to go the full distance with it. The objectives are one thing, but that was what was interesting.
On how the stand up comedy was integrated into the story
GT – I have a stand up routine, so you know, those weren’t real shows or real audiences, but I would do some variation of the actual stand up routine. Then, in the editing he (Alverson) can decide what will work, you know? The particular jokes that we used weren’t in the script necessarily. He had a lot to choose from.
I know when we were shooting, we shot like nine shows, right?
RA – Yeah.
GT – Some of them are seen for just a split second, but I know one thing we were conscious of was the reputation of having a touring act, you know? You are starting out with the same joke every night or certain things are happening repeatedly, so it was good to film those in every single setting and then if it was going to work, you could show that repetition.
What’s next for the duo
RA – Well, these things are difficult to finance, so we’re accepting donations!
GT – No Kickstarter though. No digital panhandling for me.
There you have the best bits of interview with Alverson and Turkington. Once again, Entertainment is in theaters now…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!