David Lowery Interview

Courtesy of IFC Films

Courtesy of IFC Films

I conducted a phone interview with the writer/director of Sundance hit Ain’t Them Bodies Saints a few weeks before the film opened up nationwide. It opens today at the Sie Film Center after a week at Landmark’s Mayan Theater.

KDR: Do you ever get confused for the lead singer of Cracker? (Who also shares the name David Lowery)

David Lowery: It happens more and more. As more people talk about the movie, it comes up quite a bit. I only know one Cracker song. It definitely happens more and more.

KDR: You set the movie in the 70’s in Texas yet there seems there seems to be an almost timeless quality to the movie as it could be from the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. It gave the movie a certain timeless, mythical quality. Was that something you were specifically going for with the movie?

DL: It was very intentional. You hit the nail on the head with mythical. I wanted it to have a very mythical feel. I felt that by depriving the audience of a hard, temporal context it would have an more immediate feel to it. It would feel like it could have taken place during any time period. For the sake of practicality we said it took place in the early 70’s which allowed us to say we could use this car but we couldn’t use that car. We were always striving to make it feel older, so if we had something that was new from the 70’s we would age it down to look older. If we had something from the 40’s we would jump on that. We tried to create a blend of time periods that made it impossible to tell when it took place. There’s never any real sort of indication as to what year it is. If someone had turned on the tv and there was a report about the Vietnam war then all of the sudden it would contextualize the movie in a very specific way. I wanted to remove that specificity in every way possible and have the movie placed in the abstract.

Courtesy of IFC Films

Courtesy of IFC Films

KDR: One of my biggest pet peeves is a movie set in the 70’s where everyone drives a new car from the period and all of their clothes look like they’re going to the disco. I read that you really worked hard for a world that had a “lived-in” feel to it.

DL: We really wanted the world to be a character in and of itself. The texture of everything in the movie was very important.

KDR: When you had written the script and started the casting process, you’ve said that you wanted to convey a specific, elegiac tone. In order to do this you showed your cast photos that depicted the tone you wanted. Dorothea Lange’s WPA photographs seems like an obvious influence, especially if you look at the photo used on the poster for the film.

DL: Her photography was something that we absolutely used as a reference point even though it’s was a different era, that’s exactly what we wanted this movie to look like. Those photographs she took of the Dust Bowl and of America at that time period. That was very important to use to have images like that not only made a time and place but emotion. They have such deep feelings, you don’t have the complete story when you look at them. You don’t know where that person came from or where they’re going but you have get this feeling of what’s going on in your life. That was the type of thing we were trying to do with the movie. A very deep sense of feeling that was important to the plot.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

atbs poster

Detail of the Poster for ATBS
Courtesy of IFC Films

KDR: Bradford Young’s cinematography seemed to evoke Edward Hopper paintings. His paintings have such strong characters in them that I can think for hours about them.

DL: Andrew Wyeth, Hopper, all of those guys were on our minds when we were coming up with these images. You can look at their paintings and there are complete stories. There is some much depth of feeling in those single images. We were thinking ‘Why can’t a movie do the same thing?’ Our movie is not made in that same way, we are trying to do something slightly different but these paintings were on our minds, how such a singular image can carry so much information. We really wanted this movie to be made up of images similar to that.


Detail from Edward Hopper’s ‘New York Movie’ (1939) painting
Courtesy of MoMA


Courtesy of IFC Films

KDR: The score of the film is fantastic, as many people have already commented on. You have mentioned before that you played for the cast before filming. What was some of the music you played for them to help get across the tone of the movie?

DL: A really important one to me was Joanna Newsom. Her music has been very important me personally in my life, it has gotten me through a lot of rough patches. That was something when I started writing this movie. I wanted the movie to make people feel the way I do when I listen to her songs. Specifically for Rooney [Mara], I would give her songs from her records and tell her that this is what her character feels like and what her character is going through. For other characters, songs by Bonnie Prince Billy, who is also actor, he is one of my very favorite musicians. Nate Parker  who plays Sweeney in the film, I gave him a specific song that Bonnie Prince Billy sings that is so precisely in tune with character’s relationship with Casey Affleck that I gave it to him and I was like “This is all you need to know, this song. Listen to it and carry it with you as you perform the part.” Everybody had songs like that which informed their characters. Casey got a lot of Bill Callahan records, Ben Foster had a lot of old country music like Waylon Jennings. He went out and bought more of the music on his own as he felt it really spoke to his character.

KDR: Overall the movie with its mythical vibe reminds me of a Bob Dylan tune, such as Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts and several songs off of Desire, specifically Romance in Durango. The movie seemed more akin to those songs that say other films. I’m not sure if you a big Dylan fan like I am.

DL: I am a huge Dylan fan. I was listening to Blood on the Tracks a lot, I know that’s kind of a cliché to say I was listening to that while I was writing this movie but I was. One of the things that was really exciting to me was to hear songs of his that I thought was an original only to find out it was a cover. There’s one song in particular called Love Henry. I heard that song covered by Nick Cave first and it was called Henry Lee and I love that song. I didn’t realize it was a folk song and that Bob Dylan had covered it. I listened to his version and then eventually traced it back to these old blues recordings of it. It was interesting to see how the song evolved and how Dylan participated in that folk tradition of storytelling through music. That was a huge influence on what this movie was. I wanted this movie to feel like a cover of a song that someone like Bob Dylan would’ve sung. Everyone knows the Dylan version but there’s other versions, ones that are from decades earlier. It sort of traces through history. It has its roots in American history but it has been transposed hundreds of times by other artists.

KDR: One element in the movie that I have not seen discussed much is the role of handwritten letters between Bob and Ruth. Letters are such a dying art form that it’s like your film, no pun intended, is a love letter to an older, more romantic time when lovers wrote letters to each other.

DL: Absolutely. I love the art of letter writing. I deeply regret that I don’t do it as much as I used to. I used to write letters all of the time. I would write them to my grandparents, to my friends. As soon as email came about I started to gravitate towards that. I do write very long emails so hopefully that makes up for some of that. I love hand-writing. I love the meaning that can be conveyed by the act of hand-writing. I love watching someone write something by hand, there’s something so beautiful in that and meaningful. When I met my wife and before we were married, at first when were courting each other we communicated almost entirely through letters. Some of those were through the post office, some were online, it was all done by hand, through the written word. We didn’t talk on the phone for months. It was so meaningful for me to dot hat because letters have always reminded me of my childhood. I kept a box full of letters in my childhood, anything that anyone ever wrote or sent to me I hung on to them. I wanted this movie to honor that. I wanted there to be a love of the written word of ink on paper and what that means when you give someone something that you have written down. That is such a beautiful gesture to me and I wanted to celebrate that.


Courtesy of IFC Films


James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) – Twitter Interview

Director James Ponsoldt

Director James Ponsoldt

Here’s my Twitter Interview with The Spectacular Now director James Ponsoldt.


Be sure to go see The Spectacular Now – it’s a wonderful coming-of-age movie that is a real crowd-pleaser.



Neill Blomkamp’s new big-budget sci-fi thriller Elysium fails to deliver on the promise of the first-half of his wildly-overrated debut District 9. While there are laudable things about the film, they are minor when considering the average plot, uninspired action sequences, weak acting, horrible accents and overall blandness of the whole endeavor. Kudos to Matt Damon for finally branching out into full-on sci-fi, The Adjustment Bureau was close to sci-fi, you just wish he would have picked a better project. Many people have slammed the underrated sci-fi movie Southland Tales for having too many ideas and sub-plots, one could make the exact opposite claim on this film – not much really happens until the wholly-undeserved ending, complete with it’s facile social commentary.


New Movie Roundup Aug 9-15 @ 303 Magazine


Blue Jasmine

Directed by: Woody Allen

Rating: 3 out of 5

Release date: Aug 9, 2013

Woody Allen’s new movie Blue Jasmine stars Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, a once-wealthy socialite who flees from New York City to San Francisco after her financial-conman husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) loses everything. Jasmine starts having near mental breakdowns while she adjusts from her 1% life to the 99% one, complete with talking to herself. Allen uses these episodes as a clever way to segue to a flashback to show you her life as a wealthy socialite. This is a tough movie to watch because Cate’s performance is top-notch but your “enjoyment” of the film will come from your reaction to her neurotic character. The picture above is a perfect representation of her. The rest of the cast is pretty strong with Andrew Dice Clay turning in a fine performance as Augie, the ex-husband to Jasmine’s sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Louis C.K. has a few funny scenes as a lover for Ginger who is trying to break-up with her current boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) who doesn’t meet Jasmine’s standards. Jasmine struggles to get her life back on track with a new job and some classes about learning to use the computer. All in all an interesting movie, well-acted yet one that was very difficult to watch at times.

Read the rest @ 303 MAGAZINE

Book Review – Roland Gori’s The Imposter Factory

Roland Gori

Roland Gori

This is some heady stuff:

The purpose of Gori’s book is to reveal a culture that uses all sorts of technical devices in order to produce a ‘fake’ reality. Gori’s pet topics are Kafkaesque evaluations (mainly in health institutions), the establishment of rigid norms that Max Weber had already recognized as a typical feature of capitalism, an economy in which money is virtual, and a reality that is “produced” by machines and computers which have begun to “think” in the place of humans. Gori writes: “In many areas of our existence, the absurd decisions and disasters are due to a too strict application of formal procedures, to the conformist submission to official protocols and to instructions that disrespect any down-to-earth experience” (p. 34). Gori sees humanist culture being eroded by the culture of statistics and invites politicians to read more Shakespeare and fewer manuals from the Chicago School. The culture of “normalization” creates a system of surveillance demanding “never ceasing visibility, permanent classification, hierarchization, evaluation, delimitation and constant diagnosis of the environment until all individuals have interiorized “the norm.” Administrations are busy fabricating files on practically everything. In this “informational capitalism” the human has been transformed into a neuro-economic entity which cannot (and does not need to) think because she spends most of her energy on grasping the displayed information. – See more at: http://berlinbooks.org/brb/2013/07/the-culture-of-the-as-if/#sthash.jdNv9830.dpuf
Read the rest of the article at the BERLIN REVIEW OF BOOKS

New Movie Idea #3 – The Apalachin Meeting


On November 14, 1957 this happened:

… State troopers raided an estate in Apalachin, New York, and arrested 59 affluent men, with nearly as many more escaping through the surrounding woods. The next morning’s headlines hailed the gathering as a summit meeting of organized crime, alerting America to the reality of a national Mafia whose existence had been hotly debated. This first in-depth study of that historic meeting chronicles how it changed the course of American history by inspiring federal legislation to crack down on labor racketeering; forcing drastic policy revisions within the U.S. Department of Justice; and prompting charges of criminal fraud in one of America’s most heatedly contested presidential elections. By explaining the context and consequences of the raid, this volume establishes the gathering at Apalachin as a pivotal event in the history of syndicated crime and of the government’s response to the Mafia.

That is the plot synopsis to Michael Newton’s book The Mafia at Apalachin, 1957.

It serves as a good thumbnail sketch for what is generally believed to have went down at the home of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara on that day. Myths, legends and conspiracy theories have proliferated in the intervening years since the meeting. One of the biggest is that it was at this meeting that the Kennedys were targeted as RFK was leading the McClellan Commission (also known as the Valachi Hearings) and JFK was looking towards the White House.

Some theories even think the Kennedys might have attended the meeting.


The Wikipedia page has loads of interesting tidbits and links to many of these.

Whatever you believe or want to believe, one thing is certain – something went down at Apalachin and the mafia & America was never the same.

There’s a reference to this meeting in Scorsese’s 1990 mobster gem Goodfellas when the narrator says “It was a glorious time, before Apalachin, before Crazy Joe…”

This needs to be turned into a movie, what with America’s enduring fascination with mobsters (Sopranos anyone?) and the Kennedys.

New Movie Idea #2 – When the World Was Lifted

sun magnet field reversal

Setting – a few years into the future on Earth

Backstory- The Sun’s magnetic field reverses causing a new wrinkle – Earth’s gravitational field weakens by 11% across the board. Chaos breaks out everywhere as this completely disrupts the entire planet. All of the world’s major cities like New York, Berlin, Paris, Beijing, Moscow went into utter ruin when the Lift happened. Buildings were uprooted like trees in a hurricane. Anyone living near the coasts were flooded and destroyed. Live near a nuclear reactor? Bad news. The first year alone saw Thomas Malthus’ dream come true – over 70% of the world’s population was killed. Those who survived were most of the people living in fly-over country and remote villages. The ones who were unfortunate losers in the grounded world before 2016 were now the winners. Jesus would say the weak were now the strong but after the Lift, most organized religions disappeared. The world was fundamentally altered in ways that no one would have ever believed. If dinosaurs showed up, people would not have been surprised.

Fast forward 20 years.

Our story takes place in the world that was reconstructed from the ashes of what people have dubbed “The Lift” which happened in 2016. We meet a small group of people living in a village in an unnamed part of the Midwest. These villagers have built up a primitive society, similar to the ones that were created by Native Americans before the arrival of the Europeans. In the intervening 20 years many things have changed in the world, even more things were simply lost. We didn’t know it at the time but stashing all of stuff in the “cloud” made it all vulnerable. Not developing low-tech redundancies for our power supplies were quickly revealed as a massive Achilles heel for mankind.

One thing that the inhabitants of the Lifted World needed to learn was how to keep themselves and their things on the ground. From heavy ankle weights to keep humans and animals on the ground to elaborate methods to keep homes and markets locked down. Let’s not even get into how difficult agriculture has become now that it’s not as easy as dropping a seed in the ground and waiting for it to grow.

Society has essentially moved back to small bands of people living hunter gatherer lives. The few older people who survived the Big Lift still carry on the stories of life before while they struggle to make it in the new world. Slowly over time, inventions spread that helped make life easier. These small villages began to develop new ways to live, free from the world’s previous struggles burdened by massive overpopulation and global warming.

Then one day a young villager – one who was born after the Big Lift – is out hunting in what would’ve been central Iowa. He wanders a long ways away from the village to discover a forest that is still lifted. Picture the scene of thousands of dead trees hovering a few feet into the air and you will have a good idea what he is seeing. This villager discovers a gigantic metal door built into the side of a hill. He has never seen anything like this solid metal door. He runs back to the village to get an elder to tell him what it is. When he returns with a skeptical elder, the door is open. They both star at each other before the slowly approach the door. The enter into the darkness. The elder lights a torch which illuminates the inside to reveal a sleek, modern underground bunker for a military command center. Like what we might think Cheyenne Mountain looks like.

Inside this bunker it’s as if the Big Lift never happened. All of the technology is pre-Lift and appears to be working. The young villager is scared shitless while the elder cannot believe his eyes. How did this place survive? He runs his hand along the smooth walls while he stares at the myriad of computer screens alive with information flowing across them. His eyes fill up with tears as he struggles to grasp what he is seeing. How can this be? The young villager wants to leave but the elder is transfixed. Footsteps can be heard just outside the room they are in. They both panic as the sounds get louder and louder, the footsteps are right outside the room they are in. Both of them duck under a gigantic console as the door opens. They both look out to see who these people are – and what they see confuses them.



The long, skinny aliens with gray skin and big round black eyes – the stereotypical alien image that was seen many times on Earth pre-Lift. The kind of aliens everyone thought was made up by Hollywood. Here they are now in the flesh. The young villager of course has no idea about the alien’s back-story but the elder does and he can’t believe what he is seeing. They both lay there, paralyzed by fear and a small mixture of curiosity. The aliens approach the console. The two of them are about to be caught when the legs stop moving. One of the aliens speaks:

“Tom, we need you and the boy to come out. We need to talk to you.”

The young villager looks over at the elder. “Tom?” The elder is stunned. He has not heard his pre-Lift name in over 20 years. WTF? he thinks to himself.

“Tom, come out. There’s someone we think you will want to talk to.”

They see a pair of human legs approach the console. The young villager is now closing his eyes, he is scared to death. Tom cannot take his eyes of the human legs.

“Dad, can you come out.”



And that’s what I have so far.


Does it sound interesting? Is this a world people would like to see?

You tell me.