Writer-director-musician Rick Alverson has worked with recording label Jagjaguwar on nine albums and since 2010 their partnership has evolved into making films. Alverson’s debut, “The Builder,” was an existential study of an immigrant vs. the American promise, and was followed by “New Jerusalem,” about an immigrant and religious ideology (it played Sundance 2011). Now “The Comedy” tells an American tale about the perils of entitlement.
is an existential study of an immigrant at odds with America’s promise. It was followed by New Jerusalem, a view of the immigrant experience through the lens of religious ideology.
What’s it about: American entitlement. The film takes entitlement and desensitization as its subjects. It follows a wealthy, aging hipster as he takes what may be the first decisive steps in his privileged life to address his malaise, small flirtations with the world around him. He and we are uncertain as to his motivation, whether it’s an effort to be annihilated or a desire to be embraced.
Says director Alverson: “I spent my childhood as a competitive figure skater and later taught briefly. I grew to be repulsed by that world, its relentless pursuit of perfection, its entitlement, its ignorance to the world outside its boundaries, littered with children fed on utopian dreams. Although it is ubiquitous, something about it seemed an uniquely American preoccupation: excellence trumping usefulness, a manufactured dependency on unsustainable dreams. I used to take trips from suburban Philadelphia, where I grew up, to New York City to visit my sister. I felt relieved by the uncontrolled nature of the place at the time. I remember leaving a screening of Tarkovsky’s Stalker at Film Forum, feeling unsettled, it’s depiction of decay and caution and the impact and effect of dreams (something I found also at the time in Elia Kazan’s adaptations of Tennessee Williams and in Bergman). It was all in such stark contrast to the pacification of the nightly sitcom. Later, Cassavetes and Herzog. Now Haneke, Bruno Dumont and Gaspar Noe. All counterweights to cultures bent on reckless dreams.
“We shot primarily in Brooklyn, in Queens, on a sailboat in the Hudson and East Rivers. Our crew was incredibly dedicated and our cast very patient and we accomplished a lot in a 17 day shoot on a low budget. Those were happily overcome. A particular challenge was considering the depiction of New York City, all that latent visual information we’ve been fed of a place. How do you avoid the content of the post card when shooting Manhattan? It seemed a responsibility to consider the clutter in our minds, outside the frame. I found myself avoiding the wide shot to account for it all.
“I hope the film might incite conversation about our culture and its fate, a kind of self awareness of those things.”
Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.
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