"These are tough, this is like a little quiz." When we got a chance recently to chat with Kelly Reichardt, she was game if not a little trepidatious to take part in another of our semi-regular features in which we attempt to scavenge through a filmmaker’s life in cinema, in hopes of finding out how the movies have influenced their life and work. The filmmaker’s latest minimalist feature "Night Moves" which she directed, edited and co-wrote (with frequent collaborator, Oregon novelist and screenwriter Jonathan Raymond), begins rolling out to independent theaters across the country this Friday. In our review from Venice last year, Oli Lyttelton called the film a "perfect reminder that Reichardt is one of the most exciting directorial talents we have right now."
Please keep in mind that Reichardt was answering on the fly with little preparation. But we could’ve talked film with her for hours. When we asked her about her best moviegoing experience, her visceral, immediate response was "Oh, come on. Who can say?" But nonetheless, she provided some great fodder that opens a window to her own filmmaking: "When I’m watching a film, if I feel there’s a dishonest overstimulation just trying to scratch some itch or serve something up, I become untrusting of the filmmaker right away," she said. "I like films about process and watching people do things, having to do some work. Some films if you really dig into them you lose interest in them quickly, and there’s some films, like Todd Haynes‘ films or Bresson or Nic Ray, they will just keep giving."
So let us know if she passed our little quiz in the comments below, and make sure to check out "Night Moves" when it opens in your city.
How do you experience film these days?
It kinda depends where I am and what’s going on. I’m in New York right now, and there’s a Fassbinder retrospective at Lincoln Center. I’ll go see a lot of those films. That gets me out. I’ve been teaching film for more than a decade now. There’s a lot of seeing films with students in class. Up at Bard we had a whole Bresson series, and a semester of Ozu. We got prints of those films. That’s convenient for film-watching. I see fewer films than I used to see. I used to be crazy at the movie theater all the time. I grew up in Florida which is like a cultural wasteland, and then I moved to Boston. I’d see films at school and then ride my bike over to the Brattle Theatre for a double feature every other night and then go to Harvard Square the nights in between. Everything was about movies.
Do you prefer going to the theater or staying home?
I’ll sound so cranky saying this: my pet peeve with going to the movie theater is there’s so much food. Listening to people eat in a movie theater—it’s all nachos and buckets of popcorn… I try to go where there’s less food. I know I sound old and cranky. [Laughing] I guess it was the Coen Brothers‘ film ["Inside Llewyn Davis"], I went to see on Broadway. It was unbelievable the amount of eating that was going on in that theater. And it’s a really quiet film actually. The whole thing of turning the movie theater into being as much like home as possible… I teach film and it’s really hard to get students to not bring food in to the class. Everything’s about eating all the time.
The first movie you remember seeing?
I grew up with the ‘Pink Panther‘ films which my dad was a big fan of. He was a crime scene detective. I grew up around a lot of crime scene photos, which were not G-rated. But for some reason the movies we went to were. I just remember seeing a lot of Peter Sellers as a kid.
The first movie you remember seeing at the theater?
I remember standing in line to see "Jaws" and growing up in the Keys and Miami that film just completely ruined my life. I never just laid in the bay or just hung out in the ocean carefree again. So it did make a big impression on me that a film could ruin something for you.
Movies that defined your childhood?
My parents were divorced and on Sundays we went to my dad’s and usually went to a movie. ‘Day of the Dolphin,’ the original ‘Parent Trap‘. And we went to the drive-in a lot. We’d sit in the back of a truck, you would have the movie you were supposed to see in front of you. But then there’d be a screen on either side of you that would have R-rated movies—I remember "Lipstick" was playing—you were not supposed to look over at. It was so distracting. Who can concentrate on whatever you’re supposed to watch when there’s this other stuff in your periphery that you were not allowed to watch?
Your first epiphany film?
One movie that definitely made an impression on me was "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?". I saw it on TV at my grandmother’s house. My grandfather used to have a piece of scotch tape on the carpet. It was the TV line, you weren’t allowed to sit in front of it. The nighttime scene in the end when the sun hits the morning. When they go to the beach. It’s in black and white. That’s probably the first time I thought about, wow, someone is doing something. They changed something I know. I don’t remember exactly what age that was.
Your best moviegoing experience?
When I moved to Boston I started going to a school focused more on painting and drawing. There was like eight of us shooting film. You could take classes over at Tufts University. Without knowing anything I signed up for a Satyajit Ray class and a Fassbinder class. The first thing I saw was "Fox and His Friends." I had never seen anything like it. My mind was blown. Then I really started devouring films. I had the year of Fassbinder and Ray, meanwhile going to the Brattle and seeing my first Hitchcock films. I can remember riding my bike home at night on such a high after those movies. Being so, so excited by them, in the way I hear some people talk about when they first heard punk music. It really was blowing my mind. When I was growing up, Miami in the ’70s was the crime capital of the country and also a place where people went to retire. Art was just not in my world in any way, shape or form.
A film that most influenced your work?
I can’t sum things up to one film. I just don’t know what that would be. [There’s] so many films that I admire. It was, again, more about when I finally got access and I indulged so much. I really just took in so much at once. It’s really hard for me to say it was only one single film. [I can say that] what blew my mind about Fassbinder was it was the first time I realized you could make films that were so political and so personal. You could secretly tell a political story just through a person’s small-scale, minute-to-minute life. That was definitely a revelation to me.
Did you have more of an appreciation for these films when you started to discover them since you didn’t really have access growing up?
I always took photos but never really saw photos [as art]. I’m very close with Todd Haynes and he grew up so nourished in that way. I’ve always been jealous and wondered: what if I had been exposed to it? What would that have done to my world? I feel like I would’ve experienced everything so differently. It could’ve taken away some of the pain of adolescence if I had any kind of contact with art. So I’m sure it did make it more exciting when I finally did see things, but I’m always jealous of people who grew up with access and had families that made it part of their world to see films, go to museums, read literature.
People who see my films must think I’m pretty humorless [laughs]. You mean guilty pleasures?
Sure, or maybe because of the films you make it would probably surprise people if you liked "The Avengers" or something…
Yeah I don’t [laughs]. I’m not a summer-upper. I probably like just what you’d think I like, sadly [laughs]. Maybe I’m predictable that way. I’m sure there’s something in there I just don’t know what it is. My memory is so terrible now.
A film that you’ve walked out of or turned off midway?
A million films. Yeah, that happens. So many films. But I don’t want to talk about a film I didn’t like. I always don’t like it when a fellow filmmaker runs me down. That’s always a little too mean or something. I will say, though, in general when I put on a documentary and the documentary filmmaker starts making himself part of the movie, I’m out. Right away. That’s something that makes me turn a movie off.