By Indiewire | Indiewire January 22, 1999 at 2:00AM
Merendino's "SLC Punk!" Slams Open Park City
By Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
+ INTERVIEW: Merendino's "SLC Punk!" Slams Open Park City
By Anthony Kaufman/indieWIRE
"SLC Punk!" is the perfect introduction to this Midwestern, mythic
locale, that lest we forget, is not just the setting for a film
festival, but actually part of a greater city, culture and history. Some
have said that Sony Pictures Classics must have picked up the film at
Cannes explicitly for the purpose of showcasing it here.
Written and directed by James Merendino, "SLC Punk!" is about growing up
punk in Salt Lake City, Utah. Picture John Hughes meets "Sid and Nancy"
and you'll have some handle on the exploits of its protagonist Stevo
(Matthew Lillard), a punk with no purpose, trying to navigate the chaos
(and opposing order) of SLC 80's culture.
Merendino, who now lives in Los Angeles, has a string of low-budget
B-pictures to his credit like "Witchcraft IV" and "Delilah" -- the most
notable of which is 1994's "The Upstairs Neighbor," a "darkly funny and
disturbing" (The L.A. Times) study of suburban paranoia. Inspired by
Roman Polanski and Mario Bava, an Italian horror master, Merendino
continues to innovate, disturb, and entertain with his latest foray into
filmmaking, which includes the longest direct camera address in recent
memory and an educational documentary mid-way through. While Merendino
gears up for "SLC Punk!"'s release this April, he is busy penning a
script for Dimension, with Breck Eisner slated to direct, and hoping to
helm a new comedy called "Magicians."
indieWIRE: Your movie is perhaps the most fitting film that has ever
opened the festival.
James Merendino: Especially on Friday, because most people fly in and
they drive through Salt Lake City and then they think all the way in,
"What do people do in this city?" And the first movie they'll see is
what they do in that town.
iW: Can you talk about how you visually evoke this foreign land called
Salt Lake City?
Merendino: I wanted Salt Lake to look like Jerusalem circa 1 B.C. I had
this idea of the Three Wise Men coming into Zion, which the valley is
considered by the Mormons. And within that, there's chaos. I was trying
to equate it to exactly the time it was occurring back in biblical
times. Not because I was trying to make some religious reference, but
just because I thought that would be funny. There was trouble in
Jerusalem, just like there was trouble in Utah in 1985 among the
citizens. Aesthetically, I kept using, not the temple, but the capital
as some sort of Mosque-ish looking, Middle Eastern place. I was trying
to create an almost mythic town. It looks mythic anyway, so if you get
up high and you're floating above it, it looks like you animated it. It
doesn't look like a real place.
iW: There is a kind of ominous layer, too....How do you think Salt
Lake City will react to your movie?
Merendino: I can't imagine them being offended by it. I certainly didn't
intend to offend anybody with the film....I set it in Salt Lake City
to show the extreme example of America, because to me, Salt Lake City is
the microcosm of what America is: which is a puritan surface with a
corrupt underbelly. That's America to me....The Mormon church put
out a puritanical vibe that infiltrated everybody; that took on
government, the police force, everybody; and yet underneath, we're us.
We're these kids who are corrupt and crazy, taking drugs and getting
into fights, and in that city, it didn't make sense. It was very hard to
maneuver in that town as a youngster.
iW: How does that anarchistic way of life infuse the style of the movie?
Merendino: The idea was to make a movie in a non-linear fashion, in
which we jump around; we give the appearance or the illusion that the
movie is chaotic in its structure, or without reason. Yet ultimately,
the film does conform to a formalist technique by the end of the film.
You realize, although it appears to be chaotic, it actually follows a
very rigid structure. It ultimately did make sense. Structurally, the
film is, in a sense, a Freudian slip -- it reveals its own structure
towards the end of the movie.
iW: There's a lot of play with the film medium in your movie and I think
it's great to see.
Merendino: I think it's kind of our responsibility, of any young guy
making a movie, I think it's their responsibility to try to invent new
stuff. Especially if you have no money. When I was making a $100,000
film, I needed a crane shot, I'd get atop a building, we'd get a rope
and we'd tie it to the camera and we'd pull it up and it'd look like
this huge crane shot. And really, it was just a camera on a rope on top
of a building that we weren't supposed to be on. I think it's your
responsibility to do more. . . . And I mean, in terms of inventing
stuff, isn't that supposed to be the fun of making movies?