By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire July 31, 2013 at 12:59PM
Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis' Hollywood satire "The Canyons" has faced bad buzz ever since Stephen Rodrick's damning (and fantastically entertaining) New York Times Magazine feature ran in January, exposing a production that was fraught from the get-go. Not helping matters was the fact that both Sundance and SXSW rejected the film, despite the talent behind the camera and an anticipated lead turn from troubled starlet Lindsay Lohan, who stars in the film opposite porn star James Deen.
Since finally screening for critics, reviews have been divided. Indiewire's Eric Kohn called the film a "misfire" that "is as bad as it looks," while Variety's Scott Foundas came to the film's defense saying it was "handsomely made," anchored by Lohan's "fascinating presence." On Monday night at the world premiere, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center at their Walter Reade Theater, the audience in attendance (including Lohan's mother, Dina -- Lohan was released from rehab the following day) seemed similarly divided. Gauging from the post-screening chatter during the premiere's reception, most tended to agree on one thing: Lohan is the film's strongest asset.
Schrader spoke of working with her, the negative publicity surrounding the micro-budgeted production, and the controversy surrounding SXSW's decision to publicly dismiss the film, during a candid Q&A following the screening. Below are the top highlights. IFC Films will release the film theatrically and on VOD this Friday.
On the closed-down theaters that frame the film:
"I said to the cast, this is a story about some 20-something Angelenos, who got in line to see a movie, but then the theater closed, but they stayed in line because they had nowhere else to go. And that's how I sort of thought of Bret's script, as these kind of afterlife people wandering around the mall wondering why the cinema's closed, making a movie, and they don't really like movies, and they don't really seem to like hooking up. So that's where the notion of the theater comes from."
On being rejected by SXSW:
"This woman who runs SXSW made a major breach of etiquette and protocol when she lambasted this film. People who run film festivals simply do not do that. You have to have a provision of privacy and confidence when you send in to a film festival. But the phenomenon of Lindsay is such that it makes normal people do stupid things. SXSW when they're announcing the films that are in their festival, and they blow their own announcement by taking a swipe at this film, which is not in the festival. There is something about Lindsay that will make people get red. It's like the Obama derangement syndrome. They just can't see straight because they have this, intense feelings about her.
"Anyway, so this woman at that festival makes this crack about the film saying it's cold and dead at the center. So I said to Bret, 'What did she expect?' Bret and I made this film, and we damn well know it's cold in the center. That's what it was designed to be. One of the great benefits of making a film yourself is there is nobody to tell you what to do. If I had made this in a studio, first of all they would've never let me cast Lindsay or James. And secondly, they would've made me change the story to make it appear more hopeful and making characters appear more sympathetic. And that's not Bret's work. I personally think this film is more Bret than me. Bret thinks it's more me than him. That's perhaps the definition of good collaboration."
On Lohan's current predicament:
"Lindsay has moved out of her options, and she now is in this kind of tough, lousy mess. She's in a kind of, Ann-Margret, Janice Dickinson, you know, one of those tough American broads with a smokin' voice. I think she actually wears this figure at this point in her career quite well. One of the reasons her makeup is the way it is, she did her own makeup in this film. And her own wardrobe. And her own transportation. She thinks those freckles remind people of the teen Lindsay, and she wants to separate them. I kept saying to her, 'I love those freckles.' But she kept trying to cover them up."
And why putting up with her was worth it:
"As I've said repeatedly, in the Film Comment piece I quoted John Huston who when he was making 'Misfits' with Marilyn Monroe who said, 'I don't know why I put myself through this, and then I go to dailies.' And that's what it is with Lindsay. You say to yourself, 'Why am I going through all of this?' And then you look at the monitor and say, 'Oh, that's why.' Certain people have the ability to kind of mesmerize us, to keep us watching them. Why do we watch Tom Cruise and another guy who looks like Tom Cruise? I don't know, but we do. Why does Lindsay fascinate us? I don't know. I would work with her again in a heartbeat. If she can get rid of the reputation of being a liability, she'll have an enormous career in front of her. She is magic. You can shoot around bad behavior, but you can't shoot around a lack of charisma."
On the adventure of making a micro-budget feature:
"The total investment for Bret and I was $3,000 each. And then Kickstarter gave us $160,000, and then everything else was deferred. One of the attractions to doing this, other than working with Bret, was just the curiosity factor. Is it possible to make, is it possible for me to make a film under this new paradigm? This kind of group cooperative paradigm. Where everything is driven by social media. The fundraising that we would keep asking for volunteers on Facebook. We'd ask for extras on Facebook. We got that house, which is really a six-star boat, we got that house through Facebook. For free. Everything about this film from the inception to the casting to the financing, the making, the promoting, and now the release, was intended to be done in a way unlike I've ever done before.
"I told people when we were writing the script that we have to set this in places with people who we know because we're not going to pay for any of our locations. So, okay, we'll set the opening scene in The Chateau because they know us. We gave the manager of The Chateau a role in the film. So that saved us a $25,000 hit, but we had to start working at 2:30 in the morning and be out by 4:00 in the afternoon so that no one would see. Other locations were all people we knew. Like Gus Van Sant. It was basically calling up people we knew, So I asked Willem Dafoe, and he wasn't in town. I asked Michael McKean and he was laid up with a knee injury from a car accident up here in New York. So I turned to Bret and said, 'Well, I'm out of friends. Who do you got?' And he said, 'Oh, I'm bringing in Gus.'"
On that infamous New York Times article:
"I thought the Times story was to our advantage. It got hijacked by the Lindsay phenomenon. The Times was on before she was, in fact. Originally it was going to be a paradigm of Paul renting a movie store. Then Lindsay came on, and I said to her, 'This will be great because the New York TImes is going to be there every day and they're going to see how conscientious you are. They're going to see that you show up on time, that you're a professional. It will put an end to these stories of your unreliability." Unfortunately, the new Lindsay didn't show up. The old one showed up. Now she may have to go through this whole system again to do a film to prove that she is reliable. Because people want to hire her. She's multi-talented. She's charismatic. People do want to hire her. It's just the reliability issue. So once Lindsay was involved, The Times cover started to be about the new Lindsay. And then when the new Lindsay didn't show up, it started to be about the old Lindsay. Not even the New York Times is immune to the hurricane force of this celebrity phenomenon."