Interviews: Morris, Peele, and More

On Film / The Daily — Dec 22, 2017


“There are two basic types of Errol Morris film,” writes Evan Kindley in the Nation:

One is the character study of an obsessive individual pursuing a difficult, perhaps impossible goal. Morris loves his Ahabs: the animal-obsessed eccentrics of Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997); Fred A. Leuchter Jr., the electric-chair designer who becomes a Holocaust denier, in Mr. Death (1999); Joyce McKinney, the woman who kidnapped a Mormon missionary, in Tabloid (2010). The other type is the historical film dedicated to patient but passionate critique of the American security state. The Fog of War (2003), Standard Operating Procedure (2008), and The Unknown Known (2013) are all works in this mode, and it is these later films that have brought Morris the most mainstream success and, in the case of The Fog of War, a long-deserved Academy Award. Wormwood blends these two genres.

Writing for NPR, Ella Taylor sets it up:

What is known for sure about American military scientist Frank Olson is that on November 28, 1953, the bacteriologist and father of three plunged to his death from the 13th floor of the Statler hotel in New York City, not long after he was secretly drugged with LSD on the orders of his CIA superior. Whether Olson was pushed, or jumped, or was nudged into committing suicide remains unclear. But indeterminacy with a generous side of conspiracy is catnip to director Errol Morris, who has made either a 241-minute film or a six-part television series depending on where and how you plan to watch it, about the tragedy's long reach into Olson's family and America's secretive political culture.

Introducing his interview with Morris for Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz suggests that Wormwood “might be his most ambitious work yet, blending visually fragmented interviews and lavishly produced, period-accurate scripted scenes with actors like Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker.” And Seitz talks with Morris about “his evolving aesthetic, his interactions with former secretaries of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert S. McNamara, what he thinks of ‘fake news,’ and whether it’s possible to ever really know the truth about anything.”

Wormwood is “my kind of story for many reasons—because of its complexity and the layers of story and anti-story,” Morris tells Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing) in Filmmaker. Oppenheimer: “What do you mean by anti-story?” Morris: “The attempts at covering up the story become part of the story itself.”

Morris is Tim Lutz’s guest on the LARB Radio Hour (33’04”), and Variety’s Ted Johnson calls up Morris to talk about his “everything bagel” of a project (9’33”).

More Interviews

For the Los Angeles Times, Amy Kaufman and Mark Olsen moderate a roundtable discussion with Hong Chau (Alexander Payne’s Downsizing), Holly Hunter (Michael Showalter’s The Big Sick), Allison Janney (Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya), Nicole Kidman (Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled), Laurie Metcalf (Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird), and Michelle Pfeiffer (Darren Aronofsky’s mother!).

Speaking of Aronofsky, he’s Marc Maron’s guest on the WTF Podcast (73’07”) and, as for mother!, none other than Jordan Peele (Get Out) says, “I think that that movie will stand the test of time in a way that more successful movies won’t.”

The quote comes from Wesley Morris’s profile of Peele, the cover story of the current issue of the New York Times Magazine. Among the many topics covered here are the origin of the “sunken place” in Get Out and, of course, his next film. “Peele says he wants to make ‘more social thrillers about different human demons, and the first human demon that I was trying to tackle with Get Out was racism and neglect for one another. It’s going to be another piece of that project.’”

Chris O’Falt talks with Peele for IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast (30’46”).

Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther will be out in February, and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, the subject of Eliza Berman’s cover story for the new issue of Time, follows in March. At the recent Vulture Festival, Kyle Buchanan got the two of them talking “about their lives, their careers, and the inclusive future both directors hope for.”

Buchanan also talks with Paul Thomas Anderson about Phantom Thread (“I think it might be peculiar, but I don’t think it’s more or less idiosyncratic than most movies”), the story behind the name “Reynolds Woodcock,” and working with Daniel Day-Lewis. Rolling Stone’s David Fear asks Anderson about Vicky Krieps (“there was never someone who could tell the story of the film through their face the way she could”) and the late Jonathan Demme, to whom Phantom Thread is dedicated: “Even Jonathan's darkest movies are hopeful. I take inspiration from that.”

From Zach Baron in GQ: “Anderson set and shot Phantom Thread in London, in part because of his affection for that city. ‘But you know, the second I hit the ground here, it was like that Californian kicked back in. I mean, I had my shorts on and my flip-flops within seconds.’ He laughed. ‘And I was driving down—you know, going from the center of London, the most beautiful, oldest, greatest city on the planet, and then here I was just sort of running down like Jimmy Stewart, like, Hello, Subway! You know, Hello, Chili’s! So full of gratitude to be back here. Hello, IHOP!’” And for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen talks with Anderson, Krieps, costume designer Mark Bridges, and production designer Mark Tildesley.

And Rian Johnson interviews Anderson for the Director’s Cut, the podcast from the Directors Guild of America (32’32”); in turn, Spike Jonze asks Johnson about making Star Wars: The Last Jedi (22’36”).

“I don’t see myself as someone trying to punish the audience,” Michael Haneke tells Steve Macfarlane at Slant. And talking to Film Comment editor Nicolas Rapold, Haneke notes: “All my films deal with the same family. If you look at the films, then you’ll notice as well that they all have the same names. That’s because they’re the only people I know! I’m not the first doing this, if you think of Bergman’s films. They have all the same names.” Also talking with Haneke about Happy End, social media, class, greed, and grief are Cory Atad in the Village Voice and Vikram Murthi at RogerEbert.com.

In the Guardian, Edgar Wright tells Michael Hogan that he’s in a three-second shot in The Last Jedi. They talk about Baby Driver, of course, and then Hogan asks him, “What have been your films of the year?” Wright: “I liked Get Out, Dunkirk, The Shape of Water, and Call Me by Your Name. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film Phantom Thread is great. Early this year, I loved a French horror film called Raw, which seems to have slipped under the radar. I’m also a supporter of mother!, right down to the exclamation mark. Not everyone’s cup of tea but I went on an allegorical, surrealistic ride and was thrilled by it.”

“As I get older, I find the need to work even stronger because it keeps my mind off the grim reaper.” For Filmmaker, Tiffany Pritchard talks with Frederick Wiseman about Ex Libris: The New York Public Library, his editing process, and Donald Trump: “He is undermining the idea that there can be a consensus on what facts are. And that’s extremely dangerous for a civil democratic society.”

Both Sophie Monks Kaufman (Little White Lies) and Daisy Woodward (AnOther) talk with cinematographer Robert Yeoman about working with Wes Anderson on every film since Anderson’s feature debut, Bottle Rocket (1996), except for the stop-motion animation features (Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) and the upcoming Isle of Dogs).

The Atlantic’s David Sims asks Joe Wright “about crafting a fresh portrayal of Churchill’s character, the typical pitfalls that come with making a biopic of a well-known public figure, and whether audiences might see any present-day parallels in Darkest Hour.”

Also at AnOther, with the collection Duane Michals: Portraits out now, Tish Wrigley asks the photographer about a photo of Meryl Streep taken in 1975: “I had simply been told she was super talented and big things were in the wings.”

As Mark Robson’s Valley of the Dolls turns fifty, Donald Liebenden talks with several fans of the film for Vanity Fair—and with one of its stars, Lee Grant. Looking back on the premiere, she says, “‘I almost fell out of my seat. I’m telling you, I just kept laughing and laughing. It was what it was. And here you are, phoning me fifty years later to talk about this piece of shit.’ But it’s a beloved piece of shit, she is reminded. ‘More power to it,’ she responds.”

Neta Alexander notes that Samuel Moaz’s Foxtrot, winner of the Grand Jury Prize in Venice and Israel’s horse in the foreign language Oscar race, “created a public stir after right-wing Israeli Cultural Minister Miri Regev condemned the film. Admitting that she had not seen the film, Regev was told it contains a scene in which IDF soldiers mistakenly kill innocent Palestinians and are somehow able to bury all evidence for their atrocities. This depiction of the IDF proved too much to bear for Regev and her supporters, some of whom went as far as sending death threats to Maoz and Ashkenazi. In a conversation with Film Comment, which was conducted in Hebrew before the Foreign Language Academy Award shortlist had been announced, Maoz reflected on the controversy, his Oscar chances, and the intricate relationship between trauma and creativity—the two tropes that seem to dominate his work.”

For Reverse Shot, Giovanni Vimercati talks with Jia Zhangke and Marco Müller, the founder and artistic director of the Pingyao International Film Festival, whose inaugural edition wrapped in November.

At Vague Visages, “film critics Manuela Lazic and Adam Nayman discuss what makes a writer’s voice, colleagues that keep inspiring them and how, a generation apart, they became interested in movies and writing.”

More Listening

Back to the Director’s Cut, where Taylor Hackford asks Alexander Payne about Downsizing (30’20”).

Gregory Ellwood has a podcast at the Playlist, 4 Quadrant, and he’s recently spoken with Sofia Coppola about The Beguiled (25’23”) and with Christoph Waltz about Downsizing (23’27”).

Talk Easy host Sam Fragoso talks with Sean Baker about The Florida Project—and that ending (74’22”).

The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s posted Dennis Lim’s recent conversation with Laura Dern (76’43”).

And finally for now, an interview to watch, Sanam Gharagozlou and Rory Japp’s conversation with Alain Gomis's about Félicité for the Notebook (20’59”).

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