An interview with Richard Linklater and Northwest Chicago Film Society on film programming (part two) | Bleader

An interview with Richard Linklater and Northwest Chicago Film Society on film programming (part two)

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This spring Linklater programmed a revival of Veronika Voss by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of his cinematic heroes.
  • This spring Linklater programmed a revival of Veronika Voss by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, one of his cinematic heroes.
Read part one of this interview.

Kyle Westphal: A lot of filmmakers describe themselves as artists working in opposition to "the industry" or to some monolithic mainstream audience, but as an exhibitor you were part of that industry before you started making movies. Do you ever think of yourself as an exhibitor when you're working on your films?

Richard Linklater: Yeah. Showing movies has been a big part of my life. Sometimes the audiences haven't been big—that's the fate of a lot of films. I've made a lot myself that no one has gone to, but hey, at least they exist.

It's easy to complain about Hollywood. I found some quote by Pauline Kael, something like the industry's now run by businesspeople and artists are overrun by bottom-line thinking and all this stuff. It sounds like she's talking about the industry today, but she wrote that around 1970. It's always been like this. Go back to the movies of the 40s and 50s—take Sullivan's Travels and Sunset Boulevard, two insider visions of Hollywood. Sullivan's Travels is about this successful film director who's having trouble getting his movie made about "something real." Sunset Boulevard is about this hack screenwriter on the margins of Hollywood, and everything's a struggle for him.

So, that's the industry. You can create your own world outside that too. That's what I always wanted to do, just live in my own cinema universe and not think about shit like that. And to a large degree, that's become true. I'm always kind of unnerved when my cinematic universe collides with the reality of the business side, but I just have to deal with it.

How many people come to your movies? And is the audience mainly students or older folks?

Rebecca Hall: It's a mix.

Linklater: Students are disappointing sometimes, aren't they? They're so busy—

Hall: And they laugh at the wrong times.

Linklater: Yeah, they're not reverent enough. They're "better" than older movies.

Hall: With everyone who comes, our average attendance is about 150.

Linklater: That's a lot! With 150, you can do anything you want.

Westphal: We should show more Frank Borzage movies. [NCFS has programmed several films Borzage directed in the 1930s, including Desire, After Tomorrow, and Little Man, What Now?]

Hall: We love 30s Hollywood.

Linklater: Yeah, they really knew how to do racy then.

Hall: But we want to show more than old movies. We showed a beautiful print of Tony Scott's Unstoppable last year.

Westphal: We often run up against this false presumption of nostalgia—this idea that we're doing this because we love old clothes and stuff like that.

Linklater: That you're doing this as a "throwback."

Westphal: And people are welcome to think that. Their money is as good as anyone's.

Linklater: You don't want to kick out any audience. You just have to make a deal with whatever reason people are attracted to your show. So when you show a pre-Code movie, you play up the sexiness of it, right? It's always a hustle, just making an event. I learned a lot from hustling up audiences. It helped me as a filmmaker, especially on the producing side. It also taught me about the [audience] mentality, what people respond to. It was time well spent, learning about audiences.

Sullivans Travels
  • Sullivan's Travels

Julian Antos: We took a survey of our audience a while back, and we were surprised that more than half—maybe 60 percent—of our audience does care about seeing 35-millimeter prints.

Linklater: Our audience [at Austin Film Society] does too. That's why we go out of our way to program them.

Hall: Chicago has a very strong projectionist community, but it can only do so much. Recently the Music Box hosted a preview screening of The Grand Budapest Hotel with Wes Anderson in attendance. They tried and tried and tried to get a 35-millimeter print, and they couldn't get it, because the studio was only lending film prints to theaters that didn't have DCP.

Linklater: Yeah, once you get DCP, you forfeit the opportunity to get celluloid. The studios have created a death spiral for film.

Hall: Do you have any personal control over who can show Boyhood on film? Do you get to have a print of it?

Linklater: I'm still getting the print. We were challenged with some clearance issues and stuff like that, but I'll eventually have my own 35 print. I don't today.

Westphal: Do you have a way of watching it at home?

Linklater: I have access to a theater, with the film society, but I don't have a film projector in my house.

Hall: We do!

Linklater: I have owned 35 projectors at home. In the early days of the film society, we'd get a print of something a week early and show it in our living room every night. Like, I did a series on Robert Bresson, who's one of my favorite directors, and when the 16-millimeter prints came in, I'd watch them over and over.

Ben Sachs: I know that Rainer Werner Fassbinder is another one of your favorite directors. Since we've been talking about alternative routes in film history, I'm curious to know: What do you think Fassbinder would have done if he hadn't died in 1982 at the age of 37? Every cinephile I know has a different idea, so I'd love to hear yours.

Linklater: People were asking that question throughout the 80s. You know, he died in '82, when he wasn't on the best track. My favorite Fassbinder is from the "middle period," maybe '73 to '80 or so. I like Veronika Voss [from 1982] a lot—I showed it as part of my 80s series recently—but his sort-of "Hollywood era," which is more design-oriented, isn't my favorite phase of his. It would have been interesting to see where that took him. Fassbinder fantasized about coming to Hollywood and making a movie here. But in the 80s? That would have been a disaster! It would have been interesting, though, because you couldn't ever turn off his voice.

I'm curious as to whether you think he would have grown more despairing over modern life . . .

Linklater: Is that even possible?

Or do you think he would have mellowed out after middle age?

Linklater: I read some questionnaire he filled out once. There was one question along the lines of "How do you see the future?" And he wrote, "I don't expect to." He always knew he was going to die young. I can't imagine a 60- or 70-year-old Fassbinder. He was such a supernova. . . . Maybe it wasn't meant to be. I mean, as it is we're still catching up with Fassbinder. [Fassbinder directed about 40 films, acted in a few dozen others, and wrote over 20 plays in 15 years.] Do you know anyone who's seen all his movies? I've seen almost all of them, but not all.

At the Berlin Film Festival this year, they were showing a [film] print of Volker Schlondorff's [TV adaptation of] Baal, one of Bertolt Brecht's "punk rock" plays, where Fassbinder plays the lead. I'm still dying to see that.

A 24-year-old Fassbinder (right) as Baal
  • A 24-year-old Fassbinder (right) as Baal

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