Co-directed by Mark Peranson and Raya Martin, La última película is several things at once: a documentary pretending to be fiction (and vice versa), a reflexively cinephillic ode to materiality, a deconstruction and/or exploration of disparate forms, a meditation on the (false) apocalypse of the world and cinema, and an (experimental) comedy. Its one-line synopsis is as follows: "a famous American filmmaker travels to the Yucatán to scout locations for his last movie. The Mayan Apocalypse intercedes." Inspired by Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie and its subsequent documentary cousin The American Dreamer (both 1971), La última película taps into a sort of artistic freedom of spirit, an all-too-rare ecstasy of moviemaking-as-adventuring. It is a manifesto by implication for the liberation of film from convention, and as thought and life. Starring American independent filmmaker Alex Ross Perry (The Color Wheel, Impolex) and Gabino Rodríguez (Greatest Hits, Together) as the filmmaker protagonist's Mexican guide, the film's ironic core is made up of the amusing observations and interactions between these two personalities, but the film continues to expand as it carries on, becoming a work of philosophy and poetry.
You can view behind-the-scenes footage of the film here. We also recommend checking out this piece by Phil Coldiron. For your amusement, here is a (perpetually growing) list of cinematic connections contained in the film.
The following conversation with Mark Peranson took place during the Vancouver International Film Festival in October rather late at night and after a mediocre party. Colleague, friend, and filmmaker Kurt Walker tagged along, camera in tow. A recently awakened Raya Martin joined in from Manila via Skype. The photographs contained herein are either those of the author, or behind-the-scenes images provided by the filmmakers.
NOTEBOOK: Can you tell me about how the project came together?
RAYA MARTIN: DOX:LAB is a program run by the CPH:DOX Film Festival in Copenhagen where they match first and third world filmmakers to create something. They’ve been asking me to participate before, but I was a bit hesitant to work with someone like on a blind date. So finally I had the time to do it last year, and asked if I could pair up with someone I directly wanted to work with. When it was possible to work with Mark, technically a European, it was already a natural choice to do something very loosely around The Last Movie: he loves it, I love it, plus the world was about to end. It was cosmic, in a sense.
MARK PERANSON: —But you wanted to do something with this Danish music video director.
MARTIN: I also wanted to work with Martin de Thurah on something around and during the festival. I love how his music videos sometimes cross over video art. But that didn’t happen, everything was moving very fast.
PERANSON: That reminds me, Animal Collective was playing in Copenhagen during CPH:DOX last year and we were going to shoot a variation of the party scene from The Last Movie but with them.
MARTIN: Mark and I already wanted to do something during the festival, and there were bands who were playing there that we wanted to incorporate into the movie. The whole thing was very process oriented. We were going through how to reach the end of the world, thinking of what to shoot, who to collaborate with, etc… We were constantly researching and brainstorming until we reached the end of the world.
PERANSON: Raya wanted to shoot in Mexico but both of us didn’t want to shoot a documentary about the end of the world or the Mayan Apocalypse, on the face of it. So we thought about what’s the best way of dealing with finality, the end of the world and the end of cinema and it was a simple logical process—what are you going to do? What’s your last meal going to be? If you’re a cinephile, what’s the last movie you watch and if you’re a filmmaker what would be the last movie you remake? And I said, "why not The Last Movie...it’s called 'The Last Movie'." It was initially a bit of a joke, but the more that we thought about it, the more that it made sense. You like it, I like it. It was supposed to be shot in Mexico in the first place. It seemed like something that could be done on a certain scale and in an interesting fashion. Not to remake The Last Movie, however, as that was shot over a year and had an actual budget, but maybe to do an homage, to be influenced by something present in the superstructure…We had two months to put everything together.
NOTEBOOK: You shot in seven days.
PERANSON: Seven and a half. It was about getting that spirit of The Last Movie and playing with the form. CPH:DOX encourages hybrid forms and mixing documentary and fiction together, which is also a development in contemporary cinema that I find interesting. Along with mixing reality and fantasy, The Last Movie is the first Hollywood film that incorporates Godardian elements.
NOTEBOOK: Which is one reason why it failed.
PERANSON: There are a number of reasons but, yeah, one could say that Hollywood wasn’t ready for that level of experimentation at that point. Also in the process in research I came across The American Dreamer, which is the “documentary” shot during the editing of The Last Movie by Lawrence Schiller and Kit Carson, and when we saw that we thought we could kind of incorporate that too, it adds another layer. It’s an atypical example of a constructed documentary: Hopper is credited as the screenwriter, they staged most of the scenes, there’s a crazy folk score by John Buck Wilkin… One of the directors admitted, in the new biography of Hopper by Tom Folson, that they were trying to do Nanook of the North, but with Dennis Hopper, if you could imagine that. After it was done, Hopper hated it so much he suppressed it for a number of years. It’s easy to see why.
NOTEBOOK: And you take some dialogue straight from it.
PERANSON: We asked Alex to record the entire voiceover of The American Dreamer, and one sequence has a variation of that voiceover, but the rest is a combination of things Hopper said and improvising a bit off of it. In the end it’s a mixture of what Hopper thought, what Alex feels, and what we feels. In The American Dreamer, Hopper is totally stoned and drunk, full himself, and not in control of what he’s doing and the idea was to do the same thing with Alex, and this tension between thinking that you’re in control but not being in control I think spreads out into our film in general. We got him drunk on tequila and to this day he doesn’t remember what he said.
NOTEBOOK: It wasn’t scripted but there were guidelines.
PERANSON: Yeah, I was off camera guiding him to certain topics but he was also saying crazy things that he made up, which was great. We recorded him talking for about three hours, I guess, and by the end he was barely standing.
MARTIN: And Alex was already into The Last Movie…
PERANSON: And he watched The American Dreamer the night before we did the interview so he knew what was going on, but as he got drunker and drunker it got crazier and crazier. In Toronto people thought we were only making fun of what he says—I don’t know about Raya, but I believe in some of it, and his romantic ideal of cinema and the power of cinema. The interesting thing about those interviews for me is they act as kind of a litmus test; well, the whole film is a kind of litmus or even a Rorschach test, but maybe the interviews are key to it. We’re taking post-'68 rhetoric and putting it into the present and the way people react to it exemplifies the inherent conservatism that exists today as opposed to ‘71, and in a way the whole film touches on that: the transformation of collective hippie life into that tourist post-rave Chichen Itza happening. Which the participants obviously believe in, but which Alex sees through cynical eyes. The interviews encapsulate issues of authenticity that were happening in the film and the relationship between control and improvisation, fact and fiction, which is engrained into the whole process of the film. The film in a way is about grasping at authenticity through inauthentic means. And to be clear, The Last Movie was only a starting point: it helped provide some structure and from that, we generated other ideas. We aren’t banking on viewers being so familiar with The Last Movie, and I’m sure that many haven’t even seen it. Some very perceptive things have been written about the film as a film in and of itself, as a romantic film about apocalypse, or Mexico, or cinema in general, by critics who haven’t seen The Last Movie. In fact, if we never mentioned The Last Movie or The American Dreamer I wonder how many people would even notice. Ideally it shouldn’t matter at all.
NOTEBOOK: Alex sometimes says things you believe in literally, sometimes he’s saying things that are absurd, sometimes it's philosophically direct, but it mostly seems self-reflexive. The film’s cinephilic...but it’s a self-reflexive cinephilia. There’s always a questioning going on.
PERANSON: Yeah, the end of the world and the end of cinema are both events that are inherently absurd. No one thought the world was going to end. No one thinks cinema is really going to end.
NOTEBOOK: It’s just changing.
PERANSON: Yeah, but you can’t make a film without some irony and sarcasm about those situations—but there is a truth to these changes. Someone told me the film was not like a funeral for cinema but a wake; let’s celebrate what’s happened so far and the potential for the future.
NOTEBOOK: And even if there’s sarcasm and irony in the film, it’s doesn’t mean it’s not serious.
PERANSON: Someone commented that they appreciated the film because sarcasm is the mode of our time. For me, the film is also serious, and that there is no reason both can’t exist at the same time. As Kris Kristofferson sang about Dennis Hopper, it’s a walking contradiction.
MARTIN: I think the film was a good balance of staying in between. It’s hard to know how to react… You’re just about to laugh and then you realize something’s philosophical, so how do you assess that? I love the genre of Experimental LOL. ExperimentaLOL. It’s both. [Laughs]
NOTEBOOK: For me there are two tracks in the film. The one set by Alex and his presence, which is sort of automatically funny, even when he’s being serious, and then there’s the formal track of the film, the formal discourse. They’re simultaneous, not necessarily in agreement. It’s this interaction I find interesting, and when the film’s being funny it’s also doing something else, often through the choice of format.
PERANSON: From the beginning we had an idea to have three parts of the film, but even within that it gets complicated. There’s a few ways to legitimize using different formats. One is this contemporary nature of the film, which is that it couldn’t have been made two years ago and two years from now, if someone was to shoot something like this, it would be very different. But also we wanted to shoot fiction scenes as fiction, fiction scenes as documentary, documentary scenes as documentary, and documentary scenes as fiction. So, how you do that is through staging, mise en scène, and the use of celluloid. For example, the transformation from first to second reel when after the credits they leave to go to the city streets of Izamal. You don’t know what exactly is happening at that point, in that transition. The first reel is kind of like documentary and only some of it is like the scene at the ruins in Xcambo where that guy just came up and started talking to us, but when the other scenes are fictional but shot the same way. But when you cut to Izamal, which is shot on 16mm it feels like we’re in a movie now. Is this the film they’re making? Is this a continuation of the documentary part? The idea was to confuse reality and fiction constantly.
NOTEBOOK: The viewer has to constantly reassess what they’re seeing.
PERANSON: You don’t want to be too crazy, we want it to have structure—
MARTIN: —I think it was clear in the beginning about the structure we wanted and not to lose it.
NOTEBOOK: Going back to Mark saying the film couldn’t be made two years ago or two years from now, or would be technologically different—
PERANSON: —not just the technology but also the impetus of the film, and it was the last chance to finish it on 35mm. The film stems from a historical, technological foundation that exists at this moment.
NOTEBOOK: Which reminds me of what Paul Schrader said about how we’ve entered a state of perpetual technological innovation that will never allow cinema to settle down and catch up again—unlike with sound or color, digital introduces a rapid succession of changes so that cinema will always be restless and every year will be different, it will never catch up with itself again.
PERANSON: The way I relate to that in the film, it has a lot do with consuming and producing images and that we’re in a state where we consume images at a greater rate than ever before and produce images at a greater rate than ever before—I don’t know if we’ve reached a peak of consumption but we haven’t reached a peak for production, which is going up at a higher rate. There may be a point where these reach each other and maybe that could be the end of the world—when a society is producing and consuming images at the same rate. The idea of consumption is in the film a lot, with the Noma [the film contains a section shot at the world famous restaurant] stuff—
NOTEBOOK: —It’s like a motif, with the garbage, the food—
PERANSON: Exactly. People are just throwing their TVs on the ground and moving onto the next best technology…. I don’t know if Schrader is right though. One of the interesting technological changes that will happen is the idea of shooting pretty much every single angle of a scene at the same time without moving the camera or reshooting, it’ll all be constructed in the editing room. This what they use reconstructing crime scenes now where you can see every angle. The beauty of art though is in the accidents, the variations, variables, and mistakes. Who wants perfection? It’s useless. Anyone can make a perfect film now. Just give someone an Alexa and $50,000, they don’t even need a DP.
NOTEBOOK: If your film is purposefully imperfect, how much rhyme and reason is there to the formal chaos, choosing what to shoot with what and when?
MARTIN: We organized it before shooting. We knew how we wanted to approach things. For example, if you shoot on digital, then we’d be playing with a documentary feel. But for the movie part, we knew we wanted to shoot on 16mm. Mark, how was it again with breaking down the digital parts?
PERANSON: We shot with multiple cameras at the same time for almost every scene. There were hardly any scenes that we only shot on 16mm. A lot of times when we were in a location we would also shoot two different scenes, a location scouting scene, say, and a “last movie” scene. Some places we couldn’t shoot on 16mm, like in the ruins, where you aren’t allowed to set up tripods because you’re on holy ground.
NOTEBOOK: And were you both in charge of different cameras?
PERANSON: In general, Raya and Gym Lumbera [the film's cinematographer] worked with the 16mm camera, which was a Bolex (and broke and had to be replaced on the fourth day), Paco Ohem, our camera assistant, with the main digital camera, a Panasonic AF100, which I helped him a little with, Raya would sometimes shoot with a DSLR, usually a Canon 550D, and I’d be shooting with an iPhone. Editing wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it also was easier because of the 16mm: once we decided how we wanted to use it, and how to structure the film around it, then we could decide which digital footage worked in which context. We often just went with what we liked. After the screening last night, someone told me he stopped noticing the format changes after a while, he became oblivious to it, which blows my mind.
MARTIN: I think the 35mm helped a lot [the film was blown up to 35, which is how it was presented in Vancouver].
NOTEBOOK: It smooths things out, equalizes the formats a bit more. Whereas when I saw it digitally it was more pronounced.
PERANSON: The ironic thing in the process is that the film footage sticks out more with digital projection. And on film the digital is more film-like. Nobody in five years is going to be blowing up digital to 35mm. The other thing in regards to division of labor: I worked with the actors, but as things continued, our positions evolved and things switched around. Having two directors on set was really helpful in terms of shooting what we needed to shoot in the little time that we had. We were shooting three locations in a day that were nowhere near each other, and there was no production management and no actual script, and we had time constraints in certain places, so at times we could split up and figure out what to shoot next also.
NOTEBOOK: I understand you guys were mostly on the same page on the film and what you wanted it to be, but were there differences in how you each approached it practically and philosophically.
PERANSON: We were creatively on the same page but maybe Raya is more in tune with the cosmic elements than I am. Lots of what Raya does in his other work relates to film history, and coming from my background as a critic, seeing film as something related to criticism was there. When we actually were shooting, things went smoothly. Any question can have an aesthetic answer or a pragmatic answer and both are valid because filmmaking is a series of problems to solve. It’s like the Welles line about filmmaking being presiding over accidents, a line Welles stole from Cocteau, by the way, who said filmmaking was 95% accidents.
MARTIN: I think because I’m not really a writer, Mark was more attuned to the “script” of the movie, and I was less careful, less attentive to that side of things. During the shoot, I was more concentrated on staging and enabling an atmosphere for the actors.
NOTEBOOK: Why Alex Ross Perry for this role?
PERANSON: I knew that he and Gabino [Rodriguez] would work well together. We knew he was smart, knew films, was funny, and was into it. He’s also quite professional on set. When you put in an American in that role you get different connotations, you’d highlight the colonialist aspects. Raya is not so keen on hyping the colonial stuff, though.
MARTIN: I think it’s overrated [laughs]. But yes, he’s a filmmaker and a cinephile. He’s a major part of setting the mood for the film.
KURT WALKER: To interject, do you think there’s a connection to Perry’s cinema in all of this? I’m reminded of Impolex and the ruptures that tie your guys’ films together. In some ways, La última película ends up resembling what an Alex Ross Perry film about the apocalypse could look like...
PERANSON: I think both films have similar influences. It was David Davidson who made the great comparison of Alex’s monologues being similar to those of Slothrop in Gravity’s Rainbow in the empty cinema at the end of the world. Impolex is heavily inspired by Gravity’s Rainbow. Perry's cinema wasn’t as much of an influence as someone like Godard, who has made more films than Alex [laughs]. Or Dennis Hopper, of course.
MARTIN: There is a sense of spirit though, a sense of a dying band of outsiders making a film.
NOTEBOOK: There are a lot of references in the film, at least according to the IMDb page.
PERANSON: Most of those are invented, or films that other people have seen reflected in our film; there are few direct homages. And ultimately, maybe it becomes a kind of détournement of The Last Movie. For The Last Movie scenes, which for the most part are almost throw-away moments in the original film, we tried not to reconstruct them but to transpose them, like the cenote scene is a transposition of the scene with Hopper under the waterfall with his girlfriend and instead of the priest walking by with the kids there are the scuba divers in the background. But to point to one direct reference, for me, also, the windmill is an Apocalypse Now reference. Raya can talk about Apocalypse Now too, which was shot in the Philippines. I kept filming the ceiling fans where we were staying but it was too obvious. The windmill opens the third part of the film, which can also be read as a “post-apocalyptic” section.
NOTEBOOK: But you show it stop, the fan keeps going in Apocalypse Now—
MARTIN: Because cinema is dead!
NOTEBOOK: Well, with the whole "cinema is dead" concept, the film has this reflexive view we’ve discussed, but 35mm is really dying, at least economically. Your film has both optimistic and pessimistic elements, almost fighting or resisting each other. How do you see it or yourselves, as optimistic or pessimistic?
MARTIN: There will always be ways to make it end but I don’t know where I stand. There’s always going to be a point of renewal. Let’s say even if they generally phase out shooting on film, there will always be a niche to continue this sort of practice. I think it’s more of like keeping the momentum going, keeping it alive, talking about it more, shooting. It stays alive, it’s a collective resuscitation, then it dies.
PERANSON: I’m generally pessimistic about film culture. All of it: film criticism, production, distribution, etc. But I think there will always be people who feel the need to react and to revolt, to do something that’s different. It’s something that’s always happened in history and will always continue. The real issue in terms of this film so far, and similar films that are pushed aside and aren’t mainstream…. It’s not really experimental; it’s not really commercial, like Raya said, “Experimental LOL.” It’s hard. To support a film like this becomes a question of ethics. The only way for these films to survive is through people supporting it, friends, and community. The world of cinema has changed. Artists who are doing things that are different don’t get support from business, trade magazines, or major film festivals. That’s why I started Cinema Scope in the first place. Most of the reviews aren’t negative, they’re positive reviews that are trying to promote a certain kind of cinema. A film like this needs advocates. I don’t care who they are, if they’re family or friends. I would think that they were honest, as we were honest in making it. I know sometimes I can be more generous to people I know, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t think that this is in any ways a problem. In fact, we should be overly generous to people we want to support. I want to be overly generous to Raya’s films. Otherwise, these films are going to die and we want them to live.
MARTIN: I was going to ask something like why would you be pessimistic about it…. The expectations of cinema being this or that, having this certain collective tradition, with these romantic ideas. The possibilities are still there; it can always continue in a different form.
PERANSON: More filmmakers are turning to the art world. The audience just isn’t here anymore, neither is the money.
MARTIN: But also visual arts is coming to cinema.
PERANSON: There are installation possibilities with this film. One thing we haven’t touched on is that the film can be read, if you choose to do so, as a kind of conceptual art; Hopper was of course part of the art world for most of his life as a photographer, a collector, a presence: His was one of the first Screen Tests that Warhol shot in 1964, and if you want to talk about film references in our film, the Screen Tests are obviously there. We shot Screen Tests of the entire crew. One of the most bitter parts in The American Dreamer is where he quotes Warhol without acknowledging it, saying that he doesn’t read because by using your eyes and your ears you’ll find everything that there is. The filmmakers later reveal the Warhol quote on a poster. Though maybe this was intentional on everyone’s part, who knows? A few critics have called our film an in-joke for cinephiles, which I find pretty narrow-minded if not ignorant; no art critic would say that about something like 24 Hour Psycho or The Clock or Pierre Huyghe’s “remakes” of Dog Day Afternoon and The American Friend. But like I said, there’s much more to the film than The Last Movie. But if people want to be narrow-minded and reject the entire film off-hand, they’re free to do so.
WALKER: Mark, will you make more films?
PERANSON: Maybe, I guess I’m self-destructive enough. We made this because we had something to say. I don’t think people should make films unless they have something to say. Most films that are made are completely pointless, let’s face it. At the least, this film has a reason to exist.
WALKER: Would you guys make another film together?
PERANSON: I think Raya works best solo.
MARTIN: It’s always fun to collaborate with someone but it’s a struggle for me because I think I’m a selfish person. But the more I collaborate the more I learn to be giving.
PERANSON: We collaborated as directors but this film is a bigger collaboration. It’s like with [Raya Martin's 2012 film] The Great Cinema Party. The collaborative aspect of La última película is also with Gym Lumbera, the film’s director of photography, also with Alex and Gabino. I don’t think the film could be made without Gym. His work in the film is pretty great. Maybe I could make another film by myself. It’s a confidence thing too—Raya has made 11 or 12 other films before. The only other film I’ve made before was just me shooting on a Handicam with a crew that was already there. Shooting an actual film with a 15-person crew is a daunting task, especially with so little time. For the most important scenes in the film we only had time to shoot at most two takes; it was a bit of a high-wire act. We also shot this film with no producer– it’s frankly astounding that this film got made.
NOTEBOOK: I saw the film digitally in a different cut, and you’re showing the film on 35mm. But that’s not going to happen too often, in too many places.
PERANSON: Ideally…it should happen everywhere. At least at festivals. We have to screen the film on DCP in the Philippines because the print is here and can’t be there by next week. (Also, in Lisbon in November, we will screen on DCP as the print has to be in Copenhagen; depending on demand, we can make another print but there are a few things that have to be worked out first.) I doubt the film will ever be distributed on 35mm, due to economic reasons: it costs a lot to ship a print. There was this performative aspect of the screening at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver, in that near the end of the film there is a scene which is completely silent, and I realized that I could open to door to the cinema, and the door to the projection booth, and the room would essentially all of a sudden be flooded with the sound of the 35mm projector. And it worked perfectly. I have another idea for something performative that hopefully we will do at a festival early in 2014…. We could have gotten much crazier with this movie—as by the end of the shoot we were doing some really wild things in terms of experimentation—but we didn’t.
NOTEBOOK: There’s a balance between chaos and control.
PERANSON: Yeah and that’s also the product of the edit. It could have been edited very differently—we have five different movies with what we shot. The Last Movie shot for a year and had over 40 hours of footage and we shot for 7 1/2 days and we probably had the same amount of footage. Which I think is an anecdote that summarizes the difference of filmmaking in 1971 and 2013.
NOTEBOOK: The film screened here in Vancouver in two different cinemas. The Vancity Theater and the Cinematheque and the projection was very different at both: the sound was better at one, the masking of the image at the other. And that dynamic of the 35mm projection being different in every cinema it shows in...
PERANSON: Well, it shouldn’t be...
NOTEBOOK: Yes, but it’s an important part of the film now.
PERANSON: Well it’s the weird thing: showing a film on 35mm becomes a performance in a way. It’s so alien.
NOTEBOOK: We wouldn’t have been conscious of this before but now that there’s digital and you can have precision when you show a film. Then all of a sudden you start to notice the lack of precision when you’re showing 35mm.
PERANSON: Yeah, for sure. And not just the lack of precision, but what happens with changes like dust and dirt and scratches: the print was scratched in Toronto, I think at the press screening, before it even screened for the public. But I don’t mind that.
NOTEBOOK: It lives.
PERANSON: Yeah, It’s an object, a living object that’s changing. Whereas digital is a dead object, which has already been recorded, and will never ever change unless it gets erased completely.
MARTIN: I think that the beauty of it is that like every screening, is like each time the film runs through a projector it becomes new again. Each screening on 35mm is actually new.
NOTEBOOK: I saved this for last. What moves you about The Last Movie and Dennis Hopper?
PERANSON: The Last Movie is an important film for a number of reasons, the style, the way it was made, its failure, what came before and what came after—it represents something about American cinema in that moment. It’s a free thing. And our film was made and edited with complete freedom. More people should use that as an example for how to create art. People called The Last Movie pretentious. Of course you have pretenses. Why else are you making a film? Or art? Or anything?
MARTIN: I think The Last Movie and Dennis Hopper are inseparable. The sense of commitment, losing oneself in whatever you’re trying to discover and explore—I don’t know, it’s like life feels [laughs].
PERANSON: I want to know what you guys thought of the movie...
NOTEBOOK: My first experience with the film? How about I give the updated version of that answer? I saw your guys’ film and Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? at TIFF and both your film and his film caused me to do something—not that your film necessarily intended to do as it takes the death of 35mm very seriously and so do I. But at the same time both your film and Sion Sono’s film made me second guess the way I fetishize celluloid and the way I cling to some of my romantic cinephilic ideals and even made me progress past some of them by presenting these ideas with a level of irony. Of course I’m bound to 35mm film and your film doesn’t make me love 35mm less; it does the opposite, but somehow it made me confront what in my cinephilia is naive or too romantic.
PERANSON: I think when you get older you get less idealistic. [Raya laughs] That’s my experience with this. When you’re young 18, 19, or your early 20s, you think you know it all, all of the world, you’ve seen all of cinema. You’ve read all the most important books and then the older you get you realize the less and less you know. For me especially—I’m much less secure of my knowledge than I was when I was twenty years old. Now I don’t really want to write criticism any more because it seems...
PERANSON: Yeah, maybe futile. Some of it relates to the fact that there’s a lot of writing out there and so it seems like same old noise stuff. But yeah: I don’t feel confident in what I’m saying because I’ve realize there’s so much I don’t know and, also, who cares about my opinion?
NOTEBOOK: But knowing that you’re not confident about what you know is honest to a degree, no?
PERANSON: But then you’re lying to yourself when you present your opinions confidently...
NOTEBOOK: You’re not lying if you…I don’t know I think there’s a way to...
PERANSON: Acknowledge the fact that you can't write definitively on something?
NOTEBOOK: I don’t know. I think to an extent it changes your writing if you do write it assertively. I don’t know. I’m young but I’m going through something where I’m confident in what I think about movies but what I think about movies changes everyday. Which means that I was definitely wrong in what I was confident in before the change...if that makes sense. And that’s constantly happening.
PERANSON: If you’re conscious of the fact that your opinions change based off of many different things and also you have to realize that they’re opinions. They aren’t objective proclamations about the world. With this film, someone said that they didn’t mind the fact that nothing definitive was being said…if you want to be definitive you write an essay or write philosophy. For me this film is kind of novelistic in a way, in terms of layers, in terms of meaning, in terms of using referential material. Pynchon is not a bad comparison. Or Borges, why not...or Don Quixote. But it’s just different than a regular film. I don’t know. Kurt, what was your impression of the film?
WALKER: To be honest, I’m still piecing it all together. But at the moment it has me thinking about this point in film culture that we currently seem to be in, wherein everyone's obsessed with shots matching, and we all seem to have an aesthetic checklist while watching a film. I think we're at a point where in a lot of narrative films the image is ultimately disconnected from the world–because life, or at least how I’ve experienced it, isn’t really about shots connecting anymore. La última película, in some ways, answers this by resurrecting and reclaiming the disjunctive nature of Hopper's work: those 70s zooms, the broken cuts, and the unmatched shots. In brief, because I’m not a critic, I found the aesthetic ruptures that compose the film to to be very moving, in that yours guys' film essentially reclaims these forms in order to create new ones. It made perfect sense that David Bordwell walked out.
PERANSON: I think so far there’s definitely a generational thing where the people who react best to the film are younger people as opposed to critics and scholars like David Bordwell. Or filmmakers, for some reason—I can guess why—filmmakers really like the film.
NOTEBOOK: Anyone that is our age that is either making movies, is writing about movies, or is a part of movies in some way, whether we like it or not, the first thing on our minds is the way things are changing. The way that relates to how we interact with the movies and the way we interact with movies now. This is the film that extrapolates on it to the furthest extent that any movie so far has.
PERANSON: There’s so much of the film that relates to film history or old things like the film's sound, for example. Which somebody said to me the other day that the whole film sounds like it’s recorded on vinyl.
NOTEBOOK: That’s a good observation.
PERANSON: Well yeah, it’s an intentional attempt to sonically create something that sounds old but it’s done through contemporary means—there’s no old sound equipment being used. A lot of it was just recorded on lavaliers. The sound is much more artificial than the image. All of the image is from in-camera other than the superimposition on the beach. We didn’t want to do anything to the film to change it to maintain the integrity of what we were doing.
Raya, which scene do you regret most that we didn’t shoot or use?
MARTIN: I still wish that we prepared the sacrifice shoot more. In terms of the set-up, having more people around: a bigger crowd. Because I really like the whole idea of it being performance art.
PERANSON: Well it is a performance! When we were shooting that scene, I wanted an eight-camera setup because I knew what we were essentially doing was a performance and we told everyone who was recording not to stop at any point. That’s why the making-of scene for me is so important because what is doing is documenting a performance. Because we went to the middle of this town—we’re essentially in the middle of the capital of the Yucatan, Merida, and nobody knew we were coming there. We shot this ridiculous Jodorowsky-like sacrifice…
NOTEBOOK: And people just couldn’t get to you because of the traffic?
PERANSON: Yeah! No one goes to that monument because there’s this road that’s built around it. My regret about that scene is I wanted a shot where we had the heart held up to the sun and you saw the sun behind the heart. It would have been nice to have that shot. But I think it’s beautiful as it is; it’s one of my favorite sequences in the film. The funniest line for me is when Alex yells, “Why are you slating this when there’s no sound?” That’s just hilarious. We were so excited because we only got the slate the day before so we needed to use it, because it is one of the main characters in the film.
MARTIN: I wish we had done the Borat in the Chichen Itza shit. Alex doing provocative interviews with unsuspecting New Agers.
PERANSON: I also really regret not sacrificing those chickens. The best thing we could have shot was the shootout in the ruins but early on we realized it was impossible, logistically. Equipment wise, everything.
MARTIN: It was such a miracle to have that shot of Alex shooting a rifle.
PERANSON: It wasn’t a rifle, it was a shotgun. Which in itself is ridiculous. In The American Dreamer there are scenes of Hopper with pistols and rifles but we couldn’t find any pistols in Mexico, if you can believe that.
NOTEBOOK: Raya, tell us about the bar scene.
MARTIN: I don’t know it’s just me loving to do things the complicated way. For that scene I thought it would be nice to shoot-edit and yeah...
WALKER: What does shoot-edit mean?
PERANSON: Editing in camera.
MARTIN: Shoot-edit on 16mm. So you already decide on the spot the shots that followed each other for the scene, so that you have the whole scene already in one whole strip. But then it got more complicated as we had dialogue. It was pretty stressful to shoot, Mark.
PERANSON: The idea of that scene is that when you shoot something like that the traces of the production are apparent in the scene. But I’m not totally sure if they are with that scene...maybe because we didn’t end up using the exact plan. But that shoot was a disaster. Two sisters owned the bar and one of the sisters permitted our shoot and the other didn’t and so she ended up calling the police and the police showed up and then they were yelling at one another and threatened to throw her in jail. Frankly for me shooting that scene was exhilarating because it was a complete breakdown of what was going on because Raya and I ended up having a debate about cinematic space in the middle of the bar at around 11pm while the actors are sitting there totally confused to what’s going on and meanwhile the police are outside. And half the bar is a pile of dirt.
WALKER: What did your guys’ debate consist of?
PERANSON: It had to do with the fact that each shot was supposed to match: establishing shot, two shot, close-up, reverse close-up…but actually Raya was right on the whole thing. Because I was like, "you can’t cut from this to this because you want to separate the space in between... you want to have the two of them: Alex and Gabino in one space and you don’t want to have Iazua in the space with Alex until she gets to the table." But in the second establishing shot you also see her briefly in their same space when she walks into the bar. It became a long go around thing about how the characters related to each other in the space. For me it was amusing, especially as I was filming the whole thing with a GoPro on my head, but Raya was pretty pissed off. At the end of that scene we both left and let Gym shoot the last part of that scene, so we ended up with a medium shot of a dolled-up Mexican woman and a close-up of a half-naked photograph of a woman who looks like Cybill Shepherd.
Kurt and I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the filmmakers (pictured below) for their generous cooperation in assembling this piece!