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Andrea Arnold on “Red Road”

Andrea Arnold on “Red Road” (photo)

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Andrea Arnold holds herself together remarkably well for someone who was out until 8am the night before (or is that morning of?). When I caught up with the UK-born Oscar-winner (for 2003 short “Wasp”) in New York, she was coming off a marathon night of celebrating with the other filmmakers of the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s prestigious New Directors/New Films festival — her debut, “Red Road,” was one of the bigger entries in this year’s line-up. The title refers to a looming cluster of slablike housing projects on the outskirts of Glasgow. Jackie (Kate Dickie) works as a CCTV operator, monitoring an array of closed circuit security cameras around the city and alerting the police when needed — until one night, when she spots a man she recognizes on screen. After tracking him for days, she traces him to the Red Road flats and finds a way to insert herself into his life for reasons that only gradually become clear.

“Red Road” is the first entry in the Advance Party trio, a planned set of three films from three first-time directors (Morag Mackinnon and Mikkel Norgaard round out the group) following a prescribed set of rules: the films must be set in Scotland and they must make use of a group of predefined characters. If this sounds a little…Danish, well, the project was conceived by filmmakers Lone Scherfig and Anders Thomas Jensen (who will serve as executive producers on each of the films) after a conversation with Dogme95 deity Lars von Trier. I spoke with Arnold about surveillance and working within the rules.

I’d read that some international journalists assumed that the CCTV station [in which Jackie, the main character, works] was your own invention.

When I was at Cannes, I had a lot of interviews where people didn’t believe that the whole CCTV was a reality. There were people from all over the world interviewing you, and there are lots of countries that don’t have those kinds of surveillance systems. They thought it was some kind of science fiction idea.

There is a bit of that look to it. Is the station in the film based on what the actual stations look like?

That’s a real place! That really exists, that place. They had a section on one end that they only used on special occasions — it wasn’t somewhere monitoring the city. We were able to use that area and fill the screens with our images. That place genuinely exists.

So with the characters, how much were you given, and how much did you build out yourself?

I can give you an example — Clyde [Tony Curran] was described as out of prison on early release for good behavior; he was 35; women liked him; he was guilty; and he hung out with his old prison friends. And I got most of those things in the film — they’re there. April [Natalie Press], who’s the girl who lives in the flat with Clyde, was given quite a brief description. She was described as being shy, never initiating the conversation. She’s a newcomer and in every film she’s arriving in that place, so I had her arriving with her bags from London.

She had a whole story that didn’t end up making the film. It was tempting to go off in directions once you got to know the characters — you wanted to have a film with each of them. I could have done a film with her, or with Stevie [Martin Compston]… You didn’t have to include all the elements — within those restraints, if something didn’t appeal to you, you just left it. There’s something about Jackie — I connected her and Clyde up almost immediately. I felt that they had to get together because something in her description and something in his made me feel that they were connected. So I did work that out from what I was given.

And each film in the series starts over fresh?

There won’t be anything carrying on from my film — it will be a different universe, [the other two directors] will do whatever they want with the characters. That was something we decided together. If we wanted to, we could have made a trilogy, but I think that would have been much harder work — we’d have to really really collaborate. We decided it would be more freeing and we’d be able to make more individual films if we didn’t make a trilogy.

As you went first, did you get more say over the casting? I know you’ve worked with Natalie Press before, in “Wasp.”

I’d like to think not, but the fact that my film was more developed meant that I knew what I was looking for. All of us, by accident, picked different characters as our leads — I picked Jackie and Clyde, Morag has Alfred, who’s the father-in-law, and Mikkel has April and Stevie — so we decided we’d give each other preference or at least say who’d we like for those roles. I think people thought we’d be really competitive over the casting but we weren’t we were really supportive of each other.

How did you end up finding the Red Road flats? They’re a remarkable location, and it seems like they shape the film in their own way — did you write the story around them, or vice versa?

No, the story started first. I knew that [Jackie] would be looking for [Clyde], and he had to live somewhere. I looked at places where they house ex-prisoners, and I drove around Glasgow and saw them and was very struck by them, and was able to incorporate them into the script. I wanted the place where she first goes to see him to be impenetrable, and they are impenetrable to start. And I wanted, as she got closer, for her to see the humanity in the place, because they look pretty oppressive from the distance, but when you get in closer you see the kids, you see all the people — there’s a lot of people living there — and it’s not what you think. There’s a little bit of that in the film, perhaps not so much as I would have liked.

What’s happening with them now?

They’re going to get pulled down. I felt annoyed with myself, because when they were looking for a title, I couldn’t think of anything — it needs to come organically for me, a title, it needs to really feel right, but the financiers needed it for their documents. I had to think of something, so I said “Why don’t we call it ‘Red Road’?” And it stuck. I didn’t really think about what it meant to call a film by the place in which it’s [set]. I didn’t mean for it to be so deliberately connected to that area — I’m not trying to say “This is Red Road.” I wished I’d changed the title, because people do live there, and the film is showing a certain perspective. I think it was not right, but it’s too late now.

What have the reactions been like from people who’ve lived there?

A lot of the people who were in the film lived around there in the flats, and they all came to the premiere, and I’ve only had positive feedback. But — they were all in the film, they felt like a part of it. I haven’t had any feedback from someone who hasn’t been involved in the film.

Almost half of the film is taken up by the main character’s involvement in surveillance before she actually engages in the narrative — in terms of films like “Rear Window,” did you feel like your film is a reference or an update?

I didn’t think about those films at all — I’d seen “Rear Window” a long time ago, but hadn’t had it in my brain until the editor mentioned it while we were editing. When I saw it, there were some amazing [correspondences] — this woman in the cafe… though I guess if you’re looking out the window at a bunch of people living across the road, there are going to be a lot of similarities in what everybody sees, because life is life.

So what are your thoughts on CCTV? Invasive? Effective?

I deliberately made the decision to be ambivalent in the film — just to show it, not take a stance, because I thought that would interfere with the story. I didn’t want to be heavy-handed with my feelings about it. I thought showing it is interesting in itself, and a lot of people won’t know about it, so they’ll be able at the end of it to think, well, what do I think about this — is this okay or not okay, and what does this mean for my life?

“Red Road” opens in New York and LA on April 13th (official site).



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.