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Ray Lawrence on “Jindabyne”

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By Aaron Hillis

IFC News

[Photos: Ray Lawrence and Laura Linney on the set of “Jindabyne,” left; Linney as Claire Kane, below — both courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, 2007]

Known for his wonderful use of natural lighting and well-orchestrated ensemble casts, acclaimed Australian filmmaker Ray Lawrence (“Lantana,” “Bliss”) has been a long-time fan of Raymond Carver’s pared-down short stories. With “Jindabyne,” Lawrence finally had a chance to adapt one of the Carver shorts with which he’s long been obsessed, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” Named for its mountainous New South Wales setting in the southeastern part of Australia, the film explores the ethical, emotional and social ramifications of four buddies who find a murdered Aboriginal girl in the river, but decide to tether her body for the weekend so they won’t have to end their fishing trip early. If that sounds familiar, you might remember it as a plot thread from Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” that was adapted from the same Carver story. The crux of this version, though, is the psychological gender divide between a fisherman (Gabriel Byrne) and his wife (Laura Linney), as the media scandal and culture clash that follow only adds heat to their embittered relationship. It’s a mature, dense, somber, and most excellent piece of drama, which makes it a shame that it’s only Lawrence’s third feature in a little over two decades.

I understand that, prior to filming, you were already familiar with the Jindabyne area?

I hadn’t been for a while. I used to go fly fishing there over the years. It’s the only mountainous area that we have in the country. It’s nothing compared to your mountains. Ours are so old, they’ve been worn down to virtually nothing. But I think a high point in the country, any country, has a quality. To the Aboriginal people in Australia, as I’m told, the highest point in the landscape is the most sacred or significant, so they can see their country fogging up in front of them. When I read the Raymond Carver story, that seemed to be set in the mountains, so [it was] a natural thing to do up there.

In transplanting Carver’s story to Australia, did you and screenwriter Beatrix Christian have concerns about making too many alterations to a classic?

The story’s quite old now. It’s like 30 years old, and I think the men in this film are different from the men in the story. Once we started to work on it, they became different. The sexual qualities have changed to a certain degree from that period of time. In the Carver story, they were more disenfranchised, more on the fringes of a community. It’s a much more intimate scene, all in one house. They do get out a little bit, but it’s basically between one man and his wife, revolving around her feelings for what he has done.

I’m a great fan of Carver, always have been, and I like his characters. What interested me in this particular story is that it’s about responsibility to other people. And again, it was a view of how men and women react to a situation differently. So, I’ve built on that notion and other things I’ve found along the way. For instance, once we decided to make the young girl that’s murdered an Aboriginal girl, we were dealing with a very, very big subject. It became a race thing. That’s relevant everywhere.

What do you find most fulfilling about working with ensembles?

It’s a coincidence I’ve worked on three ensemble films — I’m just basically attracted to really good stories. I’m trying to raise money for a film version of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge” with Anthony LaPaglia. That’s very much an ensemble piece. But at the same time, I’m taking on another film in Bosnia, and there are only two people in that. I don’t know, I like working with a lot of people. Maybe I get bored having to deal with the same two people every day.

It has become a cliché to compare ensemble films to Robert Altman, whose name was often mentioned in the same breath as “Lantana.” Now it’s become impossible to read about “Jindabyne” without seeing reference to “Short Cuts.” Are people off-base by suggesting Altman is an influence on your work?

I was particularly influenced by “M*A*S*H,” but at the same time, I was influenced by Bergman’s “Secrets of Women” and Ken Loach. Roman Polanski once said that we’re influenced by eating wheat germ. I remember seeing [“Short Cuts”] in Canada when it first came out. I rushed to see it, mainly because of my interest in Raymond Carver’s stories. I don’t know, maybe I’ll watch it again. It’s sort of like, when you learn how to do a magical trick, the magic disappears. In some ways, going back and looking at that film would take the magic away from it.

The film’s poetic sense of dread even reminded me of early Peter Weir films, like “The Last Wave” and “Picnic at Hanging Rock.” Have you ever thought about making a straight horror film?

There’s a gothic horror film that I would love to make. It’s a strange situation because I don’t like gratuitous violence. I don’t like violent films. But, there’s a story by Cormac McCarthy called “Child of God” that I would love to make into a film, about landscape and culture. The interesting thing about that story is that the main character — [a demented, rural murderer] — you have to have sympathy for; the book does it. I asked Hugh Jackman if he would like to do it because he’s a really good actor, but he’s always playing heroic roles. It would be probably too hard to raise the money for, but I am interested in that level of horror.

It’s not so much horror, but there’s a certain violence in the landscape, any landscape. You can go to the Arctic or the Minaret plains we were on in “Jindabyne,” or the desert, wherever. At once, it’s awe-inspiring, but silence comes down on you like a lead blanket, and it can be very frightening. The Aboriginal people are the only ones that seem to be able to live with it. They’re the oldest continuous culture of the world, and because they are hunter-and-gatherers and they wander all over the landscape, they have a huge respect for it.

Working with Aboriginal actors, have you learned anything from them that you weren’t privy to in your Australian upbringing?

It’s a secret culture. I mean, if you want to be a Buddhist, it’s easy enough, you just go to study. But you can’t be an Aboriginal, you have to be born one. The culture is a sacred thing. There were some personal things told to me by the elder that I worked with. They have a very logical system within the family, and it’s an extended family. When the children get to a certain age, where they start to listen to their parents less, they are governed more by their uncles and aunties. Their sense of place and country is very, very accordant.

It was a privilege to find out these things. It took nearly three years of protocol to get it right. In the end, it is what they call a “gammon,” which is make-believe. I think it’s a partly Irish word. You know, the Irish have experience with the English, and the Aboriginal people have experience with the settlers that’s very similar. In fact, a lot of Irish convicts have inter-married Aboriginal people. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to have an Irishman in the film; it’s part of the subject.

As I said, this gammon is make-believe. So, the ceremony in the end is accurate up to a point. There hadn’t been one performed for, I think, 90 years in that area. And in the desert, when they have a smoking — which is basically what the ceremony is — the fire is very small because the desert’s flat. The reason the smokestack is so big is that the smoke has to get up and over the mountains, so there’s a certain logic to that. Smoke is a thing that cleanses the people of evil spirits, and it’s all about their respect for the dead and the landscape. It’s all very complicated, and I only touched the tips of it.

“Jindabyne” is now in theaters (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.