DID YOU READ

John Sayles on “Honeydripper”

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By Stephen Saito

IFC News

[Photos: Left, John Sayles on the set; below, Gary Clark Jr., Danny Glover in “Honeydripper,” Emerging Pictures, 2007]

Two notable introductions to American culture in 1950: in the South, the solid-body electric guitar found a following, and the North witnessed the birth of John Sayles. 57 years later, the two have bridged the geographical divide in “Honeydripper,” the writer/director’s slow burn of a juke joint tale about a crafty club owner (Danny Glover) who tries to revive his sagging business by wooing the legendary Guitar Sam and his Stratocaster to the tiny town of Harmony, AL. When the Delta blues musician doesn’t show, the club owner cajoles a young rock ‘n’ rolling drifter (Gary Clark Jr.) to take his place.

It’s material that comes naturally to Sayles — after all, he electrified the independent film movement when he began directing in 1980 with “The Return of the Secaucus 7.” But “Honeydripper” sees the Hoboken native retuning his chords. For the first time since “Secaucus 7,” Sayles and his partner Maggie Renzi are self-distributing their film, a move that has brought the duo plenty of attention in recent weeks, as well as a renewed energy that seems to have trickled down to “Honeydripper” itself. Even though Sayles may claim to have lost some of his ambition as a filmmaker when he recently spoke to IFC News, he has not lost his touch as a humanist storyteller.

You’ve said that you came up with the title “Honeydripper” when you were making “Sunshine State” in 2002. How long has the process been to make this film?

It’s kind of inspired by a short story that I wrote several years ago called “Keeping Time,” about a 40-year-old drummer in a 20-year-old band who into this janitor in his 80s who says, “you know, I used to be Guitar Sam,” and tells a few of the stories that are in the movie. So it’s something I’ve thought about a long time. Guitar Sam is based on Guitar Slim, who was the guy who had a big hit with “The Things I Used to Do,” and he was known for, among other things, missing his gigs. [laughs] So there are a bunch of guys who later became R & B icons, who at some point in their young lives were told, “Tonight, you are Guitar Slim,” because nobody knows what this guy looks like because it was before album covers and MTV. And he was also the guy who came up with the thing of the long extension cord and he used to go out from his club in New Orleans and go to the doorway of the other clubs and just play people back into his set. I’m fascinated with that period, just that moment in the world of music when I think the first time [the guitar players] heard that solid body electric guitar, [they] realized, wait a minute, something’s going to change really fast and we might get left behind if we don’t jump on it. And I’m always interested in those transitions.

How did you discover your lead, Gary Clark Jr.?

That was really nice serendipity because when I finished [the script], I said, oh my God, we’re going to have to find an African-American kid very young who plays this kind of guitar really well. There’s just not that many kids playing that guitar any more. And when our friend Louis Black, who’s one of the editors of the Austin Chronicle, heard we were making this movie and said, “Well, he might be a little too young, but there’s this kid named Gary Clark who I’ve been seeing since he was 14 years old and he’s just phenomenal.” So we went down to SXSW a couple years ago and saw Gary at the Continental Club, I think the night that he turned 21, and we read him the next day and it was, “Oh my God, I think he can act too.” We thought it was going to take a year and it was the first person we found. Then it was almost two years before we made the movie because we just couldn’t raise the money for it. But all I left Gary with was, “you’re going to be playing live and I know it’s not part of your act now, but you might want to practice playing while you’re climbing on chairs or tables.”

I also noticed this was your first onscreen role in a while. Did it come back quickly?

Yeah, I’ve been doing little cameos in other people’s movies. I actually just did a movie down in Louisiana that’s based on the James Lee Burke book “The Confederate Dead and the Mists of Time.” Bertrand Tavernier is directing that and I did a little cameo playing an idiot filmmaker, so I’ve done those things over the years, I just haven’t been in one of my own for a while. It’s not that difficult, but it’s like what Danny Glover’s character says at the beginning of the movie — “Being able to do it is one thing. Whether anybody wants to come and look at you is another one.” [laughs] And quite honestly, a lot of the reason I cast myself in the part is Danny’s 6’3″ and I’m 6’4″ and it’s a very short scene and just the fact that we were going to stand next to each other for a couple seconds during the scene, I felt like, well, the guy’s just a liquor delivery man [who confronts Glover] and he’s white and it’s 1950, but it’ll actually help if I’m a little bigger than he is.

This film and “Sunshine State” seem to share the same prevailing issues of racial inequality, even though they take place in different eras. Were there similarities to you between the two communities?

They’re somewhat different, but I think the thing that’s the same is that they are parallel worlds that bump into each other every once in a while. “Sunshine State” is more modern and so the apartheid isn’t as heavy as it was, but culturally, the whole thing in “Sunshine State” was that our leads were Edie Falco and Angela Bassett and they’re on screen for 12 seconds together, but everybody they know have scenes together because those worlds do cross more than they used to. In the case of “Honeydripper,” the thing about the Deep South — there’s this phrase that black people there used to say, which is “in the South, you can’t get too high and in the North, you can’t get too close.” And what that means is that yeah, there is a ceiling on how high they’re going to let you get in the South, but it’s intimate. People know each other. There’s black people and white people walking around who have the same last name and they know why, even though it’s never mentioned in polite society.

So much has been said about the self-distribution of the film, which also has a lot to do with appealing to particular demographics. Has putting the film out there yourself felt different?

Yeah, it actually has. We feel like we can live with the poster. The trailer’s pretty good. And all the things that we often say, “can you do this?” and they say, “oh yeah, we’ll try to do that” and they never quite get to do, we’re actually doing. So much of film distribution is knowing “OK, we know there’s an audience who is going to like the picture. How do we get it to that particular audience?” That’s the kind of specificity that we just haven’t gotten from our experience with a regular distributor.

What interests you now as a filmmaker and how has that changed?

I still get one idea at a time. [laughs] And I don’t have anything I’m working on now. I’m on strike, as a matter of fact, so I’m working on a novel that’s set in 1898 that I’ve been working on for a while, but “Eight Men Out” took 11 years from when I wrote the first draft until I got to make it. 11 years from now, I’ll be 68 years old, so although there are a lot of things that interest me, I’m trying to steer myself away from historical epics. I’ve got a couple of those on the shelf that I don’t think I’ll ever raise the money to make, which is too bad because they’re good. Now when I have ideas, if it’s something that’s just way too expensive, I say, “Well, don’t you have another idea?” And that’s changed. When I was younger, I was probably more ambitious.

“Honeydripper” opens in limited release on December 28th.

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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…

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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. 

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.