Stephen Frears Gets Drawn Into “Tamara Drewe”

Stephen Frears Gets Drawn Into “Tamara Drewe” (photo)

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“So dinosaurs rule,” demurs Stephen Frears as he cracks a rare smile getting up from his chair. It’s perhaps as close as he’ll get to accepting a compliment on “Tamara Drewe,” a brilliantly devised reworking of Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel about a seductive young woman’s upheaval of the small English town of Dorset that itself is an update of Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd.” As vibrant as the bright blue Mini Cooper Gemma Arterton’s Drewe rides into town in, and as cheeky as the Lily Allen album she puts on blast, the comedy appears to be the work of a director a third of Frears’ 69 years, though it has an easy wit and canny eye for observation that only comes with age.

Being one of the few resounding successes of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, “Tamara Drewe” has worked her charms on Telluride and Toronto, a disposition that seems to agree with its director, who spoke about adapting his first graphic novel, the widening gap between art and entertainment in movies and the future of British films in the face of the recent decision to shut down the UK Film Council.

You’ve done other adaptations, but with this one, does having a visual reference in addition to a textual one change the way you approach the film?

Yes, I’m sure it did. I thought the comic book was so wonderful and I think the artist is such a brilliant woman, so I found it very liberating, but I really liked recreating frames she had done. When they made silent films, they would find a relational painting and say let’s light it like that and I would frames of the book and say, oh look, let’s do that because it’s so economical. It’s so beautiful. So I didn’t find it at all restrictive.

09022010_GemmaArtertonTamaraDrewe.jpgWe once talked about “Dirty Pretty Things,” where you said the scene where Chiwetel Ejiofor discovers a heart in a hotel toilet was the point where you knew you wanted to do the film. Did that have a similar pull for you in this one? I’d think the scene where Dominic Cooper’s drummer Ben Sergeant’s seduces Tamara in with his banging of pots and pans in her kitchen might’ve been one.

No, not as much as [Tamara Drewe] getting over the stile in hot pants. [laughs]

You’ve known Posy Simmonds for nearly 40 years. Why did it take this long to become collaborators?

Because I’m not very imaginative. In the end, somebody else had the idea, somebody got a script written and then they send it to me and when I read the script, I knew Posy, I just don’t have a mind…I’m not a producer, I guess.

You live in Dorset and I could imagine the opening conversation of this film, which takes place during a writers’ retreat, being one that could be similar to ones you’ve had with friends. Did this touch on a few personal notes for you?

My friends are writers, but they’re very good writers, so they’re not struggling in this way. I mean, I know what writers are like and writers say what’s good about this film, it’s very, very good on writers. It’s done from the inside, as it were.

I’ve heard you say the same thing, but I’ve been telling people this is the type of film that doesn’t seem to exist anymore – the clever middle-class comedy.

Well, of course, I like that about it.

Beyond economics, do you think there’s a reason for that?

I can see the way the world works. I can see the studios are no longer capable of making films like these for economic reasons. Grown-up films are harder to make. There are fewer of them. I don’t know. It seemed to me pretty obvious this should be made. It was so funny and so inventive and so fresh. But whether it’ll find an audience, you never know that.

09072010_TamaraDrewe.jpgComics have become legitimized, but do you take some satisfaction in taking something considered mildly déclassé by some and turning it into something that’s appreciated by a highbrow crowd?

I was conscious that I was making a film from a graphic novel, which is very fashionable, but that it was the most unlikely graphic novel in the world and it wasn’t about a superhero. It was always very funny and very intelligent.

At Cannes, you discussed the growing separation between art and entertainment in film…

Well, that’s just a particular beef of mine. When I grew up, there was no such thing as an arthouse cinema. The popular films that were made were made by highly intelligent men and so there wasn’t this separation. I suppose that somebody like me, I don’t like the separation. I want films to be intelligent and popular.

When did you start to notice that separation occur?

Well, it started in the late ’50s.

Really before you even started…

It was before I started making films, but it started in very specific ways. The cinema started going in two different directions and that always seemed to be a pity. And the films I always most liked were popular and intelligent. You know, a film like “Apocalypse Now” or “Taxi Driver,” they’re not arthouse films. So in my stupid way, I’ve gone on trying to square the circle. You know, a film like “Singin’ in the Rain” is made by clever people. It seems to me to be very, very good art, “Singin’ in the Rain,” but it’s made in a completely mainstream context.

The old adage is you shouldn’t work with children and animals: did you enjoy the challenge on “Tamara Drewe”?

Well, I made a Western, so I’m good at cattle. I’m a master of cattle. And the young teenagers I had in the film were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

What’s more difficult: directing cattle or filming real crowds enjoying Sergeant’s fictional band Swipe at the End of the Road Festival in Dorset?

09082010_tamaradrewe88.jpgThe rock concert you have to stage, you have to grab. You have to be very, very fast. The cattle stampeding, you had to be very patient. You can’t do it like “Red River.”

The film starts on a bittersweet note since it bears the logo of the UK Film Council, which was recently shuttered. While filming, were you aware how dire a situation it was?

I knew there was a credit crunch. I knew the country was in a mess. Yes, of course, and in a way, there’s a small amount of public money for films and I’ve been given this much, a bit of it and you don’t want to waste it. You don’t want people to think, oh, that was a waste of money.

How do you think this is going to shape the future?

It’s very, very difficult because the thing that’s really at issue doesn’t have to do with the Film Council, it’s to do with what public money they will give to films. The Film Council was very much identified with New Labour, so I’m not surprised they scrapped it. It also had faults, so I’m not surprised they scrapped it. It did certain things extremely well. It’s really what they put in its place that’s important.

As a filmmaker who came up under the BBC and having a son who is starting a career as a filmmaker, you would seem to have a unique perspective. Do you break into the business the way it is today?

No. In the end, it’s really a competition about capitalism and it’s very, very interesting. There are at least two kinds of capitalism and in a way, the studio system was much more stable. And of course, at the time, its overthrow seemed a good thing. Now, you also miss its stability and this sort of tooth and claw competitiveness is very destructive.

On a slightly more frivolous note, do you have a favorite experience from a film festival?

I drove through the most beautiful country in the world [for Telluride] last weekend, so that’s very nice. Toronto, I’ve twice won the audience award and Cannes is heaven. Listen, I’ve had a charmed life.

“Tamara Drewe” opens in New York and Los Angeles on October 8th before expanding into limited release.


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.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

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.


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.


Forget Public Wifi

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



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.


Self Defense

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


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