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Quentin Dupieux on the Road Rage of “Rubber”

Quentin Dupieux on the Road Rage of “Rubber” (photo)

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This interview was originally published during AFI Fest 2010.

Anyone who has seen “Rubber” during its most unlikely of festival runs will know what a big deal it was for the film’s star, Robert the tire, to finally roll into Hollywood last weekend for its premiere at AFI Fest, where the guest of honor donned a bowtie for the occasion and posed for pictures at the film’s afterparty. That audience members would want to pose with a tire they had just seen crush bugs, explode rabbits and eventually blow up the human population of a small desert town with its mind is a testament to the strength of the simple idea at the core of Quentin Dupieux’s sharp absurdist comic thriller. (For a contrary point of view, see my colleague Matt Singer’s review of the film.)

A tribute in some ways to films like Steven Spielberg’s “Duel,” but on one wheel instead of four, the instant identification of “Rubber” as “that killer movie” has made it an easy recommendation among festivalgoers, yet that description hardly does justice to the alternate reality Dupieux creates. Giving himself the license to do anything he pleases after breaking the fourth wall for an introduction from an investigating lieutenant (Stephen Spinella) who tells audience directly, “All great films contain no reason,” and rattling off examples in “Love Story” and “E.T.” as evidence, Dupieux imagines a world in which cops inexplicably carry stuffed crocodiles under their arms and tourists will camp out to watch a tire telekinetically explode the heads of any person who dare step in front of it.

In other words, it’s the kind of film you might expect from Dupieux, a known iconoclast from his days of spinning as a DJ under the pseudonym Mr. Oizo. Now a remixer of images as well as sounds, he took a break from the festival to talk about “Rubber,” the limits of French cinema and why education can only limit creativity.

How did you come up with this idea?

Honestly, I don’t know because when you want to make movies, you’re basically always thinking. You have tons of ideas per day. And you have tons of bad ideas. Your brain is always trying to find good ideas. The tire came and I just picked it up, like okay, this is good, interesting… and that’s it. I wrote it in three weeks because I decided with my producer to shoot a movie quickly – write it quick, shoot it quick, edit it quick and I finished the shooting here a year ago exactly.

11102010_Rubber1.jpgThis was actually an alternative to another film you were working on. Did that development process have an impact on how you approached this film?

Yeah, I’d been writing this other script for a year-and-a-half. It’s called “Reality,” and the script is really good, but we realized that it was quite hard to finance because it’s a bit expensive and it has a lot of actors, a lot of locations. So my producer started to look for money to do it and in the mean time, we decided instead of waiting, we decided, let’s do a pirate movie – a commando movie. Let’s do something we can do now, something you could shoot in two weeks. And then I wrote “Rubber” very quickly and we did it with almost nothing, like less than a Kanye West video. Less.

It sounds like you wrote the film first and figured out the logistics of having the tire as your star later.

The process of finding the tire is quite stupid because first, I wrote ten pages of a script called “Day of the Cubes” and it was almost the same idea, but it was not about the tire, it was about an army of cubes from space — one day people wake up and there are cubes floating everywhere. I was already trying to do a fantastic movie, like oh something strange is happening. But then we quickly did CGI tests and I realized that no, I don’t want to do this. CGI is not funny. I’m going to shoot empty spaces and then we’re going to work on computers to put the cubes [onscreen]? So I decided to get rid of those 10 pages and start again. Instead of doing an army of cubes, I decided to focus on one character – the tire.

How long did it take to find the personality of the tire?

Honestly, when I wrote the script, for the tire sequences, I was thinking of the first 30 minutes of “Wall-E.” To me, it was the same kind of spirit. I just tried to give life to a dead object. First, it was like [the tire is] going to be a bit like Wall-E, even if it’s like Rambo and make things explode. I wanted it to be something cute in the beginning. In my mind, it was like okay, it’s going to be nice to see him trying to roll and fall and wake up.

It was quite hard to shoot. “Okay, we can’t do this, we can’t do this, we can’t do this.” It was a bit like “Jaws.” Spielberg was having trouble with the remote-controlled shark and he had to create something different because the shark was not working. So that’s a bit the same because the possibilities were very limited with the tire. Basically, we had a remote-controlled tire, but it was just able to roll, stop and roll again. That’s it. So we had to do a lot of stuff with a puppeteer out of frame and I created the character and his personality on set.

11102010_Rubber2.jpgWhen you set up a movie where you tell the audience in the first frames of the movie that there is “no reason” for what you’re about to see, did that push you towards strictly going for the unexpected?

No, to me, it’s a good way to take people’s hand and bring them into the movie. I think it’s a very good first scene. If you cut it and you start the movie with the tire waking up, the movie’s totally different. This scene – this long monologue – gives the tone and when we first showed the movie in Cannes, it was the first time with an audience, and I realized the monologue was working because people were laughing and were getting the spirit and the tone. It’s more like a warning. If you don’t like this, go away now because it’s going to be hard for you.

Even though it’s never defined where this film takes place, you cast Americans and it’s an English-language film. Why did that seem appropriate?

Simple reason. My first feature [“Steak”] had been shot in Canada, but it was French-speaking, so my first feature was only for the French market. As a musician, I have a bigger audience. I’m known in Australia, Japan, in the UK, here, so when my first movie “Steak” came out only in France, for me, that was frustrating. I hated it, to be honest, because all my music fans were asking for the movie, like where can I find it? That’s why we decided with my producer to do a movie in English first because it was, for me, very important to reach a bigger audience.

I started 10 years ago with my Levi’s commercial with the puppet Flat Eric and I did the music too – that was like a phenomenon not only in France, but all around Europe. So we just decided to go back to this. Let’s do something for everybody, not just for France because France is a small country. We do a lot of movies in France, but there’s not so much space for a filmmaker like me. And viewing the movie here last weekend, I know that even if I’m French, I might be able to do funny things for everybody on Earth. Not only for France.

11102010_Rubber4.jpgHowever, there does seem to be something culturally significant to the fact they’re Americans as onlookers.

Yeah, obviously, I’m using codes from fantastic movies from the ’80s and they are not French movies. They’re “Christine,” “Duel,” things like that. This old cop car from the ’80s means something. It’s like I’m using American cliché in “Rubber.” Obviously, the desert, the road movie, the cop – all these elements are clichés from your country here. I’m not even sure if the movie has a French feeling.

You’ve said once that filmmaking came more naturally to you than music. How do those mediums inform each other for you?

It’s the same process. To me, I’m not a musician and after 15 years, I’m trying to make music. I want to learn by myself and it’s the same for a movie. You can learn how to make movies. You can learn how to write a script. You can learn music. You can have a teacher everyday teaching you the notes, the chords and writing music. I never wanted to do that because I think it’s much more interesting to create by yourself and suddenly, if you do it, it might be fresh since nobody taught you. So to me, music and moviemaking are exactly the same process. I’m not a filmmaker. I’m just making movies and I don’t know really how to do this, but I’m doing it with my instinct and it’s the same for music.

“Rubber” is currently available on VOD and opens in limited release on April 1st.

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.