Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kevin Killian on Film

When Masha Tupitsyn and I started trying to figure out how to turn our ongoing discussion about film into an anthology, we looked to writers we loved whose work seemed to be having that conversation in some way too. Kevin Killian was one of the first people who came to mind.

Several years ago, I asked Killian to play a game of word association revolving around the subject of movies and movie stars. The exercise seemed appropriate to me at the time because Killian had always been so impressively succinct in what he had to say about film and so encyclopedic in terms of what he knew, which created an interesting tension between informative candor and cryptic precision. Reading this word game again now, I realize I simply wanted to hear what he had to say. I like hearing Kevin talk about movies. I could listen to him talk about movies all day. The same goes for all the contributors to LIFE AS WE SHOW IT, which is I think what compelled us to ask them to participate in the first place, however I might gussy that impulse up in theory to make it sound more impressively academic.

Killian's work consistently references film. His book of poems, Argento Series (2001), uses the filmmaker Dario Argento as a thematic springboard, but even his novels, which don't ostensibly have to do with film, operate like one in various ways, echoing motifs from Douglas Sirk's melodramas and the ironic reversals and Technicolor gloss of Ross Hunter productions, among other things. Killian is the author of two novels--Shy (1989) and Arctic Summer (1997)--a book of memoirs--Bedrooms Have Windows (1989)--several books of stories--Little Men (1996), I Cry Like a Baby (2001), and Impossible Princess (forthcoming, 2009)--and many plays. Our word game started with...

Joan Crawford:

KILLIAN: Scott Fitzgerald wrote that you couldn't write a scene for Crawford in which she had to change her expression, in a single take. You had to cut away to another character or prop, then back to her face. Otherwise it looked like an explosion happening right on her face. She's not subtle, but- "Dancing Lady," sex tension between Crawford and Gable is hot enough to light a match. PWROAR! I think little children are drawn to her or repelled by her, anyhow she must be one of the first stars children recognize because her face is so vivid, not to mention her personality. She continues to be underrated, because she tries so hard.

Robert Bresson:

"What does one do with one's enthusiasms? Where do they keep? There's an anxiety in declaring oneself a Kylie fan-similar to how coming out used to feel. Dennis Cooper can say, "Oh, I'm influenced by Bresson," and people will nod with approbation, even if they're thinking of Cartier-Bresson. I suffered some credibility loss while under the spell of Dario Argento, but nothing like the waves of shame and misery that engulf me when people say, "Kylie who? That girl who did "The Lo-comotion"?" I think I like her because she remind me of myself, I don't have Dennis' genius, not to mention Bresson's, but like Kylie I can stretch out a second or third rate talent and make it mean something by a) insisting on its smallness; b) attempting to push the envelope, usually by collaboration with others and c) feeling no guilt when, in a corner, at the end of my tether, or upset by something in my personal life, I retreat to my roots and produce version XYZ of the thing I know you'll like from me. . . " That said, Bresson has been a constant presence throughout the writing of "Spreadeagle," particularly his notes on models, as he called his actors. "Respect man's nature without wishing it more palpable than it is."--"A system does not regulate everything. It is a bait for something. Apply myself to insignificant (non-significant) images." -- "His voice draws for me his mouth, his eyes, his face, makes for me his complete portrait, outer and inner, better than if he were in front of me. The best deciphering got by the ear alone. Two persons, looking each other in the eye, see not their eyes but their looks. (The reason why we get the colour of a person's eyes wrong?)"

Russ Meyer:

not much to say.

Brian Dipalma (yes or no? If yes, your two favorite BDP films. If no, name the most annoying):

Favorites? "Sisters" and "Blow Out." Leslie Singer and I went to see "Raising Cain" and we were the only ones in an empty theater, clapping and cheering and going bananas, a wonderful memory. I went to see "Snake Eyes" with Stephen Cope and Joel Kuszai down in San Diego, two of the cutest guys in history (of writing anyhow)!

Frank Tashlin:

A cartoon-y version of Stanley Donen, I'd rather see Donen do it.

Jerry Lewis:

Always good, though not as good as Steve Shaviro makes him out to be. After reading Shaviro's analysis of Lewis in "The Cinematic Body," Dodie and I actually rented "Hardly Working." Thanks Steve . . . where's those emoticons that denote disgust and bafflement?

Who would make good screen lovers, living or dead:

Montgomery Clift and Mae West in "Sunset Boulevard." Best actual screen lovers-Hayley Mills and Hywel Bennett in "Twisted Nerve," "Endless Night," and "The Family Way."

David Cronenberg:

Like Woody Allen. The movies always sound good before you go to see them.

Jane Fonda (before Aerobics, after, or never?):

Oh my God. Although her films got worse and worse after a certain point, I still worship her. Michael Lally has a great poem expressing this queasy feeling for Jane. "The Chapman Report" and "The Blue Bird" two great Fonda films by George Cukor. That she retired is one of the great tragedies of cinema. Along with Meg Tilly and Glenda Jackson and Debra Winger and Demi Moore-all retired. It's like the 80s never happened!!! And also, what happened to Paula Prentiss? Or Joanna Pettet? Back to Jane Fonda, shit, I've got so much to say about Jane it'd take me a day and a half to answer this question properly. For me, she is six degrees of Kevin Bacon in a nutshell.

Brad Pitt:

Career highlight still "Thelma and Louise."

Doris Day:

Underrated, skillful, always glad to see her, a little scary though, you have to have big balls to go up against, or even to watch, Doris Day. The pictures where she's neurotic ("Julie," "Midnight Lace," "The Man who Knew Too Much," "Love Me or Leave Me") are unpleasant experiences, her suffering so real it grips you like cinema verite.

Douglas Sirk:

Only a handful of good movies, but he traps you in a vise, constructs a glass prison house in which you live for the rest of her life.


The man who wanted too much. Tragic glutton.


Stiff, perplexing, goddess.

Most memorable Garbo moment in Camille:

Being kind to her maid.

Godard (two or three things you know about him):

When he was first making films, you never knew what would happen. Each of his pictures was completely different than the last. Then came the two pictures with Jane (Fonda) and he lost the plot. Wonder if she broke his heart. She's too tough for most men.

Willem Defoe (or his son):

There hasn't been a picture that hasn't been ruined by him being in it, from "Cry Baby" to "eXistenZ" to "Last Temptation" and "Platoon." Oh God, I had to sit through "Shadow of the Vampire" with him AND Malkovich, I now have paid for all my sins in all my incarnations. But the son, if that is his son, anyhow the boy who was next to him at the Oscars, is like Josh Hartnett without the flaws! Please, more pictures with Son Dafoe, fewer with Dad!

Hudson (Rock, not Kate):

Just the opposite, always good in every kind of role.

Hepburn (Kate, not Audrey):

A trying freak of nature, but with an enigmatic core that keeps you interested in watching and seeing what she does. She's very beautiful in some lights, harsh and plain in others-that's interesting too.

Kim Novak:

When I was a boy I thought her lovely. Now she looks a little strained, worried. We went to a tribute to Novak at the old Pagoda Pacific Theater here in San Francisco. They showed a reel or two of film clips, then escorted her to the stage in person. Her black and silver dress brushed my hand. We were disappointed in her discretion, everyone was always sweet to her-even Alfred Hitchcock-hello, Kim? Then they showed the whole of Picnic. Hooray! But actually her films are almost always worth seeing, she lucked out with a lot of great directors, including George Sidney.

Sammy Davis, Jr.:

Not really a film star, was he?

Harmony Korrine:

He'll sink into a period of deep depression, and then rebound with hit after hit.

Dogme 90-whatever:

Each of these Danes seems to interpret its rules in different ways, don't they? I get mixed up. If a movement attracts Jennifer Jason Leigh, how good can it be?

Benicio del Toro:

Dodie nudged me and said, "Daddy-buy me that," echoing Marlene Dietrich walking through Universal commissary and spotting John Wayne.

The last five movies you saw for the first time, and your impressions of them:

"The Others," good scary picture. "36 Hours," better had there been more twists in the plot, otherwise terrific. "Grounds for Marriage" the leading actresses Grayson and Raymond photographed so that they look black. "Darkman," a good fast-moving picture that, if made today, would be even more highly edited and whiz-bang. "The Gift," scary as anything, but you could tell Greg Kinnear did it a mile away!!!

Leo DiCaprio:

I thought he was retarded in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?"

Catherine Deneuve:

I would never go to a movie because Deneuve was in it. If she was in a movie on TV, I'd turn it off. And I love her! Must be something about her stolidity and all those face peels, et cetera, and her trying to have it both ways, that I don't care for. Hmmm, will have to think about this.

Something's Got to Give:

The newly edited footage is super, the best movie I saw in the year 2000.


Don't remember this one. I did read a lot of fan magazines as a kid, and my favorite was "Rona Barrett's Hollywood." We did our own version of that, and it ran to three issues, we'd have all our friends and write about them having scandals with the stars.

Jean Harlow in "Dinner at Eight":

You always see the one clip of Marie Dressler doing that double take and saying, "That my dear is something you never need worry about." So you notice Dressler more than Harlow.

Most memorable Busby Berkeley number (describe it from memory):

Hmmm, too many, Esther Williams' water ballet in "The Duchess of Idaho" comes to mind, because I just saw it, a gaggle of men lean over plaster leaves into the water and grab her arms and force her to swim this way and that: all this on a Broadway stage.

Peg Entwhistle:

Wasn't she the girl who jumped off the Hollywood sign? Someone had to do it I guess.

Creepiest child actor living:

Hmmm, I still haven't warmed up to Elijah Wood or that other one who was in Witness and went bad. Lukas Haas? On the distaff side, Jena Malone without a doubt. If I was Julia Roberts in "Stepmom," I would have murdered her without a doubt.

Hudson (Kate, not Rock):

Gee, she was cute in "Almost Famous," and I can't picture the film with Sarah Polley in it, so, four stars for her, but she'll never be a patch on her mother Goldie Hawn. Oh, what am I saying, have you ever read the play Scott Hewicker and I wrote together about 4 years ago? "The Schwimmer Effect" outlines a secret Hollywood plot in which Goldie Hawn masquerades as a daughter she never had to disguise the fact that she has taken part in a secret experiment to maintain her youth, an experiment that worked too well! Thus we had the whole Kate Hudson thing tapped before anyone else!

Hepburn (Audrey, not Kate):

Awkward, touching, full of life, badly used in "Paris While It's Sizzling," "How to Steal a Million," "The Nun's Story," and that Spielberg film. But otherwise she got first class treatment from a horde of bedazzled men.

Richard Pryor:

At one time the biggest movie star in the world!

Karen Black:

Saw her at the Castro singing in a cowgirl outfit, her voice wasn't bad, how on earth did she become a star? She's sexy, a little, but those crossed eyes always make you think she's sneaky.

Role Haley Joel Osment would be best suited for:

The boy Czar who has the hemophilia and Rasputin, who lusts after him, can't have him, so he lets the Red Guards shoot him and bury his body in the woods. Or, he could play in the Macaulay Culkin story.

George Cukor:

Snobby and aloof, on the one hand his films are overstuffed and silly with their pretensions (that Hepburn and Vivien Leigh were great actresses, that Ava Gardner could act, that people want "quality"), and on the other hand his condescension towards everyday people (the Judy Holiday "character") is almost unbearable. And yet on the third hand, almost by accident or so it seems, some great things emerge from this closeted soup-My Fair Lady, Justine, Rich and Famous, the character Leueen McGrath plays in Edward My Son, I could go on and on. He loved actors, they always say, always the mark of a ninny. Infinitely superior to the wretched John Huston.

Women's picture:

Cukor, Vincent Sherman, Sirk, Delmer Daves, Minnelli melodramas, Ida Lupino movies . . .

Four cinematic details that come to mind, from what movies:

1. Tippi Hedren carrying the love birds across Bodega Bay in the motorboat ("The Birds").

2. Tony singing "Something's Coming" in "West Side Story."

3. Robert Redford passed out and Barbra Streisand passes her hand along his brow ("The Way We Were.")

4. James Caan drumming his thumbs on table edge ("The Godfather.")

Josef Von Sternberg:

Sianne Ngai writing her paper that proves or suggests that "Blonde Venus" is based on contemporary perceptions of Josephine Baker, so it's all about race really.

Louise Brooks:

Black helmet of hair, Pandora's Box, things people said about her that were always better than what she really was, Kenneth Tynan's profile of Brooks incredible, but no one could live up that hype.

Mel Brooks:

Never got a chuckle of any of his shows.

Robert Altman:

Like Woody Allen and David Cronenberg, except in his case he actually did make 3 movies I enjoyed.

Shelley Duvall:

The Emperor's New Clothes

Robert Duvall:

Another hallmark of quality for middle brow people.


Usually better playing opposite others, he really could act, she can't, but they're swell together

Connie Stevens:

My God, why waste time on her when I have written reams elsewhere on her great contemporaries, Annette, Deborah Walley, Connie Francis, Debbie Reynolds, Ursula Andress. On the other hand, I do like her, wonder if she wouldn't have made it bigger had she called herself "Constance Stevens," gained some respect.

Julia Roberts:

Great when she's sad, but only if she smiles afterwards, wonderful smile, I'm with the US public on this one, I love Julia Roberts and always will!


Never been a good screen version of her life, but after all, only one bio-pic has ever worked for me ("Lady Sings the Blues.")

The first star tragedy that comes to mind:

"Marilyn Monroe being attacked by a bottle of sleeping pills/ Like a bottle of angry hornets" (Spicer). At the same time, one feels Marilyn to have been terribly self-absorbed and mean when she wasn't being, you know, loving and kind.

Fat Liz:

God, she's only four feet ten, all she has to do is put on one pound she looks fat.

Skinny Liz:

What's with this "Liz" stuff anyhow, don't you know we're supposed to call her Elizabeth at all times!!!

Screwball comedy:

Jean Arthur and Cary Grant, I'm, like, kind of there.

Five people you'd like to see in what five roles:

Raquel Welch as Myra Breckinridge, oops, she did that one. Warren Beatty in that Tarantino picture planned for him. I always thought the girl in "One False Move" would be a big star. Now I can't even remember her name. Cold reptilian Tom Hanks would make a good Argento killer. Remake of "The Bodyguard" with Kylie Minogue and Russell Crowe. Eddie Murphy, he is so funny in Bowfinger I thought I'd die.

Rita Hayworth:

Glamorous, mysterious, looks like she could take care of herself, but couldn't I guess. Couldn't really sing or dance or act, always looked too big for her clothes, but perfect in her own way.

Gary Cooper:

Everything they say about him's true, he's a God.

Thelma Ritter:

Oh my goodness, I wrote a whole play about her for our Poets Theater in which Ethel Chase, Darrell Alvarez's mother, was to play Ritter-but she died, she had been the life and soul of our group. And afraid of nothing. Darrell suggested it, because his mother had always loved Ritter, or had often been compared to her, so this play, "Thelma," (a musical) was a kind of Ritter as Mae West backstage look at her life. Never published nor performed but given to Ethel Chase on her last birthday.

ZaSu Pitts:

When I was young they always showed re-runs of her on "Oh, Susannah," she scared me she looked so much like a squirrel.

Joseph Losey:


Your three favorite Dario Argento films (and the first thing that pops into your mind about each):

1.Trauma-butterfly Point Of View.

2.Opera-Betty with her eyes sewn open and she's squirming.

3.Suspiria-Jessica Harper quarrelling in locker room about snakes and shoes.

Roman Polanski:

The worst

Ruth Gordon:

Some love her but I hate her. All the gay guys at my office were, like, overjoyed when she came to town and filmed some hideous movie with Glenn Close ("Maxie") right next to our building, and I'm like, kvetching and knelling, I felt like bugs were crawling up underneath my pant legs and were headed for my balls like crabs.

Judy Holiday:

Kind of like the aunt character everyone loves, but, rather see Joan Blondell than Holiday in any one part Holiday played.

Jack Nicholson:

Stupid smile and I never forgave him for attacking that waitress in that movie by making her give him some stupid order that wasn't on the menu.

Angelica Huston:

Must have been very insecure being the daughter of such a horrid person.

Hal Ashby:

Cult of Ashby incomprehensible to me, though he made some great pictures

Natalie Wood:

Seems worse as I grow older, but once I loved her, she's still great in "West Side Story" and "Splendor in the Grass." Who's the un-named, married movie idol who raped her (early 50s) when she was a very young girl? Could it have been-Kirk Douglas?

Michelangelo Antonioni:

Another one who had to happen to slow down US cinema and make it murky.

Monica Vitti:

Poor man's Mimsy Farmer.

Jayne Mansfield:

Could never believe she had an IQ of 195, has that ever been disproved?

Julia Phillips:

Nothing to say about her.

Five of your favorite actresses, living:

Are you sure you don't need 500? How about, Kim Basinger, Melanie Griffith, Barbara Hershey, Farrah, Jennifer Jones.

Five of your favorite dead:

Norma Shearer, Constance Bennett, Kay Francis, Natalie Wood, Hedy Lamarr.

The most memorable use of red in a movie:

The end of Hitchcock's film "Topaz" when the Juanita Castro character is stabbed and her fall is seen from above and her red gown spills out onto the white parquet like a blooming flower.

Eric Roberts (tragedy or accident waiting to happen):

Now claims he was spanked too much as a boy.

The role in which Tom Cruise seemed most like a gay man to you:

"Eyes Wide Shut"


Well, not since "Tommy" has she really thrilled me, but the 1-2-3 punch of her George Sidney movies ("Bye Bye Birdie," "Viva Las Vegas" and that other one where they use her for body painting) will never be toppled or equaled. She is youth-or was.

Sidney Poitier:

Torn between Judy Geeson and Suzy Kendall in "To Sir with Love," each of them more beautiful than the other.

Your least favorite non-living actor:

Never too fond of Cuddles, S Z Sakall, from the old Warner Brothers films, but now I quite like him. I don't know. Henry Fonda gives me the willies.

Your least favorite and unfortunately fully living actor:

Could it be-Kevin Spacey? No-Woody Allen is worse. Bridget Fonda? A blank hole in the screen. Penelope Cruz? Ditto. Dodie says, "Richard Dreyfuss." Oh God, how could I forget my aversion to --Christina Ricci! She's horrible (though I expect she's very nice in person. Also-Meg Ryan. Indeed, any star who's estranged from her mother.

Tom Green:

Nobody really cares.

Drew Barrymore:

Used to like her.

Sally Field:

"Norma Rae," a lifetime ago, few can now remember how you just couldn't believe it was Sally Field.

Charles Bronson:

Always the same, a real screen star, loveable, like John Wayne is loveable. That soaring Morricone music for the love theme from "Once Upon a Time in the West" for Bronson and Claudia

Who should play opposite whom in the remake of A Place in the Sun:

John Cusack I guess, Catherina Zeta-Jones, Melanie Griffith in the Shelley Winters part.

What book would you most like to see adapted into a movie?:

Always thought "I Capture the Castle" would be a good film? Ira Levin's "Son of Rosemary" would be great. I can't believe they're abandoning the film of "Rent." How about "Troublemaker"?

If Arctic Summer were adapted, who to direct, and who to star:

Baz Luhrmann to direct, and Paul Mercurio could be Liam. Seann William Scott or Johan Paulik as Tommy. (You can see I'm hedging my bets.) Bridgette Wilson-Sampras as Diane. Charlotte Rampling as her mother. Robert Redford as Charles Carpenter. Kevin Spacey and Helen Mirren as Ralph and Betty Isham. Josh Brolin as George Dorset, Helen Hunt as Lorna. Leo could be Guy de Remours. The geeky boy from "Rushmore" as Philip Mandel. There, all pegged.

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