Weekly Events Nov. 22-25

Gallery hopping, film screening, concert-going, and partying: check out what’s coming up with this week’s BlackList.

Friday, November 22nd

Psychic Night: Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington’s DARKSIDE will grace the stage in Brooklyn, for what is sure to be a danceable night of fun. The show will be held at Glasslands and feature the duo alongside Justin Miller.
Tickets: $20.00 Location: 289 Kent Ave in Williamsburg.

Pinter Winter: The Film Society of Lincoln Center brings the biting cinematic world of Harold Pinter to life with a retrospective of the film adaptations of the playwright’s staggering work, as well as films based on his own original screenplays. From Joseph Losey’s The Servant to William Friedkin’s The Birthday Party, get your Pinter fill at Lincoln Center.
Tickets: $13 Location: 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, NY.

Drawn Together: ISSUE and The Drawing Center present an evening of works by William Engelen and Aki Onda. Head down to Boreum Hill to see percussion ensemble Talujon perform Engelen’s recent work Falten—”a hybrid of score and sculpture, in conjunction with the exhibition William Engelen: Falten, on view at The Drawing Center through January. In addition, Eli Keszler and the Ashcan Orchestra’s Pat Spadine will be performing Aki Onda’s Damaged, an “ongoing series of New York street photography serve as visual cues for improvisation.”
Tickets: $ 15 Location: 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn.

Saturday, November 23rd

Mysterious Chat: Novelist Doug Dorst, J.J. Abrams, and Lena Dunham will all sit down for chat to unwrap S., a new multi-layered novel that interconnects four different tales through handwritten letters, newspaper clippings, postcards, an old napkin and even a decoder ring.
Tickets: $25 Location: Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space, NY.

Ravishing Retelling: Head over to BAM to see Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon’s La Belle et la Bête, a unique and beautiful recreation of the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast. With an original score by Michel Smith, their version “transforms an ageless story into a mercurial dream world charged with eroticism.”
Tickets: $14 Location: BAM Howard Gilman Opera House – Brooklyn, NY.

A Clocktower Farewell: To celebrate the closing of the historic Clocktower building, they will be holding a final public event. To say goodbye to the space, artists of all generations will be there to share post-Clocktower programs and share stories of the gallery’s achievements.
Tickets: Free Location: 108 Leonard Street, NY.

Sunday, November 24th

Movie night: The Museum of the Moving Image will host a preview screening of Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners on Sunday at 7:00pm. Actors Melissa Leo and Jake Gyllenhaal will also be there in person alongside the director and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski.
Tickets: $25 public / $15 Museum members Location: 36-01 35th Avenue, in Astoria.

Play/Pause: As part of the 2013 Next Wave festival, head down to BAM to see a night of post-modern dance theater from Susan Marshall & Company. With music by David Lang, the show examines our complex relationship with the media we consume, through choreography that echoes the what we see in our everyday pop culture music landscape.
Tickets: $20 Location: BAM Fisher – Brooklyn, NY.

Monday, November 25th

The wonder of Nihls Frahm: The brilliant Nihls Frahm will head to Le Poisson Rouge on Monday to play a highly-anticipated show this Monday. Patricia Kopatchinskaja, violin (w/ music of Bartók, Enescu, and Kurtág) will be the opening act for a surely memorable night of incredible sound.
Tickets: $15/$20/$25 Location: 158 Bleecker Street, NY.

The BlackList: Weekly Events Nov. 22-25 – BlackBook.

Melanie Shatzky, Brian Cassidy, and Melissa Leo on the Beautifully Quiet ‘Francine’

In Jean Baudrillard’s The Cultures of Collecting, he states, “The image of the pet dog is exactly right, for pets are a category midway between persons and objects…the poignant devotion to such creatures points to a failure to establish normal human relationships and to the installation of a narcissistic territory–the home–wherein the subjectivity can fulfill itself without let or hinderance.” And it is that same concept—that sense of detachment and self-isolationism—that plagues Francine, the titular character in Melanie Shatzky and Brian M. Cassidy’s narrative debut. Starring Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo, Francine unfolds in an unsettling haze as we’re given an open view into the life of a woman newly released from prison as she tries to assimilate herself back into the outside world in a small lake town.

There is a grave sense of alienation and disassociation in the silence of the film and the lingering shots that allows us to inhabit her world, watching as she finds solace and passion only in the menagerie of animals that populate her unkempt home. Drawing on their shared and well-crafted knowledge of visual aesthetics and documentary filmmaking, Shatzky and Cassidy create a verisimilitudinous world that’s at once stark and minimal yet filled with a desperate longing for connection. We sat down with the filmmakers and Leo to gain insight into the conception of Francine, the emotionality of Leo’s performance, and capturing moments in feelings rather than words.

How did you come up with initial idea for the film?
Melanie Shatzky: Brian and I work on a lot of projects together; we primarily come from a photo background and then documentary and now we’re working with fiction. With all of our projects, we deal with notions of desperation. We like to look at and kind of empathize with people that are facing desperate circumstances in their lives and we’re interested in the creative ways that people try and counter their own desperation. So for us, Francine collecting these animals and creating this sense of family for herself is a real kind act of creativity. Brian and I are huge animal lovers and recognize something beautiful within them that they’re naive and wise at the same time, and if you treat them well then they’ll be good to you. So for us, it was just about creating this character that hopefully people empathize with and just an intense look at that.

Did you have a full script for it? It was so much about images and sound and feeling rather than just words.
Brian Cassidy: We had a ten-page document that had very vivid scene descriptions. Everything on the page was very clearly laid out, but there was no dialogue written, and that’s how we proceeded.

And you wanted to cast a non-actor for the role. How did you, Melissa, come into the picture?
Melissa Leo: I inserted myself. I happened to see online, because of my friendship with the Woodstock Film Commission, a casting call for the various few day parts of the film. The film’s title was Francine, and it seemed to be a story about Francine. “Were the filmmakers looking for a Francine?” I asked my friend. And they were. They weren’t looking for me in particular, but we met. The notion of working without dialogue—to work in the visual medium of film, primarily pictorially—fascinated me. And the woman herself, I began to build even in our first meeting: ideas of who she was and how she might be and so on. Between Brian and Melanie’s idea and Francine herself, there was no way I couldn’t do it. If they would accept me, I wanted to be there.
BC: And this was of course to our great surprise and delight. We were expecting to draw from within our comfort zone, which was working with finding real people that would approximate a version of themselves. However, what we learned as filmmakers—this process, this transition from documentary to fiction—was, in fact, in order to land this story truthfully and portray this character with the kind of realism and intimacy necessary, we needed someone with Melissa’s tools and talent and ability as an actor to do that. It would have been a very different kind of film with a non-actor in the role. Ironically, the more I think about it, I think you could do something like that, but it would be more stilted or you would have to embrace it more autonomously, you’d have to play with the discomfort and inability of a real person in a fictional world. It can be done, but it wouldn’t be the film that we wanted to make.
MS: It also just required such depth of emotionality, and that’s tremendous skill to be able to do that.
ML: The skill is not an emotion, that’s not what it is to be an actor. The skill is to have technique and to know what is needed to tell the story. If the character needs to be emotional to tell the story, then emotion is called for. It’s not about being in touch with my emotions that makes me an actor, it’s about knowing what is needed to tell story. So for the questions that do not get answered in the film—and the filmmakers and I have different answers for them—I built very specific answers, because when the art becomes incredibly specific it in fact becomes universal. When it’s vague, it’s very hard for anyone to attach to it. That’s the difference between an actor and a non-actor in the role.

There was something about Francine, especially in the beginning when she’s sort of walking around and you can tell she feels alienated and is sort of floating through life, that’s deeply relatable even though her situation isn’t relatable. But everyone has had that feeling of desperation. As you were saying about your emotions, there were scenes where you were just sitting there, and you can just see it in your eyes and you didn’t have to say anything.
ML: It’s so fabulous as an actor to work with such simple and human ideas.

In a lot of the characters you play, you really transform yourself. Is there anything you did to prepare for this?
ML: There’s no story I can tell you about going and spending a few nights in a prison or anything like that. That’s not what preparation is for me, but there is something that happens almost unrequested by me, where each moment I spend with the filmmaker or script or another actor, etc., every moment begins as soon as I know I’ll be playing her to inform this thing along. Unfortunately, innately, in every character Melissa comes along. So it’s not about Melissa disguising her or anything, it’s about discerning the character and inviting her into me so as I work, I’m aware of what is her, how would she. It was a mysterious process. As you say, I know a loneliness and I know an isolation, and a wondering if I fit in, do I even care; I know those things in my life and I’m sure that they come along in my Francine.

Did you have a backstory for her or did you want it to be more intuitive?
MS: Not specific details of certain things that had happened to her at different points in her life, but more specific in the terms of, you know, Francine has a deep distrust of men. Francine doesn’t like to touch things. Francine is sexual. Francine loves animals. You know, those types of things. And then it was a real act of creativity for Melissa to then create specific details of what had happened to Francine along her path.
ML: Which is what actually brings it the closest to any other job, in that way. There’s these things to fulfill, whether I needed to speak them or not or tell that story in the movie, those questions inside of me, as I work, are answered. So I have solid ground in which to have Francine walk.

I thought what was very revealing about her character was the way Francine was so open and sexually impulsive, but the second there was something actually intimate she shut down. That’s something that felt very human.
ML: And this is exactly why that would be so for Francine, I knew. And that distrust of men is a pretty broad subject. I know in my heart what her answer is for that, whether Francine knows it or not or you need to know it, I as an actor, a very element of it for me is I need to know those answers. Whether they’re going to jive or not. And then if it’s not jiving then I have to go make up another story that gives them what they want.

And what was the shooting style? Did you have a lot of takes, or did you sort of just go in and capture things in the moment?
BC: The whole film was hand-held and we did multiple takes, but we didn’t run through too many takes.
ML: We shot what we needed to of what we needed. Sometimes we would go over things more than once. To have these incredibly long takes we would do was one of the most wonderful experiences for me. Sometimes Brian would just shoot for five minutes straight, just kept the camera rolling, which is usually unheard of. And there were other times and we’d restart and go, “Oh that’s it,” whether it was hitting a mark or the light being right, those kinds of other technical other film aspects. We did it as we needed.
BC: For me, some of the most gratifying moments were the ones where we could let the camera roll for the whole time and just stay in it, stay in it and say, “That piece we got, that we’ll come back to,” and just keep moving through. And then, for us, we’re kind of living in that moment, in a way, and I suppose it’s just a different kind of way to make a film. You shouldn’t feel that you have to suspend your own disbelief as a filmmaker in order to make it work, but it was a delight to have those things happen.
ML: Or we’d get in intimate settings where it was literally just Brian and me, and we’d go, “Oh that was great, we got it all,” and Melanie would come running in and go, “No, no! You have to go back in!”
BC: And that’s one of the things about two directors: it has to meet all of our approval, really. So that sort of approval process can sometimes come up against the more organic nature of doing things, but that’s filmmaking.
MS: And almost all of the stuff you see with Francine in the house with the animals, most of that was one take, like five to ten minute long takes that were just amazing because we didn’t know what the animals were going to do, Melissa didn’t know what the animals were going to do. So it was this dance between Brian, Melissa, and the animals. Those were some of the most magical moments in the film.

There’s something interesting about how you lingered on moments, like your feet were in the water or those moments with the animals. When you do that, you stay to feel the film in a way rather than just watching it.
ML: And that was some in the shooting but also, finally there in the edit where their sensitivity towards what’s happening on the screen, what kind of thing. In the edit, that’s where they could really shape the film to land with you the way they intended it to land.

Melissa, you’ve done a lot of films with larger ensembles. How did it feel to carry this yourself?
ML: Oh, it’s much more interesting for an actor to work in a way when you’re carrying the ball. It’s just so much more interesting. For the supporting actor to fit their character into the story of the featured character is a trick; it’s actually much harder than leading a film. There’s so much you have to leave behind because it’s not telling the lead character’s story. And absolutely my first interest in it was that if the film was called Francine, it might actually mostly be about Francine’s experience. That’s what sent me to work with the two of them. So to spend a month’s time invested in a character and see her through every beat of building this story…that’s when an actor’s happiest.

Afternoon Links: Kiefer Sutherland Returns to TV, Derek Jeter Builds a Palace

● Kiefer Sutherland is officially returning to TV with the Fox pilot Touch. It’s about a man whose son can see into the future, and to honor the occasion, here’s Sutherland diving into a Christmas tree, because it never gets old. [Deadline] ● Rolling Stone has a written preview of six tracks off the new Lady Gaga album, because this is the biggest deal since the invention of water. [Rolling Stone] ● Yikes. Melissa Leo is backtracking on those horrendous ads that might have cost her an Oscar. We haven’t seen a fiasco this ridiculous since the invention of water. [Daily Beast]

● There’s photographic evidence that The King’s Speech was partially shot on the same set as a gay porn movie, which reminds me of the time a gay porno movie was shot on the set of my bedroom. [Gawker] ● Drew Barrymore apparently has a new boyfriend, who’s being described as “a socialite type and a playboy.” So she’s dating Khloe Kardashian? [Us] ● Have a look at the $7.7 million mansion Derek Jeter built for himself in Tampa. It’s the same mansion Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner recently criticized him about, and the same mansion I hope to one day lose my virginity in. [TMZ]