A Brief Look Back on Paul Schrader and the Man Who Overturned His World, Charles Eames

Originally published in July 2013, run again today in honor of Schrader’s 68th birthday.

In 1970, Charles Eames gave a talk at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In the audience that day was a passion and hungry 24-year-old man, eager to be inspired, and ready to give the world a taste of all that stirred inside him. That young man was the now-iconic writer and director Paul Schrader, who has attributed Eames—the architect, problem-solver, and all around Renaissance man—as the reason he was able to become a filmmaker. After taking in his speech, Schrader was compelled to write an article on the artist, and as he said in Kevin Jackson’s Schrader on Schrader & Other Writings, “even the notion of an article was a rouse because I sensed that here was this person standing by a door, and if I approached him, he would open that door for me.” And fatefully, he did. Schrader conducted the interview—which eventually expanded farther than he could have anticipated—after visiting Eames’ famously thriving workshop in Venice and never wanting to leave.

It’s impossible to forget one’s first life-altering inspiration, the initial exposure to a new idea that makes the heart yearn for something it never knew existed and changes everything that comes after. With fresh eyes, there’s a new tune to the world as you see the emotional, psychological, and physical power of art to stimulate and create something beyond your own convention. And having been raised in the staunch Calvinist world of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Schrader was brought up on the notion that sex was strictly for procreation, movies were the devil’s work, and “ideas were the provence of language.” He was taught that emotional and spiritual feeling was to be expressed strictly through words—Eames opened his mind to the belief that “images or an object can be an idea,” and that there was a “visual logic to life.”

After spending his early twenties writing film criticism and aspiring to make films of own, Schrader was hovering around Hollywood, unsettled by the films presented to him. What he saw were pictures that “exalted idiosyncrasy and the cult of personality,” focusing on me and not we, highlighting the importance of individuality as a means of understanding oneself on a greater level. However, through his time spent admiring Eames and learning from his work, Schrader came to find a person who exposed him that to the idea that the cult of personality was in fact ephemeral, flowing from one person to the next, uniting humanity with a deeper kind of likeness.

Schrader claims it was that sentiment, combined with the thought that “images are ideas,” which overturned his world. The article he wrote on Eames would be published in Film Quarterly in the Spring of 1970, and was titled “Poetry of Ideas.” The focus was on Eames’ short films created with his wife, Ray, and how they exemplified something entirely unique to the cinematic tradition. Amalgamating science and technology to convey their own means of communication, Schrader said the films possessed a “unified aesthetic with many branch-like manifestations,” and that they had a “cerebral sensibility” seldom seen in the medium.

Classified as his “toy films” and his “idea films,” Eames revealed both the “definitive characteristics of commonplace objects” and “introduced a new way of perceiving ideas into a medium which had been surprisingly anti-intellectual.”   Since his earliest work, Schrader has been a writer and filmmaker who has unified both an intellectual sensibility through prose with aesthetically-rich ways to convey narrative ideas.

Jackson noted that Schrader’s “most mature films—following Eames—aspire to the condition of poetry.” But whereas Eames’ response to being referred to as a filmmaker—and someone Schrader had taken a cinematic interest in initially—was,”Who me, film?”, Schrader has always been obsessed with an “evangelical impulse to preach” his ideas to an audience. It’s his cri de coeur, he’s said, “that need to just lean out the window and yell.” And with his first major directorial work in five years, The Canyons, premiering this week, it’s compelling to look back on the beginnings of his career to understand the director he has become today. Below are some of Eames’ short films that inspired Schrader and changed his world. You can read the article in its entirety HERE.

Toccata for Toy Trains

Powers of Ten

House   

Design Q&A With Charles and Ray Eames

Paul Schrader Rounds Out His ‘The Dying of the Light’ Cast With Anton Yelchin, Irène Jacob, & More

When I spoke with Paul Schrader back in July for the release of his  dead-eyed psychosexual thriller The Canyons, I asked him if he thought his twenty-year-old self could ever possibly imagine making this movie. “Oh, well who knows about that,” he said. “Like anyone who works with their imagination, you kind of stumble foreword. You don’t necessarily ever know what next year’s going to bring.” And throughout his career we’ve seen many psychological iterations from the writer and director, whose films have ranged from some of the greatest pieces of 20th-century cinema to porn star James Deen maniacally repeating, “Just nod for me baby,” to a shaking Lindsay Lohan. But that’s not to say I didn’t have my own affections for The Canyons, as we noted that the film was important in that it exposed:

…a modern generation hinged on the dichotomy between the inability to have genuine human connection or the passion that fuels creative impulse, yet are capable of over-exposing every aspect their private lives and keeping up a charade of interest from behind the mask of a screen. Upon first meeting the cast, Schrader described the film to them as “a group of twenty-something people in Los Angeles who got in line to see a film and the theater closed, but they stayed in line anyway because they had nowhere else to go.” These are characters “who make movies but don’t actually care about movies, who hook up but don’t even like hooking up. They’re people who are inhabiting the dead cinemas,” he says, which is why he’s touted the film as “post-theatrical cinema,” and these people as part of a “post-porn generation,” interspersing the story with a motif of decaying cinemas, like a constant whisper in your ear that beckons you to never forget that all this is crumbling even as you watch it. When the film was rejected from South by Southwest this year for having a “cold, deadness to it, Schrader laughed. “Of course it’s cold!” he recalls thinking, “What did you expect?”

But after all the hoopla that came with the film, his followup has been high on my radar, and today we learn that his next feature, the Nicolas Cage-led dark thriller The Dying of the Light has officially rounded out its cast. In a bizarre turn of events, the film will now also star Anton Yelchin (whom I adore) and Irène Jacob (whom everyone adores)—but who would have ever paired those two together? Alexander Karim will also join the cast, in the tale of “a CIA agent going blind on a final mission.”

Shooting begins at the end of this month, so as Schrader is hot to turn his pictures around and get them out in the new “Must see VOD!” world, hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for this one.

The First Taste of ‘The Canyons’ Has Arrived, So Let’s Look at the Best of Paul Schrader in Trailers

This summer, amidst the Pacific Rims, Lone Rangers, and indie festival favorites, there’s there release of one of Hollywood’s most buzzed out and tantalizing treats—Paul Schrader’s The Canyons. Penned by king of smutty satire Bret Easton Ellis, the erotic drama starring Lindsay Lohan and James Deen has already been making news for months now—it’s production apparently a psychodrama of its own. But now, with the film premiering at Lincoln Center later this month and its VOD and theatrical release on August 2nd, we finally have the first official trailer for the feature.

In the last year we had saw some pretty unappealing vintage-cut teasers and trailers for the film that made me fret that this could possibly be even worse than Ellis’ biggest disaster The Informers. However, as more has been unveiled about the feature and going on word by everyone from Steven Soderbergh to some of film’s most respected critics, this over-the-top romp into a salacious world of sex and thrill could prove just the modern-day Schrader film we’ve been anticipating. Or not. Who really knows, but at least it won’t be too long until we all find out. With an affinity for embracing cinema as a way to expose his darkest desires and impulses, his characters are always morally torn and struggling between what is forbidden and what one must do. Schrader has alwyas put his sins on the screen as a way to relieve himself, maybe that will somehow come across in this hyper-dramatic affair.    In the meantime, let’s watch the trailer for The Canyons, and take a look back on the past trailers for some of the best work to come from the mind of Paul Schrader.    

Blue Collar

 

Hardcore

 

Taxi Driver

 

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters

 

Raging Bull

 

Light Sleeper

 

American Gigolo

 

The Canyons

See an Intriguing New Set of Stills From Paul Schrader’s ‘The Canyons’

For what seems like forever now, we’ve been obsessing over Paul Schrader’s next violent erotic drama The Canyons. It’s not so much the Lindsay Lohan and James Deen led cast or Bret Easton Ellis’ penning of the script I’m so much interested in, as whatever is going on inside Schrader’s head. As a writer and filmmaker who has always fascinated me endlessly—namely the latent effects of his childhood—I’m thrilled, nervous, and already a bit dreadful of his step into the modern era and just how envelope-pushing and dramatically nauseating this masterpiece will be. But needless to say, I am excited and am sure my love will only grow.

And now, with the film receiving a July 29th premiere at the Film Society of Lincoln Center before its August 2nd VOD release, a new batch of bloody, raunchy, and salacious stills have cropped up for your viewing pleasure. You should also check out Film Comment‘s interview with Schrader for an even closer look. 

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Paul Schrader Talks Xavier Dolan’s Influence on ‘The Canyons’

Paul Schrader is a hell of a character. As one the most iconic and notorious film folk to emerge out of the glory days of 1970s American cinema, whether it’s his screenwriting or directing, his work has always been something to devour. Of course, some work has been better than others—and in my mind nothing could quite beat Taxi Driver, but that’s a slightly unfair statement. However, after I ran into Paul two years ago and he urged me to look at his phone while a Facebook page for his new project, The Canyons loaded, I’ve been keeping a close and anxious eye on the smutty melodrama, penned by satirical writer of yuppie drama Bret Easton Ellis. 

And with the film now premiering later this summer Schrader has been vocal about his experience working on the film and in a new interview with The Seventh Art, he spends some time expressing his inspirations, namely his love for the young and brilliant Xavier Dolan. As huge fans of Dolan, we’ve been covering his latest epic drama Laurence Anyways (extensive interview to come next week) for some time now, but it seems Schrader’s affinity lies in Dolan’s second film the highly-stylized Heartbeats.
 
Speaking to the film, Dolan told us in an interview back in 2011 that: "The film is about the way we magnify people when we’re in love—walking down the street feeling like we’re floating, hence the slow motion, the music, the costumes, the colors. A lot of people said it was a case of style over substance, but being in love is often a case of style over substance." And as for Schrader, his inspiration came from his belief that:
There is no style anymore. This guy from Montreal, this young kid, Xavier Dolan had made this film, Heartbeats. I liked the film and I looked at it again, and I realized, “He’s going from scene to scene, changing his style based on the scene. A Godard-ian thing, now he’s doing a Hollywood thing, now he’s doing kind of a Bertolucci thing … He keeps changing, and he doesn’t really care if one scene doesn’t match the scene before it. And I said, there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s where we are, that’s the new kind of style.”
See the interview in its entirety below.

Aesthetically Speaking: This Week on Hulu

When I look back on my favorite films, it’s not only the narrative, acting, cinematography, and direction that comprise of what makes it both astonishing to watch and powerfully memorable—it’s the look of the work as well. It’s the way the story is told through the established world provided by brilliant set design, the construction of a cinematic universe that we’re able to become immersed in and live in for the alloted time. It adds to the director’s complete vision and the mis-en-scene of the film as a whole.  And this week, the Criterion Collection is highlighting some of their favorite examples of brilliant art direction and set design on film. From Paul Schrader’s visually arresting Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters to Takeo Kimura’s Tokyo Drifter, check out the aesthetically remarkable and expertly-crafted films free for the week on Hulu.

 

Tokyo Drifter (1966)

In this jazzy gangster film, reformed killer Tetsu’s attempt to go straight is thwarted when his former cohorts call him back to Tokyo to help battle a rival gang. Director Seijun Suzuki’s onslaught of stylized violence and trippy colors is equal parts Russ Meyer, Samuel Fuller, and Nagisa Oshima—an anything-goes, in-your-face rampage. Tokyo Drifter is a delirious highlight of the brilliantly excessive Japanese cinema of the sixties.

Things to Come (1936)

A landmark collaboration between writer H. G. Wells, producer Alexander Korda, and designer and director William Cameron Menzies, Things to Come is a science fiction film like no other, a prescient political work that predicts a century of turmoil and progress. Skipping through time, Things to Come bears witness to world war, disease, dictatorship, and, finally, utopia. Conceived, written, and overseen by Wells himself as an adaptation of his own work, this megabudget production, the most ambitious ever from Korda’s London Films, is a triumph of imagination and technical audacity.

Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Legendary producer Alexander Korda’s marvel The Thief of Bagdad, inspired by The Arabian Nights, is one of the most spectacular fantasy films ever made, an eye-popping effects pioneer brimming with imagination and technical wizardry. When Prince Ahmad (John Justin) is blinded and cast out of Bagdad by the nefarious Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), he joins forces with the scrappy thief Abu (the incomparable Sabu, in his definitive role) to win back his royal place, as well as the heart of a beautiful princess (June Duprez). With its luscious Technicolor, vivid sets, and unprecedented visual wonders, The Thief of Bagdad has charmed viewers of all ages for decades.

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)

Paul Schrader’s visually stunning, collagelike portrait of acclaimed Japanese author and playwright Yukio Mishima (played by Ken Ogata) investigates the inner turmoil and contradictions of a man who attempted an impossible harmony between self, art, and society. Taking place on Mishima’s last day, when he famously committed public seppuku, the film is punctuated by extended flashbacks to the writer’s life as well as by gloriously stylized evocations of his fictional works. With its rich cinematography by John Bailey, exquisite sets and costumes by Eiko Ishioka, and unforgettable, highly influential score by Philip Glass, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is a tribute to its subject and a bold, investigative work of art in its own right.

Kwaidan

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan features four nightmarish tales in which terror thrives and demons lurk. Adapted from traditional Japanese ghost stories, this lavish, widescreen production drew extensively on Kobayashi’s own training as a student of painting and fine arts.

The Ballad of Narayama (1958)

This haunting, kabuki-inflected version of a Japanese folk legend is set in a remote mountain village where food is scarce and tradition dictates that citizens who have reached their seventieth year must be carried to the summit of Mount Narayama and left there to die. The sacrificial elder at the center of the tale is Orin (Kinuyo Tanaka), a dignified and dutiful woman who spends her dwindling days securing the happiness of her loyal widowed son with a respectable new wife. Filmed almost entirely on cunningly designed studio sets, in brilliant color and widescreen, The Ballad of Narayama is a stylish and vividly formal work from Japan’s cinematic golden age, directed by the dynamic Keisuke Kinoshita.

It’s Your Last Day for Free Criterions, Here’s What You Should Be Watching

Well folks, I hope you feasted yourself on Criterion Collection films this weekend, because today is the last day to gorge on wonderful cinema for free. And as it is technically a holiday, hopefully you’re home lounging around and can make up for lost time if you haven’t already been glued to your television for the past 72 hours. Personally, I spent the better half of the weekend falling deeply in love with Rainer Werner Fassbender and revisiting some old Bunuels. But on this last day of free movies, here are some more suggestions from 1970s German melodramas and avant-garde beauties to emotionally devastating American classics. Enjoy.

 

The Bitter Tears of Perta von Kant, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1972)

Hotel Monterey, Chantal Ackerman (1972)

Opening Night, John Cassavetes (1977)

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, Paul Schrader (1985)

Sisters, Brian De Palma (1973)

Le Feu Follet, Louis Malle (1963)

Weekend, Jean-Luc Godard (1967)

Quadrophenia, Franc Roddam (1979)

Jules and Jim, Francois Truffaut (1962)

Eating Raoul, Paul Bartel (1982)

Paul Schrader Calls ‘The Canyons’ ‘Cinema for the Post Theatrical Era’

Paul Schrader once said, "What fascinates me are people who want to be one thing but who behave in a way contradictory to that. Who might say, ‘I want to be happy, but I keep doing things that make me unhappy.’ He’s always been a man of contradictions and juxtapositions—whether’s it’s been within himself or in his films. Schrader wanted to be happy but would sleep with a load gun in his mouth; Travis Bickle wanted love but frightened people away.

And Taxi Driver aside, if you’ve seen his 1979 Hardcore, which is pure id Schrader, you understand that his vehement use of sex is never really about sex but about fear or perversion or guilt. And when I first heard he was teaming up with Bret Easton Ellis, I was a little perturbed but thought that if the two of them could meld their common interest the psychological dismantling of sex and aggression, this could be great. But with everything that’s been reported about the film, between the NYTimes pieces to SXSW’s rejection of the film—not to mention those heinous teasers—I’ve grown more than skeptical. 

But there are those who have seen the film. Scott Foundas, a critic for the Village Voice described The Canyons as "a fascinating meeting of the minds between Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis." Steven Soderbergh, who was rejected from his offer to edit the film, recently said during a Side Effects Q&A that the film is "fascinating" and that there’s a "spectacular sex scene in it." Oddly, Nicolas Winding Refn has also seen the film but who knows what he would have to say.

However, Schrader still holds confident, calling it: "cinema for the post theatrical era." IndieWire reports that Schrader claims, "we are working with a new echoic paradigm." "We are in a  very fluid exhibition world where there are so many platforms," says Shcrader who was inspired by Ed Burns’ use of social media-led projects. "theatrical just has to be seen as part of a panoply of options. Straight to video isn’t even a relevant term anymore."

SXSW Rejects ‘The Canyons’ Over “Quality Issues”

Like we’ve said before, The Canyons appears to be a disaster. Directed by the man who gave us one of the seminal films of the last 50 years with Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader, and penned by satirical writer of yuppie melodrama turned Twitter-bully, Bret Easton Ellis, word on the film has been anything but hopeful. And with the slew of ridiculous promotional trailers popping up in every genre, little has been left for desire with this one.

After its rejection from this year’s Sundance Film Festival, sources at The Hollywood Reporter now say that the film has been denied entry into March’s South by Southwest Festival as well. The issue apparently rests in the fact that the film suffers from "quality issues," a festival insider saying that The Canyons has "an ugliness and deadness to it." Well, there you have it. I mean honestly, that was obvious from last week’s clip that plays more like a poorly-acted porn set-up than a feature teaser of any kind. But Schrader seems to think everything’s fine. His career has taken a turn for the worst over the past two decades and either he’s just become very delusional or genuinely believes in the film and maybe everyone else just doesn’t "get it." He’s what he took to Facebook to let people know:

After the NYT Mag piece, many have asked when the film will be shown. It’s going to be a few months. The intense reactions to Liz and Dick and the Times Mag article have made us realize that there will be an immediate blowback once The Canyons is publically screened–for good and ill. That’s the nature of anything involving Lindsay (plus BEE and JD, who also elicit visceral reactions). Therefore, when the film is shown it should also be available VOD and limited theatrical. That way the curious can see the film for themselves. I am told it takes 3-4 months to organize a proper VOD release. After Sundance we’ll screen the film for multi-platform distributors and set the process in motion. In a way it’s good we’re not at Sundance. We weren’t prepared, we weren’t organized. Films enter festivals to heighten their profile. The Canyons doesn’t need to do that. We need to organize multi-platform distribution. This is not a dodge, it’s common sense. The film is very good. I have no qualms about that. Paul S.

Okay Paul, whatever you say. I want to believe you, truly, but you’re making it a little hard for us.