Interview with director Lisa Cholodenko
In an article from the Filmmaker magazine archives, The Kids Are All Right's Lisa Cholodenko talks to fellow writer-director Ira Sachs about her 2003 movie Laurel Canyon.
From the Winter 2003 issue of Filmmaker magazine:
In Laurel Canyon, writer-director Lisa Cholodenko’s follow-up to her masterful High Art, Kate Beckinsale plays a young med student who accompanies her first-year-resident boyfriend (Christian Bale) to Los Angeles, where the two move in with his mother, a free-spirited, hard-living, bisexual rock-’n’-roll producer (Frances McDormand). In Cholodenko’s skilled hands, the hills above Hollywood are transformed into a kind of languid hothouse as Beckinsale’s character is drawn from the cool specifics of medical science to the emotionally messy world of the rock subculture.
We asked filmmaker Ira Sachs, whose films — Lady, The Delta — are themselves adroit essays on culture and desires, to speak with Cholodenko. Sachs, in fact, is currently in the final stages of development of a new feature, Forty Shades of Blue, which will star Maggie Cheung and Rip Torn and is set within the Memphis music scene.
Ira Sachs: One of the things that I was thinking as I was watching the film was that this is one of those films that doesn’t get made anymore — at least not on film.
Lisa Cholodenko: Really?
Sachs: Don’t you agree?
Cholodenko: I don’t know; tell me more.
Sachs: It’s a character drama, and there’s absolutely no genre to it. The film is just about people in a very complex emotional situation. And my feeling is that TV has made it much more difficult for those of us who want to tell stories like these in a feature-length format. People now look to television to see everyday lives, whether that be Oprah, or The Real World, or ER or whatever. They look to the movies for the bigger-than-life. The B movie has become the A movie, and the A movie has become TV.
Cholodenko: Do you think Laurel Canyon is like television? Tell me the truth.
Sachs: Absolutely not. Not in any way, shape or form. I just think that television has taken the lead role in telling character-based dramas. Your film is totally contemplative, it’s measured, it’s thoughtful and it’s much more formal than television could ever be.
Cholodenko: I think this film is a little looser than High Art. High Art was almost a genre film, but I wouldn’t know what the genre is.
Sachs: Maybe it was more of a melodrama.
Cholodenko: Maybe. I did consider this along the way as I was writing Laurel Canyon. I thought, how can I make it more pop? How can I take what’s comedic in this thing and really punch it up? I admired Election a lot. What can I take from Election, I thought? And every time I tried to move it into a more comedic direction, I started to strip out the heart of the film, the sensitivity and the sensibility of it, and it ended up just like a kind of middle-range satire.
Sachs: Both of your films are about artists, which I find is one of the hardest things to do. It’s hard to make a film about the creative act.
Cholodenko: Yeah, and I think inherently it’s kind of pretentious, right? So I can’t even believe I went there twice. What I was very consciously trying to do [in these movies] was to really spend time with the characters — and not to make the films about the artists’ dilemmas. I was trying to use the milieus that the films are set in as backdrop or texture rather than as plot points. In both films, the characters’ emotional dilemmas are more foregrounded and compelling.
Sachs: You don’t seem like this in person, but one of the things that I felt from watching this film, and also High Art, is that you’re so nostalgic.
Cholodenko: [laughs] How do you see that?