Mike Mills' blog of
the film Beginners.

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Some of the Paintings in our film

We were so very lucky to get to shoot some scenes at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – so important to me because my father really was the director of the Oakland and then the Santa Barbara Museums and I wanted to get it right. As my father was in many ways a good modernist, it was especially meaningful to me that our actors got to “interact” with David Smith’s amazing “Cubi XXIII” sculpture, walk past an enormous and gorgeous Clyfford Still “1955-H” (crazily, the same year my parents got married), and even beautiful Phillip Guston and William DeKooning works can be seen. But perhaps the most meaningful is the scene where our characters approach David Park’s painting “Two Women” from 1957. My father knew David Park, wrote a book about him, and organized the first “Bay Area Figurative Show” which was the beginning of a movement that rejected the abstract expressionism you see in Clyfford Still’s painting for a more humble, prosaic, and quotidian subject matter of which Mr. Park was perhaps the leader. As the painting is from right when my father and he were working together, he had to have interacted with it, perhaps even seen Mr. Park work on it. So, you can imagine how slightly magical and just spiritually appropriate it was to shoot in front of this painting. In preparing this entry, I looked up my dad and David Park, and found some recordings of him talking about Mr. Park’s work – oh so spooky and strange to push the play button on that and hear his voice again. To be honest his voice sounds a little compressed or something, not quite like him, but that’s him for sure – very strange.

Here are a couple of videos of my father talking about Mr. Park and the Bay Area Figurative scene. What an articulate man my dad was.

Rejection of Abstract Expressionism

David Park’s Figurative Work

And my father’s book on Mr. Park: The New Figurative Art of David Park.


Mr. Woody Allen

1971 Interview

Oh, in so many ways Mr. Allen has shown me so many things. He did this mostly between 1977 and let’s say 1987, with Annie Hall and Stardust Memories and Manhattan, but how can one leave out Purple Rose of Cairo and Broadway Danny Rose and Zelig and on and on. I found this interview a while ago, and it reminded me of how subversive he could be. There is a delightful and refreshing insolence to this interview – I loved that about him.

And for those of you who love Godard and Woody, here is a very strange little piece Mr. Godard did about Mr. Allen, I think for European TV. I mean, have you seen anything this strange and tension-filled and utterly curious with any contemporary filmmakers?




Dear Strangers, now in NY and starting this Friday in Los Angeles, there is out in the world and our collective consciousness an extremely brave and subtle and mysterious film that I find wonderfully, life-affirmingly hard to describe: I think it’s about hope and fear, all the things we desire but don’t believe we can have and all the monsters these contradictions make inside ourselves –  interior monsters that sometimes come out and run around in our worlds. A film that’s delightfully not afraid to reach beyond what is “possible” in the world, deftly combining things so real and things so otherworldly that it makes one wonder how solid those categories ever were. Beyond being my dear wife, MJ is one of most brave and singular and funny and utterly surprising filmmakers there is. After LA is added to NYC this weekend it will work its way out into the world from there. Run, don’t walk; support small films on their opening weekends because those weekends kind of determine their fate! But most of all enjoy a voice that is just so other from what our entertainment industry provides!



This American Life

How many times have I stopped the car to listen to the end of an “act,” as Ira Glass calls them. The stories are so revealing, often so complicatedly and deeply personal, so funny, so beyond the easy narratives we usually hear about ourselves. Most importantly - they’re often about what the world wrongly tends to call “unimportant” or “small” or too “personal.” Hooray for the space they’ve created on our national radio for the “small!” I’m often asked how I could tell such a personal story; ‘was it hard?’ or ‘was it scary?’ A big part of my answer is that so many of my art heroes reveal their personal selves, the parts of themselves that they don’t fully get and definitely aren’t in control of, and I’m really just following their lead. People like Leonard Cohen, Allen Ginsberg, and Fellini, and yeah, all the folks over there at This American Life make this kind of work. I even went to their website and purchased a comic book that Mr. Glass made about how to create TAL shows. It’s kind of a how-to graphic story (which I’ve since lost, and now can’t find online?!), explaining the formula of their shows for people submitting. To my memory there was one part about how the shows have a back-and-forth between anecdotal reporting of the subject’s life which is then periodically summed up and discussed in more thematic terms, in a much more top-down kind of voice. Ira Glass warns this is only good for radio because radio is a highly expositional medium. So, of course I decided not to listen to that part and occasionally have my lead character sort of step out of the story and analyze some of the things that are happening to him, how he got here, in a very top-down thematic way.



I get asked all the time about the posters in Oliver's house. They’re mostly Polish film posters, mostly by this guy - Andrzej Krajewski. How gorgeous are these?? How lush and juicy and raw and full of life. Why are they in the film? Simply ‘cause I love them and I hoped they would bring some of their jubilance to the house, some of their strange boundary-lessness. In some of our improvising, Ewan walked by and patted the drawing on the bottom which inspired Mélanie to walk by and scold the drawing for flirting with her man - that's just how powerful Krajewski’s graphics are!

If you want some, you can actually get them here.


The Unbearable Lightness of Being

(The book, not the film!)
Milan Kundera, 1984

How can I express how much this book means to me?! I first read it when I was about 20-21? I never stopped thinking about it really, thinking that there is something at the bottom of it that points the way for me and certainly did with Beginners. To name a few examples: the way Kundera’s constantly breaking his own form; the way he talks about romantic love as inseparable from family-culture-history; his gentle self-reflexiveness; the accuracy of his description of all the strange stories we create and recreate for ourselves and our partners when we’re in love; the way Kundera is always tracking the characters’ choices and desires and ways of organizing the world - tracking all that back through the ever-larger stories of their parents, their family, their town, their country, their moment in history. But mostly, the way Kundera was able to conceive of the novel as being formally polymorphic but thematically unified. It contains, to name a few of the writing modes off the top of my head: 1. The author directly addressing the reader 2. Several different interweaving love stories with plots and sex and all that. 3. Essays on kitsch – the emotional kind. 4. An essay on words the couples in the story shared, or thought they were sharing; “words misunderstood” 5. Lots of Czech/Soviet history; a quick biography of the plight of Stalin’s son, how the Czechs tore down all the street names during the Russian takeover in ‘68, so the invaders would be lost, and the unexpected result of the Russians renaming everything with Soviet names. 6. Philosophical meanderings on lightness and weight. This collage of perspectives, this broken-open method of writing, of really - investigating these people and how they came to think of the world as they do is endlessly inspiring to me.

Here is a quote form his book “Testaments Betrayed” that I kept on my script binder during shooting (I know, I know - pretentious! Pretentious!!)

“Kitsch-making (the urge to generalize and sentimentalize) is not the personal defect of some American professor or any one person, it is a seduction that comes out of the collective unconscious; a command from the metaphysical prompter; a perennial social imperative, a force. That force is aimed not at art alone but primarily at reality itself… it throws a veil of commonplaces over the present moment in or that the face of the real will disappear.”


More of the unexplainable

Some entertainment for us today



"Let's be Cruel" "Never Work"

OK, for those who have seen the film, the graffiti you see Oliver doing is, to me, influenced by the humorous political graffiti that was part of the riots and general upheaval of the May 68 riots in Paris. When I was writing his character, it helped me understand him to say to myself, “Ok, he’s seen that graffiti, and the graffiti they do in a Godard film like One Plus One so that’s what he thinks he’s doing when he’s out on the street. It seems maybe obvious, and definitely a small point, but it actually told me a ton about him. For those who are interested in more of this, there is a beautiful new book documenting the posters and graffiti of this moment. Its title is taken from one of the posters (of someone throwing a brick – see below) “The Beauty Is In The Streets.”

I found this too.

And if you don't know about the Situationists, it would be very funny if you learned about them via this blog that comes to you via Focus Features which is part of NBCUniversal which is part of Comcast!


Michael Pollan

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, 2006

I really like to be influenced by things that are not of the same category as what I’m making; so, music is a great influence on writing and filmmaking because it’s a different form, and the influence has its own immediate creative transformation – I want my film to feel like Rainy Day Women sounds, or, I want my shooting style to be as concrete and specific as early William Carlos Williams poems. This kind of translation just helps me, excites me, and doesn’t make me feel pinned down by that which is inspiring me. Michael Pollan’s book traces the history and politics of what we eat, and the stories we tell ourselves about what we eat. He tells a very complicated history in a very simple way with a deep, social commitment to communicating with EVERYBODY HE CAN. This was inspiring to Beginners, and relates more than you might think; as love and sex and desire are the turf of Beginners, Pollan is writing about a similarly internal/personal world – eating. He’s talking very concretely, more like a reporter than a theorist about how chemicals and fertilizers and farming practices alter the construction of the food we’re eating, and how our mediated world has given us (often incorrect) stories about fat and animals and corn and health and so on. It’s another way of talking about how the internal is social, how what happens inside of ourselves is deeply influenced by the chapters of history that lead up to our eating our corn-byproduct-infused meal! But mostly, his writing style is so clear and has such a sense of ease, humble and direct. His use of repetition, always bringing the story back to concrete observed moments, his deep desire to share this story and make things clear was like a bell I could tune myself to. Reading a little Pollan before I wrote or thought about my film just put me in the mood to try to embrace the audience as a I tried to talk about all the complications of love and sex and relationships in a time like 1955, or 1938, or 1978, or 2003, or now.