RENA RIFFEL PRESENTS “ASTRID”
Astrid screens at 95 Empire on July 13th! Interview conducted by Justine Johnson!
You wrote and directed Trasharella before Showgirls 2. What inspired you to get behind the camera?
I have always wanted to be behind the camera, creating the story and making the film. As far back as I can remember, at 5 years old, I had a few friends with similar interest in the imaginary make-believe play style, and we would pretend we were making movies, creating story lines for our characters. I had a fantastic and elaborate Barbie doll house, and my friends and I had ongoing make-believe plot lines where we had the dolls act out this ongoing melodrama. Finally, I started filming the dolls and made an audio track to go with the images. So, when I think back to my childhood, it makes sense to me that all this filmmaking stuff I do now is just an extension of what I have always been drawn towards. But, it was the movie, Andy Warhol’s TRASH (1970), written/directed by Paul Morrissey, starring Holly Woodlawn, Joe Dallesandro, that gave me the courage to make a film with no-budget and without a slick over-produced style. TRASH changed my perception of what was possible. My friend had set out to make a similar style movie shot on Black & White 16mm in 1997 and asked me to help produce it and told me to watch Trash, and it just changed my life trajectory.
We have done two midnight screenings so far of your films, do you have a favorite midnight movie? What makes it your favorite?
My favorite midnight movie is SHOWGIRLS. Even though it’s one of my films, I love being with the audience and hearing their reactions. I think Peaches Christ in San Francisco puts on the best midnight movie event.
Tell me about Astrid.
Astrid is a character in my new film, ASTRID’S SELF PORTRAIT. She is a complex character. She’s an alcoholic trying to be sober, but failing miserably, and she was just fired from her job. She is trying to pull her life together, but all her efforts are only spinning her into a downward spiral. She was a film critic, but after she gets fired from the controlling Hollywood studio run company she worked for, she gets an idea to make her own art film as a rebellious statement, which turns into somewhat of an impossible disaster. She’s a wicked woman, she’s more of the antagonist of the film. Kind of like Javier Bardem’s character in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by the Coen brothers. I don’t know why that movie and that comparison just popped into my head. Maybe it’s better to compare her to the Rhoda character in THE BAD SEED.
When will you be finished with your new cut of Showgirls 2? Will it have a different tone?
I want it to be finished in time to screen it in Providence, I hope I will have it ready for the June 20th event. If it’s not completely finished, then maybe I can screen it as a “work in progress”. Yes, it has a different tone. It’s not as silly, I am cutting out a lot of the silliness and cutting out the punch lines. It’s bringing it into a more serious tone. It’s a lot darker and more surreal. I actually like it so much better this way. The music score is also more serious and the dance songs are all new and much better produced. It’s a shorter cut, so it will be more enjoyable for midnight movie screenings so people can get home and go to sleep at a decent hour. I have added a lot of new footage and new scenes, probably 40% of the film is all new footage. It gets more into that witchcraft subplot people were confused about, because most of it got cut out of the Penny’s From Heaven version. And it has a new title; SHOWGIRLS 2: FALLEN ANGEL.
I am obviously a huge fan and often compare your work to friends or the uninitiated as being a combo of John Waters, Doris Wishman and vintage Troma(respectively). How would you describe your work to people who may not be as familiar with Showgirls and your other work?
Thank you, Justine! I love those comparisons, that is a real honor and compliment to be compared to them! When trying to explain to people my film style, I always stick with the Andy Warhol’s Trash example or other Andy Warhol experimental films when it comes to the look of the movies I’ve made. But, after reading a few film critics articles and seeing the Doris Wishman comparison a lot, I would like to start using her as an example, too. I am toying with the idea to do a Doris Wishman homage insert editing style in the Astrid film, some random cut aways to lamps or plates hanging on the wall. It isn’t in the film now, but I might do it as an obvious homage. I describe my stories or writing style as melodramatic but delivered with a seriousness.
What is your ultimate dream project if money and rights and all that jazz weren’t a factor?
Well, I would love to do an experimental film with David Lynch, a continuation/sequel of my MULHOLLAND DRIVE character, Laney. My character name is not a Drive, it’s a Lane, so we could travel down the yellow brick lane and see what comes up around the corner. Maybe he would like to do that with me on a very experimental level. It could be like Inland Empire, but even more experimental and maybe it could be a short film or a series of shorts, so it could make it a more enjoyable process and not so overwhelming for production.
You recently performed on stage in Showgirls the Musical in NYC, how was that experience for you?
It was a dream come true! I had a great time, and got a moment to celebrate Showgirls and pretend I made to Off-Broadway! Even though I was really on Off-Broadway, it seemed kind of like a dream, it was really amazing. The cast and directors and everyone involved were wonderful and the audience was a blast, too! It was really heartwarming for me to meet all the fans after the show, too. Showgirls has touched a lot of people’s lives and this film holds so much importance to a lot of people. Maybe it just makes them laugh and have fun for a moment or maybe it touches them on a deeper level. I think for some fans I met, it defines part of their outlook on life, it’s pretty extraordinary.