Blossoming auteur, Anna Biller, makes her follow-up directorial to her self-headlined Viva with this fantastical, comedic, Technicolor thriller of Elaine, a beautiful young witch, with an undying determination to find a man to love her. In her gothic Victorian apartment she makes spells and potions, and then picks up men and seduces them. Her spills and potions work a little too well, leaving a string of helpless, hapless victims. After she finally meets up with the man of her dreams, her desperation to be loved drives her over the edge of insanity to commit murder.
Come see the Love Witch and a Q & A with Director Anna Biller at the Los Angeles Nuart Theater!
The Love Witch is the second feature film from Anna Biller and it recently received distribution from Oscilloscope Laboratories. Biller’s first feature was Viva(2007), a dramedy about two Los Angeles suburbanites who experiment with drugs
HollywoodGlee talked with Biller about the film screening in select theaters beginning November 11th. For detailed information on screenings click here.
How Did the Premise Of The Screenplay for TheLove Witch come to you?
I wanted to write something to do with women’s psychology. So, I created a character who has a very complex psychology that allowed her to have power over men by using her sexuality. And, I wanted the audience to get to know my character. I spent the first phase of the process writing dialogue that would express the psychology of my characters. I wanted Elaine to be from the Golden Age of Film where intelligent women characters are interesting to learn about while getting to know who they are as people. I ended up cutting much of the other characters dialogue in the editing process.
2. Horror films about witchcraft and the occult often don’t have comedic tones.
The Love Witch isn’t necessarily meant to be comedy. It’s just the absurdity of the relationship aspect. Relationship issues are often comedic so I feel it’s an interesting dynamic that adds color to the witchcraft versus it all being dark and frightening.
3. You’re credited with writing, directing, set design and costuming.
I enjoy making things with my hands. It took me seven years to create the props and the costumes. I didn’t have the financing of a studio so I could oversee it and still have control.
4. Your lead actor Samantha Robinson had been a stage actor and a model. What did she bring to the character of Elaine that surprised you?
She had been doing theater and was taking acting classes. She brought a strong presence with her poise and added a lot to the character with her subtle nuances.
5. Any filmmakers have an influence on your work?
Alfred Hitchcock. He was a master technician. His use of lighting to convey meaning and emotion and his use of psychology especially with women are big influences. I spent a lot of time working out the character’s psychology and needed to re-write and adjust some of the dialogue to keep the pace of the film where I wanted it. I would have loved to have been able to fulfill all the characters.
6. Why did you choose Technicolor for your films?
The films I watched were made in Technicolor so I wanted my films to look that way. I feel it’s a richer viewing experience with color. I use a lot of red.
7. What’s next?
I’d like to do a film about a sociopathic husband from the wife’s point of view as she uncovers the issues her husband has been hiding from her.
The Love Witch opens in Los Angeles at the Landmark Nuart Theater on November 11th. For information on additional screenings click here.
Here is a Public Service Announcement courtesy of Oscilloscope Labs:
Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi — this year’s Artist-in-Residence at the AFI Conservatory — returns to his neorealist roots with THE SALESMAN, the suspenseful tale of married couple of theater actors, Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), starring in a performance of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Their lives are thrown into turmoil after Rana is attacked in their Tehran apartment — during the play’s opening weekend — and Emad becomes increasingly obsessed with exacting vengeance.
Like Farhadi’s previous films ABOUT ELLY (2009), the Oscar® winner A SEPARATION (2011) and THE PAST (2013), THE SALESMAN dwells in the domestic discord struck by class conflict in Iran, and the moral ambivalence of the film’s protagonists. Farhadi re-teams with his longtime collaborators, editor Hayedeh Safiyari and cinematographer Hossein Jafarian, to craft a dramatic “whodunit” that leaves the audience gripped, and with more questions than answers.
On the AFI Campus recently, Farhadi — who taught a workshop for Directing Fellows this September — fielded questions from AFI Conservatory Dean Jan Schuette and from Fellows about THE SALESMAN for the Conservatory’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series.
How did you begin to develop and approach this story, which begins and ends on a theater stage?
I always have an image in my head and the story starts from the image all the time. From the period that I was in student theater, I had this image in my head that I knew that I would have to use someday. I could see a house in the theater stage and different parts of the home would light up, and then all of the lights would go dark and then all of them would come on so you could see the whole house. I gradually thought of my themes like this as well — dropping light on different parts of the family and at the end, you feel like you know the whole family. So, the story started with this image and this image was like a magnet, it went over my brain and grabbed all of the things that were related to the story.
How do you collaborate with your editor and your cinematographer?
The biggest quality of both the cinematographer and that editor is that they hide behind their work and don’t show themselves — this is something that comes from Eastern art. In some periods of Eastern art, artists wouldn’t sign their pieces. They were thinking that when the audience sees the piece, they shouldn’t think about the artist but [instead] think about the piece itself. In Western art, when you see, for example, the statue of Michelangelo, you applaud Michelangelo rather than the statue itself. It means that the artist, or the shadow of the artist, is in between the relationship of the audience and the piece. I did my best to hide myself behind the work so nobody can see me behind the scenes, behind the film. So they can feel like no one wrote the dialogue and it’s just actors, the characters, who are really saying these things. This is the most important thing that I have in mind when making a film.
How did you craft the audience experience of the mystery and thriller elements of THE SALESMAN, which blend realism and fantasy?
There are so many movies made that have suspense and drama. Some of the best ones are Alfred Hitchcock. Part of Billy Wilder’s work is like that as well. On the other side, there are so many films that have the feeling of everyday life, a documentary feeling. I think the best example is [Iranian director] Abbas Kiarostami. But, we haven’t seen that much of this combination, both drama and documentary. By that I mean, you see a drama and you feel like that is real life. By watching Hitchcock films, you get very excited and applaud Hitchcock’s craft, but don’t get anything about the people who are living at that time in those conditions. I really tried to make my film go in that direction, mixing drama and real life.
What is the process after you’ve finished your films? To whom do you show them first?
The whole thing is a torture. And the whole process is very enjoyable as well. It’s like giving birth. Full of pain, but it’s the best thing that can happen to the person in the end. But the hardest part for me is when the movie is done, when the movie starts to have its distance from me.
I feel like that part is not really my job. You go to the festivals, and then you have to just talk about something where you were hired on purpose. When the movie is over, I don’t show it to actors because they just look at themselves. Their opinion wouldn’t help you. I show it to some people who have nothing to do with cinema; same with the script. I passed my script [of THE SALESMAN] to the French teacher of my daughter. When normal people see the film, they can’t tell you what they feel right away. But while they are watching the film, you can sit with them and see at which parts they are getting bored and at which parts they’re excited. The most important thing for me to understand at the end of the film is if it’s boring or not. I don’t like anyone to go out of my films, even if they have to pee. My film has to do something where you have to finish it, and then leave.
THE SALESMAN is Iran’s 2016 entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar®. The film opens stateside on December 9, 2016.
Reviewed by Larry Gleeson. Viewed at the Mann Chinese theater as part of the AFI film festival, Hollywood, Calif.
Rear Window, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is a brilliantly filmed movie, adapted from Cornell Woolish’s, “It had to be Murder”, of a man, L.B. Jeffries, an injured war photographer/correspondent, played by James Stewart of It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), who believes he has witnessed a murder in the apartment complex where he lives. Hitchcock uses this window view to film his entire story. John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay. His other credits include The Man who Knew too Much (1956) and To Catch A Thief (1955). George Tomasini provides the editing as he also worked on other Hitchcock classic films Psycho (1960) and North by Northwest (1959). The viewer is treated to a look into all the neighboring dwellings as seen from the protagonist’s, L.B. Jeffries’ window – seemingly many New York apartment dwellers partake in the alluring fascination of peeping through neighboring windows. The cinematography is credited to Robert Burks. Bruks other works include Vertigo (1958) and North by Northwest (1959). The production design was done by Sam Comer and Ray Moyer of Sunset Blvd (1950) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) fame. James C. Katz is listed as producer having produced the epic Spartacus (1960) and Vertigo (1958). Paramount Pictures with over six thousand pictures to its credit, is listed as the production company.
Hitchcock, known for powerhouse suspense films like Psycho (1960), Birds (1963) and North by Northwest (1959), shows cooped up newlyweds, a buxom young skimpily-clad, shapely exercise-crazed maiden, a lonely, love sick lady, a socially-inclined, romantic-minded musician and a seemingly ordinary housewife married to a seemingly normal traveling salesman, whom Stewart’s character, Jeffries, claims has murdered the wife. Jeffries doesn’t actually see the murder. Nevertheless, he is convinced the salesman murdered his wife after witnessing several highly acute, suspicious events . Stewart’s facial expressions and what appear to be exaggerated eye movements key the viewer in on action as Stewart plays the role of Jeffries, a wounded war hero who confined to a wheelchair and who passes the time by peering out his rear window at the neighbors as they go about their everyday lives. Jeffries also uses his camera with a telescopic lens to provide up-close detail of his subjects and he frantically uses exploding flashbulbs as he attempts to thwart the murdering salesman’s efforts to silence Jeffries.
Hitchcock introduces and develops several strong and powerful characters, most notably in the form of Grace Kelly, later known as the Princess Consort of Monaco, as Jeffries love interest. Kelly’s striking good lucks coupled with her patient, unrequited love for Jeffries provide the viewer a glimpse into Hitchcock’s portrayal of a 1950’s socialite. She credibly plays the role of murder investigator with a refreshing vim and vigor. In addition, Wendell Corey plays a rather uninteresting yet wary detective who also happened to be a war buddy of Jeffries. Thelma Ritter plays Stella, Jeffries’ physical therapist, who drops by for daily therapy and, at times colorful banter. And, Raymond Burr plays the antagonist, a wife-murdering, traveling salesman who dwells across from the rear window. Rear Window is splendid film, an Academy Award Runner-up for Best Picture to the American drama film, On the Waterfront (1954), about longshoreman corruption and mob violence starring Marlon Brando, I recommend wholeheartedly.
Have a favorite vintage movie poster? Chances are, it was probably designed by Bill Gold, one of the most prolific designers ever to work in movies. Gaining early prestige working on CASABLANCA for Warner Bros., his legacy of posters spans from Hollywood’s Golden Age through New Hollywood, including a close and enduring collaboration with director Clint Eastwood.
AFI spoke with Gold, now retired, about an illustrious career that has proven as influential as the films for which he’s designed posters.
AFI: Tell us how you got started in the business, and where you are today now that you’ve retired.
Bill Gold: In my wildest dreams, I could not have foreseen the career I would have. As a young child, while other kids were out playing ball and riding their bikes, I was at home drawing. After graduating from Pratt Institute, I got a job in the poster department at Warner Bros. Who would have known that the first film I would work on would be the iconic CASABLANCA? That launched my remarkable career. By the early 1960s, I had started my own company, Bill Gold Advertising.
As a kid in Brooklyn, I started drawing from the age of eight and never stopped. In elementary school I was winning art honors. I was drawn to the movies. I graduated from Pratt Institute and went looking for a job, and introduced myself to the art director of the poster department of Warner Bros. in their New York offices. He sent me away on trial to design posters for four earlier films: ESCAPE ME NEVER and ROBIN HOOD with Errol Flynn, THE MAN I LOVE with Ida Lupino and Bette Davis‘s WINTER MEETING. Afterwards he told me, “You’re hired.” My first assignment was for a film not yet finished: CASABLANCA.
I’ve been retired since 2004 with the exception of coming back to work with Clint on J. EDGAR and Warner Home Video on a special project. I’m currently enjoying life with my wife, Susan, and our dog Willoughby in Connecticut.
AFI: What is “the Bill Gold look”? What is it that makes your work yours?
Gold: I know what movie posters should look like, instinctively. My style is and has always been “less is more.” I don’t like a cluttered look. Clean, simple and to the point. I guess you could say black, red, gray and white are usually my trademark colors.
Years ago, I looked at everything that MGM and Paramount and all the companies did, and I never liked anything that I saw. I always found fault with the fact that they showed three heads of the actors, and that’s about all the concept they would use. And when I started to work, I thought: “I don’t want to just do a concept with three heads in it. I want a story.”
I’ve worked on poster campaigns for films by Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Federico Fellini, but my most significant relationship is with Clint Eastwood. We began working together in 1971 when I created the poster for DIRTY HARRY and continued until I retired in 2004.
AFI: What do you think are the ingredients of a successful/memorable movie poster?
Gold: You’d get an assignment and they’d tell you something of how the movie should be marketed. I’d go see the film (I always got a kick out of seeing people’s reactions to movies), or if it wasn’t complete, I’d look at the stills. You then decide how you want the public to see it, then you think of the best way to communicate that. I had usually at least three art directors working for me in a given year, production people and assistants.
AFI: How has the poster making process changed today?
Gold: Posters illustrations are gone. They only use digital photos now. Anybody who can use a computer thinks they can do this. Having computer knowledge is very different from being an artist or an art director or a marketer. A 10-year-old can do a good job on the computer. With photos today the stars can’t say, “It doesn’t look like me.” We used to have to do it over.
My objective is to “sell” the film, to entice an audience to see it through a revealing and striking image and typography. To provoke an interest in the “story” of the film is what I am able to do best.
AFI: Looking back on your legacy and decades of work, how do you feel you have contributed to the history of American movies?
Gold: It’s remarkable the range of styles I’ve used in creating numerous iconic works. It seems a bit unlikely that the designer responsible for the conventional rendering of James Cagney in patriotic garb in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY could have conceived the frilly pink collage of MY FAIR LADY, the blobbed, multi-colored hippie images for WOODSTOCK and the upside-down nocturnal reflections of Clint Eastwood’s MYSTIC RIVER.
Moving with the times as American graphics began to change in the 1950s, I went from relying on traditional illustration to embracing Modernism, Symbolism, Pop Art and psychedelia. I didn’t forget the early American influences, such as J.C. Leyendecker, or the folksy wit of Norman Rockwell.
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)
We got together with Warren Beatty and I believe we had Faye Dunaway at the meeting as well, and Warren was in charge: it was his movie. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, or how to market BONNIE AND CLYDE. It was a sensational, dramatic action-thriller but he also wanted it to look authentic and real and exact — so, looking at the poster, you couldn’t make the mistake of thinking it was just a story. It was about the Depression years, 1930s America. Hence the sepia and the period lettering and those kinds of aesthetic choices. We worked from a specially shot photograph. Beatty was delighted with the final campaign.
My first assignment in 1942 after being hired by the Warner Bros. art department in New York was CASABLANCA. My initial thoughts were to put together a montage showing all the characters depicted in the film. I wanted to have Humphrey Bogart in the foreground and Ingrid Bergman behind him looking on. I didn’t want to give away their romance. The client loved it but said there was no excitement, so I put a gun in Bogart’s hand. The gun was taken from the film HIGH SIERRA.
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
Kubrick always wanted to be in control. He wanted to be aware of every step I was taking. He needed to know he had input and was part of the thinking process.
The poster used in the domestic campaign for DELIVERANCE showed hands coming out of the river holding a rifle. But executives in charge of the international campaign wanted something a little more dynamic to represent a movie about a weekend canoe trip from hell. So I thought, wouldn’t it be great if it had a three-dimensional quality, and it looked like it was coming out of the eye of one of the Southern characters? The tag line “What did happen on the Cahulawassee River?” added a final mysterious touch.
DIRTY HARRY (1971)
Clint and I have become very good friends over the years. Professionally, he is as good as it gets. He appreciates everything I have done for him, and has wonderful taste and a remarkable eye for art. Of course, there have been a couple of times when he has asked me to “go back to the drawing board” and investigate another direction. But this is part of the working process, and most of the time we are both on the same page. Clint Eastwood wrote in the foreword to “Bill Gold: Posterworks,” “With Bill I knew he would bring great ideas, and the poster he created would be one less thing we had to think about. He respected the film, he respected the story, and he always respected what we were trying to accomplish.”
THE EXORCIST (1973)
I picked the still of the priest, Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), arriving at the house in Georgetown for the exorcism with a briefcase in his hand because it struck a chord with me. When you looked at this still, you knew somehow that whatever is about to happen inside that house is not going to be good! I adapted it by taking a lot of the detail out of the photo and turning it into a design, and after that no one wanted to see anything else. I’d been specifically told by William Friedkin and Warner Bros. that we must not use an image of the girl possessed, or show anything that had any hint of religious connotation. They were very concerned about that. Friedkin was very involved, and he and Warners rejected all our other comps. They knew what they wanted and certainly picked the right image, which was used all over the world. And the movie, at the time, became the biggest hit in Warners’ history.
MY FAIR LADY (1964)
I had seen the stage musical on Broadway a couple of times, with Rex Harrison as Prof. Higgins and Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, and I knew it by heart. This campaign is a favorite of mine. With George Cukor directing, the movie had Audrey Hepburn instead of Julie Andrews, and Cecil Beaton’s costumes and sets which were important. Warner Bros. had invested about $17 million in it. Here we began with work-in-progress charcoal drawings, and squiggles to get our juices flowing. Eventually, I was happy with the way both principals looked, and now we had to add some extra elements to embellish it, such as the umbrella. The final poster is a collage of charcoal drawings, with color added on top. I designed the lettering, which has become so symbolic of the movie, inseparable from it almost.
This was directed by Mike Nichols, for Paramount. We used military-style lettering and tried to capture the irreverence of the novel: putting war in its place. I like the clarity of these posters. But none were used in the end. They thought they were too clever. This one presents its message clearly with the overhead shot of a toilet with a toy bomber in the bowl. The tagline underneath the image simply says “The first film to put war in its place.” While that message does work with the film, perhaps it was a bit too risky a venture to go with at the time; or distributors felt that having a one-liner like this (despite the truth in it) wasn’t the best way to sell the movie.