Rufus Wainwright, who takes the Borgata stage this Sunday (Valentine's Day for those keeping score at home), called me this week from his family home in Montreal to gab about his AC performnace and a few other tidbits that usually come up in a conversation between two gay guys like divas, being out and of course, Lady Gaga.
City Paper: I saw you perform in Philadelphia on Valentine's Day last year and exactly a year later you'll be in Atlantic City. Why do you like to perform in this area on Valentine's Day?
Rufus Wainwright: I'm not going to say because it needs love [laughs], but I will say that I love doing shows on Valentine's Day that are close to New York so I can get home and get back into bed with my boyfriend that very night [laughs].
CP: What will people see at your show on Sunday?
RW: These are an interesting set of shows because they're the last shows I do before the tour for the next record, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu. This is the last snippet of my former life when I was doing gigs to pay for restaurant bills in between writing operas and ballets and stuff [laughs]. Everything is up for grabs. When I get back on the road after these shows it'll be all very orchestrated and constructed, so this is the last of the loose.
CP: Tell me about your upcoming album.
RW: It's just me and the piano, at last, having musical sex.
CP: Elton John has called you the best songwriter on the planet. Can you share your writing process?
RW: I have somewhat boiled it down to a bodily function meaning I don't have to plan it out so much. I just wait on the corner for the cabs to arrive, I just get in and hope they take me to the right place. Whether it's the lyrics or the music or a line on the piano or guitar it's mostly about not thinking actually and the faster it comes the better.
CP: How has being open about your sexuality influenced your career?
RW: Initially I was honest out of laziness because it would take too much energy to keep lying at every interview and every show and every album cycle. It was more of a practical issue for me at first to get it over with and talk about it. But there was a reaction, meaning on one hand certain markets were closed for me I didn't get as much coverage as other artists but then on the other hand I also have extremely fierce and loyal grassroots support because I've been so truthful. I may not be injected with tons of cash, but I have a fierce following that will support me my whole life.
CP: Do you consider yourself a diva?
RW: It depends. In terms of a great performer and an elegant, luxurious trophy then sure, why not. But in terms of attitude, being difficult and not giving respect to my fellow musicians, then no. I subscribe to the good parts of being a diva and definitely not to the bad ones, otherwise I definitely wouldn't be around still.
CP: Let's play a word association game. I'll call out a few words and you tell me what pops into your head. First, Lady Gaga.
RW: Look out! [laughs] I appreciate her. Lady laid down the gauntlet and I intend to pick it up.
CP: Sarah Palin.
RW: Oh my God. Lord help us. I think even God hates her.
CP: Philly cheesesteak sandwiches.
CP: One last question. If you were to generate a playlist on iTunes Genius based on your music what would you like see come up?
RW: I'd love to see Wagner but it's not going to happen. Wagner is what I want, so Wagner's what you'll get.
Rufus Wainwright, Sun., Feb. 14, $65, Music Box at the Borgata, One Borgata Way, Atlantic City, N.J., 08401, theborgata.com.
|Tatum and Seyfriend in Dear John.|
If you know anything about Channing Tatum, it's probably 100 percent muscle and is a recognizable face these days in any movie calling for musclehead with a heart of gold bonus points for break dancing (see: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, G.I. Joe). This time around, it's Dear John (read Molly Eichel's review), in which, Tatum plays John a soldier who unexpectedly falls in love with Savannah (Amanda Seyfried) while he is on leave and she is home on spring break.
When Tatum enters the Four Seasons hotel room, he's wrapping up an iPod in his hands. "What's up, everyone?" he says. He then greets every reporter in the room, shaking their hand and saying, "Hey. I'm Chan." His hair is slicked back like a high school prep and he sports a goatee.
Playing a soldier is familiar territory for Tatum, who has already taken on the role in Stop-Loss, G.I. Joe and the upcoming Eagle of the Ninth, in which he plays a Roman Centurion. "I joke that I think I had a shaved head and thick neck from playing football," he says. "But, I'd like to think that I respect what they do so much. I hope they see how much I value what they do."
He rubs the conference table with his thumbs and explains that he doesn't know half of what it's like to be a soldier and he would never say that he does. He just tries to "wear the suit right and sling the gun right."
Dear John takes place in the Spring of 2001 and considering John's line of work, the dateline foreshadows 9/11. John, at that moment, is stationed in an undisclosed location, doing what peacetime Green Berets do, while Savannah is at college. So, where was Channing? "I was actually in New York," he says. "I was taking the transit in from New Brunswick where I was staying on somebody's couch. I was taking the train in and you come around this bend coming into New York and you could see the skyline you could see all the way to the Trade Center. And one of them was smoking and some peoples' phones were going off and no one was calling me. I don't know why. No one cares," he says, laughing. "But I really didn't think anything of it and I kept walking and at some point, I think I was around Union Square, maybe a little farther down and everyone now came out of the buildings literally everyone was coming out into the street.
"Cars were stopping and people were getting out and looking up, and just like in the movies, you make your way to a cafe that has a TV on and you just try to watch it to see what's going on. Nobody's cell phones were working there were lines down the block at every pay phone. It was just the most surreal experience. People weren't panicked, and I didn't really see anyone crying and everyone really just didn't know what to do, you know? Everyone was just sort of looking around at each other and it was definitely an out of body experience, for sure."
War and national tragedy are heady material for a personal melodrama like Dear John. Could the choice possibly have been wife/Step Up co-star Jenna Dewan? She didn't have sway, Tatum says, before launching into a syrupy love-monologue to Dewan. At the end, he leans into the tape recorders and says, "Baby, if you are listening, you had a hand in it and you're the whole reason!"
Dear John opens in area theaters this Friday. Check citypaper.net/showtimes for info and tickets.
"I was actually thinking of doing something in a bunny suit and a onesie": Interview with Brendan Fraser
|Brendan Fraser in Extraordinary Measures.|
The evening before I interviewed Brendan Fraser I was obliged to attend a screening of his latest picture, Extraordinary Measures (see Molly Eichel's review), at the Prince Music Theater. When I strolled in he was situated to the right of the lobby behind a wall of flash bulbs generated from a crowd of Philly (pa-pa) paparazzi. Like everyone else, I grabbed my camera to snap my own video because I have no shame â George of the Jungle was one of my first crushes. Later, when inside the theater, he took to the stage to introduce the film. Suddenly, my excitement to interview him the next day waned. He gave a sappy, lackluster speech about how amazing the film was and how Hollywood has never made anything like it. He was taking himself way to serious. I almost barfed in my popcorn.
His discussion about the film didn't alter much the next day when I was huddled with him and five other reporters in a Four Seasons hotel room. He was, however, a lot more personable â well, as personable as his beastly, awkward frame would allow. Instead of lounging in the plush chair that was situated for him in the center of the room, he squatted on a wobbly wooden coffee table and commenced discussing how playing a real-life character changed his life.
In the film Fraser plays John Crowley, a New Jersey businessman who flips the pharmaceutical industry on its head in order to push through a drug for his two children who have a rare genetic disorder called Pompe. "This is something that I had never done before. I don't know when again I'll have an opportunity to portray a living, breathing person, who is easily one of the most principled people that I have ever known," he told one reporter. Sap city!
I wanted to veer him away from his PR talk, so I asked how he comfortably maneuvers depicting so many varied roles from big budget movies like The Mummy series to his roles in smaller movies like Gods and Monsters especially since the person before me didn't seem to possess a huge range of emotions to work with.
"I was actually thinking of doing something in a bunny suit and a onesie," he said, while flashing a couple of goofy glances my way that reminded me of his character in his Encino Man co-star Pauley Shore's Biodome. I'm not really sure what that was all about but it did seem to break out of his shell.
"I just like to work," he continued. "You shouldn't feel comfortable. If you're comfortable on set then you're not doing your job properly. To me, challenge is something I crave to try to do something I haven't done before." He then went on to inform us about a film he has coming out in April called Fury Vengeance. "I will be tortured and played mean games upon by furry creatures," he explained. "So the point is I have a very eclectic career."
Yesterday, Pat Rapa told you about the sad passing of a Philadelphia legend: soul singer Teddy Pendergrass. His memorial service will be held Fri., Jan. 22 from noon to 8 p.m. at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church at 2800 W. Cheltenham Ave. The funeral will also be held at Enon Tabernacle on Sat., Jan. 23 at 9 a.m.
As a paper, we had the honor of interviewing Teddy several times. Most notable were interviews with former CP music editor/current Asylum editor Neil Gladstone and everyone's fave Icepack-er A.D. Amorosi.
In 1997, Gladstone spoke with Pendergrass after his triumphant return to the stage in the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.
Why did you decide to do Your Arms Too Short to Box with God?
It was about time I did something to work on my craft and test myself. And test the audience to see if they still desired to see me. To see if I'm still desirable.
Were you concerned that they wouldn't be?
Sure, things are not like they were. Put yourself in my shoes. You would have to question everything. Sometimes people change and tastes change audiences like one artist one day and another artist another day. My job as an artist is to go out there and see if I still have the tools to do my job.
In one of the pieces I read, Stephanie Mills [who co-starred in Your Arms Too Short To Box With God] said your voice is stronger than ever. Do you agree?
I have times when I think it's better and other times when I think it's not. I guess the more work I do and the more I sing, the stronger it gets, especially in live performance.
It's the first play you've ever been in. Did you do any acting training?
Nope, I don't think it took acting skills for me to do the part because it was dealing with a subject that is very close to me Jesus Christ.
I heard you wanted to do the play before finishing your autobiography so the book would have a happy ending?
I wanted the ending to be celebratory and I wanted the ending to have me on stage.
Out of the entire interview, I love this line:
In the press release you mention that writing the lyrics to "Give It To Me" pushed you to the limit of how sexually blunt you could be. Why?
I'm shyer than most people would probably think I am.
A.D. talked to Pendergrass five years later on the eve of his first Philly show in 19 years.
You've been doing shows off and on. What makes now the best time to finally bring it all home?
I don't think there's a "why now." All things in time, you know? It's like a man or woman making a cake: If you take it out of the oven, or if it's a different kind of cake, it's different timing. Now is a good time. Why wait 19 years? Wasn't ready. Why take the offer to play Trump Taj Mahal? It was the right time. Now I'm very comfortable bringing it home.
What does the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance do?
It's a way for me to give people with spinal cord injuries opportunities: employment and educational. We want people with these injuries to have positive productive lives, comforts and pleasures so that they're not just in nursing homes. It's one thing to be disabled. It's another thing to not have a life. I've been very lucky to be able to maintain a lifestyle. I'm not saying I don't have obstacles or pain but overall I have a wonderful life. A lot of people don't have those lives because they don't have the opportunity.
Do you hear the sound of your passion, your influence, in any of today's artists?
I'm going to plead the fifth. It's like a painting. Picasso did things his way, Matisse another. That people don't do what I do doesn't make them less valid. At the same token, no one can fill my niche.
|Ethan Hawke in Daybreakers|
On the surface, Daybreakers is an odd choice for Ethan Hawke. Other than the high-minded Gattaca, Hawke has stayed away from sci-fi movies, bolstering his own critical profile playing supporting roles Training Day and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead after his initial splash in movies like Reality Bites. So it's a cock-your-head-confused moment when you learn he's going to be a in movie about vampires.
In Daybreakers (read Sam Adams' review here), Hawke plays a scientist in a world that has gone almost completely bloodsucker. The few humans left are harvested for food, but they're almost gone and Hawke's character is in search of a blood substitute that could save the vampiric race from degeneration. City Paper sat in on a conference call with Hawke to talk about his new film, which opens wide today.
"I've never done a movie with so much blood," he said about working on Daybreakers, adding that he's spent most of his life avoiding these types of movies. But throughout the call he reiterated the artistic merit of the genre picture, like horror or sci fi but stayed away from them because there are so many bad genre films out there as it is.
As Sam Adams points out his review, the movie is highly stylized and that's where Hawke saw the difference between Daybreakers and the rest of vampire mania. "We did tons of tests, we weren't sure what these vampires should look like. It sort of turned into this film noir thing. In the beginning it looks like a Bogart movie and then like Gattaca. We thought the same thing with Training Day, especially when you're watching cop shows every night or vampire shows every night. What can you do with this form that's special? Something unique," Hawke said. "But these two guys [directors Peter and Michael Spierig] are really, really creative. They're brothers, they're geeks. They spend all of their time talking about this, thinking about this and trying to make it brilliant."
Daybreaker's noir leanings go hand-in-hand with its concept. In a world where no one will die, it's only fitting that everyone smokes. But that's the movie, if Hawke couldn't die, what would he do? "Wow. Ride a motorcycle all the time, as fast as possible," Hawke said after thinking about it for a bit. "I love riding a motorcycle but it's the one thing as a father of three, you know, I feel like it's not the smartest way to spend my day. But if I didn't have to worry about dying, I would love to ride a motorcycle."
In other words, living without the threat of death ain't half bad. "If you walk around with the idea that you will not die, it's kind of a zen enlightening experience," he said laughing. "It's detached, you don't have to worry about anything, it's a nice personality to wear everyday."
|Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday in Youth in Revolt|
Michael Cera is the perfect person to play Nick Twisp, the hero of C.D. Payne's Youth in Revolt (Read Cindy Fuchs' review). Stuck in the role of the stammering, virginal teen nice boy who always is a little too smart for his own good, Cera -- like Twisp -- needed the help of Francois Dillinger, a supplementary persona created by Twisp with the sole purpose of proxy badassery. While Twisp needed it to get the girl -- Sheeni Saunders, played by newcomer Portia Doubleday -- Cera uses it to break out of his lived-in mold. Cera talked with City Paper about Youth in Revolt, making prank phone calls and what it's like to jerk off in front of 70-year-olds.
City Paper: I've read in several places that you love this book and had been trying to get it made for awhile.
Michael Cera: Yeah, yeah.
CP: I also loved this book when I was a teenager. How did you discover it?
MC: I discovered the book through the movie. My agent sent me the book when I was 16 [Cera is now 21]. I had it for awhile and didn't read it but then I just got really into it one day. I read it a few times after that and really wanted to be a apart of it, always asking about it and seeing what was happening. It seemed like it was never coming together. It was one of those movies that could never get moving for a long time. How did you discover it?
CP: To be honest, I picked it because I really liked the cover. And you can obviously judge a book by its cover. Anyone who tells you differently is stupid.
MC: Anyone who tells you differently is racist, really.
CP: But it's a funny book, because every time I met someone else who had read this book, we bonded over it. What is it about this source material that makes it universally loved?
MC: It's just really funny. [C.D. Payne] is just a such a funny writer. Everything pays off. It's really amazing how he pays everything off too, because he sets these things off where you're just like 'How is [Nick Twisp] ever going to get out of that?' He's just a really unique, really funny voice.
CP: There's also this idea of authority in the book and the film, which I hadn't really read elsewhere: All adults are horrible and that's really all you have to look forward to being horrible yourself.
MC: I think that's what's really interesting about the casting of the movie. [Nick's] parents are these really great character actors: Steve Buscemi and Jean Smart. They both played their characters really gross, in a really great way. I think that tells you a lot about Nick and why it means so much for him to meet this girl. You see the people he's been stuck with his whole life and he can't stand them. It's really important for him to hang onto this person and it's representative of what his future could be or not be.
CP: When you read the book, how did you visualize those adult parts?
MC: I visualized Jean Smart actually. I didn't know where I knew her from but I knew her face.
CP: You weren't watching Designing Women all the time?
MC: No, I never got into Designing Women but people tell me she's amazing on that show. She's an amazing actress. She had a broken leg when we were shooting.
CP: No way!
MC: Yeah, she had a broken her leg just a few weeks before and she took her cast off while we were shooting and had to walk around in a few scenes and it was excruciating for her.
CP: You don't see it at all.
MC: Yeah, I felt very bad for her. But she was who I pictured when I was reading the book. Steve Buscemi is just amazing. He's one of my favorites.
CP: One of the criticisms against is that you play yourself all the time. How do you respond to that? Do you mold these characters to your personality or do you completely disagree with that assessment?
MC: Not really. I think that's just my sensibility that people are seeing. I don't think it's me, though. What's important to me is the director and the writing and there's not a lot of good scripts out there so when you find something that's really special, I really fight to be a part of them because it's all acting to me. I don't think that should really effect your career.
CP: That's really interesting that you mentioned directors. [Director] Miguel Arteta and you always deal with outsiders to a certain degree and it comes to a head in this movie. Think about Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl it's alienated people on the fringe. And you often play this on-the-outside kind of guy. Is that how you came together?
MC: I never really thought of it that way but it makes sense. We immediately clicked with each other. We were friends right away and we both really loved the book too. We both wanted to treat it with care and kind of make the movie as close the spirit of the book as we could.
CP: When it came to you and Arteta were constructing the Francois Dillinger character, you obviously have the Jean-Paul Belmondo influence in there: He's got the loafers, the pencil thin 'stache, cig hanging out of his mouth at all times. What other influences went into making that character?
MC: Malcolm McDowell was very inspiring. Miguel and I watched O Lucky Man! a few times. I really love that movie. It has nothing to do with Francois as a character but he's just a really inspiring actor.
|Cera as Francois Dillinger|
CP: Yeah, but you can totally see it: This laid back bad assed-ness.
MC: He has blue eyes too, that's where we got the idea to give Francois blue eyes because Malcolm McDowell has these really incredible blue eyes.
CP: So if you had a supplementary persona, what would you make? I think every teenager must come up with something like that.
MC: What was yours?
CP: Something in the vein of Francois being able to cause trouble with no consequence.
MC: Yeah, yeah! Definitely, I think that's what mine would be too. Just not held back by fears.
CP: Just be able to say ridiculous things and blow up cars and stuff like that.
MC: Yeah, and not have to pay for any of it, somehow. I used to prank phone calls with my friend Chris and we had all these characters that we created. That's kind of the same because you're completely anonymous and you hide behind this anonymity. You can kind of become someone else and not ever have to pay for it.
CP: What were some of these characters that you came up with?
MC: I can't really remember. We had a lot. We would just kind of call people and talk to them. We didn't really try to irritate people too much. We would just like call people talk to them for a while. It was really fun.
CP: So it wasn't "Is your refrigerator running?"
MC: No. We would make people care about the characters and not want to get off the phone with us.
CP: Back to the book, one of the things I loved about this book is how Payne dealt with sex. Of course, the movie opens with your jerking off. The sex was toned down in the movie and I think it had to be it was definitely a literary device in the book.
MC: Well, there was a first draft of the book where there was a lot more. There were masturbation scenes every, like, fifth scene. There were a lot of drafts of the script but it could have gone that way. It's such a hard book to put up on a screen, it could have gone a million different ways.
CP: That's quite the challenge, though. You've got the whole crew behind you and you have to pretend jerk off for a couple takes. I'm sure that's not something you're looking forward to doing.
MC: It was alright. I was pretty comfortable at that point with the crew it was at the end of the shoot. But I remember reading the book before I read the script so I was desensitized to all of that. It's just so casual, it has to be in the movie.
CP: With these themes, this isn't a movie with a built in audience. It's a movie about teenagers who speak like adults and carries an R-rating. Who do you see this movie for?
MC: People like me. College kids, older people too. It's hard to say but it's definitely not aimed for kids. We had a screening last night in Boston and there were some really old ladies there, like 70 and they said they really liked it.
CP: But still, it's odd to be like, "Oh hey grandmother-aged women! Look at this opening scene!"
RELATED: Trailer!: Youth in Revolt
'...To be in the amputee ward and touching a 19 year-old boy's stump, it roots you': Q&A with The Messenger's Ben Foster and Oren Moverman
|Oren Moverman||Ben Foster|
Directed and co-written by Oren Moverman, The Messenger stars Ben Foster as Sgt. Will Montgomery, a soldier wounded in the Iraq war re-assigned to the Casualty Notification Office. With Capt. Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Montgomery informs next of kin about their family members who have died in war. When he meets Olivia (Samantha Morton), Will develops a strong connection with her'one that prompts him to make some discoveries about himself. Cindy Fuchs reviews the film in this week's issue but I sat down with Moverman and Foster to discuss The Messenger and what they learned making this film.
CP: Oren, how did you create'and identify with'these characters?
OM: I've had my military experience. We're portraying two soldiers, so my identification with them is my general identification with every soldier ' a built-in empathy and identification with the experience of being in the service over in a combat zone. I understand coming back from that 'other planet,' that combat zone, and how that feels trying to connect back to 'normal life.' That was my primary identification point. I felt we had to honor them, and respect them and play against the stereotypes that people have about the men in the military.
CP: The job is about character, how these men cope with their work'
OM: Woody's character is overcompensating for so much hurt and pain and loss that he develops a strategy for everything'. But he keeps it all together and becomes somebody who has to figure everything out, and have the last line'and that's a type you meet in the military. He uses humor to diffuse everything, and challenge you and poke you and provoke you. He's very good at reading people. I remember doing that as a soldier. It's how you survive. Ben's character is very different. His instincts are just as sharp, if not sharper, but he's much more introspective, and much more about getting the ammunition to survive down the road.
|Harrelson and Foster|
CP: Ben, did you lose anyone that informed your portrayal?
BF: [Foster whispers] Yeah, we've all lost people. [He slowly returns to normal voice] I've delivered news and I've received it. Working with Oren on the preparation for filming, the opportunity to confront these fears has been very cathartic. Hopefully, the film will inspire people to have these dialogues with the one we still have about the ones we have lost. We can't hide behind our traumas. You can take the military out of the movie and the movie still works. How do we hide from our own universal experience of grief and loved ones? You take these layers off, it becomes a very human experience, and one we can all connect to.
CP: Oren, the scenes of the men delivering their messages with a sense of immediacy. Why did you choose this stylized approach?
OM: The notification [scenes] were all shot hand-held, in one take. We shot the scene in its entirety. The two sides were separated'they never met'I worked with the cameraman so when they open the door for the first time, they are exposed to Ben and Woody and vice versa. There was no rehearsal. The [actors] were encouraged to go off-script. Everyone was thrown off set so we could shoot 360 degrees. It felt very alive, very immediate. We shot everything on zoom lenses, because we wanted the freedom to improvise with the camera as much as the actors are improvising with their lives and behavior, so it was a very raw, live kind of approach. I was willing to live or die with it, because I couldn't think of another approach. Luckily for us, not only the actors are terrific, but the DP was incredibly sensitive and really connected, almost physically, to these scenes. I trusted him to do what feels right, and when in doubt, go to Ben. That was the strategy.
CP: Ben, How did you develop your rapport with Woody and Samantha? What I noticed is how you listened to them. Your reactions'or in some cases, lack of one'spoke volumes when your character said nothing.
OM: [OREN interrupts] Very few people pick up on the point of the listening. It's really important. We created an eye problem' [to Ben] ' sorry, I didn't want to steal your answer ' and a leg problem, but one of the things guys and gals are coming back with are hearing problems, because things blow up very close to them, so it takes an extra effort to be able to listen, and I think that's one of the beautiful things Ben does in this movie, is give a performance that includes a lot of listening.
CP: So, Ben, how did you immerse yourself in the role?
BF: Oren set up a field trip for Woody and myself to go to Walter Reade Hospital before we started shooting, to spend time in the amputee ward. That was a life-changing experience. You can read things in the paper, and see things in the news, but to be in the amputee ward and touching a 19 year-old boy's stump, it roots you. It becomes, in itself, its own kind of humble service trying to get out of the way of yourself and serve these men and women and represent them warts and all, scars and all.
CP: In all the research you did, Ben, what surprised you about the Casualty Notification Team? And what did you discover about yourself?
BF: As Oren has said, it's the only job in the military that deals with feelings. To hear these soldiers say I'd rather be back in combat that have to deliver this news' In terms of my own life, it hasn't fixed anything, but it has certainly made me more present with addressing the inevitable. That grief is a part of this human experience, and it's OK. The sooner we're able to address our own traumas ' and that doesn't mean figure it out ' it just means process, start the processing, the sooner we can get back to connecting. And there is no greater feeling than connecting.
The Messenger opens tomorrow at the Ritz Five.
' 2009 Gary M. Kramer
Tonight, the Australian-raised, Los Angeles-based, and whole-wide-world-traveling popstress Lenka makes her Philadelphia debut at the M Room. I caught up with her by phone in the Las Vegas airport (she swears she didn't do any gambling), as she waited for a flight back to L.A. before beginning this tour.
City Paper: How long have you been living in LA?
Lenka: Only three years, but it's gone by very fast. I'm not there very often. I never intended to live there for very long, it's just sort of a practical base for me. There is actually some really good community where I live, but I'm just not an L.A. kid; not a Hollywood kid.
CP: Where you would you rather be living?
CP: Really? Why is that?
Lenka: I love the art world there, the social culture. It's a really cool scene, all the artists and musicians and anti-establishment types, all these warehouse galleries. I also love the sense of history; you can just feel all this stuff that went down there. And I really quite like Germany ' also, I'm doing quite well there at the moment, so it might be a sort of practical move. If I leave the States that is. If I don't leave the States I'd like to live in Woodstock, but that's kind of a fantasy'
CP: So do you see yourself being part of an anti-establishment art scene?
Lenka: Well [laughs], not at the moment, I guess, but I was a part of that whole thing for a long time, in Sydney; that's my background. I went to art college and I was in an indie band ' Eventually I got a little bit tired of it, and wanted to communicate to more people than just the converted. And that's why I moved into pop music.
CP: So that was a conscious decision, then, to shift into pop?
Lenka: Well, there was definitely a conscious decision based on wanting to spread music to every person out there, not just people who seek it out. When I was an adolescent, I really relied on music, as kind of a crutch. I might seek it out a bit, but mostly I needed to be delivered to me ' it had to be in my direct vision for me to find it. It would come through friends, mixtapes people made for me.
Now, luckily, you've got the whole TV placement thing, which has been great for me. There's a captive audience there that doesn't necessarily get a lot of new music in other ways. And those people are really true fans.
CP: What are your audiences like?
Lenka: It's different everywhere. If you get a packed out audience with a real party vibe, it can be quite rowdy. In Asia, the fans are completely obsessed and so passionate. They go to the airport when I'm coming in, they give me gifts. It's insane! Not that I want that all the time, but it's really sweet. I think it's part of their cultural character ' they're so isolated from pop culture in the West that if someone comes to play there it's really exciting for them, and they respond with a lot of affection. It goes pretty deep. It's more than just music ' it's about being connected to the rest of the world
In Europe it's more similar to American audiences, but even in America it's different everywhere I play. I've played in New York to crowds that are just standing there with their arms folded; Salt Lake City was really rowdy ' The world is a diverse place and I'm happy about that.
If it's really all-ages I'll get toddlers, lots of little kids, four-year-olds. I love that. A lot of teenagers. And, you know, women 18-30, or whatever that demographic is. I'm trying to reach everybody, I guess. Everybody should have the opportunity to hear good music.
CP: Except for the several songs you wrote by yourself, you worked with different songwriting partners for almost every cut on your album. What is that process like for you? How do you meet these people?
Lenka: I did a lot of co-writing when I came over to L.A., which was a great way to get to know the community. L.A.'s such an energetic, ambitious city ' all these people I'd meet were just like 'Oh my god, let's totally write a song tomorrow!' My publishers were putting me in touch with people, or I'd just meet somebody somewhere. We'd be complete strangers, and sit down to write a song together.
This year I've been traveling so I haven't had contact with anybody except my band and my boyfriend ' I've been writing by myself all year. When I'm writing it's mostly in hotel rooms or when I get a couple of days at home, processing everything I've been going through.
The early solo stuff, that I wrote when I was with my band Decoder Ring, wasn't as accessible. Well'I guess it wasn't too weird, but it was more dreamy and electronic, more meandering, atmospheric music. I seem to be writing stuff like that again, but I'm also writing faster, bigger, dancier stuff too. I might be going in two different directions.
CP: There's so much glorious instrumental excess on your record. How do you translate that in your live show? I've gotta tell you, the M room stage is gonna be a little too cramped for an orchestra.
Lenka: I like playing around with it. Sometimes I go bigger with a horn section. Sometimes it's really amazing and more powerful to strip something down; on this tour I'm using bass tracks and I'm just doing a trio, with keys and guitar. I made this instrument for myself, I customized a MIDI controller and I wear it like a keytar. So for instance I can trigger the string samples for songs that require it.
But I always try to get the spirit of the album emotionally, the vibe of the songs ' I try to get that right. I try to give people a smile. I'm smile delivery service!
"The nunchucks just take it 10 percent too far. But it's still badass": Q&A with Michael Jai White and Scott Sanders of Black Dynamite
At this year's Sundance, word started to spread about a midnight movie called Black Dynamite, an homage to the Blaxploitation era ' films like Dolemite, Foxy Brown and Shaft. The shocking part? It was actually good (read my review here). Michael Jai White stars as the title character, who must avenge his brother's death, take down the man and find out where those orphans are getting their heroin. Black Dynamite opens tomorrow at the Pearl and UA Riverview, so I sat down with White (who also co-write the film) and director/writer Scott Sanders to talk their love of Blaxploitation, the line between tribute and parody and White's feet.
City Paper: So how long have you been in the city?
Scott Sanders: Since yesterday.
CP: Do anything fun?
Michael Jai White: Well, this is fun, talking to you Molly.
CP: Aw, thanks. Have you ever been here before?
MJW: Well, I used to buy drugs here ' I'm totally just kidding.
CP: I figured. Black Dynamite would be so upset. So I know a little bit about the genesis of Black Dynamite. So [White] and Byron Minns were working on their own script and [Sanders] was working on your own script. Right?
SS: Well, that's kind of in the middle of it.
MJW: Basically, I came up with the idea and at first it was Superbad. I decided to take a photo of myself ' I rented a costume and took photos, which is the exact costumes right there [puts to the poster]. Scott and I got together for another project but he was asking what I was up to and I showed him the photo and he was like, 'Man, I want to be involved in it.' I've been wanting to work with Scott for the last ten years. So we got together and shot our own trailer and that we spent about $500 on. We sent that trailer to a colleague of ours, John Steingard, who wound up producing the movie. And John said'
SS: Why are you showing me a trailer from the 1970s. And I go, 'That's Mike.' And he goes, 'Okay, I think I raise the money for this.' We didn't have a script yet. And now that we money we had to write the script.
CP: So it was money first then movie later.
SS: Yeah, it was an odd way of doing it. I think the last scene in the movie was this pose [points to poster] and that's what started it all off.
CP: When you talk about trailers, viral marketing is such an important part of this movie.
SS: The weird thing that happened was that trailer we made for $500, we just posted it on our website to show people who were involved in the film. A Japanese website picked it up and from that Japanese website, it started spreading on all these film blogs. It was kind of like a mini-explosion. We hadn't even finished making the movie yet. That's when we knew that it's a different time and we've been a viral oriented film. When we did the real trailer in November, it shut down our server. We got some insane amount of hits, like 100,000 hits in a day or something. The whole thing needed to be readjusted. We've been very much an Internet related kind of movie. But it's just something that kind of evolved organically out of the project.
CP: So, Scott, you shot on Super 16, right?
SS: Yep, it's color reversal too.
CP: That's a really unforgiving film.
SS: It sounds like you just heard my rap. It's a really unforgiving film! We wanted to use Super 16 because it looked the best. It's one of those things you can't back into it. You should start from the beginning and make it look real. A lot of is just a mistake. Well, not a lot of it ' It actually looks great, spectacular in some shots. The stuff in the funeral? That looks fantastic to me. But when he's coming down on the White House lawn, you're supposed to see Black Dynamite's feet and they're actually my feet. And for some reason in every movie, I'm always playing Mike's feet. I played your feet in Thick as Theives.
CP: You're his foot double! Do you have ugly feet or something?
MJW: No! What do you wear?
SS: 10 '.
CP: What do you wear?
SS: You're supposed to see his feet but you can't see them because the blacks just got crushed on this shot. It was a pretty high tech shot with the crane and everything but it was worth it.
CP: But why did you decide to not go the cheaper route: Shoot in digital and do all of that stuff ' film scratches and what not ' in post?
SS: But that looks like, 'Oh, someone shot digital and put film scratches on it.' It looks stupid to me. Just because that's how everyone agrees that it looks, that's what it looks like.
CP: Yeah, it's like when you're listening to a song and you can hear that they over laid that vinyl cracking noise.
SS: It just looks like someone went somewhere and pressed a button that says, 'Here's what vinyl sounds like.'CP: So Scott, you starting out working with the Wayans brothers who have made an incredible amount of money on these parody films. So where do you where to draw the line between parody and homage as a filmmaker?
SS: My explanation starts in the original pose and photograph. This pose to me is badass but the nunchucks just take it 10 percent too far. But it's still badass. That's kind of the source of our humor, just a light touch with the satire. The original movies are pretty crazy to begin with. A 10 percent extra just makes it really funny and then you don't feel like you're straining for the joke. I read a review on Ain't it Cool, which I really liked that said when black Dynamite goes into the pool hall and closes the gate after they're insulting him, you laugh. But you don't laugh because it's ha-ha jokey-jokey funny. You laugh because you're like, "Oh my god, this badass is gonna kill this guy." It's a different kind of a laugh than in something like Meet the Spartans where they're kicking Britney Spears down a hole. That's a different kind of humor.
CP: Do you remember your first experience with Blaxploitation?
MJW: The first movie I ever saw in the theater was a Blaxploitation movie called Monkey Hu$tle, starring Yaphet Kotto and Rudie Ray Moore. Growing up, I'd go to the theater to every weekend, especially as a teenager to see my kung fu movies and they'd be double billed with Blaxploitation movies. It was like my introduction into that.
CP: I've always thought that was interesting, that whole connection between kung fu and Blaxploitation. You've got Wu Tang, The Last Dragon'
MJW: First of all, the kung fu is just cool as well. And then a lot of these movies are about the Chinese being oppressed by the Japanese. And i think there was something that was really kindred there. In the ghetto, in the inner cities, you revered strength. Somebody learning kung fu was very much a ghetto thing because whether people realize this, the first karate and kung fu schools were in the ghetto, plain and simple. Martial arts was a militaristic type of practiced form. You didn't have those in the suburbs. You couldn't open up a karate school in Beverly Hills or the suburbs. They were usually done by GIs and people opened them up in the ghettos and the cheaper areas and really the beginning of martial arts were coming from lower income places.
CP: And you Scott?
SS: My first experience in the movie theater ' here's the thing, I forgot what the movie was but I remember seeing the trailer for Sheeba Baby, with Pam Grier. There's this one scene in Sheba Baby and it stuck with me like peanut butter. There's this pimp who goes into a carw ash and Pam Grier puts a gun to his head and he says [mimicking voice], "Whatchu gonna do with that gun, Momma?!" And I was just like "Ok, this is something." It was great, it was part of a triple bill or something.
CP: So you don't even remember what movie was playing?
SS: I almost wanted to go back to the movie theater, just to see the trailer. I'm really big on Blaxploitation trailers, the whole aura of them. Adolph Ceasar who was in A Soldier's Story and passed away, like, 20 years ago, he did all the voice over for like 80 percent of Blaxploitation trailers so it always set the mood for them. [Deepens voice] He's the baddest mother that ever walked the face of the earth. Hide your mommas because Big Brother's coming and he's coming on strong. It's that voice, you know?
CP: That kind of plays into your whole viral marketing scheme. I think the way that movies, even smaller than Black Dynamite are using viral marketing is fascinating. Especially using Blaxploitation trailers because the hour and half may suck but that two minutes was awesome.
SS: That was in our heads because the movie is more concentrated like in a trailer, like an actual Blaxploitation movies. A lot of '70s movies are slow. Well, they're not slow, they're just slow parts in between the badass parts. We just wanted to concentrate all the badass parts into one thing to squeeze it all in. That's why Black Dynamite has five different plots. He's avenging his brother but there are drugs on the street and it goes all the way to top.
CP: That's your extra 10 percent.
SS: We're just squeezing it all in.
In this week's Kaleidoscope, I wrote about Patton Oswalt. Here's what I said:
Patton Oswalt doesn't push it. The man who dubbed KFC's Famous Bowl a "failure pile in a sadness bowl" prefers simply to stand there riffing on the mundane and basking in his own nerdy glory. This is a big week for Oswalt. His newest special, My Weakness is Strong, is released on DVD and he's getting his first big-screen starring role (unless you count the titular voice in Ratatouille) in Big Fan.
This is by far my favorite Oswalt routine, from his Lollipops & Werewolves DVD:
I got to talk to Oswalt about his role in Big Fan. Here's an excerpt where we talked about the nature of fandom:
CP: You say you aren't a hardcore sports fan, but you talk about how much of a geek you are a lot in your standup. Do you see the two areas of fandom mirrored at all?
PO: I certainly do, there's a definite parallel. It's the same spark, it's just a different fuel. Like, a fanatic Christian and a fanatic Muslim could find so much in common because they have a spark. A Philadelphia Phil or a Paul could find something in common, but they have different fuel and there's something so tragic about that.
CP: It's interesting to hear people talk about sports teams as "we" instead of "they" ' like when I'm at a bar and some guys are talking about the Birds, it's "We're on the field." Is that the way it is with your fans, even though it's not live or necessarily as active an experience?
PO: Definitely. People literally treat movies like they're their teams. They treat filmmakers like they know them ' "Oh, I think he's really going to pull it out this time." They get into the lives of their heroes.
You can read the rest over at citypaper.net/movies. Did any of you guys catch My Weakness is Strong on Comedy Central last Sunday? I forgot to set my DVR was pissed when I came home and it wasn't there. What did you think? Better than Werewolves & Lollipops? Even the Comedians of Comedy? Hit me up with whether I should move it to the top of my Netflix queue.
Big Fan opens tomorrow at the Ritz at the Bourse.
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