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The Letterboxd Show 3.22: Julian Higgins
[clip of God’s Country plays]
I wonder sometimes, how much you choose to be the person you are.
Like, you just... whatever happened before you. Maybe it takes some kind of sacrifice and break the cycle.
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
SLIM Hello, you are listening to The Letterboxd Show, our podcast about the movies people love watching from Letterboxd: the social network for people who love watching movies. I’m Slim, and Gemma is on assignment prepping for our busy film festival season. So filling in for her is Letterboxd senior editor and Weekend Watchlist co-host, Mitchell Beaupre. Last week, we were joined by director whose first feature is playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. And this week, we’ve got another big-shot filmmaker whose film made a splashy festival premiere earlier in the year.
MITCHELL That is right. Today, our guest is Julian Higgins director and co-writer of the film God’s Country speaking to us as it’s going to hit theaters on September 16, this Friday. A New Hampshire native now based in LA, Julian is no stranger to the directing game, as he’s made award winning short films including 2015’s Winter Light, which is based on the same short story as God’s Country. Julian is also a very, very, very smart man with degrees from Emerson College and the American Film Institute, which he also occasionally teaches at. Along with God’s Country, today we will be discussing Julian’s four favorite films which are: Rashomon, Chimes at Midnight, The Return, Foxcatcher—again, very smart man. Julian, thank you so much for joining us. [Slim laughs]
JULIAN Thank you so much for having me. This is really exciting.
MITCHELL Very, very exciting for us as well. But to kick us off, you know, we’ve spent some time over the last week watching and rewatching these four films that you presented us along with yours. And kind of my first question for you is, Julian, are you feeling alright? Are you good? Like, this is a pretty bleak selection of films that really put you through it.
JULIAN I know. And I really like, I was thinking about that. First of all, I have to say, this is a brutal assignment that you give. [Mitchell & Slim laugh] I had to search through my whole life to answer this question. Because when you ask someone who, you know, is a filmmaker, but frankly, anyone who loves movies to narrow it down to four, that is just a tall order, especially since like, you know, l do tend to try to make movies from a pretty personal place. So a lot of these movies have shaped me, or reflected things that I was learning about myself at the time. The answer to your question is yes, I feel pretty good. [Mitchell & Slim laugh]
MITCHELL Glad to hear it.
JULIAN I was super aware when I turned it in, I was like, ‘Ooh, this is gonna be a tough week.’
SLIM It’s a hard question. It’s like, ‘Does this represent me? Does this represent where I am right now?’ I mean, full disclosure, I have RoboCop in my four phase, Julian, and Vanilla Sky, so whatever floats anyone’s boat, you know, this is a safe space.
JULIAN Yeah. And like, we don’t need a podcast to be like, “Hey, The Godfather is a good movie.” You know?
JULIAN So I also kind of like, wanted to pick movies that I thought, you know, people if they haven’t seen, I would want them to check out, I would encourage people to check these movies out. I don’t find them on their own to be like, intolerable, you know? They are darker movies, they’re thrillers, they’re, you know, mysteries. But if you watched all four in a row, that would be pretty tough. But like, the thing is, I was gonna put like, you know, there’s this movie, Treasure Island from 1934 with Wallace Beery that’s one of the most fun movies. I used to watch it over and over as a kid. And that’s absolutely a movie that I would take to a desert island with me. But, you know, is it a movie that I can talk at length about on a podcast? [Slim & Mitchell laugh]
SLIM Right. And you did mention, you know, watching all four films in a row, which we did in preparation for this episode. So Mitchell and I, we’re probably going to sync up after this, you know, just make sure we’re both alright after this discussion. [Mitchell laughs]
MITCHELL I had to take a few walks, I had to take a couple of walks around the block after some of these. But I mean, it seems like maybe after this is over, we can put on Treasure Island and just kind of commiserate. [Slim laughs]
JULIAN Great idea. And you know, I do have a higher than average tolerance, perhaps, for bleak movies. But I think it has something to do with just like the questions you’re asking as a person, like what things you respond to? And yeah, these are all movies that made me double down on filmmaking in various ways. And that’s kind of why I ended up picking, these movies that really made me want to be a filmmaker at various points in my life.
SLIM So later, we will get into God’s Country, your film, which is releasing very soon. That’ll be in the middle of the episode, we’ll have chapters in the podcast app, so if anyone wants to jump to any movie, you can do so during our conversation, but we should kick things off. Rashomon, 1950, Akira Kurosawa. 4.2 average on Letterboxd, so this is pretty high up there. This is in the Letterboxd Top 250 Highest Narrative Films. 1.2 thousand fans. Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, this is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature as four people recount different versions of the story of a man’s murder and the rape of his wife. And Jack, who puts our facts together, this is ranked 240 all-time on Letterboxd. So we’re kicking things off red-hot, Julian. We’re starting red-hot. [Mitchell laughs]
MITCHELL Top four for Julian, though, so... [Slim laughs]
SLIM Yes, that’s what counts.
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, I knew I had to pick a Kurosawa movie because, you know, I grew up, my parents were both college professors and my dad teaches East Asian history.
JULIAN And he used to bring home like all these great Samurai epics, and whenever my mom went to a conference, we would watch some epic, like Ran or something. And Kurosawa, I think, like, I did a project on Japanese art in third grade. So I kind of—and I know that Seven Samurai and Rashomon were part of what was exciting me about that. So I know that these movies I saw when I was really, really young, and I’m sure that that influenced me very deeply.
SLIM I was gonna say, imagine getting these Kurosawa movies at that age... How old were you when you were watching these movies, like insanely formative?
JULIAN My parents are both total cinephiles. My mom also is a film scholar, like she writes about the French New Wave, among other things. So I grew up in a household with a lot of international film, and not a lot of American film actually. [Slim & Mitchell laugh] I got some huge holes in my cinema education, like I to this day, I have not seen a single Star Wars movie.
JULIAN But I have seen all of Kurosawa’s like, you know—
JULIAN Yeah. And, you know, as a kid, I’m sure that I saw Throne of Blood when I was in single digits. [Mitchell laughs] That’s another incredible movie that was almost on my top four, I was trying to pick a Kurosawa, but Throne of Blood has one of the best death scenes of all time in it. And I was just obsessed with like, sort of mythical storytelling from the beginning. I always love a movie that evokes something much, much grander, and more existential than just the story at hand. And Kurosawa, the way he uses landscapes, and everything is always coming out of the mist. You know, it just this feels very like mythological storytelling and I just love that.
MITCHELL Yeah, that idea of kind of going deeper than what’s on the surface is really present in Rashomon, because it is a movie that, for people who don’t know, kind of the structure of it is this event happens, the murder of a man and the rape of his wife. And there’s a trial that happens, and we see over the course of the film, kind of four different characters versions of that events. And so we get their different perspectives and how those perspectives shift, the stories change, based on who’s telling it. And when you hear about that, it can almost sound, like it’s very interesting, but it also almost sounds like that’s kind of the pull of the movie. It’s almost gimmicky in a sense that, you’re just going based on the concept. But you watch the movie, and that idea almost fades away, because the themes that are being pulled out of it, the aesthetic that Kurosawa was using the framing, as you mentioned, like it’s so compelling and drawing you in beyond just this idea of just that gimmick, right?
JULIAN Yeah, it’s like Kurosawa always has these very high-concept, you know, loglines, but then they’re really like, explorations of the human condition, and very philosophical movies, as well as being hugely entertaining, which is another thing that I like, really, I’m inspired by that kind of storytelling, where it’s really about something and it’s for grownups, and people can really, the more you watch it, the more you get out of it, but it’s also just a fantastic piece of art to watch and entertaining, beautiful. The music is always wonder—I mean, it’s almost an quietly an experimental movie. Like there’s some sequences in it that are almost magical realist, you know? There’s a scene where the wood-cutter walks into the forest for the first time, our first kind of entree into the story is this guy who discovers the crime scene. And he walks through this forest for like, maybe three minutes of screen time, which is a huge amount of time to just watch a man walking. But the music is like, it’s an action scene. And the cameras are like racing through the forest and these incredible camera moves. It’s like something is going on with Akira Kurosawa that is not going out with anyone else. You know what I mean? Like how that—I wonder what that looked like on the page, you know? Like, “Wood-cutter walks through the forest...” and becomes this incredible sequence, you know? [Mitchell laughs] I don’t know. And just little things like the fact that everyone is sweating like crazy.
SLIM Oh my god, yes.
JULIAN Like everyone is just glistening with these beaded sweat. And it’s such a like visceral and sort of, I don’t know, it’s just a really evocative experience. And that’s the kind of, my obsession is when I watch movies, it’s like the tiny choices that directors made that they don’t have to make, you know, but that really create all kinds of feelings for you. You know? Like the fact that they’re always sweating and it’s hot. It’s like a really big part of the story. I can’t exactly understand why, but it is, you know? [Slim & Mitchell laugh]
SLIM Always swatting it flies too, you know? Oh god, it’s so—I would be using my mind in this setting, 100%.
JULIAN Yeah, and I wonder, it makes me wonder like, was it actually hot? You know?
JULIAN They’re doing all kinds of things that, you know, are created for the sort of the mise-en-scène, if you will, I don’t know what else to call it. But like the swatting of the flies, like Toshiro Mifune constantly swatting flies and scratching himself. And that’s like, not something you see, even to this day, that kind of physical realism, it’s very rare to see things like that. Those are such bold choices. I don’t know.
MITCHELL I remember the first time that I saw it—so this was a rewatch for me—the first time that I saw it was like ten or fifteen or so years ago, and I remember just the opening moments, just the framing with the rain coming down over Rashomon gate, just being like, blown away by what I was even seeing on screen, feeling this is a movie made, like 72 years ago and feeling like I had never seen anything like it before. And yeah, it just, it really like erupted something in me and yeah, it’s really just those those details. Like the rain, bringing in the rain, it just feels so real. Obviously rain machines are a thing that, you know, have existed for such a long time and are used like so often. But finding out, going into detail of the film and finding out that the rain like wouldn’t show up correctly for them. And so to solve the problem, they ended up tinting it by pouring black ink into the rain machine to make it pop. It’s speaks to level of detail and exactly what he was going to get. It’s such a detail-driven movie, I feel.
JULIAN Yeah, absolutely. And there is that kind of, it’s got these four stories within the narrative. But it also has this framing story of these three, you know, men sort of squatting in this destroyed gate while a huge rainstorm passes over and it looks like the city around them is destroyed as well, you know? And it has this sort of, it becomes this kind of metaphor for just, it almost feels post-apocalyptic, that the world has been so overrun with sort of human treachery and, you know, bad faith and just all this kind of, the world is so diseased that the city has actually fallen apart. And these guys are trying to figure out like how to proceed with their lives, you know?
SLIM I do want to spotlight at least one or two Letterboxd reviews. This comes from Esther Rosenfield: “There was a moment only a little while into this film when I became aware of a device Kurosawa was using. Each of the four people who speak at the trial face the camera directly. We never hear from the court, and that’s because we are the court. At that moment, I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that cinephiles live for, that ‘Oh man, this is something truly special’ feeling.” Comes from Esther.
JULIAN Yeah, I love that. I mean, good for Esther for pointing out the direct-address, because that is one of the more disturbing techniques that you can use. And it also I think, is inherently very political. It means implicating the audience obviously. Of course, the question is, what are you implicating them in?
SLIM In [The] Silence of the Lambs, you’re being implicated in the kind of fearful, oppressive patriarchy, kind of, you know? But in this movie, you’re part of the audience watching is part of this examination of what, you know, what we’re going to do going forward.
MITCHELL You mentioned Toshiro Mifune’s performance earlier, which I mean, it’s it’s such a performance and there’s a review on Letterboxd from DallasFrance, who says: “Toshiro Mifune as Tajomaru is: The feral cat that wins first place at the beauty pageant. The last thirty seconds of eating a bunch of Skittles, when it’s pure sugar crystals. The kid that can swing over the top of the swing set and come back around. The sandcrab that tells the tides to f*ck off. The basketball player that slows down on a fast break, just so he can dunk in someone’s face. Pure id, pure energy, pure chaos. Amazing.” Julian, talk to us just a little bit more about Toshiro Mifune’s performance and what you appreciate about what he’s doing in this film.
JULIAN I mean, you know, he was Kurosawa’s very frequent collaborator and like, he’s always just taking a big swing, no matter what he’s doing. And I love when that kind of, the sparks fly when a director and an actor are just paired really well. There’s a book, I forget what it’s called, but there’s a book that’s sort of a joint biography of the two of them. And like sparks were flying all the time between these guys. And I think about, you know, like Hertzog and Kinski, relationships like that, where it just works, but it was probably just awful on that set. [Julian & Mitchell laugh] But you know, Mifune is one of those actors that I just, you know, you can’t get enough of him because you really never know what he’s going to do next. And that, when you really think about it, is not a very common experience. There is kind of like a tone that sometimes descends on a movie where it’s like, ‘Okay, this sort of thing is the kind of thing that can happen and this is not going to happen,’ and there’s no—you’re not really worrying about it. But with Mifune, you just never know what his, where his performance is going to go and that is just extremely exciting to watch. And I think like as a kid I was really inspired by performance, like my first love was acting actually. I’m very happy I don’t want to be an actor anymore. [Mitchell & Slim laugh] But, you know, the performances that really grip you are the ones that feel like they are outside the bounds of expectation, you know, the performance itself can be challenging and exciting.
MITCHELL Speaking of contentious director-actor relationships, let’s slide into our next film Chimes at Midnight, 1965, directed by and also starring Orson Welles. 4.0 average rating on Letterboxd, 114 people have this in it’s four faves. So not as high as the, what was it, was it 1.2 thousand for Rashomon, 114 for Chimes at Midnight, not one of the most popular Orson Welles films, but it’s got, it’s certainly people who love it, love it. The synopsis on Letterboxd for the film: “The culmination of Orson Welles’s lifelong obsession with Shakespeare’s robustly funny and ultimately tragic antihero, Sir John Falstaff; the often soused friend of King Henry IV’s wayward son Prince Hal. Integrating elements from both Henry IV plays as well as Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor.” As we said, you know, one of Jack’s Letterboxd facts, this is the ninth most popular Orson Welles film, so there are eight other Orson Welles directed films that get, you know, more attention on Letterboxd than Chimes at Midnight does. So Julian, what makes Chimes at Midnight the thing was that you wanted to shout out the most?
JULIAN Well, so the backstory on this is that this movie was not available in the United States for decades and decades. The Criterion Collection released it maybe a few years ago, you know, and it was tied up in, I think a Swiss distributor had the worldwide rights to it, and just was sitting on it for literally decades. Like, I remember, as a kid, my mom showed me Citizen Kane, very young, and I think Citizen Kane is a movie I’ve seen many, many times. But again, we don’t really need a podcast to say Citizen Kane is a great movie. Obviously, that was—I mean, Orson Welles was the director that really made me want to be a filmmaker as a teenager, you know, seeing his work. And it was this movie in particular, that made me feel like I could do it. And that sounds very, maybe pompous. But like, this is a movie he made for almost no money. It was a total passion project. The production of it was just a horror show of scheduling. The actors were available for one week each or whatever. So he would, throughout the whole movie, he would shoot like one side of a scene with one actor. And then like, a couple weeks later, he would come back and shoot the other side of the scene with another actor and stand-ins. Like it was just, it was stapled and duct-taped together this movie, you know? And it’s actually like a, you know, this is literally a textbook movie. For a lot of these scenes, he’s doing his innovative Orson Welles thing. But if you like, you know, Game of Thrones Battle of the Bastards, this is the movie that directly influences those kinds of aesthetics. This was like a, especially the battle scene in this movie is was just—
JULIAN Kind of jaw-dropping at the time, because no one, it’s not knights in shining armor. This is like, this is more of the Battle of the Bastards than like, Lancelot of the Lake, you know? And just to pull it off on such a tiny budget, out of pure passion for the material and kind of really pulling all the cinematic tricks to make it work. It’s incredible that the movie is as emotional and kind of moving as it is. It was just super inspiring to see as a kid and I was obsessed with the Middle Ages, so like I went out and did my own like medieval epic as a teenager. [Mitchell laughs]
SLIM You wanted to be a pirate, you wanted to be a medieval soldier. I mean...
SLIM Getting all the checkboxes. I had never even heard of this movie. So all of our movies today are first time watches and Foxcatcher later as well, was a first time watch. But I was the same way, so when I was in, like a year of community college, we watched Citizen Kane, I think that was the first time I’d seen it. And you know, our teacher was talking about how all the innovative things Orson had done in that film with cameras, you know, taking it on the ground, or even lower on the ground to get these kinds of angles. So, over the years, I’ve come to have that same huge respect for Orson Welles. And I admittedly have not really seen anything of his later work. So his whole career—I know there’s some documentaries out there, and there’s always a viral tweet that will come out about like Orson Welles saying so and so about this actor, and everyone will be like, ‘Oh, hell yeah.’ But I have been outside of it. So it was crazy for me to kind of like, have that young Orson in my head and then go to latter years Orson Welles where he’s doing this like, thick Shakespearean grimy movie, and the battle scenes you mentioned were nuts. I love seeing Orson in the armor, kind of like parading through that flight as well. And that like gurney setup that they had, which I don’t think is factually correct, or I’m not sure. [Slim laughs] They were like, lifting the soldiers up using this huge pulley system to get on the horses. So this was a huge experience. I’m not a Shakespeare person at all, but you’re right, like the fact that he went in, made his movie as a passion project, that gives you kind of like, a different level of respect and appreciation for a film like this.
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, you know, it’s true that he was obsessed to Shakespeare. I mean, he was obviously an actor, he did Shakespeare productions before he became a filmmaker, as a director and an actor. And he did Macbeth and he did, you know, Othello, and he had made Shakespeare movies before. But you know, you can see that he’s a total geek for the material. And not just for Shakespeare, but just for the time period, like it’s so juicy in it’s costume design, the props, the casting. This was shot in Spain and it’s one of those movies where like, every extra is cast, you know, by Orson clearly. [Slim laughs] The faces of another incredible. It has this—it kind of reminded me or taught me maybe, you know, at the time, that a lot of the things that make a film really memorable, don’t necessarily have to cost money. You know, it’s like the work you do on the script—I mean, he basically took four plays, and created a new script out of the pieces of these plays that highlights a supporting character in the plays. So he’s like spinning a narrative about a minor character who takes the forefront, and then he plays Falstaff. And, you know, the choices with the casting, locations, where he puts the camera, like these things, it’s about time that you spend more more than the money necessarily. And apparently, he took breaks during the production to like, go do other movies, make some money and then like, come back and spend it on his movie that was in progress. I think I was just really inspired by the dedication, the relentless pursuit of making this juicy, period-epic that no one wanted to fund, you know? And it has some of the great Shakespearean actors of the time, it had John Gielgud and stuff. If you like Shakespeare, it’s a movie you really have to run out and see. It is definitely a little bit janky in terms of its, you know, like he had no money, a lot of it is overdub and stuff like that. But I think it’s full Orson Welles, it is uninhibited Orson Welles. If you like Orson Welles, you like Shakespeare, you like the Middle Ages, you’re going to like this movie.
MITCHELL Yeah, I think being so full-on Orson Welles is reflected in the fact that he said that this is his favorite movie of his. I was reading this quote where he said, “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, this is the one I would offer up. I think it’s because it is to me the least flawed. It is the most successful for what I tried to do. I succeeded more completely in my view with that than with anything else.” Even though it is kind of, yeah, as you said, janky, there are some like scattershot moments where there are imperfections that you can feel. It’s interesting that Welles considered it his most successful, his most kind of perfect movie. As a director Julian, do you feel like there are that kind of experience where there can be mistakes in the moment that still can feel perfect for what they are when you see it in kind of the final edit?
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, I think it is like, you know, when you enter into a film process, there’s something that you’re holding that is the thing that matters to you, you know, and usually it’s a feeling. And this movie thematically, Chimes at Midnight, is very on on-brand for Orson Welles, like he was grappling with his relationship with his parents his whole life. And this movie is about, you know, a prince, Prince Hal, with two father figures. He has his real father who’s the king, and he has this surrogate father, Falstaff, who’s just the jolliest, like, he’s like Santa Claus, he’s just the guy who’s funny, he gets into all kinds of trouble, loves to drink, and mess around and just kind of have fun. And the Prince has to choose ultimately, when a war arrives, what he’s going to do. And, you know, I think that emotion at the center of it, you know, the love that these two friends have for each other, and what happens there, it just comes through so clearly, despite all of the kind of production challenges and everything, and then of course, he’s making up for it with his choices. It’s so inspiring as a director to see someone in adverse conditions, making great artistic choices, like you can still do that. Even when you have no money, you have no time, the actors aren’t even there. [Mitchell laughs] You can still tell the story with the camera, and still feel really proud of it at the end of the day. I think that’s a very kind of wise place to land where it’s like, ‘Yeah, you know, didn’t come out exactly the way I imagined, but I’m still really proud of it.’
SLIM Alyssa Heflin left a review: “The tragedy of a guy abandoning his dudes.” That’s their review. [Julian & Slim laugh]
JULIAN That’s I suppose one way to put it. [Mitchell & Slim laugh]
SLIM I think that’s a perfect segue to talk about your film, God’s Country, coming out, let’s see, as of this episode being released, it should be out in just a few days.
JULIAN September 16.
SLIM Woof, right around the corner, sweating it right now. The big release. Co-written by yourself and Shaye Ogbonna. “When a grieving college professor confronts two hunters she catches trespassing on her property, she’s drawn into an escalating battle of wills with catastrophic consequences.” And as we start this discussion about your film, I do want to call out, I was doing my exhaustive research before this interview, as you know, and I was on your Instagram—and that’s part of my exhaustive research.
JULIAN That is exhaustive. [Mitchell & Slim laugh]
SLIM You had just posted the poster, and I was checking out the comments. I was like, ‘Let me dig in here.’ Thandiwe Newton quote in the comments, “The best director.” [Julian laughs] That’s pretty, pretty high praise Julian to start off this feature film, wouldn’t you say?
MITCHELL She’s worked with John Woo, Julian! [Julian & Mitchell laugh]
JULIAN That’s true. Yeah, I mean, I think we had a really productive and profound experience with making the movie. I mean, I’m sure she would agree. And, you know, the whole cast and the crew, when you go out in the middle of Montana in the winter, and you’re really not making any money. It’s a small, you know, ours was a small and scrappy movie with big ambitions. And, you know, you really do bond in that kind of scenario. But I think, you know, she expressed to me in early conversations that she just really identified with this character for a host of reasons, and it mattered a lot to her to be the person who did this. This is what she said. And so she really came to play, like she was not holding back. She wanted to give everything she could give to the character and to the film. And I really, I mean I know I’m biased, but I really think it shows.
SLIM It does.
JULIAN I think, I mean, I’ve been a fan of hers forever, since the John Woo days. [Mitchell laughs] You know, I mean, I’m just so proud of what we were able to accomplish. I mean, the fact that she trusted me the way she did was the thing that touched me the most to be honest, because, you know, obviously, she’s worked a lot of heavy hitters and was my first feature. But within hours of showing up in Montana, she was, we were just kind of thick as thieves.
MITCHELL Yeah, it’s a tremendous performance, I think it’s one of the best performances of the year. And I wasn’t familiar with the story that the film was based on before watching your films, so it was interesting kind of diving into the backstory around that and realizing that not only have you made the short film based on the same short story before, but that originally, the character is written as an older white man. And obviously you and Shaye worked to switch that over to a forty-something Black woman and you’ve talked about how kind of your decision to do that and your impetus for making the feature film was drawn out from your response to the 2016 election and just feeling the kind of anger that was nestling in there and the questions that you were having around that. Could you just talk a little bit about kind of that decision that you guys made? Why returning to the short story that you had already worked on before felt like the appropriate move for you at that time?
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, it is a short story by James Lee Burke, which actually, he’s put it on his website. So anybody who wants, who’s curious, can go read the short story. It’s a very, it’s very different and it’s a very short. And when I first read it, I thought it’d be perfect for a short film. But I very much did not think that there was enough material there to make a feature out of. But then what happened was, as you say, the 2016 election rolled around, you know, Shaye and I were in a very similar place of like, wanting to respond to what was happening in our work, which we’ll talk about that more when we about the other last two films. But just feeling like, if we were going to justify continuing to be filmmakers, we had to really engage, you know? And so this idea of trying to represent all these different issues that were interrelating and creating a scenario that was causing a lot of fear and anguish and anxiety and frankly still does, you know? That was what we were trying to do, and in our desire to make a movie that would capture the intersectionality of all of these issues, we thought changing the main character to the person who is not privileged in this society that we’ve built, you know, would allow us to—and then placing the audience with that character and making the project of the movie to make you feel with her, for her, understand her, you know, and involve everyone in the project in that, in that effort. That felt like a very important thing to do and it really carried us over the last five and a half years, you know? And of course it’s a huge responsibility, because like, your podcast audience can’t see, I’m a white guy, Shaye is a Black guy, but he’s a guy, you know? I mean, we’re two guys, we really understood that this was like something we had to do carefully and responsibly. And so that again, that’s why like, throughout the process, we were very open with the materials and trying to get as much feedback and input as we could, especially frankly from Black women who had lived rurally, just to make sure we weren’t fucking it up basically. And there are probably people who still think we fucked that up and that’s understandable. But, you know, Thandiwe was a huge part of that. I mean, you know, I mean, she felt very strongly about all kinds of issues that we’re bringing up in the film, and like, it was an ongoing conversation throughout the whole process.
SLIM Some of my favorite scenes in the movie were just like, the moments of stillness in the cinematography. And I mean, this location was gorgeous. And there are many scenes where you just kind of sit and stew with the character, like you’re literally with them in these moments. And like, when you’re camping up in the mountains, it’s like the same vibe, you know, it’s like total silence, and you hear your boots on the ground and maybe like going in the snow, and that’s it. So I loved it. And her character, she has the biggest balls I’ve seen in a movie in the last few months. [Mitchell laughs] She does not put up, like if I had hunters coming on my property and it was two dudes that looked a little scruffy, I maybe would probably just leave it with a note, and maybe wouldn’t go on. I’d be like, ‘You know what, you guys do whatever you want, you go hunting.’ But there are many moments that I love that she’s pretty much just done. Like, I’m not letting this go anymore. And there was a—
JULIAN Yeah, that’s very well said.
SLIM And there’s a great scene that I think is, kind of like shows some light into that, but in the church, where she has that conversation about the mothers, and they’re talking about, you know, she put up with a lot of shit in her life.
[clip of God’s Country plays]
SANDRA She got used to being unhappy.
SANDRA My mother had that.
SLIM She got used to being unhappy, and you can see that in her character that like, this isn’t how I want to be. And it influences so many decisions in the film and I thought it was very powerful.
JULIAN I think that was the cyclical nature of everything you’re seeing is something that we wanted to touch on in the movie. And, you know, really draw attention to this idea that there’s a repetition. We keep seeing these things happening over and over again and we know that we would like to change, and we can’t. And there’s a question in there on a personal level, and like on a social level, national level, how do we interrupt these cycles? And that’s something that character is really thinking about, and I think you’re totally right, she’s just kind of had it. And I think I feel that, I feel that now, no matter which side you’re on. Everyone is looking at the world and being like, ‘Well, we need to do some things differently, it can’t be the way it is.’ And so I think that’s probably why I’ve heard from all kinds of people that they really identify with his character and her journey because they feel that. And yeah, that scene, the church scene exists you to kind of show that they, explore that they could, these people who supposedly are antagonists, they could cross the bridge and like meet each other. You know, they share so much experience, even though they’re from different races, different backgrounds, different classes, different genders, everything is supposedly so divided between them, but actually, they have a lot in common. They are both humans, they have parents, they have feelings, they’re on a journey, you know, and that’s what allows the story to have a tragic component, is you see what could be possible.
MITCHELL Yeah, I think that more than—there’s so much that I appreciate about the film—but that more than anything is what really drew me towards it. It feeling like this desperate kind of plea for empathy and beyond just boilerplate empathy, of like caring for your other person, but empathy as you were kind of saying there, empathy where you’re pushing yourself past kind of the privilege and past these, like social and systemic structures that were put in, where it can be a little bit uncomfortable to, you know, all three of us are white people, as like white people to push ourselves where we are in a position where we can be criticized or something by other white people, if we’re like, sticking our necks out, right? And I think we see that multiple times with characters in this film, not only the hunters, specifically the older hunter in that church scene, but also her colleagues at work. You know, she works at this college, there’s talk about bringing in hires that are broadening representation there. And initially, some of her colleagues are advocating for that, but then when push comes to shove, we see that maybe they’re not advocating for it as strongly as they should and they kind of fall back on, “Well you’re here, you know, we hired you, the only Black woman in miles of this location, but you’re here, so you should appreciate that.” And yeah, that was just something that really stood out to me about the film, was that push for empathy beyond our comfort zones.
JULIAN Well, yeah, and I think like the real trick for us, for Shaye and I, as we were reading a project, what we were trying to do was make the audience, no matter who the audience is, understand that at least, you know? Because I think, it is a little bit frustrating that in our very polarized world that we talk about all the time, like we participate in that, like we’re sorting ourselves into different buttons, like we’re looking for the little indicators. Where am I supposed to be in relation to this thing? You know, and what we wanted to really do was make it so that people could watch the movie and see a set of human beings that are all complex and can make mistakes and are trying to figure shit out and like, relate to them on some kind of level. And no matter who you are, understand where she’s coming from, and why when someone says, “Look, we’re just trying to hire the best person for the job.” Like, why exactly is that a little bit scary for her? Why does that why does that not work for her?
SLIM Brian Tallerico left a very positive review: “A smart, stylish slow burn about acts of escalation that feels particularly timely. A phenomenal Thandiwe Newton performance. ‘We all gotta play by the same rules if this is gonna work.’ Yep.” Very positive take from Brian on Letterboxd.
JULIAN Yeah, that was, he wrote a really awesome review out of Sundance, I really tried not to read reviews, but I’ve always been a fan of Brian’s, so I was very, I really had my fingers crossed about it. It is strange to make a feature, like make your first feature, and then have these critics that, you know, grew up with and admire their opinions, weigh-in on your movie. Because you think you kind of have a relationship with them, because you followed along, and you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah. This is Brian, like, I love what he has to say about movies.’ And he could have been like, ‘Well, this was a piece of shit.’ [Mitchell & Slim laugh] And instead was he very complimentary. And it is quite something.
MITCHELL Yeah, that’s really interesting. I’ve never thought about that idea as a director that you are somebody who obviously is a huge fan of film, so you are following bigger film writers like Brian Tallerico, who has been writing for decades, who is, you know, such a huge name that you’re a fan of his as much as he’s a fan of other people. So then having that idea of somebody like that writing about your film, has this weird pressure.
JULIAN Well, it’s terrifying because you care about what they say. I mean, the truth is, I actually really do pay attention to what Brian writes, you know? So I really hope that he likes what I made. You know, it’s not it’s obviously not why we make the movie, but like, at this phase of the process, when the movie is about to come out, and the reviews are coming out, like the movie is very important to us, we made it because we care about these ideas, and we really wanted to communicate with an audience. So the thought that it might not work is pretty terrifying, you know? But I haven’t read most of the reviews because I just kind of can’t. But I read Brian’s because, you know—
SLIM If I get a like from ‘Not Julian Higgins’ then I know that that maybe was or was not your account, we’ll see, we’ll check out the data.
JULIAN Hmm, you never know! [Slim laughs]
MITCHELL know for sure that if Julian Higgins was on Letterboxd, he would be giving five stars to the next of his four faves, The Return, from 2003, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, with a 4.1 average rating on Letterboxd, 388 people have this film in their four favorites. The synopsis: “A story of two Russian boys whose father suddenly returns home after a twelve-year absence. He takes the boys on a holiday to a remote island on a lake that turns into a test of manhood of almost mythic proportions.” Julian, that word ‘mythic’ came up earlier in the discussion, I think around Rashomon, could you tell us a little bit about kind of what your discovery of The Return was when you first saw it and what really stood out for you about that?
JULIAN Well, you’re totally right, like this was the movie when I saw it that made me kind of know where I wanted to go as a filmmaker. Yeah, so like, I had basically figured out pretty early that I wanted to be a director, and a lot of my early influences were things like Orson Welles, but also like Monty Python, you know? And just wanting to be funny and inventive and imaginative. And I heard after school once on NPR in my mom’s car, I heard a review of The Return on After Fresh Air, basically. And I heard the music from the movie, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna like this movie.’ And I really, it took me another year to see it because it had to get released to the United States. But it really has that mythic thing that I love that you were mentioning. Even the synopsis sounds like a fairy tale, you know? Two brothers in a rural town whose father, they’ve never known their father, he comes back one day and wants to take them on a fishing trip. And it’s like, okay, this is now, somehow I know, this is about, this is existential. This is about the human condition and like generational cycles, and these kids coming to grips with their the absence of their father. It feels like a fairy tale as you’re watching it as well. I mean, this director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, he is probably my favorite director if I had to pick one. All his movies are pretty incredible. His more recent ones, Loveless and Leviathan are both, they could also be in my top four easily. Leviathan in particular was a strong influence on God’s Country. It was something we watched as a team and I wanted to kind of show people how, how that mythic storytelling can work, you know? There’s always a strong relationship between the psychology of the characters and the landscape, which is something that I really feel. The locations in his movies are just extraordinary, like you never thought you would want to go to Siberia, but now you do. [Mitchell & Slim laugh] And The Return is like, such a profound, philosophical exploration. Every time I watch it, I think I understand more about what it’s saying, but it is one of those things where it’s just, it’s a mystery, like it’s a mystery that my brain wants to keep returning to and and thinking more about.
SLIM This was a great watch, like I said earlier, first time watch. I’ll spotlight Marcissus’s review: “babe wake up it’s time to spend your day off watching miserable eastern european cinema and feeling like shit.” [Slim & Mitchell & Julian laugh]
JULIAN Sounds like a great Saturday to Julian!
SLIM It is. I love that review. I love it. I can absolutely see, I think I saw it, we’ll get to it later in Foxcatcher but, I can totally see the visual influence for sure in God’s Country, and just like you said, the setting too 100%. We’ll get into a little bit of spoilery stuff for this movie. Man, that beach. Holy smokes. So when I was first time watching this, the cinematography was gorgeous, every frame is also like a photograph, like a really gorgeous photograph that you’d probably make an Instagram page just from stills of this movie and I would follow it. But so when they finally get on the boat together, I was like so kind of separated from the movie, and then I checked Letterboxd while I was watching and then I looked at the poster and I was like, ‘Oh... The Return...’ and I don’t see the dad on the boat. [Mitchell & Slim laugh] So I was like, ‘Oh okay, this is where really, shit goes down.’ But man, what an ending. What a performance from everyone, like the father character. Oh my god. I wanted to just like slap him around. But the kids, especially towards the end, where you just like feel the... almost really like Sandra, from God’s Country, like ‘I pretty much had it at this point, I’m not dealing with this anymore. I’m saying no, we don’t want you here.’ That kid’s performance towards the end was insane, the ending was insane. I wasn’t really ready, even though I kind of like surmised what happened towards the end this movie. But, man...
JULIAN Yeah, it is a movie that sets up from the beginning what’s going to happen. And of course you don’t know that. But visually it’s doing that. There’s so many beautiful, visual repetitions and parallels and sort of, it has a kind of full-circle quality to it, which is fascinating. I mean, the movie is called The Return, you know? And it’s like a, it really is about these two kids. The father remains an enigma. And there’s all these—the question of what the father is doing, really, on this fishing trip remains a question, you know? And what I absolutely love in movies when there is a gap that is never explained by the movie, but the missing thing is actually the main thing, you know? And that’s something he does also in Loveless, Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. The first time I watched it, I knew I was incredibly compelled by it, but I didn’t know what happened. And it took me like a few viewings to be like, ‘Oh my god, I think I understand now.’ I just love that. I love when the movie is acting like I’m smart enough to figure it out. And it just, it allows things to be engaging and mysterious and evocative and make you think, without telling you the answers, you know?
MITCHELL Yeah, I think that you accomplished it really well in God’s Country. And at the same time, it’s like, while there’s so much to appreciate about the form, something that ties this in with God’s Country and Foxcatcher so well, is that you feel the humanity of these characters, I think even just from the opening scene of The Return, where it’s these group of boys, including the two young sons, and all these boys are going up on this platform of this body of water, and they all have to jump off of it and the younger boy is paralyzed by his fear of it, and the other kids, including his brother, are mocking him for it, you know, mocking him for not being a man, which is something that occurred as a theme that comes up a lot throughout the film. And within the opening moments of the movie, I knew that I loved it, because it just, it hit me so hard. It put me back in the spot when I was, you know, a kid struggling with my idea of what being a man is and like, everything around that and just feeling that very visceral feeling of being mocked and not being able to push yourself out of it. Like you know what you need to do to get them to stop making fun of you, all you have to do is jump, but somehow you’re just so frozen. And yeah, it just really, really hit me so hard. Just in the opening moments of watching the movie.
JULIAN It’s so relatable and emotional. And that is the thing, that’s the component that matters so much to me, is does the film love its characters? You know, that’s a huge dividing line for me, is I like movies that love their characters and aren’t outside of the character’s experience, kind of watching from afar, you know, sometimes even like laughing at them. I like when you’re encouraged as an audience member to care a lot and experience a lot of empathy, not just for the protagonists, but for all the characters, just to recognize ourselves on screen and learn about ourselves. That’s, I think, the point of it, you know?
SLIM From Siberia to Delaware, Foxcatcher, our final movie. 2014 by Bennett Miller, 3.5 average, 39 fans. This one, I remember the buzz, I remember the buzz about Foxcatcher when this came out. “The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul—a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.” This is a first time watch for me, I had totally forgotten the true story behind this. So once you eventually get to the climax of the movie, I was gobsmacked because I had totally forgotten. But what’s your experience? What’s your first time watch for this movie, Foxcatcher? And I would imagine, visually maybe, some of the moments of stillness in this as well were just as influential for you.
JULIAN Yeah, this was definitely in that same kind of mode as The Return. It’s very character driven, very interested in these, the psychology of these two brother wrestlers and this billionaire sort of who decides to start a wrestling team and take it to the Olympics. And it’s very fascinated by their psychology, but it also is happening in this—as I’ve been saying—mythic, poetic kind of frame. It places the way that the colors, the cinematography, the production design, the settings, it really becomes this very savage critique of American kind of capitalist, masculine success values. And it’s full of like Valley Forge imagery and the white, federal architecture, And it kind of like, has this very kind of bitter critique of the way we kind of do things here. But it’s fully dramatized to the story and it’s based on real events, too, which is—you know, a lot of movies get based on real events, and it’s sometimes hard to pull out a real human story that would be a valuable story to tell, even if it was fiction, you know? And this feels so true. I think the thing that grabs me about all four of these movies is there’s truth, you feel that it’s true. Even if it’s very unusual to you, it feels very foreign, there is emotional human truth in these movies that is undeniable. And then on top of that, you have like, Steve Carell of all people in this incredibly dark role of this very kind of twisted, twisted guy. And of course, he had a fake nose and like, physically transformed himself for this role and it’s pretty amazing what he does in it. But it’s also—I mean, I love Mark Ruffalo, I think this is his best work. I think it’s Channing Tatum’s best to work. I think it’s just, Bennett Miller seems to bring actors in and allow them to do their finest work. Let’s not forget, Capote was Philip Seymour Hoffman’s first lead role, you know? Bennett Miller is like, there’s always some central performance that just blows your mind.
MITCHELL I think Moneyball for me is Brad Pitt’s best performance. I think it’s him completely honing his star power thing and Bennett Miller just like brought it out of him, and Jonah Hill’s first Oscar nominated performance as well. Foxcatcher for me, I saw it in theaters when it came out. So I live in upstate Delaware, which is like, I live about 40 minutes away from Foxcatcher Farm. It’s like right near me in PA, and I remember Foxcatcher not a movie that typically would come to Delaware movie theaters, we pretty much just get the big mainstream kind of releases of the week. But Foxcatcher came here because it’s like major du Pont country and I remember just going to the theater to see it with my mom and it being a sold out, packed crowd, of mostly older people just all their to see this bleak as hell movie. But it was just people, like this story is like rooted in this area so much that people are just really drawn to it. And yeah, it’s so compelling. I was really grateful for you picking it for this podcast because I hadn’t seen it, I think I saw it like when it came out on Blu-ray, like a year or so after it came out. And so this is like my third time watching it, but I haven’t watched it in seven or so years and instantly just reminded how much it like seeps into your veins. And I think something that was really pulling out for me this time around was how much it plays things out very just matter-of-fact, but in playing it out matter-of-fact, you’re becoming aware of sort of like the absurdities of some of this stuff, like the fact that this guy is just given ownership over this whole team of you know, some of the best wrestlers in the world and he was just given free rein to coach them. He has like no real education for doing that, it’s just because he’s rich, and he’s able to, and it really speaks to a lot of that class hierarchy that exists in America where like, if you’re rich, yeah, you want to coach a wrestling team? Why not? Pay them as much money. You see in Dave Schultz, Mark Ruffalo’s character, he’s very reticent to going and being a part of this team for such a long period of time. And then du Pont just, you know, offers him enough money that he can move his whole family out there and there it is. And it just, it speaks to—which I think comes in God’s Country a lot too—just those systems that are in place that make these things possible.
JULIAN The first time I saw it was a AFI Fest in 2014 of all places, and it was supposed to have its US premiere at AFI Fest in 2013. And I learned at that screening that they had at the last minute pulled it because Miller was like, “It’s not done yet,” and they spent another year working on the edit. And I think when I think of that movie, and frankly all of Miller’s movies, like everything is that it’s A-game, like all the departments, all the aspects of filmmaking, it’s always A-game work from everyone. But the editing in particular, in his work, it feels so decisive, like ‘This is what you need to see right now and then as soon as that changes, it’s gone.’ It’s not a rapid cutting kind of thing, it’s an incredibly deliberate, you feel like you’re in such good hands from the beginning. And that’s really like, I love the experience as a movie watcher of feeling like the filmmakers know what they’re doing, and I can just go along with it. And if stuff comes up that I don’t understand, or that makes me curious, or there’s questions I have, I feel that trust, you know? And I feel that with Zvyagintsev, I feel that with Bennett Miller, obviously, Kurosawa. You know, Orson Welles, it goes without saying... [Mitchell & Slim laugh] Madman, but you know, don’t necessarily always feel that with Orson Welles. And also, I should say, the cinematography, Greig Fraser, who just won for Dune.
SLIM The king.
JULIAN Yeah, incredible, just an incredible movie from beginning to end.
MITCHELL I remember being super psyched for it when it was, you know, the buzz was building and then I remember that day that the AFI Fest 2013, you know, the announcement that came that it just wasn’t gonna be there anymore. And then yeah, a whole year later, and just kind of reading up about the process of it. Bennett Miller took that entire year to just keep editing the movie, and he said that he was in the editing room every single day, like he had other editors working with him on it, and he would be on their vacation days, he would still be in the editing room, he was not taking breaks. He was not, you know, doing the Orson Welles Chimes at Midnight thing of going and doing other movies and coming back to it. He was working on Foxcatcher every single day until it got done. Because he said the first cut of it was like over four hours long, and imagining getting a four-hour-long movie that you feel is perfect and then having to spend a whole year knocking it down to like 2:20 is crazy. You gotta kill so many of your darlings to get to that point.
JULIAN Yeah. And I think it’s like, this is something my editor Justin and I talked about when we were cutting the movie, was like we wanted it to be, we didn’t want it to feel rushed. We also wanted it to be as short as possible. You know? So like, where is that line of you have exactly what you need, and you don’t have any more and you’re not selling it short. You know? And I can understand spending a year on that. Just that question alone. [Mitchell & Julian laugh] But you know, like that movie, it has that distilled poetic thing to it. There’s so many, I mean we haven’t really gotten too specific about a lot of the moments in these movies. Obviously, there’s so much to compliment about these movies. But there is one moment in this film where Channing Tatum is like jogging through the woods on the Foxcatcher estate, and there’s a little sequence of him running through the woods, and then he gets up to a fenceline, and he looks into the pasture as Vanessa Redgrave who plays Steve Carell’s mother in the film, is, you know, sort of walking her horses with her horse trainers. And it’s like this guy who’s outside on the other side of the fence, peering into this luxury, wealthy American life that he has never been able to access, you know? And there’s the music there and the shot selection, everything is making you experience it as this very strange thing. It’s not something to aspire to, there’s something tragic about it. It’s so complex what he’s doing in the movie, and it’s making me—I mean, I drifted out of the movie in a daze. It was one of those movies where I walked home afterwards, because I just couldn’t, you know, process. I had to sit with it. And I think that’s the real test for me is how long after the movie does it continue to affect me?
SLIM Yeah, there’s one of the scenes that cracked me up was when they’re on that, I think they’re on a helicopter, they’re in an airplane, they’re going to that speech that he makes. [Slim laughs] But he gives them cocaine, and he’s just, like, “It’s just cocaine, it’s not going to kill you.” But I’m like, ‘You’re the coach of the wrestling team... you’re giving them cocaine?’ [Slim laughs] That was like, I guess maybe one of the many absurd moments in that movie where you’re like, some red flags being waved multiple times. But, you know, you’re kind of allured in, like Channing’s character, you’re like, ‘Maybe we’ll just see how long this ride lasts.’
JULIAN Absurd is the word for it, you know? Absurd is like, it really has an absurdity and a tragedy and an anger in it, that I just really feel like goes very well together.
MITCHELL Yeah, that scene is so good because it’s like, they do that riff, the “Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist...”
[clip of Foxcatcher plays]
Mark Schultz Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.
John du Pont Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.
Mark Schultz Ornithogolist [sic], philatelist, philanthropist.
John du Pont Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. Look at me. Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. Again.
Mark Schultz Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.
John du Pont Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. Again.
Mark Schultz Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.
John du Pont Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. Good!
MITCHELL At a moment like that, like you could have that in Anchorman, right, and it would be funny or whatever, but in Foxcatcher it’s like, really disturbing, it’s kind of funny but in a way that’s like really unsettling because so much tension has been built up to that point, that this guy doing this kind of riff, you almost feel like if I don’t do it right, he’s gonna do something to harm me almost like in this instance, like it just is really that nerving, kind of unnerving, kind of feeling is so present throughout the movie.
SLIM Yeah Carell in this, can you imagine being in a room with Carell’s character, du Pont, in any capacity? You’d want to be jumping out the window, at any point.
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, he understands in comedy and in drama, that his neutral face just pointed somewhere, carries so much, you know? I think the great actors that we’d like—I always think of Al Pacino, and Al Pacino in [The] Godfather, he is physically relaxed the entire film, his face is completely relaxed, his body is completely relaxed. And at the end, when he hits the table, says “Enough” like, that’s the first time he’s been intense in the entire movie. Those are choices, those are choices that directors and actors are making to carry you through the experience of the story. It’s just so impressive to me, this kind of filmmaking.
MITCHELL Yeah, I mean, it’s a tremendous film, as are all four of these. And I mean, it’s such a great selection. It’s a tough selection to get through all at once, but I’m the same as you Julian, bleak movies are my bag, 100%. So it was rewarding to revisit these ones that I had seen and check out, you know, Chimes at Midnight and The Return were both first watches for me. But as we’re kind of wrapping up, you know, your film’s coming out September 16, and we kind of wanted to ask, you know, did you have recommendations for people of films that you’ve seen recently that you really love? Or, you know, whether they’re new releases or older films that people might not be aware of that, you know, are apart from these four faves?
JULIAN Yeah, I mean, thank you so much for asking that, because of course I had to go through every movie I’ve ever watched to prepare for this podcast. [Mitchell & Slim laugh]
MITCHELL Yeah, just list them all, list off everything that you didn’t include before. [Mitchell laughs]
JULIAN Big influences on this movie... I mean, No Country for Old Men would certainly be, you know, on my top four in a different version of this. But that kind of, that style of storytelling, very controlled, very disciplined, kind of inevitable mythic feeling. That was a big reference point for us. No Country for Old Men, Foxcatcher, The Return and also Lady Macbeth, the Scottish movie from 2016 from William Oldroyd.
MITCHELL Florence Pugh!
JULIAN Yeah, Florence Pugh’s first sort of breakthrough roll. Those four movies really were the ones we talked about as we were writing God’s Country. So I would recommend all of those. But then as far as like me wanting to be a filmmaker and be around acting and creativity, Treasure Island I mentioned, The Adventures of Robin Hood…
JULIAN …from 1938 directed by Michael Curtiz, it was one of the first, I think it was one of Warner Bros’ first color, Technicolor movie. It’s just a movie that I’ve returned to so many times. It’s just fun. It’s like, if you watch these bleak movies, and you need a palate-cleanser, The Adventures of Robin Hood is just like an old-fashioned, fun movie. And then I’ll just throw in Memories of Murder, because I think that’s a movie that people have not, not enough Americans have seen Memories of Murder. This is by Bong Joon-ho, who directed Parasite and Snowpiercer and other movies, but it wasn’t his first movie, but it’s an incredible twisty, psychological thriller. I think it was early 2000s, andI think it’s his best movie, and I loved Parasite.
JULIAN But Memories of Murder is a movie that I think people should really seek out.
SLIM You mentioned The Adventures of Robin Hood, that’s one of my dad’s favorite movies. And I’ll age myself a little bit, but remember when HD DVD had come out, when it was battling Blu-ray? So I had an HD DVD add-on for my Xbox, and I bought The Adventures of Robin Hood in HD DVD and showed my dad and he almost wept watching the quality of The Adventures of Robin Hood in an HD format for the first time. It’s a gorgeous movie. Absolutely.
JULIAN It is truly gorgeous. And it has, you know, it was back in the days of contract players in Hollywood, where you’d have this roster of actors and it’s all the, you know, best character actors from Hollywood in the late ’30s that are in that movie, and it’s just kind of a rogue’s gallery of great character actors. But it’s just, you know, and it’s certainly like, it’s the original Robin Hood from which all other Robin Hoods spring. And it has my childhood hero Basil Rathbone... [Julian & Mitchell laugh] Which tells you a lot about me... Basil Rathbone plays the villain in that movie and he’s, you know, delectably evil. It’s kind of a, it’s a true classic. But other movies I love like, I love L.A. Confidential, I think that’s the movie that just like—
MITCHELL Hell yeah.
JULIAN There’s just like, a perfect script, you know? And I also recently rewatched Under the Skin, which I had seen once, but I feel like I’ve seen it so many times, because that movie just made such a strong impact on me. And I am in my own work, I feel myself turning more towards, like, away from realism a little bit. And so I was rewatching some movies that I’ve loved that are more kind of imaginative or expressive or even experimental. It’s incredible that Under the Skin got made at all, that movie is bananas in such a good way. I highly recommend people check that one out.
SLIM If you were to ask—we talked about your mom and French New Wave—if you were to ask your mom what her favorite French New Wave movie is, what would that be, you think?
JULIAN Wow. I mean, she actually wrote a book about the French New Wave, but the one that I really responded to as a kid and watched a lot, and it is kind of the classic, it’s The 400 Blows. Especially, my mom, she taught occasionally in France when I was growing up, and I would go with her as a kid when she would teach there. So I had explored Paris as a kid myself and like, went to school in France. And so seeing [The] 400 Blows as a kid, especially as a kind of imaginative kid that, I don’t know... wants to get out of school, basically. [Mitchell laughs] It really, really resonated with me that one. And, you know, there’s so many, so many good scenes in it, but there’s a scene where he kind of runs away and explores Paris at night, and he’s like, walking all around the monuments of Paris, this little kid at night alone, and it just kind of, I associated it with the feelings that I have about being a kid in France. Even though, again, that story is pretty bleak. [Slim & Mitchell laugh] But I think, I don’t know what she—I feel ashamed that I can’t immediately name her top French New Wave pick, but that would probably be mine.
SLIM You can comment on the Letterboxd post for this episode, and after you write, “Best podcast” like Thandiwe wrote, “Best director” you can follow up with the official movie title. [Julian laughs]
[The Letterboxd Show theme music Vampiros Dancoteque by Moniker fades in, plays alone, fades down]
MITCHELL Julian Higgins was our guest today and his film God’s Country is releasing in theaters September 16 from IFC Films. I highly recommend adding it to your watchlist and checking it out. As we mentioned before, Gemma is on assignment prepping for our busy film festival season so be on the lookout for more details on that—keep your eye on Journal. In the meantime, you’ll all have me for the next few weeks doing my very, very best to fill the lofty bar she has set.
SLIM Gemma, we miss you.
MITCHELL We miss you Gemma, come on back. [Slim laughs]
SLIM Do be sure to listen to Weekend Watchlist, our other weekly podcast, where me, Mitchell and Mia explore the latest releases in cinemas and on streaming every Thursday. And thanks to our crew, Jack for the facts, Brian Formo for booking and looking after our guest, Sophie Shin for the episode transcript and Samm for the art. And finally, to Moniker for our theme music. You can always drop us a line at .
MITCHELL The Letterboxd Show is a Tapedeck production. And Slim, from now on, please be sure to call me Eagle or Golden Eagle.
SLIM I’m 100% doing that by the way. [Mitchell laughs]
[clip of The Simpson plays]
MARGE Come on, Homer! Japan will be fun! You like Rashomon...
HOMER That’s not how I remember it...
[Tapedeck bumper plays] This is a Tapedeck podcast.