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A Q&A with Rick Alverson

'The Mountain' director talks about his latest film, irony, spirituality, and more

Rick Alverson
Photo credit: Courtesy Rick Alverson
MOUNTAIN MAN: Director Rick Alverson.

Rick Alverson is one of the most daring and confrontational filmmakers to come along in the last decade. He has made five feature films since his 2010 debut The Builder. His last three films have featured performances by Will Oldham, Colm O'leary (New Jerusalem), Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim (The Comedy), and Gregg Turkington, Tye Sheridan, and John C. Reily (Entertainment) — each defying any and all preconceived notions about casting.

His most recent film, The Mountain, stars Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hannah Gross, and french actor Denis Lavant (Holy Motors, Bad Blood, Mister Lonely). The film opens with a series of tableaus, reminiscent of Roy Anderson, then follows a lobotomist in the 1950's, played by Goldblum and loosely based on Walter Freeman, traveling with a young photographer. Lavant puts on a show-stealing performance during what could be considered the film's climax, delivering a surreal monologue.

Goldblum has compared the film to Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master. However, Andre Tarkovsky's style also comes to mind, with its use of enigmatic, visual poetry verses any kind of traditional storytelling devices.

Jeffrey Butzer: I understand you co-wrote this with two other people, Dustin Guy Defa and Colm O'Leary?

Rick Alverson: Essentially yes.

Is there a lot of improvisation in your films?

Not in this one, it is entirely scripted. There is some inevitable re-writing that happens on set, and compromises, but that's in the margins and largely how every production works. In the past, I flirted with improvisation, but this was very scripted, even Denis Lavant's monologues are down to the word. On this one, I wanted something that had a cinematic artificiality and I wanted to play with the delivery of scripted the fantastical stilted strange delivery of words from memory on the page.

I meant it as a compliment, the performances feel very natural and spontaneous, in your work, especially in The Comedy .

My films have become increasingly more rigorously controlled. But even with The Comedy there was what could be called traditional improvisation. The dialog wasn't scripted but the scenes were scripted. I was very strict about what we were trying to accomplish in the scene. I was less interested it what was said, and more interested in how it was being said.

I love all of your films, I was only recently able to see your debut, The Builder .

The Builder was my public learning experiment. I was asking more questions than anything. It was me with a camera and whoever I could get with a boom mic.

You mentioned Denis Lavant, I am a massive fan of his films with Leos Carax, those are some of my favorite films ever. Was the role written for him, or was he recommended to you?

I don't think any of my casting is ever recommended to me. I have strong opinions about that sort of stuff. I am a big fan of Holy Motors, Beau Travail, and all of his stuff.

The Mountain opens in Atlanta on Aug. 8.

Super, how is the theater it is showing at?

The Plaza is a great theater, one of my favorite places to see films. Crispin Glover has done his road show there.

Oh, right.

I was thinking that it is a little ironic that your new film is opening in most cities the same day as Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. I recall you saying in an interview that there are enough films out there celebrating film. Your work does feel like the antithesis of his.

Sure, that sounds like I said that. I have developed a cinematic animosity for that sort of celebratory re-circulation. Don't get me wrong, he is a master craftsmen, one of the last of the new, old Hollywood masters. I have an ethical problem with Django Unchained, as this recreational revisionist history for the sake of audience catharsis without any concept of how an entire demographic of our country are stripped of their history. That's what happens when you grow up just watching movies, they turn into weapons and you don't even know it.

The first of your films that I saw was New Jerusalem, and one thing that drew me into your work, was the lack of irony. That one is an earnest film about a Christian, and I assumed you weren't a religious person.

In my regular life I am a staunch atheist, and I find the intoxication of religion dangerous. But what I started realizing with New Jerusalem, is that doesn't mean I don't want to understand human beings that seek refuge in it. With that film I thought, wait a second ... to use the medium to bridge a gap between you and another person in an expressive mode that is almost fully promotional, is totally fucking boring. So, I wanted to use the medium to comprehend things I have a prejudice against or find repulsive, whether it is cinematic language or rich white dickheads in New York. It felt valuable in that way. I was adamant that I didn't want it to be promotional, I wanted it to be connective tissue between me and the object of my curiosity. So, in New Jerusalem, there is no editorial footprint or a critique of the evils of religion. If anything, it is a critique on secularism, as never having developed a safety net when it pulls out the value in the role of religion.

Around the time I recently re-watched your films, I had read Paul Schrader talking about existentialism and irony in film in different decades

People who are not really willing to engage with the unseemly subject matter of The Comedy, and Entertainment, or things that might make them feel culpable for cultural sins, pass those films off as being cut from the cloth of irony, but they really aren't. The subject matter of The Comedy is a working mode of engagement and verbal communion between people and as this force field against the world. The only thing ironic about The Comedy is the title.

Here is the final softball question, do you have a single favorite film?

No, I have 27 favorite films that change all the time. Woman Under the Influence never leaves my list. I did a top 10 for Criterion that has 13 films on it. That should come out soon.

The Mountain is showing at the Plaza Theatre August 9-15. See www.plazaatlanta.com for details.



More By This Writer

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I fell in love with Leonard Cohen’s music at a pivotal time in my life. I was 15 years old and looking outward to find inspiration, while looking deep within myself to find my own voice. Cohen quickly became the greatest of all of the songwriters I encountered. I admired his grace and poise and learned much from him as a person. He spoke with thoughtful and articulate grace, and above all else, he was kind. Even when talking about the atrocities of the world, he spoke with abstraction and rarely with vitriol. I admired him so much, when I was 19 years old, I even considered becoming a monk as he did.

 My love for Cohen’s work is blind and bears a complete lack of objectivity. It’s the kind of love that allows one to see beyond the imperfections — to even celebrate the flaws — and defend them (“Jazz Police” and “The Captain” aren’t that bad). I delved into his work while working as a film projectionist, which can be a lonely profession. I knew my wife, Melissa, but we were not together yet. I would sit in my little gray office and listen to his albums Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs From a Room, and Recent Songs nearly every night one fall and winter. I felt cool and mature for liking his music. I didn’t have his Wikipedia page or biography in my hand back then, so I could only imagine who Marianne, Suzanne, and Nancy were. Judging from his photos in the album sleeves, he seemed to be born an elder statesman, some amalgamation of a biblical character, Philip Marlowe, and Federico García Lorca. At a glance, his songs appear small. Inside, they are vast and filled with a sad, wry, self-deprecating warmth in his voice that is both haunting and beautiful. I only saw Cohen perform once in 2009 at the Fox Theatre. My wife was nine months pregnant with our first son, Francis. The show was mesmerizing, inspiring, and transcendent — the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have ever had.I once heard director Peter Greenaway speak about the death of his father. He lamented that all of his father’s thoughts and ideas were now gone. I don’t believe there is anything after death, so this echoed within me as I received the news of Cohen. I told Francis, now 6 years old, about his death and how we saw him when he was in the womb. He said, “Sorry, dad, but at least you still have all his songs to listen to.”In October, Cohen released his final album, You Want It Darker, his most powerful album since 1992’s The Future. The new album is fraught with string and piano arrangements I’ve wanted from him for years. He told the New Yorker he was ready to die, and you can hear the sentiment in every note of the album.
         

I always knew that one day the world would lose him. However, it seems unimaginable that he is not sprinting onto a stage in Barcelona with his charming smile and fedora, or drinking tea in a garden and scribbling in his notebook, wearing a suit and tie at 11 a.m. We will never have Leonard Cohen again, but we will always have his songs. — Sincerely, J. Bützer
        

Jeffrey Bützer is an Atlanta-based pianist and songwriter who performs with the Bicycle Eaters and the Compartmentalizationalists. He lives with his wife, Melissa, two sons, two cats, and two fish.
Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters play Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye: The Music of Leonard Cohen. Ft. Molly Harvey (the Residents), Ryan Peoples (Oryx and Crake), Nikki Speake (Midnight Larks), and more. Free. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 19. Star Bar, 437 Moreland Ave. N.E. www.starbar.net."
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I fell in love with Leonard Cohen’s music at a pivotal time in my life. I was 15 years old and looking outward to find inspiration, while looking deep within myself to find my own voice. Cohen quickly became the greatest of all of the songwriters I encountered. I admired his grace and poise and learned much from him as a person. He spoke with thoughtful and articulate grace, and above all else, he was kind. Even when talking about the atrocities of the world, he spoke with abstraction and rarely with vitriol. I admired him so much, when I was 19 years old, I even considered becoming a monk as he did.

 My love for Cohen’s work is blind and bears a complete lack of objectivity. It’s the kind of love that allows one to see beyond the imperfections — to even celebrate the flaws — and defend them (“Jazz Police” and “The Captain” aren’t that bad). I delved into his work while working as a film projectionist, which can be a lonely profession. I knew my wife, Melissa, but we were not together yet. I would sit in my little gray office and listen to his albums ''Songs of Leonard Cohen'', ''Songs From a Room'', and ''Recent Songs'' nearly every night one fall and winter. I felt cool and mature for liking his music. I didn’t have his Wikipedia page or biography in my hand back then, so I could only imagine who Marianne, Suzanne, and Nancy were. Judging from his photos in the album sleeves, he seemed to be born an elder statesman, some amalgamation of a biblical character, Philip Marlowe, and Federico García Lorca. At a glance, his songs appear small. Inside, they are vast and filled with a sad, wry, self-deprecating warmth in his voice that is both haunting and beautiful. I only saw Cohen perform once in 2009 at the Fox Theatre. My wife was nine months pregnant with our first son, Francis. The show was mesmerizing, inspiring, and transcendent — the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have ever had.I once heard director Peter Greenaway speak about the death of his father. He lamented that all of his father’s thoughts and ideas were now gone. I don’t believe there is anything after death, so this echoed within me as I received the news of Cohen. I told Francis, now 6 years old, about his death and how we saw him when he was in the womb. He said, “Sorry, dad, but at least you still have all his songs to listen to.”In October, Cohen released his final album, ''You Want It Darker'', his most powerful album since 1992’s ''The Future''. The new album is fraught with string and piano arrangements I’ve wanted from him for years. He told the ''New Yorker'' he was ready to die, and you can hear the sentiment in every note of the album.
         

I always knew that one day the world would lose him. However, it seems unimaginable that he is not sprinting onto a stage in Barcelona with his charming smile and fedora, or drinking tea in a garden and scribbling in his notebook, wearing a suit and tie at 11 a.m. We will never have Leonard Cohen again, but we will always have his songs. — Sincerely, J. Bützer
        

''Jeffrey Bützer is an Atlanta-based pianist and songwriter who performs with the Bicycle Eaters and the Compartmentalizationalists. He lives with his wife, Melissa, two sons, two cats, and two fish.''
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I fell in love with Leonard Cohen’s music at a pivotal time in my life. I was 15 years old and looking outward to find inspiration, while looking deep within myself to find my own voice. Cohen quickly became the greatest of all of the songwriters I encountered. I admired his grace and poise and learned much from him as a person. He spoke with thoughtful and articulate grace, and above all else, he was kind. Even when talking about the atrocities of the world, he spoke with abstraction and rarely with vitriol. I admired him so much, when I was 19 years old, I even considered becoming a monk as he did.

 My love for Cohen’s work is blind and bears a complete lack of objectivity. It’s the kind of love that allows one to see beyond the imperfections — to even celebrate the flaws — and defend them (“Jazz Police” and “The Captain” aren’t that bad). I delved into his work while working as a film projectionist, which can be a lonely profession. I knew my wife, Melissa, but we were not together yet. I would sit in my little gray office and listen to his albums Songs of Leonard Cohen, Songs From a Room, and Recent Songs nearly every night one fall and winter. I felt cool and mature for liking his music. I didn’t have his Wikipedia page or biography in my hand back then, so I could only imagine who Marianne, Suzanne, and Nancy were. Judging from his photos in the album sleeves, he seemed to be born an elder statesman, some amalgamation of a biblical character, Philip Marlowe, and Federico García Lorca. At a glance, his songs appear small. Inside, they are vast and filled with a sad, wry, self-deprecating warmth in his voice that is both haunting and beautiful. I only saw Cohen perform once in 2009 at the Fox Theatre. My wife was nine months pregnant with our first son, Francis. The show was mesmerizing, inspiring, and transcendent — the closest thing to a spiritual experience I have ever had.I once heard director Peter Greenaway speak about the death of his father. He lamented that all of his father’s thoughts and ideas were now gone. I don’t believe there is anything after death, so this echoed within me as I received the news of Cohen. I told Francis, now 6 years old, about his death and how we saw him when he was in the womb. He said, “Sorry, dad, but at least you still have all his songs to listen to.”In October, Cohen released his final album, You Want It Darker, his most powerful album since 1992’s The Future. The new album is fraught with string and piano arrangements I’ve wanted from him for years. He told the New Yorker he was ready to die, and you can hear the sentiment in every note of the album.
         

I always knew that one day the world would lose him. However, it seems unimaginable that he is not sprinting onto a stage in Barcelona with his charming smile and fedora, or drinking tea in a garden and scribbling in his notebook, wearing a suit and tie at 11 a.m. We will never have Leonard Cohen again, but we will always have his songs. — Sincerely, J. Bützer
        

Jeffrey Bützer is an Atlanta-based pianist and songwriter who performs with the Bicycle Eaters and the Compartmentalizationalists. He lives with his wife, Melissa, two sons, two cats, and two fish.
Jeffrey Bützer and the Bicycle Eaters play Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye: The Music of Leonard Cohen. Ft. Molly Harvey (the Residents), Ryan Peoples (Oryx and Crake), Nikki Speake (Midnight Larks), and more. Free. 9 p.m. Sat., Nov. 19. Star Bar, 437 Moreland Ave. N.E. www.starbar.net.             20842172         http://dev.creativeloafing.com/image/2016/11/Leonard_Cohen.582a2f6719d51.png                  Hey, that's no way to say goodbye! "
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Article

Tuesday November 15, 2016 08:24 pm EST
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*Rocky Schenck
*Crispin Hellion Glover
Crispin Glover is perhaps best known for his roles in blockbusters such as Charlie’s Angles, Alice in Wonderland  and of course, Back to the Future. But his scene-stealing characters in films like David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man hew slightly closer to the kind of experience he brings to the Plaza Theatre this week. 

This Wednesday and Thursday Glover will host and perform in "The Big Slide Show Part 2," a multimedia event that features dramatic narration by Glover of eight of his illustrated books and screenings of his feature films What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. A q&a and book signing follows each show.

Can you explain a little about the Big Slide Show to the uninitiated?
For Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
 
When did you start working on the books?
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. 

I made most of the books in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Some of the books utilize text from the binding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about 20 of them.
 
 
Are there some similarities to that process that carry over into your directing/filmmaking?
When I was editing my first feature film What is it? there was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visual representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I now call Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Side Show Part 1. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience’s energy and my energy."
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*[http://clatl.com/atlanta/ImageArchives?by=1289728|Rocky Schenck]
*Crispin Hellion Glover
[http://www.crispinglover.com/|Crispin Glover] is perhaps best known for his roles in blockbusters such as ''Charlie’s Angles'', ''Alice in Wonderland '' and of course, ''Back to the Future''. But his scene-stealing characters in films like David Lynch’s ''Wild at Heart'' and Jim Jarmusch’s ''Dead Man'' hew slightly closer to the kind of [http://plazaatlanta.com/COMING_SOON.html|experience he brings to the Plaza Theatre this week]. 

This Wednesday and Thursday Glover will host and perform in "The Big Slide Show Part 2," a multimedia event that features dramatic narration by Glover of eight of his illustrated books and screenings of his feature films ''[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBhPUe8Bvvw&feature=related|What is it?]'' and ''[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EJqmf8cJOs|It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE]''. A q&a and book signing follows each show.

__Can you explain a little about the ''Big Slide Show'' to the uninitiated?__
For ''Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show'' I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
 
__When did you start working on the books?__
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. 

I made most of the books in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Some of the books utilize text from the binding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about 20 of them.
 
 
__Are there some similarities to that process that carry over into your directing/filmmaking?__
When I was editing my first feature film ''What is it?'' there was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visual representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I now call ''Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Side Show Part 1''. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience’s energy and my energy."
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*Rocky Schenck
*Crispin Hellion Glover
Crispin Glover is perhaps best known for his roles in blockbusters such as Charlie’s Angles, Alice in Wonderland  and of course, Back to the Future. But his scene-stealing characters in films like David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man hew slightly closer to the kind of experience he brings to the Plaza Theatre this week. 

This Wednesday and Thursday Glover will host and perform in "The Big Slide Show Part 2," a multimedia event that features dramatic narration by Glover of eight of his illustrated books and screenings of his feature films What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. A q&a and book signing follows each show.

Can you explain a little about the Big Slide Show to the uninitiated?
For Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
 
When did you start working on the books?
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. 

I made most of the books in the ’80s and very early ’90s. Some of the books utilize text from the binding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about 20 of them.
 
 
Are there some similarities to that process that carry over into your directing/filmmaking?
When I was editing my first feature film What is it? there was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

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Article

Tuesday February 7, 2012 12:50 pm EST

  • Rocky Schenck
  • Crispin Hellion Glover

Crispin Glover is perhaps best known for his roles in blockbusters such as Charlie’s Angles, Alice in Wonderland and of course, Back to the Future. But his scene-stealing characters in films like David Lynch’s Wild at Heart and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man hew slightly closer to the kind of experience he brings to the Plaza Theatre this week.

This Wednesday...

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