Kool Kat of the Week: “We were all gods.” – Jane Wodening (Brakhage), an Elusive yet Central Character in American Cinema, Discusses Art and Life During “Jane Wodening in Person” Hosted by Film Love Atlanta

Posted on: Feb 9th, 2016 By:

by Melanie Crewuntitled
Managing Editor

Jane Wodening, first wife to acclaimed experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage, is a central character in the avant-garde film world. Jane is set to speak about her life in and out of cinema, her collaboration and marriage to Brakhage, as well as her own writing, at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center on Sat. Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Included in this event is the screening of three short films focusing on Wodening, all shot in 16mm: WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959 – 12 min/Stan Brakhage); HYMN TO HER (1974 – 2 min./Stan Brakhage); and JANE BRAKHAGE (1975 – 10 min./Barbara Hammer). “Jane Wodening in Person” is hosted by Andy Ditzler [March 2011; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Andy here] and Film Love Atlanta. Don’t miss out on this exciting and rare opportunity to delve into the life of Jane Wodening, in her own words.

Wodening’s marriage to Brakhage spanned three decades (1957-1987). Their marriage and family life, including rarely exposed intimate details, is the subject of many of Brakhage’s filmic endeavors. Although Brakhage is considered one of the of “the most important figures of 20th century experimental film,” Wodening’s collaboration with him is noteworthy in itself. She was not merely the subject, or “muse,” but was an active participant in the production of those films. Additionally, Wodening spent the last few decades churning out her own art; her written words (prose poetry, fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, etc.) can be found on her website here [FROM THE BOOK OF LEGENDS (1988); LUMP GULCH TALES (1993); BOOK OF GARGOYLES (1999); LIVING UP THERE (2013); BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD (2015)] and most recently WOLF DICTIONARY (2016), which she will include at Film Love Atlanta’s event.

ATLRetro caught up with Jane Wodening for a quick interview about her life and collaboration with Stan Brakhage, her artistic influences,  the importance of the written word and her desire to write the biography of the 51+QfAD2iYL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_Universe.

ATLRetro: You were a necessary component in the films of Stan Brakhage, as his wife and “muse.” Did you ever see yourself as something greater than the films themselves, or did you consider yourself a necessary part of the whole that was Stan Brakhage?

Jane Wodening: Naturally, I thought of myself as myself, but I felt that he was saying that I inspired him.

Stan’s films delved deeply into your marriage and family life. Did you ever feel overly exposed to the public? And how did you deal with that exposure?

When we were filming, we were alone. When the films were made and shown and people would ask me that, I’d say, well, that was then, and this is now. What I am is here before you, and I’m not those images.

Can you tell our readers about the roles you played in Brakhage’s films? Meaning, we see you onscreen, but did you assist in the techniques used? Did you work with Stan behind the scenes, preparing the films?

Yes. They were his films, always, but I did a lot. The world he photographed was my world; the children were under my guidance. Sometimes I’d run the camera, help him with editing, change things. We always discussed it if I did. Once or twice, I was the Sound Man. He said many times that “by Brakhage” meant by me also, AND the kids, and there was some truth in that. I was surely devoted to him and his work.

Stan, Jane - Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

Stan, Jane – Still from WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING (1959)

What are your thoughts on WINDOW WATER BABY MOVING? Were you supportive of Stan filming the birth of your first child? Looking back, what do you feel now that maybe you didn’t feel then?

I was agreeable to it. We were in this together. This was our life and he was a film artist. Naturally, he would want to film the birth. He filmed every birth. I liked having him there with me.

There must be an interesting story about how you and Stan met. Can you fill our readers in on your meeting?

I saw him twice before we met. The first time, I was coming out of the opera house with my date. We had gone to the matinee, and there on the street were two guys dueling. My date said, “Yes, they have a very off-beat little theatre in a tent.” But we didn’t have time to go to it. The duelists were Stan and Larry Jordan. The second time I was working across the street from Rockefeller Center in New York and I’d go to the Rockefeller Plaza to eat my sack lunch. When it rained I went into the mall where I found a Brentano’s Bookstore and bought books from him, but he would not look at me.

The third time was when I was introduced to him. He was renting a little house in Denver and my boyfriend at the time introduced me to him, said he was a genius. He started teaching a class unofficially with the film club, and my cousin Betsy and I sat in the back row giggling about “The Great Brakhage” because he seemed to be presenting himself that way. But one moment we stood together under a tree and fell in love. I was amazed when he didn’t contact me. He was with another girl who knew me, and finally said to him, “I think Jane Likes you.” By this time I was horribly depressed untitled (6)and sent him a letter, so he called me up and said he loved me and to come and visit him. It was about six weeks later that we married.

The ‘50s and ‘60s were a time filled with art and stories and experimentation in all forms. Can you tell our readers a little about your and Stan’s life in art before your children were born?

I entered the scene in 1957, and while the children were being born, we traveled a lot and met and befriended as many of the artists in all fields as we could. It was a very lively scene. We were all gods. We were very poor and we were going to change the world. We all knew each other, were drawn to each other like magnets, and we all agreed. It was exhilarating. And we did change the world.

We see that your most recent book, BRAKHAGE’S CHILDHOOD, is a retelling of Stan’s Depression-era childhood, as told to you in the ‘80s in conversations with Stan. In what ways do you think Stan’s formative years affected his art, his career, his family?

He was born a precocious child. He loved to get attention and he loved theatre. As a child, he put on shows, sang in the church, whatever. He had a rough childhood, pillar to post. He never outgrew being the center of the world.

Can you tell us a little about your most recent book, WOLF DICTIONARY?

I have it here. As a child, I ran with dogs, learned what they were communicating. I’ve always thought I learned dog WolfDictionaryCoverlanguage first and English as a second language. In my early 20s, I wanted to write a dog dictionary. Years later, three people told me about the time when they lived “way up the road beyond where the snowplow went across a winter and they watched a wolf and his mates.” I was very charmed by this story, but couldn’t figure how to present it. I finally realized that I could write it from the viewpoint of the wolf. But even then, people would read it and still they wouldn’t learn the language. So I added notes, talked about why the animal made that gesture, what it meant. To me it seemed obvious as pie. So that’s WOLF DICTIONARY. It’s a key to start understanding animals and what they are communicating.

How has your writing evolved over the years? Has there been a change in subject-matter? Tone? In your youth did you feel the need to express ideas that you don’t quite feel the need to express now?

In fact, I didn’t start writing until I was nearly 40, but even then, across the last 40 years, I have changed a lot in my writing. I never was interested in writing fiction. I always wanted to write to understand something that came to my attention. At first, I felt obliged to write a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, but then I got really excited about the realism of form that anecdote gave. Now I feel that biography can get to understanding the life if the motives and drives are shown and develop into acts and responses and perspectives. I’m now considering writing the biography of the earth, to clarify the legend that the scientists are excited about. It will be a sort of translation. I’m hoping I can show it as adventures.

untitled (5)Which writers (poets, novelists, etc.) influenced you the most?

I think my first big influence was Rembrandt who looks at me through his eyes and we look at each other. He tells me to work, to pour out vitality. Gertrude Stein is reassuring. She tells me it’s perfectly okay to be an odd-ball. Henry James tells me it’s all right to talk at great length about little details; just dance it, and I’ll have it right. Poe shows me how to put rhythm into my writing, to write the percussion and the beat. Vivaldi says to make living landscapes with whatever media. My father taught me to be blown away by a squirrel or an anthill or a bush.

With regards to filmmaking and art, who were your and Stan’s biggest influences?

I think I was his and he was mine.

Are there any filmmakers today (experimental and/or narrative) that you find intriguing?

Ken Jacobs, Ernie Gehr, Nathaniel Dorsky, all close to my age. I wonder if there are any young people doing art? I know there’s much that has been done in comic format. Rap seems full of energy, but it seems hard to avoid selling a message. I don’t know. It may be an in-between time, or possibly I’m unaware of what’s going on with the young. There is always talent, and talent is a beautiful thing, no matter what one does with it, but great periods like Baroque music or the Impressionists seem to be the blooming times.

What is your take on compartmentalizing art and films into genres? Do you think these types of creative outlets canuntitled (4) be properly tucked away into a single box? Or do you think most art (including film) overlaps several different genres?

When I tried to get agents or publishers to publish me, they’d say, but what is your genre? Evidently, if you’re writing in a genre, you know what you have to do and you get published. This doesn’t interest me. I write what I write.

Can you offer any advice to our readers about film, personal expression and creativity?

Whatever you do you’ll do what you’re told. The question is, who do you want to listen to? – The shop boss? There’s a steady job. – The pulse of the culture? – If you do that, you might starve and/or become famous. How about that inner voice? – How about writing what you want to know? – That’s where I’m at – I write to think.

What’s next for Jane Wodening?

I want to write the biography of the earth. There is some possibility that it will be the biography of the Universe. I’d like to put it all into common English, so anyone could know at least the theory of the moment – the amazing adventures of this planet and the life on it. I have a mess of little pieces of writing I’d like to put into shape – animal biographies, other thoughts. I really enjoy thinking. There’s nothing more fun than thinking.

Can you tell our readers what they can expect at Film Love Atlanta’s event, “Jane Wodening in Person,” on February 13?

51MKKshYY7L._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_They can expect to be surprised about a number of things.

We know you’ve done plenty of interviews, but is there something you’d like to tell our readers that they don’t know already?

I’m not sure what to say to this. I’m hoping they have open minds.

Photos courtesy of Jane Wodening and used with permission.

 

 

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Bret Wood Transfuses Fresh Blood in a 20th Century Southern Gothic Cinematic Retelling of CARMILLA at the Atlanta Film Festival

Posted on: Mar 27th, 2014 By:

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The Atlanta Film Festival kicks off this Friday with 10 days of screenings and events and, as usual, plenty of local talent will have their work on display. Among the screenings is the new Southern Gothic horror film, THE UNWANTED, written and directed by local badass Bret Wood, and playing on Monday, March 31 at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Wood has had a long career in and among the movies, finding time to direct darkly erotic features like PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (2006) and THE LITTLE DEATH (2010) when he’s not knee deep in the business of film restoration and distribution as vice president of special projects at Kino Lorber. Wood also devotes time to researching and writing about cinema history. Among his credits as a writer and editor is an edition of the QUEEN KELLY (1929) screenplay by the legendary Erich von Stroheim; HELL’S HIGHWAY, a documentary about those infamous highway safety films; and a book on exploitation cinema appropriately titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT.

With THE UNWANTED, Wood returns to a world of repressed erotic desire. The story, inspired by a famous Sheridan Le Fanu vampire novella, concerns a young woman named Carmilla (Christen Orr) who drifts into a small Southern town on the hunt for a missing loved one. What she finds instead is a sheltered girl named Laura (V/H/S’s Hannah Fierman) held close by her disapproving father (William Katt, THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO). As Carmilla and Laura become drawn to one another, their passion uncovers a nest of dark family secrets that lead to a bloody, deadly confrontation.

Wood recently spoke to ATLRetro about his new film and his career exploring in the darker corners of cinema.

ATLRetro: THE UNWANTED transplants Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic Gothic novella CARMILLA into a Southern Gothic setting. What does moving the location to the South add to the story?

Bret Wood: The change of setting didn’t greatly alter the tone of the story. Rural 19th-century Ireland is not SO different from modern-day rural Georgia. The key thing is that, in both versions, events unfold in an isolated setting in which the people are somewhat disconnected from the world around them.  That sort of geographic space tends to mirror itself in the psychology of those who live there – isolated, insulated, and not in touch with the world beyond the community. It can be very comfortable to live in a place like that – surrounded by people who share your values – but a certain closed-mindedness is almost inevitable. A suspicion of outsiders, a distrust of those who are guided by a different moral compass, a setting in which a visitor would be immediately viewed with suspicion.

And the ingredients of the Gothic work just as well in the 21st Century as the 19th: themes of a family curse, a poisoned bloodline, dreams haunted by spirits, the sublime beauty of nature, the decaying family estate, the menacing lord of the manor. We just did it without corsets, carriages and candelabras.

Engraving from a 19th century edition of CARMILLA.

Your film takes a very naturalist approach to CARMILLA’s horror elements. Can you talk about the process of adapting the story away from the supernatural while retaining its core?

I love Le Fanu’s story, but I don’t believe in the supernatural – and I didn’t want to make a movie about something that I don’t believe in. So I had to find a plausible variation on conventional vampirism. There’s no such thing as vampires in the sense of a person becoming immortal or being capable of transforming into an animal, but there ARE people who engage in recreational bloodletting. My 2006 movie, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS, dramatizes two real-life examples from the Victorian era in which the exchange of blood was a sort of sex substitute.

So the challenge was to create a form of emotionally-charged bloodletting that two people might engage in – and this bloodplay could, from an outsider’s perspective, appear to be vampirism. In my version of vampirism, the blood isn’t for drinking. I’ll leave it at that. People will just have to see the movie.

Your film grapples with gender and gay/lesbian themes in the midst of a horror tale. How does the horror genre help you to tackle these types of important contemporary issues?

Even though it does have lesbian/bisexual characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call THE UNWANTED an LGBT film. It deals with a more universal experience:  the choice between staying in one place and following the traditions and values of one’s family, versus cutting the emotional cord and following one’s own path. Conformity versus individuality.

You might say that THE UNWANTED is about the painful process of “coming out” – whether from an emotional cocoon or the closet. On second thought, maybe it’s more of an LGBT film than I thought.

As far as horror goes, I had to tread a narrow line. In CARMILLA, the horror lies in the lesbianism of the two central characters -Le Fanu only suggests that they are lovers. And in my retelling, the father still needed to perceive the lesbian relationship as monstrous, but it was crucial that the audience view the relationship as loving and harmonious, even when there’s blood flowing between them.

For a while, I thought about calling the film WATER AND BLOOD to contrast the difference between friendships vs. family relationships, but I figured that was stretching the blood symbolism too far.

THE UNWANTED stars William Katt in a fairly dark and menacing role. How did he come to be involved in the project and what did he bring to the character?

I met him through executive producer Eric Wilkinson, who had worked with him a couple of times (THE MAN FROM EARTH (2007), SPARKS (2013)), and who told me Bill enjoys working on indie projects. He was very enthusiastic about the script, and had a significant impact upon the role. Originally, the character of Troy (Laura’s father) was an unequivocal villain, whose purpose it was to thwart Carmilla. Bill cultivated Troy’s human side, asked me to write a scene in which Troy and Laura spend time together, so we see they have a healthy, loving relationship. That was the inspiration for the horseback riding scene.

To Bill, as an actor, it was always important that the audience understand that Troy loves his daughter, and loved his wife, and the acts of violence he commits arise from his genuine desire to protect them. This inner conflict really shines through in his performance. And it’s so effective that we decided to further downplay his villainy by removing at least one really creepy sequence – which will no doubt appear on the DVD. We decided that rather than showing the audience what horrors this guy is capable of, we should let them wonder.

You’ve had a role in restoring and championing classic movies through your work at the Blu-Ray and DVD distributor Kino Lorber. Is there an overlooked title you would recommend, perhaps one that would make a nice pairing with THE UNWANTED?

I love classic film – the older the better – and am lucky that I get to spend much of each day mastering, packaging and writing about great films, whether it’s silent American films or European horror cinema of the 1960s and ’70s. I was watching a lot of Jean Rollin while working on THE UNWANTED, and would say that traces of his 1975 film LIPS OF BLOOD definitely found their way into my movie. Bill Gunn‘s erotic vampire film GANJA AND HESS (1973) and Jess Franco‘s FEMALE VAMPIRE (1973) were big influences as well. All of them were made by indie filmmakers with limited resources, but who attempted to dig deep into complex emotions that don’t get touched by the typical horror film. And, lest you think I was only influenced by vampire films, you don’t have to look to hard to find shades of Michael Haneke‘s THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) or Rouben Mamoulian‘s APPLAUSE (1929). Did I mention I love my job?

Bret Wood on the set of THE UNWANTED.

Between THE UNWANTED and your earlier films, PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS and THE LITTLE DEATH, you’ve explored sex on the fringes. What draws you to the subject?

I’m sure the short answer to that question lies in my conservative, religious upbringing.  But let’s not get into that.

Regardless of how I became the way I am, I will say that, to me, the most fascinating thing about sex – in films – is not the nudity or the act of copulation, but the mystery surrounding the act – sex as a revelatory experience – maybe I’m still channeling the curiosity of my thirteen-year-old self. There’s nothing less erotic than gratuitous nudity. There’s nothing more boring than a sexually active character with no inhibitions, for whom sex is simply a physical act of pleasure.  Where’s the drama in that?

I’m fascinated by the psychology of sexuality, by the fringe-dwelling people for whom sex has mutated into something slightly abnormal. By the person who is emotionally tight-wound, who is struggling against their own repression, or struggling against moral oppression, looking for some means by which they can relieve this overwhelming urge that’s gnawing at them from the inside. THAT’S interesting to me. There’s mystery there. And conflict. And tension.

You co-authored a book on exploitation cinema titled FORBIDDEN FRUIT. Exploitation films were meant to be cheap and disposable, and yet they linger on in our film culture. What should we learn from that?

One never knows which films will stand the test of time. Look back at all the lousy Oscar-winners in the past 20 years and you’ll know what I mean. The films celebrated by one generation will be dismissed by the next and vice versa.

Exploitation films of the 1930s and ’40s – sensationalized treatments of hot-button topics like venereal disease, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy -were crude and, on the surface, badly made. But they were tackling subjects the major studios wouldn’t touch, and they were made with a sort of reckless creativity that is a welcome change from the restraint and technical perfection of a studio film of the same era. In the same way, people who are into horror films are nowadays attracted to the schlock of the 1960s and ’70s, the grindhouse fodder once casually dismissed as garbage. And the same goes for 16mm classroom films of the 1950s – ’70s. Maybe it’s because today’s DIY filmmakers can relate to the struggles of no-budget production, maybe it’s a reaction against the over-produced, over-budgeted, over-hyped films that are suffocating the multiplex.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a paleontologist. Part of me today still thinks that way, I love sifting through film history to see what treasures I can find buried in the mud.

What’s next for you?

I have several scripts I’d love to make – for example, a dark comedy about a womanizing stage magician (IN HER RIGHT MIND), a drama about a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s (THE CONTROL GROUP). And there are others. For me, writing is relatively easy. The difficult thing is raising the funds to actually make something. I usually keep a handful of scripts ready to film, and then choose which project to pursue based on the resources available to me. Right now the front-runner is a grim ghost story/revenge film, based on 19th-century literature, very much in the same vein as THE UNWANTED.

THE UNWANTED screens at the Atlanta Film Festival on Monday, March 31, at 9:30 pm at The Plaza Theatre. Tickets for the screening may be purchased here.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.


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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 29: Vintage Vertigo That’s Not Just for the Birds: Hitchcock Takes Atlanta by Storm at The Plaza and the Strand This November!

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2012 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

With November upon us and the gusts of the coming winter already chilling our bones, what better time than now to pay tribute to the king of spine-tingling thrillers, Sir Alfred Hitchcock? Thanks to the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta and Marietta’s Earl Smith Strand Theatre, you can spend some quality time this month with the Master of Suspense in his preferred setting: on the big screen and even better – remastered and in high definition!

Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre’s series promises special guests and vintage Hitchcock interview footage before each screening (show times TBA). They kick off the month with 1948’s James Stewart-starring ROPE, showing November 2-4. Hitchcock’s first color film, ROPE was based on the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb “perfect murder” scandal and seemingly unfolds in one continuous take. (Actually, it was shot in 10 shorter segments, with editing trickery covering up the fact that the cameraman would have to change the film magazine every 10 minutes.)

Up next is the film that ushered in what is now considered Hitch’s golden age—1951’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, showing November 16-18. The tense story of two men—played by Farley Granger and Robert Walker—who agree (the former, however, unwittingly) to “swap” targets of murder, the film contains some of Hitch’s most inventive and still-studied optical effects.

The Plaza follows this with a weekend of VERTIGO, showing November 23-25. Frequent Hitch collaborator James Stewart returns to star with Kim Novak in this 1958 tale of madness and obsession. A critical and commercial flop at the time of its release, the movie today is acknowledged as one of Hitchcock’s most personal films and topped the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll as the greatest film ever made.

The Plaza closes out the month as THE BIRDS attack the coastal city of Bodega Bay from November 30 to December 2. The 1963 film stars Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, and was based both on a Daphne du Maurier short story and an actual case of birds infesting a California town. Though it was scored by Hitch’s frequent composer Bernard Herrmann, you’ll note that no actual music (aside from schoolchildren singing unaccompanied) is heard. Instead, Herrmann layers the soundtrack with electronically-created bird noises.

The Earl Smith Strand Theatre opens this month’s continuation of its series (all events begin at 8 p.m.) with a November 2 screening of THE BIRDS (tickets here). The pre-show entertainment starts with organist Misha Stefanuk (of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, or ACATOS) accompanying vocalists Kennedy Bastow and Cierra Ollis.

On November 16, the Strand brings us what is perhaps Hitchcock’s best-known film, 1960’s PSYCHO (tickets here). The story of a boy (Anthony Perkins), his mother and the girl who threatens to come between them (Janet Leigh), the film was shot at the studios used for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and was independently produced by Hitchcock on a small budget. The famous “shower scene” took an entire week to shoot and contains 77 different camera angles.

The Strand closes its Hitchcock series with 1959’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (tickets here). Cary Grant comes as close to playing James Bond as he ever got in the role of Roger O. Thornhill, one of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue’s advertising world, who finds himself mistaken for a secret agent and pursued across the country. Besides the film being recognized as one of Hitch’s best (and on a personal note, I’d say it’s also his most fun), GQ magazine voted Cary Grant’s gray suit (which he wears almost throughout the entire film) as the best suit in film history.

So escape the frosty autumn air this November for some big-screen chills and thrills with these Hitchcock classics. And keep your eyes peeled for Hitch’s cameos!

Editor’s Note: Remember every time you shell out a few bucks to see a classic movie on the big screen, you are keeping the theatrical experience alive in vintage independent cinemas that are Atlanta-area historic treasures. ATLRetro will be running separate reviews/essays on some of these films. 

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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Kool Kat of the Week: Playing with Scissors, Dreaming of Unspiralled Stairs and Hiding Plastic Spiders with Jeffrey Butzer

Posted on: Mar 28th, 2012 By:

Jeffrey Butzer with accordion. Photo credit: Melissa J. Butzer.

Cinematic. Haunting. Minimalist. Unique. Perfect.  All of these words could describe Jeffrey Butzer‘s eclectic sound rendered with such unusual instrument choices as accordion, toy piano and glockenspiel. The motto of his live shows might be “expect the unexpected” in the best possible way, and his previous recordings and videos, solo and with bands The Bicycle Eaters and The Compartmentalists, have attracted praise from Canadian film director Guy Maddin (THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD) and film critic Roger Ebert. In other words, if all you know about Jeffrey is his Charlie Brown Christmas tribute show (read our article about it here), you’re in for a real treat at the release party for Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters’ new 7-inch HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS (The Great Big) this Saturday night March 31 at The Earl.

ATLRetro caught up with Jeffrey recently to find out more about HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS, the influence of Spaghetti Western scores and scissors on his unique sound, and what it was like to wake up Roger Ebert in the middle of the night.

Just the title HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS suggests a story behind the music. What’s on it, how did you come to write the songs and is it true it will be on red vinyl?

This might not be as mysterious as a back story as one might want to hear, [but] the title refers to something my wife and I did when we first met. We worked together, and at our job we had a bunch of magnetic spiders that were a promotional item for a film and we would hide them from each other. It is a fond memory of us getting to know each other (13 years ago, now). It is on red vinyl; it looks like a Jolly Rancher.

This is the first release as Jeffrey Butzer and the Bicycle Eaters, these are all songs that I came in with the basic structure and melodies, and they “fixed them up.” Kristin [Jarvis] and Chad [Shivers] are amazing with melodies and counter-melodies. Eric [Balint] is like a secret weapon; he knows just what to and not to do and the right times. And William [J. Brisby] has played bass in almost every project and has never missed one single note. That is not a joke.

What was it like recording with a band and a producer?

It was wonderful. I’ve known Luci, the producer, for a very long time, and he is patient and a perfectionist. He slows me down in a good way. He really excels at everything he tries. He’s an amazing photographer, musician and a great dresser. And recording with a band in the past has been impractical. Normally I multi-track the parts, then bring in other musicians after the fact. On this, it was really nice being able to record with most of us in the room; it added a nice mood to the record.

How did you hook up with Gea who directed the video of Case of Unspiralled Stairs ?

I’ve known her for several years; we are both big film enthusiasts. I liked her artwork and asked her if she wanted to do a video for the record, and thankfully she did and it turned out really great.

So Roger Ebert posts the video for “Case of Unspiralled Stairs” on Facebook and says “I woke up in the middle of the night. Jeffrey Butzer had sent me this. That was the perfect time to view it. My mind was still halfway in dreams.” How cool was that and was that the response you had hoped for from it?

It was very cool! I didn’t really know what to expect. He had never really commented when I sent him videos before. I “know” him through a secret society that he and I are both members of. Along with Ken Keeler (FUTURAMA), Neil Gaiman and Guy Maddin.

Speaking of Guy Maddin, how did you meet him and get him to do alternate cover artwork for HIDING PLASTIC SPIDERS?

I scored a film called BIRDCATCHER that Guy saw, and we sort of became friends. I am going to hang out with him in New York in a couple weeks! I saw the collages that he made, and he agreed to let us use [one of] them as cover art!

When your music is paired with video, it reminds me of a lost 1950s/60s existentialist French film. Can you talk a bit about how film has influenced your sound and visuals?

Film has always been the band’s biggest influence. All the greats: Buster Keaton, Fellini, Bunuel and Penny Marshall… well, maybe not her so much. I think when I first started making music I wanted to sound like certain artists. But as I got older, other mediums began to influence my music more, especially film. The instrumental music that we make is mostly about mood, much like the film style you mentioned. So I think the approach and what we are trying to achieve isn’t that far apart.

Some have heard the influence of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western scores. Are you a Spaghetti Western fan? What are your favorite films/scores from that genre?

I’m way more into Spaghetti Western music than into the films. There are several I really enjoy. They’re so style-driven that you can really just watch scenes from them isolated from the movie. If I were to name some I like: THE GRAND DUEL and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. The other band I’m in The Compartmentalizationalists touches more on the genre than the Bicycle Eaters.

Scissors play a key role in your video for “Lucy 5’s Egg” and I understand you dangle them on stage as well in some of your gigs. Why scissors, and will scissors be part of this week’s show?

I wrote lyrics to a song a really long time ago that had the lines “on a pillar in the sky, a sleeping woman lies, dreaming of the garden of scissors.” I really liked the image. I wrote a screenplay and an album based on that line, and it has sort of stuck as a motif over the years.

An image from the haunting video for "Case of Unspiralled Stairs."

The toy piano, accordion and glockenspiel are unusual instruments for a contemporary musician. What drew you to them?

I like how whimsical they sound together. I never wanted to make music that is old-fashioned or heavily referenced by something from the past. But on the other hand, nostalgia interests me a lot. I first heard toy pianos used a lot by Rob Burger and Margaret Leng Tan.

Why the “Bicycle-Eaters”?

That is a bit of an inside joke. The short version is just that my friend Matt Benard, who plays bass with us, sometimes knows a guy who, in fact…ate a bicycle.

Your gigs are known to include the unexpected, but without giving any big surprises, do you have any special plans for this week’s show at The Earl?

We have a couple OF guest singers and an unusual cover song we are doing. If I tell you anymore, it won’t be unexpected. ZING!

When will your new CD “COLLAPSIBLE” be released and what can you share about it?

I’m not sure. I am hoping for a May release at the Goat Farm. It is a collection of songs played mostly with small arrangements. So far it is just a solo album. I have had a few songs floating around for a while and I record at night after my son goes to sleep. Some are new interpretations of songs I have releases before – only a few though.

I have an odd process. I always set out to make an album with a list of songs in hand. Then when I’m done, as with this one, I cut half of the songs I originally wanted on and record a bunch of new things. For this album, which has between 12-15 songs, I recorded around 35… so far.

What else is up with Jeffrey Butzer? We’ve heard you’ve done some interesting collaborations lately and even dipped into film and theatrical scoring. Any more team-ups planned with Molly Harvey (The Residents)? And aren’t you going to Poland?

Molly and I are planning some shows. Some as a duo and some with a band. Other than that, I’ve got the score for PETER PAN at the Center for Puppetry Arts that starts playing April 5. I am recording a Compartmentalizationalists album with Claire Lodge and Nico from the band Places. Then I am taking a break in June when my second son will be born!  The Poland trip has been put on hold. Hopefully later on we will still go.

 

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