July 10th, 2009 13:23:00
Andreas Schaap's MUST LOVE DEATH opens this year's 'Flirting with Chaos' spotlight series that can best be described as a series of postmodern 'anti-romantic comedies' from around the world - the series also includes Lee Kyoung-mi's CRUSH AND BLUSH (South Korea), Sion Sono's epic LOVE EXPOSURE (Japan), Simon Ennis' YOU MIGHT AS WELL LIVE (Canada) and Caroline Labrèche, Steeve Leonard's SANS DESSEIN (Canada). MUST LOVE DEATH plays Friday July 10th at 7:00pm in the Hall Theatre with director Andreas Schaap in person for a Q&A.
MUST LOVE DEATH plays Friday July 10th at 7:00pm in the Hall Theatre with director Andreas Schaap in person for a Q&A.
As we know, Germany created the horror film, but since the waning of German Expressionism, the genre seems to have been ignored (perhaps deliberately shunned) in favour of deadpan comedies, soul-eating avant-garde melodrama, and the occasional schoolgirl report. Maybe the closest the country has come to a resurgence in the horror or 'thriller' genre would be during the Edgar Wallace mystery craze in the 60s, and a spotted history might include Ulli Lommel's THE TENDERNESS OF THE WOLVES (1973) and Echardt Schmidt's criminally underseen DER FAN (1982). Still, these have tended to hide among the ranks of the 'art film'.
All things considered, German horror directors are few are far between. Most horror films tend to remain in the underground, independently financed and distributed, and often gaining renown for their especially gruesome button-pushing: those few whose names have travelled through trading circles and sketchy mail-order catalogues (not to mention the pages of German horror mag Splatting Image) include Andreas Schnaas' (the notorious VIOLENT SHIT series (1989-2003), Jorg Buttergeit (director of the seminal corpse-love masterpiece NEKROMANTIK (1987) and its follow-ups DER TODESKING (1990) and SCHRAMM (1993)), Olaf Ittenbach (PREMUTOS (1997), and LEGION OF THE DEAD which played at Fantasia in 2001)
This puts MUST LOVE DEATH director Andreas Shaap in strange company. While featuring the same gleeful degree of atrocity exhibited in the films of his countrymen, the film simultaneously delivers a poignant story of a blossoming love between two sweet people who've had a bit of a hard time of it. The film intelligently addresses issues of celebrity and spectatorship, but also gives you plenty of spectacle to chew on. In short, it's a different animal from anything you've ever seen.
Like Bruno S. In STROSZEK (speaking of soul-eating avant-garde melodrama), Schaap came to America and saw it through the eyes of a German optimist; his version of America is like a weird parallel universe where New Jersey looks like Texas, and love songs provide the soundtrack for the most vicious torture imaginable. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his unique cocktail of romance and horror.
Why the decision for the film to be so American? What was the process of filming in the US vs. Germany?
In Germany, American cinema is very popular. Most of the theatres mainly show Hollywood films. Of course I grew up with those movies, and they had a big impact on me - even though they're mostly dubbed into German language. Furthermore, the main idea of MUST LOVE DEATH was to play with two not only different, but - at first sight - conflicting genres: the Romantic Comedy and the Splatter/ Horrorfilm. And since there are not many German films that can be categorized among those two genres, I decided to play with the elements of American genre films.
Since MLD was a no-budget production we were not able to shoot the movie in the US, but had to film 99% in Germany, where we tried to imitate the States as accurately as possible. One year after the shooting, the producer, the director of photography, the main actress and me went to New York for four days to shoot some establishing shots and car rides. Of course, that was completely different to the filming we did in Germany, where the film crew was much bigger and we were working with much more film technology. New York was nearly like shooting a documentary with one camera, without permission and stuff. But still it was great fun.
The film contains many aspects of southern rural horror films, but the usual elements are subverted somehow: the 'hillbillies' are internet and reality-TV saavy, the lazy, drawling sheriff is black, the 'country' is New Jersey (even though the opening song lyrics are about Texas!) Was this subversion of American culture and geography deliberate?
No. That was actually not deliberate. The main purpose of the movie was not to draw a picture of America (though this certainly is an effect that occurs), but to play with two opposite film genres. I chose New York as a location because to me it is the location for romantic comedies. There is no other city in the world that can be identified with this genre as much as New York City. Besides that, the woods around the city and in New Jersey seemed to fit another Horrorfilm cliche. Films I had in mind, like THE EVIL DEAD or THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and many others also use the woods as a threatening place. Where evil lives and attacks people who go there. And to me, it seemed quite normal that so-called 'white trash' people live in a small cabin deep in those woods - like they do in WRONG TURN, for example. And, last but not least, I experienced the US as a country where people leave their televisions on all day. That's why I concluded that these two brothers are mostly influenced by stuff they saw on television. Their habit of making a TV show or some sort of entertainment out of everything also seemed typically American to me.
The film is hard to classify because of the drastic tonal/emotional shifts - it's incredibly poignant one moment and then totally misanthropic the next. How did you envision the mix of torture film and romantic comedy? Can you elaborate on the writing process?
First of all: I like both genres very much. But at the beginning of the writing process I was planning to make a much more common splatter movie about a guy who wants to kill himself and meets with other people to commit suicide. I kind of liked that story, but the first treatment seemed a little too harsh and it was missing the sense of humour I personally like in movies. At that time I was watching a lot of rom-coms with my former girlfriend who couldn't stand watching horror movies. That's how I came across the idea of mixing the splatter with romantic comedy - so even she might want to see it! And when I started working on a second version, it became more and more obvious to me that these two genres were not completely different, and had much more in common than I originally thought: of course horror is said to be some sort of 'male' genre whilst the target audience of a rom-com is typically female. Splatter flicks are dark and show physical destruction, rom-coms on the other hand seem bright and deal with the feeling of love. One is plot-driven, the other more character-driven. It all seemed like a fight: the dying in the horror parts versus immortal love in the rom-com. But both genres are trying to visualize the dreams of our society - nightmares on the one hand and great dreams on the other. Furthermore love and death, sex and violence, kiss-kiss, bang-bang, is a combination that is not only part of nearly every film genre, but may also be seen as a central motor of any dramatic material. And since Horrorfilm and rom-com stand for these two aspects like no other film genres, the combination of both started to work out for me even better than I expected. Besides that, both are so called 'body genres' that try to evoke a certain physical reaction from their audiences: pain and disgust on the one hand, laughter or tears on the other. The combination of pain, disgust and humor already worked out in so many Horror-comedies, that it didn't seem too unusual to me that I could fit the rom-com into my splatter treatment.
Horrorfilms only work with a clash of two opposite worlds: Unexpected and evil things appear in a certain reality in which they are illogical or unexpected, threatening and outrageous. So I decided to use the rom-com as a sort of reality in which the evil could show up. Therefore I used the classical structure of any romantic comedy: boy meets, loses and wins girl back. That way the splatter more or less became an obstacle for my protagonist to get over in order to achieve love. Norman seemed to be the perfect character for both genres: He was weak and without orientation in his life, searching for the love of a woman to find his place in society. And on the other hand he was weak enough to get into a situation that makes him the perfect final girl who has to overcome his weakness and fight against evil.
Were there any films that were influential to you in terms of these dramatic tonal shifts?
I've always been a huge fan of grotesque Horror or Splatter-comedies like BRAINDEAD, SHAWN OF THE DEAD, or more recently, SEVERANCE. Combining death and violence with humour and laughter to me is a tonal shift in itself. I also like self-referential postmodern cinema that makes film, genre and itself its main topic by using certain symbols or images that an audience would understand just because of other movies they've been watching. Of course, Quentin Tarantino is a master of that. He wrote one of my favourite movies, TRUE ROMANCE, which Tony Scott directed. It also uses a love story as its central motor, but confronts this love with a violent sort of gangster movie. But though there are many movies that mix different genres (like Jonathan Demme's SOMETHING WILD) I wasn't able to find any movie that tried to combine modern rom-com with splatter Horror. So for MUST LOVE DEATH, the genre films themselves had the most powerful influence.
How is Norman so resilient? Regardless of what his ex-girlfriend says about him, and his self-defeating attitude, he is like a superman!
That's right. Sean even calls him 'the unbreakable'. And that's the promise of every good rom-com. Love is stronger than death. Norman has to overcome his weakness. He really has to suffer and fight for love. Love is torture.
Can you talk about the decision to have a second 'invisible' camera that implicates the audience as spectators of the 'Torture or no Torture' show?
That was an Idea I already used in a short movie and that is often used in films, e.g. FUNNY GAMES or SCREAM. That's what I meant with self-referentiality earlier. The movie picks itself out as a central theme. It shows the audience that everything is just a game or a film. But at the same time, it demonstrates for whom the whole torture show is performed: for the audience itself.
'Torture or No Torture' isn't the only show in the film - there's also the science fiction show 'The Last Quaorarian' - which I can't help thinking is some kind of personal in-joke. What is the genesis of the sci-fi show?
That is very simple: I just love funny costumes. It also helped to make Foxx. C. Bigelow look even more stupid. I didn't want his character to be too complex. Everyone should know from the very first second on, that he is an asshole and certainly not the right man for a girl like Jenny.
I noticed Jorg Buttergeit has a cameo - how did he end up being in the film? Do you see his films as an influence?
As I said before, Horrorfilm is not a very German genre. There are not many filmmakers that try to make horror or splatter films in my country. And those who tried mostly aren't rewarded with success. Jorg Buttgereit is one of the few German horror filmmakers (though he hasn't made a movie in a long time), that had a certain amount of success - even international. And even though I wouldn't say that I'm a big fan of his films I like the way he did them. He just realized them the way he wanted to, despite all doubts, critics and barriers he must have been confronted with.
You previously have made short films about strangers meeting with the plan of participating in a fatal game, and another with a suicidal character - how did these films contribute to the development of MUST LOVE DEATH?
The funny thing is that lately someone told me that in MUST LOVE DEATH I combined all the short movies I ever did in one feature film. Maybe that is not completely wrong, even though it-s not true on the other hand. I certainly didn't do that on purpose at least.
- Kier-La Janisse