Interview: Kelly Reichardt
Time Out talks to Kelly Reichardt, American director of 'Wendy and Lucy'
‘A very tight-knit group. Most of them filmmakers like Todd Haynes and Phil Morrison. I get notes from them. Michelle Williams, who plays Wendy, had seen a rough cut without any sound. The good side of making films in such a shoe-string way is that no-one is paying attention at all, so you can get away with a lot. There are no test screenings or anything like that. I basically edit in my apartment for six months. It was a really long process.’
Was the premiere in Cannes an interesting experience for you?
‘It was. It was really different for me. It was a big spectacle. Just getting in to the theatre was an effort. I was shouted off the red carpet by a sea of photographers. Also, I was more afraid of showing this film than the other films I’ve made. When I showed “Old Joy”, even if didn’t connect with anyone, I felt really secure with it because I liked it. But with this film, it’s not that I didn’t like it, but I had just finished cutting it and I had no distance from it at all and I really could not guess how it was going to go over. I wanted Michelle to be happy with it because she’s so exposed. It was a weird experience, like a wedding that you don’t remember attending.
The film was originally called ‘Train Choir’. Why did you decide to change it?
‘It was called “Train Choir” until the day the titles went up. That was the name of the short story that Jon Raymond wrote. For “Old Joy” his story already existed and I made a script out of it, but for this we came up with a storyline together then Jon went off and wrote it. He’s really finding the character’s voice.’
So he wrote the short story for this film?
‘He did. Then I started working on the script, then we started shooting and then he’d do another draft of the script. Working with him definitely makes my films better. He’s a great partner. He gives me notes and comments and if we disagree on something, I get my way for the film and he gets his way for the short story. But, the idea of doing this story is that you get more depth than if you go straight to the script. He writes from a very interior point of view. He doesn’t have to think about how it’s going to look on screen. He can just plunge into someone’s mind. A "train choir" [the rumbling of trains passing In the middle distance] was something I tried to use instead of a score this time, because I didn’t want to romanticise things. A girl and her dog is dangerous territory as far as sentiment goes. We used the trains anywhere where we would have originally used a soundtrack, but having the title as "Train Choir" no longer allowed it to be a subtext. I wanted the film to be very nuts and bolts.'
Is the main aim of your films to tell a story visually?
‘Yeah, those are the films I like, I guess. A big American influence of mine was Monte Hellman, especially films like “Cockfighter”. Just the way he used a real space and – probably due to the small budgets – put the characters in to them and let the camera roll. With ‘Wendy and Lucy’, we couldn’t afford to close off the area. It was great that I caught Michelle at a moment in her career where few people recognised her at all. Will Oldham was more recognised in the streets.’
The town in which the film takes place is totally desolate.
‘Yeah, its representative of a lot of places in America right now. The divide in America between the haves and the have-nots is quite huge. We were thinking a lot about Italian neorealism and how the class themes of those films seemed really relevant at this point in American history. We wrote the film just after Hurricane Katrina, so that was also something on our minds.’
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