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chapter 13 “And Maybe There Is a Way to Give Hollywood the Kick in the Ass That It Needs” an interview with filmmaker karyn kusama Dan Rybicky (Columbia College, Chicago) I first met Karyn Kusama in 1996 when we were both working as assistants to writer-director John Sayles (Lone Star, Passionfish, The Brother from Another Planet). We had recently graduated from New York University ’s Tisch School of the Arts—I from the Graduate Dramatic Writing Program, she from the Undergraduate Film Department, where her thesis film, Sleeping Beauties, won a Mobil Award in 1991. We lamented the paucity of soulful films being made in America, shared our similar but different family tragedies, and quickly became very good friends. A couple of months later, Karyn left the position to make her first film, Girlfight, about a young Latina (Michelle Rodriguez in her first role) who starts training to become a boxer. The film went on to win the Director’s Award and, along with Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. On April 16, 2005, I attended the first-cut screening of Karyn Kusama’s second feature-length film, Aeon Flux, which was released into theaters by Paramount Pictures on December 2 that same year. Aeon Flux marked the first time that Karyn had worked with a major Hollywood studio, directing a film budgeted upward of $60 million. The film, based on a popular animé shown on mtv in the 1990s, is set 400 years in the future, when disease has wiped out the majority of the population except for one walled, protected city-state, Bregna. The story centers on Aeon Flux (played by Charlize Theron), the top operative in the underground rebellion led by a character known only as the Handler (Frances McDormand), and her determination to wrest power from the leaders of Bregna, who are determined to control every aspect of the city’s inhabitants, including their imaginations and their ability to create new life. But underlying this desire to destroy is the lingering question as to whether or not Aeon might have been in love with one of these leaders at some point in her unremembered past. T4989.indb 263 T4989.indb 263 2/27/09 6:57:57 AM 2/27/09 6:57:57 AM 264 Karyn was born and raised in St. Louis by an Illinois-born mother and a Japanese father, and her artistic sensibility mixes meat-andpotatoes Midwestern pragmatism with an Eastern love of beauty and design. It is this combination that helped make Aeon Flux such an endlessly strange, aesthetically compelling viewing experience for me. Although I saw a first cut in which neither the music nor all of the special effects had been put into place, the movie is visually striking and tonally challenging in ways that most movies set in the future (especially those made in Hollywood) never are. Instead of creating a darkly lit environment of steely grays and high-tech cars, Karyn captured the total otherness of the animé series by not only having no cars whatsoever but setting most of the film in daylight. Her mise-en-scène is a juxtaposition of angular cement structures dominating fields of colorful flowers and natural patches of green, appropriate for a film dealing with man’s desire to control nature at all costs. This is just one of the provocative societal themes explored in Aeon Flux. A more personal one, which reveals itself through the relationship between Aeon and one of the leaders of Bregna, deals with Karyn’s belief that, as she says in the course of our discussion, “Love itself wakes up parts of your brain that I don’t think anything else does.” The following is a slightly edited version of the interview I conducted with Karyn in her office on the Paramount lot two days after that first screening. dan rybicky: What made you choose to work in film instead of another medium? karyn kusama: I had a highly emotional life in a lot of ways as a young person, and I think I ended up finding movies as a sort of sanctuary or as a sort of imaginaKaryn Kusama at work with cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (left) and production designer Andrew McAlpine (right) on the Aeon Flux set. Stuart Dryburgh with his trusted light meter. T4989.indb 264 T4989.indb 264 2/27/09 6:57:57 AM 2...


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