Five Questions with Golden Exits Director Alex Ross Perry
The worlds of Alex Ross Perry tend to thrive on confrontation. In 2014, the writer/director arrived at Sundance with Listen Up Philip, an acerbic comedy that showcased his knack for characters at once repellent and compelling. He followed that film with Queen of Earth, a feverish two-hander that pitted Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston in a cage match of sniping and passive-aggression. For his fifth feature, Perry gave himself a challenge: To write a film with no outward hostility. That film is Golden Exits. Perry calls it his “mellow drama.”
An NYC-set ensemble starring Emily Browning, Mary-Louise Parker and Jason Schwartzman, Golden Exits premieres this week in competition at Sundance. Perry spoke with Filmmaker before the film’s debut about the challenges of writing a film that “didn’t rely on my usual tricks.” Our conversation also touched on the influence of Eric Rohmer, genre, distribution and how he as a cinephile consumes classic cinema (and old episodes of Home Improvement) in 2017.
Filmmaker: I read in Vanity Fair that the biggest influence on your last film, Queen of Earth, was the somewhat obscure Robert Altman movie Images. Can you discuss some of the more notable influences on Golden Exits?
Perry: The only things we really talked about were later — and until recently more obscure — Eric Rohmer movies. Not stylistically necessarily. You don’t copy what Rohmer did unless you commit to it 100 percent with 1.66 aspect ratio and somewhat downbeat performances. It’s inimitable in just about every way, especially for a film in English. But the style and feeling of some of the later films, especially the Four Seasons movies and really especially A Tale of Springtime. Boyfriends and Girlfriends was looked at the most and also, a little bit, Rendezvous in Paris. And later, more mellow, less overtly ’60s and ’70s French sexy [films] — calm, sad, sweet movies about people who for some brief period of time overlap and drift together and apart and talk about it in ways both articulate and withholding. And, as always, me and my DP Sean Williams sort of pick a Woody Allen movie or two and decide to talk about them without ever rewatching them. This time it was September, and then later Another Woman.
Filmmaker: Your films — and the characters within them — have regularly been described as “abrasive.” Do you find that a fair assessment of your films and characters you create?
Perry: I would say that accurately describes the characters in The Color Wheel, Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth. I don’t disagree with it and it doesn’t bother me, but this is a great way to talk about how I wanted to challenge myself with Golden Exits. I didn’t want to shy away from those tendencies while writing in order to get people to say a different word about the characters and this film. I did it to see if I was even capable of getting through an entire script without a single moment or bit of characterization that could possibly be thought of as abrasive, confrontational, negative, what have you. I set that rule for myself. In Golden Exits, nobody is outright hostile and then because of that, the rule had to be that nobody ever says what is truly on their mind. So now the film is primarily about people who conceal their true thoughts and feelings from their loved ones, and because of that I understood a different way to approach the storytelling that didn’t rely on my usual tricks.
Filmmaker: A 2016 article of yours on The Neon Demon and indie film distribution got a lot of attention. What does the ideal distribution for a film like Golden Exits look like to you?
Perry: My only hope is that the film reaches as close to 100 percent of people who I think would like to see it. Listen Up Philip didn’t come near to this. Queen of Earth probably got fairly close to its full potential. I’m just not sure what kind of movies I make relative to the way movies are released at this time. I am not sure if Golden Exits is a film that inspires enough confidence for a tried-and-true authentic theatrical release, nor am I sure if it is a movie that could do gangbusters on VOD. I hope that whichever it is, and I’ll know after Sundance, that it ends up in the hands of a company willing to do whatever they can to help people who will connect with the film find the film.
Filmmaker: In a 2014 interview you discussed “playing with genre elements” for the first time on Queen of Earth. Personally, I found this a hell of a lot of fun to watch. How do you like working with genre, and would you say there are any genre elements in Golden Exits?
Perry: If it even leans towards or suggests a genre, it’s something as simple as drama, or perhaps melodrama, or more accurately, mellow drama. If Listen Up Philip goes on the comedy shelf, and Queen of Earth is more of a thriller, I wanted to focus only on the smallest possible moments which allude to but never boil over into drama. I think simple drama has sort of gone extinct, as many people point out. It’s the sort of material that isn’t necessarily flashy enough to command large budgets or commitments from companies that specialize in mid-range independent film. It’s more like a play, but not the kind of play with a lot of drinking and screaming.
Filmmaker: I know you’re an avid cinephile and used to work at Kim’s Video in NYC. What are the go-to ways you see older films today: repertory screenings, libraries, streaming, VOD rentals, borrowing DVDs from friends, torrents, etc.?
Perry: New York has become impossibly overstuffed with repertory film opportunities of late, so I am lucky and spoiled. Between Metrograph and the new Alamo Drafthouse as well as the staples like BAM and Anthology (where we shot a scene for Golden Exits), I have to choose carefully which nights I can afford to stay home and miss seeing 35mm prints. I have a nice library on my block, and I often wish I borrowed more DVDs from there. I still don’t know how iTunes works or how people access movies on or from it, but I do the 24-hour rental option on Amazon more and more these days. Their pricing feels somewhat arbitrary, though. Recently I paid $1.99 each for several Home Improvement Christmas episodes, which is the same cost as most movies, though the Home Improvement episodes are only 23 minutes. I’d rather rent a disc of Home Improvement for that cost and get several other episodes, but I guess that’s no longer possible. I also don’t understand why people complain about the selection of what is available “for free” on Netflix and Amazon Prime when you can usually choose to pay a few dollars for exactly what you want. This feels like complaining that there are no good movies on cable and then going to the video store instead. Like everybody, I am excited to explore FilmStruck but have not yet done so. It’s confusing for me to access streaming movies unless they can be arranged through my Roku.