SIMON RUMLEY, “RED WHITE & BLUE”
Lurking about the less reputable precincts of Texas’ capital, Erica (a terrific Amanda Fuller) at first seems like another aimless, sexually adventurous young woman who in the city that embraced mumblecore would find herself in a pedestrian drama of mid twenties malaise. Living for free in a dusty co-op, she trolls the seedy side of Austin, scoring a new suitor every night for a bout of casual, unprotected sex. Clad in denim cut-offs and white cowboy boots, she drifts through days and nights with an anomie that is only enhanced by the arty, elliptical rhythms of Veteran UK helmer Simon Rumley’s celebrated feature Red White & Blue. As secrets about her past and current intentions emerge however, we quickly realize that we’ve stumbled into an increasingly disturbing tale of revenge and despair. Rumley sneakily embraces a well established tradition; European directors who’s initial stateside directorial efforts result in a warped, genre tinged vision of American myths.
While it contains no shortage of moments that will make you long for a shower, Red White & Blue takes its time immersing you in this young woman’s world, lulling you into the belief that you’re inhabiting a much more naturalistic type of story. While comparisons to Larry Clark and Bruno Dumont might seem apt, the film seems like a genuine outgrowth of the offbeat, nominally deviant takes on British youth culture found in Rumley’s earlier films Strong Language (2000) and Club le Monde (2002). After bowing to strong notices upon its world premiere in Rotterdam, the director’s follow up to his very well regarded The Living and The Dead (2006) has hummed steadily along the genre fest circuit, with a pair of stops in its place of birth during the 2010 editions of South By Southwest and Fantastic Fest. It seems primed to open up greater awareness among stateside cinephiles for Rumley, who’s other films have received little notice on this side of the Atlantic. We caught up with him on the eve of the film’s US release.
Red White and Blue opens in New York on Friday.
Filmmaker: I think one could call this a studious horror film. Did you grow up watching them?
Rumley: Basically yes; my seminal experience was being shown The Zombie Flesheaters at school when I was 12 by my math teacher! We’d finished our exams and he couldn’t be bothered to teach us anymore so he whacked on a couple of video nasties! It’s funny to think that if that happened today he’d probably get sent to jail. I also remember watching The Exorcist with my parents when I was about 14 and there being a rather shocked silence as the film progressed; to their credit they didn’t turn it off though. I guess my other early memory was when I was about 15 and having a half day school holiday and going home with a bunch of friends to watch The Evil Dead when my parents had gone out and then playing David Bowie really loud afterwards! I’m not a completist like some of my friends and colleagues but I’ve always watched horror films, yep!
Filmmaker: Its often thought of as a freeing thing for a director to embrace and subvert the conventions within genres. Do you relish the constraints of genre filmmaking?
Rumley: Well the horror genre is a funny beast; on the one hand everyone loves blood, guts and gore but on the other hand there’s a lot of conservatism within the structure and confines of how this is done but on the other hand you really can do anything you want – and hey there you have three hands! I’m not sure that I relish any constraints per se but certainly in investigating what the genre is and deconstructing it, it did give me the idea to make Red White & Blue so that’s something I’d say is a good thing. In the end everything comes down to the quality of the script and if it’s a well constructed exciting story then I’ll happily work within the more normative constraints of the genre.
Filmmaker: When did you decide to make a film in Austin?
Rumley: Well I’ve been wanting to make a film in the US for a long time since it’s so hard to get British films made and to get them seen and to get anyone to care about them. If you make a film in America you automatically stand a better chance of your film being successful. In terms of Austin specifically, I’d been there in 2006 for Fantastic Fest with my last film The Living And The Dead. I stayed at Tim and Karrie League’s house and had had an all round excellent time. As I continued to travel on the festival circuit I bumped into Tim and Karrie some more and we became friends and I think it was in Cannes in 2007 or 2008 that I asked Tim if he’d be able to help me out in an exec kind of facilitator kind of way if I was to ever shoot a film in Austin. He said sure so I guess from that stage onwards I was considering how to shoot a film there and what kind of film I wanted it to be.
Filmmaker: Are hipster slasher thrillers easy to finance? If not, how did you go about financing this one.
Rumley: Hipster slasher thrillers aren’t easy to finance, no! That said, this was actually the easiest film I’ve made in terms of the financing of it. One of the executive producers is called Doug Abbot and he’s someone I’ve worked with on two of my previous films – The Truth Game and Club Le Monde. He’s also just helped finance an anthology that I’ve recently shot called Little Deaths. Over the years we’ve kept in touch and at some point in 2008 he thought he could raise the money for a relatively low budget film if I wanted to make something. Of course I did so I started writing Red White & Blue in September 2008. By March 2009 I was scouting in Austin and by May I’d come back to London and headed back out to Austin for official pre-production – so it was all an absolute pleasure really…
Filmmaker: Did you have alot of references for the visual design?
Rumley: None to be quite honest. I’m a big believer in using real locations so when I was in Austin in March and then May, I got Tim to suggest and take me around to a bunch of bars and clubs and locations he thought would be cool – places like The Horse Shoe Lounge for example and Spiderhouse. There’s so many great locations that you literally walk into and they feel like a film-set. We did a pub/bar crawl during Fantastic Fest of the bar locations and it was quite surreal because suddenly it was like entering into the world of the film again. Certainly with the night-time locations, I was looking for places that to me felt quintessentially American and actually something like Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks was a kind of influence and certainly the use of blackness in his paintings…
Filmmaker: How did you develop the film’s peculiarly lugubrious pacing? For what ultimately becomes a slasher film, it in many ways it feels like a decidedly art house take on that sort of material.
Rumley: Yes, you’re not the first person to say that! As much as being a genre film, it’s also very much a character study and it’s only by observing these characters, Erica especially, that an audience can get to know them. She has this fairly empty life which really consists of going out on an evening and having random sex and hanging around her boarding house during the day watching tv, eating and cleaning. It’s not much of a life but it’s one she’s chosen deliberately. I felt it was important to show her interaction with the young boy in the playground because even though she acts all tough and defiant, in her heart of hearts, much like everyone else in this world, she just wants to love and be loved. By the end of the first act in the film we see this and understand this so that what happens ultimately is, more than anything, tragic and wasteful. This isn’t the character development you usually get in I Know What You Did Last Summer et al, so although it is a very long build up to the film’s genre sequences, I’d like to think it was worth it!
Filmmaker: You seem more interested in suggesting violence then vicerally representing it.
Rumley: Certainly in this film, yes. A template for the script was in fact Takashi Miike’s Audition – another very long and gradual slow build up which has a crazed and violent ending. The climactic scene in my script was actually more graphic than what’s on screen but in the end, we felt that the exploitation of the goriness was out of kilter with the rest of the film. Violence can be fun to watch in a film and of course, it’s a massive part of the genre staple but we’ve all seen peoples’ legs/arms/head being chopped and a ton of blood pouring out of the body a hundred times. What we haven’t seen very much of is the threat of violence and how that psychologically affects a peson; in this respect, the film is very much about the reality of terror rather than the manifestation of the violence and for me that’s one of the reasons why the film is so gruelling and at times tough to watch. I think to see someone squirming and freaking out at the possibility that they might get stabbed is way more dramatic and horrific than watching the same person get stabbed.
Filmmaker: How did you find Amanda Fuller and win such a memorable performance from her? Were you ever worried about exploiting her?
Rumley: We initially went to a handful of better know actresses but they were all too scared for one reason or another to do the script. We tried casting in Texas but that was a no-go. So in the end we held some open casting sessions in LA and saw about 50 girls in 4 days. One of these was Amanda and she stood out from her opening audition. I was in Austin whilst this was happening but flew out to meet the top 5 potential actresses and again Amanda really stood head and shoulders above the other actresses so we offered her the part.
People have often asked how I’ve managed to get such great performances from Amanda and Noah [Taylor] especially and as much as I’d like to take a lot of credit for this I really can’t. Amanda instinctively understood the character from the offset and we were both adamant and in agreement that Erica should be played with dignity and love, in spite of all the things that she does and that are done to her and, frankly, I think this is the key to her performance; the love that Amanda felt for Erica.
In terms of whether I was ever worried about exploiting Amanda, no absolutely not. It’s a tough role but there’s really nothing in what we did that was gratuitous or done for titillation; as I mentioned a while ago, it’s an investigation into Erica’s character and to get somewhere vaguely near the bottom of her character, we have to see how she lives and what she does. We spoke about the sex scenes before hand of course and whilst myself and Milton the camera man were as respectful as we could be, Amanda and the guys she acted with were all incredibly professional so those combinations worked well together and I think everyone was happy with our working relationship!