What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?
I remember watching Beetlejuice over and over as a kid. I got nightmares from things that kids aren’t supposed to get nightmares from, like The Care Bears movie, but for some reason this movie didn’t bother me? Explains my goth roots.
What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?
I wasn’t allowed to watch rated R movies for a long time (except my parents did let me watch The Shining and The Exorcist in junior high). When Pulp Fiction came out, a lot of the boys in my class—it was all boys—watched it and were talking about how cool it was and I was so jealous, Pulp Fiction seemed so cool and mature to me.
I also remember my parents having a recorded copy of Body Heat on VHS and I was under the impression that this was something they didn’t want me to know about because it was dirty.
Are there any films that define your formative years?
SLC Punk is a silly little movie but I have a lot of affection for it. The party scenes feel true-to-life, and when I was in my teens/early 20s it was really relatable to me. (Fun fact: writer Chiara Barzini appears in this movie.)
The Virgin Suicides made a big impact on me for a lot of reasons—its dreaminess, the images, the portrayal of teen girlhood, and the subject matter of suicide.
I saw Donnie Darko when I was around 20 and it kinda blew my mind. I remember being like Wow, movies can do this! and wanting to talk about it with my friends but I didn’t have any artsy friends at the time and nobody cared.
Not entirely, but at one point during the writing of Juliet the Maniac I got this strange idea that I needed to match it with the color palette of East of Eden? This doesn’t even make sense. I don’t think it even made sense to me at the time. I was feeling lost in the manuscript when this happened.
What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?
I want to use this question to talk about how much I love Riley Keough. I love Riley Keough! She’s amazing in everything I’ve seen her in. I love her voice. She’s hot. I have a big crush on her.
American Honey (with Riley Keough)—there are some scenes in Juliet the Maniac that take place in a van. I watched that movie and tried to get the van scenes to at least resemble the van scenes in American Honey. That movie got the milieu of “fucked up youths in a van for long periods” thing down perfectly.
Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?
Yes, I made a bunch of short films directly related to my first two books. I don’t really think they had an influence—mostly I just found it exciting to work in a different medium. Writing is my favorite artistic medium and I find it to be the most… spiritual? in that you can directly inhabit another person’s mind and thoughts… but there are still limitations to it. There are certain things you can only do with film. It felt fun and freeing to be able to work with images and, especially, music. I’d like it if you could force people to listen to a soundtrack to your book.
Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?
I watched Drugstore Cowboy about a hundred times when I was dating this junky who was very bad for me. (Referring to him as a junky seems harsh but also accurate.) He’s dead now. Bad memories.
Another dead boyfriend (different dead boyfriend) memory are the movies of Jim Jarmusch. I still don’t like Jim Jarmusch movies, excepting the zombie one. I liked the zombie one.
Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?
All three places where I’ve lived as an adult were cinematic. I grew up in Del Mar, CA, which is sandstone bluffs, blue ocean, bent Torrey pines, and that soft golden light that is distinctive to Southern California. The beach in front of the house where I grew up has always felt creepy to me, which I tried to portray in this movie and the corresponding story. It has a lagoon that gets misty and just looks vaguely ominous.
West Virginia, where I live now, is so beautiful that it feels aggressive. I regularly feel distracted while driving to work by the aggressively beautiful mountains and trees and rivers and sky. I have some stories in my new, not yet published collection that feature me writing about this aggressive beauty. It makes me kinda sad that movies set in WV are generally filmed in Georgia, rather than on location. I wish WV would get a decent airport and give out tax credits so they could be filmed here. Seems like a missed opportunity.
And New York, where I went to grad school… I think the way it’s depicted in movies, books, and music is a big reason why I wanted to go to school there in the first place. I’ve tried to not write about it too much because it’s been covered so many times, but I also didn’t want to shy away from it either. When I had a story that I really wanted to write that absolutely needed to be set in New York, I let it be set in New York.
Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?
I feel the need to watch Gangs of New York about once a year. I’m not even sure why. I guess because there are so many good characters, and it feels so ambitious in terms of scale. Goodfellas and Taxi Driver are other Scorsese movies I feel the need to watch fairly regularly.
The aforementioned The Virgin Suicides is another one. I’ve watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood four times and could watch it again (fuck the haters for this movie, you all are losers). It’s pretty much a perfect movie, from the editing to the acting. I am also really into anything related to the women of the Manson family—not Charlie, he’s boring, but the women—and anything that could be described as California Noir.
Under the Silver Lake is another recent “California Noir”ish movie I could watch again.
And David Lynch movies, of course: Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and Wild at Heart are movies I could watch over and over.
I loved Midsommar (again, fuck the haters, you’re boring) and feel like that movie was kinda made for me, with the imagery and the weird nature/pagan shit and the woman character getting the upper hand in the end.
I saw Ganja & Hess for the first and so far only time last year but it really hit me hard. Like the other movies, I think a lot of it has to do with imagery/general aesthetic.
What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?
Waves was the most recent one. It gave me a stomach ache, big time.
Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?
All of the ones under the “films I regularly return to” section, plus Good Time, The Neon Demon, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Ordet, The Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, The Hunger, American Honey, Thou Wast Mild and Lovely… I could go on but that’s a decent list.
This series has not much to do with my writing, but I want to recommend Small Axe. That series was amazing and it got less recognition than it deserved.