SEAN KILPATRICK on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made a deep impression on you as a youth? Which films felt transgressive back then? Were you secretive about watching them? Would you say any of these films defined your formative years? Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

By some superannuated lapse in parental bargaining, a ten-year-old-me was allowed to view Reservoir Dogs and Menace II Society. Using an online source, I’d already printed both scripts on half-pages with a nineties printer. One particularly sadistic week of basketball camp and I felt nowhere ingratiated with the world outside my VHS player. To compound the problem, I’d recently learned how to jizz. Expanding one’s taste from that list of homages, the influences of these influences (beholding From Dusk Till Dawn in a theater) cemented the era. Gnostic steroid demon gunmen flipping through stylized ballets (John Woo) and iconic machine slashers endlessly stalking girls were refined into the grunge of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer and Confessions of a Serial Killer back to back. Strange Days was social commentary (though this film, of course, is something hard to process nowadays: far beyond message, style over message) and SFW philosophy. Midnight Express and Little Odessa ripped people’s tongues out, showing how process should commence. Love and a 45, Judgement Night, and Coldblooded proved the influence of influenced influencers could also influence (particularly Leary’s performance). In one glorious, preadolescent swill, I downed local hero Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy, Bava’s Demons, Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn, and Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock, retro sleaze masterpieces, and continued slurping Welles’s beautifully manic take on The Trial, and the cold brutality of Haneke’s Funny Games, funk atop craft.

Very often film is one of the ways we first come into contact with a world outside that of our direct experience. Which films introduced you to areas of life away from the familiar circumstances you grew up in?

The industrial ghettoes that sparked David Lynch’s genius were a relatable surrounding, but how far he took that inspiration into a separate creative world felt integral. Richard Linklater is the complete opposite of my purview, but is undeniably iconic and inspiring, especially back when. The international canon filled in the rest of the planet with all I cared to view of it. Finding Angel Dust at Blockbuster, the work of Tarkovsky, the exciting, riveting Kurosawa, (a hell of a snow day home from school watching) The Dollars Trilogy and the exhilarating The Young Poisoner’s Handbook, the claustrophobic Polanski classics, and for tropical tourism: Cannibal Holocaust and Make Them Die Slowly. The Forbidden Zone in place of fables.

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing? What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence? Have you ever made a film?

I saw the two best meta cinema on cinema masterworks of the nineties quite young: Living in Oblivion and In the Soup (seconded by Contempt and Day for Night). I decided to pursue script writing and attended this cheap workshop downtown Detroit ran by a minor production assistant from one Spike Lee film. He wrote the word “weak” on my teenage script, which I appreciate, but he followed that up with zero useful advice. Though his spit on the page was perhaps relevant preparation for writing (had had that before, and daily now — my own), he’d have done better taking a shotgun to my lap in that regard. All of Kinski (chiefly what Herzog unlocked), Terrence Stamp in Fellini’s Toby Dammit, alongside the end of Imamura’s The Pornographers — actors going sublime and achieving a moment beyond presence. Lately, what Mickey Reece and Joel Potrykus manage to wrought against these artless times almost lets me experience optimism. I tried, and meagerly try, to make films, the hardest undertaking of an art form possible.

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?

Detroit is shit for art. But once there was an abandoned grade school in the Cass Corridor, pre-gentrification, called The Burton Theater: matinees amid the ruin, shock art projects decorating (everyone hates those now), plastic bags spider-webbed throughout the building, attached to a urinal handle so that the whole building shivered like an entity when you flushed). I saw Trash Humpers, a cut of Häxan (I’d only dug the Burroughs version) with accompaniment by the band Wolf Eyes in an auditorium sans air conditioning — seeing the screen through a heat haze mirage. Crispin Glover came and presented his wild films, standing stock still in a tiny destroyed closet between showings, addressing each fan in one on one sessions (I stammered with unexpected fear through mine, not realizing he’d deign an individual conference with everyone). Right about then, just as I saved up to join (what was, to me, a very pricey inner-sanctum membership), the yuppie boomer landlord (who gleefully rode atop toy trains) evicted the programmers and took over, switching the schedule to tripe such as Love, Actually during Christmastime. A local source of inspiration appropriately cut short at its height.

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?

Jarmusch’s longshot landscapes met with People Under the Stairs and Fresh, Tetsuo: Iron Man and all the blasted hellscapes of Mad Max wannabes make me homesick. My old car is briefly featured in 8 Mile, sorry to say. Leaving Las Vegas evokes hopeless alcoholic dads punching the wall next to our child heads. But writers are supposed to be overly erect about the working class because utilitarianism is this country’s shiniest lie. (Many of today’s unintentional autogynephiles (re: all millennial men) could use some physical abuse, I admit.)

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

There is a type of film enjoyed on first viewing, but you brushed by it without dwelling, only to realize later the level of supreme art that went momentarily underappreciated. I often return to Kill List in awe, Kontroll (saw when released, holds up amazingly), Miracle Mile (describe this film to someone beat for beat, almost as mesmerizing as watching it), Branded to Kill (flawless, beautiful), and especially The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I saw young enough to relish, to be broken further into film by, in fact, yet it took seeing it on a big screen, and many, many wonderful times over (it truly gets better with each viewing, grows in you) to comprehend the insane confluence of intensity captured on camera (dinner scene, etc.). 

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life? Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

The Coen brothers demand reenactment. I feel ran over deep into the beach like in Mike Hodge’s Pulp. I perform How to Get Ahead in Advertising aloud each night. I am nearly always issuing coffin mumbles from the end of The Vanishing. The depraved eighties overkill set pieces in An American Werewolf in London, Invasion USA, and Action Jackson are my manifesto.

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you?

The rowdy turns in The Caller had at me. Attack the Gas Station rallies the viewer. Pretty Persuasion and Dirty Pictures predicting the cultural future are eloquent. Alan Clarke and his influence on The War Zone and Nil by Mouth, Henry Becque-esque reality cruelty gets my goat. The expansive The Telephone Box shit my shit out, the bottleneck tightness of The Guilty as well. Wake in Fright is ultra real, the film of our age, a millennial sludge trap ouroboros. Killing the nude woman with pop guns in Munich seems far more perverse than the filmmaker knew, a demonic scene. Rec 2 is the most vicious roller coaster jump scare experience I’ve had in a theater. Putney Swope is the foremost American comedy. Green Knight had me viscerally verklempt about how much potential it wasted. People at the theater were pulling their seats up in a rage, screeching far scarier noises than this weak millennial take on the legend could muster (I sense the director, so technically gifted, has never been hurt, one notch too abstract, but close, Black Death did the heavy montage literary ending better). The Grey is a more classic, but far greater disguised genre thing really about accepting death. When The Grey pissed stupid people off, I agreed with it, not them.  

Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity? 

When a genre subverts itself well: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, a secret treat. Upgrade is the best action film comment on millennials. Seeing Riley Stearns’s work, and others like Resolution and Luz released in the last few years, is heartening. There will always be a Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Corndog Man, Baxter, Habit, Underground, La Haine, The Ugly, The Cell, Seven (films that had no business being so good), sneaking way above every decade’s typical crap (we gotta hunt for them harder now). Maxx, Aeon Flux, and Ren and Stimpy formed my first artistic sensibilities. I Never Left the White Room back to The Last House on Dead End Street (and Watkins’s nonsensical, hyper-retro art pornos), the bottomless, pointless sadism of The House on the Edge of the Park and Hitch-Hike — perfecto.

Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?

Marat / Sade would be the only path to trying. Nobody’s gonna build me a Deadwood set. All for naught and just about impossible. 

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

My genealogy could start with tracking down the legendary Salo at fourteen, then later seeing Possession after realizing relationships aren’t nice. Man Bites Dog was formative, along with The Hitcher (throat slit Eric Red’s gnostic demon killers: this, Cohen and Tate and Near Dark) and von Trier. Bertrand Blier’s early work was huge to me, and the pinku genre, including The Embryo Hunts in Secret. Miike’s dozen absurd masterpieces after high school, Angel Heart before. Peter Greenaway and the uncanny ending of Twentynine Palms, both ideal, but closer to scope of potential for me might be something approaching an Alan Resnick short, maybe The Signal (2007) if I got lottery lucky. The Eric Wareheim video for that Tobacco song is one of the best shorts I’ve seen (and the superb videos for Liars’s “Plaster Casts of Everything” (innovative rear projection), Rone’s “Bye Bye Macadam” (with its Joe Frank-esque electrical cult worship) Lorn’s “Acid Rain”, Jonathan Bree’s “You’re So Cool”, Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Sticky Drama” (demented Salute Your Shorts), Liam Lynch, the Feral House zeitgeist of Longmont Potion Castle and Francis E. Dec’s Worldwide Gangster Computer God, the abstruse oddities Charles Carroll is up to, glad that Sam Hyde prospers), ditto the simplistic, impeccable bit Cronenberg did (“they sense the threat”) for his book release (he should stick to film). Pig was a recent masterpiece of refinement, a classical tour de force that I’m incapable of, but appreciate (am a Vampire’s Kiss guy). I’d reach for the genius of Killing of a Sacred Deer, paced to Little Murders, cut like Chinese Roulette, Hal Hartley blocking, as ferine as Kite, Aster’s short C’est La Vie acted by the girls of a Walerian Borowczyk flick (trauma of Blind Beast, Lady in a Cage, Onibaba, or the sensuality of Survey Map of a Paradise Lost and In the Realm of the Senses), writing with a Sword of Doom ability to clear a room, but falling flat once Mifune challenges — most likely I’d end up with Trailer Town. I’m okay with that.


Rebecca Gransden lives on an island. She is published at Tangerine Press, Burning House Press, Muskeg, Ligeia, and Silent Auctions, among others. Her books are anemogram., Rusticles, and Sea of Glass.

Sean Kilpatrick, raised in Detroit, is published or forthcoming at Boston Review, NERVE, New York Tyrant, BOMB, Fence, Columbia Poetry Review, evergreen review, Sleepingfish, VICE, Obsidian: Literature & Arts in the African Diaspora, Black Sun Lit, Spork, The Quietus, Whiskey Island, The Malahat Review, Hobart, Diagram, Vol.1 Brooklyn, LIT. He wrote Anatomy Courses (with Blake Butler, Lazy Fascist Press) and Sir William Forsythe’s Freebase Nuptials (Sagging Meniscus Press).

Art by Crow Jonah Norlander.

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