August 8, 2005

A Conversation With Director, Henry-Alex Rubin

What follows is the first in hopefully an ongoing series of interviews, The Cinecultist Gets Drunk With Filmmakers. For our first installment, we sat down at the Bowery Bar on E. 4th Street with documentarian and fellow downtown New Yorker, Henry-Alex Rubin (left in the suit, in the image below) whose movie Murderball which he directed with Dana Adam Shapiro (right), won best documentary at this yearís Sundance Film Festival and is currently out in theaters.

henry_alex_rubin1.jpgUnfortunately, their uplifting, smart, hilarious little docu about quadriplegic rugby players is being trounced in the box office by a few migrating penguins. Weíve got nothiní against penguins, but this is a crying shame because Murderball is one of the most deftly crafted movies weíve seen so far this year. Please rush out to see it, then talk loudly about it at as many cocktail parties as you can. Well, read the following conversation first, but then head out to the movie.

KW: So I guess the first thing to talk about, since the movie is already out, would be what are your thoughts on how itís doing?

HAR: Box office?

KW: Yeah, box office.

HAR: Pretty miserably. I know no one believes me that I donít care, but I really donít. The emotional high point for me was a long time ago. It was when we finished the film and showed it to the guys and they loved the movie. And the second high point was people loved it at Sundance. Everything after that itís been a little bit anti-climactic, quite frankly. It wouldíve been great to become a millionaire but, whatever. Thatís not why you make movies.

Murderball, KW: Certainly. Do you think the studio had expectations that the film would do a certain amount of money?

HAR: Definitely.

KW: Did they have conversations with you saying itís next Capturing the Friedmans orÖ?

HAR: It was a guarded hope, always. I canít impress this on you enough, of the three of us who made this movie, me, Dana and [producer] Jeff [Mandel], youíre talking to the guy who cares the least. Who was the least involved in withÖI never check the box office. My agent will once in a while tell me how itís doing. Honestly, I wish more people would go. But itís hard to get people to go to a movie about cripples. I mean the bottom-line, Iíve said that in almost every interview is that weíve always had two strikes against us. One, that weíre a documentary but that stigma is going away. You can bust out. But two, itís a movie about disabled people. I donít know. Speculating about why youíre movie is doing well is not interesting. It really isnít, Karen. Letís twist the knife around.

KW: Sorry, no the reason why I wanted to bring this up at all is because I saw it this weekend and I thought it was wonderful. And it surprises me that more people arenít going to see it.

HAR: All I know is that the guys in the movie really love the movie, and thatís all that really matters to me. In fact letís call Igoe [one of the people featured in the film] right now and see what he has to say about it. A statement from Chris Igoe. [Henry pulls out his cellphone and starts dialing.]

KW: So that was something that I was going to ask you. Are you now buddies with the guys from the film? Because it seems like you are from interviews and the film itself.

HAR: Definitely. Chris, Zupan especially. Theyíre some of my closest friends.

KW: When you set out to make a documentary, is there a part of you that feels like a journalist?

HAR: [speaking into his phone] Hey Christopher Igoe, how are you? Iím sitting at a table with a journalist who just asked me why more people arenít going to see our movie? So I thought you might have some interesting thoughts on the subject, so call back. All right. Mademoiselle.

KW: So when you make a documentary, do you feel that you are more of a journalist or more of a filmmaker?

HAR: The great thing about this movie is, that Dana really is a journalist. Heís hardcore. Heís been writing stories for years and years. He helped start Icon magazine, he was features editor at Spin. So a lot of that investigative work, I left to him. It was great. He would bring different story lines and ideas. But no, it was liberating.

KW: So there wasnít ever a moment for you while making that film that you thought, it shouldnít be too personal?

HAR: No, quite the opposite. The more you become friends with the guys, the more access you got and the more emotionally available you are to whatís occurring. Inevitably the filming of the events becomes more moving to you. Everything becomes more touching because you love these guys. And then you end up wanting to translate that emotion that youíre having up on screen for other people to have. You want them to be experiencing what youíre experiencing. You want everyone else to love these guys.

KW: I definitely feel thatís a part of the film that comes across very strongly. There are scenes that it seems that if the person behind the camera wasnít just another guy sitting around. There are quite a few scenes that are very intimate, very personal.

HAR: They forget you because they just think thereís a friend in the room. But Iím already on to the next project. That guy, Sean that you met [outside the bar, before the conversation began] is a captain in the army. Who has left the army and has become a writer. Weíre working on a movie. Itís going to be about returning Iraq war veterans. Iím in a completely different mindset. You make a movie and itís like youíve sent a kid away to school. You donít know it anymore. You donít recognize the clothes itís wearing. Youíre shocked when you hear people talking about it. When it brings home girlfriends, you donít recognize them. It has itís ownÖit has nothing to do with me anymore. Itís a stranger.

KW: So letís talk about movies.

HAR: Oh, that I can do.

KW: Letís talk about movies in New York, what are you favorite places to go to movies in New York?

HAR: There are two places. One is in the theater over in 33rd and 2nd Avenue. The Kips Bay movie theater. Love it. Always empty, big screens. Empty. Love it. Also, 68th Street. I like to sneak into movies, once I see one, I like to see another and you can do that at these two places very easily.

KW: So youíre not a Film Forum person, youíre not a Sunshine person?

HAR: No, I like action movies. I like war movies, action movies, cop movies. I like genre. I think most of the movies that come out today are really bad but my favorite movies are from the Ď60s and are all action movies. Like The Great Escape or Bullitt or Dirty Dozen, Badlands. These are my favorite movies. Deerhunter is probably one of my top favorite movies of all time. Top three.

KW: You also have that Blow-Up poster.

HAR: When did you see my Blow-Up poster? Oh right when you were in my room. [Ed note: This may sound sketchy, but CC innocently set up the tape recorder for an interview for our Day Job in Henryís apartment a few months prior, which is when we saw his poster.] That movie really filled me with the mystery of moviemaking. It was so mysterious. You grew up trying to figure that movie out. I saw that when I lived in France. I lived in FranceóIím half-Frenchóand I grew up in Paris for a number of years. Thatís where I saw a lot of movies, at La Gobelins, itís right on the edge of the 13th arrondissement. Itís a row of theaters and thereís a bunch of them playing revivals. And I would go there, when I was 15, 16, 17 years old. I remember seeing Blow-Up and loving it and not knowing why and being very frustrated by it. As frustrated as David Hemmings. I love good movies. Itís not like I love the French. I hate the French. I am French, so I can hate them. I love their movies. They make the best gangster movies and the best thrillers. People like Clouzot and Melville. These movies are fucking great because theyíre genre movies, so thereís a plot and thereís gunfights, which keeps me interested and theyíre incredibly human. Theyíre all about people and relationship, whereas the genre movies here in the US are not about people. I love very, very real movies. Blow-Up is not one of my favorite movies. Itís been with me so long, that itís gotten under my skin for at least 15 years now. Itís become a part of my identity.

Posted by karen at August 8, 2005 8:30 AM