Talking Poop with Miranda July

“When I write the children’s parts, I’m really identifying with them… In movies, [children tend to] have [roles] as being cuter and dumber, and in real life, they’re not so much that way,” July explains regarding her writing method.

 

“I don’t like things to seem at all movie-ish; I’m not that influenced by movies, per se,” is about the last thing one would expect to hear from the current darling of American independent cinema, multimedia artist Miranda July. She continues, “I tried to keep [the events of the film] within the realm of things that are familiar from life. Ultimately, the scale is so much subtler.” This is quite a contrast in the age of Tarantino, who came on the scene more than a decade ago and whose influence only seems to grow more each year, with nearly every mainstream and independent movie featuring only the most media-savvy characters getting into recognizable-from-other-movies events. But now, the counterpoint has arrived in July’s first foray into feature filmmaking, Me and You and Everyone We Know. Me and You premiered in January at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won an award for “originality of vision” (arguably pointing to Sundance’s desire to see a finish to the Tarantino trend), and then showed at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won four awards—among them the coveted Camera d’Or, the award given to the best first film.

“I get more of the feeling that that really happened when I hear you say it,” July laughs with regard to the whirlwind treatment she and her film have received in the past months. Funny that she doesn’t easily recognize success when she’s seen so much of it in the past. As a filmmaker, her short films have played in film festivals and museums around the world; her short stories have been published in such places as Tin House and The Paris Review; she has two albums on Kill Rock Stars and has directed a music video for past labelmates Sleater-Kinney; she’s made recordings for NPR’s Next Big Thing since 2002; she collaborated on the creation of the popular interactive Web site learningtoloveyoumore.com; and she has done performance art in the world’s greatest venues, such as The Kitchen in New York and The ICA in London. This is just to sum up her myriad accomplishments across all media, mind you; she’s accomplished much more that I’m not even mentioning. Ultimately, what makes her so successful in all of these fields is her soon-to-be instantly recognizable voice as an artist and her very individual and uncommon strengths.

Take, for example, her ability to write young characters. Me and You and Everyone We Know has a large ensemble cast, and a majority of these characters are teenagers or younger. “When I write the children’s parts, I’m really identifying with them… In movies, [children tend to] have [roles] as being cuter and dumber, and in real life, they’re not so much that way,” July explains regarding her writing method. And apparently, her success in this aspect does not just appeal to an adult’s memories of what it was like to be a kid, but to actual children themselves. When asked about whether or not she thinks her film would appeal to a young audience on account of the abundance of adolescent characters, she points out that “Two of the awards I won at Cannes were from children. I won the Very Young Critics Award, which is a jury of young kids—as young as 11—which is funny because it’s an R-rated movie. And then the Young Critics Award, which is more young adults, like college students.”

But as much as the film’s adult critics have been praising the way July writes kids, the film’s young critics might well be relating to the adult characters. Scene-stealing seven-year-old Brandon Ratcliff, who plays Robby in the film, has expressed in print how much he loves the film, but his reasons may not be what you expect. “I think he loves to watch himself, but he said his favorite part of the movie is this line that I have [in a scene] that he’s not even in. It’s a very mature part of the movie, when I’m waiting for a call and I say, ‘We have a whole life to live together, you fucker, but it can’t start until you call.’ He just loves that. Maybe it’s the language.”

Speaking of language, there are two scenes in the film that have already become two of the most talked-about scenes (among critics, at least) from any film this year: one involves Miranda’s character Christine walking down the street with a man while talking about that very walk as an analogy for their relationship, and the other finds young Robby talking about poop via instant message. In my preparation for our discussion, I found that the majority of July’s past interviewers had used the whole poop angle as a lead (poop is funny, after all), which led me to wonder if she wished people would stop asking her questions about it. “People sometimes shy away from it, actually. The funny thing is that I don’t have a ton to say about it…but no, I’m not tired of it yet.”

Since July has a history of never staying in the same medium for too long, fans of Me and You and Everyone We Know might be prone to worrying that they will have to wait quite a long time for her to make another feature. When asked about how long the wait might be, she plays to my optimism by answering, “Not too long. I’m writing it now. But it is true that I’ll also work on a new performance, and a book of short stories…to be honest, I think they all kind of help each other. So, yeah, I’m super looking forward to getting to do this again.”

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Talking Poop with Miranda July

“I don’t like things to seem at all movie-ish; I’m not that influenced by movies, per se,” is about the last thing one would expect to hear from the current darling of American independent cinema, multimedia artist Miranda July. She continues, “I tried to keep [the events of the film] within the realm of things that are familiar from life. Ultimately, the scale is so much subtler.” This is quite a contrast in the age of Tarantino, who came on the scene more than a decade ago and whose influence only seems to grow more each year, with nearly every mainstream and independent movie featuring only the most media-savvy characters getting into recognizable-from-other-movies events. But now, the counterpoint has arrived in July’s first foray into feature filmmaking, Me and You and Everyone We Know. Me and You premiered in January at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won an award for “originality of vision” (arguably pointing to Sundance’s desire to see a finish to the Tarantino trend), and then showed at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won four awards—among them the coveted Camera d’Or, the award given to the best first film.

“I get more of the feeling that that really happened when I hear you say it,” July laughs with regard to the whirlwind treatment she and her film have received in the past months. Funny that she doesn’t easily recognize success when she’s seen so much of it in the past. As a filmmaker, her short films have played in film festivals and museums around the world; her short stories have been published in such places as Tin House and The Paris Review; she has two albums on Kill Rock Stars and has directed a music video for past labelmates Sleater-Kinney; she’s made recordings for NPR’s Next Big Thing since 2002; she collaborated on the creation of the popular interactive Web site learningtoloveyoumore.com; and she has done performance art in the world’s greatest venues, such as The Kitchen in New York and The ICA in London. This is just to sum up her myriad accomplishments across all media, mind you; she’s accomplished much more that I’m not even mentioning. Ultimately, what makes her so successful in all of these fields is her soon-to-be instantly recognizable voice as an artist and her very individual and uncommon strengths.

Take, for example, her ability to write young characters. Me and You and Everyone We Know has a large ensemble cast, and a majority of these characters are teenagers or younger. “When I write the children’s parts, I’m really identifying with them… In movies, [children tend to] have [roles] as being cuter and dumber, and in real life, they’re not so much that way,” July explains regarding her writing method. And apparently, her success in this aspect does not just appeal to an adult’s memories of what it was like to be a kid, but to actual children themselves. When asked about whether or not she thinks her film would appeal to a young audience on account of the abundance of adolescent characters, she points out that “Two of the awards I won at Cannes were from children. I won the Very Young Critics Award, which is a jury of young kids—as young as 11—which is funny because it’s an R-rated movie. And then the Young Critics Award, which is more young adults, like college students.”

But as much as the film’s adult critics have been praising the way July writes kids, the film’s young critics might well be relating to the adult characters. Scene-stealing seven-year-old Brandon Ratcliff, who plays Robby in the film, has expressed in print how much he loves the film, but his reasons may not be what you expect. “I think he loves to watch himself, but he said his favorite part of the movie is this line that I have [in a scene] that he’s not even in. It’s a very mature part of the movie, when I’m waiting for a call and I say, ‘We have a whole life to live together, you fucker, but it can’t start until you call.’ He just loves that. Maybe it’s the language.”

Speaking of language, there are two scenes in the film that have already become two of the most talked-about scenes (among critics, at least) from any film this year: one involves Miranda’s character Christine walking down the street with a man while talking about that very walk as an analogy for their relationship, and the other finds young Robby talking about poop via instant message. In my preparation for our discussion, I found that the majority of July’s past interviewers had used the whole poop angle as a lead (poop is funny, after all), which led me to wonder if she wished people would stop asking her questions about it. “People sometimes shy away from it, actually. The funny thing is that I don’t have a ton to say about it…but no, I’m not tired of it yet.”

Since July has a history of never staying in the same medium for too long, fans of Me and You and Everyone We Know might be prone to worrying that they will have to wait quite a long time for her to make another feature. When asked about how long the wait might be, she plays to my optimism by answering, “Not too long. I’m writing it now. But it is true that I’ll also work on a new performance, and a book of short stories…to be honest, I think they all kind of help each other. So, yeah, I’m super looking forward to getting to do this again.”

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Leave a Reply

Talking Poop with Miranda July

“I don’t like things to seem at all movie-ish; I’m not that influenced by movies, per se,” is about the last thing one would expect to hear from the current darling of American independent cinema, multimedia artist Miranda July. She continues, “I tried to keep [the events of the film] within the realm of things that are familiar from life. Ultimately, the scale is so much subtler.” This is quite a contrast in the age of Tarantino, who came on the scene more than a decade ago and whose influence only seems to grow more each year, with nearly every mainstream and independent movie featuring only the most media-savvy characters getting into recognizable-from-other-movies events. But now, the counterpoint has arrived in July’s first foray into feature filmmaking, Me and You and Everyone We Know. Me and You premiered in January at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won an award for “originality of vision” (arguably pointing to Sundance’s desire to see a finish to the Tarantino trend), and then showed at May’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won four awards—among them the coveted Camera d’Or, the award given to the best first film.

“I get more of the feeling that that really happened when I hear you say it,” July laughs with regard to the whirlwind treatment she and her film have received in the past months. Funny that she doesn’t easily recognize success when she’s seen so much of it in the past. As a filmmaker, her short films have played in film festivals and museums around the world; her short stories have been published in such places as Tin House and The Paris Review; she has two albums on Kill Rock Stars and has directed a music video for past labelmates Sleater-Kinney; she’s made recordings for NPR’s Next Big Thing since 2002; she collaborated on the creation of the popular interactive Web site learningtoloveyoumore.com; and she has done performance art in the world’s greatest venues, such as The Kitchen in New York and The ICA in London. This is just to sum up her myriad accomplishments across all media, mind you; she’s accomplished much more that I’m not even mentioning. Ultimately, what makes her so successful in all of these fields is her soon-to-be instantly recognizable voice as an artist and her very individual and uncommon strengths.

Take, for example, her ability to write young characters. Me and You and Everyone We Know has a large ensemble cast, and a majority of these characters are teenagers or younger. “When I write the children’s parts, I’m really identifying with them… In movies, [children tend to] have [roles] as being cuter and dumber, and in real life, they’re not so much that way,” July explains regarding her writing method. And apparently, her success in this aspect does not just appeal to an adult’s memories of what it was like to be a kid, but to actual children themselves. When asked about whether or not she thinks her film would appeal to a young audience on account of the abundance of adolescent characters, she points out that “Two of the awards I won at Cannes were from children. I won the Very Young Critics Award, which is a jury of young kids—as young as 11—which is funny because it’s an R-rated movie. And then the Young Critics Award, which is more young adults, like college students.”

But as much as the film’s adult critics have been praising the way July writes kids, the film’s young critics might well be relating to the adult characters. Scene-stealing seven-year-old Brandon Ratcliff, who plays Robby in the film, has expressed in print how much he loves the film, but his reasons may not be what you expect. “I think he loves to watch himself, but he said his favorite part of the movie is this line that I have [in a scene] that he’s not even in. It’s a very mature part of the movie, when I’m waiting for a call and I say, ‘We have a whole life to live together, you fucker, but it can’t start until you call.’ He just loves that. Maybe it’s the language.”

Speaking of language, there are two scenes in the film that have already become two of the most talked-about scenes (among critics, at least) from any film this year: one involves Miranda’s character Christine walking down the street with a man while talking about that very walk as an analogy for their relationship, and the other finds young Robby talking about poop via instant message. In my preparation for our discussion, I found that the majority of July’s past interviewers had used the whole poop angle as a lead (poop is funny, after all), which led me to wonder if she wished people would stop asking her questions about it. “People sometimes shy away from it, actually. The funny thing is that I don’t have a ton to say about it…but no, I’m not tired of it yet.”

Since July has a history of never staying in the same medium for too long, fans of Me and You and Everyone We Know might be prone to worrying that they will have to wait quite a long time for her to make another feature. When asked about how long the wait might be, she plays to my optimism by answering, “Not too long. I’m writing it now. But it is true that I’ll also work on a new performance, and a book of short stories…to be honest, I think they all kind of help each other. So, yeah, I’m super looking forward to getting to do this again.”

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