One Question with Alex Ross Perry
Alex Ross Perry

Last year I kept hearing about a low-budget movie called The Color Wheel, co-written by its stars Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry (who also directs). The black and white film follows a brother (Perry) who helps his older sister (Altman) move out of her lover/professor’s apartment, all the while uncovering the siblings’ very close, unusual relationship. The film — strange, very funny, and at unguarded moments, perverse — had an undeniable tone and sense of humor all its own. Since the film’s success (it was nominated for the John Cassavetes Award at this year’s Independent Spirit Awards) Alex has immersed himself in a slew of promising projects. He’ll be multi-tasking once again (writing, directing, and acting) in the HBO series The Traditions which will premiere this fall, also co-starring rising actress Kate Lyn Sheil, a frequent collaborator of his. On the filmmaking front, Alex is currently in production on his next feature Listen Up Philip, starring Elisabeth Moss and Jason Schwartzman. We don’t know how he found the time, but Alex was kind enough to answer our One Question in between directing.—MML

What one piece of writing has changed the way you think about your own work?

At the end of 2006, the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria presented a complete retrospective of the French filmmaker Jacques Rivette. The event was cause for massive celebration amongst my cinephile friends. Rivette had directed several masterpieces that screened often, but there were several rarer films that had not screened in New York in years, or ever. I became entrenched with the consistency of the master’s films. The labyrinthine plots, allusions to never justified paranoia and intertextual references to literature, most notably Balzac were all mystifying and I got lost in the maze. Every Saturday and Sunday I would go to the museum, either for a double feature or for one of Rivette’s marathon-length films. (L’amour fou runs over four hours, the long version of Out 1 over twelve, the ‘short’ version a mere five.)

Film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum had long been one of Rivette’s biggest American champions, only by default; he was one of the few to have extensively seen the films prior to their mid-aughts revivals. He had been at the (until 2005) supposedly only screening of Out 1 decades earlier. His interviews with Rivette, at the time of the retrospective long out of print, were passed around as photocopied contraband during those winter months. Rosenbaum was present for an introduction and post film discussion after L’amour fou, a film that he first encountered at a midnight screening in Paris. During the discussion, Rosenbaum alluded to the novels of Thomas Pynchon as literature’s counterpoint to cinema’s Rivette. Pynchon, like Rivette, revels in allusions, references, digressions, themes of paranoia and distrust, secret societies, performance of both the stage and filmed kind, etc. I had at the time read none of Pynchon’s novels, but hearing Rosenbaum speak I knew that I must, if only to extend my immersion in a Rivette-like world long after the retrospective concluded.

I ended up reading Gravity’s Rainbow over the summer of 2007, and was mystified, transfixed and in awe. I can’t say anything about the work that people smarter than me haven’t already pointed out, but I can say that it’s affect on me as a filmmaker was total. To use narrative in such a way, to stop and start, to use words as disconnected poetry rather than in drum tight cohesion inspired me to quit my job and make my first film. The film deals with a handful of themes as ideas that GR planted in my mind, such as V-2 rockets, and attempts to tell a story on film the way Pynchon tells it on the page: with disconnect that all adds up. That’s what Rivette does as well, so go figure it’s all connected.