Sunday, February 8, 2009
Irma Vep Interviews Gary Indiana
From the desk of Irma Vep: More of my interview with Gary Indiana
IV: During the late 70s and most of the 80s you were acting a lot in films?
GI: Yes, and performing, and directing theater in New York—I don’t consider myself any great shakes as an actor, I’d rather direct, but I’m fortunate in having one quality essential for live performance as well as film acting, at least for the kinds of films I was acting in.
IV: What would that be?
GI: If you have the element of demonic abandon in your personality you can always go out on stage or walk in front of a camera and bring something compelling to your performance.
IV: Can you say a bit about the films you’ve been in?
GI: I can’t say they’re exactly masterpieces, but some of them are interesting. New York Stories, directed by Jackie Reynal—she was married to the late Sid Geffin, who played my father; some of my scenes with Jackie and Sid were shot in this trompe d’oeil sort of restaurant interior. The others were shot on a boat in the—is it the 76th Street Marina, where people live on houseboats on the Hudson—in the dead of winter, at night, it’s been my fate to get these acting jobs where you have to risk pneuomonia and freeze to death during shooting. Anyway, in that one I played the gay son of Sid, very neurotic, and, though it wasn’t part of the character I wrote for the script—Jackie and I wrote the script together—drunk through most of the shooting. King Blank, Michael Oblovitz’s film, I played a gas station attendant whom Ron Vawter gets a blowjob from in a service station toilet, then beats up. That was my first experience with blood pellets and the like. I had blood capsules stuffed up my nose, I had to squeeze my nostrils to pop them while Ron was blocking my face from the camera, so the blood would be pouring down from my nose when he moved. We did take after take, though the first take was really just fine. I think Oblovitz, knowing Ron and I had an affair going on, wanted to humiliate both of us, somehow—
IV: Why would he do that?
GI: Ron, technically, was married to Oblovitz’s wife, though they had nothing to do with each other connubially, or whatever the word is; it wasn’t homophobia, Oblovitz liked humiliating everybody.
IV: Stiletto, by Melvi Arslanian, is listed on ImbD as one of your credits.
GI: Yeah, I wrote the script with Melvi. She died young, it’s sad. I played a bellhop in the Chelsea Hotel, which doesn’t of course have any bellhops; a great scene for me, I got to really play off Tina Lhotsky, the star of the movie, by telling this long story about…someone strangling someone else and then sitting at the kitchen table and eating an entire box of donuts.
IV: The Trap Door, by Scott and Beth B?
GI: I was known for my maniacal laugh, they cast me as a judge in a courtroom scene with Jenny Holzer and…and…Charlie Ahearn, I think—when I handed down the verdict, I was to laugh maniacally. The laugh got mentioned in the reviews. It was fun.
IV: What about the European pictures?
GI: Eeeesh. Okay, in no particular order. Peer Raben, Fassbinder’s film composer, they had some leftover money from something and Rainer would finance a film by one of his group to spend it up, you had to do that to keep the subsidy…so, via Peter Kern, I got cast in this film called How Do I Make It in the Movies?, as the heraphrodite slave of the Emperor Nero, in a remake of Quo Vadis directed by Rainer Fassbinder. Grueling, I had to be in hair and makeup at 7 in the morning, which then took three hours, because I had to have my hair ringleted and had to be painted head to toe in gold stage paint. Kurt Raab and Peter played film extras; Kurt dreams he’s in this remake. I had to hold up a bunch of grapes at the feet of the Empress, while Kurt went back and forth in front of us, holding a little glass under his eye, to collect his teardrops. Fassbinder and Harry Baer were in director chairs a few feet from this stage, there were all these columns, for that Roman look, and I had to do high-kicks and dance in chorus line with the Roman Senate, Ingrid Caven’s singing on tape, we dance to that—then, an earthquake shakes the whole mis-en-scene into rubble. We had to do it over and over. At the end of the scene, Fassbinder and Harry Baer clap rather unenthusiastically.
We shot that Bavaria Studios, and I had to be around for most of the filming even though I only did that one scene.
IV: What was Fassbinder like?
GI: Terrifying. I’d smuggled some hashish for him from Berlin, and presented it to him in the film office; he threw it on the floor and stepped on it. See, I was close with Werner Schroeter, and the two of them were feuding over which one was going to direct Querelle—so there were two camps, the Fassbinder camp and the Schroeter camp, so I was the Enemy. Werner wanted Claudia Cardinale, he was going to shoot in black and white, Dieter (Schidor] had got the rights from Genet, and he wanted it to get made, he was producing it, after all, and Cardinale really didn’t want to do the Madame Lysiane role, so she kept stonewalling Werner—it got ugly, the two warring camps both drinking every night in the Deutsche Eiche in Munich…Anyway, Rainer didn’t like me. One day Peter Kern said, “How do you like Rainer?” I told him I was afraid of him. Peter said, “Oh, don’t let that worry you. We’re all afraid of him.”
Actually, he was nice to me at the wrap party, so….
IV: And Schroeter?
GI: Okay, he wanted me to do this Shakespeare play that he was directing, A Comedy of Errors, at the Freie Volksbuhne in Berlin. He cast me in it during the Berlin Film Festival. I said I couldn’t possibly memorize these long monologues in a pre-Schlegel translation of the play in German, Werner kept insisting that I could. He hired a German coach for me. It was a disaster, I dropped out of the cast. Then I flew back there for the premiere and Werner had cut those monologues down to about three lines each. I said, “Well, why can’t you just cast me in a film, for Christ’s sake?” Nothing doing.
IV: And then---
GI: Well, “and then,” Peter Kern kidnapped me to this freezing castle in Hannover that Bruno Ganz owned, and forced me to write a sex musical for him. I didn’t have the money to get back to Paris, so he had me by the proverbial nuts…
IV: What were you doing in Paris?
GI: What I had been doing in Paris before the Berlinale was trying to escape David Wojnarowitz, whom I was in love with, he loved me in a different way, but all the clinging was on his side, he was entirely dependent on me to translate for him, he didn’t have a word of French, so he insisted I spend every day with him, all day, and as the day wore on, he’d just stop talking to me. I mean every day. It was making me totally crazy, I had to get out of Paris. I loved David but I was going nuts. So then Peter Kern called me, or rather, I called him—Chantal Ackerman wanted to make a film of me and David, fighting. But then it got too ugly and neither of us wanted to do it.
IV: This Valie Export film, The Practice of Love?
GI: I’d been spending the winter in Vienna, hanging around with Al Hansen, Valie cast me in a tiny part they shot in Hamburg. The acrtress comes to the wrong hotel room door, I open it on the chain and tell her off, it’s a tiny, tiny part—
IV: Lothar Lambert, Fraulein New York?
GI: Oh, he shot that in front of the old Variety theater, I mean my scene, in New York, around the corner from my house. It wasn’t much.
IV: Various bios say you’ve been in 22 films.
GI: I guess they would know. If that’s the case it’s now about 30 films. I don’t remember them all, they were mostly walk on parts or minor parts. I’m in my own film Soap, but it’s still not finished. The Ulrike Ottinger one we shot in Berlin, that was a part that ran all through the film, Portrait of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press. That’s where I met Delphine Seyrig and Verushka, who were the stars. Again winter, rainy, miserable weather, and we had to shoot in bizarre locations, a nuclear plant, a marble cemetery—you know, where they carve tombstones, they don’t actually bury people there; I had one scene in a phone booth, this ENORMOUS transvestite wants the phone and I’m a spy, reporting in on Dorian Gray’s activities, and she drags me out, physically, while I’ve got the phone receiver in my hands…
IV: Cold in Colombia—
GI: Dieter Schidor, script by Burkhard Driest. It was right after Rainer died. We went down to Cartagena for two and a half months. It was scary then, I guess it’s scarier now. I played a news photographer…the film is a piece of shit, I don’t think Dieter would argue differently if he were around. I had a lot to do in that film. If you read my novel Gone Tomorrow, it’s the fictionalized story of that film, and other things. I won’t get into all the details. Betancour was president of Colombia at the time. It was really scary, shooting a film there.
IV: You were in Christoph Schlingensief’s Terror 2000—
GI: Yeah, with Margit Castensen, Peter Kern, all these Fassbinder people. Actually, I get killed right at the beginning, in a train compartment, I had to play the guitar and sing, I was supposed to be this social worker welcoming immigrants from Poland to the new re-united Germany; then Udo Kier and this gang of terrorists hijack the train. Udo shoots me with a machine gun. Another pneumonia expedition. Because we shot late at night, in the woods, at this decommissioned STASI camp, in the cold—and it was so cold the electric charges on the blood things kept going off a second late, so I’d have to wash up and put on another set of clothes, I think we did the scene about ten times. Even though I’m killed in the beginning, the whole film is about Margit and Peter trying to find my corpse, so I had to stay for weeks and weeks, and then be discovered, under a metal sheet…the terrorists have smeared makeup on my face, and put a bra and panties on me…EVERYONE got pneumonia except the director. Figures, right? Also, as Udo and I discovered—we were the only people from the film who drank every night in the only tavern in the STASI camp, one night after we’d been seeing these two middle-aged men, the only other customers, drinking there too, we went over and talked. Udo asked what they were doing there, since the place had been abandoned, we were all living in a STASI barracks—and they said, “We’re mine sweepers. This whole area was mined by the Germans when they retreated, and mined again by the Russians, and, oh, by the way, you know those abandoned railroad cars you’re shooting in, that whole area is full of active mines…” So, we were literally shooting in a mine field, which, somehow, I suspect Christoph knew, and we didn’t. Hoping we’d be blown to smithereens in front of the camera, no doubt. Udo went over my lines with me every day, then every night when we got to the set, Christoph would tell me, “Do it faster, do it faster!” So I’d get totally rattled and forget the song, the lines, everything. Finally he said, “Just do it in English.”
IV: I take it you never learned German.
GI: Oscar Wilde said that life is too short to learn German. I have learned a fair amount in the years since.
IV: Mike Hodges, Murder by Numbers—
GI: Yes. My favorite shoot, you want to know the truth; but I did get sick on the flight to London, they had to send an ambulance to take me to the hospital right after I checked into the hotel. They gave me seven different prescriptions for this throat infection, I had to take them all the next day, and be on camera, with a few breaks, for eight straight hours, as I was a talking head in the documentary. Every time we took a break, I had to take another pill; but by the end of the day I didn’t feel bad at all. And it was the last shot of the movie, so there was a wrap party in a restaurant. I told Mike, “I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do this, I was so sick,” and he said, “I can tell you this now, when you arrived at the location, I thought you were going to keel over and die on us. Then, as soon as we turned the camera on, you lit up like a Christmas tree.” So we decided if our careers didn’t work out, we could go to terminal wards in hospitals with fake camera crews, and tell these dying patients we wanted to shoot them for a documentary…and they might, you know, have a remission.
The other thing about that movie, Barbet Schroeder was editing a fiction film called Murder By Numbers when our movie by the same name was about to run on IFC Channel; and as I’m close to Barbet, and was going up to the screening room to look at edits all the time, I kept saying, “Jesus, Barbet, the film I did with Mike has the same title,” and Barbet said, “Oh, but Paramount is going to change the title, I am almost sure they’ll change the title”—and of course Paramount, or whichever studio it was, didn’t, so both films came out at the same time. Of course ours was done for TV. But people did get confused.
IV: And the other movies?
GI: I’m not going to talk about all of them, it’s tiring, most of them were awful. Mike’s wasn’t, Valie’s wasn’t, Ulrike’s wasn’t…but I got cast in some real stinkers. I’d rather not mention them. Then, after I wasn’t going so often to Europe, the documentary thing started. People kept wanting me to be in documentaries. Oh—well, come to think of it, the last non-documentary I did was a homage slash remake of Flaming Creatures. I gave somebody a blowjob on camera. Months later I was invited to a party, a costume party, Terence Sellers’s old s&m brothel, and somebody there said, “I was in that movie with you,” and I said, “I don’t remember anything about that movie except that I blew somebody” and this guy said,
“That was me!” Just imagine, I was terribly embarrased. I actually apologized for forgetting that I gave him a blowjob.
I won’t do any documentaries now, they’re always about dead friends, and my memories of those people are mine, my material if I want to use it…I sort of deplore this thing of making documentaries about people who’re recently dead, when the people making them are young and really feasting off other people’s memories and the corpses of their subjects. It’s way too necrophile for me to want to do any more of them.
Posted by Irma Vep at 2:45 PM