20 Questions And A Song Request: Courtney Marsh

20 Questions With Director Courtney Marsh

As Emerson aptly noted, “…a man may be known by the books he reads”; at Alone in the Dark we maintain that we are best known, perhaps, by the films we hold most dear. The format is simple: one fellow cinephile, 20 questions, and a song of their choice. In this installment, I sit down with acclaimed writer/director Courtney Marsh to talk Kieślowski, experimental cinema, South Florida cornrows, and how Jordan goddam nailed SPACE JAM.

Last film you saw- in which city- and with whom?

MAPS TO THE STARS here in Los Angeles with the dashing Jerry Franck. And Cronenberg is coming back! (Now I can forgive him for COSMOPOLIS)

You cite Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski as an influence- which of his films most personally touched you and why?

That’s a hard one…he’s a genius. But when pressed I will probably go with THREE COLORS: BLUE. I remember seeing that film by myself at the New Beverly Cinema in a beautiful 35mm print. The opening scene alone has been one of the most memorable moments in all of my cinematic experiences. Kieslowski may have been the first person to convince me that there is such a thing as the soul. And I think that is something I am missing in cinema today. He said, “Maybe it’s worth investigating the unknown, if only because the very feeling of not knowing is a painful one.” I really relate to that.

BLUE dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski

The last film that made you weep?

There haven’t been too many films lately that have gotten that reaction out of me...‘Weep’ is a strong word. The only movie that comes to mind is DANCER IN THE DARK. That may have been one of the only times I have truly ‘wept’ in a film.

You are an alumni of the prestigious UCLA School of Film and Television. Of these three other UCLA notable alumni directors, whose vision and technique do you feel most mirrors your own- Charles Burnett, Alex Cox, or Allison Anders?

Hmmm… my style varies, and I don’t really have enough knowledge or awareness to know which style mirrors mine, but I will say Alex Cox’s style is my favorite of the three. He is the most fun to watch.

Director Alex Cox

You hail from S. Florida. What film set in FL do you feel most perfect embodies the Sunshine State?

Floridians may hate me for this one, but hands down: SPRING BREAKERS. I feel like growing up, every guy I knew wanted to be some form of Alien (James Franco) and every girl-including me- wore a bikini paired with some unzipped short shorts and their boyfriend’s gold chain around their neck. All the guys I hung out with tried to talk Ebonics and these were the whitest guys around. But before I judge, I admit that I definitely sported cornrows at one point. Springbreak forever, bitches!

On the spot: the most overrated and underrated of 2014.

Overrated: BOYHOOD. Underrated: UNDER THE SKIN.

UNDER THE SKIN (dir. Jonathan Glazer)

You’ve just become my best friend ever- those were unequivocally the correct two answers. What was the first film you ever recall seeing inside a theater?

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. I was 7 years old. I went with my Aunt and Uncle. Belle championed my childhood. Six years later, my brother Carson was born- when I would babysit him, we watched all the Disney films together. I became really obsessed with Beauty and the Beast. He would fall asleep and I would just keep watching or I’d play it when he wasn’t around…I really believe she is one of the strongest heroines in the history of cinema. And I give that movie a lot of credit for my fascination with strong female characters.

In addition to the narrative genre, you dabble (brilliantly) into experimental cinema. You are creating a syllabus on Experimental film- what films are mandatory?

I feel like UN CHIEN ANDALOU by Luis Bunuel is the first one you should watch. It’s iconic and it will get you started on Bunuel’s surreal narrative styles. Then I would work into the short films of David Lynch since he is more of a name and excites young filmmakers…and his work moves more into narrative towards the end of the collection with THE AMPUTEE (my favorite). I feel when people can see how the great filmmakers started, it can inspire them to be more in touch with their intuition and take some risks in their narrative approach. Then I would move into an artist with a committed and full repertoire of experimental work, like all of Stan Brakhage’s films. I really think he is fantastic.

And everything I have mentioned are shorts, mainly because I am more of a short film experimental lover. At some point in feature length cinema, I crave some thread of a narrative to pull me along.

As a writer/director, what was the last screenplay that you thought was simply brilliant?

Well, last I saw (rather than read)… I would have to say BIRDMAN: OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE. The title alone was simply brilliant writing. I really loved everything about that script and how it perfectly satirized our ego’s need to be loved at any cost. Especially in an era where superhero films are the main gag and social media’s need for the “like” is so prominent. I just felt it was completely of the moment. And damn, who doesn’t love Michael Keaton levitating in his underwear?

An iconic film moment that haunts you to this day?

Well I have TWO moments but in two VERY different ways…

1. The ending of AU HASARD BALTHAZAR, when Balthazar lies down in that field with the sheep all around him. I think that moment will follow me my entire life. I can’t seem to escape the truth of it.

2. The dinner scene in the first ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE SS. This is the film that ended my eager fascination with exploitation films. I couldn’t even watch the rest of the trilogy. Thanks Don Edmonds…thanks.

Your anytime, anywhere, stop what you’re doing and watch when you catch it on television film?

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR. This movie is my go-to movie whenever, wherever. I “love” love it. However, come to think of it… this would most likely not be on TV…

In your salad years you were a talented cross-country athlete. Name the best film performance by a professional athlete EVER.

Michael Jordan in SPACE JAM. No argument.

What film- which you champion ceaselessly- does it seem that only you know about?

SALON KITTY by Tinto Brass. I will re-make this film. Mark my words.

Name the one staggeringly brilliant film of universal critical acclaim that you will admit to not having yet seen.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. I have pledged to only see it in a 70mm film projection. Luckily I live in Los Angeles so it shouldn’t be a huge challenge.

You have just completed your first documentary short, WAR WITHIN THE WALLS. Which other up and coming documentations should we be following?

This list is endless since I feel it is cinema’s strongest art form at the moment. Just to name a few…LEVIATHAN was amazing. It is an experimental documentary about the fishing industry. It’s like a horror documentary. CITIZENFOUR is a must see because it completely affects us all and is about our freedom as a free-thinking species. MORE THAN HONEY, KIDS FOR CASH, BLACKFISH, VIRUNGA, DEAR ZACHARY… I can go on all week.

LEVIATHAN Dir. Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

Three directors whose films have fundamentally changed your life- either by craft or appreciation?

Kieslowski, Von Trier, Kubrick.

You are a member of the Local 600 Guild- who would you hand the Academy Award for Best Cinematography to this year?

The Cinematographers of the Polish film IDA (Ryszard Lenczewski + Lukasz Zal). In a movie with such little dialogue, the camera truly becomes the main character, giving you information the characters don’t. Moreover, you become affected on a subconscious level because there is no dialogue to feed your ego and therein, the framing, lighting, stillness, etc takes over. The starkness of the cinematography wore on me throughout the film and I almost feel it will live on within me longer than the characters or the plot even. The dead space, the grey palette, the photographic feel of it…the camera was my window into this world and what a truthful one it was.

IDA (Dir. Paweł Pawlikowski)

You are an unabashedly avid reader- what is on your nightstand (or Kindle) right now?

John Wyndham “Trouble with Lichen”. Book. No Kindle. I like the texture in turning a page.

Cinema Evangelicalism- The last film that moved you to the point of insisting that all of your friends see it?

UNDER THE SKIN by Jonathan Glazer. GO SEE IT. It was adapted from a novel and if I can just say one thing to convince you to go see it, it is by repeating the synopsis of the book: “Under the Skin follows an extraterrestrial who, manifesting in human form, drives around the Scottish countryside picking up male hitchhikers whom she drugs and delivers to her home planet until she has a stroke of conscience”. Good god.

UNDER THE SKIN (Dir. Jonathan Glazer)

If you had to change careers tomorrow to an entirely unrelated field, what passion would you attempt?

I’d be rescuing factory farm animals...cows, goats, chickens, sheep…I follow this channel on Vimeo called “Edgar’s Misson Farm Sanctuary” and I am pretty sure I would move to Australia and work with them. But this lifetime calls for filmmaking. So when I can afford it, I plan to own a giant farm with tons of rescued animals that can just run around all day and be happy.

What is your song request?

A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Silver Springs’ by Lykke Li. Because remakes can, once in a while, be utterly fantastic.

When not pitching a predatory Scarlett Johansson over whiskey at Film Festival after parties or being named as one of the Alone In the Dark’s “Best New Discoveries of 2014", Courtney can be found traveling all over the country winning awards at various film festivals for her two short films ZARI and WAR WITHIN THE WALLS.

Learn more about her astonishing work here. Visit the ZARI Facebook page, Vimeo Page, and Official Page for all the latest screenings and appearances near you. She is currently developing her first feature screenplay.

by Jack Hanley