Alexandra McGuinness, ‘Lotus Eaters’ writer/director, talks filming in black & white

Alexandra McGuinness in black-and-white
Alexandra McGuinness in black-and-white

Lotus Eaters is a new film that has just opened in limited release in New York City and Los Angeles, from writer/director Alexandra McGuinness (Brendan Grant is the co-writer of the script).  She talked with TailSlate recently about the film and films in general:

TailSlate:  Aside from films you have worked on or been involved with, what is your favorite film and why?

Alexandra McGuinness:  I don’t know what my favorite film is, the last film I really liked that I saw in the cinema was the Paperboy. Everything I read about it was terrible, but I liked it, ( I didn’t like Precious at all though.) I liked that it wasn’t a perfect film and that you could see the ideas and the seams somewhat but it was full on, steamy, campy drama.

TS:  The world is now your oyster and you have an unlimited budget to re-make one film. Which film would you choose and why?

AM:  There are lots of books I’d like to adapt, not so many films I’d like to remake, maybe a live action version of a Disney cartoon like The Little Mermaid, although that’s based on a Hans Christian Anderson story but I seem to remember the two are very different.

TS:  Who are some of the writers and directors who have influenced you?

AM:  I always loved Woody Allen’s films. I think he was the first director who I saw everything he made. I like Douglas Sirk and Neil Jordan and Polanski and many more. Writers; I’ve always loved Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, John McGahern – I always read a lot of short stories as well as novels.

Alexandra McGuinness at premiere of 'Lotus-Eaters'
Alexandra McGuinness at premiere of ‘Lotus-Eaters’

TS:  Why did you make the choice to shoot in black and white?

AM:  The choice to shoot in black and white was initially about rooting the film somewhere between the past and present and creating a distance from the audience, my DOP and I were inspired by 1980s fashion photography, Peter Lindbergh’s supermodel photographs and Helmut Newton.

TS:  The glamour of the characters, in appearance and in attire manages to overcome the absence of color. How did you manage to achieve this? I’m not a fashion maven but even to me it seemed the characters were very well-dressed.

AM:  The clothes (and the locations) were a ways of upping our production value. We had a small budget and a wonderful stylist Ruth Higginbotham. We were able to borrow many items from lots of very generous fashion houses including Chanel and John Rocha. I wanted the clothing to look architectural against often stark backgrounds.

TS:  Did you worry that audiences would find no character with whom they could identify and/or sympathize?

AM:  I wasn’t too worried about that. A lot of the characters are unsympathetic, I don’t think an audience necessarily has to like or identify with a character to follow them. Young Adult featured Charlize Theron playing a total asshole and I loved it. Clockwork Orange?

TS:  I’m sure you’re aware that the Lotus-Eaters of Greek mythology were considered apathetic and more or less useless. It seemed to me this was a deliberate parallel but I wanted to confirm my interpretation. Is it the intent of the film to imply that living in such an apathetic state is a useless and/or wasted life?

AM:  The Island of the Lotus Eaters is one of the chapters in the Odyssey. Odysseus gets stranded there for ten years on his journey home. He’s on a mission and throughout his mission he’s faced with various obstacles; usually they’re opponents or monsters that he needs to fight, or puzzles he has to solve but the Lotus Eaters just use up a bunch of his time, they make him forget his mission and basically he spends ten years getting stoned on Lotus and is waylaid. Alice similarly is waylaid; that’s the parallel, she’s surrounded by people who aren’t really doing anything with their lives and don’t want to think about it. It’s a phase she’s going through, maybe she’ll get through it and remember what she was supposed to be doing.

Alexandra McGuinness celebrates release of her latest film, 'Lotus-Eaters'
Alexandra McGuinness celebrates release of her latest film, ‘Lotus-Eaters’

TS:  I’m also sure you are aware that those mythological Lotus-Eaters lived a very isolated existence on an island. Is the closed geographic circle in which your characters exist their island?

AM:  Yeah it’s the same 11 people at all the parties and dinners, and they’re all knitted up in their own world, they’re all sleeping with other and talking about it and little else. Geographically they move around, we have them go to Glastonbury and the South of France but it’s all on a circuit. They always end up facing each other again across a table. The movie is cyclical (in a way) it starts the way it ends with a horse… as does a horse.

TS:  Alice seems to be struggling to find meaning in her life and not doing well with it. Why is that?

AM:  She makes bad choices, or no choices at all… she allows herself to drift with the crowd, they’re all very animated and she’s an observer. She thinks she’s doing the right thing but often she’s not. She’s a lost girl. A child that never grew up or an adult that never had much of a childhood.

TS:  While these people seem extraordinarily involved in each others lives, they don’t seem to like each other very much, deep down. What is the impetus of the dislike that results in so much “back-stabbing”?

AM:  Not all the characters are cruel to each other, some just want to be loved like Suzi (Amber Anderson) who pours love into her boyfriend Felix (Benn Northover )despite the fact he regularly ignores her. She doesn’t quite know how show her love, at one stage she tries to force him to eat a sandwich she’s made, hoping that will breed affection; later when he doesn’t come home she cuts up his clothes with her nail scissors.

TS:  What is your next project?

AM:  I’m writing a script at the moment based on a book about a young couple who go on the honeymoon from hell in Wales. And Hopefully I will be shooting my next film in Berlin in October which is about a young director who loses her mind and a couple of teeth on a film-set in Berlin.

TS:  Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.  It is much appreciated.

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