Monday, November 20, 2017

The Funhouse interview with cinematographer Caroline Champetier

Champetier shoots with Leos Carax.
I’m always happy to speak with someone whose work I’ve admired for a long time. In the case of Caroline Champetier, I knew the work she had done and had seen her name on the credits of many films, but had never “added up” exactly how important her contributions have been to French cinema over the last 35 years.

I interviewed her when she was in NYC for a mini-retro of her work at the Alliance Francaise (FIAF) in October. I was able to move through her career quite well in the time we were allotted but, as I am editing the shows that will come from this interview (I’m hoping to do three), I am reminded of just how many great filmmakers she has collaborated with.

She has shot film (and video) for Akerman, Straub/Huillet, Godard, Rivette, Jean Eustache, Jacques Doillon, Benoit Jacquot, Leos Carax, Anne Fontaine, and Ms. Champetier herself. Those were the individuals I discussed with her in the interview; I chose to leave out her work with Claude Lanzmann and Xavier Beauvois (you can’t fit everything in in one interview — especially not a giant work like Shoah!).

Caroline Champetier
Below are two segments from the interview that are particularly enjoyable. The first is about her time shooting Holy Motors with Carax — in particular her shooting the feature exclusively at night on high-def video, and the amazing “intermission” scene featuring a killer band playing in a church (with our hero Denis Lavant on accordion).

The second clip is about her time with Godard, doting on his “Uncle Jean” comedic alter-ego and his reputation (among many critics and filmmakers — Hal Hartley, just to throw out one name) as a “master of lighting.” Champetier takes issue with this (not disputing his mastery, but more the title — since the cinematographer lights the scenes….).

The interview will air in the coming weeks on the Funhouse. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 13, 2017

The art of the kvetch: the Funhouse interview with Deceased Artiste Shelley Berman

I've wanted to pay tribute to the late Shelley Berman since he died at the beginning of September, but I waited until I could do it right. Doing it right in this case involved digging out the Funhouse episodes in which I presented my 2002 interview with Shelley, which took place at the Hollywood Collectors Show. (The theme for that particular show was “performers who starred on The Twilight Zone.”)

I had a great time interviewing Berman and consider our chat one of the best interviews that has appeared on the Funhouse. This was because the conversation grew organically – I was there to interview him, but it became apparent after a short while that Mr. Berman was going in and out of his onstage persona. I was privileged to serve as his straight man and was especially touched by the fact that, after the camera was turned off, he leaned over to me and said, “I was just kidding. You asked some good questions.”

In any case, I should not forget the first clip I put up from the interview, which can be found here. This was the first Funhouse clip I put up on YouTube eleven years ago, and I'm very happy to see it's been watched by so many people – I was delighted that Shelley moved effortlessly into a new routine (which I'm not certain he ever recorded in any medium) about his frustration with automated phone menus.

The new clips I've uploaded to YT are other great moments from our talk. The first one finds Mr. Berman talking about how much he dislikes other drivers, ribbing me for moving the microphone away from him, ribbing me a bit more (this time about public access – he is the only guest who has actually shown interest in and acknowledged where the chat in question was going to be seen), and then onto a serious question I had asked about his wonderful “father and son” routine, which can be heard here.

The third clip was a bit of a departure. At one point in the interview, after he had moved forward chronologically he moved back to his beginnings as a performer and paid homage to his wife Sarah, who was sitting right next to him. This is a sweet segment (and there's even a punchline!), mostly because Shelley and Sarah were together their whole adult lives – they got married in 1947 and remained with each other until his death in in September.

The saddest aspect of Mr. Berman's later years was that he fell victim to Alzheimer's disease. This is always a terrible, godawful way to live one's last years, but for a man who was so eloquent and verbally  brilliant, it must've been a particularly awful and confusing situation to exist in.

I'm glad some of us were able to tell Mr. Berman how important (and really funny) his comedy was to us. As I said at the end of our interview, conjuring up a terrible metaphor but stating an undeniable truth, he was a very important link in the “chain” of modern comedy. All of the post-Fifties neurotic comedians, from Woody Allen to Larry David and onward to each new generation of onstage neurotics and kvetchers, owe a great debt to Shelley Berman.