STEPHEN STANLEY’S entry in the Savannah Film Festival sounds like it might also be at home as a skit from the Dave Chappelle Show. His lovingly satirical 15-minute homage to the long-form music vids of the early MTV era involves a toy store and a popular late ‘80s R‘n’B group. We spoke to Stanley recently about the film.
What happens in Push?
Stephen Stanley: You have eight ordinary people in a toy store, and suddenly the whole scene morphs into dance video for Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It.” We set it up so the lyrics would be the actual dialogue of film. There are two characters named Salt and Pepa, and that of course leads into the lyrics. It’s just a fun exercise meant to mimic the long-form videos of the ‘80s, where things suddenly transform from a story into a music video. For me it’s a way to let normal people get to experience this world where things suddenly burst into music.
That constantly happens in classic musicals like West Side Story or The Sound of Music, when all of a sudden they start singing.
Stephen Stanley: We looked at some of those conventions. I love all the grand Hollywood musicals.
Most student films don’t have a cast as large as yours in Push.
Stephen Stanley: All the films I’ve made somehow end up with ensemble casts. Logistically it was hard. You certainly have to run a tight ship to keep that many people in focus. We filmed it all in real time, all in one room. The first ten minutes of the movie starts with two people, and then you end up with eight or nine as more and more people enter the scene as the song gets going. That created some challenges in terms of continuity. Continue reading “Interview with Connect Savannah About “Push””
This second feature from Rocketinaditch Productions (Memphians Stephen Stanley and Boris Triko: both wrote and produced, Stanley directed and edited, and Triko was the director of photography) improves on their engaging debut, the political satire Slick Lily Vs. the Grand Canyon, which played Indie Memphis in 2001.
Stanley Johnson is extremely likable as Mims, a Dean Martin-like character who spends his days hanging out with friends and sucking down martinis made by his ever-present butler Starky. Upon learning from street preacher Elijah that the Rapture is coming in five days, Mims and his coterie of eccentrics decide to celebrate with a big party.
Six Days in the Life of Mims has some of the inside jokiness common to low-budget films made among friends, but that spirit of camaraderie is also a strength. The film is odd, funny, and generous in a manner similar to the films of Wes Anderson, with the climactic party scene here (where the Reigning Sound are the band!) rhyming with the one that ends Rushmore. The five-day countdown and clearly drawn cast of sidekicks (each with a distinct problem) give the film a strong structure. Of particular note is Talbot Fields, who is quite funny in a dual role as Elijah and Mims’ hobo friend Bums. (Overheard bar-talk from Bums: “I thought, what did I need with two testicles? So I bought my drink a drink and I got out of there.”)
Sunday, in the Fanfare section of The Commercial Appeal, we ran my selection of the Ten Best films of 2001, along with a “Second Ten,” and a few choice “Dogs of the Year.”
The story (to the usual distress of my editors) was pretty long. So long, in fact, that there was no room for my usual list of also-rans – those movies that didn’t make my top 20 but which were worth seeing because of their overall excellence (The House of Mirth), because they exposed audiences to a foreign culture (A Time for Drunken Horses) or because they showed pterodactyls pecking people (Jurassic Park III). So for those readers who keep asking “What about Ali?” and “Did you see Harry Potter?,” here is the rest of the story – a litany of the other worthwhile movies that played on Mid-South cinema screens during 2001:
Slick Lily vs. The Grand Canyon (this absurdist presidential election satire was my favorite of the year’s locally produced, shot-on-video Indie Memphis features);
A rampaging monster made of kudzu, a martial artist named “Shinto Joe Bob,” a digitally animated chanteuse and the late Gov. George Wallace are among the uniquely Southern characters – both real and imaginary – that movie fans will meet during the fourth annual Indie Memphis Film Festival, which begins today and continues through Sunday at various downtown venues.
Movie buffs aren’t the only ones anticipating this showcase for “The Soul of Southern Film,” which will include independent movies made in the South, about the South or by Southerners.
Almost half the films on the schedule qualify as “Hometowners,” including such ambitious features as Strange Cargo, a film history-saturated chiller that name-drops Antonioni, Cassavetes and Last House on the Left, and Slick Lily vs. The Grand Canyon, an absurdist political satire in which the candidates for the U.S. presidency are literally symbols – “inanimate objects acting as puppets for the controlling monetary system,” as one character says.
In any case, while Indie Memphis may not have much money it does have an influence. Several filmmakers said one of their goals was to complete a project in time for this year’s competition. “Having a developing film scene in Memphis really inspired us,” said Stephen Stanley, co-director with Boris Triko of Slick Lily vs. The Grand Canyon. Stanley said Slick Lily cost about $2,350. It was shot with a Sony TRV 900 digital video camera, and edited on a computer. The movie mostly was shot on weekends over three months, with friends as actors. Because much of the movie unfolds in the form of television news reports, the low budget was not much of a detriment to the storytelling. “I would liken (digital video) kind of to what the four-track and electric guitar did for music,” Stanley said. “You could make an album and in our case a movie without the process people had to go through before – without having to jump through all these hoops just to get to make your first one.”