Intercourse veiled in the dark shadow of winter’s eve. Crouched in the back room, a group of shady businessmen watch as a decidedly maniacal fireman and maintenance man find despicable reasons to “fix the pipes” in a busty young 20-something’s apartment. It’s just another adult film, but disconcerting all the same. Imagine all that could have been, if things had gone the other way.
Acclaimed screenwriter and director Roger Avary, best known for his co-writing credit on Pulp Fiction, is renowned for his perverse and darkly laced plots, but according to the man himself, he came close to applying his talents to the less refined film industry.
“There were tough times early on,” said Avary in a recent Hatchet interview. “I would have made any movie anyone handed me. Literally, if it were porn, I’d be doing porn. I’d do whatever it took just to be shooting film.”
Instead of making faux-artsy porn though, Avary landed a gig with a fellow video store clerk, Quentin Tarantino, to co-write Pulp Fiction.
With a cult classic under his belt, and a few Academy Awards to boot, this poor white California boy was able to embrace the comforts of Hollywood stardom.
“It was like I had been walking through a desert,” Avary said. “Pulp Fiction came along and suddenly I had deals around town and a comfortable place to live.”
Not one to take the little things for granted, Avary admits that he now enjoys previously inconceivable luxuries.
“I can drive by a restaurant and be like ‘I’m hungry. I think I’ll stop and get something to eat,'” Avary said. “That was like the impossible dream for me before.”
The question of course, for a man who’s words filled the mouths of the likes of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, is – what have you done for us lately? The answer is simple. He’s made a teen movie of course. Hold your judgment kids. All is not as it seems.
“I try to make a genre based film,” Avary said. “It’s easier to sell to a studio. You go into the studio and say ‘Oh I’m making a teen movie.'”
So why isn’t that selling out?
“You just say that. They tend to be blinded to the fact that what you’re really doing is spending all their money to make a big art film,” Avary said.
Avary has snaked his way into the big time, most recently writing and directing The Rules of Attraction, due in theatres this weekend. Though it is being promoted as such, Attraction is hardly a teen-romp flick.
Rather it is one of the most profound and disturbing films of the year, exploring themes of teen angst and the perversions of college culture. Therein lies Avary’s scheme. He’s seducing audiences into the theatre with a veil of pop, leaving them only to find that they have been tricked into watching substance.
“There are times when you watch a movie, and it’s escapism and when you leave your life behind,” Avary said. “Then there’s the kind of movie that begins when you leave the theatre. That was the kind of movie I endeavored to make.”
That being said, is it really possible to make an art movie starring James Van Der Beek?
As Avary responds, “I was the first guy to say ‘DAWSON!??’ What people forget is that James Van Der Beek started out on Broadway doing Edward Albee. He’s really a trained actor.”
In Attraction Avary sets Van Der Beek to the task of playing the venomous Sean Bateman (that’s right American Psycho fans, its Pat’s brother). Directing a teen idol in such a role may seem difficult, but Avary seems to have enjoyed the task.
“I realized that he’s capable of an almost cold emptiness, almost doll-like eyes,” said Avary in speaking of Van Der Beek. “He’s never been allowed to run with a part before.”
It seems Avary makes it his mission in cinema to create such communicative characters. He embraces a kind of lingual approach to filmmaking.
“I believe that cinema is a language like any other,” Avery said. “There are phrases and words and grammars that can be adhered to. Different movies almost speak different dialects.”
In this respect Avary said he hopes with his films to make enduring cinema. With Attraction, he actually shifted parts of the script to lend it longevity.
“When I make a film I try make it temporally and spatially non-specific,” he said. “At one point there was a poster of George Bush with a moustache drawn on. It was too much of a contemporary political statement. I want this movie to last for ten years or twenty years. I want people to be able to watch it and still identify.”
Avary said he sees himself as capable of making great films, but only under the tutelage of other more skilled masters of film.
“The trick is you just try to take the films of your cinematic forefathers and you build upon them layering yourself on top,” he said.
So he takes his art pretty seriously. That doesn’t mean that Avary is above having a little fun. In Attraction he showed a bit of his own maniacal side, shooting and re-shooting a scene with James Van Der Beek on the toilet.
“I decided, how often do you get to put James Van Der Beek on a toilet. I literally shot as much film as I could. I had him do all sorts of different stuff. It was his idea to look into the toilet,” he recalled.
Good job Roger. Your cinematic forefathers could not be more proud.