An Interview With Stan Q. Berrick
by Nathan Frederick Garden
It seems almost every year at Cannes we get a new runt in the litter: a new release to avoid because it’s the grossest, meanest, sickest, sexiest film on the list, but this year’s sample of shock-value takes things to a new level... and too far some are saying...
Stan Q. Berrick’s latest offering, Lovely On the Outside, the film which, the director says, ‘Is at the edge; the vanguard of form and subject, mind and voice of modern cinema’, has perhaps set a new standard for controversy, surpassing even that of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009). Our culture correspondent, Jonathan Golding, met Berrick in his Stockholm headquarters, his privately-owned experimental studio where he rehearses the material he later films for real on location, and found cinema’s bravest critter more like relishing the kill than licking his wounds...
JG: Okay, to get those who aren’t familiar with your work- just for a starting point- could you maybe explain your films? Just generally, what is your drive? What is it you are trying to do with your films?
SB: Well, very broadly speaking, each film in its own way is trying to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. And I’m also trying to explore the formal potential of the medium itself through visual extremes like... of... extremes of minimalism... um, black and white, and... you know, lots of other stuff like that. And of course through scenarios which test the aspects and absolutes of the human condition. I like putting my characters through trials of sorts, or putting them in dire metaphysical scenarios. Like dying in a fictional country. Or falling in love with someone of exotic lineage in the middle of a desert or something. That’s always a crowd-pleaser.
JG: Hmm, interesting. And now, it would seem, your new film, Lovely On the Outside, has added to these uhh, themes... concerns... it’s added masturbation.
SB: Yes, that’s right.
JG: So your films now want to explore the ‘formal extremes’ of things like that?
SB: Yes, that’s right. Amongst other things. Curious subject, I know, but there’s such a spectacular variety within that particular theme.
JG: Variety, you say?
SB: Well, there’s lots of stuff under that umbrella term: it’s a goldmine of potential scenarios, so much range for dialogue- it probably has infinite variables. But, of course, there’s no way I could fit all that into one film. Most of what I want to say about masturbation does not exist, at the moment, anywhere in my repertoire.
JG: What do you mean ‘at the moment’? What do you have up your sleeve? [Laughs]
SB: I’ve already penned the sequel.
JG: A sequel? To Lovely On th-?
SB: Yes. Like I said, there was so much material and potential left unexplored, I had to keep drilling.
JG: I see. I don’t want to sound like a broken record and ask you the same question constantly, but, like what, exactly?
SB: Well, all the different... variations of...
JG: Look, you keep saying ‘variety’, ‘potential’, and words like that, but what does that actually entail? What would we actually see if you realised all these ‘possibilities?’
SB: [clears throat] Well, you’d see masturbation in all its contexts. Masturbation in all its diversity. Masturbation in its full glory. [Laughs]
JG: Right: I don’t think I’m following you.
SB: Well, you’d see masturbation as a life force.
SB: Do you understand?
JG: I’m not sure, no. [Laughs briefly] I’m afraid I feel I’m in very deep water here.
SB: Perhaps I’m getting off topic and making a terrible job of it-
JG: No, no, we can come back to it-
SB: But, ahh, what I’m driving for, Jonathan, is a concept and a perception of ma- look, I’m terrible at explaining. Perhaps you’ll need to watch my next film to be fully equipped with the visual ammunition you need to grasp what I mean.
SB: I know, it’s very hard to grasp... as it were... but the ideas are sound, I assure you. [Laughs]
JG: Okay. Let’s get back to the film you have made. And maybe answers to different questions will clear this up a bit. Earlier, when we were talking about the new themes and issues which Lovely On the Outside has added to your work, you mentioned masturbation as ‘amongst other things’: can you explain that?
SB: Yes, I’ll certainly do my best. Well, my works as a whole are like- they are like my ruminations distilled into little snippets.
JG: I see. Ruminations on...?
SB: Ruminations on life and that which occupies it. The new film does have bits and pieces in common with my others in terms of the kinds of things it deals with, but it’s important for you to know that Lovely On the Outside is the start of a new phase in my work. I don’t mean to dodge the question, but what I have to tell you is-
JG: No, not at all: it’s very interesting.
SB: Lovely On the Outside has opened up a whole new can of worms for me to deal with, issues which are far more difficult than the ones I took on before. There’s all kinds of questions of decency, relationships, pleasure- things I’ve never looked at. So to answer the ‘amongst other things’ question, I would say, very, very generally, ‘relationships’ to sum it up, but I’m sure you can tell it’s a bit of a goldmine and a bit of a minefield! [Laughs]
JG: I see. Very interesting indeed. But how does this new film fit in with or continue on from your previous films? Or does it adapt them? Or does it do anything? And what in particular does it have in common with the old ones?
SB: Well, the similarities lie almost solely in my personal filming style. I’ve retained that kind of ballet-esque slowness I really like doing in most of the scenes. It has basically been inherited from most of my other films, but it’s grown up into a style of its own now. I’ve also kept the use of extreme long-shots which shrink gradually into medium shots and close-ups, but this feature is subservient to the slowness, I suppose. And ahh... The come-shots are new.
JG: Yeah, I noticed.
SB: Good, good.
JG: So did Cannes, unfortunately.
SB: Yes. Very unfortunately.
JG: It may be out of line, and maybe you’re under instruction not to say, but are you allowed back to Cannes?
SB: I can’t say right now; the trial is, you know-
JG: Of course, apologies-
SB: But it’s almost definitely a ‘no’. No, they weren’t happy. The signs were everywhere, though.
JG: The signs to what?
SB: The signs of my work taking the direction towards this theme. They were all over the place in my other films: formal signals, Jonathan!
JG: Really? But you’re going back and forth here! You say there’s similarities, and then you said there were no links with your other films except the style, and now yo-
SB: Yes, I know, but they more like codes than links, Jonathan.
JG: So these must have been pretty well imbedded in your previous films, am I right?
SB: Exactly! But, trust me, there is a clue in everything I’ve ever made that there is an imminent work of masturbation on the horizon. Loose innuendo in the dialogue, vaguely lewd close-ups, mood music: I’ve used everything available to warn and to inform my audience that this was coming but they just didn’t see it. To shove masturbation in their face was the only way to get them to understand what I was really concerned with.
JG: Are all your films concerned with this theme on some level? Be it subconscious, latently concerned-
SB: Yes, that’s it: subconscious. Somehow, in one way or another: put it whatever way you like: my whole career has been building up to this film and I’ve been telling everyone all about it, all along. It’s my climax, if you will. [Laughs]
JG: I see. Well, I’ll move on. One of Cannes’ problems with the film was the plethora of, of... of...
SB: People naked, self-pleasuring. Yeah, Cannes had a huge problem with this part of human nature.
JG: Well, it is an iffy issue-
SB: Of course it is! But they were trying to say I’d made an iffy film! I was just showing this part of life of which we all partake: the difference between me and Cannes is that they would rather it was ‘of which we are all guilty’. They didn’t want to see it because they think the act is wrong!
JG: I don’t think that was their argument-
SB: Maybe not in black and white, but that’s what it comes down to.
JG: Well, from what I’ve read and heard, they generally liked the film, all four and a half hours of it. They thought it was generally... I say that loosely: generally tasteful, but they had an issue with quite a few scenes.
SB: Yeah, I know this.
JG: Well, I’ll let you in on a secret.
SB: Oh yeah?
JG: Part of my agenda today was to give you a chance to defend yourself and fight your own corner.
SB: Aww, great! Are you serious!
JG: Absolutely. I’ll give you a few of the more controversial scenes as examples and you can justify them, we’ll print it, and you can clear your name, at least as far as the fans and the public are concerned. Or, you can admit if you like-
JG: You can admit your film is filthy!
SB: I hope this works. [Laughs]
JG: Okay, you ready for a shot at justice?
SB: [Laughs] Ready when you are.
JG: Okay-dokey, here goes. Can you please explain to me the final masturbation scene? The final scene of the film, actually.
SB: Oh, it’s a dream sequence.
SB: Wasn’t it obvious?
JG: Uh, no.
SB: Well, that’s us, the viewer, delving into the mind of the boy.
JG: The bo-?
SB: You see, the moments we see in the film are intensely personal and intimate-
JG: Umm, I disagree to some degree but, yeah, keep going...
SB: You disagree?
JG: Well, I don’t know if every scene where the characters are doing these acts- that they are all intimate, is all I’m saying. We can come back to that.
SB: Nah, nah. Which part?
JG: Well, all the mutual masturbation scenes, to pick a few examples. I don’t think any of them are very intimate.
SB: How so?
JG: Well, to me they’re voyeuristic. You know, I’m not saying they’re not good... Uh... But, you know, I don’t think we’re really getting emotion from those moments, per se.
SB: Don’t you empathise with the characters during those moments?
JG: Uh... To- to- to some extent... Look, let’s go back to the last scene. You were explaining how it’s different from some of the others.
SB: Yes, I was. But I won’t use the word ‘intimate’ so we can get to the end of the discussion. As the audience of Lovely On the Outside, we constantly view very private moments: of course, masturbation is a very private thing. However, by seeing it so often, I desensitise the audience into accepting it as commonplace and ‘fair-game’ for me to show; I get rid of that boundary, first of all. The final sequence in particular, however, transcends all the previous broken taboos and gets out of the physical world altogether; we go on a journey beyond previous physical masturbation scenes, and enter the boy’s mind. What we see in the last sequence is the boy’s last wet dream! He is fantasising over his head-mistress self-pl-
JG: Jesus Christ...
SB: That is the potential I mentioned earlier! That is the future of cinema; we need to depict wet dreams! And that is what I intend to do, and the erotic mind is where I intend to take the audience in my sequel. Now that I’ve made Lovely On the Outside, it’s not enough just to show physical people doing physical sexual acts: we have to get into their heads and depict their fantasies. I’m not talking about dreams here, Jonathan. The ‘dream sequence’ has been done to death, but the ‘wet dream sequence’ will be a thriving device soon enough.
JG: Ahem. I’m utterly beguiled by these theories of yours, but could I please take us back to the final sequence, just to finish off?
SB: Yes, of course.
JG: Thanks. Okay, as simply as I can, how is the audience supposed to be able to tell that it’s a dream? If there’s no alternative interpretation, how is anyone other than yourself supposed to know that it’s inside the boy’s mind?
SB: Well, the formal signs, first of all, give finite although key and vital visual indicators that the scene is not real or is imagined: in this case, a wet dream.
JG: I see. And which formal signs are those?
SB: Well... There’s the slowness. Quite a dreamlike slowness. And the... just the whole dreaminess. And the colours and everything. You know? Just... everything about it is sort of... dreamy... –ish.
SB: You see-
JG: No, no- you said this ‘ballet slowness’ is everywhere in the film, right? In fact it’s all over all your films! But, couldn’t we argue that any of the Lovely... scenes which feature characters doing these acts is, because of the slowness is, well- couldn’t we say that any of them are fantasies or dreams? Or are they, like I think they actually are, just your own fantasies?
SB: [clears throat] Oooh, I wouldn’t say... I suppose you might argue... Good question, there...
SB: Well, it’s an iffy issue, isn’t it?