Blue Ruin di­rec­tor Jeremy Saulnier on his early years as a pre-teen DIY film-maker,

Jeremy Saulnier started mak­ing movies with his pal Ma­con Blair at 11, both in thrall to splat­ter hor­ror films. When they re­united to make Blue Ruin, their DIY film-mak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence paid off, Saulnier tells Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

“The first film Ma­con and I made to­gether was Me­ga­cop. I was 11, he was 12. It was bits of Mi­ami Vice and Com­mando. Wigs. Toy guns. Ex­plod­ing paint pack­ets on our chests”

Prece­dent is ev­ery­thing in movie mar­ket­ing. So don’t be sur­prised, in com­ing weeks, if you hap­pen upon phrases such as “the hottest Amer­i­can in­die since Reser­voir Dogs” and “This year’s Blood Sim­ple” at­tached to the nail-bit­ing new re­venge thriller Blue Ruin. At 37, Jeremy Saulnier, the film’s writer, di­rec­tor and cin­e­matog­ra­pher, is an overnight sen­sa­tion. And it’s only taken some 26 years.

The story be­hind Blue Ruin be­gins dur­ing the 1980s in sub­ur­ban Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, where a group of ram­bunc­tious, pre-teen film­mak­ers started recre­at­ing their favourite scenes from Rea­gan-era ac­tion­ers.

“My dad was a car guy and he was in the air force,” re­calls Saulnier. “So grow­ing up I did a lot of fine-scale modelling with him. I’d take ac­tion fig­ures and paint up their ve­hi­cles and burn them. I’d do snows­capes with white sheets and pil­lows. One weekend my mom, who was a re­searcher, brought home a por­ta­ble video ma­chine. That changed my life. And it didn’t take long to find like­minded people. A group of us came to­gether as a col­lec­tive when most of us were 11 years old, and started work­ing as a crew.”

Thus, long be­fore he at­tended film school at NYU, Saulnier and chums were work­ing with blood squibs and “fairly so­phis­ti­cated spe­cial ef­fects”. Post-grad­u­a­tion, Saulnier drifted into the com­mer­cials sec­tor and most of his Alexan­dria co­horts found other things to do.

“You have to weigh up what’s good for your pocket and what’s good for your soul,” shrugs Saulnier. “Com­mer­cials can be lu­cra­tive. You are com­pen­sated for a skill set. But it’s all about a cer­tain ve­neer. It’s all about be­ing trendy. As far as cre­ativ­ity goes, it didn’t re­ally work for me.”

With all his bills paid, in 2007, Saulnier’s self-fi­nanced de­but fea­ture, Mur­der Party –a vomit-heavy hor­ror com­edy – won the au­di­ence award at Slam­dance. He was soon of­fered work in the same mondo genre. But the film was not the spring­board to greater things that the film-maker had hoped for.

“You can learn a craft,” says the di­rec­tor. “You can have an ap­ti­tude for vis­ual sto­ry­telling. But it’s an in­dus­try, and mak­ing con­nec­tions within that in­dus­try can still be a brick wall. It’s hard to make sure your scripts are read. It’s hard to per­suade people to trust you with their money.”

In re­cent years he has worked as a cin­e­matog­ra­pher on crit­i­cally ac­claimed US indies such as Putty Hill. But it re­quired a $45,000 Kick­starter cam­paign and a pro­fes­sional re­union with Ma­con Blair – star of Saulnier’s ear­li­est shorts – to get Blue Ruin off the ground.

“The first film Ma­con and I made to­gether was Me­ga­cop,” laughs Saulnier. “I was 11, he was 12. It was bits of Mi­ami Vice and Com­man- do. Wigs. Toy guns. Ex­plod­ing paint pack­ets on our chests. All in-cam­era edit­ing. So we were very dis­ci­plined. I’m spoiled be­cause of Ma­con. I know have out­ra­geous phys­i­cal ex­pec­ta­tions from all ac­tors. Be­cause I’m so used to at­tach­ing fire­crack­ers to him.”

As it turns out, Ma­con Blair is a rev­e­la­tion as Dwight, the lost soul at the heart of Blue Ruin. A shuf­fling, bro­ken man who lives in his car, Dwight is stirred into ac­tion by news that the man who killed his par­ents is get­ting re­leased from prison. He soon catches up with the killer, only to reignite an an­cient fam­ily feud.

At first glance, it’s a per­fectly formed vengeance thriller re­plete with in­ven­tive vis­cera and heart-pound­ing stand-offs; look again and it’s a clever de­con­struc­tion of that same genre. Think some­where in the re­gion of Chan-Wook Park’s Vengeance Tril­ogy or Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.

“When I first pic­tured the char­ac­ter years ago he was darkly comic in the way that a lot of 1990s stuff was,” says Saulnier. “But in the cur­rent cli­mate of ab­hor­rent gun vi­o­lence in Amer­ica, it felt off to say: ‘I’m go­ing to make an awe­some gun flick.’ I wanted to make some­thing with emo­tional weight and to veer away from the tra­di­tional Amer­i­can vengeance thriller. It was im­por­tant to use el­e­ments of that for the bedrock of the story. So you do have all that tra­di­tional mas­cu­line ag­gres­sion. But we sub­vert those ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Saulnier had a won­der­ful film in the can but Blue Ruin al­most didn’t make it into a mul­ti­plex near you. Hav­ing scram­bled to make the dead­line for last year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, the ini­tial rough cut – fea­tur­ing ‘scene miss­ing’ boards – was re­jected by pro­gram­mers.

“That def­i­nitely burst my bub­ble a bit,” says Saulnier. “So we re­treated back to our day jobs. And I start­ing cop­ing with the idea that this wasn’t go­ing to be the break­through I had hoped for. That was al­most lib­er­at­ing in the end. Be­cause I wasn’t wor­ried any­more about get­ting the hot pre­miere. It be­came about mak­ing the film as good as it can be be­cause it was prob­a­bly the last film I’d ever make.”

He was driv­ing to a cor­po­rate video shoot in Cleve­land, Ohio, when the call came from the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val. For­get Sun­dance – Blue Ruin had been selected for Di­rec­tor’s Fort­night. It went on to win the FIPRESCI Prize.

“We used Cannes as a kind of dead­line. But that was just for us. That was shoot­ing the moon. I had al­ready ac­cepted that the film was not get­ting into a top tier fes­ti­val. I’m still not sure I didn’t dream the en­tire thing. It’s not what I’m used to. But I’m not tak­ing a minute of this for granted.”

Blue Ruin is re­viewed on page 11

Where would Amer­i­can cul­ture be with­out re­venge? The de­sire for ret­ri­bu­tion runs like a bloody stream through that na­tion’s drama, fic­tion and cin­ema. Feuds pow­ered the works of Wil­liam Faulkner and Mark Twain. Films such as Rolling Thun­der, Point Blank and The Big Heat brought vi­o­lent re­venge to the big screen. Maybe it’s an Old Tes­ta­ment thing.

A word-of-mouth smash at last year’s Cannes, Jeremy Saulnier’s crowd-funded fea­ture proves a distin­guished ad­di­tion to the canon of un­stop­pable vengeance. Though coloured by in­die sen­si­bil­i­ties, Blue Ruin of­fers the mo­men­tum of hard­edged pulp and the vis­cera of full-on ex­ploita­tion cin­ema. Please make it a hit.

We be­gin by fol­low­ing a home­less man called Dwight (the pur­pose­fully blank Ma­con Blair) as he goes through his largely harm­less daily rit­u­als. It seems as if Dwight has got­ten into the habit of break­ing into homes to use the bath­room, but he doesn’t steal any­thing of value. Most of the time, Dwight lives mis­er­ably in his de­cayed car.

The story prop­erly kicks off when a po­lice of­fi­cer in­forms him that a sig­nif­i­cant in­di­vid­ual is about to be re­leased from prison. Dwight takes a knife and jour­neys forth in search of un­holy ret­ri­bu­tion.

By this point, the au­di­ence will have as­sem­bled most el­e­ments in Dwight’s back­story. Wade Cle­land, the lib­er­ated con­vict, was con­victed of killing our hero’s fam­ily and is, it seems, ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for pro­pel­ling him into va­grancy. Fol­low­ing s bloody en­counter in a lava­tory, Dwight soon has the en­tire Cle­land clan on his back.

Blue Ruin is pep­pered by a se­ries of nicely dis­gust­ing set-pieces (Dwight’s hope­less at­tempt to re­move an ar­row from his leg is blackly hi­lar­i­ous) and distin­guished by a steady ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ten­sion. Saulnier’s own glassy cine­matog­ra­phy does much to con­vey the damp fug of the Amer­i­can south. There are amus­ing, telling asides con­cern­ing the pro­mis­cu­ous avail­abil­ity of guns in the US.

What sets the film apart, how­ever, is Ma­con Blair’s hope­less, pa­thetic per­for­mance. Dwight is no ruth­less avenger. The film con­cerns a very or­di­nary, very frag­ile hu­man be­ing driven nearly crazy by the de­mands of be­ing hu­man. We’re still telling Old Tes­ta­ment tales.

Pho­to­graph: Robert Wright/The New York Times

Reser­voir sprogs: Di­rec­tor Jeremy Saulnier (left) and ac­tor Ma­con Blair. Be­low: Blair as drifter Dwight in Blue Ruin.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.