Filmmaker Matthew Stanasolovich
Alexander McHarren is not the most likable character to grace the silver screen. But in writer and director Matthew Stanasolovich’s comedy feature The General Specific, McHarren acts as a foil for society. He’s not a hero, but a roguish anti-hero who belongs to a particular class of literary character. “I read this book called A Confederacy of Dunces, and it’s considered a picaresque novel,” Stanasolovich told Pasatiempo. “A picaresque story is basically like Don Quixote, but there’s a set of rules you have to follow. The character has to get by on their wit and charm. They can’t really change by the end of the story, and there’s not really a plot . ... The General Specific is very much an attempt to make a picaresque story with film . ... My ultimate goal was for people to understand [Alexander], even a little bit.”
The General Specific plays at the Jean Cocteau Cinema as part of the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. The story follows college dropout McHarren (Elliot Gross) as he drifts from town to town in his home state of New Mexico, and it was filmed on location in Albuquerque, Santa Rosa, Tucumcari, Moriarty, and Santa Fe. “It’s about this one very difficult young man’s life and explores the thin line between sincerity and irony,” Stanasolovich said. “He’s from New Mexico, and he spends two years away from it and has this love-hate relationship with the state. Clearly, he doesn’t like being there, but he is there, and it’s by his choice.”
Stanasolovich is from New Mexico, too. “It’s a very autobiographical film in certain ways,” he said. “Growing up in Albuquerque, I knew a ton of people who had qualities of Alexander in them . ... There’s this great Philip Roth quote, from when people ask him if his books are about him, that goes something like, ‘They’re all of me and none of me.’ There are things Alexander does that I would never do, but I understand his id to certain extent.”
There are moments where The General Specific feels more like a documentary than a fictional story because of the real-life characters who live in the towns where it was made. “We went all over the eastern part of the state. I loved meeting people from those towns. Because the movie is so stylized and so scripted, I thought it was important that we get a sense of reality, that we get a sense of what New Mexico is like. I would have my cinematographer interview local people, and they would talk to me as if it was a documentary and we worked that footage into the movie. You get a sense of these people and their lives in these small towns in the middle of the desert. I met this one guy in Moriarty who was a guard at this jail for pedophiles, and he made this horribly racist comment. It was shocking to hear, but I wanted to present him in the movie as a person who lives there . ... The reason I like making movies is that it forces me to empathize with people.”
Stanasolovich lives in New Mexico during the summers but is enrolled in film school in North Carolina. “This state is very much a part of my identity in a way that I want to represent in the films I make. Directors I look up to, like Richard Linklater, who’s very much an Austin guy, and Alexander Payne, who’s all about Nebraska, they know life in those places in a very interesting way. I hope that with this film, and whatever movies I make next in New Mexico, someone from the state can be like, ‘I get that attitude or sensibility or mentality.’ ” — M.A.
“The General Specific” plays at 10 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, and at 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 at the Jean Cocteau Cinema (418 Montezuma Ave., 505-466-5528). Tickets, $15, are available at www.santafeindependent filmfestival.com/Tickets and at the door.
The General Specific