Fiction: The Catching

Written by Blake Kimzey

On the appointed date in late June we—to a man, woman, and child in a small township in northern Michigan—stand in a field and wait and telescope our necks at the oncoming nighttide. We dress for a wedding or a baptism but this is neither. No one knows who will be selected and not a word about the flares is spoken. One doesn’t dare put word to myth even if it is certainty. Superstition is something real here. Our parents and grandparents have never known a year without the flares, have never known a year without a catching.

For days we can see the flares glowing in the dark hours, a phenomena that only those within the township can discern. As one day turns to the next the flares settle against the rmament closer to us and fall like stars in no hurry to fall at all. At daylight they burn as watermarks against the bright sky.

People stop on the sidewalk and visor their palms, look skyward, lost in thought. Entire families stand on front lawns drawn to the sky. At night the flares look like a chain of paper lanterns strung across the bending blackness all the way to the horizon, bringing depth and wonder to the middle distance, making the caps of Lake Michigan glow as if infected from below with bioluminescence.

After a month in transit the flares hover over the common, each of them floating no higher than a telephone pole, effulgent and filled with what we don’t know, casting incandescent light across the public green and treetops ringing the grounds. Our faces glow with them.

There is no ceremony to what happens on the common, just the choreography of an unknown master at work. We—the town—are arranged on the green according to family tree, groupings of ten or more, babies to grandparents. The ink of midnight is something we can’t see above the flares, now a brilliant clot fuzzed in pulsing light. The trees at attention, the wind at bay, the hum of life white noise against all else.

After midnight the flares break apart and descend steadily on a predestined line. Our arms go up and we wait until the flares are within reach, radiant and warm. The chosen catch them against their chests and we wait, for how long we can’t say. Time is reduced to a darkly pricked scroll above us pushing east to west and east and west again until light overtakes the chosen and they are no more and we remain. The catching has occurred.

At dawn we walk through the common and back to our homes and remember those that were chosen, those that have gone before, giving thanks that the flares come to us. Seasons change and we wait for the night sky to brighten again, for all of us that remain to find ourselves standing with our families again, arms outstretched. MM

A Sea of Sunshine

The Play of Light On the California Imagination

Carleton Watkins. “Solar Eclipse,” (1889). Albumen silver print. 16.5 x 21.6 centimeters. Courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Carleton Watkins. “Solar Eclipse,” (1889). Albumen silver print. 16.5 x 21.6 centimeters. Courtesy The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Written by Hadley Meares

A land of Sunshine basking in a sun
That looks his last upon her—day is done;
But sun-flushed moons arise, and countless stars,
Thrilling and throbbing-sun fed every one.
—“California” by Charles Warren Stoddard, originally printed in Land of Sunshine: Volume Ten

Modern California was built on the back of sunshine. In the infancy of statehood, the uncanny light of the West, seeming to forever shine in the open sky, served as a lure and inspiration to artists, promoters and settlers alike. But where there is light, there must also be dark, and as the years went by, many Californians grew tired of the incessant sun beating down on their state. For these jaded Californians, the eternal light began to increasingly spotlight the shadier aspects of the western side of paradise.

During the 19th century, the perpetual sunshine of California was used as a powerful promotional tool, encouraging Americans and foreigners tired of rainy summers and dark winters to move to her sunny shores. Sunshine was ascribed with almost magical powers, promising prosperity, growth, restored health and fertile abundance. One of the biggest boosters of California as a modern-day Eden was the influential journal Land of Sunshine (published 1894–1923). Under the stewardship of longtime editor Charles Lummis, the journal—part literary magazine, part pro-California travel brochure—touted California as a place where a new settler could “cheer himself with her almost everlasting sunlight.”

For many early pioneers, their first glimpses of California lived up to the hype. In his 1931 autobiography, journalist Lincoln Steffens, a Northern California native, remembered how his pioneer father described his first view of San Francisco’s Golden Gate. He “always paused when he recalled how they turned over the summit and waded down, joyously, into the amazing golden sea of sunshine—he would pause, see it again as he saw it then, and say, ‘I saw that this was the place to live.’”

It was this “golden sea of sunshine” that increasingly drew artists of all disciplines out west. Visual artists, like the German landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, were fascinated with the beauty of the West’s sunrises and sunsets, and the colors and shades that were illuminated in the expansive western sky. The turn of the century saw the birth of the California Plein-Air Movement, also known as California Impressionism, which featured sun-soaked landscapes and seascapes by artists including Guy Rose, Mary Agnes Yerkes, William Wendt and Marion Wachtel.

Writers and poets of the era were also captivated by the sunlight of California, equating the ever-shifting light with the glory of God and the majesty of nature and enlightenment. According to biographer Susan Goodman, members of the Carmel artists colony—which included writers Mary Austin and Jack London—“associated the light with ancient Greece and what they saw as Carmel’s magical ethos.”

In Austin’s writings, this “divine light” was part of the West’s all- consuming natural majesty. “If the fine vibrations which are the golden- violet glow of spring twilights were to tremble into sound,” she writes in The Land of Little Rain (1903), “it would be just that mellow double-note breaking along the blossom tops.” In the short story The Mother of Felipe, she describes the otherworldly beauty of the Antelope Valley thusly:

“A country sublime with its immensity of light, and soft, unvarying tints— fawn and olive, and pearly, with its glistening stretches of white sand, and brown hollows between hills, out of which the gray and purple shadows creep at night.”

Austin was joined in this overwhelming awe of the West’s majestic light by naturalist and writer John Muir. For Muir, light was active and ever moving. “The morning sunbeams are pouring through the crystals on the bushes and grass,” he writes in an 1899 article for The Atlantic Monthly. In The Mountains of California, he is almost biblical when he describes the light of his beloved Sierra Nevada Mountains, which he refers to grandly as the “Range of Light”:

“And after ten years spent in the heart of it, rejoicing and wondering, bathing in its glorious floods of light, seeing the sunbursts of morning among the icy peaks, the noonday radiance on the trees and rocks and snow, the flush of alpenglow, and a thousand dashing waterfalls with their marvelous abundance of irised spray, it still seems to be above all others the Range of Light.”

But even Austin, bewitched as she was with the West, describes in California: The Land of the Sun “the note of human distrust amid all this charm of light and line and elusive color.” By the 1930s, this human distrust crystallized into cynicism and hatred of the sun and its false promise of a life of plenty. For authors like John Fante and Nathanael West “the sun was a joke,” a villain, a con. In Ask the Dust (1939), Fante’s protagonist describes the people lured from their homes by propaganda like Lummis’ Land of Sunshine:

“The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun.”

Nathanael West describes what happened next to these transplants in his legendary Hollywood takedown, Day of the Locust (1939):

“Where else should they go but California, the land of sunshine & oranges? Once there, they discover that sunshine isn’t enough. They get tired of oranges, even of avocado, pears and passion fruit. Nothing happens. They don’t know what to do with their time. They haven’t the mental equipment for leisure, the money nor the physical equipment for pleasure. Did they slave so long just to go to an occasional Iowa picnic? What else is there?”

Nothing is the answer, according to West and Fante. Fante’s protagonist in Ask the Dust, a fellow California transplant, feels little sympathy for these rootless people. “Sometimes I am glad they are here, dying in the sun, uprooted, tricked by their heartlessness, the same faces, the same set, hard mouths, faces from my hometown, fulfilling the emptiness of their lives under a blazing sun.”

Land of Sunshine, The Southern California Magazine, (1890). Courtesy the Library of Congress.

Land of Sunshine, The Southern California Magazine, (1890). Courtesy the Library of Congress.

But there was still hope. For Fante, if daylight mocked, nighttime in California still held the promise of a better life, with “gold bars of light cutting the sky like searchlights.” Nighttime in California is a time to dream, to imagine that the fantastic can still come true. “Beyond my window spread the great city,” he writes in Ask the Dust, “the street lamps, the red and blue and green neon tubes bursting to life like bright night flowers.”

Nighttime was also the safe space of California noir writers and filmmakers of the 1930s and ’40s. Light—both real and artificial— signified danger, illuminating the worst in humans and the dirty underbelly of sunny California.

In Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944), the villainess, played by Barbara Stanwyck, shrouds herself from the sun in her dark Los Feliz home. “The windows were closed and the sunshine coming in through the venetian blinds showed up the dust in the air,” the narrator played by Fred MacMurray recounts, signaling the dirtiness to come. In Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939), light glitters off glass eyes, creates halos on undeserving heads, catches a woman’s teeth so that they glitter like knives. Headlights signal danger, surly eyes become “points of steely light,” and a service station glares with “wasted light.”

“A single flash of hard white light shot out of Geiger’s house like a wave of summer lightning,” Chandler writes to describe a gunshot. Philip Marlow lies on his bed at the Hobart Arms, trying to get his latest case out of his mind—but the sun won’t allow it:

“I lay down on the bed with my coat off and stared at the ceiling and listened to the traffic sounds on the street outside and watched the sun move slowly across the corner of the ceiling. I tried to sleep, but sleep didn’t come.”

The light of mid-century California was a device that exposed the world and people in it for what they were: flawed and often dangerous. By the late ’60s and early ’70s, the sun took center stage and became a kind of character, a flawed protagonist in its own right, increasingly disfigured by the ever-present smog.

Born and bred in Southern California, the Light and Space Movement included artists James Turrell, Helen Pashgian, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, Peter Alexander and Doug Wheeler. “The allure of waxed surfboards and gleaming automobiles in the California sun were aesthetic touchstones for the light, reflective and visually beatific quality of Light and Space artists' works,” explains artist and writer Ian Wallace. Using the best lighting Hollywood had to offer, reflective surfaces, screens and smoke, Light and Space artists turned man-made atmospheres into works of art.

But not all counterculture Californians were so enamored with the sun and the effects it produced. In the works of California native Joan Didion, the sun is often an ever-present annoyance, which highlights the emptiness and listlessness of her cold and glamorous characters. In Play It As It Lays (1970), protagonist Maria hides behind sunglasses, surrounded by people tanned “as evidence of a lifetime spent in season.” She is forever portrayed standing in the sun, sunbathing or letting the sun dry her wet back. But no matter how bright, the sun cannot cure what ails her. “Even lying in the noon sun on this blazing dry October day,” Didion writes, “Maria felt a physical chill.”

For Didion’s effervescent contemporary Eve Babitz, the lights of California are an integral part of her sexy, sensual Sunset Strip world. In many ways, the light is almost another of her long list of lovers. The sun sets like “the beginning of the world” as she stands on a balcony with a boyfriend. “It seemed to me as we drove down Santa Monica with the liquor-store lights all halos of color,” she writes in her roman á clef Slow Days, Fast Company (1977), “that Shawn was enhanced in such a blurry, silver fox of a night.” At a society party, women’s “wedding rings reflected the pink twilight, their golden bracelets caught the light of the mustard hills.” The seaside town of Venice “looks like a Hopper painting— Americana vistas of shadow and light on the sides of slatted buildings through a whitish mist.”

But too much of a good thing can tire even the most cheerful California girl. At times, Babitz greets the sun with contempt and malaise evident in Didion’s works. In Slow Days, Fast Company she remembers one particularly lethal sunny day. “No sunglasses could cut the glare and even your pores shrank back against the light.” Later that day, a friend from New York telephoned:

“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“The weather,” I said.
“The weather? Are you kidding? It’s been raining now for two weeks and you talk about weather. I can read the papers—it’s wonderful out in California. What weather?”

“The light!” I explained.
“God, you kids out there are really the end,” she says. “The light!”

The nihilistic emptiness of this harsh version of the California light has become a popular trope in California art. As film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum once wrote: “There’s a certain kind of white, piercing, empty light to the Los Angeles sky at certain times of day—and gold piercing emptiness at others—that can make a person want to commit suicide, or snort cocaine.”

But for some, the dreamy lights of the West continue to inspire hope and awe. It comes as no surprise that Thomas Kinkade, the oft ridiculed “Painter of Light” of the ’90s and early 2000s, came from the sun-shaded California town of Placerville. “This ‘Kinkade Glow,’” Didion writes in Where I Was From (2003), “could be seen as derived in spirit from the ‘lustrous, pearly mist’ that Mark Twain had derided in the Bierstadt paintings” a century before. More recently, the relentlessly optimistic film La La Land (in many ways as big an advertisement for California as The Land of Sunshine) opens with a rousing number called “Another Day of Sun.”

And so, the lights of California continue to inspire both cynics and dreamers. In a spot so eternally bright, your personal truth is unavoidably illuminated—whatever it may be. MM

Creator Destroyer Preserver

ANTHONY PEARSON IS SCULPTING THE NATURAL WORLD

"Untitled (Four Part Etched Plaster)," (2017). Pigmented hydrocal, walnut frames. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery.

"Untitled (Four Part Etched Plaster)," (2017). Pigmented hydrocal, walnut frames. Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery.

Written by E. Ryan Ellis

One of the earliest relief sculptures created by a human is that of a rather surprised looking horse. “The Magdalenian Horse” was created around 17,000 years ago in France, and it’s not a stretch to think the creator saw the horse in the rock before they started chiseling. That, perhaps, the horse was there all along and made itself known to the artist. Now, Los Angeles artist Anthony Pearson is not carving horses out of rock, but he sees nature world through his works of art—wooden-framed reliefs he calls “Embedments” that are made from hydrocal, a gypsum cement. He does this through a process which starts with “stretching a length of cotton fabric in a wooden frame. [Pearson] then pours in layers of liquid hydrocal, each of which has been treated with a different pigment, creating an array of hues that flow over and around one another. After the material has set, the work is turned over and the fabric removed, leaving behind the texture of its weave and tiny, embedded cotton filaments.” Pearson’s new Embedments will be showing at David Kordansky Gallery from mid-July through August 26. We spoke with the artist about creating the pieces to fill spaces, and how the natural world works into his art.

MM Do you consider that you’re filling a certain space when you’re creating a piece?

AP Certainly: I consider a given artwork in its place amongst other pieces in the studio. This is the first critique I make. I then may consider how it could fill a space in a given exhibition. I think of the cultural contribution that comes with making each work. I think of how these things take on their own life once I am done with them. I think of their place in the world when I am no longer in control of them. I must ask myself how a given artwork may function in the world independent of my intent and my language. I also consider how the object will age and what it will come to represent as the years pass [by].

MM When you are imagining an Embedment do you place your creations against a white backdrop? Grey? Blankness?

AP In conceiving the work I am thinking of it in its original environment, which is on the naturally lit, twelve-foot-high white walls of my studio. Often, when these works enter the world at large, it can be a bit shocking to see them in incandescent light or in domestic environments, but much to my surprise and relief they seem to function positively outside of the studio as well. The gypsum works are peculiar things, beautiful but peculiar. I think it is important to frame them, when possible, with a heightened awareness of architectural space. This may be because they are so minimal and simple in their form. The work has an architectural quality itself and is actually made of an building material. I think the spaces around the work, the relationship between an object and its surroundings, and especially between two or more pieces, are locations where things become clearer in regards to the exact function of the work as a whole entity. A certain amount of ambient space and light is needed to create an ideal setting for the artwork to fully activate.

MM Do you appreciate the fact that the pieces you’re creating are solid, amorphous, non-moving objects?

AP I very much appreciate this both as an aspect of the work I make and the material I am working with. Gypsum is an of-the-earth material and there is something quite enchanting about creating forms that have such weight and solidity. I refer to the poured panels of the new Embedment works as slabs. The weight and mass of these slabs is very important to me in both the way I form and present the work. This is not only a solid, earthy material, but it is also a traditional and ancient one. It has been used for centuries in both sculpture and in architecture. I very much try to honor and support this history, making sure these qualities are explicit in its usage.

MM Your works seem to be informed by the natural world. Does Los Angeles—as a counterpoint of mountains, beaches, ocean, and desert— inform your work?

AP Most certainly. With this new exhibition, I think ideas of the cosmos and the earth are clearly evoked, with the etched works suggesting sky and the Embedments recalling landscape to a degree. Not in a literal or representational sense, but in a more referential one. Growing up here on the Westside and residing here nearly my whole life certainly has informed my work in regards to thinking about the natural environment. I grew up a few blocks from the beach near the mouth of Santa Monica Canyon. Sea and sky have been a critical part of my visual understanding of the world around me. The shimmering, ever-sifting ambient quality of much of my work clearly references real-life experiences, such as the observation of light on the surface of the ocean and the feeling of moisture in the air. I don't think these references have ever been more explicit in my work than in this new exhibition. MM

Jonathan Rado

NATIVE SON

Written by Jason Buhrmester | Photographed by Jonathan Chu

“A really pathetic L.A. is much more interesting to me than actual California sunshine,” says Jonathan Rado, sitting in Dream Star Studios, the garage studio of his Woodland Hills home. The 27-year-old Rado, one half of Los Angeles band Foxygen, is a devotee of the city’s ’70s music scene, and the influence of that era is the sheen that covers Hang, the band’s fifth and most grandiose album. From the old Hollywood horns and piano tinkering of “Avalon” to the throbbing balladry of “America” on which Foxygen singer Sam France croons “And the movie girl said, ‘You’re wanted on set’/But you only play yourself when you’re in Hollywood,” this is the album on which Foxygen spit-shined the wild noise of its previous work to reveal the Warren Zevon-worship that has always lurked beneath Rado’s writing.

“Los Angeles is such a positive place. I love that. I love driving into Hollywood and seeing palm trees. I still get off on that L.A. shit,” Rado says. “But the things that are really interesting to me are not upbeat in any way. Like Charlie Manson—just the dark underbelly of L.A. is really interesting to me. And I love the Valley. I love Valley imagery.”

A native of Westlake Village, Rado, along with France, formed Foxygen in high school, recording songs with a single microphone and a mixer plugged into Rado’s PC. The band’s early days also marked the beginning of Rado’s production career. (“In high school, I was always the guy who would tell bands, ‘Hey! Come record at my house,’” he says. “I always had a drum set, and not everybody had a drum set.”) The duo slipped a demo to Richard Swift, producer of The Shins, Damien Jurado and others, at the Mercury Lounge in New York and found themselves with a record deal soon after. The band’s album, Take The Kids Off Broadway, appeared on Jagjaguwar in 2012, and its 2013 follow-up, We Are The Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, produced by Swift, earned rave reviews from Pitchfork to Entertainment Weekly. Thrust into indie-scene stardom, the duo, barely into their 20s, found themselves on the road with a growing reputation for being out of control after a string of canceled performances and a couple of public meltdowns. Rado and France pulled themselves together for ...And Star Power, a 24-track concept album about a band named Star Power, which the duo recorded across L.A. in locations such as the Chateau Marmont and the Beverly Hilton, before delivering their L.A. opus Hang in January of this year.

These days, Rado runs Foxygen and Dream Star Studios from his Woodland Hills home. A beat-up van in the driveway stands as the only telltale sign that the nondescript home is the headquarters of an exciting reimagining of the Los Angeles sound as Rado leads through the house and into a small but efficient garage studio.

“Foxygen’s Star Power was the first record that I did in this space,” Rado says, glancing around the studio overflowing with microphones, keyboards, cables, various instruments and a weathered paperback copy of The Big Beat: Conversations With Rock’s Greatest Drummers by Bruce Springsteen’s drummer Max Weinberg. “That album was a huge learning experience. I didn’t have any recording gear before that. With that record, we bought some proper recording gear, but I didn’t know how to use anything.”

Recording the hundreds of songs that Foxygen wrote during Star Power gave Rado a crash course in producing and helped him hone his own signature sound. “There was a lot of trial and error with things until it got to a point where I felt like I had developed a sound,” Rado says. “I always had a style of playing instruments, but I wanted to have a style of how to record, and I didn’t want to copy anybody. I think over the last three or four years I kind of honed in on something.”

That honed-in sound is the reason why Rado’s growing reputation as a producer has attracted work with rising artists ranging from the Lemon Twigs and Whitney to the Tim & Eric Awesome Show’s Tim Heidecker. The sound Rado has developed working on Foxygen and his own 2013 solo album Law & Order is bright, multilayered and sweeping, a glossy L.A. sound from classic AM radio updated for the BandCamp age. The fingerprints of this sound are evident in Rado’s production work on the Laurel Canyon-country-tinged Chicago act Whitney, whose album Light
Upon The Lake opens with the lines, “I gave up drinking on the city train/To spend some time on the road/Then one morning I woke up in L.A./Caught my breath on the coast,” and the synth-pop of the Lemon Twigs, a Long Island duo, whose Rado- produced debut album is aptly titled Do Hollywood. It’s obvious that a new California sound is emerging—or at least a growing fascination with creating one.

“I like the idea that bands can go to a place and get a little bit of that place,” Rado says while discussing the growth of Dream Star Studios and his producing career. He is currently at work on his first major- label production, co-producing the new Houndstooth album for Warner Bros. with Grammy Award-winning producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Perfume Genius).

“We both just attack it in a very free way but from two totally different angles,” says Rado of the collaboration. “He’s handling a lot more of the engineering and shaping of the sound, where I’m involved more in the actual playing of the instruments and getting the right tones out of the instruments.”

Many of the artists who Rado wants to work with arrive via email. As an artist who got his start after handing off a demo, he feels compelled to listen to the demos that clog his inbox. “I owe my whole career to listening to other people’s music,” he says, mentioning Jungle Green and Cut Worms as artists he found via an incoming message and whom he plans to collaborate with. While Rado figures out how to navigate the world of bigger artists, budgets—and presumably egos—he is also still formulating his personal definition of success.

“There are things that are monetarily successful,” he says, before stopping himself. “That’s a weird, shitty thing to say, but there are things that are monetarily successful—like, that record did really well or I actually got paid for that. But I feel like I’m mainly in it for the creative satisfaction of things. I’ve worked on projects where I didn’t feel 100 percent in the game, and it didn’t feel as good as when I’m totally creatively invested. So, I’m trying to really only work on the things that I want to work on.”

Later this year, he plans to work on a new Foxygen album, which he claims is already “80 percent” written. “Foxygen is such a conceptual group in my mind that there really isn’t anything that we’re bound to,” says Rado. “There’s no sound that we are bound to. We could easily go and make a really high- fi, like a Daft Punk-sounding record, or we could make an instrumental noise record. In my mind, both things could happen. I really don’t have the interest in being in another band outside of Foxygen. For me, it’s the perfect vessel for making records that don’t have to sound like what came before it.”

So, if a major label arrives with a sack full of money, a super producer and a plan to turn Foxygen into the next arena rock band?

“I feel like artistic integrity is not actually that real anymore,” Rado says, laughing. “It was really easy for Neil Young in the ’70s to say ‘I’m not selling no more songs to movies or commercials’ because he had millions of dollars. If I was a millionaire, maybe I’d be ... I don’t know. I’m always going back and forth on myself with these things. It’s so situational. If [Katy Perry/Taylor Swift producer] Max Martin writes me an email and says he wants to write and produce a song for Foxygen, I’d at least consider that. That’s at least interesting—as long as it’s interesting in some way. Where I never want to go is boring. Middle of the road does not interest me in any way. I don’t ever want to work on anything that doesn’t challenge me in some way. I don’t ever want to make an album that is for the sake of making more music. It needs to be inspiring in some way.”

Somewhere behind us a set of chimes topples over, ringing through the studio, and Rado stands up to retrieve them.

“The chimes fell over. That’ll sound good on the tape though.” MM

Marissa A. Ross

LIQUID SUNSHINE

Written by Augustus Britton | Photographed by Olivia McManus

I arrived at the house very professional, very sober, very wide-eyed. I left elated, wildly drunk, wildly inspired, bright-eyed—also wondering what the word professional actually meant. Wine does these things; it makes you wonder.

And what does Marissa A. Ross, wine editor at Bon Appétit and author of Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking (Plume), do so well? She makes wine comfortable. She makes it accessible. She makes you laugh. She kicks off the dust. Read her writing about the subject, it’s damn good. She exes out the crabs, the old-guys (not necessarily old, but cranky, uninviting, pretentious—)she exes all that shit out, she exes out the bullies. Who has time when the wine tastes this good and the smiles are this big and stained purple, and the jokes go on and on—all the while feeling our anxieties drip away, quite literally?

Ross generously pours me three exceptional glasses of wine upon being seated: a white, a sparkling and dancing one, and a red one that smelled like a really precise, dense, wet wood chip—or, if you’re a novice like me and haphazardly open your mouth, “It’s like a really subtle, brilliant dog food.” Yes, that’s what hit my nose in a very peculiar, singular way. But, truly, all of them tasted incredible, fresh, enlivening.

Ross even let me drink from her $60 Zaltos, these superb wine glasses that break seemingly on cue and crack on cushioned chairs, but, once you try drinking from one, I’m not sure you’ll wanna go back, that is, to the IKEA  glasses. But, in true Ross fashion, we did also drink from her IKEA glasses. We were quickly high-fiving, quickly good friends. I let her call me Gus. She let me pour and pour, let my tongue get heavy, my eyes get wet, my speech relax.

Ross clues me in on the subjectivity of all of it, the fun to be had, the curiosity to be cultivated. She says a lot you might want to listen to if you enjoy the good life, or if you’re in the happy pursuit.

Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking by Marissa A. Ross is out now from Plume.

MM What’s your take on collecting wine?

MR I believe that wine is to drink and be enjoyed. But there are some bottles that are special, and the cool thing about collecting wine these days, especially in the natural wine world, is that you can buy bottles that are under a hundred dollars that you can age and open them in five to 10 years, and they’ll be a very, very special bottle of wine. You can actually start collecting now at a much lower price point than previously. But it’s hard to collect wine. I have to write notes on some, like: Don’t fucking open this! This is for something special. Because sometimes you start drinking, and you’re just like, screw it! I wanna open this bottle that I’ve been saving for years!

MM Where do you get your wine?

MR I shop primarily at Domaine LA and Lou Wine Shop and Silver Lake Wine (all in Los Angeles)—locally. I also now try to get stuff straight from importers. There is some stuff in New York that I can’t get out here, and hopefully if I start drinking it out here shops will start picking it up.

MM When you write about wine, you often compare it to music—From Françoise Hardy to ABBA. What’s the deal with wine and music?

MR Before I wrote about wine, I wrote about music for a long time. That was my hobby. To me, they’re kind of the same. When you’re listening to an album that you really love or a song, it’s that same energy thing, it’s that same story. And for me, I’m kind of self-centered, so I’m like: Every song is about me, obviously. But, when I was a kid, I remember my favorite thing was listening to music and telling myself these stories about what this song means to me, and I feel that I treat wine the same way. I find them both to be very personal experiences.


"I know that people try to be objective when they’re reviewing music or wine, but I don’t believe that’s possible. I think they’re both extremely subjective and sentimental."


And when I write about wines, they do remind me of music. There is something about them. There are notes.

MM Have you worked in a vineyard? Does that interest you?

MR [Laughs.] I have soft, dainty writer’s hands. I’m very, very, very interested in what goes on in a vineyard. I’m not particularly interested in working a vineyard.

MM What do you think is the most underrated kind of wine?

MR I think the most underrated wines are light red wines. They have a different kind of drunk than whites that I prefer. Most people think about red wines, and they immediately go to these big, bold dinner wines. But there are so many delicious, beautiful, really light red wines that drink like red wines. Those are my favorite.

MM What’s your last supper?

MR Oh, man. My last supper? It would be the best salami and really well-dressed farmer’s market greens. You know how they dress them so well, where it feels like every leaf is perfectly basted on its own? With probably all the wine. I’d say, bring me my fridge. Actually, I forgo the meal. Just bring me all the wine, and I will drink it all! But if I only had to pick one wine, I would probably pick a Jean Foillard Côte du Py, and that’s a Morgon, so it’s a Beaujolais, and I love it. That’s like my favorite wine ever.

MM Is wine as vast a subject as I think it is?

MR Yes. I think it’s impossible to know everything about wine. The wine world is extremely vast. Also, it’s constantly changing. To say that you know everything is also to say that there is no progress, which I think is absolute insanity, considering we’re drinking a Grüner Veltliner from the fucking Czech Republic. Like, that’s not something that’s really happened in the past.

MM Who is your book written for?

MR I wrote my book for [someone like] me five years ago when I needed a starting point. It’s not everything, and I didn’t want it to be everything. I wanted it to be something where you could read it and know about wine. ... It’s for someone who wants to drink well right now: You don’t have to know everything; this is all you need to know, and you have all the tools. It is for people who are beginners. Although, my friend Adam [Vourvoulis, who has stopped by during the interview] ... who’s a sommelier—he loved the book, and he’s been a full-time somm guy.

MM Who makes the best wine? California? Italy? Spain? France?

MR I think that that’s a loaded question. We can’t answer that. (Vourvoulis jumps in on this question, he has arrived carrying a case of new wines for Ross to try out. Everyone is mildly or not so mildly inebriated at this point; everyone is sagacious and a little red-cheeked). That’s not fair, that question. Adam Vourvoulis That’s an easy answer: France.

MR (laughs) I know!

AV I guess it’s loaded, but it’s true.

MM Why is it loaded?

MR Because there are great wines coming out of everywhere. I’m drinking amazing wines from Italy right now that I love so much.

AV And you don’t want to take away from everyone else. But, bar none, if you talk to any wine professional, and you said he had to pick one country, it would almost always be France, sometimes Italy.

MR Well, I think if you’re into natural wine, the French just crush it in terms of high-acid, light, really beautiful wines that are so elegant. I think that France runs the gamut. Also, I love California wines, but if I had to pick one reason, ya know, I’m sorry, but California has not been doing it nearly as long.

MM Is it the farming practices? Is it the grapes?

MR I think it’s the wine-making in general.


"The wine-making in France is so ancient. Let’s be real, it’s France’s shit."


Wine is France’s game that everyone else is trying to play, and that’s a bummer to admit, and I love wines from across the world—like today we have things from Czech Republic, Spain ...

MM I guess it’s like [American] football, right? You wouldn’t say something like Sweden plays the best football. America does.

AV Or I was going to say rock ’n’ roll. It’s inherently American.

MR And wine is inherently French.

MM That escalated quickly.

AV There are arguments to why it’s maybe not France, but...

MR Yeah. I’m glad Adam was here to help keep it real. I was trying to be diplomatic. But I don’t really know anyone that wouldn’t pick France.

MM Lastly, if you have to give up one thing, Marissa: wine or your husband. Which is it?

MR [Laughs.] That’s the most fucked-up question I’ve ever been asked in my life! MM

 

Hair & Makeup Danni Katz for Exclusive Artists Management using Amike Haircare, Beachwaver and Anastasia Beverly Hills Location Casa Perfec

Noomi Rapace

SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE

Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Shirt, pants and belt

Preen by Thornton Bregazzi Shirt, pants and belt

Written by Felicity Martin | Photographed by Jessie Craig | Styled by Lorna McGee

Noomi Rapace is scrolling through her iPhone to show me a gift she’s buying her friend, the French musician Woodkid. “Do you know this artist, Nancy Fouts? She lives in a church. I’m going around there tomorrow. You gotta look her up.” The gift in question—one of Fouts’ surrealist pieces called “Key Ring”—is a key and lock linked with a piece of string (like a key ring) so that they’re together but the lock can never be opened. It’s a thoughtful present, given that Woodkid’s artistic symbol is the crossed keys of Saint Peter.

Tibi Shirt

Tibi Shirt

The Swedish actress shows me another piece—an antique clock with about 10 hands pointing to different numbers. “This is how I live,” she laughs, “I have Noomi time. It doesn’t match anyone else’s.” Yesterday she was in Paris, at the end of a punishing press regimen that had her holed up in hotel rooms, “talking, talking, talking.” But somehow Rapace is full of life today. She arrives wearing a baby pink suit, Coco Chanel brooch and earrings to match, topped by a shock of peach-pink hair. She didn’t have to travel far; our Notting Hill shoot location (the impossibly beautiful flat of a ballet dancer) is 10 minutes from her house. We sit outside in the huge, leafy gardens of the apartment as she sighs, wishing all her interviews were conducted here rather than French hotel suites.

Best known for her lead in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) (she played Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy), Rapace has played Dr. Elizabeth Shaw in the Ridley Scott science fiction film Prometheus (2012) and Nadia in 2014’s The Drop—to name just a few. She seems to favor tough, dangerous and moody characters who can wield a weapon without breaking a sweat. “I like real characters,” she says, explaining what appeals to her in a role, “you know, when they feel complex, have layers. Because in real life there’s no one who’s just sweet and sexy. In films sometimes, a lot of female characters are just functions. They’re there to spice up the movie or add some sexiness, a little bit of smile and sunshine. That doesn’t really interest me.”

She might favor tough, resilient characters on screen, but in person Rapace is all smiles and laughter. Yet as our conversation turns to the recent tragedy of her neighborhood—the fire in Kensington’s Grenfell Tower, which she can see from her house. She dabs at her eyes, which are turning red and watering. “I was driving past the other day. It looked like a tall black skeleton. I just broke down and started crying.”

Rapace has had a fairly nomadic existence, flitting between Sweden, Iceland and L.A. before settling in London. Born in Stockholm to an actress and a Spanish flamenco singer, her approach to Hollywood acting is somewhat unconventional. She’s been involved in the world of theater since the age of 19 (though she made her debut as an extra in a film at age 7) and has always taken a wide-angle approach to the business. “I’ve always been really involved in all areas,” she nods. “You know, like I went to the prop guy and was like, ‘What if we had this on stage? Could you find something?’ It’s not an ego thing, it’s not about me—I want every performance to be amazing. The more I can do to get it there, you know?”

Jil Sander Jacket and pants

Jil Sander Jacket and pants

The film she’s just been promoting across the Channel is What Happened To Monday?, a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian world with an extreme one- child policy. Where normally you’d just play the one character, Rapace plays seven—a set of identical septuplets.

“It was insanely hard,” she gasps, explaining how it took three days to shoot a dinner scene at the start, something that would normally take four hours. “It’s never been done before. ...” Using six girls as her doubles, plus markers to guide her movements, the film proved hugely demanding. “For six months I couldn’t go for dinners, I didn’t see any friends. I was up at 4 in the morning, went to the gym, prepped lines—just to learn the lines for several voices in a scene is completely different. I had to respond to myself ... It’s a bit cuckoo,” she laughs.

“It was so weird, and I got really quite upset sometimes,” she continues, on the difficulty of being her own co-star. “There was one scene where one sister dies, and we did the death scene. Then, during the day, I was reacting to my own death.”

Developing a ritual, Rapace switched between the siblings by wearing different perfumes and tailoring music playlists to suit each individual personality. “Between characters, I had to be alone and lock myself in my dressing room to wash my makeup off, wash the smell off and reset myself,” she says. “I normally have a lot of energy, but that was extreme. At the end of each day, I was so empty I couldn’t even speak to anyone.” It even caused her a recurring nightmare: “I was having this dream where I see rows and rows of shoes, and I’m like, ‘Fuck, who am I today?’ I start calling people, and no one picks up, and I’m panicking more and more, and end up walking outside barefoot.”

Screen Shot 2017-07-18 at 2.07.08 PM.png

The film, she explains, was actually written for seven brothers rather than a female lead. “Tommy [Wirkola] called me, like, ‘Noomi, I have this project—but I can only imagine you doing it. Read it, and if you like it, we can change it to seven sisters.’ And I loved it, but I was also terrified. I couldn’t even imagine how to approach it, like how do we even shoot it?” She worked directly with Wirkola to change the script and wrote in a twist at the end that added an entirely new layer to the plot.

“I adjusted it and made it more complex, more interesting.”

When Rapace returned to London after shooting What Happened To Monday? she declined roles in nine other films. “I was very ... not lost but empty. I felt like I gave everything I had. It was very emotional.” However drained she felt, her work ethic didn’t stop. She stars in the upcoming fantasy genre movie Bright alongside Will Smith, in which she plays a “villain—really evil. I’m playing an elf, so I have big elf ears and elf teeth.

"It was amazing. I have some incredible fight sequences too.”

Filming Bright allowed her to explore the dark side of human nature. “It’s weird how when I’m stepping into that side of myself I start to see the world in a different way. My character wants to create a better world, she wants to clean up the dirtiness and ugliness, and she had very brutal methods. When you look at villains, it’s easy to think that they are just cold-hearted revenge machines; they just kill people for fun. But I realized that she’s so passionate, and she’s fighting a fight. She’s on a mission.”

Paul Smith Suit

Paul Smith Suit

It’s not just the world of acting that Rapace is conquering. She’s just designed a clothing collection for a brand (“It’s very street, very hip-hop.”) She’s also launching a perfume later this year (“I’m doing a lot of stuff for fun,” she says). What I really want to know, however, is about the rumors she’s playing Amy Winehouse in an upcoming biopic. “Maybe ... We’ll see. I’m involved in it, and I’m working on it, but all the components need to be right.” She smiles, explaining how, when they asked her to play Winehouse, she initially refused to read the script.

“I have a strong connection to Amy. She was really present, her music, in the most critical moments of my life.” Rapace’s quest for perfection is particularly crucial on this project. “I can’t compromise on that one,” she urges. “The script needs to be amazing. It needs to be 100 percent. She is too important to me; my respect and love for her is just too important. It needs to be really brave and really honest and raw—and from my heart.” Rapace pours herself into all aspects of her career and life, from roles as villains or identical septuplets to perfume and key ring gifts for friends. There is no halfway. All considered, if Rapace eventually does tackle the role of Amy Winehouse, you can bet she’ll do it justice. MM

Kevin Morby

GO WEST YOUNG MAN,
AND GROW UP WITH THE CITY

Untitled-1.jpg

Written by Augustus Britton | Photographed by James Bernal

Kevin Morby is standing in Chinatown in Los Angeles, right next to the Bruce Lee statue and a couple of guys putting gold foil onto a newly renovated Chinese palace-type structure with a minimalistic art gallery inside of it. The sky is so blue. It’s one of those days you wish you could
pull out of your pocket whenever you needed to.

Morby is in a green trench coat. His hair is curly. His face is shaven. His eyes are crisp. His hands are clean. He is not smoking a cigarette nor is he drinking a beer. “I feel like no matter what I say, it feels cheesy.” No, sir, you are wise, I muddled to myself in my head while looking at the sky. He continues, “Well, I was just flying back from Europe the other day, and I sat down next to this woman who was asking me what kind of music I played, and I think my go-to [is] either, I’ll say rock ’n’ roll or I’ll say folk rock, and that’s when I feel like a real asshole—saying folk rock—but
especially on this album I feel comfortable saying rock ’n’ roll.”

Morby is referring to his latest record, City Music, a benignly sad, important take on urban culture, more specifically 20-something urban culture. Lots of tears, lots of drying them up, lots of lifting ourselves up from lonely and exhausted beds, once again opening the door to excessive horn honking and hope and sunshine—a dilemma, to be sure.

“This record is a lot more ’70s-era punk bands or pre-punk bands in New York,” Morby says. “I feel like there’s two different schools of influence going on in my head: One is represented on Singing Saw (his 2016 album), and one is represented on City Music. Singing Saw is more ’60s and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Neil Young—stuff like that—but with this, it’s way more Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Richard Hell, Television, Jim Carroll, sort of the Lower Manhattan scene from that time period.”

Morby seems to draw from wherever the wind takes him, from growing up in Kansas City to formative years in Brooklyn to a cabin-style crib in Los Angeles. Yes, it all adds up, bound for glory, keeping his head on the proverbial swivel. “I have a landscape, for sure,” nods Morby, looking down, “and I think I kind of look at the future of how I put out music almost as if I was reading the Wikipedia of me at the end of my life,” he says, while I laugh from the funny, meta, Philip K. Dick-style quip. “I want to have a record like this, and I want to have a record like that … a
record that touches on this part of my psyche, and a record that is about this thing. Yeah, I wanna have a long career and a long life, and at the end of it [I] have put out a bunch of different types of things.”

Amen.


"I think I kind of look at the future of how I put out music
almost as if I was reading the Wikipedia of me at the end of my life.”


Then he continues after a silence, “As an artist, as a musician, when you do these things, when you put out an album, you’re basically exploring that for a year or two years, and it becomes such a part of your life, and then it ends and you’re onto the next thing. My life is broken up into these
chapters of these records.”

I think of interviews I’ve read with a young Neil Young, I think of interviews with a young James Taylor, and there is this common thing, this common thread of placidity in all of them, this thread of consciously staying chill, and I see it in Mr. Morby, as well.

And I wonder about the difficulties of being
a musician, what’s that like. “I can answer
that pretty well,” Morby answers, “and I feel
confident saying that, because I’ve been around for a long time, through a bunch of different platforms: I was in Woods, and I was in The Babies, and now I’m doing what I do, where, you know, people that I knew from the era of The Babies aren’t doing music or their band didn’t work out or whatever, and you see patterns, you see what type of band is filling a certain type of void for some time, and then they go away and a younger and fresher band comes along and …” he stops momentarily, not quite as dramatically as it
may seem, but still cool, “I think that I do feel like a fighter, in a way, but only because it comes naturally. I will say I’ve gone through the shit with it. I’ve been as broke as can be and as tired and as exhausted as can be.”

Whatever you want to call it, you can be sure Morby’s music will take you somewhere. For me, it’s apparently Chinatown. Morby and I shake hands. I walk through a swarm of city music, a cloud of Chinatown underground smoke. On the other side, when the light shines again, I see Dodger Stadium, I see the mountains I think, some snow-capped things I’d love to visit. MM

gravidy's rainbow

 

Photographed by: Daria Kobayashi Ritch | Styled by: Santa Bevacqua |
Model: Rhiannon McConnell

A.W.A.K.E. Dress | Christian Louboutin Boots

A.W.A.K.E. Dress | Christian Louboutin Boots

Stella McCartney Dress | Pierre Hardy Shoes | Jennifer Fisher Earrings

Stella McCartney Dress | Pierre Hardy Shoes | Jennifer Fisher Earrings

Kaelen Dress

Kaelen Dress

Damir Doma Top, necklace and skirt

Damir Doma Top, necklace and skirt

Jill Sander Dress | Céline Sunglasses

Jill Sander Dress | Céline Sunglasses

Jill Sander Dress | Eric Javits Hat

Jill Sander Dress | Eric Javits Hat

Bally Shirt and skirt | Jennifer Fisher Necklace

Bally Shirt and skirt | Jennifer Fisher Necklace

A.W.A.K.E Dress | Stella McCartney Earrings

A.W.A.K.E Dress | Stella McCartney Earrings

Céline Dress | Jacquemus Hat | Damir Doma Shoes | Stance Socks

Céline Dress | Jacquemus Hat | Damir Doma Shoes | Stance Socks

Paul Theroux

The Mother Land

Written by Jamie Brisick | Photographed by Dave Homcy

It’s hard for me to be objective when it comes to Paul Theroux. He is the author of some of the world’s most excellent travel books, among them The Great Railway Bazaar, The Old Patagonian Express, Riding the Iron Rooster and The Happy Isles of Oceania. He was awarded the 1981 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel The Mosquito Coast, which was adapted for the 1986 movie of the same name. His short stories and essays run the whole gamut of human experience.

But for me, he is a companion who helped me survive my late teens and early 20s. Not Theroux, exactly, but his books: specifically The Family Arsenal and Chicago Loop. I was a surfer kid who ran in philistine circles. The characters in Theroux’s fiction got at the depths of what it feels like to be human in a way that no one in my world had the faculty to address. There was the testosterone-fueled, knuckle-dragging milieu that I inhabited, and then there was that literary, interior, sentient place that I found in Theroux’s books.

I have been reading Paul Theroux’s work for more than 30 years, and he continues to educate and enlarge me. His most recent novel, Mother Land, explores a family held together and torn apart by its narcissistic matriarch. The book is by turns hilarious and horrifying, and I couldn’t help but wonder how closely the characters resemble his actual family. I called him on the phone and asked him exactly that.

PT Mother Land is a novel based on my life, and it bears very strong resemblance to my family, but in the book the narrator is at his wit’s end. His career is kind of over; he’s had a girlfriend, a possible fiancée, she dumps him; his books aren’t doing particularly well; he’s been kind of sabotaged by the family; he lives in a rented house on the Cape. Compare that with my life: I’m happily married, my books are doing very well, I own a house in Hawaii and one on the Cape. The big difference is that it’s a book about a guy who’s the victim of his family, and failing, and only at the end of the book do you think, well, maybe he’ll be OK. Well, I like to think I am OK now. There are significant correspondences with my life and my family, but there are also big differences. I always wanted to write something about my family, but I never really understood it. I didn’t really understand it until I was much older. Most young writers setting off really have no material except the life that he or she has lived up to that point, so very often the first novel is about childhood and family life, probably the great example is Thomas Mann writing Buddenbrooks. I didn’t write that book. My early writing is all about the experiences that I had after I left the bosom of my family, and it was going to Africa, living in Southeast Asia, living in England. My first six or seven books were all based on the travels that I had done, and none of them mentioned my family. But when you turn 70, it’s kind of vantage point for looking back. I had the sense that I wanted to write about the way a family operates as an independent unit. A family is like a nation in a distant land with its own language, its own rules, its own customs, and no one understands it, but if you grew up in it, you understand it. People who come from a big family will relate to the book.

MM Did writing it help you to understand your family better?

PT Yeah. The way that all writing does. Writing is a way of making sense of your world, of your life. It doesn’t solve problems, but it shows things in a peculiar light. Writing makes you examine a situation, makes you examine a relationship. And if you’re scrupulously truthful about what happened, and you write it the way it happened, the puzzle begins to be solved, and you begin to see connections in relationships that you hadn’t seen before. You can go all day inventing characters, but some of the oddest, greatest characters are people who are living with you, they are there in your life. And they are the real people; you see them in the round. And that’s the other revelation: The raw material is all there, but it takes a degree of maturity to write about it.


"The raw material is all there, but it takes a degree of maturity to write about it."


MM From a young age, travel has been a huge part of your life. How much does that feed your fiction writing?

PT There are two mechanisms that trigger it. One is reading. Reading made me a traveler. And traveling made me read more and turned me into a writer. If I hadn’t left home, I would never have become a writer. I know that I consciously sought experience; I went as far away from home as possible. And when you insert yourself into another country, another life, another culture, things happen to you. You’re very conspicuous, so you become a kind of magnet for experience—people want to know you, people want to borrow money from you, people want to use you. All of that becomes the kind of experience that you then transform into the drama of fiction. Things happen to you, and you try to understand it through fiction.

MM You’ve written 50-odd books—a pretty massive output by any standard. What is your writing routine like?

PT My first novel was published exactly 50 years ago this month. It was called Waldo. For 50 years, my day has been the same. I get up in the morning, I read the paper (used to read the paper, now I look at the news on the Internet), I sit down at my desk—not bright and early, but say 9 or 9:30—and I write. I’m usually done by one o’clock. I very rarely work in any dedicated way in the afternoon. But I sometimes work in the evening. In Hawaii, wild horses couldn’t keep me home on a sunny day, so I often go to the beach and sit in a beach chair, and I either read or write something, you know, woolgathering. I’m not writing with the same dedication that I would in the morning. So, my days are taken up like that. I very rarely take a vacation. I don’t find writing arduous. It’s slow going, but it’s steady-going for me. And I’ve always had something to write.

MM Has your writing changed in the last, say, couple of decades?

PT I think so. For example, my early travel books were very personal, very subjective: I’m having a good time, I’m not having a good time, I had a good meal, this funny thing happened to me. They were very autobiographical. I would account for every day, every strange day that I had. I think that they’ve changed. I thought, I’m really not that interesting, but other people are interesting, and other cultures are. So they’re different now. The focus is different. My travel is now less on me than the places I’m in. In terms of fiction, I’m determined not to repeat myself, although it’s inevitable that you do. You write for 50 years, and you’re going to repeat yourself. But I’ve tried not to. I’ve tried to come up with something new. I suppose, to examine motives more clearly. So, to that extent, my writing has changed. But I can say honestly, candidly, a writer is not the best judge of his or her book. We can’t be our own reader.

MM A writer friend once told me that she feels she can get at the truth better through fiction than nonfiction. Do you find this to be the case?

PT I think that fiction is the way to the truth. Not me but someone once said you feel intimate with a fictional character, you feel you know a fictional character better than a member of your own family. The classic portrait, Madame Bovary or Huckleberry Finn or Holden Caulfield or Ishmael or Hamlet—compare what you know about these characters and how you respond to them with what you know of a friend or a member of your own family. That’s where the truth comes from. In fiction you can get inside a character’s head in a way that is not possible, generally speaking, with the people we know in real life. And maybe this is why, instead of writing an autobiography or a memoir, I chose to take my experience, my family, and treat them as fictional characters—and my life, too—to use them to write a book and understand them better, and to understand myself better. A lot of my writing is done to give me pleasure. I write actually to stimulate my imagination and think, hey, I wrote this thing. What do you think of it? Did you like it? That’s the whole thing. First I’m trying to please myself, then I’m hoping that I can please somebody else.

Edgar Wright

The Great Escape

Written by Valentina Valentini | Photographed by Myles Pettengill

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder sits on Edgar Wright’s coffee table. It’s the infamous how-to-be-a-screenwriter book that half of Hollywood hates and the other half lives by. “I find [those types of books] fascinating even if you don't agree with them,” says Wright, sitting in his under-utilized backyard at his Los Feliz home.

The other books and DVDs, records and posters that haphazardly mark Wright’s Spanish revival home are exactly what you’d want in a director’s home: Cult Movies by Danny Peary, the vinyl soundtrack of Aliens, A Chorus Line DVD still with it’s orange $4.99 sticker slapped on, a mini Taschen on Stanley Kubrick and a VHS of Shaun of the Dead (2004). That last one is his. As in, he made it.

Wright was only 20 when he made his first film, A Fistful of Fingers (1995), a quirky comedic western set in southwestern England. Since then he’s given us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End (2013) all part of the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy co-written with Simon Pegg Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) and more. This August, he’s bringing Baby Driver to the screen; his first departure from his comedic chops in the form of a thriller- heist-getaway starring Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx and Lily James.

Malibu Magazine sat with the 43-year-old British director to talk about his process as a filmmaker, his challenges he hopes are yet to come and why film criticism is important to him.

MM What was it like writing on your own for the first time since your first film?

EW Perhaps it’s because Baby Driver is a departure from the other movies that I felt like it was something I wanted to do solo. And also because it isn't specifically a comedy; writing comedies is always more fun in a pair because you're bouncing off each other. I was forging some new ground writing on my own, and there was just so much more research scouring the L.A. Times crime section and such and meeting experts on this one, like ex- cons and police officers. That was a really interesting experience. So after having this idea in my head for the better part of 22 years, I didn't really know how to start writing it. It was probably the most difficult thing I have written because I could see the movie so clearly I even remember telling a producer friend that I could draw the whole movie and shoot it tomorrow but writing it down was proving to be really tough.

MM What was the writing process like?

EW That’s an interesting thing with an action film—it's an odd process to write visuals because usually what happens is a screenwriter writes for a director. I mean, if you're a writer and somebody else is directing, you're also trying to get across what it might look and feel like in the script, but if you're writing for yourself to direct, there is an element of wondering who you are trying to communicate to. This screenplay is probably an interesting read because what I’m trying to get across in words is what eventually will be action and sound.

MM Do you have an audience in mind when you're writing?

EW First and foremost you have to make a movie that you would want to go and see. Maybe that's clear from the kind of movies I make? I'm making something I would want to see and hope that other people would want that too. I don’t write in terms of, “This is what people want or this is what’s hip right now.” Usually I start by thinking about what kind of movie do I miss; what would I like to see that hasn't been done for a while or a different take on something? I’m trying to make somebody's favorite movie. It might not be the biggest grossing movie of all time, but if it touches somebody else in a way that the movies I loved when I was little did, [then I’ve done well].

MM Do you ever change aspects of the film once you’re shooting?

EW I don't really do a lot of that. Once I’m making the movie, it's pretty much locked down. I'm not a big improv guy, and even on the comedies I think people always just assume that they were semi-improvised. But I really don’t know what gives that impression—all the lines are really tight.


"I’m trying to make somebody's favorite movie. It might not be the biggest grossing movie of all time, but if it touches somebody else in a way that the movies I loved when I was little did, [then I’ve done well]."


MM When making your movies, is there anything that you’re obsessive over?

EW If I've seen it in my head a certain way, I can't really imagine it another way [he laughs]. That is probably a blessing and a curse. It’s good in terms of being absolutely laser-focused on [your vision]. I'm definitely obsessive in terms of the way it's shot and how many shots we need to make it work. We did three extra days of close-ups of hands and gear sticks and tachometers and steering wheels on Baby Driver, and then we did another three days of reshoots after that. I think the thing is, when I made that movie [A Fistful of Fingers] when I was 20, straight out of art college, zero- budget, the first time I’d shot on Super 16, I really gave myself over to the professionals. Because I was so young I submitted to their way of doing things, which was totally fine and more traditional, but one thing that haunted me about that movie is that I never really got enough coverage— not enough angles or shots. That has been the biggest motivator in the rest of my work visually, having been in that situation with my first film of not being able to do anything with the footage because there was nothing to cut to.

MM Is there something you want to accomplish as a filmmaker that you haven't already?

EW Always challenging myself is the important thing. There are lots of genres I haven't done before that I’d like to do—a true story or a drama or a straight horror film, not a comedy, that would be a real challenge. I was challenging myself with this one, because my inspiration for the movie stemmed from having done musical sequences in my other work. I’d always really loved doing them and I guess was me saying, “How can I do that for an entire movie? How do I come up with a premise whereby the entire movie is like a musical sequence?”

MM What is your relationship to music?

EW It’s similar to the lead character [Baby, played by Elgort] in a way—I did have tinnitus as a kid, and [music] is a way to get inspired or get motivated. I use music as a kind of audio caffeine, a soundtrack to my life. I usually can't write without the right kind of music playing – nothing with too many lyrics because they can be distracting—I’ve got endless playlists of instrumentals and scores: Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, Ennio Morricone and John Barry... I can listen to John Barry scores forever. For Baby Driver I made a heist playlist that was like 200 tracks.

MM What is your take on film criticism?

EW I would be sad if it was gone. I mean, I think it's great. It’s a necessary thing and really it’s how I got interested in films in the first place, through film writing. I used to memorize like Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide. I remember finding Danny Peary’s books in the library at art college, pre- Internet days. I used to make little lists of all these movies I wanted to see. Also, Michael Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide was a great influence. In this day and age though, it’s interesting with Twitter—there's a real rush to write a review 60-seconds after leaving the cinema. And I do that myself sometimes, but also maybe you need to let things stew a little bit before you have a response. After [the premiere at] South by Southwest, there were some reviews. My favorite one said: “Gone in 60 Seconds directed by Busby Berkeley” and I was like, “That sounds like my kind of movie!” And I made it. It is my kind of movie.

MM That must feel so amazing...

EW It was great. That quote is too esoteric for the poster, but I love that writer for it, so that's why I love film criticism, he said into the mic very loudly [laughs].

MM Baby Driver had its challenges—driving stunts, action sequences, a big cast – but what was the most challenging thing for you personally?

EW I feel very fortunate having a movie out this summer that’s an original movie. I was at the Arclight and they have all of the summer posters up. Baby Driver was the odd one out among those posters because it was the only original screenplay. Every other one was a sequel or a reboot or an adaptation of a comic or an adaptation of some pre-existing material. So for me, the biggest challenge is making an original movie in this climate, and one that’s backed by a studio as well. I feel extremely fortunate that I got to make this movie right now. MM