A note: This is the sixth in the Cinépathétic series, an interview-style back and forth between me and the interesting people in my life, jabbering about movies and why we love them so damned much. This week, I’m interviewing Zak Rye, my best friend of over a decade, and co-proprietor of Gaslight Coffee Roasters here in Chicago, IL. We go over the facets of childhood divorce, broken relationships, and how cool Vincent Vega actually was, overall. As usual, be wary for spoilers throughout, and please, enjoy.
Zak: Yessir. Should I pick the first?
DR: Yes, please.
Zak: Let’s do Virgin Suicides.
DR: Sophia Coppola, showing the wide world what she can do cinematically. As a directorial debut, there have been infinitely worse. Why start here?
Zak: No real reason, just trying to break these up into something slightly cohesive. You know, deep movie, shallow movie, deep movie, etc.
DR: The plight of the Lisbon sisters is certainly deep, and Coppola makes strides to keep the sequences as earnest as humanely possible. What appeals you to this film over, say, Lost In Translation? Or The Bling Ring?
Zak: Well, as we’ve discussed before, I had a hard time selecting this movie over Lost in Translation. Both movies, to me, seem to be about the same thing – thoughtless obsession. I realized, in going over my “picks” that I have a soft spot for the earlier works. Virgin Suicides has an innocence to it, not just brought upon by the writing, characters, plot, but by the director herself. This was a perfect film for Sophia Coppola to start her career with. She had a fantastic blueprint from the novel which she kept very true to, with a few exceptions. It’s hard to deny that she had a very close connection to the book, which came through in the film. Overall, Virgin Suicides captures a very obscure, yet universal feeling. That feeling being a very green sense of love. So does Lost in Translation, but maybe not so well. Bling Ring, really?
DR: (clears throat) I look at Sophia Coppola’s filmography, and I can’t help but completely agree with you. The Virgin Suicides compliments her burgeoning talents very, very well. There is this romanticism that relates more to the young than the jaded filmmaker. The suicide pact is conveyed with a sincerity that a lesser filmmaker might have fumbled. What themes within the film speak to you the most?
Zak: With risk of sounding creepy, young love. That feeling you had about someone when you had no real idea what it meant. There is sexuality throughout the movie, but with the exception of Lux, it’s so innocent, so scary, and so true to life. There aren’t a lot of movies that can remind of how you felt when the cute girl in your 5th grade class held your hand, or how you spent years “in love” with the girl who lived down the block, who you’ve never spoken to, but you’re positive that they are magical and the “one”. Beyond that, she captures teenage angst perfectly. As a, mostly, legit grown up, I watch this movie and the Lisbon girls are fascinating still. Lux is especially the representation of the earliest memories of sexual frustration. I can relate to every character in this film, especially the narrator, and as I age, even the parents. I hate to say it, but I actually think she carved some meaty portions out of the book to make a more approachable film that gets to the point with less fussy side drama.
DR: Very well put. Lux facilitates the wanton freedom the other sisters would otherwise forego. Kirsten Dunst was really coming into her own as an actress with this role, a lightyear away from Interview With The Vampire. But I understand what you mean about young love, and how this film really conveys it perfectly. The children convene underneath the gym bleachers to sip schnapps and make out, thinking “this is what we should be doing” but not knowing if this is what they should be doing. Coppola detaches the audience in the experience and joins them in the angst perfectly.
Zak: “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”
DR: Brilliant line.
Zak: While the narration takes on what it’s like to be the 13 year old boy. Certainly, this film is successful because the novel was just an amazing piece of work, but she captures it beautifully and I’d watch it daily with no issue.
DR: I know you read the novel. Did the book carry through on the male narrative?
Zak: Yep. The Narrator in the book seems to switch from boy to boy, and while the voice of the narrator in the film is only Giovanni, he is reading the same narration. She only cuts a few things out. Lux has a pregnancy scare, and Mary actually dies weeks after the other girls. For the most part, the dialog and blocking of the film is identical to the book. The closing lines of the narrator give me chills every time.
DR: Do you think that – in keeping with the male narrative, that detached teenaged male narrative – Coppola succeeded in translating Suicides to the screen? That maybe what was churning inside these girls was unknowable, thus keeping to the mystique?
Zak: Absolutely. I would imagine that on set, each of these boys was completely in love and obsessed with the characters that the girls played. Not to mention, as it was her first film, what was churning inside of her was likely unknowable and mysterious. I’m sure that leaked into the cast.
DR: And who could blame them? What’s next on your list?
DR: (laughs) Seasonally appropriate, by the way.
Zak: Any other time of year, there is no way this would be on my list.
DR: Sweet Christ, I haven’t seen this in a while. Why did this, of all films, make it to your list?
Zak: I have a sappy attachment to it. There’s not many movies that you look forward to all year to watch, because it has to be the “right time”. As a kid, I had never heard of A Christmas Story. When my stepdad – dad, whatever – moved in, we didn’t really like each other much. The first Christmas that he lived with us, he mentioned this movie and was floored by the fact that I had never seen it. He then rented it, and we sat next to each other on the couch and watched together. Just us, no Mom. This was the first time I remember thinking, “ok, maybe he’s ok.” Later on, as I came to not only adore Jim (Dad), but more or less turn into him, this movie became my favorite thing to force onto my loved ones during the holidays. I know it by heart. I laugh at all the same lines everytime. I’ve seen it 10,000 times and would watch it with you right now. I’m getting “notafinger” tattooed on my finger for chrissake. I could be in the worst mood ever and if anyone, even a stranger, shouted, “Ralphie, on the double!” I would smile so big it hurts.
DR: I suffer nostalgia too, but I guess I missed the boat on this film. But I do remember watching it. The film is based somewhere in the Midwest – as I recall – and it perfectly depicts winter, and the subsequent holidays, that us midwestern kids had to endure, doesn’t it?
Zak: I think it’s actually supposed to take place around Chicago. Its based off of Jean Shepherd’s short stories. It’s a good, campy, warm hearted version of childhood that us mid-westerns can relate to. The movie itself is fairly seamless. There’s nothing to pick apart, it is exactly what it is. There’s some weird facts that I discovered though, whenever you’re ready.
Zak: Ok, so the Mom, easily the most adorable Mom ever, is also the female lead along Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters (Melinda Dillon – DR). She plays the exact same character and it somehow translates perfectly. Next, the director is barely escaping the title of “hack”. Bob Clark directed a shit-ton of movies, all trash. He did get back together with Jean Shepherd in the mid 90s to direct a film called A Summer Story, which who knows? Maybe it was heartwarming as well. He is, hilariously, most noted for his masterpieces, Porky’s and Porky’s 2. Pete Billingsley, who plays Ralphie, went on to star in a handful of After School Specials, where he met and became close friends with Vince Vaughn. After, he remained the hidden member of the Vaughn/Favreau combo, producing/acting in such shit storms as Made and The Break Up. He directed Vaughn and other asses in Couples Retreat, and is now the executive producer of A Christmas Story Musical, playing in Chicago if you wanna go… (I don’t. – DR) Lastly, as I thought I was wrapping up my Christmas Story detective work, my wife mentioned that “Schwartz” went on to star in and produce porn. Schwartz is the kid who gets his tongue stuck to a pole, so… Insert joke.
DR: Huh. Porn.
Zak: It always comes back to porn.
DR: Well. I have to agree. Boffo detective work, by the by.
Zak: Thanks, my sources rhyme with “Dickopedia”.
DR: (laughs) This film is such a critical part of so many people’s experiences with the holidays. I know Jewish families that watch this movie, “just ’cause”. Will you be watching it this year, or have you already?
Zak: I have twice, and will be more. You’d puke over the amount of holiday movies I own. I have a soft spot. I’ve actually become very aware that everything that I loved or experienced in my childhood are the only remnants of humanity I posses. I likely died inside around 19. This will become more apparent as we move on.
DR: (nods) I understand. And I grimly request the next film on your list.
DR: Wes Anderson hand-holding (or, producing) Noah Baumbach into the stratosphere. Man. I love and hate this movie so much. I hate it because, Jesse Eisenberg, and I love it because we get Greenberg and Frances Ha and Moonrise Kingdom because of it. How does this rate for you?
Zak: The characters in this film could have been played by anyone, and if acted as well, I’d bite. It’s not the actors, though I do love Laura Linney, Jeff Daniels, and even Mr. Eisenberg. I actually found Greenberg to be a fairly obnoxious and sterile film. I liked Moonrise, but it was only because it fed my Wes Anderson hunger at the time. I’ve not seen Frances Ha yet, but you dig it, so I’ll watch it.
DR: This one deals in a family divorce. I’ve been through at least a literal few in my life, but none of my families were as affluent as the Berkman’s. I found it difficult to relate to this family, as it seemed that their detachment was more cinematic (and thus, fraudulent) posturing than a real group of human beings. I actually enjoyed Billy Baldwin’s character the most. Your thoughts?
Zak: (laughs) I get that. Whenever this movie comes up in conversation I ask one question, “are your parents divorced?” Maybe a little crass, but completely important when it comes to understanding and become attached to this movie. As I said before, I really like the earlier works. They always seem more personal, genuine, thought-out, planned. Records and movies, the first ones are often the best. I, as you know, also went through the divorce thing. I was around 9 or 10, I think. An age in which I can relate to both Walt and Frank in the film. My father reminds me a lot of (Jeff) Daniels in this movie, and my Mother of (Laura) Linney. It’s funny you mention Billy Baldwin’s Ivan, as he is also one of my favorite characters, though my Ivan was named Randy, and my approach to him was similar to Walt’s. I have literally laughed while crying watching this movie. I get that the Park Slope affluence can be a deal breaker for some. Hell, we were nothing close to affluent when my folks split, but what rich people do and what poor people do aren’t that different when it comes to things like that. With the exception of Walt and Frank, every character in this movie is someone from my life. They’re both kinda me.
DR: The classist tropes aside, I still found it difficult to relate to the characters when I first saw the film. I understand what Baumbach was trying to convey now as I’m much older these days, but there was a whole lot more conniving and secrecy to the character’s actual feelings than what I’m experienced to. Putting that aside, I get what you mean about the first cutting the deepest, in terms of an artist’s work. But I really feel Baumbach has improved as a filmmaker over his career. I really do. Also, I’m listening to Hey You right now.
Zak: I wrote that song.
DR: (laughs) Baumbach is a notorious misanthropist. But taken as a pill with Wes Anderson, he has persevered as a peripheral filmmaker, convalescing in Frances Ha, which he co-created and wrote with live-in girlfriend Greta Gerwig. Maybe he benefits with outside influence?
Zak: I really liked Margot at the Wedding, and though I don’t praise Greenberg, I own it and it gets some play every other month. Baumbach has grown as a filmmaker, as all do who study and immerse themselves in their craft. Outside influences are unavoidable and will change, for better or worse, what one does. Baumbach has gotten technically better, as has Phil Elverum, Harmony Korine, fucking Spielberg. I like the raw stuff. Dug out of the heart and sculpted by hand. It speaks clearer to me. I’ll always go for Gummo over Spring Breakers, Glow Part 2 over No Flashlight, and Jaws over Lincoln. I know you have a Gerwig thing, and I a Jeniffer Jason Leigh thing. The movies he co-wrote with girlfriends/what have you, are good. They speak to both the men and women in the audience and and appease both, usually. The Squid And The Whale is not a movie for everyone. It’s personal, though amazingly not one sided, it just hits chords that a lot of people won’t resonate with. At the core, I think everyone has one, truly passionate story to tell. After that, you need all the help you can get to tell another one.
DR: I absolutely agree. If The Squid And The Whale did one thing for me, it fascinated me to Baumbach as a filmmaker. I wanted to know more about the man and why he wanted to make movies the way he wished to. There was a lingering doubt that came with supposed nepotism, but I have since let it slide. But let’s talk about the ending. Walt runs away from his old man – the cooler parent – as he lays potentially dying, and runs to the squid and whale exhibit instead. It’s a throwback to his mother, a truly heartbreaking, yet whistful moment. What do you think was on his mind in the film’s final moments?
Zak: Oh, you have me nearly welling up with that one. I disagree, his Dad is not the cooler parent. He, in fact, is not much of a parent at all, and Walt now, at the film’s close, realizes this. He has a breakthrough with his shrink, suddenly remembering that, though his Dad may be his current day role model, is a total dick. “He wasn’t there” I think is the line that Eisenberg delivers with a gut wrenching moment of clarity. His Mom is the one that raised him, cared for him, took time for him, and he finally gets it. The memory most imprinted in him is the museum visits when he can’t look at the squid and the whale fighting, because it scares him to death. After, his Mom would recreate it for him and he felt safe with her. When he runs out of the hospital room, he is, I think, paying tribute to his Mother. The strong protector, thus shedding the shadow of his Father’s expectations and withheld love.
DR: You nailed it.
Zak: Yeah, you got me crying. This film really hits home for me.
DR: Didn’t mean to, Buddy.
Zak: Suddenly realizing that I probably shouldn’t have delve too deep with that movie. I’m good, shoot. (pours another glass) Let’s do Pulp.
DR: Quentin Tarantino unsheathing his cinematic mastery. This is the film that should have toppled Forrest Gump in 1994’s awards season, and thoroughly did as such through history. Pulp Fiction remains one of the finest films I’ve ever seen. Why is this yours?
Zak: Right? It never gets old. There’s something about the construction that always has you feeling like you probably missed something. Again, a sappy story- my mother, god bless her, took me to see this in the theater when I was 12. That sounds bad, but it isn’t. My mom was a huge influence on me when it came to film. She rented me The Deer Hunter, A Clockwork Orange, Deliverance, The Godfather, basically anything that she though was amazing and, I think, just couldn’t wait for me to see so she’d have someone to talk to about them. She introduced me to foreign film with Life is Beautiful – also in the theater. We ordered pizzas and watched Schindler’s List for god’s sake. She’s a hell of a lady. (It’s true -DR) Before going to see Pulp Fiction, my first R rated movie in the theater, she took me for Coney Dogs and said “ok, so there’s some stuff in this movie that you really shouldn’t see, but I think it’s a really important movie and you should see it in the theater.” She forewarned me about Marvin getting shot in the back of the car, and tried her best to explain the gimp scene without getting weird. All I know is that I was already primed to love this movie. And I did, still do. This movie taught me everything about being cool.
DR: I really love your Mother. You’ve told me these stories before, and I really admire that she was your gateway to your cinematic experience. It primed you for the filmic gauntlet you and I both endure to this day, I think. But you’re right. This is really one of the best films ever made. It was just added to the National Registry of Film in the Library of Congress, so apparently, everyone else agrees with us. So, having said that, what is so fucking cool about this movie to you?
Zak: (laughs) Likely my attraction to deviant behavior. This movie breaks down the “good guy vs. bad guy” line like very few others. Vince Vega really embodied “cool” for me as a young man, probably still. Beyond that, every character is cool as hell. There’s very few situations, no matter how bad they are, that Vince, Jules, Marsellus, Butch, or Mia really lose their cool.
DR: I remember Mia sitting up with a hypodermic needle protruding from her chest after a heart seizure, all nonchalant.
Zak: And oddly, something I’ve never really thought about before, every story has a happy ending.
DR: Yeah, everybody except Vincent Vega.
Zak: Kinda, but again, cool as hell getting shot while reading and taking a deuce. It’s a reoccurring thing in the movie. “We cool?” “Yeah, we cool.”
DR: The fractured narrative is nothing new – Kurosawa was doing it in Rashomon, and filmmakers well before that – but Tarantino made it seem so effortless. For those willing to bask in its omnipresent cool, Pulp Fiction answers all its questions in due time. And it takes you on some strange detours along the way.
Zak: Do you think Avary had a had in this? Killing Zoe has some of it, and also the blurred lines between good and bad. Quentin Tarantino did a great job, filtering the hundreds of “hard boiled” style movies that he loved into a very tightly spun collaboration of strong/flawed characters and very dark stories into something that is, at times, almost touching. Walk on the wild side?
DR: You’re not wrong about Roger Avary’s presence in Pulp Fiction. His actual contributions to the screenplay remain in limbo, save for the knowledge between the two writers, but both writers scored the Original Screenplay Oscar in 94. But beyond Killing Zoe, Avary made Rules Of Attraction, and went to prison in 2008 for a little while, so I think we both know who won that battle. But one has to wonder what Fiction would be like without the Gold Watch sequence.
Zak: I love both of those movies. And both have some similarities to the PF story structure. You love that Gold Watch act. I think my favorite is either the opening, or the Bonnie Situation.
DR: Oof. Tough one.
Zak: But there it is, it’s a movie made of short stories.
DR: Pretty much. Mine has to be Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife sequence. It’s the most harmonious. And whimsical. I think I based a fantasy on that sequence once.
Zak: The dance scene, yeah. I guess it’s hard to choose a favorite. That’s the beauty though, right?
DR: Absolutely. What’s the last film on your list?
DR: RRRRAAAGHHH… You really want to talk about it.
Zak: Oh, yes. You say it. Say the name.
DR: 2 Days In Paris. God damn it. Please, indulge me. Why is this here?
Zak: Out of curiosity, have you watched it yet?
DR: I haven’t. Between work and keeping up with the weekly releases – and this IS awards season – I didn’t make time for it. But this is your opportunity to knock it out of the park, Buddy.
Zak: (laughs) Okay. Well, as you so clearly stated to me, this is not a list of what I think are the all time best movies, this is a list of movies that I am personally attached to. In that category this one hits hard. Julie Delpy’s romcom goes above and beyond your traditional ideas of romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a happy ending. Two strangers don’t fall in love in Paris. No one, at any point in this film, feels comfortable.
DR: And as I’ve implored you before, sell me on this one. Why should I take time to watch this when you know I hate Adam Goldberg, and the superficial payoff is a sequel nobody apparently likes, co-starring Chris Rock, of all people? What I’m trying to ask you is, why do you love this one so much?
Zak: Essentially, this movie is about the bad part in relationships, when everything is tested. In this case everything is tested at once. I’ve said it before, this movie makes me feel somewhat okay about every shitty thing I’ve ever done to someone I love or have loved. Full disclosure, at our house, it only finds its way into the DVD player after a massive fight. Because it’s a reminder no one is perfect, ever. People fuck up, you hurt the one closest the most. Often, when you aren’t even close to trying. Delpy and Goldberg’s relationship is “everyman”, you cannot watch this movie and not feel like someone read your thoughts during some scenes. It deals with everything petty that comes up, and if not properly understood, destroys perfectly wonderful relationships. The sequel is complete garbage, literally horrible. I deny its existence.
DR: So this acts as a screened diorama featuring the avatars of every bad thought and feeling of every person during every relationship, yes?
Zak: Actually, kind of. It’s about the little imperfections that fester, the little insecurities that make you feel like a chump. This movie breaks two people down into nothing but egos, and as much as we would all like to deny it, our egos rule our life, in one way or another. Again, this movie has no happy ending, no happy parts really at all. The writing is, believe it or not, strong enough to make the viewer aware that these two are happy together, though you rarely if ever see it.
DR: Did Julie Delpy write this film?
Zak: She wrote the screenplay, as for the source material, no clue.
DR: As I’ve relayed to you previously, this always felt like Julie Delpy aping Richard Linklater aping Woody Allen. What is new, by which I mean, what is uglier, more resonant, and more destructive than anything Before Sunrise or Manhattan can provide?
Zak: It’s stripped down, more human, more “relatable”, more modern maybe. Sunrise is grandiose, Manhattan is haute, and like you mentioned with Squid, hard for me to relate to these privileged young New Yorkers.
DR: But it still sticks with you.
Zak: It does. This movie has aspects that I’ve experienced, and I’m sure you too, in every relationship I have ever had as an adult. It points out how shitty, sensitive, and self absorbed we can be when dealing with someone you feel that you love. There’s a bit at the end, where you really don’t know if Jack and Marion are going to work it out or if it’s over, when she goes through this narration: “It hurts so much. When I feel someone is going to leave me, I have a tendency to break up first before I get to hear the whole thing. Here it is. One more, one less. Another wasted love story. I really love this one. When I think that its over, that I’ll never see him again like this…” It kills me each and every time.
DR: (laughs) I’m more than positive we could collaborate on a book – a really shitty book – about our love lives. But it’s the movies that act as a balm after those relationships end, or heal when those relationships are wounded, and I can list a dozen of them that act as such. The fact that 2 Days In Paris remains on your list – in this distinction – is a testament to your personal resolve that this one film acts as a personal salve for yourself. Because of this, I’m ready to make a promise to you.
Zak: (laughs) Okay. And the promise is?
DR: I’ll watch the fucking thing.
Zak: (laughs) Please do. You summed it up very, very well. This movie is a personal salve. Well put.
DR: No joke. I’ll get it done. Anything else you wish to add here?
Zak: Nah, I’m good. Honorable mention: Mean Streets, because every film on my list rips it off at some point. Also, massive kudos to Scott Kane, his picks are my top 5-10.
DR: Thanks again for doing this, Zak. It means the Mint.
Zak: I had fun this time. Hope you did too. See ya soon.
Zak Rye is from Ypsilanti Mi, but lives in Chicago. He opened the Ugly Mug Cafe and Roastery in 2004. Worked as Lead Trainer for Metropolis Coffee from 2010-2012, and opened Gaslight Coffee Roasters in Chicago in 2012 with life-partner, Tristan Coulter. He’s traveled a lot, obsessed endlessly over countless cups of coffee, played in some wonderful bands with some wonderful people, has a horribly beautiful wife, and a simply horrible dog. Overall, a pretty lucky dude.