By Rachel Tashjian. Photos: Getty Images.
April is the coolest month! Nitehawk Cinema—the Brooklyn movie theater that brilliantly realized people want burrata crostini while watching Singin’ in the Rain—is mounting a retrospective of Chloë Sevigny’s dazzling and often unsettling filmography. “Chloë Sevigny: The Works” plucks several hits from Sevigny’s oeuvre, illuminating her taste for everything from the black comedy glee of Party Monster to the genteel yuppery of The Last Days of Disco. You can watch her fall in love in Melinda & Melinda at the civilized hour of 11:45 a.m., and get creepy in David Fincher’s Zodiac just after midnight. And then there is Boys Don’t Cry, the moving story of trans man Brandon Teena that was released in 1999 but resonates now more than ever.
This is a great time to assess Sevigny’s work: she is establishing herself as a director of plucky short films, with 2016’s Kitty, based on the Paul Bowles story about a little girl who wants to be a cat, and Carmen, a funny-sad tale of a female standup played by IRL comedian Carmen Lynch. (She screened both, along with Boys Don't Cry, at a Q&A earlier this week.)
But despite the indie cred highlighted in the retrospective, Sevigny told Vanity Fair recently that she has something different in mind for her eventual goal: a feature-length debut. “I would like to do something mainstream,” she said. “The goal isn’t for me to do some art-house thing—I would like to do something on a bigger level, like The Others or Pan’s Labyrinth. Harry Potter, for crying out loud!” Watch the video, here.
Asked whether she enjoys watching herself onscreen, Sevigny winces. (Well, we were on the phone, but a girl can tell.) “I don’t know any actress like that!” she said, laughing. “But seeing some of those films now, because there were like, 20 years between now and then, those are easier to watch because I was young, and just by virtue of being young, you’re beautiful. All young people are beautiful.” Watching her own directorial efforts, she says, is more rewarding, though “there’s also like, a different kind of, you know, paranoia around how the audience will react.”
The retrospective also highlights the impressive range of directors Sevigny has worked with—Harmony Korine, Whit Stillman, Woody Allen, Kimberly Peirce, Tara Subkoff—which surely has had an influence on her style. But while her shorts are windows into particularly female interiors, it’s perhaps her demeanor on set that’s been most impacted. “When I did my shorts, I would do this pep talk before and I would give this speech about what it means to me, and being enthusiastic about everybody being there,” she explained. “I just feel like there’s a little bit more transparency with women, whereas men may be more guarded. They wanna play it cool, and women are not afraid to be emotional about they’re doing.”
She mused on the differences between male and female directors. “I think with [Boys Don’t Cry director] Kimberly Peirce . . . it felt a little more emotional, but I think that also came with the subject matter,” she said. “It was also her first feature, so that always comes into play. She seemed so much more emotionally invested, and I guess you feel that more with women. And I think that’s a positive thing, all the way.“
We moved onto movie stars versus actresses: which one is better? “An actress,” she said. (Sevigny has a great series on her Instagram, I <_3 actresses="actresses" highlighting="highlighting" performers="performers" like="like" em="em">Twin Peaks’s Sheryl Lee, Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love, and the Civil War spy and stage star Pauline Cushman.) But she quickly revised her answer: “But I honestly like male movie stars. I think it’s easier to be cool”—she paused to cackle—“in a way. I just feel like the whole fashion game is so hard, [with] what women have to go through on the carpet and whatnot, where you’re all the sudden presented as this glamorous kind of thing, where you to put on this kind of glamorous hat. Actors are just in this tuxedo, whereas the woman sort of inhabits it more.”</_3>
As for her next trick: she is moving out of Park Slope, where the longtime Manhattanite decamped a few years ago—“I needed a little break. For me, [Park Slope] was like moving to the country”—and then it’s onto another short film before she plunges into feature territory. “This whole witchy-poo feather thing,” she said of her inspiration for her next short. “There are all these girls that are into witchery and tarot and crystals. Something around that—and then something really scary happening.”
A few moments later, she added: “People love a twist!”
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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