HER CLUELESS DAYS ARE OVER
Thursday March 31, 2005
HER CLUELESS DAYS ARE OVER
SET REPORT: Alicia Silverstone’s comeback landed her in Lithuania.
Martin Stevens followed.
I’m in a forest in Lithuania. A few feet away Alicia Silverstone (pictured) is jumping up and down. This is a strange situation – probably for both of us. The one-time Batgirl is trying, in her actorly way, to keep warm in an icy-cold surrogate New England. She’s shooting SILENCE BECOMES YOU, a low-budget independent film by Stephanie Sinclaire.
Bagging Silverstone is quite an achievement for Sinclaire. But what was the Hollywood actress hoping to achieve by getting numb with cold in a remote corner of Europe?
I followed Silverstone to her modest trailer and tried to make sense of her strange career trajectory. After the airhead-teen movie Clueless, and Batgirl in Batman and Robin, did she decide to take part in a small, independent project because it might be a smart move professionally?
“I don’t really do that, ever,” she says. “I’m drawn by what inspires. It seems that the only way to make those decisions is to choose what excites and interests you. What you want to do a probably good for your career.”
It’s a thoroughly admirable attitude, but unkind people might question the reliability of Silverstone’s antennae. After her success in Clueless in 1995, her career has gone off the boil somewhat. Ownership of the dim-but-nice valley girl personal passed to Reese Witherspoon; and for a brilliantly talented actress, a minor role in last year’s Scooby Doo 2 is a bit of a disappointment.
So why exactly was she so excited by this film, in particular? “I absolutely loved the script. I thought it was magical, and weird – it really excited me. I wanted to know who wrote this demented story, and when I met Stephanie it made so much sense. I saw it as a really worthwhile adventure to go on, and I was so high when I first got here. I was so high from inspiration.”
All this unchecked enthusiasm might sound a bit trite to cynical ears, but no one would spend hours in the Lithuanian snow unless they believed in what they were doing – or unless they really had to be there. (Though, admittedly, she’s fortunate that most of the film takes place indoors.) And she’s enjoying herself: “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t having fun, but I am particularly turned on by this role. This is one of those great new experiences.”
The role is Violet, one of two reclusive sisters (the other, Grace, is placed by Sienna Guillory). And the “demented story” is roughly as follows. In their father’s mansion Violet and Grace live cocooned from the outside world, until they embark on a bizarre plan to seduce a young man, Luke (played by Joe Anderson), so that one of them will become pregnant. Luke’s appearance unsettles the girls’ lives and Luke, likewise, is overawed by the sisters’ passion and creativity. Things go wrong when Luke and Violet develop feelings for each other – Violet wants Luke, and Grace needs Violet. It’s a strange, and ultimately violent, ménage à trois.
Sinclaire, the film’s writer and director, is a poet and painter with an 18-year history with the King’s Head theatre in Islington, of which she is associate artistic director. SILENCE BECOMES YOU is her first full-length feature film.
A charismatic American in her forties, Sinclaire strides purposefully through the snow as I tag behind. My writing hand frozen into a claw, I ask her to explain her “magical vision”. She says that the film is based partly on her own life as an artist, exploring the idea of “creativity as an alchemical process”. The girls’ father is key to all this. To him, the girls are an experiment – created in his image. For Sinclaire, this is “a form of child abuse”.
The film is not arthouse, she insists. “There’s an accessible top note, but with lots more going on.” And bizarrely, given the heavy emotional narrative she outlines, “there’s a lot of comedy,” she says. “Alicia and Joe are natural comedians.”
Sinclaire’s confidence belies her lack of experience as a director, although it has been a six year slog to get the film made, she says she no longer feels like a neophyte. “When you stay the course, the actual directing is easy – I’m in my playground.” She is equally unfazed, given her background in painting and theatre, about moving into a new art form. “There is no difference,” she insists. “I’ve always considered myself a storyteller, moving from one medium into the next – the rules of each artistic media are transferable.” Naturally enough for a painter, Sinclaire stresses her highly visual approach to film-making, something the more experienced Silverstone is quick of notice. “I’ve never worked with a director who has worked with every ounce of frame,” she says. “Stephanie’s art directing all the time, she does it beautifully.”
Since achieving a very particular look is crucial to the film, she is lucky in the technology she’s using. SILENCE BECOMES YOU will be the world’s first film based entirely on “digital cinematography”, using a technology called Film-Stream. This means that the end result will look like film, but at 40 per cent of the cost.
Shooting in 35mm would produce 180,000ft of film. Instead a shoot is stored on the hard drive. Steve Shaw, the film’s cowboy-hatted technology evangelist, explains that not only does this mean that independent film-making will become a lot easier, but that “this is the beginning of the end for film”. If digital is, for the first time, better and cheaper, why bother with film? Scenes can be shot many times over, the data can be written and over-written, encouraging an improvisational, more theatrical approach. And there is instant playback. “It’s a fantastic tool for explaining what’s not going right and correcting a performance,” Sinclaire says.
The technology also allows for greater creativity at the post-production stage. Sinclaire can “drain the colours away from memories and flashbacks – make it more noir. Make it look very painterly.” Towards the film’s disturbing climax, Grace has a breakdown and one of her films appears to come alive – a hand reaches out of a rainbow. “I feel like I have a magic wand. I can create what’s inside the girls’ minds,” says Sinclaire.
Though it’s easy to be cynical about the Hollywood-ish “incredibles” and “fanstastics”, it’s hard to affect enthusiasm in sub-zero temperatures – no matter how good an actor you are. There seemed to be a genuinely good feeling among the actors and crew. The film’s formula – beautiful people doing terrible things to each other – ought to be a winner.