Thirst Street, a sordid trauma study with a twist on fairy tale idealizations, denotes a significant departure from Silver’s unbound form to something more staged and mannered. As the fate of Silver’s characters come to question, and the fabled nature of fate itself does too, we endure a Silver tragedy at its most pre-designed.
From his usual outlines to a 25 page treatment, Thirst Street still maintains some of Silver's unscripted sensibilities. Dialogue was improvised. Shots were intuited on the day, guided by the atmosphere of a setting and the emotional necessities of a scene. Still it maintains a form, with a stylized beginning & end, and a more fluid, naturalistic, midsection.
Nathan details the use of these new formal elements, the ways which they apply thematically to Thirst Street, and their current and hoped for evolutions in his future work.
Thirst Street follows Gina (Lindsay Burge) an American flight attendant who, after the suicide of her husband, finds a dream in Paris worth living for. But, as we quickly discover, that dream ends up being just one in a slew of questionable authenticities.
Cinelinx: The first time I watched the film, I wondered whether or not Gina’s first relationship really happened the way it’s told to have, later in the film. But then I rewatched it, and the narrator depicts the events pretty objectively
Is it correct to assume these events are incontestable to how they’re portrayed?
Silver: No, the events you are seeing are definitely perverted by Gina’s perspective. So it’s her take on them, versus this narrator who is at times contradicting what we’re seeing.
Even when what she’s saying is simple, it’s only to further trick the viewer into believing the narrator. So when she says that Gina’s vision is blurry and it really is blurry, you think that perhaps what she’s saying is reliable, but for me she’s a completely unreliable narrator.
Cinelinx: If the description of Paul becoming obsessive is true, which now I’m not at all sure of, why does Gina, in her grief, mimic that same self-destructive behavior?
Silver: [laughs] Well I guess that’s the question: has the death changed her as a person or has she always been like this, or did her behavior drive him to kill himself? Which I don’t think is the case. I think that perhaps someone like Paul who’s, you know, only briefly seen and briefly mentioned in the movie, he could blame her for his depression which actually has nothing to do with her.
But he can focus all of his attention on the fact that she’s always traveling and that that’s her job. But that question: whether she’s like this before the death? That interests me. Does trauma actually change your personality in a certain way? I’m fascinated by that question: how much catastrophic events actually reshape your psychology.
Cinelinx: It took me the second time around to realize this, but why is it significant that Damien plays both Paul and Jerome? Or what does that say about what these two people represent?
Silver: Well I guess for me, every person that I fall in love with either resembles or goes against the people that I’ve loved in the past. I always think about them in comparison to people in the past. It’s natural, in my brain, to process things that way. With Paul, it was such a traumatic event in the way that she lost him. It would mark how she sees future men, I think. I find that you either fall in love with the same people over and over again, or you try and go against what you’ve fallen for before. It’s like you’re always working with or against that last person in mind.
Cinelinx: Was the narration planned from the beginning?
Silver: We always knew there would be narration but we didn’t know what it would consist of. In the same way that the dialogue is improvised, we knew that once we had a rough cut of the movie that we would figure out what that narration would be. We always knew there’d be room for it because of the whole fairy tale nature of it all.
Cinelinx: In almost every instance fate is being used to manipulate i.e Her friends bribing the tarot card reader, Jerome reading her palm to get her into bed.
Silver: It’s just her believing that she’s going to meet someone because the Tarot Card reader was bribed by the friends that want her to feel better about her life. They’re trying to do her a service.
In so many romance stories mysticism comes into play with this idea of fate, so Chris (Wells), the co-writer, and I wanted to play around with that by having it be a bribe. The Fortune Teller’s lying and she believes that lie.
Cinelinx: Is it making a statement, or taking a side against fate?
Silver: I guess something about the way that we interpret reality dictates how we maneuver through it. So if she believes she’s going to fall in love she’s going to look for someone to fall in love with. So it could seem fateful or it could mean that she’s more open to it because of this.
There are bizarre coincidences and irrational things operating at all times. We’re never going to understand the language of reality. You can try to decipher it and try to justify certain things, but it also has to do with a person’s will. How they’re feeling, what they’re looking for due to a conversation they just had or something they witnessed in the street. So I don’t know if it’s just fate or circumstance.
It’s like picking apart reality and trying to piece it together in a way that has some sense. That’s what a story is right? In a film like this, which draws on certain films of the past and has a fable-like quality, I wanted to play around with some of that language but not draw hard and fast conclusions from it.
Cinelinx: Gina is a difficult character, one that I could ultimately sympathize with despite everything. There’s a hollywood reporter review that says, after a certain point, that he could no longer invest in her character. And I kind of saw that as him giving up on her. What do you think of people being unable to sympathize with Gina, or this kind of character/person?
Silver: There was a distinction that Anjelica Huston made when I met with her. She said the thing that she loved about Lindsay's performance is that she’s not a crazy person, she’s a damaged person. So I think that if people want to write her off as crazy then that’s up to them. They can do that, and they probably do that to people in their own lives. But if you actually try to understand someone who -- and I mean, she is an exaggerated version of this type of person that has gone through a horrible situation. All storytelling exaggerates certain elements. I always find it annoying when people write off characters like hers.
I want to be close to the character but at the same time there’s the narration that keeps you outside of her brain. It’s third-person, not first. It creates some distance.
Cinelinx: I recently watched the Q&A proceeding the world premiere of L’argent at Cannes. The majority of the audience was livid because the film wasn’t explicit about why characters behaved the way, or did the things they did. When a viewer asked Bresson why the main character’s wife left him, he responded that he didn’t know either.
Silver: I feel like when you’re inventing a story you only know so much of the world. Especially in the movies. Everyone that you’re working with, the 20 or 100 other people, bring all sorts of others ideas and it becomes something else. If you have a full understanding of what you’re doing then what you’re doing is boring. The great thing is that movies are distorted by reality. That’s what allows for that layer of confusion. You don’t always understand why something is plausible. It creates all sorts of weird reactions in a viewer and I love that. Ideally, a movie should leave viewers both satisfied and confused and if it doesn’t operate in a mysterious way on some level I don’t know what it’s doing.
Cinelinx:This is aesthetically your most pre-designed and formal film. But did you retain any of your improvisational process with the actors?
Silver: Absolutely. All the dialogue is improvised. We would find the rhythm of the scene in the rehearsals the day of. And then once we had the rhythm down we could better figure out the blocking and we might shift some lights around. There was another element, because lighting is used here much more than in my other films, Lindsay would say the lighting affected her performance. So if she walked into a place and she saw that it was lit over the top, and there was some mannered thing that she had to do, it felt right in that space.
When she got out of make-up and arrived on set she’d understand the tone of the scene more. And each scene is tonally very different. When you see it as a whole I’m not sure that you can feel how tonally all over the place it is. But if you break it down scene by scene it’s almost like there are ten different movies within the movie. In the middle section it moves much more naturalistically. In the beginning and end, it’s much more stylized.
Cinelinx: What’s guiding you on the day to make the right decisions/What is primarily dictating these decisions?
Silver: Sean (Price Williams) and I would just talk. We never had a shot list. Basically when he arrived in Paris from Locarno -- he was on the Jury there, and he had just been hanging out with Dario Argento. I don’t remember if he said that they had discussed lighting or stuff like that, but I feel like some of that had seeped into this through some manner of osmosis. So he came over and he read the treatment which is like 25 pages long, and he didn’t like it at all.
My assistant director Margot has this beautiful courtyard. So we sat there and we drank for a few hours and we just went through the whole treatment. I explained every scene, and we rearranged some things, and discussed how it would feel and look. Then after that we trusted each other and we just started shooting.
We would walk into a space and both just agree on whether or not it was going to be handheld. There was something about a scene that made it evident which language to use. Ever since that first day we were on the same page. We’d walk into a space and be like this is going to be handheld. It would just be evident. It’s odd. That’s why it was so much fun to work with him
And then we were trying to just push lighting in certain places. He’d always come up with ways to push it farther, and I’d have to to come up with ways to reign it back a little bit. It was a really beautiful time that we had shooting that. And I’ve known him for a long time. We’ve known each other for 12 years which is crazy and this is the first thing we shot together.
We were both wary of working with each other to a degree because we didn’t know if it would work out well. Obviously it did, because we just shot another thing together in June.
Cinelinx: What is it about synth scores and neon light that are perfect for this kind of a film?
Silver: Well there was one image I pulled before we started shooting from Fassbinder’s Lola, where she’s sitting on the bed and there’s a rainbow of colors on her. Then that was kind of it. Also just things like how Paris is in the movies, if you look at the Cinema du Look stuff, there’s just a feeling… That is the Paris that we have in our heads. There were times we thought maybe the lighting’s too much, but then we’d walk down the street and look up at buildings that were bathed in purple light, or statues bathed in red and green, and it’s just there in the city.
If you’re not looking for it you’re not going to see it. But when you’re shooting a movie and using those colors you start seeing them everywhere. There’s a reason why it’s in the French movies of the 80s, because it exists in the city. It makes you think of this France that’s in your mind, but it’s also a France that exists so it’s a nice marriage.
For the score, Sean was playing a lot of 80’s French stuff while we were hanging out. I forwarded all this stuff to the composer Paul Grimstad and that got Paul’s brain going.
Cinelinx: This is a question I often ask, but how do you know you’re making the right decisions when you’re operating intuitively on the day?
Silver: There are always going to be things that are probably failures on a certain level. But you’ve tried, and if they don’t stick out that much in the movie it means the movie’s eaten up the failures. The number of successes you’ve had in experimentation and the number of failures are kind of flattened by the movie itself.
So maybe you go too far in certain places but then the viewer doesn’t remember those bizarre qualities so much. It evens out by the end somehow. I feel like if you go and you don’t question yourself it’ll end up whole in the end somehow, and that’s all that matters.
You can get caught up in the details that matter to you as a director. Like, I don’t care about continuity. I’m not obsessed with continuity. That’s not something that’s really ever interested me. I don’t look out for that. I’m not like one of those people who go on IMDB and point out little continuity errors. That’s not my brain. So it’s more about the atmosphere. That’s always the thing that drives me.
Cinelinx: Were there any shots that you knew had to be shot a certain way?
Silver: It’s kind of odd. There are shots that are long takes. There’s one in the bar where Gina sees Clemence talking with Jerome. It goes on for quite a long time. And that wasn’t planned, it just came about naturally. We set up the camera and it seemed like it could only happen that way.
It would be a balance between: well this needs to be done this way and we know that the shot after this will be fairly quick and handheld so we can give more time to what we’re doing now.
I’m always about putting together the schedule. I need to oversee it before anyone else. Before the A.D gets to it I need to try my hand at it. I feel like a good deal of how the film comes out in the end is dependent on the schedule that you set up for yourself. And I don’t mean the number of days. We had very few days to shoot this. I just mean the order of scenes, the amount of big scenes you have in a given day -- you have to fight a lot for those things. If it makes more sense to shoot out a location to the producer, you have to explain to the producer why that’ll be a disaster and why you need two days at the location instead. Then you can get away with planning more elaborate shots the day of.
Cinelinx: Have you found the way you like to work in Thirst Street or will your next films be even more ‘formal’?
Silver: The Great Pretender was fully scripted and I’m working on a script now. I want to go into the next budget level. Having made a number of films in a certain budget range has become exhausting after awhile. I want to have more machinery, I want to be able to set up more elaborate shots, I want to have dollies. I want to go back to the cinema that I first fell in love with. I was in love with Fassbinder, Sirk, and Bunuel, these things I got away from for a time. I want to return to the reason I fell hard for movies, which sounds cheesy, but I’m exhausted and I want to focus my attention on that.
Cinelinx: Will you hold on to any of the ways you've directed actors in the past?
Silver: It’s more about how you run things on set, the atmospheres you create. It doesn’t matter if it’s improvised or it’s scripted. It’ll feel a certain way because of how you are as a person and the kind of set you have. And I think I’ve realized that. You can’t go “If I don’t do an improvised movie I’m nothing” that’s not the case. It’s not the improvisation that matters to me. As long as I’m surrounding myself with the people that I want to work with, I can invent on the spot without it feeling rigid -- even if we have a script.
I guess I’m less worried about that now. I used to think that a script was this weight that you had to drag. But I don’t know. It’s strange now. I don’t feel that anymore. I think part of it is that I studied playwriting and screenwriting in school. When there was a script I wanted to do it justice and I’d have a lot of guilt about not doing a script justice. So it was easier to fuck with an outline, because an outline is nothing, it’s not well written, it just gives you structure. You don’t feel bad if you don’t follow it.
I think I’m getting over that. I want to have larger crews and lush environments to work with.
See Nathan Silver's Thirst Street in theaters September. BTS photos courtesy John MacDonald