David Lowery comes home
Writer-director recalls growing up in Waukesha; speaks about first major feature film, 'Ain't Them Bodies Saints'
|By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut||
October 17, 2013
WAUKESHA - A Waukesha
native took center stage - literally - at one of the bigger events of the
recently concluded Milwaukee Film Festival.
On Oct. 9, when his
film “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” had its local premiere,
Waukesha-born writer-director David Lowery stood on the Landmark Oriental
Theatre’s proscenium and answered moviegoers’ questions.
Judging from applause
and comments among the scores who came out to see the crime and love story
that’s being compared with “Bonnie and Clyde,” Lowery’s movie was
quite well-received. “Ain’t,” insisted festival artistic and
executive director Jonathan Jackson, “is a major film production.”
Lowery, who engaged in
an onstage dialogue with Jackson before the screening and responded to
audience questions afterward, introduced his grandmother, Mary Sackett,
who took him to movies at the Oriental during his childhood. “It’s
awesome to be here,” the filmmaker, now in his early 30s, said.
Lowery spent his first
eight years in Waukesha, moving when his Milwaukee-born father was hired
to teach theology at the University of Dallas. One of nine siblings, young
David would return to southeastern Wisconsin for summertime visits with
his grandparents. He seemed to have trouble adjusting to Texas early on,
but eventually “grew to love” the state that’s been his home for
more than 20 years.
The polite, personable
filmmaker hasn’t forgotten his roots. Following the question-and-answer
session, Lowery told The Freeman about his Waukesha days - living across
the street from Dopp Park, swimming in the Hebron Springs Park pool,
attending classes at what was then St. William Elementary School. He said
he drove around his old hometown the day before the premiere.
In the Lone Star
State, Lowery studied literature for two years at his dad’s university
(he never went to film school) and his comments before and after the
screening indicated “Ain’t” had been informed by literary tradition.
The film’s characters, Lowery pointed out, include “classic
archetypes”: an outlaw, his girl, a sheriff. There are also three
“figureheads” who serve as “symbols of wrongdoing. We dressed them
up like they were from the old West” - despite the movie’s being set
in 1970s Texas hill country (yet filmed in Louisiana because of preferable
tax breaks there).
“The key influence
on this movie was certainly Robert Altman,” Lowery told his Milwaukee
audience with a nod to the figure who helmed such movies as the
revisionist Western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller.” “Ain’t” also
owes to Michael Cimino’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” starring Clint
Eastwood, Lowery said. Both “McCabe” and “Thunderbolt” were
produced in the 1970s - a period of what Lowery called “impactful,
questioner lauded Lowery as “an amazing storyteller” and asked about
the source of that skill. “I credit my family, (in which) storytelling
was a big thing,” the filmmaker responded. In a house with no TV, “my
parents read me a story book every night before I went to bed.”
For his first major
feature film, Lowery said he “couldn’t have asked for a better
collaborator” than cinematographer Bradford Young. The two clicked so
well during the making of “Ain’t” that Young was able to “finish
my sentences” after a while, Lowery said.
“We really wanted
this to be a movie that had a strong mood to it,” he said; thus the use
of old lenses and fluorescent lighting. Lowery noted the story “starts
at sunset and gets darker and darker and darker as it goes on.” The
intention is for “the look of the film to reflect the characters” and
Rooney Mara was cast
because the filmmaker wanted a relative “unknown” for the female lead,
he said. The more familiar Casey Affleck was Lowery’s first choice for
the outlaw. “I love to hear him talk,” the writer-director explained
of the “tremendously talented” Affleck. Lowery spoke about the
onscreen chemistry between Affleck and Mara, who didn’t know each other
before working on “Ain’t.”
The filmmaker said he
wanted a “nice guy” to play the sheriff - and got one in Ben Foster.
Keith Carradine, an actor affiliated with the groundbreaking cinema of the
‘70s (including “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”), is also in the cast, as
is Lowery’s wife, Augustine Frizzell.
The movie was made at
a comparatively modest cost of about $3 million. Its title, a sentence he
mistakenly thought came from a certain folk song, is “idiomatic,
distinctly American,” Lowery said. The plot is uncluttered. Affleck and
Mara portray spouses who find themselves on the wrong side of a shootout
with lawmen. Mara’s Ruth shoots one of the cops; Affleck’s Bob takes
the rap and goes to prison, only to escape and attempt to return to Ruth
and also meet the daughter born during his incarceration. The film is 105
minutes long and the recipient of an R rating.
“I don’t play an
instrument,” Lowery said. But he wanted “to make a movie that felt
more like a song.” With its prevalent background music, camera work
clever enough to capture a cinematography award at the prestigious
Sundance Film Festival and a story line emblematic of American folklore,
“Ain’t” is David Lowery’s song.
nominated for the Sundance Grand Jury Prize; reviews of the movie, which
has played to the general public on both coasts and to patrons at a number
of film festivals (including the nonpareil festival at Cannes), have been
generally favorable; and no less a cinematic legend than Robert Redford
will be starring in Lowery’s next picture. A recently up-and-coming
director has now, apparently, arrived.
“I still don’t
quite know how it happened,” the Waukesha native said at the Oriental