This Friday we welcome Alexander Olch, director of WINDMILL MOVIE, the hauntingly beautiful portrait of filmmaker Richard Rogers. Alexander will be here on Friday and Saturday to do introductions and we’ll have a post screening discussion on Friday with Warren Etheridge of The Warren Report. In anticipation of Alexander’s arrival, I’m posting an interview with him that The Boston Globe did just last week.
As Alexander points out in the interview, the film is something of a unique hybrid of documentary and fiction, and I agree with him that the form the film takes is fascinating in itself. Its an autobiography, that isn’t. Told both with and without the author.
But there is something much more meaningful in this film. A tragic portrait of an artist. It is the artist consciousness spoken aloud. A witnessing of a life as it ages, matures, grows old, and dies. Sad and beautiful. Anyone who’s had a creative impulse in them will find the film utterly fascinating for its unadulterated expression of desire, artistic, sexual, and human. It is a film I love and I’m proud to share it with Seattle.
Here’s the interview from the Boston Globe:
Alexander Olch made “The Windmill Movie’’ about his late teacher Richard P. Rogers. (The Film Desk)
By Linda Matchan Globe Staff / July 17, 2009 Richard P. Rogers had made 18 films, taught film at Harvard, and spent 30 years struggling to make a documentary about his life when he died at 57 in 2001, leaving behind boxes of film and an unfinished project. His wife, Susan Meiselas, a photographer, commissioned Alexander Olch, a former student of her husband, to sift through the boxes and make a film out of what he found.
The result, 5 1/2 years later, is “The Windmill Movie,’’ an exploration and imagined re-creation of Rogers’s attempts and difficulties in telling his own story in film. It is narrated by Olch.
“This was a way for me to still make a film with him,’’ said Olch, 32, who lives in New York.
Q. How did you get to know Rogers?
A. I was a student in the film department at Harvard; he was my thesis adviser, which effectively meant he was my mentor. We grew up in adjacent buildings on 74th Street in Manhattan and immediately spotted each other as fast-talking New Yorkers stuck in Cambridge, and immediately had a quite strong friendship and bond. Now I’ve known him longer in watching his footage than I did in person.
Q. Is this a documentary or a feature?
A. That’s one of the things I find interesting about it. In the beginning of the movie, [Rogers] says it would be interesting to make a film that deals with the difference between documentaries and feature filmmaking. In some ways, this film addresses the question. One of the things that excited me about making this film is that it lives in this very strange zone that can’t really be called documentary or fiction. It’s something in between.
Q. How much stuff was there to go through?
A. I’d say about 300 hours of footage. In addition, our film archivist went through all the archives from all the films he ever made, so there were hundreds more. There were two kinds of boxes: the clean, neat, perfectly labeled ones with items delivered to PBS and broadcast channels for documentaries he made, and the messier, dustier more crumpled boxes that contained these other pieces of footage that were unfinished and were by and large personal and by and large fascinating.
Q. Was it daunting?
A. Yes. That’s an understatement. The footage in the film goes from the early 1970s through two weeks before he died. There was also footage his father shot in the 1930s and ’40s.
Q. Did it feel like a jigsaw puzzle?
A. In a sense it was a jigsaw puzzle, but there was no picture. It was really many, many times more complicated than a traditional filmmaking problem. Even just to construct little blocks of moments that would constitute scenes was an effort, let alone decide what the narrative thrust would be. To me, what was interesting about this project was that it was such a difficult and impossible problem to unravel, and there really was no obvious solution. The center of the film was missing. In some way, Dick’s character needed to be enlarged. But he left no notes and was unavailable for more shooting.
Q. Did you have any idea that he struggled so much with this film?
A. No. The only time he ever told me about the film was in the summer of 2000. He was already sick. I came to his studio and on his editing computer there was a shot of a house in the Hamptons. I asked him what it was, and he said it was the only film he’d ever abandoned, and he was trying to finish it. He turned the monitor off and that was it. I later realized he wasn’t being protective or private but in a weird way the question I’d asked him cut to the center of the filmmaking problem. All the landscape material he was shooting was not the central character in the film. There were no central characters. The movie was him. In many ways he was dodging the obvious problem, that he was the center of the film and the landscapes don’t mean anything unless there is a character named Richard Rogers in it.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I’m hopefully going on to a fiction project made up from scratch.
Q. Is it true that you’re also in the men’s clothing business?
A. My men’s accessories business started out as a souvenir [necktie] I designed for the crew who worked on my thesis film in college, “Artemin Goldberg: Custom Tailor of Brassieres.’’ It was about a tailor who lived in New York. My friends from Harvard, who were graduating to jobs in New York where they had to wear ties every day, liked it and started buying it. The business just grew organically. It’s done quite well, sold in Bergdorf Goodman and many of the best stores around the world.
Thankfully, it’s one of the reasons I was able to work on this film for so many years. As the film opened at Film Forum in New York on June 17 we were shipping the new spring 2010 collection to our showroom in Paris.