Resident Video 2: A White Suit

Resident Video is a monthly series that provides exclusive access to short films from emerging artists. The second installment is Matt Spevack and Joey Fishman’s  A White Suit, a film about existence, isolation, and several gallons of juice.

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There’s a scene in A White Suit where two twenty-to-thirty-somethings are sharing a joint and playing an absurd game of “would you rather” in a quintessentially-suburban setting of clotheslines, plastic lawn chairs, and above-ground pools. When we’re first introduced to the nameless protagonist we’re unsure as to whether his contrasting youthful looks and apparent home-ownership are meant to suspend our disbelief (the character is played by Gabriel Lyons Loeb, the final third to filmmakers Spevack and Fishman’s Mothers Favorite Pictures collective), but this scene confirms suspicions that his role is that of the bored suburban teenager ten years down the road, having settled into a life of steady work and an extracurricular interest in infomercials. The film is full of nuances that feel too specific and irrelevant to be scripted, but too perfectly timed to be accidental: a grey-haired hippie jamming on an electric guitar in his driveway off a cul-de-sac, an Ace Hardware employee answering a phone to inform the caller that “Glen is no longer with them.” It seems like the film is paced according to external events typical of suburban life, rather than the doings of the film’s subject who is counting paint buckets in the periphery.

At the same time A White Suit presents a meaningful message about possibility. The title is synonymous with a blank canvas, or the translucent water in a pool, which stands out against the surrounding colorful paints and fruits. The anticlimactic nature of each scene reflects the whimsical nature of the film’s subject, who (literally) immerses himself entirely in a new hobby during a time of lonely vulnerability, likely a product of his physical and temporal setting. The result of the filmmakers’ efforts is undoubtedly sweet and poignant – even if we gulp it down without a second thought.

For more info on the filmmakers check out Matt, Joey, and Gabriel‘s respective websites, and to learn more about capturing reality on film, the distinction between “slow” and “boring” movies, and their (fewer than) six degrees of separation from Yanni, read the interview below.

Many of the film’s nuances feel like they’re somewhere between scripted and improvised. Were your intentions for the film more narrative or documentarian of suburban Midwestern culture?

We tend to classify it as a fiction film, featuring real people in a real place. It’s a slow, experimental-narrative, but everything about it was conceived and organized prior to the shoot, even if it appears to be completely happenstantial. Generally the idea for each scene was structured but what happened during the filming is certainly more random and real. It’s about manipulating and adding to the existing world rather than fabricating a completely fictional one. And as you say, it also serves as a video document of the suburban Midwest. We were incredibly inspired by the general attitude of this place we ended up living in for four years.

Real people are incredibly complex, and it is very difficult to replicate that complexity by having someone perform as what they are not. The scenes in the film are constructed in the sense that we make Gabe fill a bathtub with juice, drive around eating a sandwich, drain the pool etc., but the way that he goes about these situations and interacts with the other people involved was intentionally out of our hands. We encouraged him to be himself.

Over and over again we would urge him not to act. We wanted Gabe to be Gabe no matter what we made him do on camera. Before shooting the evening juicing scenes we had him chug a beer and sprint around the house in order to loosen him up. There were also about 5 or 6 scenes, not in our original script, that we thought of and filmed spontaneously at random times throughout the shoot. Gabe wasn’t even aware we were rolling on that harmonica scene in the front yard. That’s the advantage of living and filming in the same house. We allowed Gabe to dress the set with us, make his own sandwiches, and patch his own pants. For the duration of the shoot there wasn’t much of a distinction between real Gabe and movie Gabe.

The dude you mention is named Peter Diggins and he is an incredibly talented guitarist who used to play in a band with the world-renowned “Yanni.” We met him at a Mexican restaurant in town and hung out a few times and eventually asked him to just jam in front of his house one morning. Initially we were thinking about using Peter as our protagonist but I don’t think he liked the idea of swimming in a pool of juice. Oh, and the Ace Hardware employee was totally real and completely unexpected and it’s one of our favorite little moments in the film – “Glen is no longer with us.”

Your depiction of obsession has strong positive implications, as well as negative. How healthy (or dangerous) is it to be this malleable to new interests?

Gabe is completely obsessed with this infomercial and subsequently with his juicer. The main idea there is that it’s kind of funny to think about all of the people in the world who are obsessed with some weird shit that nobody else in the world would ever care about or ever even know about. Gabe is just a normal Midwestern white guy with a normal suburban job but our movie chooses to voyeuristically celebritize him. It’s like picking the little Google Street View guy up off the map and bringing him into the spotlight.

A classic philosophical conflict for many people is determining what we want to do and what is worth doing. It is exciting to see someone so inspired, so sure of their purpose, even if the reasons behind that purpose are unclear from an outside perspective. The main question that we are asking is whether or not the desire to fill a pool with juice is more or less valuable than any other meaningless endeavor. Or is Gabe’s singular pride and sense of accomplishment and flat out joy meaning enough? The obsession drifts back and forth across that line between healthy and unhealthy – it’s up to the viewer to determine which side of the scale it ends up on. The ending is hopefully ambiguous.

What correlation – if any – do you draw between obsession and loneliness?

Obsession is both a way to deal with loneliness and an instigator of loneliness. Gabe’s obsession is endearing to a point, but the further he takes it the lonelier he appears.

We have always been fascinated with loneliness as a concept in film. Somehow the act of watching a movie is a really positively lonely experience (dark room, no talking, private thoughts, personal reactions) and thus film is a perfect medium to investigate loneliness. A lonely protagonist is also able to develop into a much more complex role with all the attention on his behavior/emotions and less distractions from big action and intrusive dialogue.

Our sense with Gabe is that he may live in a large house alone with his juicer and his rituals but he’s a perfectly smart and nice guy to the rest of the world. We didn’t want to fabricate some sort of social weirdo that only exists in the movies but rather wanted to highlight some private weirdness in an effort to encourage and embrace weirdness. In Gabe’s few human interactions he’s quite normal and easy to talk to but it’s when he’s alone that he lets loose and opens up to the viewer in a more special, exciting, and intimate way. This is also how we feel about a place like Northfield, Minnesota – perfectly pleasant and nice and standard, but kind of peculiar when you get to know her.

Your film boasts a wide range of influence from existentialism to mumblecore. Can you talk about what inspired it?

The films that interest us the most are deliberately slow, character based, have a feeling of surrealistic realism, and largely do away with the narrative form. They straddle the line between fiction and reality. Specific directors that are inspiring both stylistically and in their content are Harmony Korine, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Giorgos Lanthimos, Tsai Ming Liang, Abbas Kiarostami, the Safdie Brothers, and Lucrecia Martel, and the Dogme 95 movement. These directors engage with the aforementioned styles and themes, working outside of the Hollywood structure to create innovative and daring new work.

One of our main inspirations was a growing disdain for actors acting. All of the dialogue was either completely improvised or just barely guided by us. The “would you rathers” during the pool draining scene succeeds most in the genuineness of Gabe and Paul’s responses. They didn’t know what questions were going to be asked and we just expected they’d give satisfactory answers. Luckily for the the filmmakers, they had wonderful responses.

We were quite interested in making a film that everyone would have a different reaction to. The film allows the viewer to come away with a lot of questions, new thoughts, and emotions and none are right or wrong or good or bad…but definitely the more you react the better. There’s a really fine line between a boring movie that is bad and a great movie that is slow. Our final edit was remarkably similar to our initial outline/script because we were very conscious about how easy it could be to make a boring film. And because of the improvised nature of the scenes there were rarely more than 2 or 3 takes of each shot/scene.

If you don’t mind we’d like to answer one last question that a lot of people ask us.

Did you really fill the pool with juice?

Yes, it took 500,000 apples, but we did it.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Resident Video series. While the films are no longer available, the interviews remain. Forever.

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