In my work I try to combine pure cinema with authentic experience. When I say authentic experience, I mean that I try to directly translate my experience of living in the world into form. My specific concerns are with the lived day-to-day experience of the female. Years ago when I was first starting out as a filmmaker, I became interested in trying to create a cinema based on visual pleasure for women.
In the interest of pure cinema or “proper art” (which James Joyce defines as art which elicits a state of aesthetic arrest), I try to control everything that goes into the film frame. Thus in my work I am trying to do something most unusual: to create “proper” art films masquerading as popular films. So while I am quoting genres, I am using them not as pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.
Bio, Anna Biller
Anna Biller is an artist and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. She has completed a number of films, including the feature '70s sexploitation film Viva and the acclaimed horror-western short A Visit from the Incubus, as well as several full-length stage musicals.
Her work has shown at numerous film festivals and art spaces around the world, including the Rotterdam and Moscow Film Festivals, and has been favorably reviewed in many prestigious publications. She is known for her use of film genres, humor, the burlesque, and visual excess to talk about female roles within culture, and for her colorful stylized sets and costumes, which she creates herself. She has a BA in art from UCLA and an MFA in art and film from CalArts.
Q & A with Anna Biller
Q: So why did you decide to make VIVA?
A: I wanted to do a realistic story about a woman who's a scapegoat of the sexual revolution, who endures everything in the name of being liberated. She's just going with the flow, and it's such a dangerous and demonic world of predators out there, and she's completely unprotected. I thought it was very funny and also a very real kind of story.
Q: You say you wanted to make a realistic film, but your film is very stylized.
A: It's true, it's very stylized visually, but very realistic psychologically. I care a lot about story, but I like to tell the story more through images, and not so much words. A lot of the scenarios in VIVA are taken from my own experience, and from stories I've heard from other women about their experiences with men. I noticed that a lot of the '60s exploitation films were about women undergoing sexual trials, and although they were created for the prurient viewing pleasure of men, they are stories about women and what women go through. So the genre really interested me because of that.
Q: What was your strategy in creating a look for VIVA?
A: I looked through a bunch of decorating books and magazines, some vintage Playboy magazines, and some late '60s films, and the visual world was just so rich and so consistent and so effective. The time was so much about color, and the film uses color in a very strong way.
Q: What were your greatest sources of inspiration while making VIVA?
A: The vintage Playboys were a strong reference. I would tear out pages and stare at them, and just absorb the atmosphere in them and daydream and then write scenes based on what I imagined was going on in the different ads and cartoons. I found that I had a very strong reaction when I started going through the Playboys. Revulsion, but also fascination. That material is very lurid, and also very visual. And certain films were very important too, mostly Suburban Roulette, The Alley Cats, Camille 2000, Frenzy, Belle de Jour, and Cool it Carol. They really set the tone for the film.
Q: How did you get such an incredible look for your film with your budget?
A: I spent a lot of time. Months and months making costumes, collecting objects from the Salvation Army, doing little pieces of macramé. I made the film much like a gallery artist makes work, and each new set was like building a new installation. We had 34 sets and I wore 34 costumes in the film, plus we had about 150 actors, which should give you a sense of why I call it an epic, but it was all possible because of spending a couple of years doing one scene at a time, on weekends spread far apart.
Q: You have a lot of nudity in the film, and you yourself do some nude scenes. Was that a hard decision to make?
A: Absolutely! But to not do it would really have been being unauthentic and disappointing my audience, because I was doing the sexploitation genre. I've always been terrified of nudity, so in a way I was facing my own worst fears. But it gives the film a super-charge, to have the director taking those kinds of risks. And it's part of what makes the film so unique.
Q: So, what's next?
A: I'm working on a film caled THE LOVE WITCH. It's about a woman who uses witchcraft to get love into her life. It's an exploration of the horror of female love when it's allowed to exist in its full expression. It will involve a woman who's studying witchcraft, a hunky police officer, fairy princess and unicorn fantasies, sexual perversion, male emotional pain, feminist witch sabbaths, and a burlesque club.