Ah, Hollywood. The land where movies have generated false hope and presented us with an idealised version of life. Sadly there isn’t always a happy ending. John Cusack will not appear beneath your bedroom window blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” and it doesn’t always end with a kiss or a happy ever after.
Alex Ross Perry wanted to make a film that portrayed New York as he saw it, “a highly competitive and anxiety inducing city”. His lastest film, Listen Up Philip “is a summation of all I’ve observed, lived through, laughed at, narrowly avoided and absently longed for during my time in New York. The characters are unfailingly honest to a fault and there are no easy answers or simple solutions”, he says.
This idiosyncratic comedy follows the angry Philip (Jason Schwartzman) as he awaits the publication of his second novel which is destined to be a success. Feeling suffocated in crowded New York and having problems with his girlfriend Ashley, he retreats to his idol Ike Zimmerman’s home for the summer. Philip finally has time to focus on his favourite person; himself.
Writer and director of the film, Perry injects his own personality into the main characters, Philip, his girlfriend Ashley (Elizabeth Moss) and his idol Ike (Jonathan Pryce). “By splitting certain debates I often have with myself into [them] and allowing them to sort of engage in dialogue with one another,” is how he solves the questions surrounding the central ideas for the film.
His journey to cinematic direction was inspired by major 90s independent films like ‘Clerks’ and ‘El Mariachi’, “the sort of low budget movies that make you say that you could do this as well.” His films are inspired by his life, to paraphrase Jonathan Franzen, he says “about 15 minutes [of a film] are things that literally happened..and everything else is a fictionalised version”.
On a side note, if Perry could grow anything in the world, anything at all, it’d be avocados. “Because I like them a lot and they are not cheap”.
Unlike his previous features, Impolex (2009) and The Color Wheel (2011), Listen Up Philip received a larger budget, allowing greater control of the imaging. “Alex had me glued to the actors, moving through very tight spaces at times. It certainly brings an intensity and energy” says DP Sean Price Williams. This film style generates the feeling that the characters are trapped in the screen, echoing their entrapment in their problems and therefore providing a place where the characters have to reveal their emotions.
According to Perry most movies have a gimmick, and he found a shortcut to explain an entire relationship history and his gimmick in one; through a narrator. “The narration is used early and often, opening the film as well as closing it…it up-holds the film’s strong connection to the world of literature, both from literary influences as well as with regard to the professions of the characters.”
Listen Up Philip has now been released in selected cinemas.