From early films like The Unbelievable Truth to Henry Fool to his latest Girl From Monday (an official 2005 Sundance selection) Hal Hartley has imposed his own unique vision on filmmaking. Besides his oddly skewed dialogue and particular casting choices (this film features Sabrina Lloyd now a regular on the TV drama Numbers) he has handled everything from writing, directing, editing and even composing the music for his films. If anyone is the model for the D.I.Y. ethic, it’s this 45-year-old New Yorker.
The L Magazine: How did the idea for Girl From Monday come about?
Hal Hartley: I didn’t have to make much up. I just write about how it feels to live in the world we live in. These aspects of society — advertising, insurance, consumerism, medication — really constitute our culture now. I used to say we have no culture anymore; we [just] have advertising.
The L: How did you decide to make a film that’s such an unusual take on the sci-fi genre?
HH: It’s not really a sci-fi film. It’s more like an essay on some aspects of life as we live it these days delivered as if it were a sci-fi movie. It helped keep the movie funny enough. I try to make films about how the world feels to me. I don’t feel that different from most other people, so I suspect they’ll relate. But thinking about insurance, and advertising, and consumer culture just a little too much made real life seem a little like science fiction.
The L: You took a unique approach to making this film working digitally.
HH: I’m still trying to find what it is digital video does well. It doesn’t do what 35 mm film does, at least, not yet. But it does some other things okay — this streaky effect, for instance. And being able to so quickly and easily freeze a frame and maybe drain the color out of it. It feels more like designing a magazine layout than making movies. When I make motion picture images I feel I’m looking out into the world. With video I feel I make images of the obstacles that prevent us from seeing further. Video is good with objects, reflections, distortion.
The L: One thing that makes your films unique is the dialogue — it often reflects the alienation of your characters — how do you write it and work out your oddly skewed dialogue?
HH: I often write dialogue to imitate the way we think. We often think in an oblique way. More than one thing at a time. We sidetrack. Thinking to ourselves, we don’t need to obey the same rules we obey when we’re talking to one another. On the other hand, sometimes its hilarious to just have characters say exactly what they mean, something we often don’t do in real life.
The L: You have a great sense of casting; what was behind your choices?
HH: Bill Sage and I have worked together over the years, and we first discussed this script in 1999. I enjoy his expression of fatigue and confusion which is different from in Simple Men (1992) when he was naive and curious. Sabrina Lloyd has always intrigued me with her beauty, her focus, and her concentration and how she can use these to be funny. I use irony a lot — characters say things which we, the audience, understand as something entirely the opposite of what the character means. Sabrina is great at this. I first saw Tatiana Abracos in a Miho-Miho fashion show. The script was already written and I had already decided a model would be best as the alien. I was producing a video of this fashion show Tatiana was in and when she showed up on one of my monitors I thought, this is her.
The L: You are decidedly “un-Hollywood”; explain your stance regarding Hollywood.
HH: I don’t maintain a stance against Hollywood. I have just always insisted that there can be more than one movie business. Not all movies need to be defined in relation to whatever it is people mean by “Hollywood.” I don’t even know what is really meant anymore by “Hollywood.” It’s like the word “indie” — it’s been used to describe so many things its become meaningless. I work the way I work probably because of my personality. I like making a lot of work without a lot of fanfare. And I like to experiment. So, I know my films can’t be terribly popular.