The purpose of looking

Bingham Bryant on Poe, Proust, ghosts and For The Plasma.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Bingham Bryant:
Bingham Bryant: "The intimations of ghosts - that was a strange self-fulfilling prophecy." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Matías Piñeiro, Jean-Luc Godard, Shakespeare, Hermia & Helena, Kobo Abe, Edgar Allan Poe, Marcel Proust, David Lynch's Mulholland Drive, the Brothers Grimm, plus Jake Perlin, Andrew Adair, and Tyler Brodie of the Cinema Conservancy haunted my conversation with For The Plasma writer/co-director Bingham Bryant.

Helen (Rosalie Lowe) monitors forest fires while living in a house in Maine and invites her acquaintance Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux) to keep her company and be her assistant. Deadpan Mainer lighthouse keeper Herbert (Tom Lloyd), a dead bat, four living crabs, a couple of Japanese businessmen (Ryohei Hoshi and James Han), and a few phone calls pop up to structure the narrative flow in Bryant and Kyle Molzan's Poe-tic For The Plasma.

"It is very tale-like because it creates just a suspension because of the loop."

While doing her job, Helen discovers that if she changes the "purpose of looking" at things, she is able to predict movements on the financial market. Not knowing who she works for, nor who is sending her regular cheques for substantial amounts of money, she seems intent to bond with Charlie and maybe train her in this mysterious endeavour.

The two women soon meet with communication barriers. Charlie doesn't know what she is supposed to do, while Helen is frustrated explaining. We start out with a Godard encounter.

Anne-Katrin Titze: I saw your interview with Matías Piñeiro. How do you know each other?

Bingham Bryant: Matías and I had been introduced briefly by a mutual friend. But then we kept on finding ourselves waiting in the same line for Godard films during the retrospective at Film Society [of Lincoln Center] a few years back. We would use each other to cut further ahead in line and then talk about Godard and film in general and we became close friends that way. And now we help each other out a little bit. Kyle [Molzan] actually has the larger role, but we're both in Matías's new film, Hermia & Helena, which will be in Locarno this year.

Helen (Rosalie Lowe) Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux):
Helen (Rosalie Lowe) Charlie (Anabelle LeMieux): "It references an outer world but also that is the General Store that they go to."

AKT: You have a different approach - he takes Shakespeare, you write your own script - but there is the link of literature. You mentioned more of an influence of literature and music than films?

BB: More that I don't feel the need to incorporate references from other films. It seems more natural to me for there to be references to other art forms.

AKT: Do you have direct quotes?

BB: Yes, there are snatches of dialogue that are direct quotes from Poe, from Proust. There is, of course, the episode with the [clock] bug, which is from the Abe novel [Kobo Abe's The Ark Sakura]. There are other things taken from obscure Japanese pop songs from the Eighties.

AKT: Poe finds his way in where?

BB: One of the telephone conversations. Rosalie says a line that I'm pretty sure is from the Narrative of Pym. [The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket].

AKT: You have some lines in For the Plasma that I found quite fetching. Especially the use of "could". The first time, said by Charlie: " I'd be glad to learn. How about if I could?" Then Herbert later on says: "Could have to wait till morning."

To the lighthouse:
To the lighthouse: "I grew up a lot in Portland, Maine and in Port Clyde."

BB: Yeah, we were trying to give him a certain abrupt rhythm that you find in a particular Mainer kind of speaking.

AKT: That's what I thought - could the could be Maine?

BB: Yes, it could certainly be Maine. It isn't quite Maine because though he [Tom Lloyd] is from there to a large extent, he doesn't actually have the accent. He was putting it on, quite badly sometimes. It's a weird mix of him and Mainer and we also tried to give him a more literary tone and have him seem more of a fictional character than the girls. One of the fictions that is intruding on the reality of the situation.

AKT: He was the only one, I felt, could have wandered in from David Lynch land.

BB: Certainly David Lynch crafts his strangeness very precisely and nothing is given up to chance. This is a little different because we're just creating a space for strange things to enter the film. Lynch doesn't use that many non-actors.

AKT: I was thinking of someone very specific - Monty Montgomery - The Cowboy in Mulholland Drive, who is a non-professional actor. I was not suggesting Lynch in general. Are you familiar with a fairy tale called The Devil With The Three Golden Hairs?

Helen and Charlie:
Helen and Charlie: "Their costumes were put together out of the mix of their clothing and ours, really."

BB: No, I don't think so.

AKT: The ending of your film reminded me of the ferryman in this tale, collected by the Brothers Grimm. It is about someone taking someone else's place. I thought you might have taken it from there.

BB: Ah! No, but the ending does have the circularity which is very artificial in some ways. It is very tale-like because it creates just a suspension because of the loop. It further divorces that place from a particular designated time and place in reality.

AKT: Maine is your link?

BB: That is mine. I grew up a lot in Portland, Maine and in Port Clyde. I knew Port Clyde, where we shot the film, extremely well and wrote the whole script around the locations that we knew there.

AKT: Which makes it also very personal. I am sure a bat flew at a door during the night when you were growing up. At least that is how those scenes felt.

BB: That particular scene actually … The intimations of ghosts - that was a strange self-fulfilling prophecy. That scene was already in the script, the tantalising suggestion of something else being in the house with them. There actually turned out to be a ghost who bothered several members of the crew.

Charlie: "They're not cut off. That's another cyber element of the movie."

AKT: You were all staying in that house, the Porter House?

BB: Yes, the Porter House.

AKT: So your dedication at the end to the Porter House and its inhabitants includes the ghost?

BB: Oh, yes. You learn in an allusive way a little bit about Porter, the important amateur astrologer who had lived in the house.

AKT: When?

BB: Turn of the century, early part of the century up until the Thirties. His second wife, I believe, was the one who was bothering us.

AKT: What is her name?

BB: I don't recall her name. But there is a painting of her in the film. In some ways the house is very intimately connected to my memories of my mother and her family. That dedication is for them.

AKT: Some of the ghosts might have come from the crabs. What's the story of the crabs?

BB: It's a film where we try to give you a sense that you know the space, where you have a complete understanding of where you are at any moment and then a door will open and something else will be revealed. Or a bag opens and you find some crabs inside you weren't expecting to see in a film or to see in that space. They had a larger role but they were not very cooperative. So they'd been relegated to a cameo.

Hermia & Helena director Matías Piñeiro:
Hermia & Helena director Matías Piñeiro: "… we kept on finding ourselves waiting in the same line for Godard films" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Tell me about the costumes. The two girls seem to have an endless supply of clothes. Much more than would fit in the bag Charlie arrives with. Is this another instance where logic flies out of the window? What were you telling us about them with what they're wearing?

BB: Their [Charlie and Helen] costumes were put together out of the mix of their clothing and ours, really. They were wearing a lot of our clothes as well, Kyle and mine. The result is something that was meant to make sense in the larger esthetic of the film in that place. You say it might be a break with realism for them to have such endless closet space…

AKT: They never repeat outfits!

BB: No they don't. There is a throwaway line where Anabelle compliments Rosalie's shirt and she says "eBay". We wanted the sense that even though they were completely remote, they were cut off - they do have an endless supply through eBay and they can get anything they need, anything they want, whether it be clothes, information. They're not cut off. That's another cyber element of the movie.

AKT: We never really know how close any neighbors are and how isolated the house is. Was proximity a theme you wanted to explore?

BB: Yeah. There are roads, there are cars, there are telephone lines in the film. There are other houses. But the feeling of remoteness that you get comes with that place as well.

For the Plasma US poster
For the Plasma US poster

AKT: During a scene by the lighthouse in front of the beautiful white house Helen wears a yellow T-shirt from the Port Clyde General Store. Was that one of yours?

BB: No, that was found in the house. It references an outer world but also that is the General Store that they go to.

AKT: Your new film is called Arnheim. As in Rudolf?

BB: No. It's funny. It's a working title and I did not realize that so many people would associate it with Rudolf. Arnheim in this case is actually a reference to another Poe story, called The Domain of Arnheim. The project is taking the Poe story as a launching point maybe in a way that is more similar to what Matías does with Shakespeare as opposed to the collage elements we've had in Plasma. It's a Poe story that I had been thinking about since before Plasma and that probably influenced it as well. He is using narrative to sculptural ends. it is creating a space and a physical reality which you're then intellectually, mentally, emotionally exploring - but in a way that is no longer totally linear and causal. But's also a ghost story, which the Poe is not.

AKT: Ghosts and Poe come back.

BB: Yeah, but he doesn't have that many ghost stories. I wish he had more.

AKT: The Proust quote you mentioned, where is that hidden?

BB: That is near the end of the film, they're sitting on the back porch and Rosalie says something to Anabelle which I think is from The Captive [from À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu: La Prisonnière].

AKT: When did your executive producers enter the picture?

BB: We had a film in the can. And the cans in our fridges and thought it would be very easy to find someone to help us finish the film - get it developed, transferred, as the hard part is over. And that did not turn out to be the case. It took a little bit over a year to find a production company that would help us raise that funding. That was Artists Public Domain, which is now recently changed into a new form. It's called Cinema Conservancy and they were very very helpful at that point.

AKT: Are they involved in your new project?

BB: No, production is something they were testing the waters with. They still are. It's not the main mode of operation. It may become so in the future. There is definitely a dearth of small production companies in New York that make films at this scale. It's usually some version of self-funding at this point which is a problematic situation, I think. Trying to find ways to break out of that.

Coming up - Co-director Kyle Molzan on For The Plasma and more.

For The Plasma opens in the US on July 21.

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