Kathryn Worth as Anna with Tom Hiddleston as Oakley in Unrelated: "What she really wants is to be part of a group."
When I met up with Joanna Hogg in New York at the Film Society of Lincoln Center she was preparing for the US theatrical release of her latest film Exhibition, starring Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick with cameos from members of her Unrelated cast, Tom Hiddleston, Mary Roscoe and Harry Kershaw. Hiddleston also stars in her second film Archipelago with Lydia Leonard, Kate Fahy, Amy Lloyd and Christopher Baker.
Joanna was selected in 2013 to have her films screened in the Emerging Artists program along with Fernando Eimbcke at the 51st New York Film Festival.
In part 1 of our conversation we discussed D and H as not in DH Lawrence, Stéphane Collonge's production design, turning absence into a character, how to begin and what an arranged marriage means to her and Viv Albertine in Exhibition.
Joanna Hogg on casting Viv Albertine and Liam Gillick for Exhibition: "I'd been looking for my couple for months and months." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
Anne-Katrin Titze: Your three films Unrelated, Archipelago and Exhibition all have theatrical releases in New York now at the same time.
Joanna Hogg: They're coming out like they're new films. They are new films here.
AKT: Audiences will see them...
JH: As new.
AKT: And in a different order.
JH: Yes. In fact they're releasing the most recent one first. People will be seeing them upside down. But maybe that's good.
AKT: So lets start with yesterday. I received Viv Albertine's new book CLOTHES CLOTHES CLOTHES MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC BOYS BOYS BOYS [Faber & Faber Ltd] yesterday sent from London. Meeting you today, of course, I looked at the chapters [Side Two - tracks 33 and 34] on Exhibition. I liked the sentence where she says "this is what an arranged marriage must feel like." Can you tell me about your experiences putting this "arranged marriage" out there on film?
JH: Yes. If it was an arranged marriage it was a very fast one because they only met three days before the shoot began. So it happened very quickly. I'd been looking for my couple for months and months because I thought if I'm making a film that has just two characters, maybe three characters with the house, these two should meet soon while I'm almost still writing the film. So it gives them a chance to get to know each other and the house before we start filming. I imagined I would cast them months before. It seemed to make sense because I don't do any rehearsal before the filming. Then I kept meeting people. I met actors, I met dancers, I met performance artists, and no one seemed right. No one excited me.
AKT: For either role?
Viv Albertine as D in Exhibition: "Becoming invisible in the house or becoming part of the house itself."
JH: For either H or D, the husband or the wife. It was getting very very worrying for everybody, particularly the producer. We were getting so close to the shoot. There was a question whether we'd have to delay the start date. I go into a sort of trance when I'm casting. On some level I believe I will find the right people and find them on time. So I'm in that strange trance like state, possibly just a way of divorcing myself from reality and dealing with the stress. Everything around is getting more chaotic. My production designer [Stéphane Collonge], who is also the costume designer, needs to have bodies to make costumes. We were then ten days away from the beginning of the shoot - still no sign of husband or wife.
AKT: They were already called D and H. As in DH Lawrence?
JH: Ah, that made you think of DH Lawrence?
AKT: Of your films, this is the one most exploring sexuality. I thought perhaps this is why of all the possible initials you chose those two.
JH: I never heard that before. I love DH Lawrence and I have been reading his poetry recently. But I wasn't thinking that. From the moment I started writing them, I was calling them D and H. I thought they were going to be my code names that I would then change and create proper names for them. But I experienced a resistance to that.
AKT: People in your films like to call each other by initials. V, for example.
JH: Yes, that's true. In Unrelated. She has a name, Verena [Mary Roscoe]. When I'm writing in my notebook, it's much quicker. Also, with D and H I experienced a resistance turning them into, for example Deborah and Harry. I felt it reduced them to some kind of archetype that I didn't want.
AKT: I interrupted you. You spoke about the casting.
H and D, Liam Gillick and Viv Albertine: "I cast them so that the only way they could get to know each other was in the story."
JH: Out of desperation I called Viv [Albertine] to ask her advice. I thought she might know somebody or have some ideas for who I should cast. This was why I called her and she came up with some interesting ideas. I put the phone down and then my husband said "What about Viv herself?" It hadn't occurred to me. As soon as he said that, I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do. I asked her and she agreed, obviously.
AKT: You said you wanted the couple to get to know each other before the shoot and ended up with the opposite. With many of the relationships you show in all three of your films, the people who are supposed to be closest, the families, feel the most like strangers.
JH: Yes. Yes, I think it fitted D and H very well in the end that I cast them so that the only way they could get to know each other was in the story.
AKT: Over the phone in the same house. I saw this also as a departure from your more Ozu-like use of the phone in the previous films. In both, very important characters, never appear on screen. All we know is the reaction to their absence. In Exhibition, someone is actually there.
JH: That's true. In Archipelago it had the absent husband and father and then in Unrelated I had the absent husband of Anna [Kathryn Worth] whom you never see in either case. H and D live in the same house, although they are on different levels, they are above each other. I wanted to have the interplay between them.
H - Liam Gillick in Exhibition: "H and D live in the same house, although they are on different levels."
AKT: In Unrelated you start out with a woman and her pull-suitcase on a country road somewhere in the middle of the night. No one picked her up. Did you know this would be your starting point?
JH: Actually when I wrote it I had a different beginning. That opening took some time to find in the editing. Once found, it was completely the right thing to start the film with. It's rather like the casting - the couple could never have been anyone other than Liam and Viv. For Unrelated it was perfect - the sound of the suitcase on the gravel and this lonely woman arriving already feeling alienated by this group.
AKT: The un-relatedness is right there.
JH: One is always trying to find that. The essence of the film [Unrelated] being right up front at the beginning.
AKT: I loved the placement of the line "I wanted to be alone for a bit," while the chaos of the family is raging out there with drinking and loudness. She is the opposite of alone.
On Exhibition, Viv Albertine in her new book: "I make a pact with myself to commit to the challenge ahead and give it everything I've got, I'll deal with the consequences later."
JH: What she really wants is to be part of a group. To be welcomed and to feel like she is related to particularly this group of young people.
AKT: You mentioned Stéphane Collonge, your production and costume designer. The first thing about the costumes in Exhibition that came to my mind was caterpillar. Placed under the blinds. She is wearing stripes, stripes, stripes. She has more different tops with stripes than any other woman in cinema history.
JH: Stripes until a certain point when she gains more confidence and she separates from the house. Then she is less stripe-y.
AKT: That's her prison outfit?
JH: Becoming invisible in the house or becoming part of the house itself.
In part 2, clothes, clothes, clothes - hunting and fishing - A Nos Amours - Stromboli, Charade, Donkey Skin, Chantal Akerman and more…
Exhibition opens theatrically in New York on Friday, June 20 for a two-week exclusive run at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. The filmmaker will be in-person at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center for the opening weekend. Followed by Unrelated and Archipelago from June 27 - July 3, 2014.