Rose petal dreams

Celia Rowlson-Hall on MA and 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Celia Rowlson-Hall loves Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrea Arnold and Roy Andersson
Celia Rowlson-Hall loves Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrea Arnold and Roy Andersson Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At MoMA PS1 inside the VW Dome, in conjunction with the Tribeca Film Festival on April 15, 2015, Celia Rowlson-Hall presented an advance preview of MA, followed by a conversation with Shirin Neshat. In 2013, I spoke with Artistic Director Frédéric Boyer at Michelangelo Frammartino's breathtaking cinematic installation Alberi at PS1.

10 Crosby Fragrance & Film at the Angelika Film Center
10 Crosby Fragrance & Film at the Angelika Film Center Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

During Derek Lam's 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film cocktail party, hosted by #Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of Supermarché, I talked with Celia Rowlson-Hall, director of Silent St (Paul Lazar, Hailey Gates, Anthony Ramos, Jennifer Westfeldt, Aya Cash), Afloat (Jason Kittleberger, Xavier) and Looking Glass (Rowlson-Hall, Kittleberger) and actor in Andrew Zuchero's Something Wild, about working with Rightor Doyle, rose petals, surroundings and location.

Silent St is a doorman's (Paul Lazar also seen in Bong Joon-ho's science fiction thriller Snowpiercer with John Hurt and Tilda Swinton and Michael Almereyda's Experimenter) take on Hans Christian Andersen's Little Match Girl. Counting the days of humiliation by rude, rich guests, such as the one played by Jennifer Westfeldt, he rents a room in what appears to be the Crosby Street Hotel and turns it into a feathery wish fulfillment that unites him with a loved one.

In Afloat, two men (Jason Kittleberger and Xavier) whom we encounter sitting next to each other on the subway, go on the town in upwards and downwards movement. The dancers crawl and climb on stairs and fire escapes, see the ocean and a bridge from a rooftop as they explore New York City and what is on their minds.

Celia Rowlson-Hall in MA
Celia Rowlson-Hall in MA

The man played by Kittleberger returns in Looking Glass, where we see him looking up at night at a woman seen at her apartment window on Crosby Street. Inside, she (Rowlson-Hall) embarks on a journey of rebirth after drinking rosewater. That is, the filthy kind that is left in the vase when the flowers have wilted. And lo and behold, despite the pain of a breakup, there is earth beneath the carpet and a rose hedge to grow indoors, if only you let it.

This most poetically inventive Looking Glass finds continuation in Andrew Zuchero's Something Wild, where Celia's flower girl leaves the apartment with bags of rose petals. As she embraces her newly found freedom, so do the petals as they float into the air. If you go to Crosby Street, you might still smell them.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Tell me about the films you directed for this project! You are also acting in some of them?

Celia Rowlson-Hall: Basically, I'm a filmmaker and a choreographer. I worked as a choreographer for Henry [Joost] and Rel [Ariel Schulman] and their Supermarché. They brought me on very early in the project to create with Rightor Doyle these ten stories and it's very much centered around women.

Celia Rowlson-Hall's Looking Glass 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film at Sephora
Celia Rowlson-Hall's Looking Glass 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film at Sephora Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Women on Crosby Street?

CRH: Exactly. And so then Rightor, he wrote the ten films. And then they gave me three films to direct. As a filmmaker, I'm also in a lot of my work and so they asked me to also be in the work. I perform in two films.

AKT: Not the ones you directed?

CRH: In one that I directed, the other I did not. And then I also choreographed two of the films in addition to that. So lots of weaving in and out of the projects.

AKT: What is the connection to Derek Lam? Do you like his clothes?

CRH: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

AKT: It's not what you're wearing tonight, is it?

CRH: No, this is my friend Ellen [van Dusen]. She has a line called Dusen Dusen. I live in Brooklyn and she is a Brooklyn designer. So I thought I would represent Brooklyn.

AKT: It looks great. Tell me about how the films you directed are related to the perfumes.

MA previewed at MoMA PS1 VW Dome - Tribeca Film Festival
MA previewed at MoMA PS1 VW Dome - Tribeca Film Festival

CRH: This is what's very awesome and cool about this project - they truly are short films. You'll never once see perfumes in a shot. They really are not commercials. All the films are very emotional. We thought about surroundings and location. In the first one, Looking Glass, I open up a door and rose petals come out. We wanted the idea that scent filled the spaces but it wasn't necessarily perfume. That you felt the space to be tangible.

AKT: Which of the other films are directed by you?

CRH: Silent St and Afloat and Looking Glass are the three that I directed.

AKT: Do you have any favorite filmmakers?

CRH: Yes! I absolutely love Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek filmmaker, and I love Andrea Arnold. I love Roy Andersson. I like films with truly independent voices and styles. They create their own worlds that feel so only they could create that.

AKT: What was the last film you saw that you really liked?

CRH: I was just in Rotterdam this past weekend for my feature.

Celia Rowlson-Hall in Andrew Zuchero's Something Wild 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film
Celia Rowlson-Hall in Andrew Zuchero's Something Wild 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Talk about your feature!

CRH: Sure. My feature is very different than this. It's called MA and it premiered at Venice Film Festival in September and it is a feature-length film entirely without dialogue. It's about a virgin mother on a pilgrimage to Las Vegas to give birth to our savior. It's taking old mythology and biblical stories and putting them into present day times.

AKT: Sounds great. Does she develop stigmata?

CRH: No, but she has red cowboy boots and she wears an old motel towel over her head and this big old raggedy T-shirt.

AKT: Are you familiar with the tale by the Brothers Grimm called The Virgin Mary's Child?

CRH: No.

AKT: It has the structure of a Bluebeard tale.

CRH: That sounds amazing.

AKT: I am looking forward to seeing the rose petals now.

Read what Derek Lam and Henry Joost had to say at the cocktail party and special screening at the Angelika Film Center for Lam's 10 Crosby Fragrance & Film Collaboration.

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