Caveh Zahedi: "I think honesty is the most subversive thing you can do in this world." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze
An episode spoofing Spike Jonze and Viceland with Emmy Harrington as "Slut Machine" from Caveh Zahedi's spine-chilling The Show About The Show was a highlight of this year's Tribeca Film Festival N.O.W. Showcase.
Person to Person director Dustin Guy Defa (in Matías Piñeiro's Hermia & Helena), Eléonore Hendricks (Peter Brunner's To the Night with Caleb Landry Jones), Alex Karpovsky (Jess Bond's Rosy with Stacy Martin), Kentucker Audley (Celia Rowlson-Hall's MA and Charles Poekel's Christmas, Again), Sam Stillman, editor Peter Rinaldi, Applesauce director Onur Tukel and his cinematographer Jason Banker, Amanda Field, and even IndieWire's Eric Kohn have been seduced by the creator to play themselves or others.
"I feel that way about all my films, not just this one. I think they're all a perfect expression of me."
In my conversation with Caveh Zahedi on his film The Show About The Show, assembled from episodes of his BRIC TV series of the same name, we touched on what he needs to feel loved, honesty and quality as being subversive, his upcoming Joseph Cornell project with Crispin Glover, not Richard Gere, and "the riddle of wondering."
Anne-Katrin Titze: In episode seven, shown in Tribeca, you say something like "the show is the perfect expression of me." Is that the persona or do you feel that way?
Caveh Zahedi: I feel that way.
AKT: I don't know of anyone who says that, who has found that.
CZ: I feel that way about all my films, not just this one. I think they're all a perfect expression of me.
AKT: How do you feel about certainty?
CZ: I'm against it.
AKT: You seem to be looking for it - at least in episode seven.
CZ: Certainty around whether my wife [Amanda Field] and I should stay together?
AKT: Certainty of anything! Something.
"Quality is also subversive because mediocrity is so rampant."
CZ: Yeah, I mean, I guess you're always looking for some kind of ground that you can stand on. But, I think, also as an artist you want to sort of pull the ground out from under yourself as much as possible.
AKT: And from your audience.
CZ: And the audience, yeah! I think there's a balance between certainty and uncertainty. Just like in a movie there's a balance between enigma and clarity, right? I think you need a certain amount of certainty to function. It's like a dialectic, I guess.
AKT: You have the following dialogue. Your wife says "I hate my life." And you say "I hate my life, too." I thought at that moment you were going for something archival, as in: This is what hating your life could look like in 2017? Am I on the right track?
CZ: Yeah, totally. I think life is full of joys and sorrows and some people focus more on the sorrows, others more on the joys. I focus more on the sorrows. I was just saying, I have a hard time finding joy in the conditions of life as I experience them. Not that one couldn't. People in much worse conditions seem to find joy.
AKT: Has there been a change for you over the years?
CZ: Maybe I get better at dealing with obstacles or frustration or rejection. But there's more of it. A child, you know, pricks their finger. When you're an adult you think, I just take a band-aid. But your wife doesn't love you - there's like a lot of other problems.
Dustin Guy Defa is The Show About The Show executive producer Aziz Isham
AKT: Where's the band-aid? In "Slut Machine"? I don't think that's the band-aid.
CZ: It feels like it could be a temporary band-aid.
AKT: Honesty is important for you?
CZ: I think there's a real lack of honesty in the world. It's almost become compulsive dishonesty. It's almost mandatory. It's almost like school is teaching you how to lie and repress your truth. I think honesty is the most subversive thing you can do in this world. That and quality. Quality is also subversive because mediocrity is so rampant. What I like about honesty is that you don't know where it's going. The future is up for grabs. It just seem to me important politically to be honest at most times.
AKT: I just re-read some of James Baldwin's writings and this sentence struck me. If you lie about the past you can't progress into the future. Sounds so simple.
CZ: I feel very strongly, I want to feel loved. And I can't feel loved if I'm not being fully honest. On some level, it's just simple like that. I want the real thing.
AKT: But is that even possible? Maybe it is accepting that it's impossible to love you for who you are? I don't know if the honesty you are talking about really exists. As Lacan says, you can never love the other for who they are. It's never one to one.
CZ: The good thing about what you're saying is that if you really give up on being seen or known or loved for your true self, it's true that that releases a certain kind of…
Maurizio Cattelan's La Nona Ora: "Oh, if I was going to look like someone else?"
CZ: Stress? And sorrow.
AKT: You have a Joseph Cornell project?
CZ: I'm trying to make this film about Joseph Cornell, the artist. Richard Gere's agents liked the script and wanted me to consider Richard Gere for the role. I think he is a great actor but I just couldn't see him in that role. He just doesn't seem like Joseph Cornell to me and I said "No, thank you. I'm not interested."
AKT: But you haven't seen him in Joseph Cedar's Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall Of A New York Fixer yet!
CZ: Maybe then I'll change my mind? I have other cast attached right now. Crispin Glover is scheduled to play him at the moment.
AKT: What happened with the Spike Jonze connection? Is there any update?
CZ: No. The Vice thing is over.
AKT: The Viceland meeting was all cast?
CZ: Yeah, that was all cast. Two of them were my students.
AKT: It felt perfectly absurd, Viceland, Disneyland, I don't know what land. Is there a way you would like audiences to approach the question whether what you show is real or not?
The Show About The Show US poster
CZ: I think most people assume that things are not real. I'm always just saying, it's all real. I mean, the people playing the parts are not always the actual people. But half of the time they are.
AKT: But which half?
CZ: I think people enjoy the riddle of wondering. Like Eléonore's [Hendricks] boyfriend [Sam Stillman]. That's the real boyfriend.
AKT: Is it always necessity if you cast someone else?
CZ: Yeah, it's almost always necessity.
AKT: I interviewed Maura Axelrod, the director of the new Maurizio Cattelan documentary recently. Are you familiar with his work?
CZ: No, I'm not.
AKT: You may have seen his Pope hit by a meteorite [La Nona Ora]. He had a big exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Anyway, I'm bringing this up because for years, he had someone else impersonate him in interviews and public appearances. So before you showed up, I wondered…
CZ: Oh, if I was going to look like someone else?
AKT: Yes. That maybe, that guy in the show wasn't you.
CZ: In other films I've made about my life I've tried to cast other people - mainly to raise money. Like famous actors. But it never worked out.
Season two of The Show About The Show is being shot now.