Hannah Takes the Stairs
dir Joe Swanberg, 83 min.
Yesterday evening I wanted to go see the premiere of Hannah Takes the Stairs at the IFC Center and Rachel said she would go.
I waited in this bar on 4th Street. You can sit outside and there were these two girls talking to each other. I was inside, three feet away behind the glass.
This blonde girl, I don’t know if she thought it was like one-way glass or something, but she started staring at me through the glass. I pretended not to notice and kept doing what I was doing, which was scribbling in a notebook.
“Sundae (Got You on My Mind)” — The Ice Cream Floats (mp3)
“Gumdrop Tree” — The Ice Cream Floats (mp3)
Ice Cream Floats myspace. Tipper Newton and Joe Swanberg’s band; they play the main theme of the film.
“Transatlantic” — The Ice Cream Floats (mp3)
She kept staring for at least five minutes. (I checked after about thirty seconds.) Maybe she knew me from somewhere. It definitely wasn’t a come-on, I’m pretty sure she was a lesbian. She came inside and used the bathroom and stopped and stared at me for awhile then. And then Rachel came and the two girls left immediately, most likely because I explained what had happened and Rach swung her head around exaggeratedly to examine the girls in question.
Maybe my stalker was just concerned for me because I was kind of shaking back and forth while I was writing. Is it my fault that the merest portion of the song “Edge of Seventeen” entering my ears drives me into a frenzy? Maybe she thought I was insane. It’s not the first time that’s occurred. Once after two weeks of a writing workshop a girl came up to me and said, “You’re insane,” and walked away. I was like, “How’d you know?”
Still, what was she doing? Perhaps she did know me from somewhere. I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation.
Anyway Swanberg was here for the opening night, and so were the actors in the movie. They’re doing the same thing on Friday if you want to experience it for yourself, but I mean, you should probably read what I wrote about it first.
I want to be the funny one, and I’m never the funny one.
They all lived in this house in Chicago, and from how the actors were behaving towards each other afterwards, it sounds like the movie set was as fractious as the events of the movie themselves. They most likely did acid and did some things they regretted.
The movie’s about a young woman named Hannah. She has some dalliances with a couple guys, I think that is a safe thing to say. The first image of her in the film she is topless and that is par for the course. She’s an attractive girl, and her boyfriend, as I witnessed after the film while Rachel was in the bathroom for twenty minutes, is I think John Stamos’ little brother Wayne Stamos. I am kidding; he was an independent (indie) gentleman and he felt the need to tongue her in front of paying customers. It’s a beautiful thing.
They improvised the whole movie, but unlike Andrew Bujalski films, they kept the scenes short and the movie shorter. I like Bujalski, a lot, and this film shares a million similarities with his films, but he wants to make the The Deer Hunter of mumblecore and that’s not what Swanberg is going for. He wants an intimate look at people.
The movie was shot on DV in HD. Greta Gerwig, the film’s blonde main actress, starts out the movie as a true beauty, and ends it as a sad lost soul trying to find something in a bathtub. (The film begins in the bathroom as well.) Her interactions with multiple men aren’t what scatters her, it’s more the way in which she approaches affection, as if it could abandon her at any time, leaving her as lonely as she was before.
Of the men in the film, Bujalski was the best actor, but that may be because he’s a little different here than in his own movies, and it’s fun to watch. Having him be the dickish character was a masterstroke, and he’s amazing in his scenes with Greta, where you don’t know which one to be more creeped out by.
Emily at Gawker was funny about this:
“Oh my god, your blog’s gonna be a book!” shrieks Hanna upon hearing this news. Ha, as if. This scene made the movie seem at least two years old. Anyway, maybe he’s really ignoring Hannah because she’s fucking annoying? There’s nothing worse than when actresses try to convey “quirky and neurotic” by basically acting drunk or stoned all the time and trying to convey “incredibly naturalistic” by just taking forever to spit out a sentence. Here’s a tip, indie filmmakers: sometimes, in real life, people are quite articulate! Maybe write a movie about those type of people.
Swanberg said afterwards during the Q and A, and this was interesting, that they basically intended to make a movie about how one girl was changed by men, and ended up making a film where a person doesn’t change, but simply shows how a piece of what she wants in a man is reflected in the disparate others she does choose.
I thought that was well and good. With these movies, the craft isn’t the thing. The scenes are occasionally artful composed, as with the hilarious final image that I shall treasure for all time, but that’s not the point.
Swanberg interview at Rotten Tomatoes:
RT: Obviously, someone like John Cassavetes comes to mind, but who are other influences on what you guys do?
JS: For me, I get a lot of influence from Larry David, with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Ricky Gervais with The Office, you know, that kind of improvised comedy that’s deriving the humor from these awkward interactions and situations. I really have fun going off the script and seeing what happens when you put the actors in an awkward situation and force them to be their characters. Also, Werner Herzog’s a big inspiration for me, not necessarily because of his movies, but more because of his persona. And I like his writing on film. I like what he has to say about the aesthetic truth, the methods he employs to make these crazy movies happen. That kind of stuff’s really cool to me.
This brand of cinema has a different purpose–instead of hinging itself on having you feel empathy for characters, and care about the final fate of the characters, the focus is shifted. You feel directly for the characters, and your feelings about their actions constitute the real experience of watching a Swanberg film. You feel not really empathy for them, but empathy for yourself for sharing the same world they do. In short, the intangible aspects of the characters’ lives enter yours, replete with the same ambiguity, no closer to being solved than they were before you watched the film.
I remember going to see Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation. I felt awful afterwards, like I’d been punched in the stomach. I suppose that for whatever reason, the events of the film were extremely real for me.
What was our parents’ mumblecore? I don’t think they really had one, but I cannot imagine how my mother would react to this film. Like all art created by twentysomethings of our general period, these movies are (1) hopelessly indulgent (2) relentlessly interior and (3) massively delusional.
And despite that, I think they actually create a new kind of cinema, and it works. I would recommend Hannah Takes the Stairs (tremendous title, which Swanberg thought of after pitching the movie to his money man with a drawing on a napkin and the lines between people looking like stairs) to most people, if not my parents. My father would ask for Joe Swanberg’s address and force him to repay the money he spent attending the film. I, on the other hand, am grateful.
We are static, far more static than we imagine ourselves to be.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
I’m reading at The Creek and the Cave at 7 p.m. this Sunday. Here’s all the information you need.
If you come out, I will probably buy you a drink, unless you feel so moved by my words that you would prefer to buy me one instead.