Five questions to Rick Alverson
Rick Alverson, how did you meet Gregg Turkington, who plays the Comedian in Entertainment? Why did you want to make a film about and with him? And is the stand-up comedy component of the film essential?
I met Gregg through Will Oldham when I was casting my last film The Comedy. I was familiar with his stand up persona, Neil Hamburger, who we ultimately borrowed for the Comedian’s on-stage persona. Gregg and I shared a mutual distrust of a lot of corporate and cultural terrors and got along well. The film, for me, is just as much a formal experiment about viewership as it is an expression of my exhaustion with culture. The comedy component, although outside my world really, seemed to perfectly sum up an individual’s effort to reach out into the world: a man on a stage, in a tuxedo, coughing and crying into a microphone.
Your film is relatively demanding and leaves a lot to interpretation. Do you have a specific take on the film?
I don’t know much about interpretations, I’d prefer to think about experiences. Is there a wrong experience? Not likely. I wouldn’t insist another person take away from the film what we put in it, at least not in regards to our reasons for making it. I’d hope it would become something broader, more varied and open. That having been said, I think a lot about audiences and their passivity, there’s a lot of that in the film. It’s also a lament, from my perspective, of the American experiment gone awry, but, then, it couldn’t have gone any other way.
What is the place of morality in your cinema?
I don’t believe in a moral universe. I don’t believe in morality in art. I think it’s dangerous. I do believe in fundamentally altering perception, I believe in a gravity and power of media, and I suppose there is a responsibility in that. But from my perspective, that responsibility would be one of form and integrity and attention and experience over politics or social engineering.
What is most “American” about Entertainment? In a way it subverts the cliche of the American Dream.
The film plays a lot with the idea of an American popular audience. It’s a cat and mouse game. It toys with our sense of privilege, with our grotesque concept of exceptionalism. It’s also just as much an homage to the American cinema of the 70’s and that dispossessed view of a lost ideal, of a betrayal, that was so honest and clear.
Lastly, what entertains you?