Tuesday, October 9

Interview #17 : Miles Montalbano

Miles Montalbano is a talented young director whose film "Revolution Summer" première happened last month in San Francisco as explained previously in our BLog.

He is part of the new generation of indie film makers, influenced by perfect mentors like Godard, Antonioni or Cassavetes. His first attempt at filming was the Jonathan concert "Take me to the Plaza". Actually Jonathan composed the soundtrack of "Revolution Summer" and as Miles will explain he got really involved in the making of the film.

Miles is a very nice person, he made sure I got his answers even though he is very busy lately promoting his film, and in passing he happens to be Jonathan's brother in law.

- You were in a punk band called Sister Double Happiness, you were a bass player then.
Did you enjoy the life on the road, the touring over to Europe, just as Jonathan has been doing for ever?

I wouldn’t call us a punk band, although we all came out of that scene and I still carry a lot of the ethos with me. Maybe post-punk blues band would be a better description. One of the best parts of being in the band for me was touring, especially Europe. I hope that filmmaking will offer similar opportunities. I would love to tour with the film.

- Had you heard about Jonathan and the Modern Lovers at that time and possibly seen them live ? If so, how was it ?
I knew of Jonathan originally from the Modern Lovers, but I didn’t see him live until about ten years ago, and he knocked me out, which is when I started to catch up with what he had been doing since.

- I have not seen "Revolution Summer" as I am in Europe, but I have read reviews and comments about the film. I hope they are accurate enough. How werethe film and Jonathan's performance received at the Roxie for the Opening?
The film received a lot of great press for the San Francisco run and was well reviewed. Reaction to the film is usually polarized. People either really seem respond to, and get what we were trying to do, or they really hate the film. Which is great. I think films should try and find something truthful to say. I would hate to make a film that everyone thought was “nice” or “entertaining”. I try to stay away from the middle of the road.
It was really exciting to have Jonathan play after the opening night screening. He played a rare electric set with Tommy, doing music from the soundtrack. Of course it was great.

- I have seen this film you shot of Jonathan playing live ("Take me to the plaza"). It was different from the usual concerts DVDs I had seen before. Did you have a special way in filming Jonathan ? Had you something in mind ?
The only thing was to try and do as truthful and straightforward representation of Jonathan’s performance that night as possible. We talked at one point about the possibility of doing a music video, but Jonathan doesn’t like to do them. He was open to doing a live documentary, so I feel lucky that we got to capture the evening. Of course, it is not the definitive document, as Jonathan is always changing and evolving, but as a snapshot of a moment I think it came out really well.

- "Revolution Summer" has been compared to Antonioni's "Zabriskie point", it is about rebellion against conservatism and narrow minded society if I dare summarize quickly. I think the film is really looking towards Antonioni, I might be biased as he is my favourite director, but how did Jonathan consider your project, it is rather different from "..something about Mary" ?
I love Antonioni also, and I was definitely thinking about a lot of his films while working on Revolution Summer, also Godard, Fassbinder and Cassavetes. We were definitely looking toward a certain type of cinema, what used to be called the ‘art film’, for lack of a better definition.
I think “Mary” has been sort of a double edged sword for Jonathan because in Hollywood you get pigeonholed very quickly. But he is a brilliant composer and I would love to see him do more film score work, and I know he is interested in doing more if there is something he responds to in the film project. Fortunately for us, he responded to the script and the ideas for Revolution Summer.

Interview with Miles about "Revolution Summer"

- What do you think then about "there's something about Mary" ?

I am not really interested in those types of films, but I did finally watch it, and it was fun watching Jonathan and Tommy.

- I understand that with "Revolution Summer" you are trying to awaken the citizens mind towards reality, using real life images. This is quite similar to the French "Nouvelle Vague " attitude during the 60's. Could you comment on that ?
The film was definitely inspired by the French New Wave movement, and also the American underground, and the Dogme 95 stuff. I think all of those movements shared similar goals and aesthetics as a way of trying to capture some sort of truthfulness in the reflection of life in film.

- In a close way, Jonathan was singing "Not in my name" right after the first US soldiers landed in Irak. I read you were working together on the editing and final cutting of the film , living together. What was Jonathan's contribution to your film apart from the soundtrack ?
Besides doing the score for the film, Jonathan was one of the first supporters of the project and really was a big factor in helping get the film off of the ground in the first place. He gave support, advice, and inspiration through all aspects of the film from beginning to end.

- Which brings me to sounds.. A friend of mine, the actor and film director Jean-François Stévenin told me once that the sound engineer is the crucial person in the making of a movie. You have to master your sounds and play with them to enhance the intensity of the images. What is your opinion ?
Yes, of course, sound is half of the equation and is extremely important and can really shape the film. And of course bad sound can ruin a film. Of course, music fits in there. When we first started talking about music for the film, I had an idea that I wanted the music to inform the film as much as the film informed the music. Jonathan had read the script and we had conversations about the mood and the themes of the film. He would come to the set and watch some of the scenes being filmed and tray and catch the vibe of what we were doing, then would go into the studio and record. When we were done shooting I had all of this music that I was able to immediately start playing with during the editing. He instinctually understood exactly what I was looking for musically and the music fit perfectly and really helped shape the film. I loved it so much that my first cut of the film was almost wall to wall music, but we ultimately ended up using it a lot more sparingly to better effect. But I am so glad that Vapor decided to release the soundtrack because I think that the music can really stand on its own also.

- Do you know why the soundtrack CD is so desperately short (28 minutes), some of the pieces seem to have been cut before the end.. ?
Jonathan made the track list and the length of the CD was not really a consideration. He wanted it to move a certain way and that is just how long the CD ended up wanting to be. I think it’s great. There is no filler on there. Just because you can fit 70 minute of music onto a CD doesn’t necessarily mean you should. As far as tracks being cut off, I’m not sure what you mean...

- What do you think about John Cassavetes ? I have the impression you have quite a few things in common concerning cinema.

Cassavetes is an inspiration, not only his films but his passion and philosophy on filmmaking. He made films for himself and never lost sight of his art no matter what the critics and the money people said. He made films because he had to.

- Maybe you know that song "John Cassavetes" by Angel Corpus Christi (she is from the Bay area too). It would be funny if Jonathan would compose some song about you and your films.
I don’t know it. The band Le Tigre did a song about Cassavetes also.

- When I read your name the 1st time, it rang a bell, I remembered it was the name of a famous character in Italian detective novels, police officer Montalbano. He lives in Sicily, likes the good food, women and has a good sense of humor even fronting ugly cases. Maybe you know those books by Andrea Camillieri, otherwise try to find one of them , I think it would be great if one day you would direct an "Inspector Montalbano" movie
My sister has one of the books, but I haven’t read it yet.

- Any opinion about the Flamin' Groovies , (they were my fave band from the Bay area)?

They’re cool.

- How would you define Jonathan's music ?
That is such a hard question. Definitions are limiting and often mis-informative, and for me Jonathan’s music spans a wide range, so I wouldn’t even try. I do like how one reviewer described the soundtrack music as “haunting instrumental music with shades of Dick Dale, Velvet Underground and Django Reinhardt.”

- Is there a particular song of his you prefer ?

I just heard the new album the whole thing is great. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

- When do you think we will get a chance to see "Revolution Summer" in Europe ?
Well, if you live near Valencia, Spain it is playing the Mostra de Valencia, Friday October 18. Otherwise, if anyone has any suggestions on venues let us know, we would love to come over a show it!

- Thanks a lot Miles, I wish you lots of success !!
Thank You!

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