Interview by John Wisniewski
John Wisniewski: .When did you begin writing and producing film’s, Scott? What interested you about film? Did you attend film school?
Scott Crary: I’ve had a camera in my hand since my parents bought the first family camcorder when I was about 10 or 11. I was documenting everything. Making little films with my older brother as star. On a sixth grade assignment they asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and who I wanted to meet. I said “film director” and “Spike Lee”. So the bug was subconscious. I was always interested in all the arts, and had been making music and writing stories and painting since I was a teenager, and filmmaking is really an alchemy of all those things, of all arts. I didn’t go to film school. I got a degree in clinical psychology and then spent a wayward spell at law school, before ultimately leaving to make films. I did a couple of 16mm shorts early on that I’d be embarrassed to show anyone now, and then I met Jim Jarmusch one day in an empty hallway of the National Museum of the American Indian here in NYC. I was 23 years old. He gave me advice: “A film needs stars. If you you wanna make a film, use the stars you have access to…even if they’re just stars in your neighborhood.” And that set me on a path that ultimately led to my first feature film, KILL YOUR IDOLS.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about making the film “Kill Your Idols”, about underground
music in New York City?
Scott Crary: In late 2001 or early 2002, I was at a party for BUST Magazine in New York. They’d gotten a little unknown band to play the party. That band was…the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. (I think it was one of their first gigs.) While they were performing, I heard 3 separate and very young, very excited voices in the crowd around me comment something to the effect of: “This feels like it must have been like to be here in the 70’s!” The film was pretty much conceived in that moment. A very palpable (and perhaps parasitic) cultural nostalgia was settling in over the city at the time and seemed to be touching everything: music, fashion, art…haircuts! And I thought to go ask the objects of fascination (the originators of no wave and art rock) what they thought of their progeny.
It was always intended as a documentary on cultural paralysis. The main appeal of the subject matter to me was what the two generations, the two scenes, represented metaphorically. The much-publicized rock revival of the early 00’s and its regenerative art-punk scene in NY was largely personifying obedience to memory, while the No Wave movement personified a refusal of it. Remembering and forgetting. This is what the film was intended to be about. Not a documentary about a thing or a person or an event, but rather about…an idea, a concept.
I think the finished product was a little more contentious than I intended; I genuinely loved all the bands in the film. But at times, it felt like I was being a war reporter. That the founders were facing off with their acolytes. Making a documentary is like having a dream. You can’t really anticipate what it will be. You have to constantly yield to whatever is manifested before you, to have the courage for whatever is revealed to you. Whatever truth confesses itself, even if it’s not what you anticipated. To just be a mirror. To invite in whatever arrives. To reflect it as loyally. I wasn’t anticipating the dialectic to be so bloody, but I think that tension is the main reason the film has resonance after all these years. It asks a timeless question: what does it mean to innovate, to really *create*?
John Wisniewski: Who did you interview for the film? Could you tell us about the new release
Of the film on disc?
Scott Crary: The film’s been out-of-print for a bit in the States. But ALAMO DRAFTHOUSE just recently acquired it and it’s up now for purchase and rent via their ON DEMAND service. That’s the first ever it’s been available digitally. A fully remastered, expanded dual-disc edition of the film on DVD will be released early next year to celebrate the film’s 15th Anniversary. That includes the original film, along with over 90 minutes of bonus content, including 20 minutes of never-before-seen footage from the original production, commentaries and two brand new featurettes, produced exclusively for the reissue. The film itself is gussied up and looks prettier than ever. I interviewed:
-Martin Rev of Suicide
-Arto Lindsay of DNA
-Lydia Lunch of Teenage Jesus & The Jerks
-Jim Sclavunos of Teenage Jesus / now in Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
-Glenn Branca of Theoretical Girls
-Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth
-Michael Gira of SWANS
-J.G. Thirlwell aka FOETUS
-Yeah Yeah Yeahs
-Flux Information Sciences
John Wisniewski:Could we talk about your film “William Burroughs: The Man Within”?
What interested you about Burroughs?
Scott Crary: There’s a nice little happenstance bridge between KILL YOUR IDOLS and WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHIN. At the very end of KILL YOUR IDOLS, Arto Lindsay (of DNA) tells me how when he was young he went to interview Burroughs and asked him what’s next in the counterculture (the same way I was asking Arto the very same thing), and Burroughs kind of look bewildered and said: “Don’t ask me!” As in, why are you looking to the past to see what’s coming? Burroughs was all about the future. Was all about liberation through the dismantling of presiding orders. He was a big influence on punk culture and punk music (and me) for that reason. And Yony Leyser’s film really plays up that angle, of the intersection of Burroughs and punk culture. And that really appealed to me, as it complimented KILL YOUR IDOLS’ themes nicely. I’m really proud of Yony and that film, and to have been drafted into it. Yony came to me really early on, after seeing KILL YOUR IDOLS and asked if I could help him produce. And it really became something elegiac, but also fun. Hard to pull off, that.
John Wisniewski: Could we speak about “Queercore How to Punk a Revolution”? How did
Queercore begin? Could you provide us with a little history?
Scott Crary: So the lore goes, two pretty punk kids named G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce were bored in the grey wilds of Toronto, Canada in the mid-1980’s and produced a ‘zine that rumored this amazing gay punk scene in the city. It was all fantasized and inflated, but the zines spread to cities far and wide and the myth became manifest. And little imitative scenes sprung up all over North America, with queer punks gathering together to make music and films and literature. Thing is, though…punk was always pretty gay. Queer culture was infused in the very foundation of punk. The word punk itself was originally street slang for someone who took it up the arse in prison. It was another way of saying: “fag”. Punk rockers took that term and crowned it noble. And go listen to Joey Ramone fantasize himself as a boy whore on the streets of NYC in the song 53rd & 3rd. Look at the NY Dolls in belligerent drag (and who were punk rock before there was punk rock). Tomato du Plenty of the Screamers, Darby Crash of the Germs…so many of punk’s founders were gay kids or came out of the queer underground. Queercore was really things coming full circle. The same way punk had embraced queer culture, young queers were starting to identify with punk culture. And that…was a beautiful thing.
Scott Crary: Malick, Carax, Akerman, Fassbinder, Claire Denis, Eustache, Yorgos Lanthimos, Mekas, Barbara Loden (although she only made one feature), Paolo Gioli, Jean Vigo