Spotlight On Filmmaker Carey Burtt And His Experimental Films


Interview by John Wisniewski

John Wisniewski: When did you begin making films, Carey? Any favorite filmmakers and who do you like in music?

Carey Burtt: i began making films when i was 14 in 1976 in New England. i won local awards. then went to NYU film school in the early eighties.  At that point i started an avant-rock band ‘Carey’s Problem’ cause i couldn’t afford film stock. Other than personally, the band was not successful. the mission of Carey’s Problem was better realized years later by other artists: musically by the band ‘Deerhoof’ and psychologically by the films of Todd Solondz.

My filmmaking hero as a child was Stanley Kubrick. i was obsessed with a film i was forbidden to see- “A  Clockwork Orange.”  i loved Monty Python and 70’s films – “Taxi Driver,”  Pacino films, “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” etc.

In college i developed new heroes: John Waters ( after reading “Shock Value”) and Robert Fripp (after listening to “Lark’s Tongue in Aspic”).

Local music hero when i was attending NYU was Fred Frith – i saw his band “Skeleton Crew” a lot. I like Richard Kern, Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, Michael Snow, Todd Haynes, Todd Solondz. Jodorowsky.

i don’t really go to the movies any more, but Fincher, – i read Jean Genet, Dostoyevsky, Phillip K. dick, Gary Lachman – easy read books on the occult. i’m fascinated by chaos magick.

Paul Thomas anderson.  i’m jealous of his writing ability, staggering work with actors, and ability to portray complex human beings. “There Will Be Blood,”  “Punch Drunk,”  “The Master,” shit i could never do.

As a kid i started out loving the camera as opposed to actors and ‘the page’ – I’m more interested in ideas rather than stories.  These days i don’t go to the movies. i am obsessed with youtube.

John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about making your film “The Psychotic Odyssey of Richard Chase”?

Carey Burtt: I had a made a film about John Wayne Gacy back in 1983 at film school….but it got lost. My room mate was from Chicago and told me about Gacy. I think I was going to make it about someone else (can’t remember who)….but he informed me Gacy had ‘the record’ at that time and his story was fascinating. My favorite book on him is Buried Dreams.

In 1998 I acquired the resources to make films again and decided to remake it, and chose RIchard Chase instead because he was like the ‘anti ted bundy’ – it went against the idea that these serial killers are evil geniuses…Chase was just a mess from day one. I decided to do it with dolls because I did not have the financial resources to make it with real people, but I think it came out better. I storyboarded the entire film then shot it in the kitchen of my Mott St apt and finished it in 1998. I heard about his case from a RE Search book and a great book called “Alone with the Devil.”

John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about your latest, “Secrets Of Inner Space”? Are you interested in the subject of mind control?

Carey Burtt:  They are playing (among others) my 1999 short “Mind Control Made Easy or How to Become a Cult Leader,” which is an instructional film explaining how some destructive mind control cults operate. The film is 21 years old and my most popular. i had seen a Canadian film called ‘Ticket To Heaven’ with Nick Mancuso in the early 80’s and wanted to make a film about the subject. ever since i read a book by Steve Hassan, Robert j Lifton and Margaret singer. People find them fascinating because we all assume we could never be in one and might fantasize about how the leaders get their power. It’s black comedy ‘a spoonful of laughter makes the medicine go down’ you could say (sing).

My latest is an experimental feature called “Corpus Chaosum'” but the secrets of inner space don’t play features. i’ve submitted it to festivals but haven’t heard… it’s very dark and dense… requires several viewings…

John Wisniewski:  Your first feature was 2004’s “A Forked World” co-written with film critic James Giovanna. Could you tell us about it?

Carey Burtt:  I was coming up on my 40th birthday and as a dare I told myself I would make a feature film. I had always wanted to make one but was never satisfied with my feature film ideas. In the recent past, I had done other stunts for my birthday – one year I jumped out of a plane (hoping the chute wouldn’t open, ha ha) or sky dived’.

But that year I said to myself ‘You can’t call yourself a real filmmaker if you haven’t made a feature.” The goal was to complete a film that was roughly 80 mins in length. It didn’t have to be good – which was the creative block that prevented me from making a feature film earlier. I realized I was unable to write it by myself – I needed a writing partner, so I asked my best friend James, ‘the smartest guy I knew, to write it with me. We wrote a first script which was a parody of my life – but it became clear that it would cost too much money to produce.  So we started another script with the restrictions that it would be shot in locations we could get for free and on the street. I shot it with a Sony PD 150 (the camera David Lynch loves) capturing sound on the onboard mic. There was no crew. Just James and I. Friends agreed to act in it – James made the props and worked with actors. I blocked the scenes and did camera. I did all the post production work, i.e. editing and music. I think it’s terrible but the ‘dare’ or ‘stunt’ was pulled off successfully. The friendship didn’t survive but it’s rare…”Features seem to kill friendships” (Easy Rider, Crumb etc) But it actually won an award at the Boston Underground Film Festival for “Most Effectively Offensive” (2005). I called James to ask him what I should say when I accepted the award…He said “Dedicate it to the troops.” Which I did, thanking them for defending the right to offend.’ – and it was funny to see the confused faces of the crowd.

We shot it on video but I later shot it off the screen with a 16mm camera to give it a film look (2006) so there’s two versions. The film was initially inspired by the Jim Goad book “Shit Magnet” (I had just read it) and most of the funny dialog was written by James. It was very fun and easy to write – we would meet, I would write a scene, pass the laptop to James and he would rewrite and/or just write the next scene, and then pass the laptop to me. It went very quickly and was fun. We really didn’t have anything to exploit besides people just being verbally abusive to one another – no money. My wife said we should have cast it with men in drag. James didn’t like that idea. I’m a John Waters fan and thought it could work ,but James hates John Waters (or claimed to at the time) ,but the point was to get it done by any means neccessary and enjoy the process. Watching people be verbally abusive to each other on screen has always made me laugh and feel relaxed. I don’t like the film myself but some of my friends like it and I think James was happy with it for the most part.

John Wisniewski: What is the usual audience reaction to your films at screenings?

Carey Burtt:  The usual audience reaction is that people laugh and then are horrified or horrified and then laugh – or there’s a general sense of unease and tension. It’s the same thing Kubrick did with “Dr Strangelove.” My short films are often about dark and serious subjects but something about how it’s made makes you laugh, which is healthy – but then sometimes people feel uneasy about laughing etc and they have to think, which is often painful and difficult but important. They are meant to be disturbing and unsettling. I find the world deeply disturbing and making films is a way of coping with that.  But they are also meant for people who enjoy being disturbed by films . Real life is far more disturbing and weird. It’s fun and safe to have a controlled setting where fake horror is presented and where people who like their consciousness and assumptions to be challenged and perhaps disrupted can do it together in a darkened theater then return to the light when it’s over.

Wes Craven said horror films can be an ’emotional boot camp’ for people. It’s good practice for facing the real world. You can laugh at film horror which is the only sane response and the most basic form of spontaneous healthy spiritual surrender because your system is choosing “Joy” when confronted with the powerlessness over the horror and absurdity of the world.  That’s  a good thing and can bring people together by dissipating the fear, which is good because fear can be dangerous and imprison free thought and reason. I would be worried about the people who are not horrified, and I would be worried about the people who don’t laugh, either. And if you ‘can’t take it’ – you are free to walk out. More power to you.

John Wisniewski: Do you hope to make more feature films? Why do you like making films?

Carey Burtt:  I would like to make more features…but I haven’t any ideas worthy of a feature. The last one was made from material created and gathered over a time span of five years. I need time to gather more material.

John Wisniewski: Could you tell us more about your latest film?

Carey Burtt: Corpus Chaosum is a 75 minute experimental feature that’s a response to the massive influx of information available now at the click of a button. A chaotic mess of obsessions looking for a ‘narrative.’ It’s doomed to failure but a necessary exercise. I would recommend it to everyone. From the ‘press release: Corpus Chaosum is a musical. A horror film. An experimental film. A trance film. A stupid film. A brilliant film. A film that lies. A film that tells the truth. Involving ideas culled from anxiety, depression, addiction, chaos magick, tarot, jewish mysticism, christian mysticism, catharism, process church of the final judgement, Burroughs, Jim Jones, junk science etc. All music, lyrics and dancing by C Burtt. Shot on Digital Video. 75min. 2019


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