A CampBlood Exclusive Interview


Interview with Shiner Filmmaker Christian Calson

Paging Doctor Freud...

It's not every day that you come across a filmmaker who also has "post-Freudian philosopher" on his resume. Then again, it's also not every day that you see a film about people who get off on beating the shit out of one another. Unless you work at The Manhole, that is.

But for a queer take on sex and violence that doesn't come in a plain brown wrapper, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more thoughtful, brutal, or daring take than Christian Calson's Shiner. I was fortunate enough to meet Christian when we spoke on a panel on violence in queer cinema (hmm... how did we end up there?) at this year's NewFest (New York Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgendered Pickles Onion on a Sesame Seed Bun Film Festival). Though Christian's film packs quite a punch (there's more blood and skin than in most horror films -- and this is a comedy!), in person he's a kind, friendly fella who was nice enough to entertain my questions and tell me a little more about his film, his influences, and why he won't watch The Country Bears.

Read on for the good stuff...

It's a floor wax. It's a dessert topping...
(Christian Calson)

The Interview

So let's start easy: what is wrong with you? Just kidding. No, seriously -- what is WRONG with you?!

I’m in love for one thing. I’m Romanian for another. People tell me all the time they expected a very fucked up weird guy to be behind the film. I’m a pretty old fashioned sweet guy, though. I love my man. I’m true to him and I try to be good. I talk to my mother on a regular basis. I think if you exorcise your soul in works like ‘shiner’, your family & friends are truly safe.

I’m really scared of people who make ‘happy’ ‘happy’ ‘happy’ films or art that has no soul or fingerprint. The soul is not happy; it just wants to live.

How did you come up with the idea for Shiner?

Shiner was one of three scripts I was writing at the same time. I’m working on the 2nd one right, now. It’s a love story called ‘Flirting with Anthony’, but back to ‘shiner’. ‘shiner’ was supposed to be just a short film about a loser boxer who thinks he’s worthless and shit on the inside and yet looks hot on the outside. He has a stalker who doesn’t see why he thinks he’s just full of worms on the inside and confronts him with this.

I wanted it to be a very violent and sexual film yet with very little (seen) violence and sex, more intended violence and sex. Does that make sense? Very Hanake. Yet, I also wanted to contrast that further with the other couples who had violence in their relationships and I realized that I was no longer making the film I set out to make when it was a short. I was making a better and larger film. It’s easy for this to happen and hard to force.

Mood and fear were very important in the script. I had this idea a long long time ago that locker rooms are potential places for acts of terrible violence. Men judge themselves with the same severity that young girls do all the time among other girls.

So I decided, let’s make this movie but it has to be relentless. Then no one wanted to act in it. No one wanted to give us money to make it. Problem after problem. You run into lots of resistence when you don’t compromise your film’s content or style. Everyone wants a better film but I think you have to decide what’s worth making and what’s already been made and would just be redundant. I think a lot of the newer filmmakers are just mimicking film. All the style with no fingerprint of their own on the film.

You present 3 degrees of violent relationships in your film (i'll call them 'healthy' recreational violence, violence rooted in repression/rage, and potential, threatened violence). do you feel that violence can be healthy?

Yeah, I guess so. And three kinds of violence. Physical. Emotional. And terror or impending violence, the fear of violence. We are in Orange Alert, politically or nationally, right?
Violence as a word is like terrorism or drugs. It’s too vague of a word. Like “weapons of mass destruction”. I’m a kinky kid and I enjoy that stuff. Not at all times in all places but it’s good. My mother says you should get that stuff out of your system. Keep at it till it’s completely ironed out, the saying goes in Romanian. I think Tony and Danny have let their violence out of the bag so there’s this pornographic banality to their love. Tim and Bob keep it in the bag and it threatens every thing they are and do. Reg and Linda are pretty normal and they came about naturally. I needed to show all the different kinds of violence and desire because taboo exists alone or in a vacuum. You’re no longer such a big pervert when you hang out with other perverts. Does that make sense? You can’t be a loser among other losers. In that respect, if people feel a little less weird about what they like or are about, then yeah… I think seeing this different kind of violence is healthy. I think that the body instructs the mind and not vice versa.

There’s actually a 4th form of violence, which is Charley’s violence. Charles insists that you are either gay or straight. Either Republican or Democrat. Black or white. He can’t understand why Tony and Danny don’t want him or like him. So he thinks it’s because he’s gay. It’s not. He’s just really lame and out of his league. It’s a tough pill to swallow, so he doesn’t.

We are part of a community that fetishises violence (and rape) in its mainstream porn, much more than straight porn. Why do you think queers have such a fascintation with aggression? Besides the fact that it's hot, I mean...

I think there’s something innately perverse about defining your life or the way you live concretely. In psychological terms, I would accuse that move of being ‘compensatory’. You are more focused on the sweetness of your iced tea the less sugar you have to put into it. Kinsey and Freud were going about larger classifications with their views on homosexuality not on particular and personal classifications.

There’s been this whole obsession where you take large ideas and apply them personally in America and elsewhere. This is dangerous. And stupid. Nothing is sacred if you do this. But it’s where we are at. We identify “I” as “gay” and not the way I love or how I make love and then we get upset when the response sounds personal. Being “gay” is fringe. It’s always been and always will be. In the rest of the world, there is very little “gay”. Many countries don’t even have words for it. American gays are obscene in this way. Gay necklaces and towels and condoms but empty souls and lives, like everywhere else. I actually think American gay people are more assimilationists than aggressive terrorists, at least when it comes to porn or gay media. If they were more violent or aggressive, they might not get kicked around as much. It’s like they are sad idealists who bemoan not being able to get married yet allow themselves to be portrayed as flighty, unattached, gravity-less sex-hungry fools on tv and in press. Gay marriage is only for those who are willing to suffer a gay divorce and lose their assests because they are that crazy over a boy (or girl). That’s hot. That’s worth fucking up your government over. Not that a license legitimizes your marriage. Hell, a few decades ago a black American man was not allowed to marry a white woman because American churches and politicians were saying it was a form of bestiality. We forgive churches and politicians, too easily, here. even if the government allows us to marry, churches will still spit on us. Who are you kidding?

But back to my film, I make a clear distincition between aggression and desire, though. Aggression is just being a big “bully” to get love and desire seems more like a pointless channel of wanting someone so that you don’t die of fade into the black. They are both awful when you think of them but very much part of being a guy. That was the idea of what Shiner was supposed to be. A periodic table for a man’s desire. Life is made for acting on desire. No one wants to be alone and no one can be alone.

My favorite story in the film was the story of the boxer and his stalker; I found that I could understand his anger and where it came from and I actually thought it quite touching. Do you feel that you "wrote yourself" into your story? Which character do you most identify with?

I’m glad you liked that. A lot of folks love Bob. I can never understand why. He’s so creepy and manipulative and deceptive. He’s a very disturbed yet charming guy. I fought a long time with the actor who played Bob, Nicholas King, because he kept trying to make Bob more likeable. Making Bob more likeable is immoral. Bob’s a stalker. He always gets what he wants. Even in the film scenes in the movie. He’s playing Tim like a fiddle. That’s some major shit to look at.

As for me, I think Linda. I relate to her, I guess. I don’t think I’m as fucked up as most of the characters. I think they are lovely people but I couldn’t live with that kind of drama. I do have a temper and if you fuck with my stuff, you pay. Plus she’s such a bitch that she deserves a good smack- my lover and I don’t hit each other for sex but God knows I deserve a good smack from time to time with the kind of shit I pull.

I meet people who relate with one character or another. No one relates to Charles, though.

You told me that you're a fan of Michael Haneke and Gaspar Noe, two filmmakers known for their violent and controversial films. Do you have a lighter side? What about 9 to 5 and The Country Bears -- aren't they fun to watch every now and then?

No, never. Just kidding. I guess so. I don’t like a lot of stuff but I endure it. I think I liked 9 to 5. I remember it being really kinky. Here’s an example of how I work. I adore one of my friend’s films. He made a film called Jawbreaker and another called Put the Camera on Me and so on. People remember those films as being smart and hip, I generally remember how dirty he is. I think I asked him, ‘What’s up with your oral fascination in Jawbreaker, Darren. That’s dirty.’ Or, You were such a little mean bitch in Put the Camera On Me.
I don’t hate my life. I don’t want to escape in films. I usually suffer more from not being able to connect with people than from wanting to escape them and their lives. Maybe I am fucked, huh?

How have audiences responded to Shiner?

People are kind of stressed-looking. I want to pass out cigarettes after the film. They look like they either just got fucked or broke up with their girlfriends. But then once they get some of the ‘why’ and ‘what’ I was trying at in the film, you can tell they had the same thoughts and then they look like they agree. It’s a rough ride, man. You get a boner in the film, then you get disgusted, then you get blasted with too much story, then you just watch a character from the perspective of another. If the audience laughs out loud during the film, then I feel good. It’s a dark comedy. Like Happiness or Magnolia. But it’s hard to laugh at life when you’re in the thick of it. The only salve is films or art at that point. That’s what the movie did for me and I think it does for some folks. I wrote and made it at a very difficult time in my life.

What are your plans going forward?

I want to make my next film, the love story (Flirting with Anthony). It’s kind of like a cross between Irreversible and The Living End. I’m going to produce a film by Job O. Brother. Then next year, I get to make the film I wanted to make all along, called Bareback. It’s a morality film in four parts. Kind of like Kieslowsky meets Joe Cage. I hope to keep making films that people connect with and they enjoy.

You alluded in the panel discussion to your being protective of your female actors, as you feel that women tend to be exploited more than men. can you elaborate on this?

It’s true. Fassbinder had the same sentiment. So does Todd Haynes. Maybe it’s a queer thing. I don’t care. There’s great dignity in the naked body and in stories that have a level of emotional nakedness. It’s a great price to pay and one that you pay with authenticity. Women’s bodies are hot commodities and they are often times used to serve everything but the woman in the story. There’s so many varieties of women that I get really turned off by the garden variety in films. My next film has a major female lead and she falls in love and yet it’s not what she always wanted or needed yet she stays in it and not because she’s dysfunctional or dim witted. She makes a choice with her heart. The way a man does. That’s gorgeous. I make a choice to show how blatantly women are naked and exploited in films by returning the compliment. Shiner has a lot of nudity.

Really? I hadn't noticed (*cough!*). So again, what is wrong with you?!

I’m working on a couple new projects and a new film. The film is called Flirting With Anthony and is about two professional killers who fall in love at the wrong time. We are supposed to shoot early 2005. I’ll put updates on my site, www.bruiserfilms.com.

Thanks so much for this interview. I really dig your site.

What's Romanian for "Insaniac"?

I love a man who's not afraid to explore the darker side of the human condition. And even more, I love a man who's not afraid to blatantly ignore my insipid questions. Huge bear-huggy thanks to Christian for sharing his thoughts, and best of luck on upcoming projects from all of me here at CampBlood.org.

In the meantime, Shiner is available on DVD in all its bloody splendor from the fagalicious TLA Releasing. Hit it.

...with your best shot (Shiner)