Please Baby Please
November 8, 2022
Newlyweds Suse and Arthur become the dangerous obsession of a greaser gang that awakens a sleeping quandary into the couple's sexual identity.
Hi Amanda, thank you for talking to The New Current. I watched the film last night, and I got through the first five minutes and sat up; I was mesmerised. And the more the film went on, the more I got that feeling of classic films from the 1990s—that new wave of independent films that was coming out at the time. It is so visually stunning that everything was mind blowing.
Audiences really don't get to see this type of film in 2022.
How have you felt about the reaction to the film? I know that you've recently won an award, and I've read some of the reviews, which have been incredible.
I am so fortunate. I don't really read reviews. I know people say that, but I'm just bad at the internet. I'm not trying to preserve or protect my ego. I'm just bad at the internet. And so every once in a while, a friend of mine will say, "Oh, they're saying terrible things about you on Letterbox" (laugh). And I will say that, as one would expect, the internet giveth and the internet taketh. I'm so lucky that it's found an audience, and I'm so lucky that people want to watch it. Obviously, when you're making something like this, you don't know if it will resonate with audiences; it's not in vogue to make films that look like this or even to make films that feel like this. So you know that you're starting with maybe one foot in the air (laugh), and potentially people might not connect with it. So that connection to many different types of cities and to artists and people who are seeking out art has been incredible. I'm deeply grateful.
Where did the idea come from? Had you had the idea for the movie before you started to co-write it with Noel David Taylor?
Our process together was that we would work on the story together, and I would write the dialogue and sort of write out the scenes. And interestingly enough, at the time, I had had an experience on the street with a boyfriend. I was walking next to him, and a sort of intimidating male figure was walking toward us, and we were doing that thing on the street where you're trying to decide: Do you go to the left? Do you go to the right? Do you jump into the street? And he, my boyfriend, got behind me (laugh) and sort of pushed me forward a little bit. And I thought to myself—I mean, I was not insulted in any way, but I started to think about the ways in which my masculine energy in the relationship had really been at the forefront and his feminine energy had really been at the forefront.
And once I started to think about that, I started to think about my masculine energy in general and over the course of all of my love affairs, which is where the idea came from. A couple who appears straight, or at the very least, lives in some sort of heteronormative agreement with one another, only to realise that that agreement is an artifice and that it's fraying. And I chose the 1950s to tell the story and not our current day because I feel like that was a time when maybe exploring questions like that was not as supported and was more secretive and hidden. And I think movies love secrets. I love secrets, so it kind of came together like that from a real life experience and feeling, but then a sort of addiction to magic and cinema sort of took over the story from there.
With the conversation today about gender and sexuality, did you have any apprehensions about making a film that would provide such an original perspective of its own?
I try not to think about my own identity or anyone else's identity when I'm following like a muse. I think that we all have our perspectives and our stories to tell. But generally, I think that what the conversation is now—the current conversation is now—is that it's helping in the healing of everybody with every identity and every sexual situation. To find where you are on a very broad spectrum, you have to realise that we're not binary, right? We're not these exact figures, and our sexuality can fluctuate, just as our gender roles can fluctuate. I think that this is a gift to all human beings. We all needed a release from what the 20th century was binding us with. Straight people needed it, and the LGBTQ+ community needed it. We all needed to let go of certain strict binary identities. So I always thought if I made a film like this, I could speak to what I believed was true. And the truth within one artist is as earnest and sincere as it can be. I wouldn't try to tell anyone else's story, but my story is here, along with the stories of my friends and my community. So yeah. I was just kind of following the truth. If that makes.
How well were you able to stick to your screenplay when you started shooting?
Well, every scene in the script is in the film, and every word spoken has been written by me. So, there's no improvising. I'm quite strict about that particular thing. But when you work with great actors, which I was fortunate enough to do, they do dictate sensations that you didn't even know you might have. And so, yes, when you're in a moment and you're seeing the way the bodies are expressing something or you're feeling a different kind of choreography, you might start to think to yourself, "This would be beautiful if I overlapped the previous scene with this moment. "Or, I created a sort of musical interlude here." I think on set I was learning a lot about what the edit might look like eventually. So a couple of those things are, in my mind, going in. A couple of those things are learned on set. And then the majority of them, of course, when you're playing around and you have your footage and you're just going on sensation and you're wondering like, "What feels right here? Like, does it feel like a moment for melodrama? Does it feel like a moment for camp? "Does it feel like a moment for some sort of musical uplift?" And then, you know, again, it's time to sort of redraft the story towards sensation too.
One of my favourite scenes is with Suze as she is walking in the empty car park, and there's a telephone box with Billy inside. This whole scene is incredible. The colour, the costume, and particularly when Billy starts singing and he's got these pieces of art on his face, where did all of these ideas come from?
Thank you. They all come from within my entirely insane mind. I don't know if that's taking credit or if that's taking false credit, but I have these ideas, these strange ideas, images, and visions from other movies. When I went to write this film, I decided not to watch a single fifties movie, and I wanted to try to remember what fifties movies felt like. So I used to watch many of them when I was younger and getting into movies. And I would watch a Marlon Brando movie, and I would pick these images, and you don't know what you are going to hold on to, right? So you have this hypnagogic sensation, and I would say telephone booth, and I would feel romantic (laugh), and I don't know why; I don't know what movie that comes from or what image that comes from.
And I would imagine a starlet in a telephone booth crying over a lost love on the phone. And this would just be something that would then come out without some sort of attachment to a movie. You can get something quite unique, even though what you are doing basically is borrowing off the heels of other things you have probably seen a hundred times. So it's odd because it's like past prestige, right? It's collage. I can't claim that that's a unique vision, but because it's being pulled from many things in the sort of recesses of my artistic mind, they come out and feel wholly new or something, if that makes any sense. In particular, for that scene, I worked with Cole for a while about how they would sing that song and whether that would be great singing? Should it be bad singing?
Of course, Cole can sing beautifully, but what's the choice? And then it's like that with everything. What's the choice of the costume, and what's the choice of the lighting? And every crew member has to be in absolute lockstep. We're doing it like this, so we want roses, but the roses need to be paper roses because that gives a fantasy. And everybody has to agree on what the fantasy looks like. So it is: it comes from almost magnetic fridge poetry and just pulling images and ideas, and hopefully when they come together, they create something new.
And I think it does, and you sort of hit on it a moment ago in regards to your creative team. I'm not sure if you remember Greg Araki's Nowhere or Doom Generation, those were films that had a very distinct look, and everything seemed so precise. I am watching yours, and I haven't seen this for a long time. How important was it for you to have that tight relationship with all of your creative partners?
Imperative: When you hire somebody, you realise that you're making an ultimate decision, but they'll make all the small choices, and you want those choices to feel like they're in your world and your universe. There are so many conversations you have to have. And then you have to make sure that they're having conversations with each other. And there are rules in the regulation for making something where everything looks somewhat homogenous. It's like you said—those Greg Araki films and early Todd Solontz films are like this too. Where not only is everybody wearing a similar colour palette, but the world has a homogenous view so that it can feel like a fantasy, or, you know, our world, but with a skew. But also, the actors are all acting the same, like they're not acting like a normal actor might act in a normal role.
They're all acting together in the same way at the same tone, and they're like dinging the same bell. That's really difficult. But you just have to have those conversations because, generally, when you make a film like that and it comes out and everybody's on the same page, the film does have an out-of-time quality. It does have a feeling that, like you said, is really palpable; you can feel it, and I'm very attracted to those films. And as you pointed out, those 90 films in particular are what my learning of art was. And so maybe there's a lot of that there. I think back to My Own Private Idaho, the first time I saw that, and I had absolutely no idea how somebody created something. So far, no word. I was speechless even now when I watched that film. And I think if you want to be memorable and you want to play with iconography, you do have to make one thing. That collaboration has to feel like a sort of hive mind that moves through the film together.
"So I would hope that everybody watches this film and feels like dancing and singing and feels the uplift and the celebration and the sensation of truth and sincerity in personal sexual identity and gender."
There is a great unity among the cast that's really incredible to watch, did you get much rehearsal time with them? And did they get much time together as a group?
Thank you; I agree. We did not have very much rehearsal time. We had some time for dance lessons and choreography, which, you know, I'm sure you can imagine was funny in and of itself. But generally, no, we didn't have very much time together. I think that when I was casting, when you read the script on a piece of paper, you don't exactly understand the tone. I think it's hard to tell, right? So you have to embody that in other ways so that when an actor gets in their costume and approaches set, they understand, "Ah, snap! Okay, this is the world I'm in. Obviously, if somebody thinks that they're going to be in something like a poodle skirt or something like that, they're not quite sure what fifties vision I'm talking about. Is it Pleasantville? Is it Carol? They're not sure.
And then they get to set, and their beehive is higher than the frame. They understand: "Oh, we're doing extremity." When they see that all of the sets look like theatre sets, they say, "Oh, we're doing theatrical." Like everybody comes to understand together the tone that they have to hit. And with the leads come long conversations about how to strike that balance between campy melodramas, great acting, and then also the kind of bad acting that I'm attracted to, which is, you know, what it feels like, of course, when you watch John Waters' Crybaby or something. I mean, I don't think anybody would say that Crybaby is bad acting. I think people would say it's pretty fantastic acting. But you've got Traci Lords in there doing some, you know, and you wake up to the fact that there's like a fizzle, you know? And we have an expectation now that subtlety is the best that someone can give, you know, a nuanced performance, a subtle performance, a realistic performance. And I challenge that with every fibre of my artistic being. I disagree. I don't agree, so I'm not interested in subtlety, but that's hard when you have great actors. They are also trained in subtlety and nuance. But if they understand theatricality and then they're in that beehive, like they are, they get there for sure.
I love theatre, and that's another aspect that I personally took away from your film, which is very theatrical, if you will; it feels like set pieces. I think the night before I watched your movie, we rewatched Jeffrey, which was from the 1990s, and that too is based on a play. And so the film almost takes a very theatrical approach to telling the story. And I think, like with your film, it kind of feels that way. And I was wondering whether or not that was always the intention to have it feel very theatrical.
Yes, flattening two-dimensionality. I'm really interested in it and intrigued by it because I love theatre. I think it's very alive in a way that cinema can be but isn't often. Heading into production, it was like, "Can we make it feel a lot like theatre? Can we make it feel very alive?" and I hope we were able to do that. I love Jeffrey. I used to love that movie so much. Yeah. I haven't seen it in a while.
What you've done with Please Baby Please is opens up a different type of conversation where we can actually look back and figure out where we've come from and where the conversation might have gone differently if we had actually listened to what those men, particularly in the fifties, were experiencing. Finally, what do you hope that your audiences will take away from this film?
Ah, that's so hard. I mean, just generally, I hope that people feel good. I mean, if we're talking about, you know, a similar era of filmmaking, I grew up with a very "kill your gays" attitude, right? There was Philadelphia, which was a really big one. It was very scary. Even Boys Don't Cry, which came a little later in my teen and early adult years. But there was a lot of homophobia in films to show tolerance, and I was frightened of that, and I just was frightened in general of that, even though I think that those movies were necessary and quite beautiful, and they have real lasting iconography for me. My dream was always to make a celebration movie, a dance movie, or a musical to feel sensations that uplift.
When I watch films from that era, I feel a narrative coming through and speaking to me. And I think it's because many of the men who worked on those films and made them were gay men and nobody knew that. They were gay stars; they were gay writers, gay directors, and gay producers. And their imitation of life is filtered through, you know, their understanding. And so when you watch West Side Story, who gives a damn about Tony and Maria? Get them the hell out of there. They're the least important and least compelling thing, along with male bonds and questions of what male bonds are or what that movie is about, and obviously the dance sequences. And so this is something that I've always wanted to touch, emulate, and get closer to. So I would hope that everybody watches this film and feels like dancing and singing and feels the uplift and the celebration and the sensation of truth and sincerity in personal sexual identity and gender. It can be a sort of beautiful rebirth and awakening.
So that's what I would hope.