'Princess Cyd' director Stephen Cone on cinema, literature, and religion
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Stephen Cone on ‘Princess Cyd’: ‘It feels like me closing a chapter in my work’

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Editor’s note: Following its Philadelphia premiere at the 26th annual Philadelphia Film Festival earlier this month, our own Sam Mauro had the opportunity to sit down with Princess Cyd director Stephen Cone to discuss the indie filmmaker’s latest project, which opens at Museum of the Moving Image in New York on November 3. Their conversation picks up below:

Princess Cyd was a phenomenally structured film, the sort that felt genuinely novelistic without being overwritten. I’m wondering how that cross-media osmosis is fostered…that’s poorly phrased. What do you read?

I spend a lot of my time lamenting my diminishing attention. I think about how quickly and how much I read in high school, versus now where I get distracted by all sorts of different things. I do read, regularly, but it takes me forever. It’s quite embarrassing. I used to read more novels than I do now. I read a lot of film criticism and film theory, actually, and I read a lot of essays. I have a book of American Transcendentalism that I like to pick up and read random passages from Emerson, Whitman, the whole gang.

My favorite author is Marilynne Robinson, who inspired Princess Cyd. I love Housekeeping. Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Housekeeping and Beloved are my favorite books, good writing about spirituality and science and all that sort of thing. I don’t read as much as I used to, is the short answer. I’m reading Moby-Dick right now. It’s Marilynne Robinson’s favorite novel. That may be why I’m reading it.

As someone who is non-binary and gender fluid, I found the character of Katie so affirming and wonderful. How did you find such an acutely positioned, special sort of performer?

Well, it’s an exciting process but a boring answer. I think Chicago is just a great city for talent. There’s no formula. I think you and maybe others would be surprised at the lack of directing I sometimes do on set. It’s much more about a positive vibe, a mutual respect. There’s nudging here and there, but mostly it’s an attitude like, “I respect you to do your job,” just backing off and finding themselves. Malic White, they’re a gender fluid performance artist who looks younger than they are. They’re playing around five or six years younger in the film. But I’m glad to hear that. I always wished we had more of Malic in the film. You know the movie was designed to be about the aunt and the niece, and like, to go into these corners of the store and ask how can you queer this up? I don’t think that was part of the original concept of the story, actually. I was like, “should Cyd meet a boy or a girl? And then I was.”

Do you have an audience who you hope sees your work with whom it resonates?

I get really excited whenever I see an 18, 19, 20-year-old, go into the theater and get really excited. I sort of live for [Princess Cyd], like, getting discovered on Netflix in the middle of the night by some queer girl in Arkansas, though I also wish they’d see it in a theater. With Henry Gamble, I’ve run across really hilariously cruel live-tweets of it by people who are not on the wavelength. That movie’s an interesting litmus test. Some people find it really organic and flowy and others find it profoundly contrived. I do look up these movies, not to massage my own ego, just to watch these kids finding the movie. With a movie like Henry Gamble, there’s gotta be at least one character you can identify with, statistically.

Your films often grapple with a fluidity in sexuality, in gender, in personal expression – in context of the rigidity of so many of the world’s systems, especially Christianity. How do you believe conventional organized religion interacts with personal spirituality?

I always get asked about spirituality versus sexuality, but not that. Cyd was a deliberate break from exploring oppression. The movie is supposed to be easy. Sexual fluidity is so rarely seen in American cinema. I’m thinking hard. I will arrive at an answer. But I’m excited by the challenge. I’m interested in a spiritual worldview, and this is really where Marilynne Robinson comes into play, that is inspired, kind of imaginatively, by antiquities religion, but is deeply grounded in the present moment. My entry point is really Robinson. She is Christian, she loves science as much as theology, she loves the Bible as much as she loves American history. That sort of all-encompassing belief is inspiring to me.

I wouldn’t even call myself a Christian. I barely believe in a spiritual realm. But you can have a worldview that encompasses all the beautiful things without it feeling like a copout. And my movies are a way of, I guess, carve through a wall, and figuring out where these things go wrong and where they go right and also making sure that particular brand of spirituality doesn’t get lazy, as it often can get. What is lazy versus personal and liberating? All I have are questions, too.

I was raised to believe liberal Christian were lazy people who wanted to pick and choose what they liked from Christianity and unable to accept the harsh truths of Christianity. So once I graduated high school and started doubting my faith, I tried to be a liberal Christian for a while, but then I was like, “Oh maybe there is something to that.” It’s like making your own pizza off of a menu. So then I just tried to be an atheist. I don’t want to create my own religion. It’s only now that I believe that it is valid to have a personal faith.

That answer reminds me of Miranda, and of my mother, who raised me in Chicago until I was a toddler. I love how, say, if Miranda lived in California, or Upstate New York, she’d be sharper, or more obnoxious.

(Chuckling) Oh, that’s funny, I’ve never thought of that. Although I have to say, one of my regrets of the film is making her faith what I think is too vague. I actually wish she was more specifically a Christian, and I wish there was a scene of her either going to church or praying. She sort of accidentally became spacey. I feel like that was maybe a mistake. Because her faith should be as formidable as Cyd’s desire, for them to fully meet their match. I think the movie condescends a touch to Miranda’s faith. So much of this movie came out of that concern, you know – are we losing the quiet? Are we losing that ability to dream? We’ve obviously progressed in so many important ways, but I don’t want to lose that quiet. 

I think because of that I’m viewed as safe, soft filmmaker. Some critics have an interest in not just textural grit, but also a textual grit. See the risk, there, is that the utopia becomes a lax energy. Whether the movie succeeds or fails, that’s the scary thing. You risk losing action or conflict because you’re enjoying yourself. And certain viewers might just say, “Okay, nice party” and then move on to what they say is a meatier picture. This movie is interesting to gauge people’s entry-points in that sense. 

I think I have a good life. But that’s not to say I’ve settled. I’m exhausted with raising money for these micro-budget movies myself. I feel like Princess Cyd was me closing a chapter in my work. Next summer I’ll finally be shooting my first larger project; a Southern family drama.

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‘Transparent’ creator Jill Soloway will replace Bryan Singer as writer-director on ‘Red Sonja’

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Bryan Singer, in addition to being a pretty bad director, is also a pretty shitty and terrible person, as you probably already know. Earlier this year, The Atlantic published an exposé detailing new sexual misconduct claims against the Bohemian Rhapsody helmer made by several men who claim he sexually assaulted them when they were underage—the youngest being just 13-years-old.

That being said, it was pretty shocking when Millennium Films CEO Avi Lerner referred to the exposé as “agenda driven fake news” and said that he would not be removing Singer from his post as writer-director on the studio’s long-in-the-works Red Sonja, a female-centered superhero film that would reportedly earn Singer a whopping $10 million paycheck.

Fast forward a few months later, and it appears Lerner had a change of heart after all, as Deadline is reporting that Millennium has finally removed Singer from the project and replaced him with Transparent creator Jill Soloway, who is now set to write and direct the project that has been stuck in development hell for more than a decade now at this point.

“I can’t wait to bring Red Sonja’s epic world to life,” Soloway said in a statement to Deadline. “Exploring this powerful mythology and evolving what it means to be a heroine is an artistic dream come true.”

However, as exciting as it is to finally see Red Sonja get back off the ground and into development with someone that isn’t a dude at the helm, don’t expect to see the movie hit theaters anytime soon, as the original report notes that it still “has to be scripted, cast and prepped” and “it is likely Soloway will direct something before it.”

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‘Halloween 2’ will begin shooting this fall with Jamie Lee Curtis and David Gordon Green returning

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Earlier this month, we brought you a report about how Jamie Lee Curtis and Jason Blum had met up to probably discuss the development of another Halloween movie and it sounds like our speculation was right on point: The Shape isn’t dead after all.

According to Collider, Halloween 2 is indeed happening and is set to begin production this fall. Curtis will, of course, be reprising her iconic role as Laurie Strode, while Judy Greer and Andi Matichak will also be back to play her daughter and granddaughter, respectively.

David Gordon Green, who directed and co-wrote last year’s Halloween along with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, wrote the script for the sequel and is being eyed for a return to the director’s chair as well. It’s unclear as to what happened to the screenplay Scott Teems was reportedly working on earlier this year.

Last year’s Halloween was initially intended to be a one-off (the first synopsis for the film described it as Laurie Strode’s “final confrontation” with Michael Myers), but with it’s $255 million worldwide box office haul and open-ended conclusion, a sequel seemed all but likely to happen.

Halloween 2 is expected to hit theaters on October 16, 2020. We’ll bring you the official announcement from Blumhouse as soon as it comes across our desk.

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Paul Thomas Anderson and Thom Yorke’s short film ‘Anima’ is coming to Netflix next week

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“In a short musical film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Thom Yorke of Radiohead scores and stars in a mind-bending visual piece. Best played loud.”

That’s the incredibly intriguing official logline for Anima, the latest and rather unexpected collaboration between director Paul Thomas Anderson and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, which is set to be released along with Yorke’s upcoming album of the same name later this month.

Despite the teaser trailer released by Netflix today, we still don’t know a whole lot about Anima other than the fact that it’s being described as a “one-reeler,” an outdated industry term that refers to “a motion picture, especially a cartoon or comedy, of 10-12 minutes duration and contained on one reel of film; popular especially in the era of silent films.”

This whole thing is beyond exciting (to say the least), especially given the surprise nature of it all, and although it hasn’t even been two years since we got the lush masterpiece that is Phantom Thread, it certainly feels like we’re long overdue for some new PTA and Anima seems like it’ll be just what we need to hold us over until his next feature.

Anima will hit select IMAX theaters (!) and Netflix on June 26 and 27, respectively.

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