Interview: Antonio Campos – Simon Killer – Part 2
In Part 2 of our interview, we talk to Mr. Campos about his fascination with adolescence as subject matter, teaching Brady Corbet to moan, his use of sound and mirror images in storytelling, Chantal Akerman’s influence on his work, his love of spilling wine, and Joran Van Der Sloot.
Your previous films have been centered on adolescents. Simon’s a bit older.
I was stuck in adolescence for a long time as a subject. I was fascinated by it. (For this film), I started off wanting to do this generation’s love story. Kind of like a mumblecore love story in some ways. It even has a soundtrack of a film like that. It’s the dark side, the darker implications of our generation. I don’t think my films (necessarily) convey reality. I think that my films exist in a hyper-real universe where things are put under a microscope. They’re not complete portraits of a generation. Robert from Afterschool, he’s very much a concentrated (embodiment) of the darker stuff. Concentrating (on the darker stuff) doesn’t allow you to sentimentalize that much. You’ll get to something that’s under the surface, a little deeper, without wading through the sentimentality and the nostalgia. They’re dark universes to spend time in, and they’re dark aspects of humanity to focus on.
I was very interested in adolescence. My experiences as an adolescent left a pretty serious mark on me. I was dealing with (adolescence in my films), and it felt like a natural progression to go from that to someone in their early twenties, sort of graduating. I think now that I’ve done that with (Robert and with Simon), I’m interested in either going much, much older or examining a different genre.
So, Simon Killer might be your final project in this theme.
Maybe, yeah. There’ll be another dark central male figure, but I think he’ll be older. He’ll be in the same spectrum of bordering on sociopath/psychopath.
Brady uses a lot of primal, guttural moans and groans throughout the film. Whose idea was it to do that?
That was me. I said to Brady “I think you should do something like…UHHHHM…..MMMMM…” a sort of cacophony of moans and groans and guttural sounds. I threw that out to him and he ran with it. We figured out how to hit different “notes” with it. Scared groans, angry groans, sad groans. We wanted to find very visceral, primal expressions of feelings, and that was a great way to do it. (He could) express his fears, aggression, confusion, whatever…through this kind of sound.
Speaking of the sound, your soundtrack and score are very aggressive and functional in this film. What was your inspiration behind using your music so aggressively, as opposed to in Afterschool, where it was more subtle?
Afterschool had a lot of aggressive sound design things, like a lot of long drones and industrial sounds, like air conditioners and hard drives, those kinds of things. I was interested in going a completely different direction with sound (in Simon Killer). I was very consciously not using music in Afterschool and some of my shorts before that. We had an interesting way of approaching music in this film. I said “Simon’s listening to his iPod the entire time.” Brady immediately had a bunch of ideas for music, and we just ran with it. The title is kind of punk…you know, it’s not necessarily a subtle title. It’s an in-your-face title. We said “Let’s do the same with the music. Let’s not shy away from it. Let’s be as abrasive and aggressive as possible. Let’s go indie pop with it.”
With the score, we wanted to counter-act that. (There are) primal, percussive sounds. The soundtrack is very produced, and the score is very stripped away. The idea behind the credit music is sort of a blend of those two.
You’ve cited Chantal Akerman as an influence. There are a lot of shots in Afterschool with that Akerman-esque waist-height camera placement, and there are some in Simon Killer as well.
Chantal Akerman is always going to be there. Her influence is seen throughout everybody; Gus Van Sant, (Michael) Haneke, etc. What she did has reverberated through all of European cinema and a lot of independent film (in the U.S.) She’s always in the back of my mind. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she was on a jury and gave me my first prize ever with a short film I had in Cannes.
Yeah, I was really moved by that. (I think) Jeanne Dielman…is one of the most influential films in contemporary cinema.
There’s a shot you return to a few times of a table in Victoria’s apartment. You focus on the table and don’t cut away, even as dialogue is playing out.
I like still life shots. I like looking at a table and creating a story with (the items on it.) One of my favorite shots in the film is a slow, dollying back and forth shot when Simon walks into a girl’s apartment. There’s wine spilled on the floor, on the table, there are orange rinds on the side, some leftover cheese, (the girl’s) eating an orange. I got obsessed with how I would throw shit around. I’d spend time, like, taking a glass of water and spilling it. Especially wine, I really liked spilling wine around (laughs). In that scene, the table from the beginning of the night to the next morning says a lot. At the beginning of the night, it’s just a clean wooden table. She takes some fruits out, takes some magazines out, (puts down) a bottle of wine, and puts some bags of cocaine on the table. By the morning, it’s grimy, she’s wiping off some leftover residue, and she’s smoking a cigarette.
There are a lot of mirroring shots in the film. When he first looks at his computer, it’s for an email. The next time, he’s looking at porn. When he’s looking at Victoria and turns her around, (but) when he looks at the other girl, he’s looking at her face to face. When he dances with Victoria, (the shot is) from the waist down. When he dances with the other girl, (the shot) is from the chest up. Things repeat themselves, (but from) a different perspective based on how Simon is seeing the world. In the first apartment, we’re usually moving right to left, and in the other, we move (left to right.)
I didn’t notice all of those things consciously on my first viewing, but now looking back, it certainly registered subconsciously. When you put subtle things like that in your films, are you aiming for the subconscious, or do you hope your audience picks up on those things immediately?
No, no, no. That’s just the way my mind wraps itself around a story sometimes. It’s sort of creating “rules to the game”, seeing things in cycles. I like seeing things repeat, but from different perspectives.
I really enjoyed the wordplay in the final line of the film: “Simon, your lion.” Where did you get the idea for that?
I had heard a line from Joran Van Der Sloot that said “When my mom described me as an animal, she said I was like a snake, but I would like to be a lion, and one day, I will be a lion.” Joran Van Der Sloot is this guy who was accused of killing Natalee Holloway and eventually convicted of killing a girl in Peru. Brady and I read that, and…Brady has this fox pin that his mom gave him.
That’s actually his pin in the movie?
Yeah. She bought it online, so we bought a few more. So, Simon has this pin that his mom gave him. Instead of a snake, it’s a fox. Simon wants to be the king, the ultimate predator. But he isn’t; he’s still a little fox.