The filmmaker on "Bill Murray Life Lessons" and other filmmaking ideas
Published: December 1, 2010
Ann Everton delivers an artist's talk
The Creative Alliance, Dec. 2, 7 p.m.
For more information visit creativealliance.org
Certain generations of cable viewers no doubt remember Meatballs, Ivan Reitman’s 1979 summer camp romp that is one of the progenitors of the teen sex comedy. And fans of the movie might recall Bill Murray’s camp counselor motivational speech from it, in which he excites the camp kids to get on with their competition with campers from the wealthier Camp Mohawk because, “It just doesn’t matter”—a cynically hysterical moment of one-for-the-Gipper cliché turned on its socioeconomic head.
Baltimore artist Ann Everton first saw that scene 30 years later, and it sparked a video project that she’s been working on ever since. For “Bill Murray Life Lessons,” currently on view at the Creative Alliance at the Patterson’s CAmm A/V Art Cart, the Baltimore native has been recreating scenes from Murray’s movies that, to her, offer some instructional wisdom for dealing with life.
She arrived at this idiosyncratic mix of narrative filmmaking and video art rather circuitously. She was a graffiti artist as a teen in Baltimore, where she graduated from the Bryn Mawr School before going on to earn a degree in visual art from Barnard College in 2004, working primarily in painting. Through University of London’s Goldsmiths College she studied abroad in Japan, where she first started exploring the life lessons motif. She returned to Baltimore shortly after graduating and enrolled at Avara’s Academy of Hair Design in Dundalk.
Thus far, Everton has shot 15 Murray re-enactments, with any number of her friends and local artists performing the Murray character: Oxes/Frenemies’ Chris Freeland in Caddyshack (the Dalai Lama monologue), Enig Notned in Where the Buffalo Roam, and Everton herself in many of them. Some are shot-by-shot remakes, others more interpretive. All are marked by Everton’s deadpan wit, which almost imperceptibly moves between sarcasm and sincerity. These playful interminglings of the video-art and film world have become more prevalent over the past decade—see Francesco Vezzoli’s ribald and loony 2005 “Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula” for one of the more entertaining examples—and Everton’s work blithely features her eclectic fingerprint. City Paper recently caught up with the affable and playfully intelligent Everton at a coffeeshop and learned more about her Murray project and her own filmmaking ideas, and now we kind of pine for somebody to make “Nick Nolte’s Life Lessons.”
City Paper: So you moved from graffiti and painting right into video art without stopping in still photography?
Ann Everton: Yeah, after Goldsmiths, which was really this great experience because it made me realize that painting wasn’t a good stage for me. I don’t communicate very well in painting. I was a skillful painter, but my paintings are really boring. Video seemed to be something more familiar. I mean, think about going to the movies. You’re in a dark room. The only thing you see is a movie, the only thing you hear is the movie. So I like that sense of control. So I did a lot of video early on that was still about graffiti. I did a piece about graffiti in West Baltimore, but I arrived at video through painting.
CP: Have you been working in video steadily since?
AE: When I was in Japan, my main project was a book about life lessons you learn from science-fiction novels. So it was kind of what I’m doing with Bill Murray. With science fiction, there was this whole alternative outlet for learning, but it was more visual and less video or experience.
CP: Was that the first “life lessons” project you worked on?
CP: Where did that idea, that situation come from for you? Were you already interested in science-fiction novels?
AE: Yes. Science-fiction novels are great because ideally they’re really outside the realm of young social narratives, because that’s the whole point. At the time I think I was thinking about the stresses of our society—like the college system, monogamy. And science fiction for some reason gave me a lot of answers to these questions. The whole idea about the book Life Lessons From Science Fiction Novels is that you don’t have to go to college to learn college stuff—like, if you want to learn about Theodor Adorno or Jung or something like that, you can get that by reading the books, but you can also get that by reading completely different things.
CP: Was there another life lesson project after that before Bill Murray?
AE: I think everything I’ve done since then has been touching on that idea. When I did the science fiction life lessons project, that was about the time I went to college, and I was so happy to not be in college. I really appreciated the educational experience that I had, and I am really grateful to my family for providing me with that. At the same time, it’s a really hard world to be in, because it’s so one kind of person. That’s one of the points of going to barber school, because everybody was there, and it was so wonderful interacting with so many different kinds of people. It was a different world. And it’s the kind of feeling you have when you break up with someone and a year later you think, “Oh—what was I thinking [by dating him]?” Not to say that’s exactly how I feel about college but, for me, I was really able to enjoy my life much more after college.
CP: So, why Bill Murray? I mean, life lessons from science fiction makes a great deal of sense—it’s an alternative reality but it’s often relating to things that happen in real life through some metaphorical way. But Bill Murray stars in movies that are very much mundane.
AE: I know. It’s weird too, because Bill Murray is, I don’t know. He stars in movies that are sort of cool but . . . not.
CP: Did it start out as being a series or just, I’m going to do this one thing and see how it turns out?
AE: Yeah, that was funny. It was early 2009, and I was going through a tough period at my job. It wasn’t the job’s fault, it was my fault. There were a lot of changes in my life and a lot of me trying to build myself into a happier person, and I was watching Meatballs. I was, like, Oh, I’ve got to see Meatballs. As a kid, this was the movie I always saw in the video store right by my parents’ house called Belvedere Video. And I would go there as a small child and walk down the aisles and look at the boxes and think, One day I’m going to see these. And Meatballs always looked great, but of course I was always too little to ask my parents to get it. So I rented it, and there’s that scene where Bill Murray’s going nuts and saying, “It just doesn’t matter.”
CP: That was the first time you’d seen it?
CP: In 2009?
AE: Yeah. I have some catching up to do. But it’s cool, because I’ve noticed that Bill Murray does have a lot of these kinds of rallying kinds of scenes in movies, and so that was one of the lessons at the time. As in, you can do all you can, but after a certain point, like, if you worry about things you just don’t have any control over you’re just being an asshole. So as I was watching this, I became so in love with this idea about doing something with these scenes. And, also, in 2008 I wasn’t that proactive creatively, and I thought, Yes! I have a project that I can work on for a long time. Forever, really, as long as Bill Murray is making movies.
CP: So have they been made in the order that they appear on your web site?
AE: Usually I try to stay chronological, and I’m at a point right now where I’m in the mid-’90s. The cool thing about this project is not only am I learning ways to deal with issues within my own life, but it’s also teaching me how to be a better filmmaker. Because what I’m doing is halfway between video art and filmmaking anyway. So I’ll look at the first one, the Meatballs one, and that’s a lot of fun, but since then I’ve been learning better ways of editing and better ways of making them, partially just by making mistakes.
But it’s fun to learn how easy it is to make certain kinds of movies when you’re emulating all these things. When I was doing Stripes, it doesn’t really have a scene that works for me in the same way. He does have a scene where he’s doing that sort of motivational speech, but the message is the army is the army. It’s not the army is cool or the army is busted, it’s just the army is the army. And I didn’t really know what to do with that, so I kind of made up my own scene in a kind of war video. And it was so easy—all you do is have some unforgiving terrain and put explosions in the background. It’s a war video. So I kind of hope he does a space movie, because I want to do a space video.
CP: Do you remember what the first Bill Murray movie you ever saw was?
AE: Oh god no. I mean, this could be Nick Nolte. This could be Robert Redford. You can pull out whatever meaning you want from a movie depending on whatever you’re going through. I mean, What About Bob? was pretty significant for me at the time, because I felt like I was Richard Dreyfuss and somebody else was Bob, and I was trying to make these things happen in my life. You can interpret yourself as anybody.
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