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PREVIEW: Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then
Kate Taylor , August 29th, 2012 07:44

US filmmaker Brent Green chats to Kate Taylor about his remarkable, part-animated docudrama, ahead of its special Empire Drive-In screening at Abandon Normal Devices festival in Manchester

Brendan Canty, the drummer from Fugazi, finds desolate houses, invites local bands to play one song each over the course of a day, and then burns the structures down or demolishes them. At one such Burn To Shine event in Louisville, Kentucky, filmmaker Brent Green found a building with a past that would inspire him to build a replica in his backyard and direct his debut feature, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then.

Mixing stop motion animation and live action, Gravity... tells the story of Leonard and Mary Wood (played by Michael McGinley and Donna Kozloskie), a real-life couple who met in a car crash. From the awkward manoeuvres of their initial courtship, the 71-minute opus charts this offbeat romance and the turn it takes when Mary falls ill and Leonard's religious faith is joined by the conviction that by creating the most beautiful and imaginative house around her, he can keep his wife alive. As cinema, it's jerky poetry, the magic realism emanating from both its unusual formal composure and from the very carpentry on screen.

The film will be screened with a live soundtrack this Thursday August 30 at Abandon Normal Devices festival, as part of the programme hosted in Manchester by Empire Drive-In. This special venue is a full-scale drive-in movie theatre built from salvaged materials and junked cars, by artists Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark. Their other selections include RoboCop and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The Quietus caught up with filmmaker Brent Green after Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then premiered at Rotterdam’s International Film Festival in 2011...

When did you first encounter the story of Leonard and Mary?

Brent Green: The Burn To Shine film series is awesome. You really get attached to the house and the bands are great. Somebody called Brendan and said we have a house for you in Louisville, Kentucky. So he just called me and said, "Do you feel like going to Louisville?" We drove down and wandered into Leonard's house. It was amazing, we just stumbled into it.

It was really hard to piece together at first. All his stuff was still in the house, the windows were still painted all the different colours, the stairs were numbered. It was clearly interesting, whatever was going on. And the bank statements. The initial thing that moved me about the story wasn't him trying to save his wife, because I didn't know about that. It was because he was broke and had clearly just made this house himself. And that at first really affected me. Because like it says in the film, no one's going to care how much money you had in the bank in 1987. That's true.

So that's why I wanted to make the film. Then as it went on, this guy who was Leonard's only friend started giving me all of Leonard's letters. Well, he gave them to me in one giant pile. Including the letter that's in the film, about him trying to get married and communicate from the grave. That's when the story took on those echoes.

The line in the film is: "You build your own world". All of us do it, from the richest Wall Street investor to the biggest nerd dropping a fish into a deep fryer. To me Leonard personified that. People, in and of ourselves, are useless. And it's what you do with your hands that makes you valuable, for the most part.

Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then from Brent Green on Vimeo.

You replicated Leonard's process, to a degree, in the actual building. Did you find that process illuminating? Did it answer questions that you had prior?

BG: Yeah. Donna K, who plays Mary in the film, is my girlfriend in real life. She was in and out of the hospital with some undiagnosable autoimmune disorder, and in the United States we have a crippling healthcare system.

So for me there was certainly a relatability in terms of I was building this thing with largely the end-goal of being able to afford Donna's healthcare, because I make a living as an artist. And I made the piano and the sound comes out of these horns at the top - I'm gonna sell this, that's gonna pay these bills. I was thinking a lot about that.

Of course it was illuminating because I only let myself think about the film while I was building everything, so I was really focused on it.

There's a singularity to both of the characters, namely Mary's bird affinity and Leonard's need to build. I'm wondering if in your head, knowing that you were making this piece of art, whether that too felt like an obsession?

BG: Yeah. It felt like an obsession because it felt impossible. At the start I was like, alright, I'm going to build a town in my back yard. I think it's important if you're going to try and make something worthwhile to reach a little further than you can actually grab. You have to be obsessed to achieve something that feels impossible to you.

Empire Drive-In presents Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then on Thursday August 30 at QPark on Hulme Street in Manchester, as part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival of new cinema, digital culture and art.