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Posts Tagged ‘Abel Ferrara’

Interview with Sean Price Williams

Saturday, September 12th, 2015

Here’s a great interview with Sean Price Williams by Matt Mulcahey from Filmmaker Magazine.

In the 1960s, it was cinematographer Raoul Coutard who revolutionized the cinema; in 2015, Sean Price Williams is also pushing the limits of the known into new and interesting places. As Williams’ Wikipedia entry notes, “the New Yorker film critic Richard Brody described Williams (in a memorial appraisal of documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, for whom Williams served extensively as cameraman), as ‘the cinematographer for many of the best and most significant independent films of the past decade, fiction and documentary — including Frownland, Yeast, Fake It So Real, The Color Wheel, Young Bodies Heal Quickly, Listen Up Philip, the Safdie brothers’ Heaven Knows What, and Alex Ross Perry‘s new feature Queen of Earth.’

In a 2013 article for, critic Calum Marsh deemed Williams ‘micro-budget filmmaking’s most exciting cinematographer.’ Marsh would go on to write in a 2014 article in Toronto’s National Post that ‘Williams, in particular, has proven indispensable to the [2010s American independent film] movement, and over the past several years has distinguished dozens of the films with his all but peerless talent for photography, from experimental nonfiction work like Maiko Endo’s Kuichisan to more conventional comedies like Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me.” Williams has also worked several times with the director Abel Ferrara, whom he greatly admires.” And refreshingly, he prefers to shoot film, and not digital, and loves it.

Here’s part of Mulcahey’s interview:

Filmmaker: We’re roughly the same age and my love of movies really developed at the video store. Did you have a similar experience?

Williams: Oh yeah. Where I grew up there wasn’t much, but I got a VideoHound and just started calling and writing to all the distributors in the back to get catalogues because I wanted to see all these foreign films and I didn’t know how else to see them. And I would get these catalogues and everything was like $90. (laughs) I was just so anxious to see these movies. Then I discovered this video store in Delaware and it was one of those amazing moments in my life that I can’t believe is real. I walked into this place and there was an entire shelf of Fassbinder tapes. It was this totally curated art film store in Delaware. It enabled me to basically get an education in movies, which is what I devoted my entire high school experience to. I didn’t go to parties. Didn’t do any sports really. I just watched movies.

Filmmaker: I remember as a teenager, before the days of IMDB, if I saw a movie by a director I liked, I would search either the Leonard Maltin or Roger Ebert review books to find other films by that person.

Williams: Ephraim Katz’s The Film Encyclopedia was the big resource for me. They had it in my library and I had it checked out pretty much four straight years.

Filmmaker: How’d you end up heading to New York?

Williams: I went to college in Baltimore and then I dropped out because all of the film equipment there started breaking and they started changing over to video, which I wasn’t interested in. I had an opportunity to move in with a girl in New York, so I did. I just sort of made the leap. I started working for this internet company doing video content. I had no intentions of being a cinematographer or anything.

Filmmaker: And you met Alex Ross Perry while working at Kim’s Video in New York?

Williams: I started working at Kim’s in 2000 and then in 2005 Alex started coming in and begging for a job. No one else would talk to him, but I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll see what I can do.’ And then every day he’d come in and I’d be like, ‘Look, I’ll try.’ Every day. Finally I got him a job on the second floor — I was on the third floor. Then I got fired really soon after I got him the job — not because of him though. (laughs)

Filmmaker: Was there a specific director you bonded over?

Williams: There was a big moment where we all went and saw Out 1, the 13-hour Jacques Rivette film, at the Museum of the Moving Image. It showed over two days during the weekend and that’s when we were all like, “You know what, Alex is pretty cool.” We became buddies then. I think it was around that time, too, that he did his thesis film and I thought it was terrible and I told him so. I said, “You’ve got good taste in movies, but this is really bad.” And he said, “Well, the next one we’ll make together.” And then we made Impolex maybe a year after that.”

Read the entire interview by clicking here; who knows what he’ll do next?

4:44 Last Day On Earth

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

Director Abel Ferrara on the set of 4:44 Last Day On Earth; click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer for the film.

“In a large apartment high above the city lives our couple. They’re in love. She’s a painter, he’s a successful actor. Just a normal afternoon – except that this isn’t a normal afternoon, for them or anyone else. Because tomorrow, at 4:44 am, give or take a few seconds, the world will come to an end far more rapidly than even the worst doomsayer could have imagined. The final meltdown will come not without warnings, but with no means of escape. There will be no survivors. As always, there are those who, as their last cigarette is being lit and the blindfold tightened, will still hope against hope for some kind of reprieve. For a miracle. Not our two lovers. They – like the majority of the Earth’s population – have accepted their fate: the world is going to end.”

Abel Ferrara has been making films for three decades now, almost always working at the margins of the industry, and always courting controversy with his subject matter. Now, in 4:44 Last Day On Earth, Ferrara tackles the end of the world, much like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, but on a shoestring budget, which is typical for Ferrara, who typically structures his film around one or two major characters, shoots in actual locations quickly, and spews out films that are often uneven, but always visually arresting and deeply ambitious, even if sometimes the individual scenes don’t work.

No matter; the subject matter here is New York City, particularly the Lower East Side, and centers on a woman and a man, played by Shanyn Leigh and Willem Dafoe, who say their goodbyes to the people in their lives on Skype, while traffic flows on in Manhattan, seemingly oblivious to the threat of impending doom. The cause for the world’s demise is ecological, and when the end comes, it’s depicted as a sort of worldwide, lethal vision of Northern Lights, which engulf the planet in an ethereal glow of doom.

Throughout much of the film, Leigh’s character, a painter, seems to be working on a very large abstract canvas on the floor, which in the film’s final moments is revealed to be a large serpent swallowing itself, with no beginning and no end. Anita Pallenberg, as her mother, checks in by Skype to assure her daughter that she has spent her life honorably, doing solid work, and that when the end comes, she shouldn’t be afraid. Some people in the film seek solace in drugs or alcohol; some in prayer; some in partying denial. And some, of course, despite the general consensus that this really is the end of the world, refuse to believe that it’s true.

But a news anchor, seen briefly on a flatscreen television that dominates the loft the pair share, sums it up best when he says that he sees no reason to stay on the air and keep telling the world that time is up; he wants to go home to be with his family when 4:44AM rolls around. In the end, as apocalypse hits full force, the screen fades to white, and Leigh’s character says softly, “now we’re angels.” Imperfect, made in a guerrilla fashion, and shot mostly in a first take is the only take basis, the film is nevertheless deeply felt, and certainly worth the 82 minutes of running time it occupies.

4:44 Last Day On Earth isn’t by any means a masterpiece, but it’s a strangely evocative and transcendent film from a genuine American outlaw, and as such, operates entirely by its own set of rules. And taken on these terms, it is more often than not, successful, and lingers in the mind long after other films have vanished; Ferrara may have no money, but he has imagination and ambition, and he keeps making movies. Just like Leigh’s character in the film, this is an honorable thing to do. Next up is a project with Dafoe on the life of the late filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini; who knows what Ferrara will come up with?

About the Author

Headshot of Wheeler Winston Dixon Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. All comments by Dixon on this blog are his own opinions.

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Wheeler Winston Dixon has been quoted by Fast Company, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the BBC, CNN, The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report, The Boston Globe, Entertainment Weekly, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, The PBS Newshour, USA Today and other national media outlets on digital cinema, film and related topics - see the UNL newsroom at for more details.

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