In which we meet up with cool people to get the insight you can only get from talking about what crap someone’s watching.
The other day, I met up with Austra’s Katie Stelmanis at a coffee shop in Williamsburg. Stelmanis, the band’s 28-year old classically trained vocalist and frontperson, was coming from a photoshoot in McCarren Park that finished early, and beat me to our meeting spot by enough time to be about halfway done with her iced tea. She and the band had just come back from a short European tour to promote their just-released second album, Olympia. Since their first record came out two years ago, Austra has been at the forefront of a lot of things, including a mini revival of synthy goth pop and a resurgent interest in queerness in music. Their new album is a pretty big step forward for them, overstuffed with of complicated early ‘90s bell tones, wind chimes, and Stelmanis’ wailing, icy voice. It’s not a departure: more of a full realization of what they started on Feel It Break. Stelmanis was in New York to play a few shows (and do photo shoots), and put aside a few minutes to waste with me to talk about the last few movies she’s seen. They include: gross special effects, riot grrrls, weird ‘90s sci-fi aesthetics, and (by my count) at least four lesbians.
Side Effects (2013, Stephen Soderbergh)
Watched: Van, Paris to Berlin.
IMDB: A young woman’s world unravels when a drug prescribed by her psychiatrist has unexpected side effects.
Thoughts: I didn’t love it, to be honest. I thought it was a little cheesy. I thought it was going to be a lot more of a challenge to the pharmaceutical industry. But it wasn’t. And there was like a lesbian moment, and I was excited about the lesbian moment. But it was so fleeting, and obviously not real. Plus, the lesbians betray each other within minutes.
High Art (1998, Lisa Cholodenko)
IMDB: A young female intern at a small magazine company becomes involved with a drug-addicted lesbian photographer, both of whom seek to exploit each other for their respective careers, while slowly falling in love with each other.
Thoughts: Funnily enough, also lesbians. Apparently, it’s a classic lesbian cult film, and I’d never seen it. So I watched it for the first time. I don’t really recommend it. I mean, I have to like it, because it’s a lesbian movie. It’s exactly what you’d think a movie called “High Art” would be like. It’s very much like, “Art. This is art. The art world.” It’s a movie written about the art world, and drug users, by people who have absolutely no contact with that world and know nothing about it. It has a tragic ending, but it was so bad that I didn’t even cry, and I cry all the time in movies.
Strange Days (1995, Kathryn Bigelow)
IMDB: A former cop turned street-hustler accidentally uncovers a police conspiracy in 1999 Los Angeles.
Thoughts: This one I really loved! It’s with Juliette Lewis. This movie was awesome. I’d never seen it before. It’s made in 1995, and it’s set on New Year’s Eve 2000; Y2K. It has the best ‘90s sci-fi digital effects. The aesthetic of it is so good. I’m super into that aesthetic right now.
The characters are awesome. Juliette Lewis is kind of annoying, she’s kind of a brat. But another woman in the movie, she’s like an athlete, she’s really really strong, and she’s not sexualized throughout the entire movie, which I really liked. She basically just goes around with the lead dude, and like fights for him. Such a classic ‘90s character. I feel like you’d never have that now. I’m also really into ‘90s sci-fi, so this was right up my alley. Like Garbage Pail kids, or like the Super Mario Brothers movie. The special effects in that are so gross. I love it.
The Guilt Trip (Anne Fletcher, 2012)
Watched: Airplane, London to New York
IMDB: As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.
Thoughts: I loved it. It’s hilarious.
Is it Debbie Reynolds who’s his mom?
I’m really bad with names. Let me Google it. What’s the movie called again?
The Guilt Trip.
It’s Barbra Streisand! How could I not know that? This is how bad I am. I didn’t even know it was Barbra Streisand. Of course I like it! I love all her movies! Mermaids—
Isn’t that Cher?
It is? Fuck. Nevermind. I think one of the things I really liked about it was that it didn’t focus on a romance between Seth Rogen and anybody. It was obvious that the son was a failed romantic, but there was no point where the son was like, you thought maybe he would have a girlfriend. Usually in movies like that, that would be a thing.. It was all about the mom and her romance. She gets hit on by some guy, a hot cowboy man, but she’s like ‘nah. Whatever.’ But then later on she decides to call him.
Don’t Need You (2005, Kerri Koch)
Watched: France (?)
IMDB: “don’t need you” is a documentary film that tells the story of the origins of Riot Grrrl in the American independent music scene of the 1990s, and how this feminist movement evolved into a revolutionary underground network.
Thoughts: A friend of ours in France brings us gifts to all of our shows. She’s very thoughtful and a superfan, but not like a creepy superfan. She has genuine love for giving gifts to bands. The idea of someone making music for her, she has so much admiration and respect for that. She’s beautiful. We actually ended up writing a song after her, “Annie” on the new record. We call her our angel. One of the gifts that we got was this movie.
I was super into riot grrrl when I was younger. I was in post-riot grrrl band, in like 2003. We were called Galaxy. Our one influence was riot grrrl. My friend Emma, at the time, was very much into all of that and had been listening to it for a long time. I didn’t know anything about it, but she found me and Maya and said, “This is the kind of band we’re having and this is the kind of music we like.” And we were like, “Okay!” She taught me about all that shit.
I hadn’t really ever seen a documentary like this. I didn’t really know a lot of this stuff. I didn’t realize that a lot of this had happened in Washington, D.C. and Olympia.
Was it inspiring to you?
Yeah. Even just hearing them do interviews and talking about feminism, I picked up some of their phrases. Talking about like political activism versus cultural activism, all these concepts that I hadn’t thought of in a long time. Feminism is cool again.
Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton)
IMDB: The Earth is invaded by Martians with irresistible weapons and a cruel sense of humor.
Thoughts: I fell asleep. I took a lot of drugs on the airplane, so I missed a large portion of it. I remember loving it when I was like 12. It’s like a star-studded movie! It’s got like 25 A+ stars in it.
The aliens don’t even show up until like an hour into the movie.
I forgot about that, too. I fell asleep before the aliens came.
Photography by Norman Wong