Before we start, a couple of anecdotes about Jeremiah Kipp. I was first exposed to him and his work back in 2004, when I was the head movie critic for a now-defunct online ‘zine called No-Fi “Magazine.” I received a copy of his short film, The Christmas Party to review (and which you can view HERE). I loved it, and gave it a glowing review. It’s a haunting, melancholy piece about disillusionment. I highly recommend viewing when you have the time. Since then, as you’ll see in his credits, he has become an accomplished writer, director, and producer.
Second, and I don’t know if Jeremiah remembers this, but a couple of years ago I posted on Facebook challenging people to name two objects for me that I would then have to work into a short story. Jeremiah gave me a “bag of bones and a whistle.” Well, I chose his. And, while it’s nowhere near completed, I did start writing that story, and hope to finally finish it this year. I’ll warn you—it’s a sick little thing. *sinister chuckle*
Anyway, let’s move on.
Jeremiah Kipp’s directing credits include Black Wake starring Tom Sizemore, Pickup starring Jim True-Frost (“The Wire”), Edward Albee: A Transformative Moment starring Mercedes Ruehl, The Sadist starring Tom Savini, The Pod starring Larry Fessenden, Contact (commissioned by Sinister Six annual screening series), The Days God Slept, Crestfallen, The Christmas Party (Cannes and Clermont-Ferrand), Easy Prey (commissioned by NYC’s annual VisionFest), Drool (commissioned by Mandragoras Art Space) and The Apartment (commissioned by Canon to premiere their XL2 at DV Expo 2004). Producing credits include the feature films Satan Hates You (created by Glass Eye Pix, starring Angus Scrimm, Michael Berryman and Reggie Bannister), God’s Land, Let’s Play, In Montauk, The Jonestown Defense and The Bed-Thing (directed by Pulitzer Prize-nominated Matt Zoller Seitz). Assistant director credits include I Sell the Dead starring Dominic Monaghan, Somewhere Tonight starring John Turturro, One Night starring Melissa Leo, and the Sundance Award-winning Man (dir: Myna Joseph). He is in pre-production on Atlas of the Soul starring legendary actor James Earl Jones.
Ryan Lieske: What is the first book you remember reading, or having read to you?
Jeremiah Kipp: There was a book my grandmother read to me called Button Soup, which was about Scrooge McDuck not wanting to let his niece and nephew use all the food in his kitchen to make a soup. They said OK, and just made a soup using a button, and as they kept going, Scrooge gradually gave them salt, pepper, parsley, carrots…and you get the idea. Pretty soon it is an elaborate feast. I’m a filmmaker now, and making movies is pretty much the same…starting from zero, a dream, and constructing a new world from scratch.
RL: What is the book that sealed your fate as a lifelong reader?
It felt so adult, so beyond, and yet so honest. I still return to that beautifully written short novel as a source of inspiration. Even as a kid, I felt how close Stevenson cut to the human experience, and saw horror as a useful metaphor. Even if I didn’t have those words, I understood.
RL: That book is brilliant. One of my favorite horror novels. In what ways do you feel it “cuts to the human experience?”
JK: We all have our outer selves and inner selves, the secret parts of ourselves that we won’t share or are incapable of sharing unless under the most extreme given circumstances. We all have monsters that are waiting to leap out of us, full of incredible hunger.
RL: Do you have examples of your own work that that novel has inspired, or been an influence on?
JK: A lot of my films have had characters delving into an imaginary dream world of some kind or another, whether it be the protagonist justifying his choices by believing them to be supernatural forces in The Minions, or the heroine of Pickup, whose sexual addictions are shielded from her suburban family. Those secrets ultimately destroy the characters. Moderation of that deeper self is the only way to survive.
RL: A lot of people tell me that, even if they were a voracious reader as a child, it was their middle-school and high-school years that had the most impact on the reader they are today. Would you say this is true for you?
JK: In high school, I remember in class we read Rebecca and A Tale of Two Cities. But I was always an avid reader at home, getting into Dune and those early Thomas Harris books about Dr. Lecter, Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs. I remember Robert Cormier’s hard edged young adult novel The Chocolate War wasn’t talking down to me.
RL: Yes! I am so glad somebody has finally brought up Cormier. Love The Chocolate War, but my favorite of his is Fade. I think it’s a criminally underrated horror novel. Have you gone back to Chocolate War?
JK: I haven’t gone back to The Chocolate War, though that might be interesting. I remember Fade being a compelling young adult version of The Invisible Man, a book by H.G. Wells that I absolutely adore. The idea of being able to do whatever you want under a cloak of invisibility is timeless, and remains ultimately a cautionary fable.
RL: Were you one of those kids who went rogue from the curriculum and read whatever you wanted, sometimes even ignoring what was assigned to read altogether?
JK: Reading was and is an important part of my life. I’ve always felt a little bit outside of the curriculum anyway, and reading is a way of expanding the possibilities. It helps you define your own terms.
RL: How has your reading influenced you as a filmmaker and the types of films you make?
JK: Many of my films are horror movies, so no doubt the fiction I’ve read affected my filmmaking choices. Sometimes I would imagine literary references, like Painkiller being my version of Frankenstein. I’ve done commercials where I thought of the seductive power of Dracula as a model. I just made a movie about addiction recovery called How Do You Type a Broken Heart where a book I’d read about speculative scientists in a retreat suffering from a condition called “abyss gaze” informed the theme of the film. As an active reader, I know my reading habits affect me directly, and often indirectly.
RL: Reading is inherently a solitary activity, so did your reading life ever supersede or cause conflict with your social life growing up? Were you more apt to hide out in the library at school, or stay home on a Saturday night to read a book?
JK: I made movies, so it allowed me to gather together people with a common goal. Reading books in high school is something bullies might make fun of, but I always thought they could go screw themselves. If it made me solitary, I was okay with it. It was my private joy, and gave me so much pleasure, inspiration and excitement.
RL: What new books, literary styles, or genres were you exposed to in college?
JK: Philosophy books were part of the curriculum at NYU, so you’re getting a little more Hegel and Kierkegaard than I was used to growing up in rural Rhode Island. I read The Handmaid’s Tale in college and loved it, but thought it was far-fetched until I read Susan Faludi’s Backlash right after and realized Margaret Atwood’s dystopia could become chillingly real in two seconds. And here we are now…
RL: No kidding. I just reread The Handmaid’s Tale this past month. I was disturbed by it in a completely different way this time around, given our current political environment. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the new TV series is doing so well.
JK: It’s like you watch that show, then the news, and it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference.
RL: I, too, discovered a wider array of philosophy books in college than I had previously been exposed to in rural Michigan. Speaking for myself, as a fiction writer and filmmaker, they had, and still have, a huge influence on me, even the ones I don’t quite subscribe to. Do you find this to be true for you, as well?
JK: Well, every movie has a point-of-view, or a theme. There is ultimately some idea you are communicating, and that is a philosophy. You can’t hide from who you are. Those books I read are a part of me now, and thus a part of the work.
RL: What were your early bookstore experiences like?
JK: There were a few used bookstores around where I grew up, none of which are open anymore. I still like finding buried treasure in those places. There are a few in New York I frequent often. The Strand near Union Square is a good way to kill time if you have an hour, as long as you don’t have a specific book in mind that you’re searching for, because sometimes they just won’t have it.
RL: Did you find, as you grew older, that the books of your youth began to mean less to you? Or do you still enjoy all the types of books you’ve been exposed to throughout your life?
JK: Sometimes they deepen in value. Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights seemed long winded in my youth, and now they feel so rich and are teeming with ideas and a kind of looming madness that is exciting.
RL: I definitely agree. I did find Frankenstein a bit dull when I read it in my teens, but every time I reread it, it gets better and better. This can also happen with books you loved when you were young, as well. For instance, I adored Lord of the Flies when I first read it, and now my esteem for it is beyond adoration. So much symbolism and philosophical depth that I didn’t pick up on when I was young. Same with A Wrinkle in Time. On a side note—and since we’re both filmmakers I think it’s okay to drift off topic a second—this is exactly what happened with me and Bladerunner. I hated it the first time I saw as a kid. HATED it. Thought it was the dullest movie ever made. I swore I’d never watch it again. Now? After finally giving it another chance in my early 30s, I fell in love with it. HARD. One of my Top Ten Faves now. Lesson learned—never be afraid to give books or films a second chance. You might be surprised.
JK: The movies and books don’t change, but we do.
RL: Amen. Perfectly stated.
How has your reading life survived adulthood?
JK: I still read almost every day. I just finished a Jim Harrison novel and just finished a brilliant piece of post-apocalyptic fiction by the great children’s author Russell Hoban called Riddley Walker, which is a classic cult book in the United Kingdom and I wish had a bigger audience here. It’s one of the best pieces of beautiful poetic writing I’ve read in years. No matter how busy I am, I always have a book with me.
RL: I’m the same. I make myself read for at least a half hour to an hour everyday. Usually it’s more, but when I’m busy, I cut back to that bare minimum. I’d never heard of Riddley Walker. Now I’m looking it up, I’m very intrigued. Can you talk to me a little more about that one?
JK: I’m still trying to figure out how to convey to my friends how much that book has meant to me, how much I’ve found a new book to cherish. I suppose the starting point is the language. The book takes place 2,500 years after a nuclear cataclysm, so the language is distorted and distancing and difficult to get used to, written in a futuristic Yorkshire patois. Sentences like “Iyther you dont know nothing or you know too much it dont seam like theres any thing in be twean.” It has a beautiful poetry that seems challenging at first but within a page or two you get used to it. And then as the book rolls on, you see it as a story looking backwards into an unattainable past that the present tense characters are ashamed of. You fall in love with the characters and there’s a heartbreak of knowing they are so far away from you, and yet they want to find you. It’s difficult to describe, and I haven’t figured it out yet. Its also a great post-apocalyptic yarn told in a Huckleberry Finn adventuring young adult style, never shying away from harsh and even brutal realities but with a sense of “here we go” whimsy that makes the end of the world locale even more moving. It doesn’t preach about how nuclear war is bad, or hector the reader, it is more a book about an enthusiasm for life in the face of the most reaching despair.
RL: I’m definitely adding it to my To-Read List.
Currently, what types of books are you mostly drawn to?
JK: If it’s fiction, I read for pleasure, and non-fiction tends to be research about subject matters I’m making a movie about.
RL: Can you tell me a couple of non-fiction books you’ve really enjoyed recently?
JK: I read two books by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the two Obama elections. Slightly gossipy but fun to read. I also enjoyed a book by Vladimir Nabokov about Gogol, the great Russian author, which was quite Nabokov-ian in style.
RL: How do you share your love of books with others?
JK: I make it a point in life to not have too much clutter, or an excess of stuff. I give away most of my books to friends after I finish them, or sell them back to used bookstores in exchange for new books.
RL: I’m one of those people who reads several books at a time. I’ve been called a “reading polygamist.” Are you? Our are you pretty monogamous when it comes to reading?
JK: It depends. If one book wholly engrosses me, I devote myself to it completely, but I always have a few books I’m in the middle of. I’ll finish them gradually. But if I really love the material, I’ll just put all my energy into that one.
RL: Now, I personally dislike the whole concept “guilty pleasures.” However, for want of a better term, what are your literary guilty pleasures?
JK: I definitely don’t feel guilty loving pulp crime like Jim Thompson or pulp sci-fi like Philip K. Dick. They churned those books out and many of them are great, some are a hot mess, but all are interesting, even the failures. I have a guilty love of a certain kind of trashy horror novel, like those written by Rex Miller during the 1980s (he wrote a nasty book called Slob).
RL: Slob is definitely a nasty, albeit fun, read. I’m a sucker for horror paperbacks from the 70s and 80s. And I’m not talking Koontz or King. I mean the deep cuts. A lot of them are complete trash, but I enjoy them, warts and all, in the same way I enjoy old B-movies. I highly recommend The Breeze Horror by Candance Caponegro. It was out of print for decades, but it’s been re-released finally (which I plan to buy ASAP, even though I’m not digging the new cover they gave it, even though it’s more apropos in terms of the story; can’t help it, I just adore that older cover). It’s a messy, sickening, wonderfully over-the-top proto-splatterpunk book that’s about as grotty and nasty, if not more so, than Slob.
JK: Got to track it down, then!
RL: What are your thoughts on “genre” labeling?
JK: I love how genre can be used as metaphor, as you can see from my enthusiasm for science fiction, crime and horror writing.
RL: Do you feel, though, that it can sometimes have a negative impact, possibly alienating readers (or viewers) who have simple or outdated ideas of what those genres traditionally have represented? Like you own work, for example. Do the genre labels sometimes keep people away who may potentially love the movie? Speaking personally, I’ve had people begrudgingly watch a couple of my short films, and they ended up loving them because they realized “horror” can mean a whole lot more than chainsaws and hockey masks. I bring this up a lot, but I knew so many people who claimed to hate “horror fiction” who devoured The Road when it was published. And I was like, umm…that IS horror.
JK: Yeah, there are so many weird stigmas attached, yet it’s also nice to find a home for one’s work and a sense of community.
RL: Very true, and a good way of looking at it.
Are you a physical copy person, or do you prefer other ways of “reading” books, such as e-books or audio? Does the “delivery system,” as King calls it, matter to you?
JK: I prefer physical books in my hand.
RL: Likewise. And do you take a book with you wherever you go?
JK: Yes. Right now it is a book of plays from Clubbed Thumb Theatre.
RL: I’m not familiar with Clubbed Thumb Theatre.
JK: Clubbed Thumb is a local theater company whose plays are both whimsical and nightmarish, often written by women or by outsiders. They have a rogue, almost fringe-like element of their work, yet very accessible, anyone could watch it. It’s not elitist, just smart.
RL: What books―and they don’t have to necessarily have to be all-time favorites―do you feel have influenced you and shaped you the most: as a human being, as an artist, etc.?
JK: Moby-Dick and Frankenstein, off the top of my head, meant a lot to me when I first read them, and mean a lot to me now.
RL: What is it about them that still resonates with you?
JK: Maybe I have a Napoleon complex. The characters in Moby-Dick and Frankenstein want to be Gods, or to slap their idea of God in the face. And it consumes them to the point of total destruction. Terrifying, personal and cosmic…!
RL: Have you ever read a book that made you cry?
JK: I remember weeping when Piggy died in Lord of the Flies.
RL: And, have you ever read a book that truly, deep down in your soul or psyche, disturbed you?
JK: I was deeply moved by Mary Shelley’s end of the world novel The Last Man, since she was really writing about the death of all her friends. I was shaken to the very core when I read it. Imagine writing a story about all your friends, and then killing them off one by one. For Shelley, it was quite literal, many of her close friends had passed away before she wrote that book, so in a sense it’s a metaphor for the deepest grief.
RL: Lastly, just for fun, what are some books or authors you just cannot get into, or downright loathe?
JK: I can’t stand Jonathan Lethem or Jonathan Safron Foer and completely loathe Dave Eggers. A certain kind of modern writer where they’re too clever by half, though I don’t feel that way about the late David Foster Wallace. I’ve never gotten into Ernest Hemingway, and have tried repeatedly, but don’t quite see what everyone else found so rich, maybe because others have taken his style and done it so much better. It could also be personal taste…
RL: Yeah, I’ve never really understood the Hemingway thing. I don’t dislike his books, but I never feel satisfied after reading one. I’m always left feeling “meh.”
Are there any specific writers you can name that you feel did “Hemingway” better?
JK: If they did Hemingway better, it was probably because they weren’t trying to do Hemingway. I love Raymond Carver, though some people loathe his minimalist prose. But I doubt he could exist without Hemingway in some sense paving the road.
RL: Thank you for discussing your reading life with me. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
JK: I sure did!
I just made a short film called Pickup starring Jim True-Frost from The Wire and Griffin Robert Faulkner from It Comes At Night.
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