Jim Hosking is the director of the feature film The Greasy Strangler, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. He is to release his second feature film An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn in October, a mysterious meditation on identity, love and folk music. He lives in London.
As a child I lived with my mum, not with my dad. My mum would take me to this cinema in London, round the corner from where we lived, that only showed foreign films. She specifically avoided films in the English language. My mum was a little undereducated and misinformed, and just felt foreign films were superior. She liked watching films she couldn’t understand. She was dyslexic so she could never keep up with the subtitles, and at the end of the film she would say to me, “I think that was good, wasn’t it?” because she hadn’t followed the film at all and wanted me to confirm that she had been right to take me to see a German film called Colonel Redl, for example, when I was about 8 years old.
Two things to point out:
Firstly, this was over a four- or five-year period, until I was about 13. I didn’t hang out with my mum when I was older; I had friends by then. Or maybe I just had friend. But there was more than just my mum to hang out with, OK?
Secondly, I don’t know why I am referring to my mum in the past tense, because I just saw her today for lunch, and she is alive and exceptionally perverted. Which may also explain The Greasy Strangler, my duality, my confusion and the generally difficult state of my being. And she did keep trying to pinch my bottom in the pizza restaurant, a favorite activity of hers which is disturbing to me even in the privacy of her sitting room.
But yes, as a child I was taken to see Rohmer, Truffaut, Kurosawa, Chabrol and so on. Soon I wanted to watch these films by myself. I remember seeing Stranger Than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch when I was 15 and liking it, but thinking it was a bit too mainstream because it was in the English language. I had been brainwashed. I took myself seriously, and tutted disapprovingly at those who enjoyed films that were made purely to entertain. Of course my mind was blown by films like Brazil and Blue Velvet, but come on, I really wanted to go as deep and slow and sombre and as Greek as possible. Yes, Theo Angelopoulos and your four-hour films with only 15 shots in them, I’m talking about you.
I remember seeing Dumb and Dumber in the cinema with my sister and her boyfriend and feeling appalled that they would laugh at this fucking shit (please excuse my French). God. Why didn’t they want to watch Le Retour de Martin Guerre with Gérard penis-nose Depardieu, like the rest of us arty peeps? (Talking ‘bout me and my mum here.)
In my twenties, I still watched a lot of heavy, ponderous, turgid arty films. I was living in New York City and renting films from Kim’s Video. If you know that place, then you know the sneering looks from the staff and general air of colorless miserabilism. There was no way I was going to take that attitude on unchallenged. I rented films that hadn’t ever been rented before. I rented a documentary about crop rotation in Venezuela in the bloody 19th century. Why? You do the math! Because. I. Wanted. To. Be. The. King. Of. The. Arthouse. (I didn’t really rent that film, it doesn’t exist, but if it did and they’d had it, then it would have been rented by JWM Hosking, Esq.) I didn’t want any films with a plot. Fuck that. Those films were for losers. I wanted films about neglected weirdos with wonky hairstyles who sat crying on buses being abused by bus drivers who were also their hateful mothers.
At the same time, I was working at MTV, making little films called on-air promos. I made some featuring an old man who had one friend who was a sex-obsessed dragon who wanted to ask the old man about threesomes, when he’d last had sex, etc. Obviously MTV ain’t that arthouse, but I had to pay the rent. I know some people don’t have to pay the rent, but they are either independently wealthy or are indifferent about sleeping on friends’ floors. I am neither of those things.
Something was definitely shifting in me. (I know that sounds like I’m talking about overcoming a severe bout of constipation, but I’m not.) I found as I got older, my belief in the greater value of “serious” cinema versus “trivial” cinema just dissipated. I still liked to watch heavy films, I just didn’t want to make them. I no longer wanted to be another Dardenne brother, a desire that had affected me deeply after seeing The Son. I found the more serious life as an adult became, the less I wanted to express that in my work.
I came to see that serious films are not necessarily more profound than silly films. I also realized that some of the stupidest, wonkiest work comes from a place of desperation, of feeling like you don’t fit in and can’t accept the status quo and like you have been miscast to live amongst regular people, when in fact the stink of shame and self-loathing is so great that you should actually live on another planet with a man called Mr. Fang, who has been sent there because he was licking other people’s dogs and also had his finger permanently inserted down the back of his trousers, for some unholy reason. That’s what you deserve. And Mr. Fang is your only friend. He is actually a pretty good bloke, so don’t feel too sad about it. But he is a weirdo. And so are you.
I got older, and as more shit happened in life (shit as in “eurgh, bad stuff”), the desire to be serious in my work diminished evermore. I realized that a good film can be any kind of film, as long as it is a pure expression of something genuine. It needs to have some sincerity. Also, it’s bloody hard to make something fun, funny, imaginative and visually transgressive. It’s arguably less hard to make something with topical, socially important subject matter that carries a lot of emotional weight by association. Yes, I’m talking to you, you lazy, predictable arthouse filmmakers. (Relax, I just made a little joke!)
The point is, I think people undervalue fun films. Films that aren’t trying to peddle a message. Films that dare to fuck around a bit. I don’t see why films that are irreverent or absurd are deemed less important than films that are really, really, really, really heavy.
For now, I want to make stuff that is fun. I don’t want to bring myself down. My work is a refuge from the darker places my mind may go. And I’m not saying any of this from a selfish place; I don’t feel like I personally lack some kudos or critical approbation. I’ve made one film so far, The Greasy Strangler, which sits firmly at one end of the fun-seriousness spectrum. It was never going to win the Palme d’Or, and so I’m not feeling short-changed. Trust me.
But hopefully more people will appreciate the importance of fun in films. The outpouring of love for Robin Williams or Gene Wilder when they died was striking. I wonder, will that happen in the same way when Michael Haneke dies in his austere Parisian apartment surrounded by copies of Elle Decoration and artisanal coffee fanzines, his heart giving up with excitement as he secretively watches Jackass 3D on his 3D TV with 3D goggles on?