In Conversation With: Anna Biller
Meet Anna Biller, filmmaker, feminist and dedicated vintage advocate.
If you haven't come across Anna's work yet, let us fill you in. Through the use of outdated and vintage film techniques she creates a space for women to truly harness their sexuality. Harking back to the days when cinema empowered glamorous and beautiful women, her works take influence from the Playboy generation of the 1970s all through the rose tinted lens of 35mm film.
Exploring gender roles of old and new, she says not much has changed in the way of how society perceive and cinema present gender issues. A feminist at heart, Anna aims to create a private female space where women are invited to delve into their own glamorous ambiguity. We all define beauty, but it's Anna's astute eye for detail and love affair with the past that allow her to portray it on the big screen.
In light of her latest release, The Love Witch, an homage to 1960s technicolour thrillers with a leading lady that loves men... to death, we caught up with Anna to chat Hammer Horror, glamorous Grannies and strong female role models.
Keep up to date with Anna's latest projects over on her website. Interview by Danielle Morgan.
The femme fatale seems to be an important theme that runs throughout your work. What originally attracted you to it and what is it about the promiscuous woman that makes you keep coming back?
I'm interested in her glamour, her strength, her cleverness, and her centrality to movie plots. Femmes fatales are usually interesting and complex characters, and they are often equal to or greater than the male hero in their importance in a story.
How do you feel about critics that brand your films trash or gimmicky for your use of old techniques?
I think that they either are not paying attention, they are not respectful of the work, or they have limited cinema references.
We love how you explore the female gaze to create a private feminine space that alienates men. What was your inspiration behind working around this idea?
I do want to create a feminine space, not to exclude men, but to include women. My inspiration comes from studying the films I love, but mostly from examining my own visual desires and trying to put them on the screen.
Some might say that when your characters use glamour and their own sexuality to empower them, you are appropriating the very ideals of the male gaze. What would you say to that?
If people say that, then they deny that women have any sexuality of their own, or that they ever would choose to be glamorous for their own pleasure. I think this judgment comes from the fact that people are mostly terrified by beautiful, sexual women.
In VIVA, would you say the theme of love is present as an homage to sexploitation as a genre, as opposed to an appropriation of sexploitation itself?
VIVA is mainly about two things: real lived female experience, and the fictional world of male pleasure and consumption that Playboy magazine created for its readers. VIVA exists in the dichotomy between those disparate worlds.
Throughout your work, do you play on the 'sexualised woman' as a way of tackling gender issues and breaking down 'traditional' gender roles that came from the time of the medium and influences you are using?
In my work I am talking about current gender roles (actually not much has changed).
Your work constantly praises strong, powerful and autonomous women. Do you think this mentality came from growing up immersed in your mum's hard work and creativity?
I think every woman should have strong female role models. My mother was a great role model, but mostly my inspiration comes from studying strong female characters in films.
What do you attribute your obsession with the past to? We hear your mum was a magpie for vintage fabrics and used to work watching old movies on repeat.
From the time I was a child, I disliked the movies made in my own time since they seemed drab, and the women in them seemed too peripheral. Some of the classic films are also extraordinary in their visual artistry and their incredible soundtracks, and I also loved the gorgeous costumes and sets. My mother did make vintage-inspired clothes which were very beautiful, and also collected vintage clothing. My grandmother collected clothing from the 19th century through the 1920s, and had amazing shoes, hats, gloves, beaded dresses, parasols, etc. She also reconstructed period clothing, and wore period clothing on motor trips in vintage cars with her husband. So with that and studying all of the '30s and '40s glamour films, I've always been immersed in vintage clothing.
After VIVA screened, you said that 'Audiences are masochists and they're brutal, nothing is too strong for them.' How did you develop this idea when writing and filming The Love Witch?
I don't understand what I meant by that out of context. I don't try to produce brutal work myself. My work is aesthetic and pleasurable, not brutal.
You have said that you never felt beautiful as a little girl. Beauty is a major theme across your work and one that you talk about extensively on your blog. Define 'beauty'.
When I talk about beauty, I mean beauty in a conventional sense, like models in fashion magazines. Most women have great anxiety around being beautiful, even if they don't admit it to themselves. I am interested in beauty because it's something that's seen socially as women's greatest goal if she achieves it, and I, like most women, am ambivalent about beauty, and also fascinated with it.
In The Love Witch, Elaine craves the love of men and uses her beauty to make them fall in love with her. Is she a feminist?
Elaine is not a feminist, but I am a feminist.
It seems as though aesthetic is really important throughout your work. The sets and costumes you use in the film are a vintage lover's dream! Where did you find the inspiration for these?
I've internalized the set design in numerous movies and interior design books, and even in paintings. My design aesthetic also comes from years and years of dressing sets, and figuring out what works and what doesn't work. I looked at a lot of movies, taking bits and pieces from here and there, (such as realizing when watching Hammer horror films that I must find some flocked wallpaper). But when it actually came down to designing the sets, it mostly came from my own head, and what colors and lines I thought would be right for the movie.
What do you love so much about vintage and the past?
I think things used to be better designed, and definitely more playful and whimsical. Also, films today tend to try not to look too purposefully designed, and I love the look of films that are more deliberately designed. I love the way people used to wear real colors, as opposed to mostly black (which I'm also guilty of). But film can be a fantasy, so if I'm making a film, I want to put all of the visual things I love there. I don't think it's normally the way movies are made anymore. But I also feel that movies used to be more charming, and people more glamorous and civilized.
What can we look forward to next? Any exciting projects on the horizon?
I'm working on a new script about a sociopathic, and his wife who slowly discovers his evil. It will be areal "woman's picture" like the kind they used to make in old Hollywood.