Videoman (Videomannen, 2018) is one of the most unique and interesting proposals that modern genre cinema has given us. Addressing themes such as VHS collecting, or the love for cult movies, this serves as a channel to foster a retrospective and a claim for the spirit of the European cinemabis of the 70s and 80s. Videoman traces a discourse about emotional isolation and a nostalgic look towards the past, using a cinematographic language inspiring and abstract. It could be seen at some festivals such as the British Fright Fest or the FilmFear, and El Gabinete del Reverendo Wilson has the opportunity to interview its director, the Swedish filmmaker Kristian A. Söderström who after a long experience in the short film faces here his debut film.
Kristian, let’s talk about your first work in the short film first. How are your first steps in your work as a director, and then direct a series of short films from 2005 to 2014? What could you tell me about your experience as a short filmmaker?
I got my film education at UCLA in Los Angeles and I returned to Sweden early 2000. Back in Sweden I tried to finance a feature but without contacts and merits it was very hard. I was so hungry to start filming and I became very frustrated with waiting for others to decide if I was going to make films or not. I needed to take control, hence I started doing shorts.
Short films were a good training ground for me, especially in finding my film voice. After watching many films for many years I thought I knew exactly what kind of films I would like to make. I found out that what I liked to watch was not always in sync with what felt natural to me creatively. So when making shorts there was a struggle between what I wanted to make and what I could handle. After a few films these two variables started to meet halfway. My voice basically comes down to combining human drama with mystery or horror elements. I’m also a big fan of black comedy.
In some of your short films you have the presence of Alicia Vikander, who for her were some of her first steps in acting, and who is now immersed in the industry since she appeared in Ex_Machina, The Danish Girl (winning an Oscar for this movie), or Tomb Raider… How do you value your work with her and her now emerging fame, which has made her a highly respected actress?
The first film I made with Alicia, Darkness of truth, was the first time I felt that I had found myself film wise. That film is therefore very important to me. I don’t think it’s a fully formed film though. Alicia is great in it however and when making it I realised that she had an amazing potential as an actress. She has all the traits needed to be succesful and she is very professional and determined. I’m not at all surprised by her triumph.
My film, Susan’s Longing, which Alicia has a small part in, is a good film I think. That and Smink aka Make-up are the two shorts I still feel comfortable showing around.
With Videoman you are in your jump to the long feature film. How did the production originate, and what notable differences has it brought you as a filmmaker when putting yourself in the director’s chair, now facing a narrative in this format?
When deciding on which script to make as my low budget feature debute I found this amazing VHS-cellar and I did a rewrite of an old idea about a video store owner. At that time my path crossed with Stefan Sauk, whom I kind of forgot as an actor. I liked him very much many years ago when he was making a very far out thing on television. I realised that he could bring the black humour and desperation that I needed for the main character Ennio. Stefan being long time absent from feature film work also fitted Ennio, who is trying to make a comeback as a VHS pioneer. Real life and fiction came together regarding that.
I felt very ready moving from shorts to a feature. I had been writing feature scripts for years and when making shorts I always felt like I tried to squeeze a feature into the confines of a short. That format never suited me since I am more interested in characters than in situations. Since Videoman was a very low budget film it came with some frustration though. I sometimes felt scared that we would not be able to finish it, since we were dependent of financers.
The main plot juncture, under the lines of a hermetic and heartbreaking suspense, is the collecting of VHS. I must admit that I, because of this, have felt deeply identified with the main character (I even bought a British copy of Fulci’s Zombie a few months ago!). What do you think of the current prevalence of nostalgic collecting around vhs, cassettes or vinyl? I like to think that the huge collection of VHS that we see in Ennio’s basement are actually your property and that in Ennio we can find a certain autobiographical reflection of yours …
That is just great, that you bought Zombie! Since I’m a very nostalgic person and since I miss walking around in a videostore for hours deciding on which film to rent I’m all for the current retro wave.
The huge VHS collection in the film is not mine. It belongs to a good friend of mine. This friend, named Ennio, is the reason why Videoman came to be. I got to know him late 90s when he ran a great videostore. Spending time with this real life Ennio made me come up with the idea of a person trapped by his passion. The videostore that Ennio ran with total devotion kind of had become his prison. He had no life outside of this store.
The character of Ennio certainly has autobiographical elements to him. He is a combination of three real life persons: Me, the real Ennio and my friend Jonas. We all share a great passion for film and collecting. Beside that we have different personalities that mixed together made for an interesting movie character, according to me.
In my opinion, Videoman is a reflection on the isolation and desolation of two characters whose nostalgic gaze supports them so as not to join in the evolution of time… How do you approach the idea of creating this kind of romantic drama between two characters within a composition of the thriller as hermetic as obsessive?
Your opinion are close to what I was thinking when writing the script. For me it’s a movie about loneliness, passion and addiction. The two main characters have immersed themselves in their great interests to forget what is going on around them in present day. These interests are associated with the past, more precisely the 80s, a time when they were at the top of their game, life wise. The thought of how something you love can both help you and lead to exclusion was something that really appealed to me. Escapism comes with a price.
Combining a love story with a thriller comes down to what I would like to accomplish as a filmmaker, mixing drama with genre elements. I love complex characters that feels like real human beings and I also love the mood and storytelling of horror films. I feel like there, at least in Sweden, exists a segregation between commercial and ”important” movies, such that it must be either one or the other. I would like to change that.
Speaking of nostalgia, there is no doubt that your film addresses it in a very direct way, and the synthwave composed by Robert Parker and Waveshaper helps to keep it in mind. What can you tell me about the choice of this musical style, which now seems to be experiencing a new resurgence?
As long as I can remember I’ve loved the music of John Carpenter. I always thought that if I were to make a feature film, this would be the style of music I would like to use. When the time came for me, electronic analogue music had a big revival, maybe because of the movie Drive. Artists making this kind of music suddenly were all around and I loved it. Since Videoman was tied into the 80s, this music style happened to be very well suited for this film. That was just a happy coincidence though, since I already had decided on using this kind of music before the retro wave. One of my favourite synth wave artists is Waveshaper. When I discovered that he was Swedish I had my producer contact him asap. Through Waveshaper I got to know Robert Parker. Beside the instrumental score I also wanted to have a few songs. In the 80s soundtracks were really paid attention to and sometimes became top-selling albums. Back in those days the soundtrack was an entity in it’s own right, this I wanted to replicate. We had a great time creating the soundtrack which contains some of my favourite artists doing an 80s nod. The soundtrack was released by Lakeshore records and it earned a nomination for best original comedy score at the International Film Music Critics Awards 2019.
In relation to the musical aspect, You also have experience in the video clip, in fact you have filmed with Samantha Fox her video for the song Hot Boy, which is included in Videoman … How was your experience working with her, and how did the song arrive to the movie?
Working with Samantha was a fun experience. Me and my producer had asked musician Johan Agebjörn to come up with three italo disco songs and when I heard Hot Boy I thought that it sounded very stock aitken waterman like. I joked around telling Johan that we should get either Kylie Minogue or Sam Fox to sing it. One week later he came back to me and said ”Sam Fox is in.” I thought he was joking but no, he had sent a demo to her manager and a few month later we were having drinks with her in Gothenburg and next day we shot the video. She was easy going and great to deal with and her mom was her stylist. It was great fun and a bit surreal. Everything happened very fast.
Ennio is the storyline of the film, a character full of obsessions and fanaticisms, which surround his moral decline. How did you plan to build the character with Stefan Sauk? Stefan is an actor with a long career, here in Spain we know him for his participation in Millenium. How does he get to a production like Videoman? You also have the presence of Martin Wallström, whom we have seen in Mr. Robot .
Stefan had seen some of my shorts and liked them. We started up a conversation and suddenly it struck me that he could do a great Ennio. I liked Stefan very much many years ago when he was making a very far out comedy thing on television. I realised that he could bring the black humour and desperation that I needed for Ennio. Stefan being long time absent from feature film work also fitted Ennio, who is trying to make a comeback, life wise. To prepare for the role of Ennio I showed Stefan the documentary Adjust your tracking. I also told him many stories about VHS collectors and that sub culture.
Regarding Martin Wallström, I had been a fan long before Mr. Robot. In Robot he was so amazing and he got so much hype that I thought it impossible to get him in my small movie. He loved the script though and the rest is history.
I especially like your audiovisual view of the narrative language of the Italian thriller of the 70s, that is, both the giallo and the tonal derivations that arose from it. It seems that Ennio, an absolute fan of the giallo, seems to be living his own giallo with a story full of paranoia and psychological obsession. How would you approach, from the director’s chair, bringing to the present these characteristics of the European, more specifically Italian, narratives of that time?
I’m a huge giallo fan and I made the character a huge fan too. You are on to something when you say that Ennio seems to be living his own giallo. Since he are watching so many giallis I felt that when his life starts turning upside down his demise should be inspired by these films, since he inflicts the troubles he gets into upon himself. It’s a metaphor, his passion becomes his curse.
In relation to the previous question, what opinion does this recent trend deserve for you, which some label as “neogiallo” by filmmakers such as the Onetti brothers or the couple formed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, or more or less confessed approaches to European narratives genre like Peter Strickland or Nicolas Pesce?
Since I’m a fan of the genre, the revival is very welcome to me. I love Berberian sound studio and I think that Strickland is on to something very interesting and original. His movies are aesthetically inspired by giallo but the films in their entirety are something else. Cattet and Forzani are much closer to the giallis of the 70s compared to Strickland, but their movies are more experimental than the usual giallo. I love their movies, especially The strange color of your body’s tears which is one of the best giallis I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece.
What is your opinion of the current international situation of horror cinema? Many think that it has been experiencing, for a few years, a new resurgence, where even a rescue look seems to predominate to the genre cinematographies of past years, as it happens in Videoman. Could you quote me some movies that for you are representative and essential of the current horror?
I think that the genre seems very alive and kicking at the moment. Many films are being made and some of them feels new in their nature. Some of my favorite horror movies of recent years are: The Kill List, Prevenge, The House of the devil, The Lighthouse, The Nightingale, The Blackcoat’s daughter, and Gretel & Hansel.
Are you now immersed in a new project?
Yes I am. I’ve written a psychological horror film that I’m trying to finance at the moment. Fingers crossed.
And to conclude, from fan to fan. Argento or Fulci?
Thank you very much for your time, Kristian.
A pleasure. Thanks for having me.