Thursday, February 19, 2009

Amy Holden Jones on "Love Letters"


Love Letters not a very typical Roger Corman film.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: It's the only art house film he ever made, actually.

Where did the story for Love Letters come from?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: My husband and I had written each other love letters. We had been apart after we first met; we met on Taxi Driver. He was the cinematographer and I was Scorsese's assistant. And then we were apart for quite a while. I moved to the West coast and he was on the East coast. So we wrote letters. That was four or five years before.

I had our daughter when I was twenty-six and did Slumber Party Massacre when I was twenty-seven, and I was casting around for an idea for an art film and I came upon those letters. And I thought, well this is really interesting. What would happen if our daughter someday read all of our love letters? How would that affect her?

At the same time, I saw a movie called Shoot the Moon, which was about an extramarital affair and the traumas of the married man dealing with his wife and the girlfriend. I thought at the time, man have I seen this a zillion times. Forever I've seen the point of view of the husband or the man, torn between his wife and the girlfriend. You see it today in Match Point, for example. It's done over and over and over again. I've even seen the story of the wife who was cheated on.

But I had never seen the story of the girlfriend and what it was like for her. I put that together with the love letters and thought it would be interesting if someone came upon the love letters and realized that their parents had had an extramarital affair, if the love letters were not in fact between her mother and father, as ours were, but between the mother and a lover.

In other words, what would happen if you were confronted with an understanding of a time period in your parents' life which you never really understand -- none of us have a real idea of what our parents were like in their twenties. How would that affect your life? And I thought it would be interesting if that then thrust her into an affair with a married man, trying to replicate what she saw her mother had.

Basically, it was designed to be a movie about what happens to the woman outside of the marriage, who is usually, in fiction, painted as a terrible villain and often is kind of a victim who gets left in the end.

Why did you structure the film as a flashback?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: I was doing an art film, and unlike most people who seem today to only set out to do art films, I had been working in big commercial movies, like Taxi Driver and the two pictures that I had cut. I wasn't fancying myself to be Fellini or anything like that.

But I went and read all the screenplays of Harold Pinter, believe it or not, because I felt that this would be high art, and there are some great screenplays in book form by Harold Pinter. Probably there was something in there that inspired the flashbacks, would be my guess. It's certainly an overused device now.

Although you term Love Letters an art film, it gets up and running very quickly.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well, I was a ruthless editor. I think of all the things I've done, the thing I was best at was as a film editor. That sounds like braggadocio, but what I mean is that I was better at it than I am as a writer or a director. (laughs) It really suited my sensibility. I like things to move. To this day, I'm always thinking, why didn't I lift that out, why didn't I move it along? I like to take an audience on a journey and go.

In Love Letters, you have Anna watching the famous kissing on the beach scene from From Here to Eternity. When you wrote that, how worried were you about getting the rights to use that scene?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Actually, I didn't worry about it at all. At that time period, it wasn't that hard. I think there was a limit of how long the clip could be before it started to cost a lot more money.

Did Roger Corman have precise direction on the amount of nudity in the film?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Yes. He wants either sex, violence or humor. He actually told me that lovemaking wasn't so much required as nudity. And he didn't mind if she could just be lounging around the house nude, but there had to be nudity. He had to have some way to sell the thing.

It's actually the one thing that troubles me about it. I find some of the nudity really gratuitous. But it was the price we paid to get it made.

I was really impressed with the simplicity of the Polaroid scene. It's a lock-down shot, we don't see the couple, we only see each Polaroid photo he takes of her as he drops it into the shot. It said a lot about the relationship, but it was also very cheap to shoot.

AMY HOLDEN JONES: That's one of my favorite scenes. That's a really good example of how you come up with stuff. Writing for a lower budget really focuses your mind. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're sacrificing quality.

I see so many really big budget movies, where they've had everything to spend and have covered everything sixty ways from sideways, but they never did the hard thinking about what was important in the scene. Because they had the time, they just threw spaghetti at the wall and covered everything. As a result, they never thought about what was actually going on.



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