Director PATRICK KENNELLY is a multifaceted filmmaker whose art refuses to be bound to just one medium. With a broad and eclectic body of work woven through film, theatre, music video and visual arts he is an exciting and subversive talent with a unique expression that commands attention. His debut feature-length film EXCESS FLESH has been gripping audiences around the world and taking the festival circuit by storm, and Monster Pictures Australia have just released it on Blu Ray and DVD. I took some time to throw some questions at Patrick, and he was kind enough to oblige.
I had been trying for a year to get off the ground another script - one that was quite complicated. So I was kind of hanging in limbo. Separately, co-writer Sigrid Gilmer and I had been considering this other piece that was based on the true story of a single mother who got sucked into the world of a serial killer. We were going to do it in the style of Bridget Jones Diary believe it or not! But we hadn’t progressed very far with that…
So, being stuck technically and creatively with these things, I pulled out a one-page
treatment I had written a decade-ago. There were themes within it that were calling out, particularly based on the previous big project Sigrid and I collaborated on, an
all-female live pop musical called Patty. That work used the real-life stories and myths surrounding pop cultural icons, Patty Duke and Patty Hearst, to examine contemporary issues around female identity, celebrity, cults, mental illness, and faith. The Excess Flesh treatment seemed a logical extension of that project, a deeper immersion into a lot of the ideas explored there. Also, because it was basically two characters in one space, it could be done cheaply! I pitched this idea to Sigrid and we started formulating a script, merging in a lot of the genre-play and style we were going to do with the serial killer/Bridget Jones Diary project. As ideas bounced back and forth, it started expanding, and what was originally something much smaller in scope grew to what you see onscreen.
I believe the movie is ultimately a reflection of the prison of the self. How does one occupy that prison? Through addiction, obsession, delusion, through a distorted projection of the self that one can simultaneously idealize and castigate. Its pretty brutal, but I think there is a certain transcendence at the end. If that transcendence is a *positive* thing or not… I don’t know.
Now, if any of these ideas come through to people, I’ll be supremely satisfied, but ultimately it’s an entertainment. I think people can ride with the twists and turns of the story, without taking away anything beyond that! As long as they feel they had a worthwhile experience for one hour, forty-three minutes, I will have accomplished my job.
With so many under-lying themes within the film, did you feel a particular obligation to represent the issues responsibly?
We absorbed a lot of material in the research, writing and pre-production phases. The themes became intertwined with the story and the aesthetic we chose. I didn’t feel any obligation vis-a-vis questions of representation, but that was because I was confidant that what we were doing was very honest to the situations, even if that was going to turn off a lot of individuals.
One of the stand-out aspects for me was the amount of time given to the character development before turning their world upside down. Did you pre-conceive spending so much time getting to know them, or did the pacing come naturally on paper?
This was definitely pre-conceived - it was written to start as one kind-of movie before slowly twisting into something completely different.
I’ve known Mary since school, and I knew she would go all in for this. Even though she’s naturally thin and physically fit, Mary underwent a tough workout and weight-loss regime leading up to and thru the shoot, as we were mostly shooting in chronological order. For her to maintain all of that, execute the intense physicality of the part and give a great performance is quite something.
I met Bethany in the casting for this, and it was some kind of miracle. I’d been looking
for years for a performer I could just have this telepathic communication with. Who
shared a lot of the same ideas and thinking, and Bethany was that person. She’s also
an amazing writer and director in her own right, who speaks a lot of the same creative language as I do. Because Jill is such a difficult role, such an *ugly* part, it needed this other insight into what we were trying to do. And Bethany just got it. She dove head first into this and did all of what I asked her to do without hesitation. She’s absolutely fearless as a performer, and just completely lives within her roles.
All that being said, this is a movie were making - there are detailed safety precautions taken, there is respect of boundaries, etc. It's a fiction we’re creating - not a documentation of reality. PLUS, because of our limited budget and shooting schedule, we kind of HAD to limit most of the shoots to 2 or 3 takes, sometimes even 1!
The music is arresting and really gives the film a jarring edge. Can you tell us about the composer and how the two of you worked towards the sound of the film?
I’ve been working with Jonathan Snipes since 2007. Since that time, he’s sound designed & scored practically all my projects (most of which have been theater-works), and I’ve done video design and music videos for his music projects (first Captain Ahab, then clipping.). He helped create and did all the music for that Pop musical, Patty, that I cited above (in fact, I believe Jonathan used a number of vocal bits from the sessions for that project in his scoring/sound design work for Excess Flesh).
Overall, I adopt a mostly hands-off approach with Jonathan. I give him the concept and/or script/edit, and kind of let him run with it. We’re pretty much always on the same page and I trust his instincts implicitly.
What we always do is push forward this idea of music and sound design as being one entity. It was difficult in the mixing sessions to delineate what was sound and what was score. The projects we do are always *scored* through, to immerse the audience fully in the world, and, if they closed their eyes, they would still see it. So these are the things that were again applied here - and this time we went even further by making the soundscape completely subjective. This is why there is an aggressive interiority to it and a discursive quality scene to scene.
The film takes a particularly jarring and surreal turn at once point. Tell us about the conception of that and what your intentions were
I was thinking, for a number of reasons, that there needed to be a Coup de Theatre at some point, and this seemed the perfect place for that. I’m very much into this French New Wave conceit of debunking the artifice of a movie. Not necessarily putting it in quotations, but rather reminding the audience that they’re inside of a movie. This story facilitated something of that nature - because everything that happens in Excess Flesh is completely subjective of the Jill/Jennifer’s minds - its all created from their memories. Since cinema is memory in moving pictures, one could say Excess Flesh the movie is wholly the movie that Jill/Jennifer would create - and so us, the audience, are purely witness to that. By breaking the fourth wall in the way that we did, I was seeking to get illuminate this idea.
People have cited other films and filmmakers in their reviews of the movie, and I can see where those links might be, but these are the filmmakers who most directly inspired my thinking of the movie. That being said, I never really reflect on other films or filmmakers while I’m in the process of making something. Its really about the story and the materials I have at hand, and what my gut tells me. All these ideas I’ve absorbed from these films and filmmakers come through via osmosis. The only movie I did watch while making Excess Flesh was Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, so that was *probably* the mostly directly influential…
I like to learn about the filmmaker's journey. At what age did the film bug bite you and was your family supportive from the get go?
My family’s always been supportive of my creative endeavors.
I started writing screenplays in the fifth grade, so I guess it was inevitable that I would end up making a movie some day! The path there has been pretty circuitous - through art school, then theatre school. I’ve had a lot of creative interests outside of the movies, pursued all of these - - visual art, performance, music, criticism, etc. - in one form or another but it ended up being the movies that brought all these interests together. Plus, I believe my greatest talent lies in curation - bringing together a conglomeration of ideas and great artists and forming those into a cohesive whole. And that is essentially the role of the director.
\What are your earliest memories of film?
I can’t say for sure. All I know is, my full-on obsession begin sometime in the 4th or 5th grade, which was the moment of my induction into the world of *adult* movies. The two I remember explicitly from this time were Bonnie & Clyde and Candyman. I also remember tricking a babysitter into letting me rent A Clockwork Orange. So I guess that gives you a sense of my temperament at the time … and what it formed into! heh…
I’ve never been to Australia, but I think this Outback setting and colonialist history - which is very similar to the U.S. has engendered this simultaneous bleakness and beauty. There’s this wonder with the perpetually untamed landscape, but there’s also something mysterious and dangerous about it. The Outback is the Australian version of the Wild West.
In regards to this question of landscape (which is predominant in the Weir movies cited above), I start to think of a lot of works that push pass their Ozploitation labels and become something much weirder - like Wake in Fright or Wolf Creek. And then of course there’s Romper Stomper. I can’t say enough about that movie.
I believe the best actors in Hollywood - and the ones I’ve personally worked with in the U.S. - are British, European and Australian. There’s an entirely different tradition of training and performance in these countries that engenders a real commitment to character and craft that one often finds lacking in American counterparts.
What can we expect to see from you next?
I have a number of projects in development, all works that fuck mashes together disparate genres and fucks with expectations of each. For instance, there’s an adaptation of a book myself and my co-writer on Excess Flesh are doing that combines a pitch black hostage thriller with a tender teen love triangle.
Patrick, thank you for taking the time to field these questions. Excess Flesh is a confronting and strangely hypnotic movie-going experience that has certainly stuck with me. I'm eager to revisit it soon.