Jim Shepard Movie Time

1. James & Cheryl. Cheryl works for Scholastic, and James loves Jim Shephard, so Cheryl surprised him with tickets for the event. 2. Casey Walker, editor for Simon & Schuster and writer Karen Thompson Walker, & editor for One Story and writer Hannah Tinti.

Last night I headed over to The Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo to catch the second installment of the “Under the Influence: Writers on Film” series, a screening of Aguirre, the Wrath of God followed by a Q&A with writer Jim Shepard. This is when writing for DISH comes in handy — tickets went for $35, normally the kind of event that I can’t afford to go to. The audience seemed to agree with this line of thinking, as they were, in general, older than the audience at the free events that I normally frequent.

Michael Maren introduced Shepard, saying that when last month’s earthquake/tsunami/near-nuclear meltdown happened, Maren immediately thought of and then e-mailed Shepard, who was flattered — Maren thinks.

1. Kameron & Komal, who are both designers. They came because they wanted to see Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Kameron said she’s seen parts of it before, but never the whole thing, and was glad to see it in its entirety. 2. Jim Rutman, who is one of Jim Shepard’s many agents, & author Fiona Maazel.

Shepard primed us by telling us a bit about Herzog and the movie itself. Herzog was the kind of man who, if you were a film critic, would be described as a visionary, if you were a producer, as a maverick, and if you were a district attorney, as a criminal, Shepard said. What Shepard finds most fascinating about the director, though, is his interest in rendering internal emotional states by viewing something else; that is, by viewing what cannot be recorded on film. We also learned about the unique circumstances under which the movie was filmed: it was made in eight weeks with a shoestring budget and shot on a single stolen camera.

The movie itself was pretty awesome, but you can find that out for yourself by reading any review (or watching it yourself), so I’ll only say that there’s a really adorable baby sloth at one point and a sick/dope beheading in another.

1. Jim Shepard, being an enthusiastic writer, with James, who obviously loves Jim Shepard.

After the film, Maren and Shepard sat down for a Q&A. The first two movies that Shepard remembers seeing are Nosferatu (due to a bad babysitter), which was also directed by Herzog, and an Abbott & Costello movie, which seems to sum Jim Shepard up pretty well. As for Aguirre, well, it took Shepard a while to fully figure out what the movie taught him. Eventually, he realized that he admired the receptiveness of the world Herzog displays — the script was modified greatly by events that happened during its making, and its best moments tend to be during less-expected scenes. Shepard also admires Herzog’s narrative “implacability.” (There’s a doomed man in Aguirre, and while it’s evident that his fate is going to be not-so-nice early on, Herzog waits for minute 77 of this 90 minute movie to kill him off.)

Both Herzog and Shepard tend to blur the line between documentary and scripted film, fact and fiction. They both have an affinity to doomed characters, but while Herzog’s film focuses on the main man on the raft, Shepard prefers a “worm’s eye view” of history. He would have preferred to tell the story of one of the men on the boat who was of lesser importance, he said.

The audience got to ask some questions which illuminated Shepard’s feelings about the film’s humor — a lot of it was probably more intentional than Herzog lets on — and what, exactly, was that in Usura’s fist? (Shepard thinks Herzog chose not to let us know of the object because no matter what the object would seem banal, and also because “normal narrative pleasures” are not exactly Herzog’s forte.)

The evening adjourned with Shepard wondering aloud, “Should we go drink now?” The audience answered affirmatively and went to the main room to enjoy wine and canapés (included in the ticket price). All in all, this was an interesting, entertaining, and informative event, and I highly recommend it. The next one is on June 27th, and features Jennifer Egan and Pulp Fiction.

–Julia Jackson is working on her MFA in fiction at Brooklyn College, and is a regular contributor for Electric Dish.

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