GO GET SOME ROSEMARY: The Safdie Brothers Come to Seattle

Daddy Longlegs begins with a dedication, scrawled on the screen as if it were a handwritten note left on a kitchen table:






The effect is that of something homemade and haphazard, underscored by an opening scene that eavesdrops on a random New York deli order – “two hotdogs with mustard, onions, sauerkraut…and a large piña colada” – before introducing Lenny, stumbling over a Central Park fence like Buster Keaton straying into a Cassavetes reel, the first in a succession of minor humiliations suffered by the single father of two precocious boys, Frey and Sage. For the directors, brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie, is there a sadder instance of everyday poetry than the sight of a half-eaten hotdog strewn on a lawn, strangely worthy of your attention? (see also: their Red Bucket Films collective) And is there anything ultimately more homemade and haphazard than a family?

Known as Go Get Some Rosemary at its Cannes premiere (a directive from Lenny to his kids to buy groceries) and now as Lenny and the Kids in France (where it received critical attention in the pages of Cahiers du Cinema, along with a snapshot of Safdie père and the kids, an emotional arrow shot from the same bow as Robert Frank’s later work of visual autobiography), the film’s final incarnation as Daddy Longlegs seems fitting for its childlike perspective; it is Lenny in shorts on the racquetball court, and it seems to be the arachnid that Lenny encounters in a fever dream after the kids have left. In any case, it’s a mercurial film, including but not limited to: a grade-school teacher with an inexplicable black eye; a proposed nap on the emergency third rail; a can of coke in a Chinese restaurant, without the MSG; a rat trapped in a peanut butter jar; a squirt-gun full of pee; a singing water-skier with full band on board; and that salamander in a cereal box, just incredible…

I spoke with Bennie and Joshua Safdie at the Buenos Aires Independent Film Festival, where they proved to be typically forthcoming about what motivates their tragically funny art. The interview appears in the forthcoming issue of Cinema Scope magazine, but in anticipation of their Seattle visit at Northwest Film Forum, where they will introduce their film and conduct a weekend workshop, here’s a small preview in the hope that this unconventional, boldly candid, emotionally exhausting immersion into the life of a fracture family in New York will lure you to the cinema…

Josh Safdie: “I’m an advocate of personal cinema, of personal movies. But I don’t think the goal is for anyone to go out and make a movie about their life. In the end this is a reflection of where we were are right now, where we were in the past, and it’s very much a reflection of how we were left feeling by the hectic circumstances of growing up with our father. Factually, we’re not to the point where we’re checking things off – did this or that happen – but the truth of the matter is that our father, who was the inspiration for the movie, saw it and couldn’t tell truth from fiction, he felt it was all real. The most important thing is harking on this sense of distress and confusion. We dealt with some of the trauma by romanticizing it out of proportion. The movie is torn: the child in us is screaming for love, the adult is screaming expose! expose! It’s a constant clash, and that’s the emotional aspect.”

Bennie: “It sucks to see the other side, and that’s what we’re forcing ourselves to do here. Kill your childhood memories, so you may remember them again! It’s a messed up way of going about it, but… For us it was an act of understanding our father, of understanding that someone was ultimately trying. It’s such a raw, human gesture. When someone tries very hard but fails, you feel something for them. Acceptance is where the compassion comes in. As for a lost childhood, yes, I think that too is where the compassion comes in, and it makes sense because I’ve mentally blacked out certain parts of it to forget the bad things. We wanted to re-feel certain emotions that we had lost touch with, had lost our grasp on.”

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