Westword Book Club: Ryan Demers on filmmaking, furries and Gone Girl
Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature that celebrates the books that inspire Denver artists.
Ryan Demers, a Denver-based filmmaker, is the co-founder of Gaylord St. Productions; he's accomplished the impressive feat of helming two independent films without going completely bankrupt and abandoning the dream, including The Honey Cooler, a farcical detective story set in the milieu of an economically depressed Denver rife with furries. In this week's edition of Westword Book Club, Demers discusses his noir influences, politics, primary sources and trying to avoid being derivative.
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Westword: What do you typically read? Do you have any books about film that you'd recommend?
Ryan Demers: I usually read non-fiction. I never went to film school, so I never really read many film books either. So, in that regard, nothing stands out, but I did read both biographies of Stanley Kubrick. He's a big inspiration for me. As far as reading in general, I read Chomsky, Nietzche, H.L. Mencken and Ambrose Bierce are big for me. As far as fiction, there's much less, but I do like Anthony Burgess, who wrote Clockwork Orange and the Dr. is sick.
I've noticed that with many of Kubrick's literary adaptations, his version becomes the definitive version of even great novels.
He had a knack for that. The majority of his body of work was based off of someone else's material.
Even Dr. Strangelove?
Dr. Strangelove was based on a novel called, Red Alert, but it was deadly serious about the nuclear threat. Kubrick and his screenwriters made it farcical. Tell me a bit about The Honey Cooler.
The Honey Cooler is farcical noir adaptation. The term "honey cooler," though now it's primarily known as a famous cocktail, is noirish slang for a kiss, to cool your honey down. I think it was mentioned in a Philip Marlowe detective story. I use it differently, though. My main character, Sid Pink, he's bad with women, so he's a honey cooler. I watched a lot of movies based on their novels and scripts that they wrote. I kind of miss those days, when you had a lot of novelists writing screenplays; I think Faulkner did it. It's something neat that I wanted to go back and get my little take on.
Is it a detective story?
Yeah, I wanted Sid Pink to be a detective living through the effects of the depression we're going through now; I think that post-war, post-depression noir themes are pretty relevant to the time we're in now. I wanted him to be heavy-drinking and have all those classic noir characteristics. The twist is, now he's in the world of burlesque dancers and furries and other modern stuff that I converged in there. Sid did a great job. We're screening at Denver Comic Con, which we're pretty excited about.
Did you read many detective novels in preparation?
I did a little bit of research into detective novels, enough to be dangerous, but mostly I watched The Big Sleep and like fifty other film noirs. It's one of my favorite periods of American cinema.
What do you mean by dangerous?
I don't want to be derivative. If you're being creative -- although I have that desire to pay homage to those who've come before you, who've written this type of story before -- I would rather do research into the topic itself, and try to create an original fixed piece of fiction based on the subject I'm reading about. I don't want to just read fiction and then create a facsimile of what they've done. I'd rather base my story off a primary source. It's better that you understand what your viewpoint is and how the world works.
How is that reflected in your films?
There's a Western idea that I'm developing, and I've been doing a lot of research on the Tabor family, who became rich off the silver trade, and Mart Duggan, the sheriff of Leadville, who's really interesting. The book Deadly Dozen: Twelve Forgotten Gunfighters of the Old West has been particularly helpful. I'm also doing research on COINTELPRO, and I read a fascinating essay by the one controversial CU professor...
Yeah, he wrote a rather extensive essay that I read. COINTELPRO was this clandestine FBI program that was involved in undermining various social movements. The Native American movement, the SDS, the Black Panthers, the IWW, the Communist Party, any subversive or marginalized group. They're likely still active in some form today. Anyway, that's a lot of non-fiction stuff that people wouldn't necessarily want to read unless it was for research.
What about the political and sociological non-fiction you mentioned earlier?
Well, Ambrose Bierce and H.L. Mencken, who was the first person to translate Nietzche into English, were basically journalists. We're surrounded by aesthetically pleasing but empty art because things are so derivative.
Are there any recent books you liked?
I mean, this one is a bit pop-fiction, but it's a noir story too. It was a big bestseller, called Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I liked it to a certain extent, but also saw that it was geared toward a young adult audience, which means it's an easy read. It's definitely noir, though, and it also gets into those economic themes that I find interesting. I mostly read it because someone asked me to read it.