Paul Schrader. Photo credit: Jason Bailey/Flavorwire
Or, as director Paul Schrader (American Gigolo, Auto Focus) said after last night’s Lincoln Center preview, Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge. “Lindsay has moved out of her ingénue phase,” he said, which generated a few titters — she just turned 27, after all. “She’s now in this kind of tough, blowsy phase: kind of Ann-Margret, Angie Dickinson, Gena Rowlands, tough American broads.“
Lohan has been both the production’s blessing and its curse, and Schrader didn’t hide this mixture of emotions when talking about his leading lady. The Canyons was initially a film of interest because it was one of the first projects by people you’ve heard of to seek crowd-funding via Kickstarter. But when Lohan got involved, that became the story — literally, in the case of the notorious New York Times magazine feature on how her fragility and unreliability made the shoot a bit of a nightmare. I asked if that piece was accurate, and if it was damaging.
“I liked the Times story,” he said. “It was to our advantage, enormously. It got hijacked by the Lindsay phenomenon, but then she tends to do that.” The Times’ all-access pass was in place before Lohan was on board. “And then Lindsay came on, and I said to her, ‘The New York Times is gonna be there every day, and they’re gonna see how conscientious you are. They’re gonna see you show up on time, that you’re a professional, we will put you beyond reliability.’ Well, unfortunately, the new Lindsay didn’t show up. The old one showed up.”
And when you come down to it, Schrader notes, “not even the august New York Times is immune from the hurricane force of this celebrity phenomenon.” He noted that the Times changed the title of the piece from “The Misfits” to “Here Is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie.” He fumed about the powers that be at the SXSW Film Festival leaking why it was rejected from that event, “a major breach of etiquette and protocol… people who run film festivals simply do not do that.”
But there is an explanation. “The phenomenon of Lindsay is such that it makes normal people do stupid things… there is something about Lindsay that makes people get red.”
On one hand, he’s right. Schrader’s Q&A last night was over 30 minutes long, and was more invigorating and entertaining than the film it followed. He spoke on a variety of topics, and gave plenty of good quotes, but you’ll note which ones I’ve used. There is interest in a film that Bret Easton Ellis is involved in, and there is interest in a film that Paul Schrader is involved in, but both are dwarfed by the interest in a film that Lindsay Lohan is in — especially, as the Dick & Liz debacle proved, if it’s a film that might be a train wreck.
In spite of its flaws — and there are many — The Canyons is not that train wreck; Lohan’s performance is terrific, Deen’s is decent, Schrader snatches an evocative snapshot or two of LA’s neon-soaked decadence, and the sex scenes are refreshingly free of the conventional taboos of mainstream cinema. (For a change, there’s roughly as much male flesh on display as female.)
But no one is blameless in the issue of celebrity exploitation here. Schrader certainly cast Lohan because she was going to be very good, and she is. (“I would work with her again in a heartbeat,” he said. “She is magic. You can shoot around bad behavior, but you cannot shoot around a lack of charisma.”) But he also knew the kind of attention her participation would attract, and it has. Lincoln Center knew they could fill the house by promising a chance to gawk at the cause célèbre first, and they did. Finally, with two features and an Ellis-penned column, Film Comment (where Schrader is a frequent contributor) bends over backwards in its new issue to prop up the picture as a major work of film art, and it’s not. But hey, the magazine got to put Lindsay Lohan on its cover.