VIVA: Q & A with Anna Biller - Alternative Film Guide

Anna Biller in A Visit from the Incubus

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview writer, director, actress, editor, and designer Anna Biller who, as should be clear, is the definition of auteur. She began producing her plays in 1995. Her first short film, Three Examples of Myself as Queen, was made in 1994, and was followed by Fairy Ballet in 1998, and three short films in 2001: The Lady Cat, The Hypnotist, and A Visit from the Incubus (above).

Biller’s next film, The Love Witch, is still in the writing stages, and if you are not able to get to one of the cities where her first feature, Viva, is playing, you’ll have to wait until the New Year to pick up the DVD. (Don’t buy it from Wal-Mart if you’re looking for the uncut version.) Fortunately, Biller’s short films are available on DVD - and guess who produced the DVD?

Who else but Anna Biller herself?

Though the overworked director has been busy with meetings, going through film labs, and promoting Viva, she found time to join me via telephone for an interview. The Q & A below is a condensed version of that phone conversation mixed with extensive clarifications provided by Ms. Biller via e-mail.

Anna Biller in Viva

Keith: What was the transition from short films to a feature like?

Anna: I made the feature in the same method as I made the short films. The way I do my shorts is that I put a really elaborate set together and then I shoot. It takes me a few weeks to put together another set and a group of people, and then I shoot again.

K: How long did that take?

A: Total shooting took more than a year, doing it like that. It was insane - so many props, so much set dressing. One of the reasons Viva seems odd is that feature films usually don’t have that type of density. Each moment is so intense, and each thing was thought of and filmed separately as a unique idea about a set and a space. Because of this working method some people have a problem with Viva because they think it’s too episodic.

Chad England in VIVA

K: I think they string together really well. I think it works.

A: Yeah, but it was conceived that way too, because the images were taken mostly from actual visuals in ‘70s Playboy magazines. I would look through the Playboys and tear out ads and cartoons, and make up a story and characters out of all of those images. The different Playboy scenarios include randy bosses and secretaries, prostitutes, swinging couples, hippies, nudist colonies, horny neighbors, orgies, etc., and it’s all in the film. I used many scenarios quite literally. For instance, I saw a cigarette ad with a man kneeling by his yellow racecar wearing all white, holding a pack of cigarettes. I thought that I wanted to duplicate that, so I made a whole scene out of that ad.

K: Everything came from the ads, or were there more influences?

A: No. I also used fragments of exploitation movies from the ‘70s, and also pre-Code movies from the ‘30s. The stories in these movies interest me, because they center on the woman and her experiences in a world of men.

But the story was also based on my experiences as a woman, especially as a teenager. I felt that in my early life I was sort of a Candide; very innocent, very naive and trusting. I went through a lot as a young woman and saw some weird things, but I kept an open spirit like the Voltaire character.

I was trying to deal with all of those things in Viva. But a lot of people think that the film is just a parody of bad movies, that it has no content, or that I’m looking down on attitudes from another time period, instead of seeing that this is a gender problem that’s universal and that will always exist. Everybody in the ‘70s read Playboy magazine. Everybody’s dad had a subscription. The fantasy in those magazines was that everyone thought about sex day and night, and looking at naked women was a mainstream pastime. I was horrified by that as a child. But now I’ve become nostalgic about it because of the way the culture is so unsexy and because we’re losing gender differences.

K: And how do you feel about that, losing this gender difference? It is said that there are at least six types of gender and now the lines are very blurred. Do you think there’s something to be said about that?

A: Well, I think it’s progress on one level, but then you end up losing certain things as well. If you wanted to be a different kind of man or woman that was more of a sex siren or a manly man, it would be ridiculous now. It becomes camp.

In earlier times women’s power was in femininity and glamour, and women really had a lot of control over that. That’s really what I miss, the glamour image of woman that was already crumbling apart in the ‘70s. The glamour age is over. It’s partly this interest in glamour that has people thinking of me as a campy director, more aligned with gay male taste.

K: I understand what you mean by that. I know some girls who want to be glamorous, but then sometimes they feel when they talk to other girls about it they have to validate it, saying, “You know, I’m dressing up now, but I also wear hiking boots.”

A: Yes, trying to justify it and trying to say, “Well, I’m still a real person.” Somehow the idea of the feminine has become denaturalized. It keeps swinging back and forth, but it never comes to the point where a woman feels totally natural just being herself.

You know, there’s that neo-burlesque revival and a lot of women are trying to take back the femme fatale image. That may make a difference eventually, but some of the girls working in burlesque clubs are pretty unhappy about the way men treat them. I found that making this movie has gotten me a lot of attention; the kind of attention that I haven’t had in a long time because I haven’t been putting myself out there in that way.

K: I can imagine that that would attract some negative ‘or what can be seen as negative’ comments or attention, or some degrading comments.

A: Yeah, it does actually. If I was putting myself out there like that unwittingly when I was quite young, then that’s one thing. But you would think that the way you’re looked at would change if you reconstruct yourself as a woman with a sense of irony about it, and if your text is about these issues. But people will still often treat you like an object. Not like an author or a director, but like you’re only a body and a face. It's kind of interesting.

Chad England, Jared Sanford, Bridget Brno, and Anna Biller in VIVA

K: Interesting is one word to describe it. Have you had problems with studios treating you with dignity or respect?

A: This movie has been dismissed by many distributors and festivals, I think because they see it as a trash film. The sexploitation genre is generally considered to be unsuitable for film festivals, and yet my film is not sexploitation, it’s quoting sexploitation. But the film has done quite well at foreign and underground film festivals. It’s usually younger programmers who accept it at the festivals, or people with a special interest in sexploitation or cult films, or women. I think, in a way, older straight men are the ones who have the most problem with it.

K: Why do you think that is?

A: I think it’s because some of them can’t understand where I’m coming from. A lot of them think, “She’s just doing an exact copy of a sexploitation movie. Those movies are so bad, why would anybody want to copy them?” They don’t consider that the gesture of being a female making a sexploitation film and putting herself in it makes it different. It’s confusing because it looks the same and feels the same, yet it’s completely different because of the context and point of view. They also often don’t understand that I take something more from many of those films than they do, and that I don’t think of those films as bad.

They’re a chance to discover something about men and women through an adult lens which sometimes can be breathtaking or reveal primal impulses that are otherwise hidden. I’m not looking down on an outdated genre or on the past. They want me to be looking down on those films, and I’m not. So a lot of critics pan my film for not taking a more sneering or ironic attitude to the originals, which was not at all my intent. It’s not parody, but social satire. I’m not making fun of the films, I’m making fun of people and their received notions, and there’s a big difference. I do have a fascination with old film genres, but that’s more in the sense of being a collector of striking images, almost in the spirit of how people make found footage or assemblage films.

Also, maybe they feel guilty because they watch those movies for their own pleasure. And I think that just the little hint of feminism in it takes away some of their pleasure. So it isn’t exploitative or degrading enough, therefore not as good as those original movies. They say, “She’s not doing it right.” And yeah, I’m not doing it right in the sense that the movie isn’t made to turn men on. And also my story influences really come from an earlier time, from classic cinema. But this is hard to see because the feeling of the ‘70s is so strong in the visuals.

I think a lot of men think that I’m trying to titillate them, but that I’m not doing a good job. There’s a weird way that makes me feel because I’m in the movie, and I still have some vanity. You want them to like you in the movie, but then again you don’t care, or actually it might even be disgusting for them to like you in the movie. You get all these conflicting feelings about what it all means to you. But that’s part of why it’s interesting to do it, as it raises all of these questions about narcissism and spectatorship.

I found that most of the straight men who are really enchanted with the movie are all also enchanted with the women as physical objects and that the two go hand-in-hand. For example, they will comment on the body parts they like or on who they wanted to see more nudity from. If they don’t find the girls sexy they generally don’t like the movie either.

K: And they don’t recognize their own pervertedness or the irony?

A: No, they don’t. Or they don’t care. I’ve even had men come up to me and criticize the girls’ figures in the movie.

K: Really?

Anna Biller and Chad England in VIVA

A: Yeah, directly to me, saying, “Well, you know, you girls really don’t have those Playboy bodies. You’re not really thin enough.” But the thing was supposed to be that the characters weren’t Playboy bunnies; they were housewives who were having a fantasy.

The straight men can be so insistent on wanting the movie to be for their consumption and pleasure, and not accepting anything that goes outside of that. I think it’s partly because of the genre I’m dealing with, which is generally not a woman’s genre. But their being so vocal about not wanting me to have that space is what’s interesting to me.

Bridget Brno, Jared Sanford, and Anna Biller in VIVA

K: To catch myself now, cause I’m a little shocked. I’m just going to read one of these questions. When you finished the final cut of Viva, what did you do right away, or how did you celebrate?

A: We set up a screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, because people had been working on it for so long and I wanted to do a nice screening, and we had a big reception afterwards.

But I never felt that the film was done. I still don’t feel like it’s done. The work never slowed down or stopped. You have a final cut, then I did animation by hand, which took three months, and credits. Then you have to do color timing and sound mixing. Then you have to get prints and telecine transfers. Then you’re making dubs, posters, postcards, presskits, a website, researching and submitting to festivals, then traveling to festivals and setting up theatrical screenings and distribution. It hasn’t really let up.

K: What’s the work that is going on right now?

A: I’m almost finished with a new script. It’s been hard to write because of so much traveling. And I’m still not done with Viva because I have to make an outtakes reel for the DVD. Because I cut on film, I have to go back to my flatbed and go through all my rolls, one by one.

K: And then it gets a DVD release. When is that?

A: Early next year, January or February. The US distributor is Cult Epics and the Canadian distributor is Anchor Bay.

K: And your short films are now on DVD, right?

A: Yes, I’ve just remastered the shorts on DVD.

K: Film is really expensive, have you ever thought of switching to digital?

A: No, never. I actually started on video and I didn’t like it. I went to film, to Super 8mm. For me, that was a step up and I learned all about filmmaking from Super 8mm. If I was going to downgrade I’d go back to 16mm or even Super 8mm. I have 78 rolls of Super 8mm that I got from Kodak and I’m going to make a bunch of short films on that. It will be like a sketchpad of film ideas that I have.

Marcus DeAnda and Anna Biller in VIVA

K: I was wondering about the MPAA. Have they rated your film?

A: No, no they haven’t. I have a feeling that we would get an NC-17, even though it’s such an innocent movie, because I have some male nudity in there. I haven’t submitted it. But I may make a censored version for Wal-Mart.

K: Really? Are you going to do that?

A: Yeah. I’m thinking of making a version that cuts the lower nudity out.

K: It’s really odd how a film can have so much female nudity in it, and then as soon as there’s full frontal male it changes everything. I never understood that.

A: Well, especially when it’s just guys sitting around and hanging out, not really doing anything and just talking. They were allowed to do that in the ‘60s. It’s interesting how forty years later we can’t do that.

K: And NC-17. That’s an incredibly “high” rating. That’s unfortunate because it is such an innocent film.

A: It is such an innocent film, and I don’t think it would be traumatic for anybody to see it. But I have a feeling it would get an NC-17 even without the male frontal nudity because there’s so much nudity.

K: It’s very noticeable that you’re a passionate filmmaker and you seem to be a passionate film viewer. You’ve seen a lot of films and know a lot about film history. What is it about watching films that you find exciting, entertaining, or fulfilling?

A: I have been watching films with real seriousness since I was a small child. My mom would watch all of the old movies on TV, but she would also watch the soap operas. I was obsessed with the old movies with the women in their gowns and all the fast banter, but I would leave when the soap operas came on and go and read. I was partly interested in the old movies because of living in Los Angeles I think, and all of the traces of old Hollywood that you would see. My mom had a dress shop in West Hollywood, and the stars would shop there. So maybe me liking those films is the equivalent of someone living in a coal-mining town liking movies about coal mining. It’s naturalism, realism!

I’ve always had a taste for old films and literature, and I think in a way it was my fantasy life, my escape route. When I was very small, it was a way of imagining a life that I didn’t have; a life of certain kinds of people and places that were outside of my experience. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wanted different things out of movies. I enjoy films that remind me of life or teach me things. I love films that have to do with gender.

K: Gender relationships are always going to be on the surface. We’re always going to be questioning it. We’re always going to be trying to force it or relax it. There’s always something new to talk about. The conversation is ever growing, ever changing.

A: Yeah, it’s always new. A lot of the movies from the ‘30s and ‘40s had to do with complex gender relations between men and women. I love Harold Pinter, and I’ve been really getting into Joseph Losey. When I was a child I liked musicals, and I still love musicals, I love the delirium of them, and the sublime elements. But now I like stuff that’s a little more painful, too.

K: What would be more painful? Can you give an example?

A: I saw the film Secret Ceremony recently, by Joseph Losey. A very painful film about two women who pretend to be mother and daughter. It’s with Liz Taylor and Mia Farrow. It’s just a brilliant film, but it’s really twisted and there’s a lot of pain. It’s so much about people covering up their feelings and it has all these layers. It’s a great artwork about regular people but it’s Liz Taylor, so it’s not really regular people. There’s such a mythic quality to it. They were really good at doing that in the ‘60s, making films that had a heightened quality to them about normal human relations.

The noir films were like that too. I’ve been reading a lot of pulp novels lately too. Those are all about really normal, everyday people. But there’s something about them that becomes very heightened and exquisite because they’ll take very ordinary sexual relations between people and make it a magical territory for discovery. I think that is the opposite formula of movies now.

I enjoy films about how extraordinary the everyday is. Even those Busby Berkeley movies, they’re always about hard-working people that happen to work in the theater. Their lives are difficult, They’re poor, they’re going to put on a show, and the show itself is magical. You can relate to the characters; they’re just people who are working hard. They’re dancing and they’re choreographing and they’re meeting each other and falling in love. The stories are within believable experience, even though in the Busby Berkeley films the musical numbers are so far beyond extraordinary. They get so surreal and sublime and they go beyond what you can even imagine.

K: How is your film-watching passion different than your filmmaking?

A: I don’t know how to describe it except that I am an artist. So, when I make stuff I go into a fantasy mode and I try to imagine things I want to see. But I also try to make something that is grounded in reality. I am aware of everything else that has been made, and I am aware of trying to create something new. I never try to copy anything. People keep accusing me of copying, but what I want to do is copy films and then change them so that I’ve created an entirely new kind of film. It’s like, “this is what a movie is, and this is a different way we can make a movie.”

I thought if I made a new kind of movie, that people would be excited to see that. But people in the film business are pretty dismissive about something that doesn’t fit into the formulas. They want to buy something that’s been proven to turn a profit. My films are uncomfortable because they are in between the popular and the experimental, where films don’t normally go.

K: And how is this affecting your new project? Is it still called The Love Witch?

A: Yes, I’m still calling it The Love Witch. That’s going pretty well, and again I’m trying to make it a bit more conventional in terms of what people expect. But I think it will still probably be pretty out there. Usually the more conventional I try to be, the stranger the film becomes. I think it’s because my view of what a popular film is is to make it more of what it already is, like the old Hollywood epics. I just cram it with more spectacle and delirium, and it gets more fetishistic along the way. I’m not changing the ideas in other words, I’m just making it bigger and bigger.

I wasn’t trying to make an experimental film with Viva; I was trying to make a popular film. I think in a way I didn’t quite succeed. Although, weirdly enough, there’s a certain popular audience for whom it really works. People who wander in accidentally at a film festival who aren’t art-film buffs sometimes really enjoy it.

K: Everybody in the theater where I saw it seemed to really enjoy it and that was a very mixed audience.

A: Where did you see it?

K: I saw it in Montreal. It was at an AMC theater. It’s really funny because AMC theaters are run by these people who are really conservative. Head office is in Kansas City, but somehow this theater and some of the other ones play some alternative films. It’s weird to me to see such interesting films playing in their theaters.

A: Well, when Viva does get a chance to play, it has proven to be popular in the way that I wanted it to be, appealing directly to audiences on some sort of gut level. But even so, my films are hard to distribute. The distributors will say that it’s for a niche audience or a specialty audience. But if you look at the stuff that art-film distributors carry they are often much more niche than this.

Chad England and Anna Biller in VIVA

K: I’ve talked to a number of people about this film and I say check out the trailer, and they always say, “This looks great.” All different kinds of people. And you’re right, this film does appeal to everybody and if distributors market it well enough that will become clear. I do think that it does also appeal to certain niche audiences, the film buffs or art crowd, but it has enough heart and quality that everyone will get something out of it.

A: Well, I was really careful not to make it too absurd or difficult. I was trying to make a movie that was almost stupid on the surface, because I wanted it to feel breezy like those sex movies, but I wanted it to be complex underneath. But some people just see the first layer and think that it’s stupid.

K: Well, there’s a lot of subtext throughout the film. What you said earlier about how you’re a woman directing his type of film, giving it a female perspective – watching Viva with that in mind definitely changes the viewing of it.

A: But I also think that even if you don’t know it’s a woman directing it’s obvious. There aren’t any titillating close-ups of body parts, and in the love scenes the man is more featured than the woman. In the scene with Barbi and her husband, he’s the one who takes off his shirt and there are all these close-ups of him smiling. He’s the love object. I don’t think a man would shoot a scene in that way unless he was a gay man.

Chad England, Bridget Brno, Anna Biller, and Jared Sanford in VIVA

At the scene on the racetrack, Rick is the object of desire and Barbi is looking at him. She’s the one looking and he’s the one posing, dropping the cigarettes, and trying to look sexy. Everything is a woman’s point of view experiencing men. And when Barbi/Viva has an orgasm, it doesn’t show her, it shows what’s in her head through an animation sequence.

I have a male friend who told me, “Your movie oozes with estrogen.” (Laughs.) He said, “I could tell it was a feminist film right away. I didn’t have to know a woman made it.” People who don’t pick that up I think are being a little bit dense, because it’s so planted there. There’s that scene where the character Mark looks into the camera and says, “This is a man’s world.”

K: That was actually one of my favorite moments in the film. It was really bizarre to me. I thought it was such a great moment, a really honest confession, and a great sense of irony for the films of the time that it was referring to.

A: That was one of the few scenes where it was just two men talking and I thought, “Okay, this is his world, let’s have him actually speak what he’s thinking.” We’re used to Barbi saying to herself, “I’m having a hard time, I don’t know what to do, I’m navigating through this world of wolves and it’s difficult.” He’s saying, “This is great, I love this. For me this is perfect.” I wanted to show that everyone is having a different experience with the sexual revolution and its affects.

John Klemantaski and Anna Biller in VIVA

Her friend, the blonde woman, has her own experience too. She’s a white woman, so she has a different kind of privilege in the world. She says, “Okay, I’m just going to take what I can get out of this,” and she’s not a victim. The men have the most privilege, but amongst the two women one of them has more power than the other one. It’s not only in a social context; it’s the level of how that woman belongs in suburbia and really feels comfortable there.

K: Was that intentional, or did it just flow throughout the writing of the script?

A: No, no. Part of the reason I do this is that I’m half- Japanese. One thing I would notice watching films when I was growing up is that I didn’t see myself on the screens. One of the major differences between Viva and the movies I’m quoting is that the lead character in those movies wouldn’t look like me. I think that if a white woman had played Barbi, then the movie would have a whole different feeling to it - a whole different meaning.

K: What is that experience like? You’re watching films as a child and you’re seeing people on the screen who don’t look like you.

A: You feel you’re invisible or you don’t exist, or that your existence isn’t important in the world. You don’t see your reflection anywhere. So, part of putting myself in these movies and making them look like Hollywood movies is important. It’s a “real movie,” and it’s got me in it, or somebody that looks like me.

Bridget Brno in VIVA

K: Both of your parents are in Viva. They’re obviously supportive of your work. What was their reaction to the film? Did they have input on it?

A: My parents are artists and they’re very sophisticated, so they weren’t shocked by it. But I don’t think they were that impressed by it either. But my dad saw it again recently when it was playing in Los Angeles and he had some sort of an epiphany the second time he saw it. He said, “It’s so literary and classical,” and “It’s like Candide.”

The first time, because he’s a painter, he really noticed the color. For a lot of people, the first time they see it, they’re mainly looking at it as a visual piece; they don’t understand the story. I think my mom, who only saw it once, thinks of it mainly as a visual movie. And that’s the same reaction that a lot people have: they can only grasp the visuals and that’s why it may seem long to some people; because it’s a long movie if you’re just looking at the visuals. But if you’re following along and grasping the story, it moves along very quickly.

K: It definitely has a rewatchable factor. If you watch it two or three times, each time you will pick up on something you hadn’t noticed before because everything in the film is so well constructed; it’s very tight. Third or fourth time, people will still see something new.

A: Yes, it’s very dense and carefully put together. I’m told that it doesn’t fall apart on second viewing, it just gets better.

K: Getting away from your film for a moment. I was wondering if you have any guilty pleasures? Anything that you might be interested in that you might not be quick to share. For example, I like superhero movies though I don’t like to admit it.

A: Oh, you mean low-culture things?

K: Yes, I guess so.

A: Well, I have no guilt about anything that I’m interested in, and I don’t think of any cultural thing as being low. As for movies, I watch old movies and foreign movies. I guess the only trashy things I watch are the sexploitation films. Occasionally, I’ll watch a new art film that comes out, or I’ll catch a glimpse of a new movie on television, but I mostly just watch TCM. Other low-brow interests include ‘60s and ‘70s sex pulp novels, Italian sex comic books and sex films from the same period, and pre-Code movies. So I do read some pulp novels, but again that’s research and study for my film, it’s not the stuff I normally read.

K: You seem to be really interested in literature. Who do you read?

A: I like classic literature, philosophy, criticism, and poetry. I love French symbolist poetry especially. I like to mix it up. I have a pile by my bed that includes Kierkegaard, Deleuze, a ‘70s guidebook on making porn movies, a book on witchcraft, and Jerry Lewis’ book on filmmaking. I don’t read much contemporary literature at all. It’s not that I’m not interested in new things, it’s just that I’ve become so entrenched in culture from the past, it’s so addicting.

K: Do you feel out of the loop?

A: I started to because I came out of Viva and I realized that there was this whole world out there happening now that could be interesting. I started to try to catch up to “now” a little bit, but I’m never going to do it because there’s so little time in life and I’ve been studying other periods so intensely. It’s making me quite confused, actually.

K: Studying other periods is making you confused?

A: No, studying “now,” actually is confusing. “Now” makes no sense to me, and I think in a way it’s never made any sense to me. I’ve always had to go into the past to understand life and the world. But I do read a smattering of psychology and philosophy that’s written now. I mostly read non-fiction, film and art theory, because that’s what inspires me most for my work. And I like to read about the avant-garde and about gender. And again, all of the pulp novels I have been reading have given me a real sense into the masculine mind. I’m really interested now in learning about men.

K: What do you think of that?

A: I love learning about men and how they think. I’m trying to put that into my new movie. It’s all about how men think. I’m interested in what women lost, but I’m even more interested in what men lost.

Andrea Lain and Jared Sanford in VIVA

K: What are your opinions on where we are?

A: My new theory - I have a lot of theories - is that men are suffering because they have had their support system of passive mothering or sexually compliant females taken away, so this is very stressful for them. My new film deals with a femme fatale who loves men the way women used to, with all of the classic feminine wiles, and how devastating and even lethal that is for men, as they’re not used to the power of it.

I think that when women lost the art of pretending to give men everything they want the world fell apart a little bit. That has something to do with equality. Women didn’t want to have to do that; women wanted to do their own thing and not spend half of their time nurturing men. I understand that, of course. Who wants to do that? But now everyone has to be the same.

Now, there are neuroscientists coming in and saying that it’s a proven fact that mens’ and women’s brains work differently. We process information differently and we have different skills. Fifty years ago people didn’t have to have a neuroscientist to tell them that. Gender difference was common sense. It’s like we have lost some sort of wisdom and we’ve become kind of stupid. We have to rely on scientific studies to tell us who we are. Isn’t that weird?

K: It’s bizarre. I think every day there is a struggle of how to act. I’m always confused.

A: You seem like a really sensitive guy who doesn’t have any problems in these areas.

K: Well, I don’t, not really. I guess I’ve come to terms with my gender in some ways and how stupid we can be. Not just how stupid, but also, yes, the expectations and being too sensitive while also trying not to be sensitive. It’s hard being male, but it’s hard being any gender.

A: Yeah, it’s hard. I saw part of this Red Skelton and Esther Williams movie, Bathing Beauty [1944]. There was this scene where Red Skelton had to be part of this ballet class where there were all these girls in swan-lake costumes, and he was also wearing a swan-lake costume. The ballet teacher was telling him how to be a dignified woman, how to walk as a ballerina.

She said to him, “You have to say to yourself, ‘I have a secret. I am beautiful. I am beloved.’” Now, this is the 1940s, so this was general knowledge. Women teaching other women, “This is how to be a woman.” It’s so amazing: “I have a secret, I am beautiful, I am beloved.” If women walked around like that now, feeling that way, don’t you think life would be easier for everyone? (Laughing.)

K: Maybe? I don’t know. What’s easier?

A: I don’t know. Women are so conflicted now about a feminine image of themselves. They really resist it; they don’t trust it. It’s always a struggle: “Is it for me, or for society, or for him?" Glamour is still a secret pleasure for a lot of women, but they often don’t feel comfortable expressing themselves in that way. There was this feeling in the ‘40s that it was a privilege to be beautiful. Those movies projected this feeling of how great it was to be a mysterious, beautiful woman. You see what I’m saying? It can be very pleasurable for women to be mysterious and beautiful. And that comforts men too, somehow. It makes them feel less confused in the world.

Anna Biller in VIVA

K: Which is always a good thing. For some reason, I just don’t think there is any way of making any gender feel less confused or more comfortable.

A: The problem is that the feminine has become such a negative thing. I see that in some ways things used to be worse for women, but I’m also nostalgic for a time when women could just be women and men could be men, you know? Some people think I’m doing parody because I enjoy putting that in my movies. So, maybe that’s my guilty pleasure. My guilty pleasure is my nostalgia for antiquated gender roles. I really like that.