Say “UNCLE” with director Gary Reich

Rainbow wouldn’t be a cutting-edge film festival if we didn’t have some more…challenging films for you to consider, right? This year we’re screening UNCLE DAVID – an interesting addition to this year’s program that’s thought-provoking in all its cinematic pensiveness. Starring David Hoyle (remember that cameo from Velvet Goldmine, anyone?) and gay porn star Ashley Ryder, it’ll get your mind popping like popcorn. We chatted with one of its directors, Gary Reich, about moody beaches, avant garde cinema and the rebirth of “The Divine David.”
UNCLE DAVID director Gary Reich will be in attendance at the film’s screening on Sat., 5/14 at 145PM

Since it’s premiere abroad, what have you gathered to be the general reaction to Uncle David? Anything that’s surprised you?

The film is basically a very black comedy but not everyone finds the humour that easy. So far it has played in London, Milan and Paris and the reception has been quite different. In London, David has legendary cult status on the alternative cabaret scene and Ashley is an award winning porn star with his own popular weekly gay wrestling night so there was an electric atmosphere in an auditorium packed with 400 fans and another 100 queuing for returns. As a result the audience laughter was wild and contagious during the first act but as the mood and tone of the film significantly darkens the tension in the room was just as contagious and people’s uncomfortableness was palpable – some were quite vocal about it in the room. By contrast in Paris, where we went on to win ‘Best Film’ and ‘Best Actor’, the audience watched in total silence and took it very seriously as a drama. Not one laugh throughout! The biggest surprise though was the fact that we won ‘Best Film’ at last year’s British Erotic Awards. As far as we were concerned there was not a lot of overtly erotic content in the film but we found out we’d won because we’d ‘bravely explored’ an extreme fetish that to be honest we’d not actually heard of nor knew we were exploring. In retrospect it puts an interesting and different spin on the film – the audience for that screening was clearly getting something VERY different from the others!

Hawai‘i is no stranger to a beach…except maybe for the one in your film. Not exactly the most Sheryl Crow “Soak Up the Sun”-strumming sort of setting that we’re accustomed to here, if you know what I mean. Where did you shoot the film? And does it at all inform the relationship of the two leads?
The film was shot on the little known Isle of Sheppey. It’s a truly Godforsaken wasteland only 90 mins train ride from London, in the Thames estuary, but it may as well be in Romania. Or Texas. I’d been obsessed by the Island since recceing it for a TV series 10 years earlier and when the show didn’t get commissioned I was determined to return one day and make as disturbing as possible a film to honour the liminal horror of the landscape and its inhabitants. Harmony Korine’s “Gummo” and John Water’s “Female Trouble” were big inspirations for the trailer trash setting. Also as a homage to the spirit of John Waters we really did shoot the film for less than £1000, over 3 days, and so our crew of 7 (including actors) slept in the same caravan we were shooting in and all the ‘extras’ were real people packing up their homes for the winter months (we shot the film over the Halloween weekend). Bizarrely the disgraced gay TV presenter Michael Barrymore (a young man died in his swimming pool with things up his bottom a few years ago) spends 2 weeks every summer staying with his great aunt in a caravan, 3 caravans behind the one we shot in. We were obviously being blessed by the saints of gay history!
For those of us outside the UK, one of the leads, David Hoyle gained notoriety as a performance artist, most notably as The Divine David. His performance in Uncle David seems far more subdued than his work at the turn of the 21st century. How did this collaboration with Hoyle begin? Was he the first person you had in mind? Would you say Uncle David serves as an evolution of Hoyle’s art?
I started working with David 12 years ago when he was at the height of his powers as ‘The Divine David” and I was making a late night experimental comedy show for the BBC. Not long after that he killed off the character and stopped working for almost 5 years, but when he returned for a performance a few years ago his style had hugely matured and his confrontational delivery had become more modulated and somehow more powerful for it. The genesis of the film project then started with a live performance at a Christmas show 2 years ago in which Ashley came on stage as David’s nephew, wearing a school uniform, and David pulled out metres of tinsel from his nephew’s bottom. It was very avant garde and also very funny. We knew then that there was a potent chemistry between the performers and so we decided to shoot 3 short films with them over one day (released on the DVD extras when Pecadillo releases the film later this year). In the films David wore some light make-up and a wig (very ‘Death In Venice’) but when it came to making the feature it was felt by everyone that a more naturalistic look and performance style would amplify the film’s more shocking themes and scenes. David regards the film as “his life’s work” and so there is definitely a sense of wanting to expose himself, make himself more vulnerable and real. In theme and content it certainly reflects MOST of his deeper interests.
Thematically, Uncle David is a challenging film, so it surprises me even more that it was shot in less than a week (is this true?). And that it was largely improvised. Is this typically the way you like to work? Quickly and without reservation? Or was this a technique that you felt was required of telling this story?
The film was made by a collective called The Avant Garde Alliance, a group of artists who constellated around David’s legendary live shows with the intention of committing our time for free to facilitate projects helmed by him. As David has been improvising a 3 hour live show almost every single week of his life for the past 30 years and has never written anything down it was always clear we’d be improvising whatever we made. Ashley has obviously also ‘improvised’ his numerous porno roles and so we spent 5 weekends having picnics with the 2 of them during which they stayed in character throughout the picnic, and in the times between. Out of this grew a one page story idea. Then we identified a long weekend that everyone could make and decided to shoot the film, in sequence, in real time. We chose 10 locations and because of the tiny size of the crew, the fact we had no permission to use any of the locations and the fact the 2 actors were never out of character we also landed up shooting every scene only once. So: 3 days, no words written down, everything in sequence and everything one take. In retrospect this approach not only made the film possible but also as strange and involving as it is. And our collective intend to shoot another film with David and Ashley this Halloween using the same techniques. Oddly enough the one time we will actually have to commit to script is in the film’s next incarnation, which is as a musical we are co-producing with Soho Theatre in London next Spring and which is being written by David and Richard Thomas (who wrote ‘Jerry Springer, the Opera’ and ‘Anna Nichol’ as well as scoring ‘Uncle David’).
OUT Magazine just did a round-up of “50 Essential Gay Films” as nominated by directors, actors, activists and others. What film do you consider essential viewing?
Aside from every John Waters and Derek Jarman film and repeated forced viewings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” I’d have to add: “Je t’aime Moi Non Plus” which stars Joe Dallesandro as a bisexual man who keeps being thrown out of establishments cause his girlfriend (an androgynous Jane Birkin) keeps screaming when he tries to have anal sex with her. Funny, sexy, magnificently shot and utterly bonkers.
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