Michael Almereyda’s Nikola Tesla film, White Noise, and Pixelvision

Photo courtesy of Michael Almereyda.

Michael Almereyda is preparing to go into production next year on a Nikola Tesla biopic, which will reunite him with Ethan Hawke, his Shakespearean co-conspirator from 2000’s Hamlet. This marks a significant creative transition period for the film, which Almereyda initially drafted after he dropped out of Harvard.

“After countless revisions, the script is now like a house that’s been extensively rebuilt on the same lot, over the course of roughly 35 years,” Almereyda told Film Comment. “Only the fireplace and a few floorboards survive from the original structure. Or, to be more exact, some scenes involving JP Morgan were written by a 20-year-old who slightly resembles the current writer.”

Although it was optioned at the time, the project did not secure adequate funding to go into production; while working on Marjorie Prime, Almereyda returned to the script.

“The latest version has more scope, as I’ve included various characters whirling in Tesla’s orbit,” Almereyda explained. “With any luck it’ll be worth the wait.”

Almereyda has been keeping busy otherwise, setting his sights on Don DeLillo’s College-on-the-Hill: he recently adapted White Noise, which he hopes to cast soon, depending on timing. “It may well happen first, if I can find the right actor,” Almereyda said. “It was purely fun to adapt the novel, just as I had a lot of fun adapting Hamlet. When working with something this brilliantly constructed, this wonderfully dense and detailed, your job as a screenwriter is simply to distill what’s on the page. So I’ve held on pretty tightly to what feels like the essence of the book, DeLillo’s characters, dialogue, and images, his gags and surprises. He’s done all the hard work for me.”

Expanding on the variety of modes and forms he’s explored throughout his career, Almereyda also spoke about his work with the Pixelvision camera—notably Another Girl Another Planet, the perspectival work in Nadja, and the video diary sequences in Hamlet—in advance of Film Society of Lincoln Center’s retrospective focused on the Fisher-Price camcorder. These shoots often called for on-the-spot technical innovation; cinematographer Jim Denault constructed a special rig conducive to Hi8 tape recordings, and fashioned a brace that allowed the camera to be mounted on a tripod and dolly.

“There’s the texture, of course, the trembling grain, which seems to work in sympathy with the lens’s aching sensitivity to light,” Almereyda reflected. “There’s also the fact that the camera hardly weighs a thing, which gives you great mobility and an inbuilt sense of intimacy. I’ve been reading Elizabeth Hardwick essays, and I thought of Pixelvision when I hit this line: ‘Nothing is more striking to me than the casual prose of poets, with its quick and dashing informality, its mastery of the sudden and offhand, the free and thrown-away.’”

He continued, “I’ll leave it to others to determine whether the result [of my work] was poetry or ‘casual prose’ or simply an odd and uncommercial hybrid format, but I know that the images in these films are as alive as any I managed to make before or since.”

Films on the Horizon:

Claire Simon received funding for Le Village, a 10-hour documentary series following residents of the French village of Lussas, which has become something of a documentary film cooperative . . . Rainer Werner Fassbinder will be the subject of Albert Serra’s next film, Personalien, slated to begin production in September, in which the filmmaker will clash with his demons and his collaborators, notably Günther Kaufmann, while staging a play about 18th-century debauchery in Berlin . . . Pablo Larraín began shooting Ema, which he described as a dance-based “melodrama” centering on a choreographer (Gael García Bernal) and his wife, a schoolteacher, whose adoption fell through.


Jeanne Dielman Chantal Akerman

✸ James Benning shared on his Facebook page that O Panama is being restored by the Austrian Film Museum.

✸ “Chantal spoke to Marcel Hanoun, the filmmaker, and she said, ‘I want to go to New York. Do you know anybody?’ He said, ‘Yes, I have a close friend who lives there. She is a camerawoman, she was my AC. She’s going to shoot a film for me next year.’ So, that’s how that happened. She came. She had my phone number.” Revisit this 2016 interview with cinematographer Babette Mangolte at Interview.

✸ Prolific character actor Paul Dooley was recently featured on an episode of the Earwolf podcast—listen for anecdotes about Robert Altman, Harry Nilsson, and Max von Sydow.

✸ Believer Magazine’s digital archive is now online, including Thomas Beard’s history of the digest film.

✸ Finally, Lucrecia Martel directed a music video for Julieta Laso’s “GHOSTS”: