When describing her new film, Alice Eve immediately pulls out a T.S. Eliot quote: “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.”
It’s the idea that there’s an inherent streak of artificiality running through many of our relationships, that we act our way through much of life. It perfectly describes Benedict Cumberbatch’s mystery-shrouded John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness, whose identity has been a source of constant speculation for months. But Eve isn’t quoting Eliot in relation to Star Trek, in which she plays Dr. Carol Marcus, but a film that you'd think is as wildly different as you could possibly imagine: her Tribeca Film Festival indie Some Velvet Morning.
“It’s an emotional hostage crisis,” Eve says of the film, which, written and directed by Neil LaBute (The Wicker Man, Lakeview Terrace), comes across like an extremely tense two-man play... or one-man, one-woman play. Stanley Tucci plays Fred, a middle-aged attorney who’s just left his wife for Eve’s Velvet, a prostitute whose relationship with him, he thinks, became something more than just that of a hooker and John. He shows up on the doorstep of her Brooklyn brownstone, suitcase in hand, only to discover that Velvet has other, less emotionally invested feelings about their relationship.
Over the next 82 minutes they engage in a tense, even violent, conversation that lays bare their deepest insecurities and reveals Fred and Velvet to be participants in a vicious cycle of co-dependency. As much as they try to connect, you sense they are, like Eliot’s quote, preparing faces for each other that the other wants to see, and never being honest. “They’re stuck on a carousel of acting it out and acting it out, trying to make the same thing work over and over, until either their pain goes away or their relationship seems more real or just something different happens,” Eve says. “And that may be the definition of insanity. They’re trying the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome, when there’s no indication that there ever will be a different outcome.”
The entire film takes the form of an extended dialogue between Velvet and Fred, set wholly within her upscale townhouse. One’s first reaction upon seeing Some Velvet Morning may be that it’s a spiritual cousin of Richard Linklater’s conversation films. But the dialogue-centric Before Sunrise trilogy takes the form of city symphony reveries, while Some Velvet Morning is a claustrophobic pressure cooker in which something horrendous may erupt between these two people.
And it eventually does. “It’s more a kindred spirit of Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage and Faces, and of course Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Eve says. “It exists in that tradition of European, pre-Dustin Hoffman cinema.”
Some Velvet Morning also draws heavily on the theater background of its creator, Neil LaBute. Eve’s character, Velvet, a high-priced call girl capable of not only fulfilling the fantasies of her clients but making them believe them, came out of a dramatic monologue for the stage that the actress had collaborated on with LaBute. In that reading, Eve inhabited the role of a “working girl,” to use the euphemism, and LaBute liked her interpretation so much that he expanded the character into the one we see in Some Velvet Morning. Turning an extended conversation between two people into a movie, however, was a greater challenge.
“The screen is more about active, forward movement than the stage,” Eve says. “The intimacy of the cinema demands that we are following a story.” LaBute, Eve, and Tucci, and their tiny crew gathered in Park Slope, Brooklyn for four days of rehearsal to find a tidal rhythm in the Velvet and Fred’s conversation, with that “forward movement” building to a big, brutal, unforgettable climax. Coming from the theater where improvisation is generally frowned upon, LaBute didn’t encourage his actors to ad lib while shooting but instead suggest ideas during the rehearsal period. “For example, originally there were going to be two instances of me applying lipstick in the film,” Eve says. “But in our very theater-like rehearsal, we decided that felt repetitive, that there was a need for a moment of respite, so I said that Stanley should put the lipstick on my lips himself for the second occasion.”
Considering the volatility of the emotions Eve and Tucci were expected to project, creating a little levity on set, and during rehearsal, was essential. “Stanley’s a very light soul,” Eve says. “Stanley and I went to lunch together every day and spoke about our own love lives, which are I suppose very different but just as complex as everyone’s are. He would fall asleep in the dressing room and I would wake him up and tease him. We got along very well.”
The shooting itself took place over only eight days, in June 2012. That experience was the microscopic opposite of the six-month shoot Eve had just completed on Los Angeles soundstages for the other movie she's starring in this month, Star Trek Into Darkness. But as different as the two movies appear to be on the surface, the nature of their respective productions wasn’t that dissimilar: “Star Trek is this grand juggernaut of a vision, but when it came down to it, most of my experience of filming it was just J.J., Chris [Pine], and me, just like how on Some Velvet Morning it was just Neil, Stanley, and myself.” Running through 23rd century San Francisco is the same as viciously chatting in a 21st century Brooklyn brownstone? In the end, they’re both games of make believe.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
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The Prohibition era, spurred by the ratification of the 18th Amendment back in 1920, ended nearly 80 years ago. The images from that dark moment in American history continue to stick in our minds: mason jars, gulping down liquor, cops axing barrels, moonshine pouring into the streets, the occasional gangster tommy gunning his way out of a sticky situation — it's easy to picture.
The new movie Lawless pulls back the curtain on the era, exposing the bloody violence and luxuriating in the poetic experience of distilling one's own moonshine. Today, the years of Prohibition feel otherworldly, like fiction. But while the government's Constitutional mandate eventually dissipated and the riled up citizens cooled down, the sentiments of the times never really began or ended with Prohibition proper. America has always regulated alcohol, even to this day, and the people of the country have always had that curious desire to whip up their own batch for fun — legal or not.
In fact, modern moonshining is a reemerging art. And Colin Spoelman, founder and master distiller at Brooklyn's Kings County Distillery, is at the forefront. "I grew up in a dry county, where the sale of alcohol was explicitly prohibited and has been since before Prohibition," says Spoelman, whose moonshine operation is 100 percent legal and also holds the title of being the oldest distillery in New York City, founded in 2010. But the legal activities were spurred by current alcohol laws. "My dad, a minister now retired, would be fairly critical of 'bootleggers,' who in practice weren't moonshiners so much as people who were going to Virginia to buy packaged alcohol and resell it to anyone willing to buy it. So when I was in high school, we would go up to Pine Mountain and buy Zima or something called 'Mad Dog,' which was just cheap, commercially available booze. That said, you can find moonshine if you wanted."
Prohibition in the extreme doesn't exist today, but alcohol bans and restrictions continue to exist on country-wide and state levels. Patrons don't have to sneak into speakeasy to drink a Jack and coke, but the laws still stand in the way of complete alcoholic freedom: High-proof alcohols (such as Everclear) are restricted or illegal; wormwood-infused absinthe, legal overseas, is banned; states continue to restrict from who, when, and how you can purchase liquor; and most recently, the FDA declared that drinks that combined caffeine and alcohol must be removed from shelves (farewell, Four Loko). Modern "moonshine" teeters a thin line.
"Moonshine can mean illegally made alcohol or it can mean an unaged or 'white' spirit, most commonly corn whiskey," Spoelman says. "It's illegal to make your own spirits anywhere in this country. So anyone making anything harder than beer or wine at home is breaking the law, and is moonshining. This was true even before Prohibition, and there were moonshiners long before 1920." Spoelman recalls a time when 65 - 75 percent of the government's income came from alcohol taxes. It was a proto-Prohibition, campaigned by Alexander Hamilton in his Federalist Papers throughout America's infancy. Hamilton wrote in the 12th paper, "There is, perhaps, nothing so much a subject of national extravagance as these spirits." The heated debate has always been around; Prohibition just saw it explode.
Amazingly, Prohibition didn't put an end to the tug of war between America and alcohol either. When author Matt Bondurant returned to Franklin County, Va., to research his book The Wettest County in the World (the source material for Lawless), he discovered that Prohibition mentality was still alive with the population. His grandfather and the central figure of Lawless, Jack Bondurant, was one of many players in Franklin County's moonshining industry — a booming empire that helped earn it the title Bondurant borrowed for his book — but revisiting Franklin, Boundurant saw very little had changed. In an essay about his trip, Boundurant writes, "You could spend years there and never see it, even as it is all around you... It is a kind of secret world, a shadow behind the neatly mowed lawns and shining tobacco greenhouses. The people of Franklin are some of the friendliest people I've ever met, but there are things that they won't talk about, and that you will never see."
When Spoelman first started distilling his own moonshine whiskey, he introduced his product to Brooklyn natives who immediately took to the drink. "The first stuff was really harsh, but people encouraged me to go for taste. Gradually it got more refined and became a nice unpaged whiskey as opposed to high proof rocket fuel." The popularity forced Spoelman to consider the legal implications of his homemade concoctions. "Once I'd learned to do it, then we decided that maybe it would be best to get a license. I had people asking if they could blog about my moonshining and that's when I realized I could really get in trouble if word got out too far."
The grey zone in whiskey production comes from "the proof," an archaic term that's evolved into alcohol per volume numbers. Prohibition era whiskey was around 190 proof (95 percent alcohol). Spoelman's moonshine is a great-grandson of the historical formula. "Moonshine is not really a legal word in the eyes of the law," says Spoelman. "You can call something moonshine if you want — it has no official meaning in the classification of types of alcohol set down by the government. Whiskey is very highly regulated as to what you can call whiskey and what you can't. The moonshine that we make is fairly traditional as unpaged whiskey, but a lot of illegally made alcohol has white sugar in the mash, which gives you a higher yield, though at the expense of taste."
Spoelman isn't the only person in America producing his own moonshine, but he might be one of the few doing it within the tight restrictions of the law. A New York Times report from 2000 investigated the Appalachia moonshine circuit, which is still thriving today. According to the article, today's illegal moonshiners utilize 800 to 1,000-gallon stills (compared to the 50-gallon stills used during Prohibition) and produce over hundreds of thousands of gallons of moonshine a year that are shipped to bars up and down the East Coast and sold for around three dollars a gallon. "It's hard to imagine a society that doesn't regulate alcohol, perhaps as hard to imagine as a society that doesn't consume it," Spoelman says. "I don't think the regulations generally are a problem, but outright prohibition doesn't work. It would seem that history has taught that lesson and yet it persists."
Finding the right balance between freedom and restriction is a quagmire for every situation. Even while outright banning certain practices and beverages, America might be in the sweet spot. It's easier to see how a country could be pushed for stricter laws — currently, Kenya and India are suffering from an illegal alcohol production scene that is routinely killing hundreds of people, thanks to contamination. Opening up the floodgates here in the states could result in that same hysteria.
The difference between Spoelman's production and the hundreds of illegal operations in existence is that the founder of the Brooklyn distiller aims for taste. Moonshine was enjoyed during Prohibition — you can see the Lawless boys take great pride in imbuing their product with a hint of fruit and pouring it for those looking to have a good time — and as innovators like Spoelman continue to tinker with the formula, the white whiskey only becomes a larger staple of bar menus. "I think most of the interest in our moonshine comes from whiskey drinkers that want to know what the raw spirit tastes like. But there's also a group that are getting sick of vodka and want something with a little more flavor that isn't quite as heavy as whiskey. So we fall in to that category. Of course, there's just people who want to sip something and get rowdy and I'd say we're just as good for that."
The spirit of Prohibition is very much alive thanks to the Internet, an endless repository of information that Spoelman admits is "a pretty terrible source when learning to do much of anything, but there are forums that are moderately helpful" when it comes to moonshine distilling. People are taking alcoholic matters into their own hands, and some, like Spoelman, come out on the right side of the law. But as long as there are laws, they'll be broken. One day, we'll watch the movie about the guy who spent years perfecting homemade Four Loko in his basement.
[Photo Credit: Weinstein Company, Kings County Distillery]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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One of the greatest TV Tropes to behold is tortuous and often unrequited love. Just like in life, one character pines for another, or sometimes both characters unknowingly pine for each other. Since they’re easily some of the most relatable aspects of any TV series, this Valentine’s Day we celebrate the greatest unrequited love stories in TV history. Even if the couple finally gets together, it’s the journey through unrequited territory before they get together that makes the eventual romance so rewarding.
Desmond David Hume & Penny Widmore of Lost
For regular readers of this column, it’s no secret that I was a huge Lostie right up until the head-scratching finale. One of the biggest reasons I watched Lost was the ballad of Desmond and Penny. When we first meet Desmond, he’s pushing a button in the Hatch to save the world. As flashbacks eventually reveal, Desmond was preparing for a race around the world to prove to Penny’s father, Charles Widmore that he was worthy of his daughter’s affections. What seemed to be nothing more than a backstory about unrequited love turned into a game-changer for the entire series, as the “Not Penny’s Boat” scene is one of Lost’s most heartbreaking moments. The heartache would continue in and episode called “The Constant” in which Desmond’s “flashes” between 1996 and Christmas 2004 begin and he realizes Penny is his constant. The episode is widely regarded as Lost’s finest hour of television and it aired - not coincidentally - two weeks after Valentine’s Day.
Luke Spencer & Laura Webber of General Hospital
Talk about unrequited love stories. Luke and Laura are daytime TV’s most recognizable couple and certainly the breakout stars of General Hospital. But before their wedding attracted nearly 30 million viewers and (reportedly) gifts from Princess Diana, their story would begin far too violently for my tastes, as theirs is essentially the story of a woman falling for her drunken rapist. For you younger readers out there, ask your mother or aunt and they’ll likely tell you that they forgave Luke Spencer’s actions just as Laura did. I know it’s a bitter pill to take, but in the zany world of Soap Operas, this somehow works. The encounter has since been rewritten to be more of a seduction than an attack, but for GH fans, it didn’t seem to matter and no matter how many times their love falters and they are broken up, Luke and Laura always seem to find a way back into each other’s arms.
Jim Halpert & Pam Beasley of The Office
Sure, they’ve been happily married for several years now, but admit it: The Office was at its best when these two were pining for one another. The first few years of the series saw Jim pining for Pam and vice versa in many ways, but first Pam had to rid herself of her Jerk Store boyfriend, Roy. Jim has it so bad for Pam that he moved to the Stamford branch to alleviate the pain of seeing her every day. Jim even tried to date Scranton co-worker, Karen. But as we all know, Roy and Karen were sent packing and the big moment finally occured in the Season 3, in an episode called “The Job” and the sweetest couple on TV was finally joined, with Jim admitting he bought an engagement ring a week into their dating. A collective “aww” was heard round the world. To keep the romantic tension going (at least a little bit), it would take Big Tuna another year to muster up the stones to pop the question.
Milhouse Van Houten & Lisa Simpson of The Simpsons
Matt Groening’s answer to Charlie Brown has always been Milhouse. And always pulling that proverbial football of a heart out from under him has been his best friend’s little sister, Lisa. You would think that after harboring a hopelessly devoted crush for almost 25 years,the poor guy would take a hint, but Milhouse Mussolini Van Houten just keeps soldiering on. When Lisa gave up her first crush, Nelson, Milhouse rejoiced with newfound faith when Lisa told him her next crush could be anyone. Considering in most of the Simpsons’ flash-forward episodes, Milhouse is finally with Lisa, it’s no wonder the kid won’t give up.
Jimmy Chance & Sabrina Collins of Raising Hope
The newest show on our list allows for Jimmy and Sabrina’s unrequited affections to remain unknown. If you haven’t seen Raising Hope yet, then you don’t know what you’re missing. Jimmy pining for Sabrina is played up for some good jokes, as his folks, Virginia and Burt, often make fun of the poor guy’s inability to open up to Sabrina and tell her the truth. Of course, it was revealed in a flashback episode that when Jimmy used to dress up as an emo-Goth kid, she had the hots for him. But alas, it was not to be and Jimmy grew out of his dark overlord phase and Sabrina never knew it was him and still doesn’t. Despite the wrinkle of Sabrina’s boyfriend, the two still spend a lot of time together, with Sabrina teaching Jimmy about the world and being a surrogate mom to Hope. It’s only a matter of time before these two consummate.
Spike & Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Before True Blood’s Sookie, every vampire on TV had it bad for Buffy. Punk vamp Spike was supposed to be different. The guy had come to Sunnyvale with his vampire girlfriend, Drusilla, and was genuinely sickened by the fact that his former friend, Angel, had feelings for a slayer. After losing Dru and having “nightmares” about her, Spike is forced to admit that he’s in love with Buffy, who despite initiating violent and seductive meetings will have no part of a real relationship with Spike. Despite being turned down, Spike remained a loyal right hand to Buffy in the final seasons of the show, even sacrificing himself to close the Hellmouth in the series finale. When Buffy finally declares her love, Spike glibly replies, “No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.”
Samuel “Screech” Powers & Lisa Turtle of Good Morning Miss Bliss and Saved by the Bell
Yes, I refuse to not acknowledge that Saved by the Bell was once a series called Good Morning Miss Bliss and was supposed to be vehicle for star Haley Mills. (Iif anyone remembers Zack introducing stories from when he, Lisa, and Screech were in Middle School, they are from that show.)Anyway, for any awkward teen who ever pined for the one of the nicest, sweetest, cutest girls in school, it’s easy to understand the pains of unrequited love. If you’re Screech, puberty hits, hormones are racing, and there’s Lisa Turtle looking cute beyond belief. Like many teenage boys falling for their first crush, you’d be powerless to her charms as well.
Every supernatural creature in the world & Sookie Stackhouse of True Blood
Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, goblins, shape-shifters, lions, tigers, bears – if you’re a supernatural male and you live in Bon Temps, odds are you have got it bad for one Sookie Stackhouse, and usually that ain’t good. Heck, most times, it usually leads to the end of the world until Sookie and her pals stop it. Sweet fairy blood notwithstanding, Anna Paquin does play Sookie with a certain bit of adorable bravado; she’s sexy and she knows it. And at its heart, True Blood is the ultimate female wish fulfillment fantasy –and correct me if I’m wrong, ladies. It’s a show about a girl who literally entices every eligible good looking male around her to protect her and gladly die for her. Oh, and they all have six- to eight-pack abs.
Carmela Soprano & Furio Giunta of The Sopranos=”3”>
These poor mob wives, they just have nothing to do but sit around all day while their husbands are out with all kinds of mistresses. Carmela Soprano had to put up with Tony’s philandering ways for years and barely said a peep about any of them. But when Carmela laid eyes on the tall, dark Italian man, Furio, she developed feelings for the dashing, sensitive mobster. The sentiments between the two were mutual, however they never consummated their love – after all, they’d both be dead if anything ever happened. When Furio caught Tony in the act, he belived Carmela deserved better he almost shoved Tony into helicopter blades. Not being able to contain his feelings, Furio packed up and left New Jersey for his native Naples. Carmela on the other hand, revealed her feelings for Furio to Tony in Season 4’s explosive finale, “Whitecaps.” =”3”>
What couples are your favorite tumultuous love stories? Do you think the chase is better than the catch, or can you not wait for your favorite lovebirds to get together and be happy? Leave your opinions in the comments and follow me on Twitter @CouchForceOne. Happy Hallmar – err, I mean Valentine’s Day!