Real Women Make Waves opens Year by the Sea at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on September 8th, 2017.
NYC MOVIE GURU: As an actress, how challenging is it to find such a complex role like Joan?
Karen Allen: It's very challenging. I find that there just aren't that many stories being written out there particularly about a woman of a certain age who is going through a transition in her life. Those roles are few and far between.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How rare is it to find films these days like Year by the Sea that have such an emotional impact and that can be truly inspirational?
KA: I met a woman at a recent screening of Year by the Sea who told me how much she was moved by it. We opened in Florida about 5 months ago. There were people who just came up and said "Oh my god! I haven't seen a film that has affected me so deeply in such a long time!" I've been in a lot of films that people were enthusiastic about and loved, but never in a film like this before. People in their 40s, 50s and 60s, who are grappling with some of the issues really feel very included. Films like these happen, but they're far and few between. Hollywood needs to discover, if they haven't already, that there's a big audience in the baby boomers. Our kids are grown and out of the house. We are Hollywood's lifeline. We want to get out of the house and go to the movies---we grew up going to the movies while the younger crowds are totally connected to their computers and watch everything on their iPads. We're really a movie generation. We'll get up from our couch if it's a movie that we really want to see, and it would be so fantastic if Hollywood would come along for that ride a little bit because I think that we're engaging with a big, wonderful film audience. There's a lot of talk about the death of movie theaters and such. If anybody's going to keep it alive, it's going to be baby boomers.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Joan is a very decent human being. An actor once told me that it's very hard to play decency. Do you agree or disagree?
KA: I've read Joan's book and met her for the first time when they asked me to do the film. She's more than decent---she's fantastic! She's a very dynamic, interesting, warm and affectionate human being. I think the world of her, so I used her book really as the base. When I read the book, I felt that she's a very courageous woman who was taking a really hard look at herself and really wanted to give herself the support that she needed to find out what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She had a marriage that wasn't really bringing her any companionship or a clear sense of who she was. Her husband was very preoccupied with himself and his work. He also changed and moved along on the same track. I don't know if I have an opinion about decent people being harder than playing a villain. I've played some crazy people, heroic folk and some evil folk, so I don't know. I tried not to think about whether the role of Joan is close to me or not. I just tried to do as much research and intuitive work as I could. I was lucky because I had the real Joan, although I was playing her 25 years earlier in her life, and she had changed a great deal since then.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think is the purpose of struggle in life, especially inner struggle?
KA: My theory is that we all are going through our own identity crisis. From the time that we emerge through life when we even know we have an identity. I think that our culture, school system, relatives, and friends are constantly on some level, whether they like it or not, whether they know it or not, trying to figure out who we are or who who should be or who we might be or who we shouldn't. A lot of inner struggle is really about authenticity. It's about trying to strip away all those layers to figure out who we really are and what we really want and what we really have to offer and why we're really here in this particular body in this incarnation and what's the purpose of that. That's one of the things that I struggle with and feel like people who I'm the closest to in my life struggle with is. So, I think that struggle the sand in the oyster. It's what creates the pearl. It's that constant irritation that keeps us honest as we can be with ourselves.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define the word "grown-up"?
KA: Oh, I think it's just one of those words, "Grown Up." It's "grown-up" in the sense that we've acheived a maximum height in a sense, but it is a strange word and a catch-all phrase that doesn't mean very much.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that Hollywood conditions audiences to look at marriage in a certain unrealistic way through their formualic films?
KA: I think that there are cliches that are used again and again and again. One of the things that I love about this film is that you think you're headed one place, but it goes it a different direction. A cliche version of this film would be if Joan had an affair with the younger, charming man. The film doesn't go into cliche territory. Joan does develop a friendship with the young man, but she's happy to keep it just a friendship. She does have problems with her marriage, but her real desire is to get herself together so that she can figure out if she can salvage her marriage and if she can pull her husband into a place in which they can re-negotiate what they have together so that they can successfully go forward. I think that that story doesn't get told enough. That's the more interesting story. It really is. Sometimes it comes down to the writing. Because that Year by the Sea is Joan's authentic story and that it's based on a memoir, we have a real, authentic human being who got through these experiences and has shared them in her book. Sometimes I feel like that Hollywood works on formulas. Here's a film about this, this and that. If it sticks to the formula, then it gets made.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Francois Truffaut onces stated that a truly great film ought to have a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle. Do you agree or disagree with him?
KA: That sounds great to me. It's not a quote that I'm familiar with, but being a Truffaut fan, that sounds like a beautiful balance to me. I love that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's so refreshing to watch a film that can't be turned into a video game these days. I doubt that Year by the Sea would work as a video game! It's much more interesting to watch a film about people talking than people physically fighting one another. What do you think?
KA: I don't think it would work as a video game either---unless you can think of a video game about rowing a boat. How many clams can you catch? [laughs] I agree with you, I'm not a superhero kind of fan. The CGI in those films just bores the living daylights out of me. I do miss the well-crafted, smart comedy and well-crafted drama. I love films based on a beautifully-written book. There you have a base that's tried and true. You take a great book like Great Expectations and it's a challenge to make a great film from it, but it continues to be done. Year by the Sea really has depth. I don't really go to films to be purely entertained; I go to films to have a deep experience. For me, it's driven me more toward documentaries in the last few years. I've been a real fan of documentaries because there is a real lack of films that take me on a journey and take me on an interesting ride where at the end of the film I feel like I've learned something or made real contact with people's lives.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I feel like too many Hollywood films generation little to no emotion even though they're made for $200. Do you agree or disagree?
KA: I feel like you and I would like the same films. They're crowded with people who are unsavory and nasty and hateful and obnoxious, and I leave the films feeling empty. It's like that emptiness when you leave a party when you didn't meet anybody you'd ever want to see again. That's the opposite of what I'm looking for when I go to see a film. I want to see a film about people who I can have a deep experience with, even if they're fictional characters. I want to be changed by having shared some of their experience. I want to be moved and feel my humanity more deeply. Those are the kinds of films, I suppose, that I grew up loving. There were certainly other kinds of films available, but those are the kind that I gravitated towards and that I felt about deeply.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What is really so "special" about CGI "special effects"? Shouldn't CGI be called "standard effects" instead?
KA: It does take a certain level of expertise. There is a time where CGI can be so good because you haven't seen anything quite like it before like in Lord of the Rings. There were some special effects in that that I had never seen before and I have to say that I was just like "Wow!", but there's a story there, too, filled with interesting characters. So, the CGI actually had a purpose. Most of the time, CGI is very ho-hum to me and done in a way that's not doing service to the story and just trying to be flashy.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How do you feel that the advancement of modern technology is affecting the quality of human relationships?
KA: It's scary to me because everywhere I walk around, I feel like we've become pod people or something. In a crowd of people, there are more people who are staring at a little pod than there are people staring at what's around them. There's something very disturbing about it. I try not to do it. Fortunately, most of the places in my life that I've been were places with no cell phone service, so that prevented me from developing the "cell phone habit" where it's almost strapped to my arm. On the other hand, I find that I spend much more time on my computer than I want to dealing with emails. I miss having phone conversations with people. I fear that these kids who are growing up in these over-tech world are going to have a rough time communicating with each other because they don't really do it eyeball to eyeball and there's a real lack of comfort in their social worlds because more happens on Facebook than in their lives. Everyone presents themselves, but it's all a bunch of little snapchats and twitters. I don't really live in that world, but I certainly witness it. [laughs] And I find it so depressing.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you define charisma?
KA: I know when someone has it. You can feel charisma in a person. I think charisma is the ability to make the people around you feel that you have an interest in them. A person who is not open to other people doesn't have charisma in my thinking. Somebody can be a very famous rock-and-roll star, but I wouldn't necessarily say that they have charisma. George Clooney has charisma. There are some people who have charisma as a celebrity, but don't have charisma if you were to meet them in real life. Somehow, I think that there's a really dividing line there. I think it has to do with a kind of openness and a joie de vivre that they experience and that they experience with other people. That's what comes into my mind.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Artistically, do you think Year by the Sea would work in black-and-white?
KA: I just made a film, A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., in black-and-white that I directed, so I'm a big fan of black-and-white. The film takes places in 1947, so the black-and-white really sets it into the period. It's a short film, and I've been taking it around film festivals. It's just 30 minutes long. I worked with a cinematographer who one of his fortes is working in black-and-white. Black-and-white has a quality of really making you focused on the screen where the director and cinematographer want you to focus on. One of my favorite films from the last few years is Ida. That film moved me sooo deeply. When I was getting ready to direct A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud., I really sort of used that film in a way as my inspiration about how I wanted to tell the story that I was telling. I love black-and-white films, so I'm always excited when I hear that a film is made in black-and-white. I grew up with it, too, so I'm very comfortable with it. I don't like when they do a colorization of black-and-white films that I grew up to love in black-and-white.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What would make a great double feature with Year by the Sea?
KA: An Unmarried Woman