Interview: Aaron Katz on Gemini, LA, noir, and Bad Influence(s)
Josh Slater-Williams | On 13, Sep 2018
A few years on from his mystery comedy Cold Weather, affectionately dubbed ‘mumblenoir’ by some, writer-director Aaron Katz returns to the narrative territory of a non-detective investigating a crime. And this one’s set in Los Angeles, the home of film noir.
Led by Lola Kirke and Zoë Kravitz, Gemini concerns the complex relationship between a personal assistant and her Hollywood starlet boss. After maybe 30 minutes of getting to know the pair, the film switches gears and sees the PA, Jill (Kirke), go sleuth, after she is connected to a major crime, with a suspicious detective (John Cho) on her trail. Michelle Forbes, James Ransone, Nelson Franklin, Reeve Carney and Ricki Lake are among the supporting cast.
With Gemini now available to rent or buy on UK streaming platforms (read our review here) here’s our conversation with Katz about Hollywood films, noir, and him not being the biggest David Lynch fan…
Have you always been fascinated by films about Hollywood and its culture?
I’d say increasingly so, now that I live in Los Angeles. I feel like they didn’t compute for me at some point, because I grew up in Portland, Oregon, which is also on the West Coast, but I’d never been to California growing up. I only went after college, so I was 22 the first time I was in Los Angeles. I think I had certain ideas about the city and, over the course of years visiting it and finally moving there about five years ago, have come to really love the city. I think this film, though I think that some people could interpret it as cynical about Los Angeles, also expresses a love that I have for the city now.
Regarding films, I remember my wife and I, close to when we first moved to LA, watched Nick of Time which takes place around Union Station and the Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, and it really reflects something real about Los Angeles. It’s a genre film, but the things are close to each other in real life. It feels like it makes sense. I just love it when films are not just shot in Los Angeles because it’s convenient, but that feel like they’re part of the fabric of the city. And I hope that we made one also.
Have you seen Los Angeles Plays Itself [Thom Andersen’s documentary on how LA has been used and depicted in films]?
Yes. I brought that up to a couple of other people [in interviews] and they hadn’t heard of it, so I decided to stop bringing it up! But, yes, Los Angeles Plays Itself has lots of great Nick of Time clips… and Swordfish. More recently with films, and I can’t remember if either of these are in Los Angeles Plays itself, but The Exiles , which takes place in Bunker Hill, which has now turned into skyscrapers, and Killer of Sheep  are two great, great Los Angeles films. There’s just so many different sides to any city, but I think Los Angeles maybe more than most. It’s just so many different… I was about to say layers, but maybe that’s the wrong word, because that implies they’re on top of each other. In Los Angeles, things are stretched out geographically. It’s such a vast city that one person – for example, the people, in Gemini – can span so many different worlds in the course of the film.
One aspect of Gemini’s world-building that I found interesting is how with certain characters, like producers and screenwriters, when a real life crime penetrates their little bubble, they immediately break out into Hollywood storytelling business mode to make sense of it. Was this a deliberate satirical target for you?
Satirical is maybe a strong word, but yeah. I think it reflects that with people generally, but especially in Hollywood, our main context for most unique events like something horrible happening are films, books. If you do encounter something unusual, it’s very easy to interpret it through that lens. If I encountered a crime in real life, my only context, besides newspapers, is all the crime films I’ve seen. I think that there’s something, a very small part of the movie, that’s in the tradition of Scream; deconstructing parts of the genre and commenting on it in what I think is a very fun way. I wanted to explore that a bit.
Is Lola Kirke’s mid-film switch to blonde hair, in a noir-influenced mystery set in LA, a possible David Lynch nod?
No, but David Lynch comes up so often in interviews; either Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive. I don’t even like David Lynch… I mean, he’s fine, but I’m not a big fan like in the way some people are. The hair isn’t really a movie thing, it’s more just like if you wanted to blend in LA… dressing like a tourist and having a bucket hat and a silly wig would be a way to blend in and, in a way, to have fun with that.
What are your favourite noir films?
There’s so many from the original era. It’s funny, I feel like there’s some that are just so well-known that in the back of my mind, I think, “Eh, I’ve seen them, years ago, they can’t be that good. They’re probably over-praised.” And then I rewatched Double Indemnity recently, and I’m just, like, “Man, this is so good.” From the opening sequence with the silhouette on crutches coming towards you during the sequence, it’s immediately fucking brilliant. Then, I recently watched This Gun for Hire, which I’d never seen before. That was a great one. And then taking a quick stop off, as I wouldn’t quite say they’re film noir, Le Cercle Rouge and Le Samourai, Bob le Flambeur… all that [Jean-Pierre] Melville stuff in the 60s is great.
And then, really one of the most direct inspirations is maybe starting with American Gigolo and Body Heat among the early 80s thrillers and moving on through Curtis Hanson’s Bad Influence and 90s stuff, like The Crush, Poison Ivy and Wild Things… that kind of VHS-era trash thriller I really love. I think Bad Influence is the pinnacle. It’s shot by Robert Elswit, it just looks incredible. It’s got great performances. I’m a huge, huge fan of that film. Oh, and I’ll also throw in John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow.
Gemini is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of an £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription. For the latest Sky TV packages and prices, click the button below.
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