Let’s talk about “Quality Control.” I noticed that for the catalogue for the Whitney Biennial, you chose to include a page from the screenplay.
Yes, I made up that screenplay about two months ago.
After the completion of the film?
When I got into the Biennial, yeah. I made it up for the catalogue, yeah.
What’s the level of scriptedness in ‘Quality Control?’ I mean, it almost seems like a Frederick Wiseman-style documentary, an investigation of a certain institution.
I think the only script was that we had to be at the dry cleaners by ten-thirty.
So it really wasn’t that scripted!
No, Quality Control wasn’t scripted. "Erie" was more scripted. Only one thing in ‘Erie was not made up and that was that guy trying to get his keys out of his car.
What’s interesting about that with “Erie” is that there’s this whole other layer of allegory.
“Erie” is more narrative.
Haven’t you said that, it kind of roughly charts the route of the Underground Railroad?
That’s one of the formal devices of it.
How did that work geographically in the film?
The first scene I have workers hanging a billboard. That billboard is based on old billboards that they used to advertise in the South to have blacks come up to the North to the factories. For me, that’s about the South.
And the next scene is a GM worker talking about retirement and their jobs. Then the scene after that, which is important, is right when you see those sword fighters. The sound of the metal on metal, those swords are hand-made. Someone had to make those swords. Then there is the scene of the guy whose working in the hospital. That has to do with the contemporary economy, the factories are no longer the biggest employer, and medical facilities are the biggest employer. The last scene is the woman on that Maid of the Mist boat, the tourist boat at Niagara Falls. When the falls get intense, that’s the Canadian falls. The whole film has this kind of journey from the south to Canada.
With “Quality Control,” what was your concept in editing?
Invisible, in a weird way. It doesn’t have those aggressive cuts like ‘Erie.’ The scenes in “Quality Control” kind of blend together through the visual and audio. I liked the whole idea of the factory environment.
At one point, I’m going to make an eight-hour film. I’m going to film a full day of work. I wanted to shoot like ten scenes of this kind of work. I think the strategy in “Quality Control” was not to shoot it like “Erie.” In “Erie” the subject is always there, present, in front of you, so you don’t think of what’s behind the camera. But, in “Quality Control,” I wanted to let the subject be around the viewer. That’s why you see the shirts moving around, and coming back, and you hear people behind you, stuff like that. I wanted the viewer to be in the middle of it. I didn’t want just one subject like the two sword-fighters in “Erie”. I wanted “Quality Control” subject be constantly surrounding the viewer.
You move all throughout the space and you look at every angle of operation.
I wanted the subject to be that kind of continuum, so to speak.
The cleaners itself is kind of the subject of the film, or the character of the film.
We had D.A. Pennebaker come to Light Industry a couple of weeks ago and when he showed his film, “Elizabeth and Mary,” he said, ‘When I shoot a film, it’s like a football game: both sides just show up and we play.’ He was saying, ‘I don’t want to know anything before hand, I don’t want to do research; I just want to show up and let’s go.’
I like that approach of just showing up and shooting on the fly. Have you seen the cowboy films?
I saw them at the Whitney, in your 2011 show “More Than That.”
No, the new ones, the cowboy ones, that I shot last spring. I was as much reacting to what I saw instead of planning.
Let’s talk about all the different layers of this concept of ‘work’ that happens in your films. You’ve got the most overt aspect, where the subject is ‘people working,’ but then you’ve also got the labor of making the objects, the materials, process, and procedures kind of labor. Where do you see these different levels of work in your films interacting?
The best thing about it is that it’s all about re-acting so it’s easy to film. It’s like cinema. It’s like we were building stuff. Things get made, things get produced and transformed and screwed up, so to speak, you know?
It’s also a way that economic history and a social history enter the work.
I grew up in a working class environment, my folks worked every fucking day. Every day. And you know, I don’t work like that; I mean, look at these hands! For me the best thing I ever made in my life was my mom’s coffee table. For all the films, the photos, and sculptures I’ve made, the BEST thing, one hundred percent, in form, concept, craft, is my Momma’s coffee table.
I think we should end the interview there!
Yeah, my Momma’s coffee table!