Interview: Photoplay Owner Michael Sayers

Michael Sayers is the owner and manager of Photoplay Video & DVD, a movie rental and sales store located at 928 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The store has been a staple of the Greenpoint community for nearly a decade. Michael is formerly the Programmer at Film Forum (he was once interviewed by Leonard Lopate!) and his knowledge of cinema is astounding and encyclopedic.
I have been a part-time employee at Photoplay since 2003 and Michael has been a truly great friend over the years. He doesn't give a shit about publicity - he recently half-jokingly referred to business promotion as a "sign of weakness" - and I'm sure he only agreed to this interview because he's very generous and because he loves talking about movies. I hope you enjoy my chat with the extraordinary Michael Sayers. -Dan Redding (Note: this interview was featured on the New York Times' City Room blog here. Many thanks to the editors.)

In his natural habitat.

Dan Redding: Can you tell me about a film that’s been a particularly memorable theatergoing experience for you?

Michael Sayers: I remember seeing Blue Velvet at the Waverly Theater at midnight, the week it opened. And just being completely blown away by it. Not knowing what (David Lynch) was doing or what it was supposed to be… I’m just remembering how funny it was. Amazing. Seeing Scarface at 42nd Street with a late night crowd was another great one. People were just going apeshit, you know?
What actor bothers you more than any other?
(long, long pause) There must be some that I hate, but I can’t think of any.
(laughter) That’s okay. You seem to have a very positive disposition, so-
Well, I’m never very fond of, um, what’s her name? Chipmunk face.
Charlize Theron?
No! I like her.
Drew Barrymore.
No. The one who ruined Appaloosa.
I didn’t bother watching that one.
She’s in those Bridget Jones movies. Zellwegger.
Oh, God, she’s the worst! Fucking Zellwegger. She and Nicolas Cage are one and two on my shit list.
But Cage is a talented actor! You can’t ignore his good movies.
Sure I can.
Oh, no, he’s amazing in those movies! Adaptation, Wild at Heart…
I kind of think of those movies as great in spite of him.
No, I think he helps make those movies great. Face/Off. Brilliant.
Face/Off is so obnoxious! Cage’s bad films greatly outweigh the good. He reminds me of DeNiro in a way… DeNiro is perhaps the most revered actor of his generation, and rightly so, but he hasn’t been in anything good – or even decent – in many years. Do you think that DeNiro could ever make a comeback?
I don’t think he’s ever gonna make a comeback. I don’t think he’s interested, obviously, since he chooses what scripts he’s in. I don’t think he’s interested in taking on any serious dramatic roles, clearly. He hasn’t done any in twenty years, right? Twenty-five years?

Open daily from noon to eleven.

What actor will you go to see at the theater no matter what he or she is appearing in?
Isabelle Huppert is a very interesting French actress. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is always picking good stuff. Charlotte Rampling. Julianne Moore I’d usually go to see.
What did you think of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt?
Didn’t see it. I guess it’s not true then (that I’d always see him) - I wouldn’t go see that. There’s nobody I would go see all the time. Some actors have a good, like, seventy percent standing. That’s the best it’s gonna get.
Huppert seems kind of obscure. She’s not in that many movies.
Oh, she is, actually. She’s been in two Chabrol films, she was in The Piano Teacher, Ma Mere…
You’ve just mentioned Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher. Haneke famously said that his desire as a filmmaker is to “rape” the audience with his films. Why do you think there is a large audience for such a violent style of filmmaking?
I think it’s just a fascination with the darkest elements of human existence that he portrays: murder, acts of random violence and cruelty, suicide… People are fascinated by the extremes of human experience, which he tends to portray.
I never go to a theater hoping to be ‘raped’ by a film.
I don’t think he actually does that; I think that’s misleading. I think he wants to maybe brutalize the audience in some way. Unlike a rape, his movies leave you enriched in some way. I think his description is a little overstated.
Enriched? I find Haneke’s films so frustrating.
Even Cache?
Especially Cache. I found the lack of resolution in the narrative to leave me feeling incomplete and disappointed in a way. I guess I’m a traditional viewer in that sense; I like a traditional narrative. I like it when it’s experimented with, but not when certain parts that I depend on are obliterated.
But maybe he’s touching on subjects which have no possible way to be closed off. He’s dealing with colonialism and racism; issues which are still unresolved in France. He may be treating those subjects more accurately by not tagging on some kind of device that would end the film more comfortably.
Over the years, I have only witnessed you strongly object to a few films. Can you tell me why you dislike The Royal Tenenbaums?
I think it’s cartoonish, empty, whimsical… It pretends to deal with events that are of consequence, but in fact, it doesn’t deal with them. It presents this perverse, entitled, all-white New York, with ethnic stereotypes thrown in in the background - usually for laughs. It’s some kind of fantasy of a rich, white New York where the personal problems of bored, wealthy people somehow dominate. Which is disgusting.
Can you tell me why you dislike The Last House on the Left?
I don’t like films that portray rape as entertainment. I just find them abhorrent. Something is soul-killing in films like that. The idea of degradation as pleasure for an audience is something I find pretty unbearable.
I agree. There seems to be a modern school of filmmakers that draws on those ultraviolent seventies films as inspiration. What did you think of Hostel?
I liked Hostel, because I felt like Hostel turned the tables. You have these young Americans overseas trying to exploit women for their own purposes, taking advantage of the economic situation in Eastern European countries… And then, in fact, (those Americans) wind up as the victims of far wealthier, more powerful people. I felt like it was somehow a commentary on American economic power… Although Hostel II was terrible and had none of that subtle social commentary.

Fool's Gold.

Are the Academy Awards an honorable ceremony or an elitist farce?
An elitist farce, I think. At this point they’re just a way for studios to market their films. I don’t know that they indicate any more than who’s promoted their films most. They’re pretty silly.
Are there any new or emerging directors whose work you find exciting?
Charlie Kaufman’s first directorial effort (Synecdoche, New York) was pretty amazing. Um…
I thought you might mention Funny Ha Ha director Adrew Bujalski in response to this question. You seemed to be a fan of his.
Yeah, I liked that movie a lot, and the second one (Mutual Appreciation) a little less. But yeah, he’s kind of interesting. We’ll see where he goes… The director who did Calvaire (Fabrice Du Welz) is interesting. His second feature, Vinyan, was kind of interesting, too.
Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg believes that an oncoming trend of 3-D movies will be a revolution equivalent to the transition between silent and sound. Do you foresee a future in which the art of filmmaking is revolutionized by technology?
No. That’s a ridiculous statement. I think 3-D movies will be only interesting for people seeking sensation. It’ll appeal more to, like, video game fans, or people looking for some kind of virtual reality… They’ve been playing with 3-D for over fifty years and it just doesn’t interest most people.
It just seems like technology is evolving at such a rapid pace.
I think technology may create other entertainment options, but the structure of narrative film hasn’t changed that much in eighty years, really. I don’t think technology is gonna make any changes in the way people watch film. It may dictate where they watch the film, but the structure will remain intact.
Robert Altman once said, “Decent films are just disappearing. Everything’s being made for kids.” Do you agree?
No. I think he was probably responding to that first wave of blockbusters like Star Wars and Jaws, which kind of changed the way people marketed films to teenagers. I think that was probably a pretty dramatic shift. In the early seventies, interesting films were being made for very sophisticated audiences. Between ’67 and ’75, let’s say. After Bonnie and Clyde, when the ratings system fell away… Look at the films Altman had made: M.A.S.H. and McCabe and Mrs. Miller and Images and 3 Women and Brewster McCloud. These were very strange, sophisticated films which were being championed by critics and found cult audiences. But after the mid-seventies, that changed; there was much less of that going on. He had a lot of trouble getting things produced after that point.
You once recommended to me the great novel Flicker, which is about haunted film dating back to the origins of filmmaking. You were also a big fan of David Lynch’s Inland Empire, which concerns the filming of a haunted narrative from the past. What do you think it is about the history of Hollywood and the history of filmmaking that is so intriguing and mysterious to storytellers?
Well, the history of Hollywood has such a dark side to it. It’s filled with suicides and scandals and murders… like the stories told in Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger: these outrageous ups and downs of various directors and producers and actors, and this dark underside that permeates the industry itself. It’s a good premise for a ghost story. Inland Empire is about a script that had been around; they’d maybe started shooting it and there were some mysterious deaths… the story itself was dangerous to tell. Which is also the premise of The Ring. The idea that a film can hurt you.

He shoots but never shits.

You once watched a whole season of 24 in 24 hours consecutively.
I did.
How would you describe that experience?
Exhausting. Stimulating. That show is pure sensation, pure action, pure narrative. It’s an awful lot of fun. Preposterous. Invigorating.
Does Jack Bauer ever take a shit or drink a coffee?
He has no time for that, no. That would be unacceptable.
I recently had a Freddy Kreuger nightmare as well as a dream in which I was being directed by Scorcese in his new feature. Have you ever dreamt about movies?
(long, thoughtful pause) I don’t think I ever have, actually. That’s funny. I seem to get them out of my system during waking hours. They don’t enter my dream life.
What inspired you to open a video store in Greenpoint?
Wanting to work close to where I live and having something that I could do exactly the way I wanted to do it. I’ve always wanted to be around movies because they’re the best thing in the world.
When you were a kid, were you an avid movie watcher?
Yeah, even as a very young kid, I would circle all the movies in TV Guide that I wanted to watch. My brother and I went to the movies and saw a double feature every Saturday. During my entire childhood. There was a second-run theater in town, and they would show two movies, and they would change them every week, and we would go see whatever was playing. I always wanted to go to the movies.
Does anything stand out from those double features in your memory?
I remember seeing Breakout with Charles Bronson, and seeing a man killed by an airplane propellor, and being stunned. Just stunned by the violence. And it was only a PG, but he splattered like a watermelon on the tarmac. Horrifying…
[At this point, Michael seems to have a visceral reaction to the memory; I try to begin another question but he is clearly distracted]
Wow! You’re still feeling that!

It really got me, yeah.
Have you watched it since?
Yeah, it’s not so bad. But at the time, it was the most violent moment I’d ever seen on film.
I guess there’s something especially compelling to young kids - especially young boys – when they see a movie that’s more violent than anything they’ve ever seen before.
Yeah, and I was only eleven or so.
What’s your favorite movie theater on Earth?
I guess my favorite is probably the Castro in San Francisco. Old movie palace with an organ. That’s as good as it gets. Huge screen.

Photoplay Magazine

For the record, what is the meaning of the name Photoplay?
Film studios once wanted movies to be referred to as ‘photoplays.’ They felt it was a more sophisticated word than ‘movies’ or ‘talkies.’ They felt that it just had a little more class to it. And then it was a very, very, very popular magazine from the thirties through the sixties, which covered movie star gossip and such things. But the word never caught on with the general public.
I’m always happy when I see an issue of Photoplay magazine pop up in a movie. It pops up in The Postman Always Rings Twice, John Carpenter’s The Thing
It was the movie magazine for quite a while if you were interested in the private lives of the stars. But yeah, it does pop up in movies once in a while, usually as an anachronism. It never seemed to show up in old movies, but in movies about that time period, it shows up.
You seem to have it all figured out. What’s the secret to happiness?
(laughter) I wish I had that figured out.
If you were going to recommend one movie off of the new release wall today, what would it be?
I would recommend Obscene, the documentary on Barney Rossett, who founded Grove Press, because it was an amazing story about someone who built his own strange empire based on his own strange personal tastes in literature.


Creature Sketch

This is a sketch I did to illustrate a film title I made up. Here's the full list of titles at my old blog.


Logo of the Week

This is my favorite logo I came across this week while doing research at the Gimbel design library. It's gorgeous. I love the near-symmetry of the composition and I love the pointed spires that the letters form along with the shears. Also, it's quite bold, and boldness is next to Godliness.

I found the logo in a book of German marks and logos. I guess you have no choice but to use an acronymn when the name of your business is Grosseinkaufsgenossenschaft Abteilung Schneiaerartiket (association of wholesalers of tailor's supplies).


Thanks to the Tipsters.

Thanks to Scott for the tip on this video about the font Comic Sans. Comic Sans is dopey for sure, but my personal most despised font is Sand, a typeface which wouldn't look out of place scrawled on the wall of a serial killer's crawlspace. Thanks to Drew for the tip on these satirical posters for Matthew McConaughey's Next 10 Movies (best one is 'Failure To Act'). And finally, thanks to Ryan for hipping me to this NYT article about J.J. Abrams' guest editorial issue of Wired magazine. I plan to pick the issue up tomorrow, and I also plan to be converted to an enormous Trekkie as soon as Abrams' revamp of the dorkiest film franchise ever hits theaters in early May.

Kyle Is Somewhat Nifty

He's also apparently a fan of Matt Groening's Life In Hell. Lorimer Street, Brooklyn.


Harbingers of Spring

Today I noticed these two handmade dolls tied to a tree branch on Lorimer Street here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. They are red and white - traditional Polish colors in this Polish neighborhood. One is a man and the other is a woman. Pretty much made my day.


Interview: Musician Brian 'Boots' Factor

Interviews at Magnet Cat feature discussions between myself and other creative professionals. My good friend Brian 'Boots' Factor and I were flatmates in Scotland while studying at the University of Stirling. Enjoy! -Dan Redding

Photo by Elmo Thamm

Dan Redding: What bands do you perform in?
Brian Factor: My main band that I’m in full-time is called Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers. I am a Sixer. I also have a side project called Trevor Jackson with my friend Kyle Riabko.
What instruments do you play?
My main instrument is drums, but I also play mandolin, banjo, and guitar.
For those who are unfamiliar with Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers (SK6ERS), how would you describe the band?
My first intuition is always to say rock band. It’s a rock band with a singer-songwriter quality, and that comes from Stephen. Our main influence is the alt-country genre, like The Band, early Wilco…
What’s the most exhilarating moment you’ve ever had onstage?
There’s been a couple times where we played in front of our own audiences and sold out the joints, like the 9:30 Club in D.C., a couple places in Boston where we have a good fan base, and actually, the Bowery Ballroom, a couple years ago, where we kept on ending our encore and they just kept on demanding more and we’d go out-
How many encores?
I think the Bowery show we were out like three times and we ended the show in the audience, in the center of the audience, playing acoustically. That was probably the coolest. There was a night at the 9:30 club when people just kept cheering and we just had to wait for them to die down. It was great. Yeah, there’s been some moments.

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers.
Photo by Elmo Thamm.

How come drummers are always late and they all smell?
(defensively) Um, I’m actually a punctual person. I’ve got about three or four clocks in my apartment.
Overkill, no?
Well, my point is that I’m punctual. So that’s your first wrong about drummers.
Is it true what they say: ‘a broken clock is always right?’
At least twice a day it’s right. So if the broken clock says 6:20, then twice a day, AM and PM, you’re gonna-
But why not just use a clock that-
(angrily) My clocks work! (laughter) And as far as smelling, um, I hear you on that… I guess naturally drummers probably do smell more than, say, keyboard players. Pheromones in drummers are significantly stronger. But I don’t agree with you about them being late.
SK6ERS recently performed for soldiers abroad. Were you ever in any danger?
Not that we knew of. We did fly commercially everywhere from the Mediterranean to the Middle East. When we were on the base in Kuwait, at no point did I ever feel nervous, because you’re probably in the safest place in Kuwait. The looks that I got in the airport being a white guy in Bahrain or the Kuwaiti airport, compounded with the fact that in my head, I think they know that I’m Jewish… I got a little freaked out by the looks, but I never felt danger.
Are you sure they weren’t just turned on by your beard?
Well actually, to them, it is a religious sign, so maybe they were like, ‘Oh, he’s with us,’ or something. But no, I never felt threatened. Although one time we were driving through the desert in Kuwait at night, and once in a while these cars would shoot out of nowhere in the darkness in the desert and you’d see headlights. Maybe that bugged me out a little bit.
And you were with military escorts at the time?
Yeah, they hired contractors, they weren’t part of the military, but they were security guards.
Would they comment on those other vehicles, or let you guys know the status of your location?
They never explained why there were cars going on and off the highway in the desert in the middle of the night. But looking at them, if they didn’t look nervous or seem to notice or care, then I didn’t care.

G.I. Joke.

I’ve seen photos of you holding a large gun during the tour. What kind of gun was that and what were the circumstances around the photo?
It was an M dash something, and that was in Kuwait, it was after a show… I guess I was on a high of the show, I was very demanding, and I basically demanded to hold a soldier on duty’s machine gun. After much back and forth, finally he gave in and I got a chance to hold a real machine gun.
Was it loaded?
It was not loaded and the safety was on, but it was heavy. I picked it up, and I guess the nozzle of the gun went up a little too far, and three people jumped at the gun to push it down. Loaded or not, you have to be careful how you hold it.
Why did you want to hold it so badly?
There’s a child in me. There’s an eight year-old kid that lives in my bosom, and that kid likes to play with G.I. Joes and play war. I’m nearing thirty years young, and when you see all this army shit it just comes out. I’m not pro guns, and I’m not pro war, but I’d love to shoot a machine gun.

Kyle Riabko and Boots Factor are Trevor Jackson.

Who would win in a drum-off: Keith Moon versus John Bonham?
John Bonham.
Neil Peart versus Dave Grohl?
Dave Grohl.
Tommy Lee or that guy from Poison?
Is Tommy Lee in the cage?
Tommy Lee. (laughter)
Here’s a drummer joke for you. What has nine arms and sucks?
I dunno.
Def Leppard.
Ooooh…. But Def Leppard’s pretty good.
I know, but they also suck.
They suck, but when you break down their formula, they’ve got great melody, and it’s anthemic, and you still hear their music…
Plus, any band that wears sleeveless British flag shirts is a band that wins.
True. People say ‘fashion faux pas,’ but I say ‘hurrah.’
What’s the lamest instrument?
If you walk into a show and you see a bass player playing a five-stringed bass, what would you think?
If it’s Les Claypool or Victor Wooten, I’m into it.
I think it’s lame. You have these sub-divisions. A drumset with the toms that are on that metal rack that was popular in the nineties - some guys tour with the rack and it’s totally lame.
Rack equals hack.
Yes. Saxophone in a rock band in a rock band is also pretty tough to swallow.
Yeah, but saxophone is jazz. What about castanets or the triangle?
Cool. In context.
They’re percussion so you’re defending them.
Well, the triangle is-
It’s like an avocado – it just doesn’t belong in any group. It’s its own group.
The triangle is the avocado of musical instruments.
If God put a gun to your head and demanded that you banish one musical genre from existence, which genre would you banish?
If I had to? For the good of mankind? What is it, like, rap metal or whatever it is? Linkin Park? That should probably just go. If God put a gun to my head, and I said that, it probably wouldn’t hurt too many people.
What if God turns out to be a member of Linkin Park? You’re fucked.
If I know he’s in Linkin Park, I’m not gonna choose that genre. I’d choose commercial country or something.
SK6ERS are a very popular touring band. What’s the secret to building a strong fan base?
The secret is to get in front of other bands’ audiences first and foremost. Get the opportunity to win people over. And really commit to touring. Play the right places, and make sure your live show is enjoyable so that people come back. Give it your all every show – don’t blow off one fuckin’ show. Our band, we play just as hard and try just as hard if there’s fifty people or five hundred people. You have to have that attitude to even have a chance at winning.
I think that’s really good advice, and everything you mentioned was about performing live. Do you think that now more than ever, the live show is the most important element of being in a band due to the changes in the music industry?
It’s huge. It’s the one thing that a band can control. It’s almost like the band’s own entity. Most bands don’t sell enough records to see money accrue to them from album sales. There are companies that have what are called 360 deals – they want a piece of everything: merchandise, touring, record sales. Record sales aren’t enough these days. But if you’re smart enough, you probably won’t get involved in that.
Ozzy Osbourne once had sex with a bat onstage before diving into a mound of cocaine. What’s your craziest tour story?
On the last night of this one tour, we were completely bombed out of our minds, and we were all onstage. I played the drums in just my boxers, a sailor hat, and aviator sunglasses, and that was in front of over ten thousand people.
You can play drunk?
Mm hmm! I don’t know if I can keep time well…
What was that you said about giving every show your best performance?
The alcohol just fuels it!


Five Chapters Redesign

Five Chapters logo by Magnetic State

I am pleased to announce my redesign of literary website Five Chapters! I was asked to design the logo (shown above) and redesign the site, and the results went live at www.fivechapters.com over the weekend. Five Chapters is an online magazine that publishes a new short story in five parts each week. As a fledgling fiction writer myself as well as a fan of many of the authors featured on Five Chapters (including John Cheever and Jay McInerney), I found this project to be an exciting challenge. I am quite happy with the results, and in the spirit of President Obama's fondness for transparency, I thought I'd discuss some of the work and share a few of the logo designs that didn't make the cut.

I began the project with the logo design; below are two of my favorites from the rejected concepts (I especially like the 'bookmark' concept). Five Chapters editor David Daley gave me his initial brief on the nature of the site's identity: it combines a 19th century reading format (serialized fiction) with a modern one (online publishing). This was an inspiring starting point that led to lots of research and some interesting results (like the old-style printer's ornament adorning the second logo below), but eventually, we began to feel hampered by it, and chose our final logo, whose primary functions are aesthetic and visual rather than conceptual.

Two unused logo designs.

The previous version of the website (see below), was abrasively colored, contained the site's name in the header but had no logo, and contained only one way to access the site's archives.

Old site.

To power the new site, I chose the extraordinarily powerful content management system Wordpress and designed a custom theme to control the appearance of the site. I modernized the site by equipping it with access to the Five Chapters RSS feed, and added alphabetized menus for the archives, which are now categorized by story and author. Finally, I extended the Five Chapters brand by revising the 'about' blurb, making it the first thing visitors see in the sidebar, and then embedding the new logo in the header and background. The 'bookmark' concept from our rejected logos can now be seen in the favicon.

New site!

So visit Five Chapters and read today's chapter or a full story. There's enough free fiction on this site to entertain us all until the next century. There's even a story about my 'hood Greenpoint!


The Rampantness

Heraldry is the description and decoration of coats of arms and armorial bearings. This blog post will describe a popular figure in heraldry as well as a source of inspiration for many logos, including the Magnet Cat logo at the top of this blog.

The Royal Standard of Scotland, pictured above, is otherwise known as the Lion Rampant ('rampant' meaning 'upright' in heraldry-speak). The rampant lion figure has been used in countless variations in countries as diverse as Bulgaria and Jerusalem, where the figure takes the form of The Lion of Judah on the municipal emblem of Jerusalem.

In Scotland, the Lion Rampant flag may have been used as early as the 12th century by William I ("William the Lion"). Today this banner is used as an unofficial second national flag of Scotland (The red lion rampant on a yellow shield also features on the badges of both the Scottish Football Association and the Scotland national football team). I lived in Scotland for a year while studying English literature at the University of Stirling and became rather fond of the flag.

Animals and creatures in the 'rampant' position have been used in all manner of emblems and logos over the centuries, so it's refreshing to see something usual. I tried to provide the Magnet Cat with something new by greatly reducing his angular shapes and having him wield magnetic force. Another one of my favorites is the winged rampant dragon of Swiss chocolatier Lindt (complete with its strange floating bannered crown). Logos this ornate are rarely seen in an age where reduction and neutrality are the dominant trends in logo design, but in this case, I love the decorative, illustrative line work. They say the lion is the king of the beasts, but this dragon would scorch any lion with its chocolatey fire breath.


Ye Olde Beer

Check out this amazing collection of antique beer cans. Via Gearfuse.



Weirdest movie find of the week goes to 'The Sinful Dwarf,' a slimy Danish sleaze-fest from 1973. I have not seen it yet, and I am not normally interested in 'exploitation' films (or exploitation itself for that matter), but I have to say that I was intrigued today when two Photoplay customers - a couple in their twenties - returned the film to the store after watching it. The dazed young man muttered "We're still recovering from that one" in the tone of someone who has just crawled from the twisted remains of a burning vehicle. The reviewer at this site opined, "I’ve watched several movies where I wanted to take a shower afterwards, but this is one that I actually wanted to pause so I could go take a shower in the first third, another right before the climax, and by the time the end credits rolled I needed a high-pressure sprayer." Bring it on!