The Queen of Hollywood Blvd is a stylish homage to grindhouse crime film that stands out as a visually stunning and emotionally rich thriller in its own right. The film had its world premiere at the Boston Underground Film Festival. We’re big fans of the film and can’t wait to see what’s next for writer/director Orson Oblowitz. Read our full review here.
I was thrilled to get the chance to speak to Oblowitz, as well as the film’s star, Rosemary Hochschild, at the festival.
Stephanie Cole for Nightmare on Film Street: First of all congratulations on the film! I was really struck by the sense of place throughout, and how central the spirit of Los Angeles was to it. How did you approach capturing that feeling in the film?
Orson Oblowitz: Well, the tagline of the film is “A Nightmare in the City of Dreams.” I lived in Hollywood for a while, and I’m a photographer as well. I spent a lot of time walking around, taking photos, just kind of documenting the place. And I’ve seen it change a lot over the last decade. A lot of the film was based off of my photos — a lot of the characters, a lot of the locations. So I kind of had these images simmering in my head for so long that when we shot, the locations kept inspiring us to make narratives. It was kind of twofold.
The narrative came a lot from the locations that I wanted to shoot in. There’s so many books written about Los Angeles and its relationship to the export of images to the world versus what LA is really like. LA almost has no identity. It’s schizophrenic. It’s based off of all these different ideas put together. The idea of Hollywood exports Disney, superhero films, horror films, and really the way we understand culture. I wanted to look at that and mesh that, and make our own Hollywood. A few people have said, “It reminds me of a David Lynch Film.” I love Lynch. I never set out to try to imitate Lynch, because Lynch is the greatest. But it’s that familiarity that’s still unfamiliar that I tried to capture.
“LA almost has no identity. It’s schizophrenic.”
NOFS: What was your favorite location to shoot at?
OO: The Club. We don’t even tell people the name of it.
Rosemary Hochschild: It’s our baby.
OO: The club to me was like when you walk in, you’re in a dream. That’s why we wanted to play with that when [Mary] turns the lights on and the synths pop in and you see the neon. Because the world changes and as LA changes, we’re losing these establishments that have so much history. It’s funny I made a film set in a strip club, because I actually hate going to strip clubs. I find them very alienating. But that’s why I wanted to do this. To see what it’s like to make this place home.
RH: It was quite familiar to me, the strip club. In the 70’s, a lot of my friends were strippers in Times Square. They would invite me to their shows and we would hang out in the clubs because it was their place of work. And of course I did that bikini barmaid work on Wall Street when I was twenty one. So it was very comfortable working in the club.
Drector Orson Oblowitz and star of the film, Rosemary Hochschild – via Kickstarter
NOFS: Something that struck me about the club, is it’s not a location that you think would feel comfortable or homey. But somehow it felt that way in the film. The other locations felt dangerous but there was something safe about that place. You felt that feeling of community there that I think you captured very well.
OO: That’s awesome because that’s something we tried to make happen. To make it clear that this is [Mary’s] home. You see her for a moment in her home at the beginning, but her real home is that club. That’s where she’s created her identity. And that identity is who everyone knows her as. We wanted to get into this mode where you don’t know what time it is in the club. You don’t know if it’s night or day, and then the door opens and it’s bright. A film that we referenced constantly was The Killing of a Chinese Bookie by John Cassavetes, where you’re in this fever dream of a club. And then suddenly the door opens and your like, ‘It’s day?! Who knew!’ And it’s very violent once you go outside.
We were also approaching the city as a monster. It’s a monster and at every turn it’s coming for you.
RH: And this world that [Mary] created was this insular, safe place. The place where she felt her power and her strength.
NOFS: Clearly 70’s crime thrillers, grindhouse films, and even spaghetti westerns had a huge influence on this film. What speaks to you about those genres as a storyteller?
OO: Honestly it just came back to what I like. That’s just what I watch in my free time. Lots of weird obscure films from the 70’s. Not even just weird ones, I watch a lot of films from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Those films to me had such an authenticity. Especially as they got less money and more gritty. Then they got better to me. When we approached the film it was like, we don’t have much money, let’s just lean in to what we have. We have the streets. We have style. So let’s do it how they did it in the 70’s! I love those grindhouse films and I love exploitation cinema. Even the look. A lot of it was inspired by Suspiria and the way Argento used overly stylized, overly lit scenes. I love the neon and the colors because they create so much passion and emotion in the interiors. So there was this level of all of these films coming together. But for me it’s just, I love those types of films.
“When we approached the film it was like, we don’t have much money, let’s just lean in to what we have. We have the streets. We have style. So let’s do it how they did it in the 70’s!”
NOFS: One of the best parts of the film was your [Rosemary’s] performance. Your character really grounded the film and made it feel like so much more than just homage. It was a deep character study and the emotion was very real. How much of yourself was in the performance, and how much of the influence of these other films was there as well?
RH: I think as an actor, for me, I always play an extension of myself. I never really play someone else. I did a lot of research around my mother. I really brought my mother into it a lot. Orson and I had a lot of conversations. For three months we’d meet at my apartment and we would talk about the movie. I love grindhouse. I think it’s almost experimental. It gives actors and directors the chance to take great liberties and chances and see what happens.
NOFS: Your performance was clearly the heart and soul of this film. But the supporting cast turned in some stellar work as well. Everyone felt very authentic and at home in the story, which can be difficult to achieve in genre films. How did you approach casting for the film?
OO: We got such a great cast of characters. A lot of them are friends. The guy who plays The Snitch, Jon Lindstrom, was my neighbor for a while. People knew him from General Hospital, so we wanted to go totally against type with him. We kind of based him off of Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. This bad guy who’s a terrible person but he’s got his morals, he’s got his philosophy. And obviously Roger Guenveur Smith is one of my favorite actors since I was younger, when I saw him do the Huey Newton story — a one man show he did with Spike Lee. I don’t know if it’s him or De Niro who holds the record of the longest director/actor relationship, but he and Spike Lee have done nine or ten films together. He’s just phenomenal. And he came on board and just blew me away. A lot of these people really got it. They read the script, and they were down. Ana Mulvoy Ten who plays Grace, the young girl, my girlfriend had seen her in another film. And she was like, ‘You gotta audition this girl.’ She came in and and I was like “Oh my god!” She killed it. She was such a pro. Everything came together in an organic way. We were working hard, but these people really got on board because they got it. And then Michael Parks obviously was my big get. To get to work with someone who I just admire so much.
NOFS: There were a lot of emotionally effective moments in the film, but the scene with Michael Parks was definitely the most moving for me, even without considering that was his final film role. But that fact makes it even more so.
OO: It’s kind of hard to pick out , but at the last moment of that scene you actually see a tear roll down his eye. And that’s the last thing you see of him on screen — ever. I’m honored that he gave me that performance.
NOFS: I’d love to hear more about how horror influenced this film, and how you conceived of LA as a monster in the film. Especially since your next film will be a horror film.
OO: Another big influence on this film — and all my films — is John Carpenter. He’s the greatest. The film I watched the night before shooting was Assault on Precinct 13, and throughout editing I watched The Thing and Christine. He was really a guidebook that I went back to. And Brian De Palma as well, who is one of my other favorites. Obsession, Sisters, he’s a guy who brought the horror genre to a whole new level. He was a very big influence on the film. And now I got to make a full on horror film. (Hell Is Where the Home Is) It’s with Fairuza Balk, Angela Trimbur, and Janel Parrish. It’s all a very contained thriller that takes place in one home. It’s got some giallo vibes, it’s again what I would call “a neon nightmare.” It’s pretty wild. I love horror. And for this upcoming film I was watching a lot of giallo and post-giallo, like The Fifth Cord, Cemetery Man, and The Church.
NOFS: Giallo is interesting because those films skirt the line between crime and horror as a genre. I could see that genre melding as a big influence on The Queen of Hollywood Blvd.
OO: Oh yeah I always go back to those films. And for this film we watched a lot of the Poliziotteschi movies by Fernando Di Leo. Those are more the crime side of that Italian New Cinema in the 70’s. There was a huge Italian influence on this film as well as the upcoming horror film. I love horror. I see it as a very modern genre that’s always pushing the limits. So now with the new film, Hell Is Where the Home Is, I got to really play with that. It’s got a lot of the same vibes as The Queen of Hollywood Blvd, but it’s much more a straight horror film. It’s got some really cool, wild characters, and it goes really off the the rails.
A great tidbit about The Queen of Hollywood Blvd that horror fans will appreciate; We have two composers on the film. One composer is Daniel De Lara, who is one of my close collaborators and friends. The other composer is Hermann Kopp. Kopp is known for several scores for Jörg Buttgereit. He did the Nekromantik series and Der Todesking. And this is his first score since Der Todesking in 1990. It’s all viola and drum machine, and it’s awesome. I hit him up just to license a song, and instead he said “I’m going to give you a whole score!” He gave the score this heavy horror influence. My producer calls it “horror noir.” And then we have some music by Bobby Beausoleil, of the Manson Murders. It’s some of the stuff he did for Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising. So that’s a reference to Los Angeles but also the truly violent underbelly of the city. LA really is a horror film.
NOFS: I was fascinated by how the character of Mary puts a female spin on a role that a lot of male characters embodied at that time. Did you dive into those films to help with developing Mary as a character?
OO: We watched a lot of Robert Mitchum, Ben Gazzara, George C. Scott, and Lee Marvin. All those types of men who were so iconic at that time. They were so unapologetic. James Bond was an influence as well. When my friend saw one of the scenes with Mary and her girlfriend, Josie, where she kisses her and pushes her away, he said “It’s James Bond!” And why not make Mary that character? Why are women always apologizing for themselves in film? We need more of those unapologetic characters like Mary.
NOFS: Finally, where can we look for The Queen of Hollywood Blvd next?
OO: The next festival we’ll be at is Mammoth Lakes Film Festival in California, and a few others. And then we’ll do a little theatrical run, streaming and DVD. And we’re going to do a cool collectors DVD with extra footage. We love cult cinema, and we knew we wanted to be part of that world. That’s why BUFF has been awesome. This festival supports those type of films that I love. With our release of this film we wanted to give back that love. So later this year it’s going to come out!
The Queen of Hollywood Blvdwill be coming to theaters, streaming, and DVD later this year. Be sure to keep an eye out for it and for director Orson Oblowitz’s upcoming horror film, Hell is Where the Home Is.
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