- Arthur Russell
- Jean Christophe Husson
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Keep the Lights On (2012)
Opened: 09/07/2012 Limited
|Clearview Chel...||09/07/2012 - 10/11/2012||35 days|
|Angelika/NYC||09/07/2012 - 09/27/2012||21 days|
|Lincoln Ctr/NY||09/07/2012 - 09/13/2012||7 days|
|Playhouse 7||09/07/2012 - 09/13/2012||7 days|
|Kendall Square...||10/12/2012 - 10/18/2012||7 days|
|Music Box Thea...||10/26/2012 - 11/08/2012||14 days|
|Cinema Village...||12/21/2012 - 12/27/2012||7 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON chronicles an emotionally and sexually charged journey of two men in New York City through love, friendship, and addiction. Documentary filmmaker Erik (acclaimed Danish actor Thure Lindhardt in his first leading role in a U.S. film) and closeted lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth, Damages) meet through a casual encounter, but soon find a deeper connection and become a couple. Individually and together, they are risk takers--compulsive, and fueled by drugs and sex. In an almost decade-long relationship defined by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries and dignity while being true to himself.
KEEP THE LIGHTS ON is shot with a grainy beauty that resonates with the texture of New York City, accentuated by disco beats and a mournful cello, both from musician Arthur Russell's eclectic catalog. Director Ira Sachs's fearlessly personal screenplay is anchored by Lindhardt, who embodies Erik's isolation and vulnerability with a gentle presence. Harrowing and romantic, visceral and layered, Keep the Lights On is a film that looks at love and all of its manifestations, taking it to dark depths and bringing it back to a place of grace.
About the Film
Examining the volatile trajectory of a relationship spanning nearly a decade of love and heartbreak in New York City, the heartfelt and emotionally frank Keep the Lights On displays a grounded intimacy and emotional rawness that's rarely depicted in contemporary film. It should come as no surprise that the project has its origins in a real-life romance and break-up.
Director Ira Sachs saw the first sparks of what would become Keep the Lights On in the dissolution of his own long-term relationship, which spanned several years in New York City around the turn of the century. Sachs became convinced as this intense union came to a close that there was something that could be translated to the screen and made to feel universal. In particular, Sachs was fascinated by what his own experience revealed about two people staying together in the face of the many things that could (and did) pull them apart -- including everything from demanding careers, non-monogamous temptations, and the substance abuse and addiction that deeply affected the real-life couple's decade-long bond. "I was aware so succinctly that there had been a first day and a last day. And there was such an incredible story between the two ends," Sachs says of the searing experience that shaped and defined his fourth feature film. "The course of that experience was so clear in my mind in terms of its narrative power."
From the furtive sexual explorations of The Delta to the unlikely pairing at the heart of Forty Shades of Blue to the period-piece domestic intrigues of Married Life, Sachs has established himself as a devoted and sensitive observer of romantic connection. To craft the screenplay for Keep the Lights On, Sachs first assembled a chronology of his former relationship from hundreds of pages of emails, journals, notes and assorted memorabilia, working with co-writer Mauricio Zacharias (of Karim Ainouz's Madame Sata and Love for Sale) to find a structure and through-line in the tumultuous saga of Erik, an award-winning documentary filmmaker of Danish descent, and Paul, a lawyer in the publishing world whose previous relationship with a woman proves only a minor hurdle in comparison to what we learn about him over the course of the relationship.
Inspired by films like Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Bill Sherwood's seminal indie Parting Glances and Jacques Nolot's confessional autobiography Before I Forget, Sachs set out to convey the details of his experience as a gay man in New York without sparing the details. At the same time, Sachs was keenly aware of the universal qualities inherent in the tumultuous but tender love story at the heart of Keep the Lights On. "In the end, it's a film about a relationship," Sachs admits. " I didn't necessarily approach it as a film about gay life per se -- I approached it as a film about a relationship in New York at this specific time that happens to be between two men." Rather than examining sexuality as a topic unto itself, Keep the Lights On is a character study filled with frank details about the realities and challenges faced by its central couple as they navigate urban life in a mixed community of gays and straights, artists and writers, Americans and foreigners.
In a film focused on the story of one central relationship, the casting of Erik and Paul became crucially important to the film during pre-production. A screenwriter friend referred Sachs to Thure Lindhardt (Brotherhood, Flame and Citron), one of the great young actors of his generation in Denmark and abroad, and one known for his fearless choices in material -- essential for a part that would require risks both physical and emotional. Lindhardt helped shape Erik by amplifying the vulnerability and neediness at Erik's core, delivering a masterfully fraught performance that the actor himself describes as a coming-of-age story, a struggle of one individual, through his experiences in a relationship, to become a complete human being. "This is a guy who is codependent, always trying to please everyone, to fix everyone else's life," Lindhardt explains. "How he goes about learning to love himself -- I thought that was a very beautiful aspect to the story."
Different challenges emerged in the search to cast the role of Paul, who tries to balance a buttoned-down professional life with a spiraling drug addiction; the character's habit leads him down increasingly murky and unpleasant paths, and eventually he begins to disappear for days on end during increasingly frenzied crack cocaine binges. When Sachs met Zachary Booth, best known for his role as Michael Hewes on the television show Damages, he found they had a rapport. "He blew us all away when he auditioned," says Sachs. "Zachary possesses a very human quality that audiences can feel when they watch him." Booth's most accomplished triumph in Keep the Lights On lies in his ability to help flesh out and make unique a character that began as someone real from Sachs's own life.
"Ira's a true collaborator," says Booth. "He really gave me the freedom to explore my own choices and decisions inside the construct of the script." The actor describes his unique approach to developing and defining Paul: "I did my best not to comment on his behavior -- only to try and understand why he made the decisions he was making. I had to find the most sympathetic, understandable story for Paul inside myself."
The cast of Erik's eclectic and varied group of friends was rounded out by Julianne Nicholson (Boardwalk Empire, Tully) in the role of Claire, Souleymane Sy Savane (Goodbye Solo) as Alassane, and Paprika Steen (Applause, The Celebration) as Karen.
To create the warm look and feel of Keep the Lights On, Sachs turned to the talented cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, whose distinctive camera work has shaped several films from the Greek New Wave, including Giorgos Lanthimos' Academy Award-nominated Dogtooth and Babis Makridis' L, premiering in the World Dramatic Competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. Sachs has a long interest in the new realism of European cinema and felt that bringing a non-American visual sensibility to the film would be an important element in the tone and texture of the film. "Thimios shoots film almost like a painter, both in his framing, his use of natural light, and his distinct approach to filming the human form." Bakatakis's trip to New York to shoot Keep the Lights On marked his first visit to the city. "It was an amazing experience because everything was new," Bakatakis says. "I found New York to be very photogenic. Everywhere you put the camera, you have something nice in the frame."
The lush score of Keep the Lights On, drawn from the sui generis music of composer and cellist Arthur Russell, guides the film forward as it moves from gently prosaic to emotionally wrenching, ultimately providing the beating heart at the film's core. The score bears the unique distinction of feeling at once joyful and heartbreaking, in keeping with the delicate trajectory of Erik and Paul's pairing and dissolution over the course of a decade. In the same way that Cat Stevens's songs were used in Harold and Maude, and Aimee Mann's in Magnolia, Russell's work emerges as an element on par with the human characters in the film -- indeed Keep the Lights On was designed with Russell's work in mind.
Sachs was moved enough by the late composer's story, as well as by his passing at age 40 from AIDS, to conceive the short documentary Last Address, about a group of New York artists who also died of AIDS -- much in the same way that Erik conceives his own nonfiction film inside Keep the Lights On about the forgotten true-life photographer and filmmaker Avery Willard, a chronicler of queer life in New York City through much of the 20th century. It's this pattern of portraiture, legacy, biography and autobiography that continues outside Keep the Lights On at the vibrant web site KeepTheLightsOnFilm.com, where contributors can submit personal stories about the complexities of their own viewpoints and day-to-day struggles, creating a rich mosaic of life in New York City and far beyond, adding an extra facet to the honest, open, and confessional world at the heart of the film.