In the lead up to the Sydney premiere of Garish Hearts at the Dendy Theatre in Circular Quay this Thursday night, we caught up with Ruin Films’ Jay Cruikshank. Cruikshank makes up one half of Ruin Films alongside Angela Garrick, and Garish Hearts is the duo’s first feature film. They describe it as “a purple study in conscience, desire and madness in the face of chaos, shot entirely on location in the suburbs of Sydney.”
Pre-sale tickets can be purchased here.
I’ve read the script for Garish Hearts but have yet to see the film. I believe the script was a collaboration?
Angie and I both separately had the impulse to make films. We had concepts which it seemed best to express through this medium, and in 2012 we met up after not having seen each other for several years. It was just the right time. Angie and I come from somewhat different perspectives and backgrounds when it comes to film-making but that has only strengthened our partnership. I feel often that we complete each other. For instance Angie is far more practical than I am and is very good at moving the story along, knowing when to end a scene or if the scene is too long. So we just met up and started writing, just like that. That’s the funny thing, we just came together like that and had a pretty strong vision right from the start, a vision which seems to have been conjured up out of nowhere.
While writing Garish Hearts, we also made two shorts : Ressurecion Fixation (sic) which was a sort of art-prank made as an opener to the U.V. Race’s film Autonomy and Deliberation, and also Desert Planet which is a weird thriller. But Garish Hearts was our first project, the short films were like little tests in a way, leading up to the feature. We did everything ourselves for those shorts, and every aspect of our films is a collaboration to some degree, not just the script.
Why did you want to make this film? What does it mean to you?
I never really thought I’d end up making films but for several years I’d been thinking in terms of cinema. Making up characters, pushing them into all kinds of situations, watching it come alive in front of you, visual ideas, all these things. I watch a lot of films, so the desire probably comes from there. Especially from trashy b-films, they showed me how much is possible with so little. For working on a budget you can’t have a better mentor than Herschell Gordon Lewis.
In my case the film captures various things that were floating around in my head at the time. For instance, the lead character Maude Le Monde, played by Carole Sharkey-Waters, comes partly from my obsession with films like Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, although she’s more benevolent than Norma Desmond or Baby Jane.
What does it mean to me? Every time I watch the film I feel something else. The film is perhaps a self-reckoning. All the characters are coming to grips with their shattered dreams through the grotesque self-expression of their Garish Hearts, and through strange games with each other involving deception, self deception and the deception of others. It’s a melodrama, it takes place in a highly exaggerated version of the world we live in, and in most of the characters I see grotesquely exaggerated facets of my own personality (something I was not conscious of at the time while writing it) and I hope to some extent the audience reacts in a similar way. It’s a very funny film of course, but it’s humour is borne of despair.
We called on our friends to help us make the film. Both Angie and I make music so a lot of our friends are musicians, hence the high percentage in the cast and crew. There are quite a few supporting characters in the final scenes of the film and we actually weren’t sure who was going to turn up, so I wrote some of the dialogue on the day based on who showed and what they ended up wearing.
For two lead characters, Maude Le Monde and the cult leader Algernon Scavener, we sought out professionals from the start as the roles are rather complex and also call for something more theatrical. From the moment we saw her casting photo, Carole Sharkey-Waters seemed perfect and I can’t imagine anyone else playing the role now. Then when we went to go and meet her in person we were blown away by her presence and her outrageous dress sense. That day she was wearing something like a leopard print leotard with a red raincoat. She is a phenomenal character. Her daughter Jade also appears in the film.
As for Algernon, we chose Joseph Taylor because of his background in Shakespeare and because he looked right – he had the right cheekbones. His lines were only half finished when we casted him because I wanted to complete them based on the person we chose. He added so much to the part and was totally up for making his diaolgue an ever more garish shade of purple!
Jim Shirlaw’s character we would have had to cast also, were it not for a strange coincidence : I was discussing the film with some strangers and they said “Oh, you should ask this performance artist Jim Shirlaw, he spends days in a glass room talking to himself” and I thought great! Then it turns out he was a friend of Angie’s so we brought him in and he was perfect. Jackson Kite was one of the people Angie had in mind before the film started, she’d met him on tour I think and we wrote that character for him not even knowing if he’d say yes. The character Violet was the same: she was based on a real runaway girl who’d turned up in St. Peters and we were actually going to ask her to play herself, unfortunately she declined (or rather her parents did) but that doesn’t matter because at the eleventh hour Ela Stiles stepped in and gave her performance with only two weeks to rehearse! Christopher Short from Royal Headache really wanted to act, that was all, he came to us a complete greenhorn and I’m really proud of the star performance I was able to get out of him. Or performances, I should say.
Is there a strong independent film community in Sydney?
No idea really, so far we’ve been pretty hermetic and also have yet to enter into any film festivals – 2015 is going to be an interesting year for Ruin Films in that regard. All I can say is there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a strong community in Sydney or anywhere else because nowadays film-making is open to all thanks to digital film and you could make a film every week if you wanted to. And that’s coming from an avowed technophobe! Having said that Angie and I are very much doing our own thing and aren’t too concerned with what else is going on.
What kind of satisfaction do you get from creating films that you don’t from making music?
They are totally different. To put it simply, film to me is more about creating an illusion and manipulating it from behind the curtain, whereas being on stage singing is a raw, direct communication with an audience. I wouldn’t give up one for the other.
Is there something distinct about independent Australian cinema? What is the appeal?
It will be very interesting to see how foreign audiences react to this film. The appeal I think is largely the strangeness of the landscape, not just the outback and all that but even things like a colonial building, some old Victorian thing, with fern trees growing out the front. And suburbia, very different to that in the U.S.A. or the U.K.; this environment, the way the streets look, the houses, the way the people talk, is very stimulating to me, a great place to film with many strange images. My favourite local films capture this, for instance V for Vienetta by Micha Couell, an absolutely beautiful film.
Garish Hearts will premiere at Dendy Theatre Circular Key on Thursday, June 26. Buy pre-sale tickets here.