Owen Kline’s debut feature Funny Pages is “grimy, weird and subversive”. Our Festivals Editor Dallas King caught up with him over Zoom recently to chat about the reception to the film, its future cult classic status and what the film tastes like…
Flickfeast (FF): I saw the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the audience were really into it. I noted several people crying with laughter. How does it feel to know your film is connecting with people that way?
Owen Kline (OK): I get so happy when we get two or three pissers in every screening. When we get feedback of “I wet myself”. Women, men. That has been really kind and shocking to hear. I thought the movies laughs were more acerbic but there’s some pretty some pretty nasty stuff that gets laughs.
FF: Similar to how horror films big up the fact that someone fainted at a preview screening, Funny Pages and other comedies will now look to have the “I pissed myself laughing” seal of approval on the poster and trailer.
OK: Oh yeah, I wanted them to. It’s funny. You think about a movie, like The Hangover or something, and it is kind of its generation’s kind of doubling down of that kind of Animal House “I’m a zit!” nastiness, you know. I mean most comedies, especially 80s comedies, got really, really crass. Like, teen comedies especially. You know, maybe I’m insane but I don’t think that there’s any laugh, more crass than The Hangover in this movie. But then I forget, they’re like old man penises that nobody wants to see. I didn’t think it would get such a vulgar reaction. Some people have really been reacting to this movie like it’s a horror movie. I didn’t intend it to be a horror movie. I didn’t even think I was writing a Coming of Age movie for A24. it was an independent movie at first, you know. A character study of a young cartoonist inhabiting this sort of self created underworld.
FF: You say it is not a horror film per se but Robert does go to some truly hellish places. Like the basement apartment he rents a room in for example.
OK: The reason those guys were sweating so much in that basement is because I was really thinking like, “Okay, if you live in a boiler room, what would you look like? What would it look like?” and these people would be sweating, you know what I mean? That provided comedy that provided, conceptually, a perfect kind of physical struggling this kid would sort of be drawn to like a magnet. That someone would be “Oh, great, okay, I’ll sweat and be tortured down here”. It is basically like a third layer of hell, what a perfect place for me instead of a high school.
FF: Interesting you mention that because film as a whole, has an almost extra-sensory quality to it. In my review I said “it looks like the negative was washed in grease then dried out by dragging it along concrete”. However that apartment, I could almost sort smell and taste it…
OK: Really? I can still smell it but what does it taste like?
FF: Like stale sweat and shame mostly…
OK: What does stale sweat taste like? Have you tasted it?
FF: Not personally but it evoked this sense of dried, caked on sweat on someone who had not washed in days. It reminded me of The Word, a TV programme in the UK in the late Nineties where they had a section called The Hopefuls about people willing to do anything to get on TV and it would involve stuff like licking a fat man’s armpit, etc…
OK: I think I was exposed to that, rather subversively, through being exposed to Ren & Stimpy at a young age. That was my introduction to American crass humour. Or humour period so maybe blame Ren & Stimpy.
FF: Now Funny Pages is filmed and set in New Jersey. One of my favourites growing up, just as I was getting into film, was also filmed there – Kevin Smith’s Clerks. Back then, there obviously wasn’t streaming, or even the internet really at that point. So if you wanted to find out about cool, new movies like Clerks, Swingers, Reservoir Dogs even, you had to read Empire or other film mags. Or you get given a VHS by a friend to check out. Funny Pages really does feel like a film where some people are going to find it, love it, and they’re going to want to share it. Telling everyone they know “you’ve got to watch this!”.
OK: The reaction has been so nice. I’ve gone to a couple of screenings where people have seen this four times already. Wow, that’s kind of insane. It has picked up a really nice a cult following group very quickly. I mean, it’s too early to call it something like a cult classic you know. You need 20 years for a movie to really know what the hell it is. You know what I mean? It’s really nice to be compared to those because those are the movies that I saw and was thinking that was the way to make your first movie. I was naive enough to not realise that time had maybe moved on from the $30,000, Sundance, 16 mm dream of, you make something that’s your own that’s really lyrical and people will respond to it? Well, I spent years trying to do that, and nobody cared about it. It’s very difficult. To find the money, to try to get anyone to fucking read it. It wasn’t until I went to Josh Safdie. I was really just going to him for like, advice, I was really going to quit as nobody wants to give me the money for this. What do I do? How do I do it on my own? I’ve seen you guys do it on your own, like, you know, and scrap and hustle and find a way to actually, you know, make a thing with a little bit with a little bit of money. How do you how do you? How do you do that? How do you operate these people? And then he was like, “Okay, well, let me read it”, and he got back to me, like, a couple of weeks later. He was like, “I stayed up all night reading and we (Elara Pictures) want to produce this” and everything kind of changed overnight. Now it’s done, it’s out there. So I feel lucky that this movie hits culturally with anyone.
FF: So now that it is done, what’s next for you? Any plans to jump from a movie about comic books to a comic book movie?
OK: *laughs* No, I’m not doing that. I’m not tackling Swamp Thing just yet. Although it would be kind of fun. Nobody’s done it right yet…
Funny Pages is in cinemas now