'Ain't Them Bodies Saints' director David Lowery on Joanna Newsom, keeping viewers in the dark

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Image Credit: Monica Schipper/FilmMagic

On Saturday, New York’s IFC Center screened Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and held a Q&A session with director David Lowery afterward. The 2013 Sundance selection, now in theaters, follows escaped convict Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) desperately trying to reunite with his wife and partner-in-crime Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara).

Here are some interesting things we learned about the indie-Western film:

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints began with an image. “The first thing that ever came to mind was that I wanted to make an action movie,” Lowery said. “And my idea of how to start an action movie was a guy breaking out of prison. But that didn’t work out. So I kind of put that idea away for a while. This image of a guy that I put in that script walking around in the woods just surrounded by nature, and that is in the movie, and that quickly corresponded to this other image of the same character carrying a little girl away from the scene of something terrible. And that image wound up in the movie too.”

He’s a fan of Joanna Newsom, and she’s a major inspiration on the film. “With this film, I wanted to make a movie that really felt like a Joanna Newsom song. I wanted to make a home movie that some of her music makes me feel.” Lowery also mentioned Bill Callahan and Bonnie “Prince” Billy as branching-off points for the tone of the film.

He’s not a fan of explaining things in movies. In Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (spoiler alert!), we never find out how Ruth and Bob met, the nature of Bob’s crimes, and their connections to other minor characters, and Lowery wants to keep it that way. “I wrote a version that … went from them being 4 years old all the way to that moment to where the shootout happens, and I compressed it into, like, eight pages. We just couldn’t afford to do that. That would’ve added another million dollars to the budget, because it was just huge. It was this huge sequence that would’ve lasted, like, six minutes. I just personally enjoy movies that drop you in the middle of something and I didn’t feel that it was that necessary to know how they had met or where that romance began, only to see that it had gotten to the point that it got to. … When you’re editing a movie, you don’t necessarily always need to see a person walk into a room. Like the famous saying is that bad movies are full of people opening and shutting doors, because usually what matters most is what’s happening in the moment. And when someone is in a room, you know they got there somehow, and that’s sort of the rule I follow in terms of screenwriting. I would always rather just drop right in.”

That might explain the need for New Tattoo, Lowery’s graphic-novel prologue. But Lowery revealed during the Q&A that the graphic novel started out in a different format. “We were all having so much fun and … Casey and Rooney and I, we wanted to make another movie with these characters. So I wrote this short film, and we never actually had the time to make it. And it got turned into a comic book.”

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