There are many emotions and attitudes associated with sex. Passion and eroticism are obviously some of its more common bedfellows, but sex can also be comical, subversive, experimental and stressful. In Fourplay, directed by Kyle Henry and co-produced by Michael Stipe, we see four very different stories taking place in different cities where sex is an integral and transcendent part of the main characters’ lives. Were you to watch these four short films separately, you’d likely have difficulty determining a common theme.
But when they are presented as a single feature film, the inadvertent (and whimsical) beastiality of “Skokie” fits right in alongside the extremes of a couple on the brink of collapsing in “Austin.” And the bathroom fantasies of “Tampa” erupt (very literally) into an orgy of luchadors, Hitler and other odd characters before an invalid’s encounter with a cross-dressing prostitute becomes oddly touching and tender in “San Francisco.” As the movie makes its Southeastern premiere tonight at the Out on Film festival, Henry talks to Wrestling with Pop Culture about drag queens, dogs and other related topics.
The first thing that jumps out at me about these four stories is that they are very different. There’s a wide range of tones and themes in each one even though the primary subject matter of sex is the same. How did you go about directing four drastically different films that comprise one larger work?
That was what I was looking for. I really wanted to show sexual expression from a variety of perspectives, whether it be tragic, comedic, satyric, ironic or you name it. Myself and the writers, Carlos Triviño and Jessica Hedrick, were interested in seeing the act of sex being a major turning point in the lives of characters and stories. So we picked extreme stories for extreme effect. I think there’s something tying them all together in terms of our point of view of the world as people, in a sense of charity, maybe, and generosity.
Did you plan on having these four films presented as a single film or did things just sort of fall into place that way?
All four of these shorts were written before I shot the first one. That was always the intention. But we tried to do something novel where as we completed the first two shorts – “Tampa” and “San Francisco” – we wanted to put them out into the world. So we released them as stand-alone shorts at festivals. The feature, with all four titles together, is like a payoff for the people who have been following the development of the film over the last few years.
The Out on Film screening is the Southeast debut for the film. Where else has the full feature played?
This will be the fifth festival the full feature has played at. It premiered at Frameline in San Francisco, then we played at Outfest in Los Angeles and the Guanajuato International Film Festival was our Mexican premiere. Throughout the fall we’re playing it at different film festivals in New Orleans, Copenhagen and elsewhere. So we’re continuing touring film festivals through early next year.
As a director, did you have a favorite amongst the four short films?
No, they’re all my babies. I love all my children. I think they were all challenging. Working with a dog is always challenging. Well, dogs and children. At least we didn’t have a child in any of them! Working with such a huge cast on “Tampa” was really challenging. The last short, “San Francisco,” was really enjoyable to work with just two actors in a room. It certainly was the most intimate and delicate performances to direct, so that was a lot of fun.
Paul Soileau plays the cross-dressing prostitute in that one. Is that a drag persona he does on a regular basis or was it just a character he portrayed for this film?
It was a character, but he’s now internationally known for playing two alter egos. His most well-known one is a character called Christeene, who is this gutter-mouthed drag punk rock character. He has a bunch of music videos up on Funny or Die, he’s been touring clubs all over the world for the last few years. But they’re outrageous characters. I don’t think he’d ever played something that was very real, like this character required. And he did a great job of changing his normal performance mode for the film.
After these upcoming festivals, are you working on getting Fourplay released theatrically?
Yeah, we’re already booking theaters and the theatrical release will begin in February of 2013. We’re opening first in Austin, Texas at a theater called the Alamo Drafthouse and we’re looking for theaters to show at in other cities.
Michael Stipe was one of the producers of this film. What role did he play, exactly, as a producer?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have Michael Stipe as one of the executive producers on the film. This film never would have been made without his support. He has a company called C-Hundred Film Corp. and over the last 15 years he and his producing partner Jim McKay have put money into about 15 low-budget independent features. It’s a small amount of money that’s basically a very big grant and he and his partner give it to work that they’re interested in. They give it to challenging work that they know is going to have a hard time finding funding elsewhere because people are going to be afraid of the content or the messages being put out by the films. So they really are giving back to the artistry of our environment by supporting what they like.