Amanda Kramer’s surreal, comedic film Paris Window — recently released on Amazon, Vimeo, and Filmhub — traps you inside the hermetic world of Sunny (Sophie Kargman) and Julian (co-writer Noel David Taylor), two very strange siblings whose ritualised existence is threatened by the arrival of the outsider David (Taylor, again). Filled with strange behaviours and unfamiliar terms like “Paris Window” and “Spirit Gate”, the film delves into a spiral of paranoia, codependency, and hypnosis.
With the release of this new film, Kramer’s sensibilities around costume design, makeup, performance, sound, and subject matter are being cemented — familiar and recognisable, a style that’s distinctly Krameresque. The odd beauty of the costumes and makeup in Paris Window, the cruelty and comedy of its characters, and the tense confines of its interior settings can all be seen in Kramer’s previous film Ladyworld, as well as her short films.
This trajectory of obsession and unease seems set to continue with her next film, Please Baby Please. Starring Maya Hawke, Andrea Riseborough, and Charlie Plummer, it tells the story of newlyweds who “become the dangerous obsession of a greaser gang that awakens a sleeping quandary into the couple’s sexual identity.”
Ivana Brehas spoke with director and co-writer Amanda Kramer about her latest release, long takes, and the art of comedy.
Ivana Brehas: Paris Window was made before Ladyworld, right?
Amanda Kramer: Yeah. I made it about a year, maybe a year and a half before, in my own apartment, but it was unfinished — some post pieces were not completed. It was lost material that I never knew if I’d get the opportunity to finish.
IB: Right. I wasn’t sure if it was as a result of Ladyworld — like, now you’re getting more opportunities to release things — but it was just lost footage?
AK: Not exactly footage, but… we made the film on a very tight, low budget. It was meant to be experimental. It was meant to be a super-creative art project. We didn’t have that industry-standard idea of “Make a movie and have it come out in theatres.” It was really meant to be explorative. So the post-production took months. Little bits, and little bits, and little bits. We didn’t put any pressure or emphasis on the fully finished version until we had every piece in place, and that can take years. So it’s a lopsided sort of release, but it was shot before Ladyworld was shot.
IB: You do a lot of shooting indoors…
AK: I only shoot indoors! [laughs]
IB: Obviously that’s a real atmospheric thing, but I’m wondering if it began as a circumstantial thing — it’s easier with the budget, or gives you limits to work within.
AK: Exactly. It’s an overlapping of wanting total control, and not being comfortable with wind, sun, outside noise — you can never control outside noise — and being a person who is very dedicated to interiors, and those feelings of claustrophobia. Walls closing in. I think walls are like frames. They’re very helpful for the edge of frames, to feel the edge of walls. It’s sort of a theatrical thing. I like to think of my frames as theatre. And with the outside, it’s like… unless you’re Malick, why go outside? I can’t make a tree any more beautiful than I can make a wall, so why do it?
IB: The film’s release is coinciding with the release of the soundtrack, right?
AK: Yeah. I think the score is magical. I have such a deep affection for the composer, Ben [Babbitt], and how that score elevates Paris Window. We all really believed that the score should have its own moment and release, so people could hear it. I think it plays as just music to listen to. It’s beautiful.
IB: The vinyl is gorgeous, too.
AK: It’s incredible. There’s a poster inside. It’s a really nice package.
IB: So, the actual Paris Window and the Spirit Gate — are these things of your own invention?
AK: No, the Paris Window is a technique in hypnosis that’s researched. It’s obviously a more complex, complicated thought process, and a more complex hypnotic ideology, but I found it fascinating, and wanted to use it to draw in the eye and the mind. It’s real; I didn’t make it up.
IB: And the Spirit Gate?
AK: The Spirit Gate is a part of hypnosis terminology. I tried to read as much as I could about hypnosis and hypnotic therapy, and the methodology behind it, because I have a lot of respect for hypnosis. I know it’s rare that you would be susceptible to it. Not everyone is, but the people that are have their lives changed. It’s a really deep and compelling corner of psychology. The more that I read, the more I would find these terms and think, “This is so cinematic! These ideas are so large and trippy.” I made up a lot of it, but not that stuff.
IB: Was hypnosis something you were interested in before making Paris Window, or did you become interested as a result?
AK: I’ve been interested in it for a while, but I find that movies about hypnosis are rare. Hypnosis as a technique on display in filmmaking… I don’t know, there’s comedic ways to do it; there’s The Curse of the Jade Scorpion  where he’s hypnotised and starts robbing banks; and then there’s the trippy, Lynchian hypnotic sensibility where visuals and colours will hypnotise you. But hypnosis is a regular thing. People walk into a room and do it with their therapist, and I’m intrigued by that. Also, when I was a child — and this is where it folds into the script — there was an infomercial channel that would start very late, like after 3 A.M., and it was always about psychic healing and fortune telling. It had a very spiritual, hypnotic bent to it, and a number would always flash at the bottom of the screen — ostensibly to steal all your money, right? These psychics that used to just be phone-based. I always wanted to call, and as a kid I was so compelled to it, because the number would flash, and the commentary would come, and you would find yourself almost enraptured. Even though they were, like, 900 numbers, and I knew that they would cost me so much money. But I’ve always thought that that would be so unique to think about in a film — call-in hypnosis and psychics.
IB: I really enjoyed the tone in this film. It’s unsettling, but I had so much fun watching it. There’s these moments of humour that I really didn’t expect.
AK: I can’t write a joke. If someone said, “Write a comedy,” I would not be able to do it. But I know that I like to laugh, and I like to find humour in situations. In films that are very heavy, I think the levity of humour is helpful. It’s a tonal balance to strike, ‘cause you can’t always stick a joke in, but when I was working through the character with Sophie [Kargman], who plays Sunny, she would do the lines and I would find myself wanting to laugh. There was something so charming and comedic in her performance during rehearsal. She’s a brilliant actress, so she would ask me outright, “Should I not be funny? Is that the wrong thing? You’re laughing — I don’t know if I’m doing it correctly.” And I was like, “Lean into that! There’s something very odd about how funny you’re being.” So I don’t even want to take credit for it being funny. I think that’s something you find in a performance — you perform the lines in a way that just works.
IB: Yeah. Her whole singing and dance performance killed me.
AK: That moment in the room, when she did that, every single person’s face was just stricken. Mouths open. The joke of it all was that in the script, all it says is, “Sophie does a performance. It’s so weird and crazy it’s hard to describe.” That’s all it said. [laughs] “She acts crazy. I don’t know how to describe it; she just acts crazy.” And as we’re getting closer to the day, Sophie is saying to me, “What should I do? What’s crazy? What do you mean?” So I sent her a bunch of clips — some combination of Japanese butoh dance, and Isabelle Adjani in Possession … I just sent her a bunch of things. I had no idea what she was going to do, and we didn’t rehearse it, and then cameras were rolling, and she did that.
AK: I was like, “What a gift you’ve given me, as an actress.” I’d never expected it to be that wild and insane. I love it. Her dress, too. It’s crazy in the whole makeup and the dress. It was a good moment. I was like, “Well, we don’t have to do that again. That was perfect.”
IB: There are a lot of fantastic, really long takes in this. That moment, and the one where Julian’s just watching TV day after day, and David’s monologue after Sunny’s performance.
AK: It’s funny — the ‘oner’, the long take, can be very distinctive, but it can also be very distracting. It’s a flashy tool, but it’s also hearkening back to another era, and you really want to be careful when you use them. But when you’re ready to do it, and the actors are ready to do it… it’s a test of their own endurance, ‘cause those takes are long. If they fuck up two minutes into a six-minute take, you’re like, “Oh, we’re starting over again.” But if they can go through the endurance test, I think they glue films together in this really elegant, highly performative way, because they have such a real-time flow to them. When you watch movies, you forget what real time looks like. The point of a movie is to take real time away, and abstract you from time, so it’s a great thing to sit and actually be in time again with an actor. I love employing them, because I love reminding everyone that real people had to do that. And I didn’t use any tricks; it’s just the acting. I’m not cutting them up so that they seem better or worse or weirder or stronger or weaker — I’m just letting them do what they do, and letting them shine.
IB: The acting throughout this film was really strong. This is either a testament to my obliviousness or to Noel’s acting, but I genuinely didn’t realise that he was playing both Julian and David. I thought that was the whole gag — that he was paranoid. I was like, “These are different people.”
AK: It’s funny, because obviously I know him and I think he looks the same — he is the same person — but when we wrapped Julian’s part, we had one day between that and David’s part to dye Noel’s hair, get him colour contacts, change his whole look, shave his moustache. We were wrapping the final Julian day, and we all looked at each other and were like, “Once he comes in tomorrow, we can’t shoot those scenes again, so is everyone okay?” It was a tense moment of, “Okay, I guess whatever we have is what we have.” I sent him to get the transformation — to cut his hair, to dye it — and when he came back to set, nobody recognised him. He walked in and passed, like, five people, and no-one noticed him as Noel. I had a moment where I was like, “Shit. Did we go too far? Is he too much of a different person now, and you won’t be able to make that association?” But in the acting he’s also, as you said, just transforming. A totally different voice; a different way of standing. He’s shifting so entirely that you lose every trace of Julian, and it’s hard to get that back. So it’s about knowing how far to go; how far to make that transition. But when I see it, I’m like, “Oh, that’s Noel, and that’s Noel.” Especially when they’re in a shot together. I’m like, “That’s the same face!” But if you don’t know him, I think you’re looking at other aspects of his head.
IB: I liked that I didn’t know. It makes me want to re-watch it, because I kind of read things differently the first time.
AK: One time, a person said to me — I took it almost as an insult when they said it, and I had to sit with it for a second and then I was like, “That’s cool,” — but a friend said to me, “Your movies are not what your movies are on the first watch.” Like, the second watch is when they become the thing I believe they are. And I think what he means is, I’m doing quite a bit that’s underground, and I’m subverting and getting deeper in, and then you see it another time and you start to put it together. I think that’s what he meant. But of course, when I heard it, I was like, “You don’t like it when you watch it once?” [laughs] But yeah, it is a fun thing to watch, especially that performance, a second time, because you get to see all the cool things Noel’s doing. His change in character is really cool.
IB: How have things changed for you as a filmmaker across these films — from Paris Window to Ladyworld to Please Baby Please?
AK: I was just speaking to my co-writer and editor Ben [Shearn] about this today. We’re really attempting to get bigger and bigger and bigger. But ‘bigger’ in our minds is not necessarily linked to budget, or to scenes and characters. It really has to do with getting our brains as pushed up against our skulls as possible. All the imagery we’ve ever wanted to see — now we get to imagine it in our scripts. When you start out, you want to think so… not minimally, but you want to think about everything you can handle. You don’t have the money; the resources; the time. As soon as people start giving you a little bit more, and a little bit more, you can push your imagination. I think the real thing that’s changed for me now is, when I want to design a world, I don’t immediately stop myself from a capitalistic standpoint and say, “Can I afford that? Can I make that?” I can allow myself to dare to dream, or something — which is very corny, but it’s true.
As a new filmmaker, you don’t really dare to dream, because you want to accomplish something you can complete. Which was another thing with Paris Window — like, I couldn’t even complete that, and that was cheap, and made in my home. But now I don’t have those concerns in the same way. If I want a baby crying and a dog barking, I don’t have to think about it. And that’s barely anything, you know? But those are things that I stopped myself from caring about, back then. Now I can get all the babies in, get all the dogs in, get a naked guy on a horse, whatever I want. [laughs] My films are contained. Everything necessary is on the screen. I’m not a person who wants, like, helicopter shots and shit like that. But I’m allowing myself to get in all of the weird and wild ideas that I might have stopped myself from having before. That’s a really good thing.
Paris Window is now streaming on Amazon, Vimeo, and additional platforms via Filmhub. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp.
Ivana Brehas (a.k.a. Joaquin Shenix) is a writer and filmmaker living in Naarm (Melbourne). She has written for Dazed, Much Ado About Cinema, The Big Issue, 4:3 and more. She also makes lil videos. Contact her at www.ivanabrehas.com.