Get Ready for a Cinematic Whipping (with Modern Love Is Automatic)

Modern Love is Automatic was made at weekends, with a tiny cast and on money borrowed from friends and relatives - it carries all the ethos of true guerrilla film-making. Gail Tolley spoke to director Zach Clark about breaking all the rules of conventional film-making.

Feature by Gail Tolley | 01 Jun 2009
  • Modern Love is Automatic

A disillusioned nurse searches for an antidote to her feelings of alienation by moonlighting as a dominatrix. Meanwhile her housemate frantically pursues a career in modelling which doesn’t seem to be going much further than her job at the local bed showroom. This is the strange world of Zach Clark’s Modern Love is Automatic, a bold and daring journey into apathy which surprised audiences at SXSW earlier this year. It’s also the perfect example of the best of low-budget, independent film-making. “It really was a sort of home-made thing,” says Clark from his New York home. “I raised a tiny bit of money from my family, and we shot the entire movie on weekends over six months. We’d shoot a little bit and I’d get a pay check or two and save money needed for the next round of shooting.”

Intriguingly the film has been described as the love child of John Waters and Chantal Akerman: flamboyant 70s trash meets European feminist cinema with a measure of transgression throw in. What did Clark make of such a perplexing description? “My taste has always been European arthouse, classic American cinema and cult film, so I think those things all integrated in Modern Love. One thing I was specifically toying around with was updating the melodrama. I have always really loved Douglas Sirk, I felt in many ways I was making a women’s picture, a contemporary version of what I saw Sirk doing with his films.”

A striking aspect of the film is its choice of colours, a mixture of neons and bright pastels which came out of a decision to do the exact opposite to what everyone was advising. “Initially the colour palette came out of a reaction to what people kept telling me the colour palette should be. It grew from saying instead of putting the lead actress in drab colours and making her look like she doesn’t really care about her appearance let’s make her look really put together and put her in these vibrant pastels.”

Clark’s attitude to the film’s soundtrack is equally reactionary. “The entire score is death metal. I was tired of seeing sad, pretty films with sad, pretty music. So very early on I was like it won’t be sad, the music won’t be pretty and it won’t even be a style of music that I’m familiar with or that fond of. The initial idea was, oh you want music to tell you how to feel? Here’s music that will tell you how to feel the opposite.”

It’s this subversive streak which has continually defined the best films emerging from the American independent scene in the last few years. Modern Love is Automatic looks to carry all the trademarks of one of the most memorable.

Modern Love is Automatic is part of the Under the Radar strand at this year’s EIFF.