Like I said in my review out of the Stanley Film Festival, Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein is a truly bizarre experience. It takes the existing film from 1977 and reimagines it in an entirely bold and darkly humorous way. Have you ever watched a director’s commentary in a packed theater before? It’s very weird. Tim Kirk’s film takes it a step further – presenting a twisting, almost esoteric narrative delivered by two actors and Leon Vitali, who actually starred in the 1977 film as Victor Frankenstein. It’s a trip, man.
After playing email tag for a little bit, Kirk was gracious enough to sit with me at the Stanley Film Festival a couple days after the film’s world premiere. We discussed the conception of such a weird project, the effect he hopes the film has on people, and other interesting nuggets concerning the task of creating such a unique film with his partner and friend Rodney Ascher.
Note: After I turned the recorder off, Kirk and I talked for about another 20 minutes or so about deception, what juggling does to the mind, and our mutual admiration for ventriloquism and William Goldman’s book Magic. It was one of the better discussions I’ve had in a while. Tim, if you’re reading this, make a doc about the dark history of ventriloquism, please.
ON THE CONCEPTION OF SUCH A UNIQUE WORK:
When Rodney and I started working on Room 237, both of us hadn’t seen The Shining in a number of years. So when we were cutting it we were just looking at pieces of The Shining, but then we decided we should just watch the whole movie. And something really elemental had changed for the both of us since we had both last seen it: we both had kids. It really changed the film for me. It really became about fatherhood, making it scary in a whole different way, you know?
So then I kept thinking about what are some of the other great horror films about fatherhood, and Frankenstein is obviously one of the big ones. And I got kind of obsessed. I watched about 20 different ones. There are some really good ones and there are some really horrible ones.
Then Rodney met Leon Vitali here at the Stanley, he suggested doing that film because then maybe we could get Leon on board. So I wrote the script and I sent it to Leon. And I really held my breath. But he’s a much better sport than I could’ve ever hoped.
WHY AN EXISTING FILM?
Well my cousin Jay Kirk, who co-wrote with me, had the idea of doing a commentary. But our initial thought was to make a film that would sort of compliment the commentary. So we started developing that but then when Rodney suggested using an existing film, I though it would be more interesting because we don’t have any control over what’s actually in the picture, so it’s going to force us to find a way to make it work. It turned out to be a far more creative process because we couldn’t just do anything. We had to make it fit with what was on the screen.
I’m afraid to say how many times me and Jay watched Terror of Frankenstein during the writing and editing process, but it had to be dozens and dozens of times. It’s one of the closest to Shelley’s novel, but what’s interesting is that, and we talk about this in the commentary, is that in order to make it more accurate, the filmmakers had to reject things that had become almost canon for the story of Frankenstein because of Hollywood. Like the grave robbing and Igor, they’re not in the book. So not only did they do a faithful version, they also rejected other version that came before.
ON WHAT HE HOPES THE FILM DOES FOR PEOPLE:
I’m kind of hoping for a weird experience because those were the ideas that I was drawn to. Like Oh this is going to be so fucking weird. Like in the film we have the bit where the monster and Victor meet for the first time. And in between there’s a flashback where we talk about how great Frankenstein is and how he’s such a great actor. Then we come back and we’re like Oh my god he’s terrible. That’s the kind of stuff where I hope it’s going to be really weird to experience. And also just the slow, dawning horror of what’s happening in the commentary.
ON WHY HE MAKES ATYPICAL FILMS:
I think it’s that, both me and Rodney both have an interest in meta and messing with form. I think when we get together we both bring that out in each other. Those are the type of projects we gravitate towards. With Room 237 and The Nightmare, after living in that world for a while, Terror of Frankenstein just made a lot of sense.
ON WHETHER LEON VITALI PROVIDED ANY INSIGHT ON THE FILM:
No, he didn’t really. After I had finished the script we had a conversation and mainly he just wanted to tell me about where the film landed in his life and career . It was an interesting place – right after Barry Lyndon and right before he really started working with Kubrick. So he’d already gotten interested in the behind the scenes aspects of filmmaking. So making Terror of Frankenstein was in many ways a transition for him. It makes me thankful that Leon is so cool. And he nailed it in two takes, straight through. It was amazing.
• Photos via the Stanley Film Festival and James Dimagiba