THE POPCORN REEL CONVERSATION
WITH "SIX SEX SCENES AND A MURDER" FILMMAKER JULIE RUBIO
Julie Rubio's Murder Mystery, With Tasteful Sex To Whet Intellectual Appetites
By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel"I did not want to make pornography," emphasized filmmaker Julie Rubio, whose film "Six Sex Scenes and a Murder" opens in San Francisco today at the Lumiere Theater. Ms. Rubio, a Los Angeles-raised film director, was in town to talk about her debut feature film, a sophisticated celluloid intrigue that mixes murder, mystery and discreet sex. She took great pains to ensure clarity about her film and its intentions. "I consulted with a sex therapist on the script to make sure . . . we looked through it," said the filmmaker, who was giddy about the news that tonight's 7:00pm show at the Lumiere had already sold out. The sex therapist, said Ms. Rubio recommended one of the film's characters who is having a sexual encounter with a mature woman be older than 17. (In the film, the character Carlo, played by Ricky Saenz, says that he is turning 21. "Stop calling me 'kid', he admonishes his older lady love during an earnest moment.)
May 30, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO, California
The title of Ms. Rubio's film understandably may create a rush of curiosity on the part of any prospective filmgoer -- but precisely unlike the kind of rush one might have just prior to, during or following an orgasm (since sex and sexuality are subjects of the director's film) -- but a rush nonetheless. While "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder" is a descriptive title for sure, Ms. Rubio, a single mother whose 11-year-old son Elijah was slightly ailing on one day this week, says the film is much more than its title offers. "If there's anything I'm learning about this process is, it is art, so it is such a individual experience. You know, I've had some people -- " With a ready smile, Ms. Rubio has paused to interrupt herself in mid-sentence. "I'm sorry, that I feel more intellectual -- understand the film on more levels because it's complicated . . . it's not just a noir murder mystery. There's a lot of stuff that's layered in there, and if you watch it two or three times you can really feel that and that becomes apparent that there's a little more complexity to the story."
Like all other human beings there's complexity to Julie Rubio. She is, as she had reflexively apologized earlier, an intellectual, and besides is blessed with an ability to tell a strong story on film, and "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder" proves this beyond any reasonable doubt. Before the conversation gets going in earnest about the film -- almost all of which was shot here in San Francisco for twenty days beginning in late 2006 and ending in the early days of 2007 on a budget of $200,000 -- Ms. Rubio talks about her experiences in London where she lived for a time, and about the differentiation between accents in England's capital city, from the posh talk heard in the Tony abodes of Kensington, where she resided (as did the late Princess Diana of Wales), where an upper-crust speaking voice was commonplace, to the East End, where the commoners, or working class accents -- a.k.a "Cockney" accents -- that can be heard throughout places like Upminster, West Ham and Bromley-By-Bow. Ms. Rubio has also lived in Hawaii and New York City in addition to her Southern California home base of the City Of Lights. She has produced theatre plays and films and acted in several productions in a number of cities. For some reason, perhaps "American ignorance", as she bluntly put it, Ms. Rubio declared she was more likely to feel safe late at night alone in London, citing that the sound of the accents were more polite than they were threatening. She smiles and laughs as she discloses these thoughts out loud, but there is every feeling that she is -- to use a Massachusetts expression -- kidding on the square, or, for the unfamiliar, not really kidding at all.
One thing the filmmaker definitely isn't kidding about is her new film not being pornographic. As she has defensively repeated her assertion that her debut feature is non-XXX celluloid, one gets the feeling that Ms. Rubio, a slender, athletic woman, and the director of numerous short films, doesn't want her audiences to flock to "Six Sex Scenes" expecting to see, well . . . six sex scenes. The film, which Ms. Rubio also describes as "entertaining enough that if somebody's not so cerebral or not in the mood -- you know, you've had a cocktail or two and you don't really want to follow it, it's also entertaining enough that you can also do that." The film is about one Nick Hamilton, a career gangster looking for another big score -- money, that is, not sex. His demise is swiftly rendered and the mystery surrounding his murder pieced together by Detective Harry Reece (played by veteran character actor Jasper Watts -- a real-life officially-licensed private investigator) through flashbacks of interviews with all the patrons/suspects of a burlesque club called The Uptown Bar, in the hopes of getting to the truth surrounding Nick's murder. The interviews are explained and viewed through the suspects' sexual encounters and other various entanglements and intimacies, offering up delectable and arousing alibis for the film's audience, as well as its onscreen detective, to ponder. The histories between certain characters dictate the narrative threads of the film, the title of which, at least in its first three words, does the world's alliteration addicts -- if not the participants in this week's Scripps National Spelling Bee -- very proud. Nick Hamilton is played by Richard Anthony Crenna, Jr., who is related to, yes, that Richard Crenna. Nick, the story goes, has had an emotional investment in and involvement with Regan Price, a former burlesque dancer, a pivotal character to the film's story, played by Kristin Minter.
There either isn't time to talk about -- or perhaps time to actually remember -- that "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder" according to a publicist's notes, was inspired by a pivotal real-life event for the film's writer and director: the man with whom Ms. Rubio was involved in a relationship "was killed in a gangland murder". Obviously a painful part of the director's life, with scars to bear, although some of the tragedy and void of that traumatic loss has been transformed into this intriguing film. For now, the conversation extends beyond the film to a general and informal discourse about pornography and its depiction in 21st century American society. "I think that unless you see it all in your face really graphically -- and I'm okay with that too -- I have no problem with that. But I also think that there are other ways of having sex," the director says, referring to a scene in her new film with a secretary turned leather-clad dancer who shows her boss a thing or two during a racy and seductive dance display. Ms. Rubio is now wondering aloud about how and why sex is viewed through a narrow prism, and behind this somewhat rhetorical wonderment is a statement implying a sexism on the part of male-dominated culture and society the world over: "Why does everything have to be missionary in order for it to just be sex?"
"Maybe it can be all different kinds of things, including pornography," the director says about sex. Julie Rubio has received "a lot of grief" about the film's title, which seems surprising beyond the obvious eye-catching content it possesses, given that there isn't an f-word, c-word or p-word to be found in it. "I had to fight people in order to keep the name because they just -- they didn't think that it was -- well first of all, most people thought, 'it's gonna just make everyone think it's pornography.'" The flip side of that predicament, according to the "Six Sex Scenes" filmmaker, is "to me there are scenes in sexuality, just like there are in music. There's hip-hop. There's the punk. There's rock and roll. Well guess what? In sexuality there's lots of different types of scenes, and you know, some people are into older women. Some people are into their boss. Some people are into the love of their life. Some people are into threesomes, but really they're not into threesomes or bisexual and they'd really rather be with this other person but maybe they're bringing another person in in order to be able to explore that. So it's complex. Sex is -- is messy. You need a helmet!"
That last line of four words that Julie Rubio utters makes her interviewer laugh, but she is serious, all the way to the bone.
The messy aspect of sex, the filmmaker explains, also involves male performance issues that make a promising night of pleasure a pathetic pittance in the hall of ephemera. Ms. Rubio breezily itemizes a scene where a well-built guy (played by "Workout"'s Greg Plitt) quickly loses his sexual steam and energy and is unceremoniously booted out of bed by the two women he has tried so hard to please -- no pun intended. Prior to the bedroom double play he has been traipsing all across San Francisco in a post-midnight search for tequila. As for the two women left with the bed to themselves, the director remarks, "they're exploring their own sexuality as who they are, so I just think that sex is a theme unto itself. And so for me that's what "Six Sex Scenes" means. It doesn't necessarily mean . . . again, I'm getting told that there's this lukewarm sexuality to this and I'm thinking, 'no!, there's not!' And I will fight that, because I think that sex starts here" -- Ms. Rubio uses two of her fingers to point to either side of her head at this moment -- "in a lot of ways, up in your head, you know? I think it's a lot more interesting that way . . . and in your heart too," offers the director. Television commercials spend many precious seconds talking about "Viva Viagra" and others joke in a juvenile way about erectile dysfunction, but few if any at all talk about the intellectual, caring, loving side of sex, a point that the filmmaker will amplify a little later. (Ms. Rubio mentions earlier that to have sex "you don't have to be in love," and apologizes again, rhetorically, for saying it. But one very clearly understands what she means.)
"Six Sex Scenes And A Murder" has been compared by some as a cross between "Rashomon" and "9 1/2 Weeks", but the film's depiction of sex is much more intellectual and tasteful than the latter film, and while "Six Sex Scenes" is definitely erotic, it does not exceed the explicit nature of the "Red Shoe Diaries" television series on Showtime from years ago, yet it is shot in that series' spirit by veteran cinematographer Marty Rosenberg, whom the director said she was fortunate to get on the project. Mr. Rosenberg read the script prior to joining the production and wasn't going to "do sex for sex's sake", cited Ms. Rubio. He came on board after loving what he read. Mr. Rosenberg shot the film with a high-definition digital video camera. There have been films like "Carnal Knowledge", films like "Last Tango In Paris", "In The Realm Of The Senses", "Wild Orchid", "Intimacy" and "9 Songs", but "Six Sex Scenes" stands apart from all of these, not only in its more discreet sexual content but as a superior story.
All this sex talk by the way, briefly gives way to one thing: politics, as well as a glass of water.
"We're in a very conservative time, we're at war -- not that anybody really knows it," Ms. Rubio says. "And I feel like after 9/11 we had HIV, you know, we've become this like -- in America we have the Bush Administration -- we just, we have a lot of this controlling kind of ugliness on our sexuality. It's not portrayed as this beautiful, amazing, passionate, yummy, healthy, exciting great thing. It's turned into this pornographic kind of computer based -- you know, you used to have to go into like the sleaziest part of town to buy what you wanted. Now, you know, you want to see a horse doing something to somebody's ear, you type in "horse" and "ear" and there it is! And it takes away from the intimacy . . . it offers a lot more scenes for sexuality, but I think it takes away from the healthiness and the fun and the . . . "
The words mystery and exploration are offered to the director to complete her thoughts, and she willing goes along with the offer.
"Yeah, yeah. The mystery and exploration. I like that. I hope that this movie provides that, because I don't think sex is bad, I think sex is great." Ms. Rubio, who mentioned that everyone on the set got along and enjoyed the experience of making the independent film, financed by Panorama Entertainment, also said that she knows that some people will find the sex to be not explicit enough or far too much. "It's like music. People are going to like it or they're not, and you're just gonna have to let people see whether they will like the art, you know."
So where does Julie Rubio go cinematically after "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder"? "I want to take on some things that nobody wants to touch," says the filmmaker. One wants to ask her exactly what, but on a counterintuitive level as a journalist the preference at this point is to let the mystery and intrigue of Ms. Rubio's statement float in the air. "And it's not so much within sexuality, I think it's just in topics that people don't want to touch. That's where I think I really want to go next. I want to take on some things that nobody has the guts to take on because it's too scary, and/or there's too much money behind the individuals that don't want you to talk about it."
Now the appetite is whetted and like Ms. Rubio's new film, the intrigue, mystery and curiosity deepens.
"That's what I want to take on next because I feel like we're in a time now where we're going into a recession and -- we're actually in a recession -- and to quote some other, you know, super smart people that I know that are investors will say straight out, 'we're in a depression' almost, you know, as they move everything out to China. I think art always gets thrown by the wayside during those times," Ms. Rubio lamented. "We are such a materialistic, you know, finance-driven, capitalistic country and I think that art kind of gets thrown to the side during that time, because we just don't have time for it. When you're hungry or you're working you don't really have a lot of time to care about movies or paintings, you know? But I think that's actually the time when you need that stuff the most."
Julie Rubio repeats her desire to take on her next film topic head on. "I just want to take on some stuff that's difficult to swallow, you know, and wake some people up and make them think a little bit. I think that you have the strongest form of communication . . . or one of the most powerful forms of art is, is media. And I think it lasts somewhat forever, you know, whatever forever is. It can make people run out and get married the next day. It can make people run out and get a divorce the next day. It can make people stop wars. It could stop them -- the stupid war! It could stop the war. If somebody made something -- I mean, you know, you've got that picture of that little girl with her clothes being burned off -- you change people. Media is the strongest forum. It can manipulate. It can brainwash. It can do fantastic, brilliant things. And I feel like I have an obligation with that now to make sure -- that's why I didn't want to make pornography, was because I was like, I have an obligation as a filmmaker to you know, still make it fun and interesting and sexy and healthy, but not bad and dirty and ugly and, you know -- just kind of add to the pile of shit."
With "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder", Julie Rubio can definitely declare mission accomplished, to use an inapt phrase from the Administration she said she is relieved at its imminent exit next January. "I wanted to make something for $200,000 that I could sell it that I could prove to my investors that I could make things and that I am capable as a producer, as a director. And now I feel that I've done that and now I feel like I can go out and I can really shake up -- shake up the world."
"And make people think -- a little bit more."
"Six Sex Scenes And A Murder", written and directed by Julie Rubio, opened today at the Lumiere Theater in San Francisco, and is expected to make its way to other theaters in the Bay Area.
Popcorn Reel Film Review: "Six Sex Scenes And A Murder"
Audio: The Popcorn Reel's Omar P.L. Moore talks to "Six Sex Scenes" filmmaker Julie Rubio
"Six Sex Scenes And A Murder" website
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