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Michael Almereyda

Michael Almereyda

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Also Known As: Died:
Born: April 7, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Kansas, USA Profession: director, screenwriter, producer, soundman, cinematographer

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Though his startlingly original work has remained largely unseen, the Kansas-born writer-director Michael Almereyda has consistently elicited complex, arresting performances from name actors and non-actors alike in a series of films where narrative has remained secondary to emotional and visual impact. After dropping out of Harvard, he moved to NYC and began writing screenplays, quickly securing an agent and soon after his first Hollywood job rewriting the unproduced "Mandrake the Magician" for Embassy Pictures. Almereyda provided the tongue-in-cheek screenplay for Steve de Jarnette's sci-fi action feature "Cherry 2000" (1988), starring Melanie Griffith as a female mercenary hired to bust into a 21st-century robot warehouse operated by psychos in what used to be the American Southwest. He then escaped the trouble surrounding his yet-to-be filmed first feature as director, "Twister" (1989), to go to Australia and collaborate with director Bruce Beresford on an early draft of what would eventually become "Total Recall" (1990).Financing had already fallen apart twice when "Twister" finally commenced shooting in Almereyda's native Kansas, and the neophyte director watched in horror as his "vision"...

Though his startlingly original work has remained largely unseen, the Kansas-born writer-director Michael Almereyda has consistently elicited complex, arresting performances from name actors and non-actors alike in a series of films where narrative has remained secondary to emotional and visual impact. After dropping out of Harvard, he moved to NYC and began writing screenplays, quickly securing an agent and soon after his first Hollywood job rewriting the unproduced "Mandrake the Magician" for Embassy Pictures. Almereyda provided the tongue-in-cheek screenplay for Steve de Jarnette's sci-fi action feature "Cherry 2000" (1988), starring Melanie Griffith as a female mercenary hired to bust into a 21st-century robot warehouse operated by psychos in what used to be the American Southwest. He then escaped the trouble surrounding his yet-to-be filmed first feature as director, "Twister" (1989), to go to Australia and collaborate with director Bruce Beresford on an early draft of what would eventually become "Total Recall" (1990).

Financing had already fallen apart twice when "Twister" finally commenced shooting in Almereyda's native Kansas, and the neophyte director watched in horror as his "vision" receded before his eyes. Director of photography Renato Berta had worked with the likes of Goddard, Rohmer and Rivette but spoke precious little English and failed to help the helmer's humor emerge. The set was rife with dissension, actors worked behind the scenes to get either the director or director of photography fired, but somehow Almereyda survived the shoot. Despite not fully realizing the comic possibilities, he managed to capture the idiosyncratic communication of a quintessentially dysfunctional family headed by family patriarch Harry Dean Stanton and including Suzy Amis and the always eccentric Crispin Glover, among others. After an uncredited collaboration with director Wim Wenders on "Until the End of the World" (1991), he became familiar with the now-discontinued Fisher-Price PXL-2000 Pixelvision camera, and the intensely fragile and secret images of this child's toy seemed to capture the surreal, dream-like quality he was looking to reveal in his movies.

Delving into the realm of DIY (Do It Yourself) filmmaking, Almereyda used Pixelvision to shoot the 56-minute, self-financed "Another Girl, Another Planet" (1992) in a week plus one weekend. Its slice of East Village life revolved around two tenement neighbors and the parade of women through their lives, and the fuzzy atmosphere provided by the 2000 pixels (oversized versions of the rectangular dots that make up the information on a standard black-and-white TV) were the perfect medium for the haze of confused feeling the director wanted to communicate. For his next feature, the vampire thriller "Nadja" (1994), which also employed Pixelvision to show the vampires' distorted points-of-view, Almereyda returned to the theme of family dysfunction, with all characters, vampires or not, apparently related. Clearly having fun with the material, he made many visual allusions and satirical references to vampire pics and lore while his actors (i.e., Peter Fonda as a crazed vampire-killer) played it strictly tongue-in-cheek. Fans of his artsy, atmospheric visual style called it hip, cool and chic, but others who wearied of the excessive irony found it self-indulgent and pretentious.

Almereyda continued experimenting with Pixelvision, recording an impressive roster of independent directors for the documentary "At Sundance" (1995). He also employed the defunct technology in his short "The Rocking Horse Winner" (1997), adapted from the D.H. Lawrence short story. A clairvoyant child can predict the outcome of horse races bouncing up and down on a rocking horse, and Pixelvision supplies the appropriately blurred image when he is "channeling" atop his mount. He abandoned his toy for "Trance" (1998), shooting in color for the first time since "Twister", and though the straight-to-video horror flick features some bizarre performances and stunning images, Almereyda did not have final cut, something he claims he will never allow again. He turned to Shakespeare next, achieving a career visibility peak with his East Village version of "Hamlet" (2000). Ethan Hawke may have been a tad too introspective in the title role, but supporting characters, particularly Kyle MacLachlan as Claudius and Sam Shepard as the Ghost, sparkled, while the director's visual language, including a Pixelvision twist to the "What a piece of work is man" speech, served as a nice complement to the Bard's words.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
  Cymbeline (2014)
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  Paradise (2009)
6.
7.
  This So-Called Disaster (2003) Director
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  Hamlet (2000) Director
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  Trance (1998) Director
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CAST: (feature film)

2.
 At Sundance (1995) Narrator
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Family moved from Kansas to Orange County, California when he was a teenager
:
Moved to NYC after dropping out of Harvard; began writing screenplays and secured an agent early on with the help of writer Tom Pope, who had worked previously with Wim Wenders
1982:
First Hollywood job, rewriting for Embassy Pictures the unproduced "Mandrake the Magician", based on the comic strip
1987:
Traveled to Australia to work with director Bruce Beresford, polishing a script inspired by a Philip K. Dick short story that would eventually become "Total Recall" (1990), directed by Paul Verhoeven; received no screen credit
1988:
Received first screenplay credit for Steve de Jarnette's sci-fi action feature "Cherry 2000"
1989:
Feature directing debut, "Twister", a tale of family dysfunction set against a raging tornado in the director's native Kansas; writer William S. Burroughs appeared in a cameo
1991:
Uncredited collaboration with Wim Wenders, the screenplay for "Until the End of the World"
1992:
First producing credit, the 56-minute "Another Girl, Another Planet"; also wrote screenplay and directed; received a special citation from the National Society of Film Critics for "expanding the possibilities of experimental filmmaking including the use of the Pixelvision toy camcorder"
1994:
Continued to use Pixelvision (to represent the vampire's point-of-view) in his eccentric, ironic vampire feature "Nadja", executive produced by David Lynch
1995:
Wrote screenplay for artist David Salle's feature directorial debut, "Search and Destroy", adapted from the play by Howard Korder
1995:
Commissioned by director Tim Burton to adapt Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Rappaccini's Daughter"; although it was never produced, Burton seems to have absorbed some of it into his "Sleepy Hollow" (1999)
1995:
Inspired by Wenders' "Room 666" 1980s documentary of the Cannes Film Festival, co-directed (with "Nadja" producer Amy Hobby) documentary "At Sundance", shot on the fly in Pixelvision at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival; narrated film and also received credit for cinematography and sound
1997:
Produced, directed and wrote the 23-minute Pixelvision fable "The Rocking Horse Winner", based on the short story by D.H. Lawrence
1998:
Directed and wrote the straight-to-video sci-fi horror feature "Trance"; first color film in nearly ten years
2000:
Helmed and adapted modern dress version of "Hamlet" set in NYC
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

Harvard University: Cambridge , Massachusetts -

Notes

"Before I could drive I was carpooling to see Howard Hawks or John Huston talk at community colleges. There were more TV channels in L.A. than in Kansas, pre-cable. Movies were everywhere. So of course I wanted to make them. A simple, common disease.

"It didn't take much to figure out the difference between a Hitchcock or Welles film and something with less visual energy. All the towering maverick directors were pretty conspicuous then, and they showed up in public. Also, I was lucky to have met [critic] Manny Farber when he came to Orange Coast College with a Fassbinder film under his arm. I was sixteen, and I happened to have just read his book ["Negative Space"]. Manny was my first flesh-and-blood guide to movie culture, and to culture itself as a present tense activity. His influence ... was crucial. He was always pushing the edges of things, searching and reaching ... To have run into him as a kid was really lucky." --Almereyda quoted in Filmmaker, February-April 1999

"I think your primary influence is what you grew up in, and for me that's suburban Kansas. I seem to be an implausible Kansan--people never expect that I'm from there--but my basic sense of myself is as a kid in Kansas with a big sky hovering overhead, and I don't think I'll ever quite outgrow that. Of course, it's connected to a sense of space, of behavior, of light and even time. The fact that I talk slowly and my films tend to move slowly has everything to do with growing up in that place, which to me will always be magical, and not merely because it's cross-referenced with 'The Wizerd of Oz'! I have a very physical memory of Kansas, and I'd like to shoot another movie there and get it right." --Almereyda to Filmmaker, February-April 1999.

"The screenplay [for "Hamlet"] came together quickly and even easily--a process of channeling and distillation. (Typing Shakespeare straight into your computer is a thrilling act of ventriloquism that I can recommend to any writer.) My main job, anticipating work behind the camera, was to imagine a parallel visual language that might hold a candle to Shakespeare's imagery and ideas.

"From what I can tell, global power is as smoothly treacherous and absolute as anything going in a well-oiled feudal kingdom, and the notion of an omnipresent Denmark Corp. provided an easy vehicle for Claudius's smiling villainy ... It's more meaningful to explore how Shakespeare's massive interlocking themes--innocence and corruption, identity and fate, love and death, the division between action and thought--might be heightened, even clarified, when colliding with the spectacle of contemporary media-saturated technology." --to The New York Times, May 9, 2000.

"It's a truism that every movie is made three times: in the writing, in the shooting, and in the editing, each process generating new contingencies and surprises. And so, many of our best and worst ideas fell by the wayside--sacrificed for the sake of clarity and momentum and to dodge mistakes, making this latest 'Hamlet' the most condensed straight film adaptation in English. Entire scenes were dropped, Shakespeare's text was further trimmed and torn, and the result is, inevitably, an attempt at 'Hamlet'--not so much a sketch but a collage, a patchwork of intuitions, images and ideas." --Almereyda in The New York Times, May 9, 2000

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