Steve Aylett Interview
by Gary Shipley and Steve Aylett
Can you tell us something about the structure of LINT: The Movie and how you went about adapting the novel for the screen?
I more or less cluelessly filmed and interviewed people as if Jeff Lint had existed, asking them what they thought of him, where they'd first encountered him. Martin Roberts filmed me and Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell), and I filmed most of the rest. A couple of people filmed themselves and sent me a file. These are people that I know, some of whom are known writers or musicians. Some are people with no intention of being artists, and others are people who will become better-known after the film comes out and who will probably wind up being the main reason folks watch the movie, rather than me or Lint.
After collecting everything, I organized all the clips, added loads of graphics and music, and created a narrative that essentially follows Lint's life, more or less chronologically, through the lens of his major projects. And it comes together quite well considering I had no idea what the hell I was doing, or whether it would end up on a DVD or just on YouTube or both.
What do you see as the fundamental differences (if any) between writing for the screen and writing novels?
I created this film by first gathering footage and graphics and then transcribing all the interviews and listing all the graphics. I then used this information to make an editing script. I didn't know at the time but this is apparently how documentaries are made. While I was filming, I had an idea about what I wanted the film to be, and I think it will turn out that way to an extent, but the details are beyond my control because I didn't know what anyone was going to say. So making this film was a case of using "found" materials to "sculpt" something. These materials included the interviews, of course, and 300 book and magazine covers, newspaper clippings, stock footage of psychedelic stuff, animations, concert footage, and other graphics.
Writing a novel is a whole different situation. I first see the whole book as a shape and then write what needs to be written to make that shape. As such, it all comes from me. I don't have to give up any part of the process to anyone else until the publisher gives it a shit cover and fucks up the marketing. With a film like LINT, the people involved in the process make their own contributions -- really good contributions, thankfully -- and I give it to someone else for the actual editing as I don't have the software or knowledge to do that.
As an aside, Roberts did the editing for a little while but couldn't devote the time to it so now Electric Children in the U.S. are doing the whole thing.
During the actual filming, I enjoyed the collaborative process. I found that a number of people were really funny. I expected Josie Long to be funny, and she is one of the funniest people in the film. But it also turned out that other people were great performers too. Bill Ectric is funny no matter what he's saying, and the guys from Seven Inch Stitch are like a Texan Laurel and Hardy or something, in a really laconic way. Moore can be funny on any subject, and Vessel/Mr.Solo from David Devant and His Spirit Wife is ridiculously funny while being effortlessly charismatic in the middle of some chaotic filming. Leila Johnston is funny and looks amazing, comedians like Stewart Lee, Robin Ince and Andrew O'Neill are as funny as you would expect them to be and have nothing to gain by turning up in something as obscure as this. I think my own performance, as me, isn't too great, but my Lord Pin stuff is funny. I can blather on as Lord Pin for hours. Writers like Jeff Vandermeer, D. Harlan Wilson and Mitzi Szereto were very game. Wilson was probably the strangest, which is no more than I expected.
When adapting LINT for the screen, did you feel yourself slipping ever further beneath Jeff Lint's exceedingly thick and slippery integument or did you achieve a certain distance by having others verbalize your words?
It conveyed some of the same information that was in the books but gave it a different flavor, and then some of the interviewees just took it and ran. Ince did a whole thing related to the "dog attack" photos (gallery 2, img. 7) that was so good. The guys from Seven Inch Stitch gave an insight into Lint's music that I could never have expressed, and, as a result, I feel like Jeff Lint is much more "out there" in the world now. I feel like I'm done with him. I've given him two books, a comic (The Caterer), and now a movie so I'm getting deeply back into "my" writing.
Your novels appear to be primarily concerned with detailing realms of alterity and then peopling them with characters not only aware enough to convey the reality of these realms but eloquent enough to pick over and anatomize their entrails. Is this something -- if indeed it is an accurate summation -- that you feel you could ever achieve in a screenplay, or indeed any form other than the novel?
I could do it with a screenplay, but LINT: The Movie isn't necessarily it. It's a lot more knockabout. What you're describing in the books -- the characters expressing very articulately their awareness of the mechanisms around them, that bare-faced awareness, the casual refusal to pretend we're not in hell -- requires extreme detail-control to write. I didn't have that much control over the people in this movie, and the general style was just more knockabout anyway.
LINT is an integrally humorous novel. Were there any difficulties involved, for you as a writer, with the transference of that humor our from the page to the screen?
No, I enjoyed elaborating on the books. The film adapts two books, in fact -- LINT and And Your Point Is? -- so we get to see covers of those old pulp magazines (gallery 3, img. 3), the "dog attack" photos, pics of the stage shows (gallery 3, img. 8), footage from The Jarkman movie, music from the Church Bazaar concept album, and sound and footage of Lint being interviewed. Pages from his books and scripts and newspaper clippings are flashed on the screen very fast, and people can freeze-frame if they want to read this stuff in detail. All the detail is there, and it's very colorful. The colorfulness comes partly from necessity, from the varying quality of the footage, and saturation effects being used like in Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation (2003). It would be good to have a living character to follow around, as in the brilliant documentary Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Steven Sebring, 2008), but Jeff Lint is sadly not alive. Another documentary I like is The Falconer (1997) by Chris Petit. I don't really care about Peter Whitehead who it's supposed to be about. I just love the atmosphere. It conjures up its moment (the mid-90s) quite well and has bits of Dave McKean animation here and there. And pale women.
Do you feel that your appreciation of film -- the work of Orson Welles and David Lynch, for example -- has influenced the development of your novels in any way?
Orson Welles influenced me in that Henry Blince is basically Hank Quinlan from Touch of Evil (1958). Bigot Hall was influenced by David Lynch, but drawing parallels between works and artists can be a bit dodgy. The same thing could be said of trying to trace musical influences. It sometimes happens that a writer believes a certain atmosphere has been instilled into his/her writing because a bit of music was playing when the writing was done, and that will replay in his or her own head upon reading the work over. But the reader out there in the world won't necessarily receive that atmosphere, unless very specific active components are embedded in the text in the right places.
You've commented in the past that you're are able to see, quite literally, the shape and structure of an argument. You also talk about how translating that picture into words can be tiresome, especially when the shape is either ubiquitous or apparent. But during those times when you feel that you have come up with something new, some fresh configuration of contours, are you ever tempted to bypass its inscription and manifest it in some pictorial form?
Yes, but I'm not a good enough visual artist to do that.
LINT, the novel, describes Jeff Lint's foray into scriptwriting for the Consolation Playhouse and even features short extracts from an un-filmed Star Trek script, The Encroaching Threat; one of his plays, Blame the Mouth/Moth; and one of his Hollywood screenplays, Despair and the Human Condition. What is your take on scripts as literature? And, more specifically, do you have any thoughts as to why Lesescenarios and closet dramas are so neglected as textual forms?
I think a lot of people enjoy reading screenplays, but only a very limited bunch are seen as fit to publish. The more interesting the film, the less chance of the script being available. So it's not totally unlike the book publishing world. I've read the novel version of Mr. Arkadin (1955), but I think a published script would put it across better.
One last thing: in the film, will we get to see a naked Jeff Lint riding through the streets of Albuquerque on the back of a spaniel?
In your dreams, always.