From Bergman to The Twilight Zone, the Hereditary star and The Cat and the Moon director shares his isolation watchlist
Every Friday, Screen Time taps your favourite cult and on-the-rise directors to share their watchlists with Dazed.
Already a figure who straddles multiple pursuits – as a director, actor, writer, and musician – Alex Wolff has now, at long last, mastered the art of cooking in quarantine. “I’m a breakfast guy, which means that I’m not very good,” the 21-year-old admits when we connect between London and LA. “I made really great eggs yesterday. I like a delicious little complex, eggy breakfast. Once it starts getting to dinnertime, I start becoming less and less useful, but in the morning, I’m your guy, I can make you some good eggs... well, I’ve said eggs like 15 times now, but that’s mainly what I can do.”
He’s also, naturally, been watching movies – as well as keeping an eye on how his own ones are doing. You may recognise Wolff from Ari Aster’s acclaimed horror head-scrambler Hereditary, but before the pandemic hit he was due to appear on big screens everywhere this spring in Bad Education (as the student of corrupt teachers Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney) and slow-burn familial drama Human Capital, opposite Maya Hawke. “I have mixed feelings about it,” he says of those projects now streaming digitally as opposed to in cinemas. “Human Capital was like number two on iTunes or something, so, in that way, I’m so grateful. Like, ‘Oh shit, people are actually watching my movies!’” His directorial debut The Cat and The Moon, meanwhile, is also gaining a new audience in isolation: a nuanced, gentle debut that spoke to the concerns of his generation, it’s the kind of filmmaking that feels like a world of references are lying dormant under its surface. But if his isolation watches are anything to go by, Wolff might surprise you: he’s more attracted by the philosophical musings of an Ingmar Bergman drama, or the surreal supernatural twists of The Twilight Zone, than your average coming-of-age fare.
THE THERAPY FILM
Alex Wolff: There’s a movie called Bowfinger written by Steve Martin that I’ve watched in quarantine and it’s definitely taken me away from all this scariness in the world. It’s so hilarious, and Eddie Murphy is so genius. That’s the one that I come back to. I’ve (also) watched This is the End a bunch of times — maybe four times, something like that — because it’s hilarious.
THE NEW OBSESSION
Alex Wolff: I watched Alien again, Ridley Scott’s movie, and I felt completely taken by it and distracted for a while. When I watched (it), I really wasn’t thinking about coronavirus – or our terrible president, or anything – I was focusing completely on what was going on in the movie and exclusively on the drama within (it). So I’d say (quarantine watching) can totally be entertainment, (but) just make sure that it actually takes your brain energy, you know? Like horror movies, or (films) that really (give) you anxiety, and happiness, and joy – everything because of the movie. It shouldn’t be that your mind can wander off, it can’t be too easy. Also, I’ve discovered that I can cook as well – that’s big to me.
THE TELEVISION SERIES
TRUE DETECTIVE, SEASON ONE (2014)
Alex Wolff: My favourite series of all time, I’m not kidding, is True Detective season one, it’s my favourite. I just rewatch it all the time. Matthew McConaughey is so good in that show, it’s incredible. It’s dark, (but) kind of ethereal too. There’s something so mystical and magical about it. Because you don’t quite know what’s real, what’s tangible, and what’s some horrifying fantasy. I think what keeps that show separated from every other kind of crime show is that it has this kind of magical ability to be dreamy, too. It’s just gorgeous, it’s a masterpiece.
THE DEEP CUT
THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959)
Alex Wolff: The Twilight Zone. I had never watched it before, and it is so scary and so fantastic. My first advice would be to just go watch it (without) researching it, because the thrill of it is not knowing anything about the show, and then just watching it. It’s basically an anthology series where there’s a bunch of these weird stories, (in which) the world is just a little bit off. And it’s all these different, weird, crazy 30 minute episodes giving you portraits of the world in this science fiction scenario. At the same time, there’s always some crazy, fun twist.
THE UNEXPECTED PLEASURE
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973)
Alex Wolff: I’ve been going through Scenes from a Marriage, the Bergman miniseries, and getting very invested. I think it’s the truest-to-humanity thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, every single person you’d like, or care about as a filmmaker in the past 50 years is influenced by Bergman. He is the ultimate genius when you watch those movies. Nothing’s better than the performances in (these) movies. I feel like Bergman’s movies can come across as being cold and hopeless, but it’s Liv (Ullmann) and all the women stars he made films about that took his sensibility and turned it on his head, making it more nuanced, lush, and beautiful. It’s (the women) being thoughtful and kind, and open, that makes the difference. Everyone reading should go to the Criterion Channel to watch the Bergman collection. I mean, the movies are short, and I am sure that just watching those short movies they’ll get really inspired, without a doubt. You know, think of Persona... nothing comes close to that!