I’ve mentioned how much the multi-disciplinary collaboration between perfumers and other artistic disciplines are fascinating to me. There were a number of excellent examples in 2011 and one of them was between filmmaker Brian Pera and perfumer Andy Tauer. For the first film in Mr. Pera’s Woman’s Picture series, Mr. Tauer created a perfume, Miriam. Mr. Tauer’s modern vintage creation over Mr. Pera’s visuals formed a special synergy. They are both at it again as Mr. Pera is getting ready to start the second film, “Only Child”, in the series. There are two new fragrances from Mr. Tauer which accompany this next iteration. Mr. Pera has used those fragrances as enticement to help finance this next film. There is currently a campaign through Kickstarter and for a donation you can pick to receive one of these new fragrances and at the same time help an independent filmmaker realize his vision. We’ve examined these collaborations from the side of the perfumer so I thought it would be fun to hear from the other artist in the equation.
Mark Behnke: How did you come to the idea that you wanted fragrance to be part of the Woman's Picture experience?
Brian Pera: The Woman's Picture series draws a lot of inspiration from childhood memories of my grandmothers, women who seemed a lot like movie stars to me at the time. Their lives were full of intrigue that reminded me a lot of the movies they loved, women's films from the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Both of my grandmothers were fiercely independent – not just for that time but for any time. They would be just as out of place now as they were then in a lot of ways. They were strong and opinionated, successful businesswomen, self made people who struggled to be what they wanted or hoped to be in an environment that pressured them to be what they came from only. Neither was wealthy but both had incredible style. Their independence and perseverance seemed very glamorous to me. Everything about them was larger than life. The decisions they made in creating their lives were dramatic and exposed me to emotional extremes and a kind of personal intensity I never saw anywhere else. I guess what they had was drive, a lot of it, often more than they knew what to do with, and that willful attitude about shaping their own destinies often reminded me of heroines in films. I used to spend a lot of time in their rooms, playing dress up, exploring the "sets" of the movies they lived in. I wanted to be like them, and now, as an adult, I am a lot like them, not because I try to be but because I'm their blood, and have in me whatever they had in them, and I struggle the way I watched them, with other people, with expectations of what I should be, with my drive and my limitations and an unwillingness to accept what maybe should be my lot according to the universe. In the Woman's Picture series I'm able to meet them again, and rework some of those memories. I feel like they're with me there on set when we're filming. I feel like part of me and part of them meets halfway and together we kind of try to make sense of what's inside of us. I really don't know why perfume is such a magnet for me emotionally. But I do know that spending time in my grandmother's rooms meant being around their perfume, which seemed to encapsulate in some way this whole world of mystery, so in doing the series perfume seemed a no brainer as a thematic part of that world. I wanted people who might engage with the films to engage with perfume too, potentially, because I see my grandmothers and the perfumes they owned as inseparable entities.
MB: Does the fragrance, created by Andy Tauer, have any impact on the way you eventually visualize any particular scene or aspect of the film?
BP: Definitely, though not when we first started. Now that Andy and I have been doing this for over a year, it's nicely complicated creatively. When I made the first film in the series, the perfumes came later, after filming – though when I filmed, and when I'd written the script, I was thinking about perfume and perfume plays a big part in those stories. Later, when I made a follow up film to the character of Miriam, played by Ann Magnuson, I'd smelled Andy's fragrance Miriam, which was inspired by her story, and ROSE (http://vimeo.com/30014938), this follow up film, was very much inspired by that fragrance. ROSE, to me, was about that perfume. I thought, what if no one watching this had ever smelled it? What if they had smelled it but were asked to describe it? I'm fascinated by how difficult it is to truly describe a perfume. ROSE is really about that – how something like a perfume, which can be a shared experience, a shared memory, can be so hard to capture in words. It's a life force in a lot of ways, both concrete and ephemeral. It can be so strongly identified in your mind with a person or a place in time, and yet you really have no appropriate vocabulary for it. You see various bloggers and perfume lovers describing perfume every day online. We're all trying to find the words. Some of us use chemical charts and become proficient in the scientific building pieces of the art, but I think that gets even farther away from what perfume is ultimately. You can break down a Van Gogh painting by disclosing the brushes he used and where he got them, the paints he used, the canvas, his personality, maybe even his intentions – if you're inclined to presume that much – but the experience of his work has very little to do with that. It's an overall chemistry that no one can really put into words. And I love that about perfume. We live in a culture now which encourages us in the fantasy that anything and everything, with the right information, can be explained, mastered, broken down. We say we want to appreciate the mystery but really we want to demystify it I think. Perfume is a rogue element. I'll never understand it, and I'm thankful for something that still has the power to humble me and put me in my place.
MB: How does the creative collaborative process work with Mr. Tauer? Is he involved from the script stage or does he become inspired by the finished product?
BP: Andy and I have an ongoing conversation, about the films, about the creative universe of Woman's Picture, about the perfumes. It works all kinds of ways. I love collaboration – not just when it works, as it does between us, but when it's a challenge, and even when it works it's often a challenge. There is no real ownership in a true collaboration. There is no definite self. No collaborator could get to the end point alone, and it's impossible to look back and say, “That was mine,” or “That was yours.” It's a democratic process when it works. When a collaborative effort "fails", all parties take responsibility, and hopefully support each other and grow from the experience. When it "succeeds" it's the most wonderful feeling of community. I put failure and success in quotes because I think like perfume they're things which are hard to identify. Your own estimation of success and failure isn't particularly valuable. The important thing is to keep creating, with other people if you can. You need other people more than your vanity and ego lead you to believe. In a strong collaboration it's also difficult to say how it works. It's a constant exchange, where one idea becomes another, and another, and you end up in places you can't plan for. You can only work to be prepared. The way you work constantly evolves. It's been that way for us so far. Woman's Picture is a ten year series. We're only a year in. When people hear that it's a ten year series, they sometimes say, “My, how ambitious.” I suppose it's a strange thing at this point to make a commitment to ideas and other people that way, and that's probably why I'm attracted to the idea. We live in a disposable culture. Not just things but people are disposable to us in a lot of ways.
MB: How many chapters of a Woman's Picture will there be and is the plan to have a fragrance for each one? Will there ever be a case where the fragrance from the movie could be a man's?
BP: So far there are somewhere around fifteen characters in this universe. New characters keep coming in. That narrative world keeps expanding. There won't be a perfume for every character. There are three perfumes to date, Miriam, Loretta, and Ingrid. Loretta comes out later this year, though it's available until March 29th as part of our Kickstarter campaign for the next film. Ingrid comes out next year. These fragrances are "portraits" and focus on the specific overall worlds of specific characters. For the Kickstarter campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/onlychild/only-child-featuring-grace-zabriskie-and-amy-laver) we launched a subset series of fragrances called "snapshots" which zero in on details and moods involved in the Woman's Picture narrative universe. Dark Passage is the first snapshot and will only be available while our Kickstarter campaign is running. We've talked about doing a fragrance inspired by a male character and I'm sure that will eventually happen. Woman's Picture isn't planned out too strictly. It's a firm commitment but with a devotion to letting things happen as organically as possible. Flexibility isn't something the film industry or the fragrance industry encourages as a whole. You should know where you're going at all times, or should act as if you do. And with that I think comes the idea that you should know people. I don't think you can know people ultimately. You can only keep trying to understand them, and to truly understand them involves listening more than projecting. So I don't know. For me, the Woman's Picture series is an opportunity to keep working with the same people. It isn't just a commitment between me and Andy as collaborators but between me and the crew I work with, the actors I work with, the characters we're creating. I'm interested in what happens when you don't abandon a character after a film but keep coming back to her. What happens to her and you and your collaborators over a long period of time and how does that shape things? The added benefit for me is that the perfumes we're creating will keep complicating themselves too – because with each character and each subsequent story they deepen alongside each other, the perfumes and the stories, and they become that much harder to define, like real life.
MB: What fragrance do you wear when you are directing?
BP: I wear all kinds of things, often all at once. I can't remember what I wore during the first film in the series. One of the actresses was allergic and no one on set was allowed to wear perfume. When an extra who didn't know this arrived wearing Beautiful, it was pretty radical. My nose had been on hiatus and I could smell her perfume better than I'd been able to smell anything in a while. “Only Child”, the film we're doing in April, is a noir story, and one scene involves over three hundred bottles of perfume, all from my collection. I'm sure I'll be going to the cabinet they're stored in a lot. I'm a stress spritzer. I spray perfume the way a smoker smokes cigarettes. I might spray something now and something else several minutes later, to renew the instant gratification. I guess I'll be going for the things that remind me of noir: Tauer's Dark Passage and (Robert Piguet) Bandit come to mind. I'm going through a renewed appreciation of Bandit and right now it seems like the answer to everything.
My thanks to Mr. Pera for taking the time to answer these questions just as he is on the cusp of beginning filming of “Only Child”. I really want to encourage our readers to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign because I think the passion of artists like Mr. Pera and Mr. Tauer deserves support. There is one week left until the end of the Kickstarter campaign on March 29th. If you need any other incentive I would remind you that Mr. Tauer’s last limited edition fragrance, Orris, is one of the best fragrances he ever made. I’m looking forward to trying my gifts of “Dark Passage” and “Loretta” from my contribution.
–Mark Behnke, Managing Editor