So, so many actors have tried their hand at directing before, and for every Ron Howard or Clint Eastwood, there are a thousand or more cautionary tales. Amber Tamblyn falls firmly in the former camp, if her debut film Paint it Black is any indication. It’s a powerful, deeply observed, dangerous-feeling film, featuring two bravura performances by Alia Shawkat and Janet McTeer.
It all started when her friend Amy Poehler gave her a copy of the novel on which the film is based, and Tamblyn couldn’t get it out of her head. “I was thinking, if anyone was going to try to do it,” she remembers, “it should be someone who was born and raised in Los Angeles, like I was, because it’s a very native Los Angeles story. I’m third generation from there; my grandparents were born here. But also, my grandfather was the master violinist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so classical music runs in my family.”
The film centers around a young classical pianist’s suicide, and the struggle between his girlfriend and his mother, both of whom are determined to own his memory. And the struggle isn’t just an emotional one, either. “I was also really wanting to see something onscreen,” Tamblyn explains, “that showed women’s anger and violence. I feel like so much of what women get is either a Noah Baumbach film or Bridesmaids. And both of those are true in some respects, but neither feel very true to me much of the time.”
Instead, she decided to go further – much further – in Paint it Black.“I wanted there to be some dementedness to it,” she says, “but also to really straddle the line. Arch without going full Sunset Boulevard, or full The Hunger. But those characters interest me, and shying away from that feels untruthful to me. When I see a lot of male filmmakers’ movies, I wonder when they have male protagonists, which is almost all the time, what that would have been like with a woman doing those same things. That would be so much more interesting to me. I want to see things that are more dangerous to women. What would that look like?”
To see what that would look like, go to a theater near you now to see Paint it Black. And to hear Amber Tamblyn discuss the film, listen to the ten-minute excerpt above; the full interview will be coming to the Paste podcast The Work very soon.
Alia Shawkat in Paint it Black