Julie Klausner Talks Kate Bush, Silence of the Lambs, and “Silence”

Comedy Features Julie Klausner
Julie Klausner Talks Kate Bush, Silence of the Lambs, and “Silence”

You know when somebody points something out that you had never thought of before, and it completely changes how you see the world—or, at least, a small part of it? Last week Julie Klausner released “Silence,” a Kate Bush parody about Silence of the Lambs that immediately felt like it had always existed. It captures the spirit of Bush, particularly “Wuthering Heights,” while tapping into the emotional state of Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, finding commonalities between the two that weren’t obvious but are now undeniable. It’s also really funny—a loving, spot-on tribute to Bush that playfully jabs Jonathan Demme’s great but problematic movie. “Silence” now ranks alongside “Goodbye Horses” and “Hip Priest” as songs we think about whenever we think about Silence of the Lambs. Bush and Hannibal Lecter are now inextricably linked in our imagination thanks to “Silence.”

Paste recently had an email conversation with Klausner, the creator and co-star of Hulu’s Difficult People and all-around comedy writing and podcasting pro, about “Silence” and why Demme’s film is fertile ground for musical parody. (As Klausner points out, there’s already a full-length musical comedy based on Silence of the Lambs, so there’s obviously something in the movie that yearns to be a musical.) She also mentions a few other movies from 1991 that would make for great musicals, and we can’t disagree with any of her choices. If you haven’t seen the video for “Silence” yet, here you go; you can find that Q&A below.

Paste: What makes Silence of the Lambs such a good subject for a song?

Julie Klausner: It’s got a strong lead and a specific point of view and the mise en scéne of the thing is just crawling, bonkers-like, up the wazoo—big time!  It also features some gothic “bad romance” that fun-house mirrors “Wuthering Heights” but ultimately, I think it just comes down to me being a big fan of rock and Kate Bush and musicals, and musicals feature songs specific to a character and their situation. I like applying that kind of storytelling to pop music. I’ve also seen Silence of the Lambs a thousand times and while it’s imperfect and its legacy is, in some ways, quite harmful and ugly, it’s a fascinating portrait of a woman up against the kind of odds that are only heightened by her female-ness, and it’s stayed with me in a deeper way than, say, City Slickers or Regarding Henry or other films from 1991. Although as I peruse this list of films from that year, I will say: plenty would make TERRIFIC musicals. What About Bob?, Defending Your Life, Cape Fear, Barton Fink, The Fisher King? L.A. Story?! Sign me up!

Paste: It definitely has a musical feel. Could this be a work-in-progress? Do you have more Silence of the Lamb songs in mind? Is there a Buffalo Bill “I Want” song on the way? 

JK: I would never even dream of competing  with the brilliant “Silence!” which was written by the Kaplan brothers with a book by the genius Hunter Bell, directed by Schmigadoon’s own Chris Gattelli. I remember seeing  it with my mom and when Lecter sang the ballad “If I could smell her cunt” I, at first, chose to avoid eye contact entirely… but then she and I just broke up laughing. It did you in. It was legendary. Jenn Harris was a revelation as Clarice and my friend Jeff Hiller was wonderful in it too. 

So this is absolutely its own separate thing in that it’s a one off and as much as a Kate Bush tribute as it is a pop meditation on Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, the couple that keeps on shipping. If I had to “think big,” I’d rather imagine a full-length project that asks, what else would Kate write about? Or what would another artist’s take on a different fake musical be? 

Paste: I’ll be honest: I’ve seen this movie a few times over the last 30+ years but I didn’t realize “Anthony Hopkins doesn’t blink” was some kind of film nerd lore about it. What else do I not know about Silence of the Lambs? And what do you hope people know about the movie before watching your video?

JK: I’m comfortable with people knowing nothing at all about it before they watch my video, if only because I want to see if they still enjoy the bright colors and fun dancing, not to mention the pretty tune! But if you are not a super-fan of the movie, I can tell you that one of the things I think is interesting about it—and about Clarice’s relationship to Lecter—is that Hannibal is pretty much the only man in that movie who actually listens to her. Everybody else is hovering over her (they purposefully cast tall men to stand around her when she’s in that elevator scene and elsewhere) or they’re testing her mettle or ham-handedly teaching her or sizing her up to see if she’s sexy enough or the right amount of capable and submissive to be an appropriate mentee. But Hannibal is just drinking her in, and she’s responsive to it. Is he doing it for his own twisted, selfish reasons? Totally! But I think the connection they form is grounded in his (however sicko, prurient, self-serving) curiosity about her, and, when you look at the folks she has to compare him to, her cup doesn’t exactly runneth over in the “good attention” department otherwise. We’ll say “imperfect attention,” not “good attention.” “Better attention.” It’s a movie about the male gaze, ultimately, and what it’s like to live in fear of it. Clarice is constantly being watched and she has to not only stay safe; she has to save other women from the threat of male violence before it’s too late for them. 

What else might you not know? Well, Chris Isaak is in it, briefly. And according to the Trivia section of its IMDB page, Martha Stewart and Anthony Hopkins were dating at the time it was shooting! 

I also wanted to mention that the blinking thing in the song is more about Kate Bush’s lyrics about the binaries of body functions than it is about Sir Tony’s brilliant performance. One of the many things I love about Kate is that, as a trained dancer, she’s obsessed with the pendulum of corporal functionality. She has her songs ‘Breathing” and “Moving” and I think that when she sings “breathe in, breathe out” it’s not just helpful for her but very spiritual. I was goofing on that a little bit with my song. I could be jealous; I’ve thought about breathing in my day to day life and I end up getting bored! I wish I found body stuff as fascinating as she does! 

Paste: A 32 year old movie is such a specific thing to make a parody song about that it’s pretty much inherently absurd. What was the genesis of this idea? 

JK: I was walking to the subway one day and “Hannibal! It’s me Clarice—tell me all about, friggin’ Buffalo Bill” occurred to me as a very funny, stupid line to sing if I were ever going to do a “Wuthering Heights” parody. I decided to be less linear about it and exploded the idea into a song that was—almost as though a Kate Bush A.I. had written it. I had lyrics about mothers and air and gardens and heaven…but it was word salad. I went back and forth with Eli Bolin a bit. He’s my friend and he’s a composer. So I’ll write lyrics and he writes music and then we have a song! We soon figured out that the Kate Bush lyric soup was too Dada and that the most interesting and funniest thing about the song, besides the body function stuff, was the Silence of the Lambs hook in the chorus. So it became a straightforward song about Silence of the Lambs…but if Kate had written it. 

Paste: So you mention the cum-throwing and the skinsuit, which are definitely two of the things about the movie that made the biggest impact on me and my friends when it came out when we were 13 or 14. You don’t mention The Fall or Colin Newman songs, which are two of the other things that made a big impact on me and the same guys when we rewatched it in college when we were all indie rock record collector nerds desperately trying to seem cool. Why no Mark E. Smith jokes?

JK: Haha: I apologize. I can only say: When you know better you know better. And now I have the motivation I need to write a song about the movie Housesitter, starring Goldie Hawn and Steve Martin, in the style of The Fall. 

Paste: From idea to the final master, how long did it take you to write and record the song?

JK: I came up with the idea in, like, November 2019. I recorded a demo over the pandemic and then performed it at my live shows at Joe’s Pub, City Winery and Hotel Cafe in the spring of 2022. Last June, a little over a year ago, I recorded it with Christian Cassan at his studio in Brooklyn, and we sort of sat on it for a year while I did a video shoot and then a reshoot with a better green screen set-up with my director Jodi Lennon, my choreographer Jeremy Laverdure, and Zach Stone, “the man with the cam[era].” Then Vic Berger edited it, which was a little stop and start because he is a rock star and sometimes goes on the road with Tim Heidecker, “TINKLING THE IVORIES.” So he would cut the footage between tours, and we went back and forth with notes a bit. Altogether, I’d say from inception to it living online in its current form, this took about three and a half years! 

Paste: Jonathan Demme was a noted music fan. What do you hope he would’ve thought of “Silence”?

JK: Oh, I hope he woulda dug it. I’m a Demme fan. I loved Something Wild, Stop Making SenseRachel Getting Married! I like to think he would have considered me as a potential lead if he were to make CRAZY MAMA 2. And I definitely know he’d have appreciated me staring down the barrel in the video.

Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and lots of other dumb stuff. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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