Miranda July — actor, filmmaker, artist and all-around curator of life experiences — has published short stories and books since lifting her summer-month pseudo-surname from a ’zine she inked with a high school best friend. (The two main characters: Ida and July.) Now 39, July — née Grossinger — continues to beguile audiences with works that go from childlike to macabre to utterly mundane.
Sparse visuals and exquisite silences lend to the awkward elegance of her films, an ethereal charm that’s at the heart of Me And You and Everyone We Know (2005, winner of the Cannes Palme d’Or). In one scene, a young Afro-headed boy courts a woman online with the prospect of “pooping back and forth, forever.” The exchange is at once tender, bittersweet and haunting — not to mention funny. In her 2011 film The Future, she's equally enigmatic and compelling, scripting a prepubescent blonde with Swiss-Miss-braided hair to bury herself in the back yard up to her head.
Like the aforementioned films, July’s projects often deal with participation and human connections, explored in books like Learning to Love You More (Prestel, 2007), a companion to the website learningtoloveyoumore.com, created with artist Harrell Fletcher.
Recently, she began exploring Penny Saver classifieds — where she found the strangely interesting people she interviewed, and whose homes she visited and wrote about, in It Chooses You (2011, McSweeney’s). She comes to the University of Tampa on Saturday as part of UT’s Lectores series. (Interesting side note: July has a cameo in the film Jesus’ Son, a film based on a collection of stories by Denis Johnson, who’ll also be headlining the Lectores series on Wed., June 19.)
Married to filmmaker Mike Mills (Thumbsucker, several music videos) and mother of a toddler, July shows no signs of slowing down. During a recent interview, we talked about her latest online project, her plans for Lectores, and how she manages to balance it all.
CL: I read about your Internet procrastination interludes. Was research for It Chooses You a way to get out of the Internet bubble?
MJ: Just the experience of bending my mind towards these lives that didn’t roam around the computer radiated out in my life in ways that tilted my interest a little bit toward what wasn’t there, what wasn’t online. … But it’s not only about the Internet — that sort of quick way to find a sense of home when you’re away from it. Really, it’s about entering other people’s lives, that kind of dislocated feeling that you have as a traveler, but you can’t have in your own town. It inspired the opposite, as well. It made us thirst for coming back. Especially since some of the homes we entered were kind of scary — we’re basically running to our car.
How do you balance all that you do?
I guess it’s a moment-by-moment thing. These days, for example, I’m writing a novel, so I’m really in a tunnel of my own creation. I had like 15 spare minutes yesterday, and I thought, ”I’m going to go the post office and mail this thing that I’ve been meaning to mail for months,” and as I was pulling into the post office, I had to wait because there was a guy walking across the entrance to the post office in front of me, kicking a Matchbox car. It took him a really long time to cross. There were cars behind me, and they couldn’t see that he was walking really slowly because he had to kick a tiny car in front of him, and it’s hard to control, and it’s going the wrong way. And so I parked, and then I immediately followed him. It was funny because there was a guy in a suit walking in the same direction as me, and my first thought was, “Oh, shit, he’s going to get to him first” — as if we were all rushing to talk to the guy kicking the Matchbox car. Of course, that guy just walked right by, so I interviewed the guy kicking the car.
[Laughing] Was it a Camaro or some other ’70s hot rod?
It was a little yellow car. … pretty beat up. He had been kicking it for months. There weren’t a lot of answers from the interview. He didn’t really seem crazy or anything, but there were some things that didn’t really check out. Like, he said that there’s a whole company that could teach you how to, I guess, kick a car — but he said he didn’t call the company. He taught himself. At the time, I thought, “Oh, right, right, a company,” and I got home and I was looking up “car kicking,” “Matchbox car kicking lessons” and said, “What am I even looking up — this isn’t a thing!” I guess that’s an example of opening up to whatever — if you’re the type of person who chases after something like that, you’re going to do it even if you only have 15 minutes.
Can you tell us about your new book?
I may read a little bit from the new novel in Tampa. I think that would be scary but a good thing to force myself to do.
Do you like living in L.A.?
I like it, yeah … I’m not a super place-oriented person. So I never had the feeling that I just love and identify with the place I live. Although I had a dream about it the other night — the place was called Sweetwater in Toronto. Though I looked that up and it doesn’t exist. In the dream I was so happy there.
A local organization's event — Tampa Free Skool’s recent Free Feminist Film Skool — featured a screening of The Future and discussion afterward. One question raised: “How did she come up with the dance inside the yellow shirt. Was this pure creativity, or was this culled directly (or indirectly) from life experience? And if so, what would following Miranda around for a day or week or month be like?”
The dance in the shirt was one of the first things I thought of, back when The Future was a live performance. I have lots of video of me experimenting with the shirt and trying to figure out how to move in it — i had to video because of course I couldn’t see myself. I do have a special shirt in my life — a T-shirt/secuity blanket, but I’ve never danced in it. It’s much to threadbare and small. But in the movies shabby shirts can become robust! Anything can happen! ... [and in response to the “following around for a day” question] You would be unhappy because I would be super annoyed with you.
Anything else you’re working on?
You know about my project We Think Alone? … It just launched a week ago. Look up WeThinkAlone.com. At this point you can just sign up, and starting July 1, once you’ve signed up, every Monday you’ll get a compendium of e-mails written by Lena Dunham, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Catherine Opie, Sheila Heti, Kirsten Dunst — an array of people… and they’re e-mails from the past, from their Sent Mail box. I gave each participant the same list of 20 e-mail categories — an angry e-mail, an e-mail with advice, an apology e-mail — and they had to go and find an example of one of each.
What do you think about Portlandia?
I’ve been on the show … Carrie [Brownstein]’s one of my oldest, closest friends so I’ve kind of watched it evolve from stuff we used to do together with friends in Portland, so it seems very organic, and my husband and I will come up with Portlandia things and suggest them to Carrie and she’ll be like, “Yeahhh, well … you always have good ideas, but …”
Gender essentialism. Thumbs down.
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