‘Our culture…rarely celebrates older women’: Silas Howard and Naz Riahi on Madelynn Von Ritz is Almost Famous

Madelynn Von Ritz is almost famous

Filmmakers Silas Howard and Naz Riahi focus on an underrated local musician in their short documentary Madelynn Von Ritz is almost famous, which they co-directed. The titular subject, who performs under the modest moniker of Lynn Castle, once had a single painting on the American Top 100 in 1967. The song with psychedelic accents, “Madame Barber” detailed the day-to-day exploits of the singer-songwriter working as a hairstylist for some of LA’s most famous musicians of the day (yes, Jim Morrison among them).

Now 83, Von Ritz still has a lot of creativity in her, though critical recognition for her efforts has never really come through. Along with their friend and DP Daniel McCoy, Howard and Riahi shot the intimate 18-minute portrait of the artist in his beautifully decorated Los Angeles home for a few golden hours in a single afternoon. The film feels like a warm interaction with an extremely cool (and wisely wise) relative, friend or neighbor – a pleasant conversation on a sunny afternoon, deeply familiar but still intriguing.

Director asked Riahi and Howard to answer a few questions via email ahead of the premiere of Madelynn Von Ritz is almost famous at Outfest this Saturday. The shorts in conjunction with Howard’s directorial debut, No matter the cost, which celebrates its 20th anniversary.

Director: How did the two of you come to collaborate?

Riahi: When Silas and I met, we knew we wanted to work together as creative collaborators. We both really respect each other’s work and look to each other for reliable feedback, and it was a natural progression. We had no idea what we were going to work on together or how, but we had a lot of ideas to pitch. Then, on a flight from New York to LA, Silas said to me, “We have a week off in LA. Why not make a movie? We are both very active and never think how difficult something will be. We usually don’t focus on challenges, we just put our heads down and work. The next day I told her about Madelynn and two days later we were at her house, with our friend Daniel McCoy, filming.

Howard: Naz and I are kindred spirits around what we are drawn to and the kind of stories we want to tell. So we always knew we wanted to do work together, and this project really drew us into the world that Madelynn had built around her. We knew we wanted to be part of it. It was a natural first collaboration.

Director: What drew you to Madelynn Von Ritz as a subject and what did you find crucial to highlight her life and career in documentary?

Riahi: Madelynn is an extraordinary human, a radical woman who has lived multiple lives, and an exceptionally talented musician. When I first heard her EP, unreleased for 50 years, I couldn’t believe she wasn’t hugely famous. The sound is so singular, the writing powerful and resonant, it really surprised me. But then, I know how difficult it is for her art to make itself known, especially for women, and especially for women of her generation. As I got to know Madelynn and her loud personality, she told me some of her story, how she kept picking herself up from falls and never compromised herself or her talent. For us, it seemed vital to tell her story, not only because of her interest, but also because our culture rarely portrays older women as dynamic or famous, especially if they are not famous. Her story is important, as is her resilience and her eternal hope. It certainly inspired us as artists, and we knew it would also inspire and move anyone who watched the film. At one point in the doc, she says, “If you think it’s hard to do what you love, imagine not doing it. It will make you sick. Everyone, artist or not, needs to hear that.

Howard: Madelynn is an unstoppable force, and I really gravitate to people and stories of perseverance. Our world doesn’t make life easy for most people, most artists, and especially someone like Madelynn who defied convention. There are so many ways the world tells us to give up and not try. And yet, Madelynn dares to be who she is, which includes wanting to be seen and heard. She doesn’t pretend otherwise or make herself small.

Director: How long did the shoot last and how did you prepare for it?

Riahi: Like Madelynn, we’re both hope is forever artists. When we decided to make the film, we fully accepted the limitations of not having a crew, a lot of time or a budget. The film industry moves so slowly that it can be frustrating for people who just want to create work and put it out into the world, so we were excited about the opportunity to do something for ourselves with a sense of urgency. . Of course, we would never compromise on quality, that was a given. By the time we decided to make this film, I had already had many conversations with Madelynn about her life. To prepare for the shoot, we both dug into the few available interviews with her and listened to her music, then just went to her house with our friend Daniel McCoy and talked to her for half a day. It was a wonderful and exhilarating experience. It was really a gift to be there, to make this film.

Director: With all the fascinating items in Madelynn’s home – from her furniture to her various tchotchkes to her instruments and music collection – how did you discern what was worth capturing and juxtaposed next to your subject? ?

Riahi: Madelynn’s house is a treasure; it is both an embodiment of his personality and his story, and a character in his own right. We were so excited to shoot there. My other shorts Sincerely, Erik and Andros in the city (both stories) were shot in unmodified locations, meaning the location we shot was our set, as it was. And Madelynn’s house is also a setting. We went crazy capturing all the glorious items in his house. It’s remarkable how beautifully everything is put together and how everything from a light under the sink to a knife board under a portrait is intentionally placed. In the end, we didn’t use a lot of b-roll or include the majority of what was there or captured on film, because it was important to us to center Madelynn in the frame and let her take center stage. space as she told him. story. But, we managed to frame it, occasionally, through its objects, which in each case told another layer of the story.

Howard: People show you who they are by what interests them. She gives us her point of view, between the objects and the mixed color temperatures and the light that enters. For me, his space and his things are inseparable. So, although we have centered her in the frame, her objects are also an integral part of this tapestry.

Director: I know Silas was part of the San Francisco-based queer punk band Tribe 8 in the early 90s. Naz, do you have a personal connection to musical expression, even if it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the fact to make music yourself?

Riahi: Let me tell you, if I had talent, even a tiny talent for music, I would have a band and be on stage every night of my life. Unfortunately, I don’t. However, music has had a major influence on my life. First, it was an act of transgression. I grew up in Iran where most music, especially Western music, was illegal under the Islamic Republic. The tapes we had were literally contraband, and I knew that from a very young age listening to my parents’ collection of Iranian and Western songs and receiving a tape copied billions of times by people like Michael Jackson from my Best childhood friend. When I immigrated to the United States at the age of ten, I began to learn the language by playing songs over and over (as well as in movies and on television) and to understand the culture of this country partly by watching MTV (which my mother hated). Finally, I became a teenage feminist by discovering queer musicians like Ani Difranco. The role that music plays in my life is nothing less than almost everything.

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