Mike Mills and 20th Century Women.
Interview & Text_Yasuo Murao
Mike Mills who works in a wide range of fields such as graphic design and art,
recently, as active as a film director also stands out,
he accomplished the strong autobiographical story "20th Century Women".
Jamie, a 15-year-old son living with his single mother Dorothea grows through interaction
with Abbie of older photographer and Julie of childhood.
Punk, skateboard, feminism, and individual women.
We interviewed Mike about the days until becoming a creator,
centering on the story of this work that spelled something affected him when adolescence.
A story born of the women who I know.
- The previous work, “Beginner”was a story about the father. This time is the story of women, mainly mothers.
- Mike Mills：I made a story of my father, so I thought it might be good for my mother to be the next one. My mother was a bit strange, very tough, a feminist woman. And my sister Meg was studying in NY but she became cervical cancer. While thinking about the ladies that I knew in that way, a small universe of women came into my mind and I created stories from there.
- I see. Your sister's background is reflected to Abbie. Greta teaches Jamie the charm of punk, and punk seems to play an important role in this movie.
- Mike Mills：My encounter with punk in my life has a huge meaning and I was able to find "who I am" for the first time through punk. Until then, I couldn’t find my whereabouts in the mainstream culture. So in this movie punk can be said to be another character.
- A scene where Abbie listens to the record of "Fairytale In The Supermarket" of The Raincoats in a room with Jamie was impressive. Abbie teaches feminism to Jamie, but punk is also a scene that gave women a place of being active.
- Mike Mills：I think that punk scene certainly gave women the place to play for the first time. But if I hear the story from The Slits and Siouxsie Sioux, I imagine that they would say "punk was a world of female discrimination". Lol
- Indeed, punk is macho. In the movie there is a division among the punk scenes, and those who listen to hardcore punk are making fun of art-style punk. Jamie who likes Talking Heads becomes a fight with friends who like hardcore punk and his house care is scribbled as "ART FAG". Is it real story?
- Mike Mills：There was a punk house where punks live near the high school I went and I saw scribbling "ART FAG" in there. For hardcore punk lovers, Joy Division, Bauhaus, Wire and Gang of Four were all "ART FAG". At that time, punk scene was divided like that. In the movie, I also wanted to express this part precisely.
- After that scene, the scene where Dorothea actually listened to Talking Heads in order to understand Jamie was nice.
- Mike Mills：That didn’t actually happen, but my mother came to see the live of the punk band I was playing. After the live, she told me impressions of the lyrics. Lol She tried to understand what her son was interested in. I guess that was cool.
- Two songs from Talking Heads are used as movie soundtrack, is it a special band for you?
- Mike Mills：Yup. Talking Heads is punk, but also creative and free. I think that they are good example of a punk without macho ism. Every time they release an album, sound is developing from their first album “1977” to 4th album "Remain in Light". I think it’s brave attempt and awesome. I still have inspiration from their sounds.
- Talking Heads was a edgy band for art too, right? Abbie, who was studying photography in NY, advises Jamie to leave the town. Was Santa Barbara where you lived a town that did not involve art?
- Mike Mills：Santa Barbara is a wealthy area in suburban, which is very boring. Abbie advising to leave the city means "If you are in the city, there are no advantages of being a weird person and you will become an ordinary person." You’ll end up working at a local sunglasses shop by the time you realize.
Being a graphic artist was the third choice.
- Was it turning point of your life to leave Santa Barbara and go on to New York?
- Mike Mills：It was very significant! I came to New York in 1984, and it was like I went to Mars or something like that. Lol
- What surprised you?
- Mike Mills：First of all, there were so many people. Moreover, there are various people. Although Santa Barbara is all white, New York has various races. Also, it is said to be very rough. Santa Barbara is relaxed.
- As you studied graphics in New York, didn’t you think to continue the band and go on to the way of music?
- Mike Mills：I thought about it but it didn’t work out because my performance was poor. Lol Actually my first dream was to become a skateboard player. But it was useless. The next was a punk band, but that was no good either. Well then ... ... so I decided to become a graphic artist.
- I see. Graphic was your 3rd dream.
- Mike Mills：Yes. Lol Since I could draw the picture from long ago, I went to art school in New York. But when I graduated art school, SOHO had a lot of energy and art was like a posh object for rich people. I began art as a rebellion against capitalism, but when I realized I was in a state of being involved in a part of capitalism. That's why I thought, "This is not good" and I started designing instead of art. I also fed up art being exclusive for only limited people. Not like that, I wanted to do something more entertaining that many people can see.
- Have you been influenced by the artwork of the record you listened to as a teenager in designing?
- Mike Mills：Of course. Punk was the same as current Hip-Hop, because everything had an aesthetic sense.
- By the way, can you tell me your favorite artwork of the record?
- Mike Mills：The Germs’ first. All the albums of The Damned. I thought that "Never Mind the Bollocks" of Sex Pistols is very cool at that time, but it seems to be pedestrian to see it now. Wire's "Pink Flag", which is so beautiful. Joy Division's "Unknown Pleasures" is also good. And I like all Talking Heads. They are all wonderful to see even now.
- Currently you also design an artwork and is there anything you keep in mind when designing?
- Mike Mills：In terms of record design, it’s kind of eclectic. I am trying not to have the identity of "myself" dare to say anything. Because I did not have a style called "This is Mike Mills" and I was trying to break such things, the style is different for each work. I guess it’s called psychological fragmentation in a good sense.
- As you were working on the design of X-girl, how was work making an image of the brand?
- Mike Mills：At that time, first I was given themes from Kim (Gordon) and Daisy (von Furth). It is not that they want me to do anything concretely, rather being like conceptual art perspective approach. I was originally studying that kind of thing, so it was easy for me to do the work. For example, if I was given the theme of "International Communication", I will work on thinking what I can do. I can become a director and a designer there.
- In the past you've worked on various works, what is the best part of being a film director?
- Mike Mills：A movie is a huge project and there are lots of fun. There is pleasure writing a screenplay, and even more pleasant is shooting. I like working with crews and actors. I don’t dislike editing. There are magical moments born from editing. Also there is joy of showing to the audience when it is released. Especially when movie makes hit, I am happy. Lol Since this movie took 5 years to accomplish, there were various things happened.
- Please tell us about the visual of "20th Century Women" at the end. Have you been conscious of its color and design?
- Mike Mills：I wanted to make it an exciting movie that has a lot of movements. So, I decided to make it as festival-like atmosphere like (Federico) Fellini's movie, I made the color stronger than ever. Not to mention prop of the set, also color of the neon sign, the pink tights that Abbie was wearing and so on. I think that this movie features bolder and wider color palette compare to previous works. It matches to 1979 era and I think that it expresses the energy born from it.