'Miss Sunshine' Directors Recommend Serious DVDs Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are the directing partners behind the Oscar-nominated dark comedy Little Miss Sunshine. But their favorite DVDs tend to be documentaries, including one about pet cemeteries.
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'Miss Sunshine' Directors Recommend Serious DVDs

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'Miss Sunshine' Directors Recommend Serious DVDs

'Miss Sunshine' Directors Recommend Serious DVDs

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And it's time now for another conversation in our series about DVDs. What to rent when you don't know what to watch?

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris are the directing partners behind "Little Miss Sunshine," which was recently nominated for a best picture Oscar. They're also married, so there's maybe a joke here about who controls the remote control, but we won't go there. We'll just say welcome to the program.

M: Thank you.

M: Thank you. It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: And let's just go through this list of DVDs that you have here. The first film on your list here, and this is listed here as a pick of Jonathan Dayton. And by the way, if one of hates the pick that the other one chose, go ahead, speak up.

M: Do you want an argument?

M: Yeah, come on.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm not saying I want an argument. I'm saying one is allowed. The film is called "Visions of Light."

M: This is a film about cinematography and it allows you to watch films in a new way, to understand that the art of cinematography is something that affects you but you may not understand how it works. You also learn that some of the most famous moments in films were accidents or, you know, things that...

M: They discovered.

M: Yeah, that you discover the last minute. So it's a great insight into filmmaking and it makes anyone who loves film a better viewer.

INSKEEP: What's an example of an accident that ended up being one of the great shots?

M: Well, there's a shot in "In Cold Blood" where Robert Blake is talking about killing someone, and they had rain coming across the window where he is standing at night and there's a light outside illuminating his face. And as he talks about the murder, the rain drips down the surface of the glass; and as it shines on faces, it looks like he's crying.

M: It looks like tears falling down. And his face...

M: And it's just this beautiful poetic moment that...

M: It was a total accident.

M: Yeah.

U: I've had so many cinematographers call me and asked me, how I did that shot. Well, I didn't conceive it at all. Nobody conceived it. It was purely a visual accident.

INSKEEP: So you like those real moments in fictional films which maybe there's an affinity there between that and your love, Valerie Faris, for documentaries? And the next one on this list is a documentary, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated." And in fact it's not rated.

M: Well, it's an incredible film by Kirby Dick about the MPAA rating system. And he hires a private investigator to try to find out who the members of the ratings board are, because they're a secret board.


U: R means restricted. No children 17 or under without parent or guardian. There may be sexual themes, frank sex talk, tough language, and tough violence. Like a thousand handicapped orphans decimated by a hail of gunfire.

M: You know, ultimately you find out that they're much harder on sexual content than they are on violence.

M: And much harder on independence film than they re on studio film, but I don't want to give it away.

M: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Is this a real secret who these people are? Is it kind of an open secret? People are...

M: No.

M: No, it's a real...

M: Real. Not anymore....

M: The result of this film, it's no longer secret. And they just announced that they're changing some of their policies, and they would never admit that it was due to this film, but I think this film really shine a light on a situation that had been secret for decades.

INSKEEP: Let's take another example from your list. This is a pick that Jonathan had, "Coming Home."

M: We're giant fans of Hal Ashby, and this is one of his best films. And we thought that given recent events in the news that this was a good film to see again. I mean it's got incredible performances by Jon Voight and Jane Fonda. And it's just a beautiful...

M: And Bruce Dern.

M: And Bruce Dern.

INSKEEP: This is about the aftereffects of the Vietnam War, this movie?

M: Mm-hmm.

M: Yeah, and it's about the changes in consciousness that people go through as a result of war.


U: And the other was the morale obligation. Now I feel that anybody...

U: (unintelligible)

U: Nobody's got to write or tell anybody what to do against their will if they don't believe it. And that's what I went over there to fight for. No, believe me, believe me, it's a good idea.

U: The reason I can see is, is that some of us, not all of us, some of us need to justify to ourselves what the (bleep) we did there. So if we come back and say what we did was a waste, what happened to us was a waste, some of us can't live with it.

M: It's really incredibly emotionally devastating. It's a great romantic story. I mean it's got everything. It's an important film in these times, and I think it resonates as truthful today as it did back then.

INSKEEP: This next item on your list is a film by Errol Morris, "Gates of Heaven."

M: This is probably one of my all-time favorite movies. It's a film about pet cemeteries, but it's so much more than that.

M: I mean it's really, it's a film where you don't know whether you should laugh or be disturbed or feel for the...

M: I definitely have a nervous laughter when I watch this.


U: We had snakes, rats. We had monkeys. We had chickens. We had hamsters. We had mice, rodents of all types. It doesn't make any difference of what type of animal. If that animal - you love it and you want to give it a proper burial. That's your business. You bury that pet because you love it.

M: You know, it's about the grief that pet owners have. It's about competing pet cemeteries. It's about rendering versus burying.

M: Oh!

M: There's a great...

M: The best villain in the movie is the owner of the rendering factory.

INSKEEP: What's rendering.

M: Oh.

M: Rendering. Oh my God, what - you don't watch "The Simpsons." It's what...

M: It's an unpleasant subject but, yeah, it's like recycling animal parts.

M: It's where they, you know, the glue factory? It's where they take an animal body and they convert it to...

M: Various products.

INSKEEP: You're going to blow our MPAA rating if you go on that topic...


INSKEEP: So it's all there. He goes all the way, in other words, of the story.

M: Yeah. You don't...

M: As he always does.

M: You don't see this, but it's just a film that just keeps unfolding and becomes richer and funnier and sadder.

M: I just think everyone should see this movie.

M: You know, one thing I wanted to say about DVDs though, we unfortunately have watched DVDs for years and not gone into the theater. And it wasn't until making "Little Miss Sunshine" that we had a renewed appreciation of how important it is to see a film in a crowded theater, particularly comedies. There's something about feeling...

M: A collective...

M: A collective...

M: ...kind of experience.

M: ...grief or a collective elation that sitting alone watching it on a laptop you just don't get.

M: And there's something also about that big, dark room. It's not like in a house where your kids are running in and out of the room or, you know, phones ringing. I think - but if you're going to watch DVDs at home, which I know we're trying to encourage...

INSKEEP: Well, we don't have to encourage it; we're just reporting here. You can't actually say, you know...


M: That's right. Non-biased...

INSKEEP: All those DVD recommendations - disregard them. Forget about them.

M: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Go to the theater.

M: Go to the theater. It's worth it.

INSKEEP: Well, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, I've enjoyed speaking with you both. Thank you so much.

M: Thank you.

M: Thank you.


INSKEEP: If you are still determined to watch a DVD this weekend, there is a complete list of picks from Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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