For his debut feature, After Louie, Vincent Gagliostro gives us the story of Sam (Alan Cumming) – a New York artist who survived the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s.
Sam has hit a creative block, becoming obsessed with creating a film about a friend who died of AIDS, and losing himself in alcohol, cigarettes, memories of the past, and rent-boys. One of Sam’s sexual encounters is Braeden (Zachary Booth), not technically a rent-boy but happy to take the money that Sam offers him.
Braeden’s youth and outlook on life helps to challenge Sam’s anger and resentment, helping him to reconnect with the world around him and let go of some of the ghosts of the past.
In the key role of Sam, Alan Cumming shines – Sam is not a particularly likeable character but Cumming slowly reveals his character’s complexity and flaws to us, allowing us to empathise with his pain and loss, and understand the impact of what his generation has been through.
Also impressive is Zachary Booth as Braeden – an authentic and engaging performance.
On the whole, Gagliostro has produced a polished film – it’s a little long, and drags in places, and the exposition is sometimes a little too deliberate and literal, but this is a story that effectively touches on many universal experiences. How does one generation connect to the next? How do we make sense of the passing of time? How do we respond to the changes that we experience? Ultimately, everyone just has to try and do the best that they can.
- Alan Cumming (Sam)
- Zachary Booth (Braeden)
- Anthony Johnston (Lukas)
- Sarita Choudhury (Maggie)
- Patrick Breen (Jeffrey)
- Wilson Cruz (Mateo)
- Joseph Arias (Jai)
- Justin Bond (Rhona)
- Everett Quinton (Julian)
Following the film’s screening in London, I spoke with writer/director Vincent Gagliostro for a behind-the-scenes look at the film:
What was your starting point for this story?
A very short story written by my friend William Wilson, and then a lot of my personal and autobiographical moments. Primarily the things that the character Sam struggles with, and pretty much beginning to realise that loss in so many ways was such a defining element of my life.
What was the production process like?
The film began as an installation project based on the text of William Wilson’s short autobiographical story, After Louie. I met Zach Booth and asked him to read some of the text on film. Not quite sure of exactly what I wanted to do with it all. This became the source for the project that the character Sam is working on in the film.
The writing process went through three stages. First, there was an epic three hour film that began following William and five of his classmates on their move from Yale in 1965 to the west Village, which was the through-line between the past and the present. Second, I cut all that out and just set the film in the present, deciding that I wanted to make a portrait asking the question: ‘What happened to us?’ — as opposed to a document of something that happened. Lastly, I met Anthony Johnston – who is half my age – and thought: ‘Now this will be the way to really make the film I wanted to make…’ an exploration of a generation’s loss of friends and community and their grief, and a younger generation untouched by this personally but very much touched by it through encounters with the previous generation.
Was it difficult to raise the funding required?
Difficult in the sense that I hate asking anybody for anything, especially money. I had to get over that in a big way, which actually began to give me the confidence I needed to really make this happen. It was very humbling in many ways.
When did Alan Cumming join the project?
Alan and Anthony are friends, and Anthony suggested to send it to Alan. He responded in less than then days, and about a year later we made the film.
What was the casting process like for the other roles?
Well, Zach was in. I pretty much wrote the part of Braeden for him. Many of the roles I wanted to fill with actors from the community whom I have known for so many years – David Drake did an early reading with us and he just had to be William; Joey Arias and Justin Vivian Bond are both longtime friends; Sarita Choudhury came to the part of Maggie about ten days or so before filming, I really wanted her and the timing was right; I knew Everett Quinton (Julian) from very early days, late 60s/early 70s from his work with Charles Ludlum and the Ridiculous Theater Company and Charles Ludlum.
Do you feel that the survivor-syndrome that we see in the character of Sam is common with gay men who lived through that period defined by the early years of the AIDS crisis?
Yes I do, but manifesting itself in distinctly different ways for many, affecting how we move forward or don’t.
What does the film tell us about inter-generational relationships and conflicts?
That if we actually really talk to each other, tell the truth, that both sides of that divide can actually begin to really ‘get’ each other and create community.
What sort of response have you had to the film so far?
Overwhelmingly positive and very moving.
What do you hope that people feel when watching the film?
For the older generation, that it’s okay to begin to dream again. For the younger generation, that it’s really okay to just dream.
After Louie is screening as part of BFI Flare 2017.
Read more from Gareth Johnson
Author: Gareth Johnson