Although Adam Green is best known for his music, he's also a painter, sculptor, poet, and, as of recently, a filmmaker. He's one of those rare visionaries who hemorrhage genius from every pore. After making The Wrong Ferrari, a film I will not try to explain except to say that it draws heavy thematic and conceptual inspiration from ketamine, he is now embarking on a film project titled Adam Green's Aladdin, which will redefine Aladdin's enchanted lamp as a 3-D printer and Aladdin's mother as "a bit of a MILF" played by Natasha Lyonne.
Adam is assuming, perhaps correctly, that he will have difficulty getting his Aladdin funded by a major Hollywood studio, so he has started raising money on his own, via Kickstarter. I thought that, like The Wrong Ferrari, it would be almost impossible to verbally describe Aladdin, but I called up the Greenster in Cologne for a chat about the film anyway.
VICE: I’m very excited about the possibility of this movie, and I very much want it to be made. Which version of Aladdin are you using as inspiration?
Adam Green: I reread the Arabian Nights version to prepare for writing the screenplay and found it to be really boring and racist and redundant in the writing style, like when you read the Old Testament and they just keep repeating the same stuff over and over again?
Yeah, the story specifies that Aladdin mistook the jewels he collected in the magic cave for colored glass at least five times, and it has almost no relevance to the plot.
Exactly! It's actually a tedious experience to read. My idea was to create a modern-day version of Aladdin set in The Wrong Ferrari world—a supernatural world, a world made out of papier-mâché. I’ve spent the last two years writing this movie, and it was nice to be able to use the Aladdin myth as a plot device, but what's cool is to break that myth to some degree.
The symbol of the genie and the lamp and the wishes got me thinking, What would happen in a modern situation if everybody got all these wishes? The planet would fill up with all the mental garbage that people have in their heads. I started thinking about how everyone has an avatar identity on the internet. We have all become icons in a video game about ourselves. Then I started thinking about 3-D printers and what unlimited access to 3-D printing would create—like if Kinkos started letting you print out one thousand bicycles a day.
The 3-D printer represents the internet becoming flesh. It's the crystallization of the internet printing itself out. An analog internet springing from the digital internet. That's the theme of the film: rethinking the future of what we can wish for.
Is the lamp obtained through trickery? Do people have to behead one another and drug each other with scopolamine like they do in Arabian Nights?
People inevitably do get beheaded, because that was a theme of Arabian Nights in general. I’ve kept the Sultan symbol, but tied it in with the idea of mass surveillance—the tyrannical sultan becomes a symbol of the abuses of monitoring everyone's privacy.
I wish I lived in the Middle Ages. If I had my way, everyone would be wearing ruffled shirts and medieval king shit and bell bottoms. This is my chance to make that kind of a world up and show people that it would be a fun universe. I'm approaching this project a little more ambitiously than The Wrong Ferrari because I don't want it to be like a home movie, shot on an iPhone. I want to get a warehouse and hand-build all of the sets out of papier-mâché.
In the Kickstarter video you talk about featuring Natasha Lyonne and Macaulay Culkin. Do you have any idea who is going to play whom?
Alia Shawkat will play Aladdin's sister. Natasha Lyonne will play Aladdin's mom. I’m going to dress her up in a gray wig and have her play a bit of a MILF. Macaulay Culkin is going to play the charismatic leader of the rebel army that is fighting against the sultan. The princess is more of a socialite, like Kim Kardashian.
Who is going to play the princess?
I don't know yet. I don't know who's going to play the genie, either, because on one the hand I want the genie to be an ominous, scary character. But on the other hand I see it as being an interface for the lamp, which itself is a futuristic technology printer.
And you will play Aladdin, I assume?
Well, I've considered it, but maybe not. I think I'm qualified to play Aladdin, but I also think I was the worst actor in The Wrong Ferrari. I could play it if it comes down to it, but I might have someone else play it. I feel like Justin Long is very Aladdin-like. I think it's funny when you read the Arabian Nights version, because Aladdin is just a decadent, bored kid.
An unskilled Chinese peasant. A scapegrace.
Yes, exactly. He's Chinese. One of my original ideas was to shoot the movie in China, but I don’t know if I can anymore. I can shoot the external scenes somewhere like that—there is something about doing it in a faraway place. It produces an eerie feeling.
As a result of shooting The Wrong Ferrari on an iPhone, the sound was so bad we had to overdub every single line. It made it feel like a foreign film in a way that I thought was cool. It ended up being a domestically produced, English-language foreign film somehow. I don’t mind that.
Your method for writing The Wrong Ferrari dialog out on index cards and presenting them to actors on the day of the shoot is almost like how Nabokov would write all of his novels on index cards and present them to the publisher as a manuscript. It’s an interesting technique.
Most of the lines I wrote over periods when I was stoned or reflecting on internal feelings. It was poems that became scenes that became structured into a story. I didn’t realize Nabokov did that. I’ll continue to do that. I've amassed a huge collection of scraps of paper and index cards that were lying around my apartment. That’s why it took two years to write Aladdin—most of these things are written when I am basically tripping.
Is Aladdin less ketamine-inspired than The Wrong Ferrari?
This movie is not ketamine-inspired at all. I haven’t taken ketamine since making The Wrong Ferrari because I felt that it might be giving me brain damage. I don’t know that it actually did. I don’t know. Do you know anything about that?
I do, yeah.
Is it possible?
There’s some suggestion of impaired verbal memory and one study that suggests it may interfere with source memory. You can remember information, but have difficulty indexing where the information originated. The data on lasting cognitive impairment is sparse and conflicting, but it’s probably good that you don’t take ketamine all the time anymore.
For some reason, it seemed to be this thing that could replace drinking—that it could be an everyday thing—but I just don’t think it’s appropriate for that anymore.
What do you think about "The Monkey’s Paw"? It almost sounds like your enchanted lamp is a monkey’s paw.
"The Monkey’s Paw" is the anti-Aladdin. It’s like Aladdin where everything goes bad. My Aladdin story is a bit of both.
Aladdin is interesting because, unlike "The Monkey’s Paw," it's essentially amoral. It’s pure fantasy. Disney tried to change that by only allowing three wishes and giving the genie wishes of his own, but it’s still largely fantasy. Does your Aladdin have a moral or a message?
I’m keeping the number of wishes unlimited. I'm even allowing multiple people to get the lamp and for the lamp to clone itself. I think there is a message that overpopulation and overproduction are threatening the planetary balance. One part of the movie questions the advantages of secrecy or transparency through a rebel group—led by Macaulay Culkin—that is trying to shine light on dark government stuff. But the movie is also a love story. A romantic comedy, really.
You know when we did that lecture together, and I was explaining my views on reality and the spirit realm? I think it explores my own symbolic imagination and what I perceived to be a fifth-dimensional spirit world controlling our bodies like a joystick. Or maybe our bodies are a joystick for the spirit world.
In Aladdin, who is the joystick and who is the controller of the joystick?
In this case, the genie is part of that spirit realm—a slave-god that has infinite intelligence and understands the limitations of human bodies and the limitations of their reality. The genie is almost like Hermes. He’s surfing right off the Big Bang, which is inside of the lamp, and showing us how our thoughts become flesh and the unrealized logic potential for human understanding.
The film is being released with an album that is about the body separating from the spirit almost to the point where there is a spirit economy. Where traders are literally selling your ego without you even knowing. It’s almost like a Wall Street of the soul. A lot of the songs are proxy songs. For example, there’s a song called "Phoning In the Blues." It’s almost like an iPhone version of the blues, where a person doesn’t even know whether they have the blues or if their phone has the blues.
How can you tell the difference?
There is such separation between a body and a spirit—an avatar and a controller. People are looking into their own spirit but seeing refracted holograms of it instead. This song is a memory of the blues the people used to have, and it harkens back to the old feeling of the blues that’s unfamiliar to a technological soul. Egos and superegos are amorphous forms, negotiating with each other almost like gases.
Yes. Almost like they’re contracting gases that negotiate with each other. So, for example, I was seeing the ego as literally getting ego glue shot up its asshole—or rather, the superego was telling the id to shoot ego glue up the ego’s asshole in one song. I don’t know. I can try to define it, but it’s just in my imagination. That’s what the whole thing is. That’s just what I think artwork is about and what I think a movie should be. The movie is just about a strong feeling I had. That’s why it’s Adam Green’s Aladdin, but I do like Disney’s Aladdin as well.