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Adam Green's Psychedelic 'Aladdin' Is a Handmade Labor of Love

An exclusive look at how a group of friends and lovers, including Macaulay Culkin, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Kravitz, and Natasha Lyonne, made the version of 'Aladdin' you never knew you needed.
Courtesy Adam Green

Your friendly neighborhood visionary art, film, and song maker Adam Green has put the better part of the last four years into a new adaptation of the classic Arabian Nights tale, Aladdin. The film, which premiered at Pioneer Works on Tuesday night, is a very different beast from the "Jessica," "Friends of Mine," and "Dance with Me" songwriter's first feature, The Wrong Ferrari, which was shot on an iPhone and rests conceptually on a foundation of ketamine. Vibrant, and dripping with a meticulous craft aesthetic best described as, "cartoons made flesh," Aladdin is a testament to the power of a good love story.


The trailer, which you can watch above, hints of an inscrutable romp through Green's subconscious, but the film is actually fairly linear and straightforward, thanks to the influence of Green's wife, Yasmín, and the collective efforts of Green's sprawling network of friends and acolytes in the New York scene. The plot is driven by a lamp that, rather than relying on pure magic, takes the form of a 3D printer, opening all the doors to sex, power, and antics that modern technology promises in our own world.

Adam Green funded Aladdin through Kickstarter, rented a warehouse in Red Hook a few blocks from Pioneer Works, and wound up using many of the artists doing residencies there as extras and minor characters. Written in the lyrical style of an album of songs, it's impossible to grasp every single line, but relaxing and letting sentences unpack themselves helps the film makes sense on it's own terms. "It's like a cartoon where you feel what's happening in the movie," Green explains to The Creators Project. "A kid could watch the movie and follow it—well, not a kid becayse it's not really a kids movie. But somebody could watch the movie and zone out and feel like they'd watched the movie Aladdin. Or they could analyze every line, because every line is its own nugget of something I thought to include in the movie."

In an exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary, premiering today on The Creators Project, actor Macaulay Culkin, one of Green's longtime friends, and the character who plays Ralph, the leader of anti-government revolutionary group called the Magical Americans, affectionately says, "I said yes to the script before [Green] had even written it," effectively summarizing the way everyone on set seems to feel about working with Green. Watch that below:


Aladdin's colorful set is populated by Green's fiercely loyal friends, who also happen to be film and fashion celebrities or art world around-towners. The film is uncompromisingly Green, which somehow also means that each actor's individual personality and humanness is made to shine through. "[Actor] Jack Dishel would do these voices in the [Moldy Peaches] tour van," Green tells us, explaining that Aladdin's characters are as much a product of the actors as the script. Dishel is the creator of Uber-bashing web series :Dryvrs, and a talented impressionist and character actor. In Aladdin, he takes on two separate main charaters, Aladdin's wholesome-ish Uncle Gary and a villainous technophile Sultan. "He'd do this old man character and this pan-European character. One time some guy came on the bus, very drunk and very foreign, and just felt entitled to everything, and I was just watching, thinking, 'Who the fuck is this guy?' Later, Jack did an impression of him, and that, partially, became the Sultan."

In this way, Green gives the human indulgences and imperfections normally airbrushed out of Hollywood productions a chance to thrive in the characters of Aladdin. This thread links together all the seemingly non-sensical characters in Green's Arabia, whether it's Dishel's dual roles, or Culkin as Ralph. Arrested Development star Alia Shawkat as Aladdin's sister Emily, Emmy-winner Natasha Lyonne as Aladdin's voluptuous mom, internet curiosity Bip Ling as the Kardashian-esque Princess Barbara, Zoë Kravitz as an asparagus-loving miner, and neo-Expressionist painter Francesco Clemente's portrayal as the genie each tackle Adam's lyrical voice in their own way.


Green summarizes his approach in Aladdin as a reaction to the Dogme 95 movement started by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, and championed by Harmony Korine. "I loved Lars von Trier and Harmony Korine growing up, with their whole set of rules: you won't have any pros, your actors will come to the location, location will not be changed at all, there's no music that isn't played at the time of shooting," Green explains. "My movie is the opposite. It's completely hand-made, and the rule is that nothing can be real in the movie. Which is funny because it's actually abut a real life experience."

Yasmín Green produced the film while pregnant with Adam's child and working at Google. "She's the smartest person I know," says Adam. Her influence was a pivotal factor in the growth you can see between The Wrong Ferarri and Aladdin. They met shortly after he finished his cinematic debut, tripping and falling headfirst into romance and then marriage. Their daughter is now 18 months old. More than just his wife's producing abilities, the relationship itself is what drew Green to Aladdin in the first place. "I like it because it's a love story, and I spent the last few years finding love in my life," Green says. "I was really relating to it because it's about love trumping material things."

There is a wedding at the end of the movie, culminating in a set of heart-lifting set of vows that Green reveals are identical to the ones from his own wedding. "We made the movie together, it was our project. And I think all my projects in the future will be ones I do with her."


Courtesy Adam Green

Learn more about Adam Green's Aladdin on the movie's official website, where you can also to see when the stoner adventure epic/romance/sci-fi/fantasy/legend movie arrives at an art cinema near you. Check out more of Adam Green's film, music, and artwork here.


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