There isn't too much information available about photographer Jonathan Leder's debut feature-length film, American Ecstasy, besides the fucked-up and strangely sexy shit you saw in the trailer above. This is partially because it isn't finished yet and also because they want the erotic horror flick to appear mysterious and ominous. What we do know is that it stars smoking hot VICE model and Playmate Britany Nola and a few other beauties who are trapped in some kind of psychosexual nightmare created by a "regular Joe" nutcase. We can also assume since it's a work of Jonathan Leder—creative director of the dope Jacques magazine—that the film intends to do more than just engorge boners and illicit freak-outs. Like Jonathan's other works that transcend the realms of pornography and art, American Ecstasy seems like it is going to give us a lot to think about.
To glean a little—and I mean just a little—insight on what the new film is about and the ideas it will bring forward, I hit Jonathan up for a chat on the phone. We covered such compelling topics as Pygmalion love and the power of strippers. Enjoy!
VICE: How did you develop the idea? What was the inspiration?
Jonathan: It originally came to us because we were working down in Florida interviewing girls at this strip club called Mons Venus for an article for a magazine. That germinated the idea, though it has evolved a lot since then. To initially hear what these young women lived through was just so different than anything that we’d experienced before, and I thought it was a fascinating departure point.
The trailer is pretty twisted. Was there a lot of S&M at this club?
Those themes came in later. The article was just a pure departure point. From there the idea was to explore how bizarre we could get. America has so many different sides to it, there’s an overcurrent, but also there’s this undercurrent, and I wanted to explore the undercurrent. Some of the scenes in the film touch on S&M, the idea of inverted love, and the idea of Pygmalion love.
It’s a Greek story where a man makes a sculpture and it’s beautiful, and he falls in love with it. He prays to Venus for the sculpture to come to life and he marries the sculpture and they have a baby and the baby is a god. But you sort of see where that Pygmalion love becomes a concept that a film can grasp onto. It’s the idea of man trying to remake a woman in the image he desires. It’s narcissistic love.
How does that relate to the women in your film?
The women that are portrayed in the film are not really meant to be victims. If you go into a good strip club—a smaller club that doesn’t have TVs everywhere—when those women get up on stage, there’s a sort of heroic and majestic quality to them. They’re in control within that environment. Part of the film is exploring that concept.
You have a killer in the film too, right?
Yeah, but it’s sort of like the shark in Jaws. The killer doesn’t have an arc. He doesn’t change. But he’s affecting change in others.
Who is this murderer?
It’s based on a guy who you may or may not know, whose name is James Mitchell DeBardeleben. He was interesting because they caught him for was passing counterfeit notes. He survived for 18 years counterfeiting. The Secret Service tracked him for years. Eventually, they found him, and they searched his car and discovered all of this pornography. That led them back to his house, and they realized that this guy was more than just a counterfeiter. They don’t even know how many people he abducted, but it was in the hundreds.
Damn. But why focus on him over a guy like Ted Bundy or something?
When you talk about the structure of the film, it parallels DeBardeleben’s story as an unknown and faceless everyman type who people don’t suspect is going around doing these things. He wasn’t in it for fame, and he would have never been caught if it hadn’t been for the counterfeiting.
That’s fucked up. One more thing, none of this film is found footage, right?
Right, we filmed it all. There’s some Super 8 and some Super 16, but the bulk of the grainier stuff was done on old VHS cameras and then rephotographed off a TV. That whole stuff that’s blue, the first ten or 15 seconds, that was all created for that sequence. Part of it is the idea was that it was very common for DeBardeleben’s to photograph his victims while he had them in his grasp.
Word. Looking forward to seeing this gnarly-ass move. Thanks!
More movie stuff from VICE: