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Reader Spotlight: Ester

The TFE reader community investigation continues. Get to know more about the other people reading this site! Maybe they're reading what you're reading at exactly the same time! Today we're talking to Ester in Brooklyn who is also a writer.

Nathaniel: Do you remember your first movie experience or obsession?
ESTER: My father took me to see the theatrical re-release of Song of the South in 1986, when I was four. I'm sure he gave me a lecture afterward about historical inaccuracies but all I remember is the animated "Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah" bluebird and being enthralled by the big screen. A little later on, I became obsessed with Jack Nicholson. It started with "Chinatown," which I would watch anytime I was sick because it was guaranteed to make me forget what hurt, and "Terms of Endearment," because I adored his relationship with the ballsy, hilarious Shirley MacLaine.


Imagine yourself as supreme empress of the cinema. What would you do?
I would...
  • declare a moratorium on anything to do with superheros, vampires, or superhero vampires. (Exceptions may be given for pre-adolescent Swedish vampires and Lisbeth Salander.) Sequels would have to be justified in a five-page paper about what their purpose is beside the making of more money to be spent on more sequels. 
  • have Pixar lead workshops on Film 101 that are mandatory for any director, writer, or producer whose movies score in the red on Rotten Tomatoes or MetaCritic. 
  • take away all of Tim Burton's CGI toys.
  • double the budget of Focus Features (and appoint myself to their development department).
  • bench Michael Bay and divert his money to Amy Pascal to produce several strong, smart, female-driven comedies.  
How to decide? Categories?

Three favorite actresses. Go
I could have a favorites list that's all "Kates": Hepburn, Blanchett, Winslet, with runner up Catherine Keener. Or one that's all TV actresses: Edie Falco, Mary Louise Parker, and Allison Janney. Or just redheads: Amy Adams, Patricia Clarkson, Julianne Moore. For all-time favorites, I probably have to go with the stars, classic women who manage to be incisive, funny, and mesmerizing over numerous roles: Katharine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep. But I am not happy about having to leave Kate Winslet off the list. 


On your blog you list Quentin Tarantino, Nora Ephron and Charlie Kaufman as influences. I was curious about seeing all three names in the same list. What do you love about their work?
What I love in a movie is some combination of chemistry, intelligence, creativity, audacity, and truth (in the sense that the film is true to itself and its own internal rules, not to any objective standard). Charlie Kaufman is the kind of writer I trust completely because he has thought through every important aspect of a movie: what kind of world does he want to create? What kind of message does he want to send, and how can he communicate it without being didactic? How will characters, dialogue, and visuals all combine in service of that message?  Charlie Kaufman movies aim to please the eye, the ear, the heart, and the brain. They're not very sexy but eventually he'll aim for the loins too. (I hope.)


Meanwhile, no one does vengeance better than Quentin Tarantino. In his hands, vengeance is not a mindless act of good against evil: in Kill Bill, viewers are encouraged to sympathize with the human targets, even Bill himself. Elle Driver is the exception, the only cartoonishly villainous character, and even she is so great that you don’t want to see her die. This is why Tarantino, in Inglourious Basterds, gently raises the question of whether even Nazis deserved to be gunned down, roasted alive, scalped, mutilated, and otherwise inconvenienced. Of course the Third Reich needed to be brought down (and what a job he does of it, too). But no one, no matter how despicable, should have their head bashed in by Eli Roth. Watching Inglourious Basterds, you simultaneously get to enjoy the fantasy and let the fantasy go.


QT is not as abstract or theoretical as CK, but he understands that the smartest movie must still be fun, and vice versa.

Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally often gets dismissed as a chick flick, which is too bad, because it's psychologically astute and laugh-out-loud funny, even on the twentieth viewing. None of her other movies are as strong but I also love the dry sense of humor that shows up in her essays and the fact that she continues to make herself relevant & a force to be reckoned with. If failing really is not the falling down but the staying down, she has never failed.

Wow, I love that. I may start employing it as a mantra. Okay final question: Have you ever dressed up as a movie character for Halloween?
The closest I've come is trying to be Joan Halloway from "Mad Men". I had the boobs but not the poise.


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Reader Comments (11)

Between your taste and talent, I think I might love you.

The Joan Holloway aspect could have a little something to do with it too...

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevin D

How do you get to be featured on reader spotlight?

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterorrin

I elect Ester the Empress of Cinema! Yes, She Can!

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Crowe

I'll second the nomination, Ryan!

That's an intriguing mix of influences. When Harry Met Sally was one of those films I wore out the VHS tape of. Saw it with my aunt and younger sister when it first came out, adored it, adored it always. I do think that "This is My Life", with Samantha Mathis and Julie Kavener as mother and daughter was terrific, smart, and extremely underrated - maybe too smart for audiences to really appreciate, and a little painful, especially compared to dreck like "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepless in Seattle. (Which of course made beau-coup bucks.)

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

orrin -- there's no system. but i have been nabbing people from twitter alot ;)

Janice -- omg. i totally forgot that that movie existed. but i do remember it definitely had its moments.

Ryan -- i guess she needs to select a running mate then.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nathaniel - that film ("This is my life") had a huge resonance for me because

1) it was one of the few films that featured coming of age from a young woman's perspective, including the first (disappointing) sexual experience. (Count on one hand how many films that is true of, compared to the countless variations on the male coming of age experience, and then get back to me.)

2) One of the few films featuring mother and daughter relationships - and a realistic one, at that. Sure, going into stand-up isn't exactly the norm - but as the daughter of a single mom, who was having to find new work, to reinvent herself; having to move to other homes and new school systems, the film hit me on a level that few films ever bothered to, then or now. (Interestingly, I also have a much younger sister, as Mathis does in the film, although I also have two brothers.) The scene of mother and daughters finally shouting angrily at one another had my mom and I in tears.

I guess it's that way for everyone - Spiderman resonates with you, and does nothing for me at all.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Twitter! Spoiled again for being an old fogie. It only took me 2 years to join FB after everyone else did. Give me 2 more years, Nat, I'll be a Twitter-er(?) soon! :P

Anyway, Ester is one smart chica. I second her nomination as Empress of Cinema Development. Also, I'm sure me and her would be awesome drinking buddies.

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

"Sequels would have to be justified in a five-page paper about what their purpose is beside the making of more money to be spent on more sequels."
That's a good idea.

Not used to contacting Nathaniel via twitter but heads up, I'll make a request there, although I'm not as interesting as some of his other interviewees, I'll concede

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

I love the shoutout to Focus Features. They specialize on LGBT/Manic Pixie Dream Girl romances and they should spread their word to all!

April 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

LOVE this. And, oh, how I love those empress-of-cinema bullet points. Brava.

April 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtisO

Shoot, in my imaginary Q&A with Nathaniel, I always answer the "name your three favorite actresses" question with a variation of your reply. My Kates are Hepburn, Deneuve, and Blanchett, though.

April 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAR

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