Frankly Frank: A Look at the Films Of Frank Mosley

Director Frank Mosley exposes the raw intimacy of human interaction in its purest form. His work is able to capture the closeness of upending relationships colorfully in a cinematic style. His works have been showcased in various festivals including Slamdance, Maryland Film Festival, Sidewalk Film Festival, and Champs-Elysées. As both an actor and director, he is able to incorporate an authentic methodology in his work, with knowledge of the dynamics of how actors interact with and on camera. Beginning with Parthenon, in which two entwined paramours playfully abuse each other like puppies dog-fighting, we are given an honest glimpse into how our form shapes our relationship with ourselves.

Actor and Filmmaker Frank Mosley

In the second scene of the film, where the protagonist poses as an art model, her tears reveal how we are confined to the solitude of one body. His other film, winner of the 2016 Summer Hammer to Nail Short Film Contest, Casa De Mi Madre, explores the relationship of a mother and her son, fuelled by a fire that triggers latent and disturbing memories. Carmen Rodriguez, playing the mother, displays a palette of emotions, ranging from fiery to sympathetic, her performance phenomenally praise-worthy under the immediate direction of Frank. In his 15-minute masterpiece Spider Veins, a fallen chandelier from a theatre set catapults our introduction to film star Katey Parker, who reveals the sentimentality of a shared dress, and how objects can have a certain reminiscence attached to them displaying the nostalgic memories that trigger deep-seated wounds. Yet later we learn that this was all part of an act, as our attention is averted to a dinner scene. Mosley’s use of dialogue is deeply intense, and masterfully powerful. In this film he is able to tap into our humanistic need to feel connected to one another on a more authentic level. All of Frank’s works flawlessly submerge us into a world of evocative psychological splendor, seeping deep into our subconscious like a magnificent dream we want never to end.

Did you start as a director or actor? How did you get started in film?
It’s hard for me to separate the two. I got started in film because my father was bored one day and, using his brother’s Hi-8 SONY camera, made Wizard of Oz starring me in all the roles. I was just four years old. That fuelled my interest in film and I’ve been making movies ever since. In grade school and into high school, acting and directing were intrinsically linked and I’d make films sometimes acting in them, if I couldn’t get my cousin or friends or mother to be in them. Especially if the roles were more of the heavy-lifting-playing the heavy, or doing a crazy stunt. But I was raised on all films. It wasn’t until college that I got into arthouse fare and more international cinema.

How do you feel your knowledge of being an actor translates to your approach as a director?
I think it informs how I work with my actors. I imagine myself being in their shoes and so I create a safe environment to work in. I also try to have a space beforehand—in rehearsals and read-thru’s—where we can explore, experiment, improvise with the material before ever setting foot on set. This will affect the script even at an early stage, to make it more authentic. I know all too well how it is on most sets—where time is money—so you aren’t able to take time to get the scene “right” just before cameras roll. So it’s very important for me to MAKE that time and get everyone on the same page. It’s also just easier having a common language as a fellow actor as well. Sensitivity is key. Everyone is a different instrument on set—and everyone needs to be in tune according to their own language. The biggest job as a director is balancing all these languages together to create one picture.

Stylistically, what is your expressive goal as a director? How would you classify your style?
I don’t think I have one expressive goal as a director. It’s different for every film. The message is different for what that particular film is about. One could argue–as some do, like the Coen Brothers–that you’re essentially making the same film throughout your whole career, doing only variations on the same themes, and I get that. I certainly see threads throughout my work (memory, identity,), and that’s what makes my films my films. Same with aesthetic choices. I would be lying if I said I didn’t notice that my films have long takes, a lack of music, and a lack of dialogue. But I also think artists go through phases. Look at the Beatles changing their style over decades. We’re always growing and evolving. At least I hope we are. That’s the only way we can be true to our work. It’d be too easy to become stagnant and repetitive. I even look back at these recent films discussed here, the earliest starting production back in 2014, and I already feel like I’m a very different person now than who I was when I made that film. I wouldn’t make the film the same way at all now….maybe not even make that film at all. I’m trying to listen to my gut more, to make a work in the moment.

Lily Baldwin as ‘The Model’
Parthenon (2017)
Dir: Frank Mosley

What overarching message are you trying to convey with your work in general?
Like your question with an overarching message or theme with my work, I don’t have a specific one. It changes depending on what I want any one particular film to be about. There is certainly a through-line of the nature of performance as a subject that ties this trilogy of shorts together. But generally, as a filmmaker, I’m interested in what people are meaning but not saying, and vice versa. How people communicate. Or fail to communicate. I find that fascinating. It’s like watching a mother and father argue, and seeing both sides, and realizing what could have been prevented before the final door slams. I’m a people watcher. And these days, especially in our current time here in the U.S. we need empathy. So right now I’m fascinated by acts of generosity, by startling acts of kindness. Those can have the same gut-punch as a sudden death in a film, a la PSYCHO. When someone suddenly does something for another person, just to do it. Just to help.

Nilda Diaz as ‘Grandmother’
Casa De Mi Madre (2017)
Dir: Frank Mosley

I rewatched The Treasure of the Sierra Madre recently—such a masterpiece—and while the greed, evil, and paranoia all come through in spades–and the violence!—one of the most most memorable scenes for me was Walter Huston going to help that child who almost drowned. He leaves all his earnings behind, and focuses on the child. You just don’t see acts like this in indie films as often—maybe because people think you’re being too “soft”. It’s also not as “sexy” to some people. But I think films could stand to have more of these. Reminders of what we could be. In some ways, that’s a key ingredient in my short Parthenon. Learning how to empathize. Learning how to see. Or re-see.

In Parthenon in the beginning when the two lovers are engaging in rough foreplay, how does this reflect your personal relationship to love and what was the purpose of starting out with that scene?

That’s a big question. To me, it’s exploring gender dynamics within communication—if it’s with words or through non-verbal communication. I started out with that scene because I wanted the whole film to be a diptych of two contrasting duels—one built in movement with two people who know each other, but the second built on stillness between two strangers (where the eyes are used as weapons instead of limbs). The irony is that the second scene reaches an apex of intimacy between the eyes alone, and a kind of emotional rawness and vulnerability, that the scene between the two lovers can’t reach because of their lack of communication. While the lovers are playing a game in that scene, it’s a power struggle. And the male doesn’t like it when he is “one-up’ed” by the woman. In essence, the man becomes angry when the woman refuses to speak. He feebly tries to assert his dominance by using words and she refuses to budge, instead communicating only in the way she wants to–using her body as a means of expression, performance.

There’s a reason that the only words that are spoken are coming from a male–the patriarchy–that is trying to pin the woman. This comes full circle as we see the statues at the end of the film—a long lineage of women being objectified, “translated”, turned into art through the male gaze. As the woman poses nude for this art class, the majority of the class drawing her see her only in parts, and not in full, not as a full human being. They only see her in the same way the man does in the opening bedroom scene. He refuses to see her for who she truly is, and that is why he leaves. In terms of my own relationship to love, it’s all about trust. These two people didn’t trust one another in the scene. Whether they are simply having a one-night stand, or have been seeing one another for a while, it’s up for debate. But the reality is that they don’t have a trust. It’s already brittle, and the woman loses her audience as a performer when he leaves. But it’s about having an audience over losing a lover in that moment—which is why she continues performing her “scene” on the floor even after he’s left the building. She will continue to perform even if she has no audience. I’ve told people that, in simpler terms, I am all three of the main characters in this film—the woman, the man, and the student in the class. The muse/instigation (man), the artist (woman), and the audience (the student) all wrapped up in one. They form a triangle of give/take, push and pull. They all need each other in order to exist.

What are the filming locations of each film and how does this contribute to the mood and aesthetic?

The locations are built into the stories themselves. And all the films came out of those locations, or people I know in those particular places. The locations feed the mood, whether subtly or more overtly. When I made Spider Veins, it was very much built around the themes of getting older, outgrowing your old friends, and attempting to build a new life. Because I had lived in Dallas and grown up there, every decision in the locations factored in—the auditorium and stage used was my old high school auditorium, and much of the cast is comprised of my old high school theatre friends. There is also a Dallas “high society” feel in some of the other locations that had to feel authentic. The story for Casa De Mi Madre came OUT of the environment in Cuba directly—I only even made that film because it was part of a workshop held at a school there. I wouldn’t have made that film otherwise. The funny part is that I’ve been criticized by a few folks for not showing the old cars driving around, more of Havana. I laugh because the film is not about that. That’s only novel to folks who are foreigners. To me, the story is contained at that table, between four walls and a woman and a child. It could really take place anywhere. It’s not about the place—that’s like having every film you make in Paris have establishing shots of the Eiffel Tower or something. Fuck that. We should be able to tell stories without that. The environment can provide a mood even subconsciously. That’s what happens in Parthenon. It’s a NYC film to be sure–the bedroom is shot in Queens, the studio space was shot in Manhattan–and I think NYC bleeds in subtly—the traffic noise, the architecture is different. And just like Casa, Parthenon is comprised mostly of folks from that area. Including myself, there were only two people flown into NYC to work on the film; the rest of the cast and crew were all NYC crew I wanted to work with and cast members I had written parts for.

Where do you get the inspiration for the dialogue? Why do some of your films like Parthenon have less dialogue and others like Casa Di Ma Madre and Spider Veins have more meaty dialogue?

That is all dependent on the concept of the various films themselves. I always like to do something different than the film before. If I do a film with a lot of dialogue (in Casa, it’s essentially a giant monologue), then I’ll want to do a film with no dialogue (Parthenon) the next go-round. It’s good to always challenge yourself and always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I’m a fan of Beckett, if that gives me away, ha! I love his pieces that are all silent physical performances, written out with body language beat-by-beat, just as much I as love Krapp’s Last Tape, where it’s a giant, rambling speech at a desk. The only real dialogue we finally hear in Spider Veins ends up being all bullshit. All performance, lines from a play. And all the “real” dialogue is mostly offscreen. Basically, I think words should be used carefully. They should mean something. Too often, they are not. They are thrown around. In my films, I use words as weapons, as tools for catharsis.

Who are some directors you emulate?

I have a long list of directors I admire. And different directors I love at different times of my life, who might’ve influenced me then, but don’t necessarily influence me now. But I can’t say they didn’t have an affect on me as a kid. As clichéd as it is: Scorsese, Hitchcock, Carpenter, Romero, Spielberg were all the usual suspects. A lot of classic films by John Huston, Billy Wilder, Chaplin. The older I got, I got into Kieslowski, Kiarostami, Akerman, Bergman, Antonionni, Cassavetes, Claire Denis, Michael Haneke. Now I’m all about getting the word out about amazing filmmakers who are still relatively under the radar, but who are becoming more well known: the likes of Josephine Decker, Ana Vaz, Rick Alverson, and Celia-Rowlson Hall.

What are your goals for the future as you continue as a director? Will you still continue to create shorts or will you focus more on your acting?

I’ll make shorts here and there, but my focus right is on completing these two new feature scripts that I’d like to make next. One is a way bigger film, the other is smaller. But I haven’t made any features since 2014’s Her Wilderness (which I’d started on in 2009) and 2008’s Hold. I’ve grown a lot since then, and would like to make some new features that speak to who I am today. To how I’ve changed since those older features. One of the new scripts is in a similar vein to my other work aesthetically, just on a bigger canvas. The other script harkens back to my childhood roots, to my love of Scorsese, Carpenter, Romero. It’s a 1970s set drama with edges of a horror film inside of it. I’m still acting full-time, so that’s a focus. I got a manager for the first time this last spring, so have thankfully been getting bigger opportunities in terms of TV and film. But I’m always just looking for the project that is attempting to say something new, something important, with good folks who just want to sincerely make something. I’ve been lucky to work with the people I have, and am thankful for the friendships forged. Hopefully I can just continue to balance the acting and directing. It’s a tight-rope walk, to be sure. But I like it. What’s wrong with a little danger?

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