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May 20, 2016

Movie Notes - Nicholas Rombes "The Removals"

The Removals

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

In a twist on the Book Notes series, Nicholas Rombes discusses the books which informed his film The Removals (which he wrote and directed).

Columbus Alive wrote of the film:

"An intensely visual film... There is so much depth in this science fiction, dissecting notions of individuality versus group thought, originality versus duplication and the complex sentiments in the development of a loving relationship."

In his own words, here is Nicholas Rombes's Book Notes on the books that inspired his film The Removals:

The Administration of Fear

Paul Virilio, The Administration of Fear (2012)
This small book—published by the great and radical semiotext(e)—feels like a dangerous secret, some sort of contraband. It burns your hands like a hot coal. How can ideas still feel secret and dangerous today when no outrage seems out of bounds? Somehow Virilio makes it so. “We are facing the emergence of a real, collective madness,” he says, “reinforced by the synchronization of emotions: the sudden globalization of affects in real time that hits all of humanity at the same time, and in the name of Progress. Emergency exit: we have entered a time of general panic.” One of the questions that The Removals explores is how to maintain individual integrity when we are so plugged in and networked to the vast and growing social networks that thrive on heightened states of hyper-emotion and feeling.

In the Surgical Theatre

Dana Levin, In the Surgical Theatre (1999)
There is one poem in particular in this collection of dark and unsettling poems that directly inspired the mood and atmosphere of the film. The name of the poem is “Field,” are here are its opening stanzas:

The antelope white against the charred hills
eaten by fire,
the golden trees, the upstairs window,

is running across the field,
can you see it coming
through the yellow grass, can you see it coming
from the windowpane,
are you closing the shutters, do you think it is rain?

My hope is that at least parts of the movie approach the strange and dark and ambiguous menace of those lines and the way they tug the reader along in a barely visible current. There are lots of quiet parts to the film, moments where we wanted to let the images and sound—not words—lead the viewer, and Levin’s poetry, with its vast and terrifying open spaces, was an inspiration.


Shirley Jackson, Hangsaman (1951)
Although she’s more famous for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House Jackson’s second novel, Hangsaman, is my favorite of her works. It finds the pitch perfect balance between narrative clarity and ambiguity. There’s a passage near the end of the novel that continues to run in circles in my head: “Beneath the trees it was not dark as a room is dark when the lights are put out, the artificial darkness which comes when an artificial light is gone; it was the deep natural darkness which comes with a forsaking of natural light.” For The Removals we strived to create a similar poetry of images and to capture the elemental mystery and danger of the natural world. There are many scenes in meadows and forests filmed during what turned out to be a particularly lush, wet summer in mid-Ohio.

The Southern Reach Trilogy

Jeff VanderMeer, The Southern Reach Trilogy (2014)
We were fortunate to have VanderMeer serve as a creative consultant on the film. His writing—especially the three linked novels that constitute The Southern Reach Trilogy—were inspirations during the final drafting of the screenplay. The radical mysteries of the natural world and the notion that it might be sentient rather than just living, all these idea percolated throughout the script. There’s a particular line from Acceptance, the third book in the trilogy, that still haunts: “You had reviewed those toxic Area X video clips from the doomed first expedition not to seek answers but, with some measure of guilt, to seek a connection with the wilderness you’d known as a child.” Nature had its revenge on us during shooting, with torrential rains on many of the days we planned outdoor shooting. And yet this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the lush, psychedelic green of the meadows and forests we shot in was a special effect—nature’s own special effect—that we never could have recreated digitally.

Stranger Things Happen

Kelly Link, “The Girl Detective” (1999)
In fact, the entirety of Link’s collection Stranger Things Happen, in which the strange things that happen are always just a little bit off the page, implied rather than explicitly shown. There are details in these stories to be sure, but these are details that add to, rather than take away from, the mystery of things. I think I first read this before I’d heard of the term “weird fiction” or any names to categorize what I was reading, and I loved the thrill of not having my bearings, of trying to figure out—like a detective—what tradition these stories belonged to. “The girl detective has been looking for her mother for a long time. She doesn’t expect her mother to be easy to find. After all, her mother is also a master of disguises.” I tried to write the protagonist—Kathryn—with the same sort of sparky ambiguity and mystery.

Nicholas Rombes and The Removals links:

Nicholas Rombes' website
the film's website
trailers for the film

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interview with Nicholas Rombes

also at Largehearted Boy:

Largehearted Boy's 2016 Fundraiser

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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