Interview | Annie Clark, ‘XX’ and the Significance of the Toilet Costume

Whether you know her as Annie Clark or you know her as St. Vincent, you probably don’t know her like this. The acclaimed musician has been making an indelible mark on the music industry for several years now, with rich and exciting albums like “Strange Mercy” and “St. Vincent,” and she’s trying something completely new with a film called XX: she’s making her directorial debut.

Annie Clark co-wrote and directed The Birthday Party, a short horror comedy about suburban desperation that stars Melanie Lynskey (Togetherness) as a housewife who tries to hide her husband’s dead body in order to avoid traumatize her daughter at a costumed get together. It’s one of multiple shorts in XX, an anthology horror movie directed entirely by women, featuring stories about female experiences in an otherwise male-dominated filmmaking landscape.

Also: Jordan Peele, ‘Get Out’ and Social Thrillers (Interview)

Annie Clark co-wrote The Birthday Party with Roxanne Benjamin, a filmmaker and producer who also helped give horror fans the anthology horror series V/H/S, and who directed her own installment of XX called Don’t Fall. I spoke to both Annie Clark and Roxanne Benjamin about their latest project and the origin of the toilet costume that Annie Clark wore on stage last year, which – it turns out – was originally created for one of her child actors in XX.

XX is currently available on VOD.

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Crave: So XX is a film where you were given free reign to make a horror film of your choice. I’m curious what it was that led you to pick your individual topics, because you have [Roxanne Benjamin] have made sort of a monster movie…

Roxanne Benjamin: Mmm-hmm…

…and you have [Annie Clark] made sort of a suburban anxiety movie. What went into that creative process?

Roxanne Benjamin: I wanted to make a monster movie. That was literally it! [Laughs.] The last thing I had done was “Siren,” my section of Southbound, and that was more of a slow-building, creeping dread, and had a bit of that rural suburban anxiety to it. So I wanted to make something more action-packed, creature feature, harkening back to Creepshow 2 kind of thing.

And you…?

Annie Clark: Well, two big points of reference. One, a true story that a friend told me about someone waking up, finding a dead body in the house and having to make very quick decisions to protect children, and the other was actually a still photo in Toilet Paper Magazine with this immaculate Italian, kind of Memphis-designed living room and a rug, and there were two feet sticking out under the rug. That picture kind of encapsulated my sort of life view, and so the story got weaved around those two things.

Your particular piece is very stylized. It feels not unlike some of your music videos. Is that just your aesthetic or are you making a bigger statement with that particular look? The white walls, the distinctive colorful costumes…?

Annie Clark: Yeah, I think the aesthetic is very important to me in the sense that it plays up the absurdity, and the idea that this is its own world, that it’s removed from naturalism. And I just tend to like the kind of absurdity that that brings out.

Roxanne, you co-wrote Annie Clark’s piece. Can you you tell me what that collaboration was like? Because horror, I find, can be very personal. It’s about what creeps us out and makes us uncomfortable. What was the process like together?

Roxanne Benjamin: It actually came from… Annie had come up with the story, and then it was a lot of just going back and forth and hashing that out. I always say that writing, the actual writing part, is like six percent of the writing process. It’s like all of it’s already written by the time you get to, “Oh, now we actually have to put this on paper.” So it was kind of circling around what that idea was and how those moments could bring out those specific themes that we were looking at, of this woman unhinged in this very hinged society, literally living in a glass house. About halfway through we had gotten very dark and very serious and into these very, very dark scenes and then we kind of had this epiphany of like…

Annie Clark: This is a comedy. [Laughs.]

Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah! [Laughs.]

Magnet Releasing

Well, there’s a child in your short dressed like a toilet. 

Annie Clark: Yeah.

Roxanne Benjamin: Yes.

Why a toilet? I want to know this kid’s story. He had to go to his parent and say, “I want to dress like a toilet. Help me with my passion.” 

Annie Clark: Yeah.

That’s just that kid? He’s the toilet kid?

Annie Clark: Yeah, I think it’s a child’s birthday and a costume party and he said to his mom, “I would like to be a toilet.” Mmm-hmm.

I’m glad we had that conversation.

Annie Clark: Uh-huh!

Roxanne Benjamin: Annie, by the way, wore that toilet costume on stage.

Annie Clark: I did. Made for a child. It fit me. Yeah, I wore it. I played a benefit in New York and I performed in the toilet. It was very vaudeville.

Is there a particular song that really fits the toilet costume?

Annie Clark: Well, you know, I had a couple dancers with me on that particular show and we played a song… Roxanne can tell you, she’s a huge fan of my music [laughs]. She’s never heard it. Yeah, it’s fine. It’s not a source of contention at all with us. But I played a song called “Marry Me” and we did a sort of vaudeville act where I was actually reading a book about public sex while…

Roxanne Benjamin: …dressed as a…

AnnieClark: …toilet, yeah.

That can be a locale where people might have the public sex. So there’s a connection there.

Annie Clark: Absolutely. I think it’s completely meta.

Roxanne Benjamin: That’s what she was going for.

Well done indeed.

Annie Clark: Thank you.

Magnet Releasing

You’re welcome. Roxanne, your piece feels like a contained monster movie though. I think that’s interesting because there are a couple of different ways to do a short film. Often they feel like little jokes where they lead up to a big punchline. Annie’s film is somewhat like that. Your film feels like it could have been a shortened feature length script. Is that how it works in your head? Did you want to do a feature version of Don’t Fall?

Roxanne Benjamin: No. [Laughs.] I feel like there’s a lot of shorts that get… like you were saying, they fit the size that they are. If you make them longer they can get kind of pedantic. There’s something I love about just jumping right into the story, jumping right into the action. It’s something we were always trying to do on the V/H/S movies, was jump right into the point of action. Especially with the found footage stuff, it’s like you have 2/3’s of a story that’s just leading up to the fun part. So that’s the fun thing about shorts, you get right to the fun part and right to the meat of it, and this one I wanted to just make a rollercoaster ride from the get go.

I imagine we want to do more XX movies and part of the idea is to invite new voices. Are there other particular voices you’re excited to invite to do an XX film, for example? Any particular filmmaker you’d love to get, or see what they’d do?

Roxanne Benjamin: I think it’s more Todd Brown and Jovanka [Vuckovic]’s, their…

Annie Clark: Baby.

Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah, their baby.

But you have their ear, right? You can bend it. Like, “Psst!

Roxanne Benjamin: I would love to see the Sofia Coppola short.

Annie Clark: Ooh! Yeah! The Virgin Homicides.

Roxanne Benjamin: Yeah. Well done.

Top Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.