Mike Mills: Beginners

The Director Traces The History of Love For His New Film and Companion Book

Mike Mills’s new film à clef Beginners mines the emotionally charged moments of his life, from recollections of budding romance to his septuagenarian father’s coming out. The movie includes illustrations courtesy of the lo-fi auteur, also collected in the companion book Mike Mills: Drawings From the Film Beginners, which is divided into chapters intrinsic to the narrative: “The History of Sadness,” “1955″ (the year Mills's parents got married) and “The History of Love"; images from the latter appear above. The film's plot turns on Hal Fields, a stand-in for Mills’s father played by Christopher Plummer, who re-embraces life following a diagnosis with terminal lung cancer. Fields's zeal triggers his graphic designer son Oliver (Ewan McGregor) to explore the nature of love, while entering into a relationship with French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). A prolific director of music videos for the likes of Air, Moby and Yoko Ono, as well as the 2005 feature Thumbsucker, Mills, like his wife Miranda July, is a polymath whose projects include his own line of T-shirts and posters, Humans. We asked him for his take on best beginnings.

Favorite first pages of a novel?
I love The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the [Milan] Kundera book, and it very much influenced this movie. The first chapter is such an amazing set up. It gets it going in a multi-strand meta-fiction way right away.

Best opening film scene?
The barn-falling scene—is that the opening of My Own Private Idaho? I think it is. I think it’s the beginning. He’s getting head and the barn is falling.

And song intro?
Beastie Boys, off of Hello Nasty. It’s Ad Rock rapping [on the track “Super Disco Breakin’”], “50 cups of coffee and you know it’s on…”

Hors d’oeuvre of choice?
Well, I love cheese. Give me any cheese and I'll comb it right up.

Start to the day?
My day begins with my border collie mutt sitting on my chest, licking me awake. It goes on for like, ten minutes. It’s a great moment because we have eye contact the whole time and we just stare. She’s usually very busy and has like ten jobs all the time. But in the morning she’ll just do that so it’s a good way for us to get together and chat. 

Rituals when embarking on a new project?
I love reading Fellini talking about writing and directing, because he gives you tons of freedom. He insists that you must not know what you are doing at the beginning. Right now my new script is a big box of notecards and I have books and DVDs that I feel are related. I like boxes, collecting things and carrying them around. Eventually it distills into the piece.

Do you go in for New Year resolutions?
My wife makes me make resolutions and she wants to hear about them—not because she wants me to improve, but like a ritual thing to see what you hope will happen in the next year. And then she’ll be like, “No, that’s not a resolution.” And then we’ll have an argument about what a resolution is.


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