HOLD ONTO YOURSELF: An Interview with PVT CHAT Director Ben Hozie

PVT CHAT is the brand new feature from director Ben Hozie, who is perhaps best known as the singer/guitarist for Brooklyn post-punk standard bearers Bodega. Centered around the relationship between a handsome yet lonely young man (played by Peter Vack) and a cam girl (played by Uncut Gems star Julia Fox), the film explores several themes that run throughout Hozie’s oeuvre, namely, the impact of the internet on our IRL social relationships, Occupy Wall Street, and the possibility of making real connections in an overly-commodified world.

by Darren O'Brien

The erect penis we see one minute into PVT CHAT is the actor’s own, not a prosthetic. Jack, alone in the kitchen of a dark New York apartment, masturbates to a cam girl on his open laptop. He wants to be abused, verbally and virtually. “It’ll be easy with you, I can tell,” says the leather-clad Scarlet as she mimes extinguishing a cigarette onto Jack’s waiting tongue. But of course, what Jack really wants is something we all want: to not feel lonely.

The official trailer for PVT CHAT

PVT CHAT was written, directed, shot, and edited by Ben Hozie, who also leads the Brooklyn minimal punk band Bodega (his friend and one-time Bodega producer Austin Brown of Parquet Courts provides the minimalist score). It’s his third feature, and the first to attract attention from festivals, press, and distributors. His earlier works have merit despite their micro-budgets—Annunciation is a handsome debut shot on 16mm film, a triptych with an ensemble cast whose lives weave around each other in large and small ways before, during, and immediately after Occupy Wall Street; in The Lion’s Den, a group of Staten Island radicals straight out of Godard’s La Chinoise make art and deliver diatribes in-between kidnapping a corporate executive—but the beery intellectualism that works in Hozie’s songwriting plays a little arch on film. With PVT CHAT, Hozie has made a movie that feels more connected to the raw street pulse of his band’s music.

Ben Hozie performing with his band Bodega. Photo by (link: http://instagram.com/daggers_for_eyes text: Kirsten Kay Thoen).

Ben Hozie performing with his band Bodega. Photo by Kirsten Kay Thoen.

Jack’s life is all risk, vice, and sadness: flipping a coin on whether to get “all the way” massages in Chinatown, late with rent because his subletter has recently died, online blackjack with mixed results, fixing a draft in his spartan apartment, ramen for dinner, more cam girls. He asks Scarlet to “drop the act” and just talk to him, then almost patronizingly geeks out upon hearing that she’s an artist. When she commends his passion for the preposterous telepathy app he claims to be developing, an intertitle informs us that she’s been “added to top favorites.”

Jack with his nose pressed against the computer screen staring at Scarlett's ass
Peter Vack as Jack in *PVT CHAT*

Peter Vack as Jack in PVT CHAT

As they let their guards down, Jack shares with Scarlet, a stranger he’s paying for intimacy, something that sounds like a core philosophy: every human relationship is transactional. He presents this decidedly libertarian outlook in voiceover as we see him on the train reading Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die, which makes a moral case for committing criminal acts to alleviate the suffering of others (incidentally, the same book The Lion’s Den’s Scooby Doo leftists use to justify their scheme), so perhaps his mind is not made up. Played with dweeby panache by Peter Vack, Jack is endearingly awkward, even handsome, with no obvious signs of the incel or shut-in or even of having social anxiety. He’s practically a people person, becoming fast friends with Will (Kevin Moccia, in his third Hozie feature), the man hired to paint his apartment a shade of teal suspiciously like the one used on Bodega’s album covers, and his recidivist buddy Larry (the always-scene-stealing Buddy Duress of Good Time and Heaven Knows What, appearing between stints in Rikers), though the film toys with knee-jerk classist assumptions that they will eventually get him into trouble. Jack even gets to play heartbreaker himself when he spurns in-the-flesh advances from Emma (Nikki Belfiglio, Hozie’s Bodega bandmate and frequent film collaborator), an ex-flame whose art show he attends, in favor of another session with Scarlet. But though Jack seems more likely to end up a victim than a perp, when presented with the choice to do something creepy or not, he can’t help but take the creepy route every time, as when he sees Scarlet at a deli in Chinatown and follows her home.

Peter Vack as Jack and Nikki Belfiglio as Emma in PVT CHAT

Scarlet, played with a sweet coolness by Julia Fox (who was cast in her star-making turn in Uncut Gems soon after Hozie began filming), is just as unfussily complex. Hozie is getting deserved praise for her characterization as a sex worker who is neither a victim of exploitation nor a cruel, callous vixen (outside her profession, anyway). He started writing and shooting PVT CHAT around the same time SESTA/FOSTA was becoming law, and the film seems to indirectly challenge those bills’ conflation of sex work with human trafficking. That Fox has done domme work in her own past helps add personal nuance to the performance, and when the focus shifts to her point of view in the film’s second act, the expansion of scope feels something like when a sad person makes room in their heart for love.

Julia Fox as Scarlet in PVT CHAT

It’s to Hozie’s further credit that neither character is given a cheap origin story for their proclivities; they are treated with neither judgment nor smug sympathy. But that moral ambiguity, especially as it concerns Jack, has rankled some critics: one reviewer of PVT CHAT’s run in Montreal’s Fantasia Festival last summer regretted that Jack doesn’t get a “comeuppance”—though it’s up for debate whether the film can even be said to have a happy ending, as if just leaving open the possibility for a moment of happiness is too much munificence to show a pervert. As if it’s not ultimately Scarlet’s choice to make.

Peter Vack as Jack and Julia Fox as Scarlet sharing a laugh in PVT CHAT

Of course, the desire to discipline and punish, scold and shame, can itself be an outlet for perverse pleasure. Monsters are real, but sex is messy—especially in a culture that still sees male nudity and female pleasure as assaults on decency—and most everyone with a love and sex life ends up having both ab/used and gotten ab/used in some proportion. America loves its moral panics, but it’s hard to believe that circular firing squads are a productive way to reach sexual justice or do anything but perpetuate our unhealthy, simultaneous obsession with and revulsion towards sex. Another way is compassion. Having both sufficiently wronged each other, Jack and Scarlet can share their most mutually vulnerable moment. He finally has her right where he wants her and can’t deliver. When Scarlet playacts the separateness of their cam sessions to get Jack back in the moment, it shows how a small act of mercy can make the profane divine.

Hozie took an hour from mixing the new Bodega record to speak to me on the phone.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

Behind the scenes on the set of *PVT CHAT*

Behind the scenes on the set of PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: In the time between scheduling with you and today, I watched all your other films.

BEN HOZIE: That makes you my favorite person right now.

CELL VISION: Have you noticed any renewed interest in the older films now that this one is getting into festivals and getting press?

BEN HOZIE: It’s always been my hope that one of these days, I’ll get a movie that makes me more visible and dignifies my earlier DIY movies, so that’s why I’ve always just had them out there for free. Occasionally, someone that really likes our band might come up to me at a show and say, “Hey, I saw your movie.” That’s always the coolest thing to hear. I’m appreciative that people are into PVT CHAT and the band and stuff, but when someone says they watched Annunciation, I’m like, “No way!” Because, at the time, it was a big disappointment to me that maybe only 100 people saw that movie. And then I realized there was no way it was commercial enough to sell, so it was just this thing I worked on for three years that was just there.

Nicola Fiore and Eric Nold in *Annunciation*

Nicola Fiore and Eric Nold in Annunciation

CELL VISION: It looks really beautiful.

BEN HOZIE: There’s something about 16mm film, you just can’t touch it.

CELL VISION: I don’t know if you could do the other two features on film, because you have much more claustrophobic shots, darker lighting.

BEN HOZIE: Also especially PVT CHAT is so much more about the actors than anything else. In order to get them to open up as much as they did, both in the sexual aspects and just the emotional aspects, you had to run a shot for 30 minutes. There’s no way to do that with film without spending a zillion dollars. Annunciation was like, “Say your one line.” Bzzz. “Okay, we got it. Say your one line.” And we spend 30 minutes just getting that frame right. But the acting was so much less involved for that technical reason.

Ben Hozie on the set of *PVT CHAT*

Ben Hozie on the set of PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: In initial reviews for PVT CHAT, you’ve gotten praise for portraying a sex worker without an exploitation narrative. Have you run into any criticism for that, either from festival interest or in the fundraising process, or are you anticipating any?

BEN HOZIE: I think nobody has a problem with the way the sex work is portrayed. I’ve come across people who are put off by the other side of it, the male nudity. Which I think will change with time; I just think our culture maybe is not ready for it yet. I hear this a lot, they’ll say, “Now female nudity, that’s art. That’s what we see when we go to the Met. But male nudity? That’s disgusting and obscene.” Like… really? I don’t see it that way. And this is only in America. Nobody in France would say that, nobody in England has been saying that, nobody even in Japan has been saying that. It’s only American distributors that I’ve talked to, which I find to be a moral problem in America. This is why we have so many incels: people are more comfortable with guns than they are with their own sexuality. I could have made a movie with a serial killer pulling out somebody’s long intestine for 10 minutes, and that’s PG-13. But as soon as there’s a penis, people are like, “Oh my god, I cannot program that at my festival. It’s disgusting.” I never in any way conceived it as being disgusting. It’s not disgusting to me. It’s just Peter’s penis.

"If you’ve seen my other two movies, then you know that the style of those movies is artifice... I kind of grew out of that style. I think that’s a young person’s style, where you’re so in your head and really thinking theoretically about movies. Now I’m more interested in worlds and characters."

CELL VISION: I’m not prudish necessarily, but to see that in the first minutes of the film, even I was like, “Oh, interesting.”

BEN HOZIE: If you’ve seen my other two movies, then you know that the style of those movies is artifice. Neither of those movies is meant to be in any way realistic. Especially Lion’s Den, which is meant to be cartoonishly abstract. It’s not taking place in the real world. And Annunciation, even though it’s very much set in the world and even shows the characters at Occupy Wall Street, the stylization of it was also meant to be abstract.

I kind of grew out of that style. I think that’s a young person’s style, where you’re so in your head and really thinking theoretically about movies. Now I’m more interested in worlds and characters. But I wanted people to really emotionally connect to this movie, and I thought, Well, if you get them in their body, you can get them emotionally. So if, in the very first 2 or 3 minutes, you see Jack actually masturbating, you’re like, “Oh wow, this is for real. There’s nothing traditionally movie-like about this, this is just actually happening, and so I have to accept that what happens in this movie is actually happening.” I wanted that kind of energy.

Scarlet mimes blowing smoke in Jack's face in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION:Was Peter on board with that from the beginning, or did you have to coax him?

BEN HOZIE: No, Peter’s great. I have a big admiration for Peter. In real life he’s kind of a shy guy, which is funny, but in movies, he’s just really down to do anything. Peter directed a movie a few years ago called Assholes, and his sister [Betsey Brown] acts in it as well as this other guy named Jack [Dunphy], and he had them both do some pretty wild stuff, nudity and stuff. So I think he understood, having been on the other side, how it can make a film more interesting and, as a performer, he’s really willing to go there. In the beginning, before I had Peter in mind, I was talking to a lot of actors. As soon as I told them they would have to be naked in it, a lot of people understandably were like, “Oh, I don’t think I could do that. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think I’d be good at that.” I’m lucky I was eventually able to do it with Peter.

Jack leering at a mannequin in the window of a sex shop in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: Is there a comment here on SESTA/FOSTA or the notion that sex work always has an exploitative element to it?

BEN HOZIE: I interviewed some cam girls, and a lot of them were telling me very, very sad stories. They would tell me, “I’m in this brothel in Ukraine, my boyfriend’s in the next room, he’s also a cam performer, we have six kids, they’re not going to eat unless we do this.” Stuff that, if put in a movie, would be almost too melodramatic. But that’s not the kind of movie I wanted to make. Even though that is a big part of sex work, it’s not the whole part. I know many girls and boys in New York that do sex work, and that’s not their story.

I think one of the big things that people get wrong about sex workers in general is that they can and often do get pleasure out of it themselves. I feel like the narrative often wants to see them as victims.

BEN HOZIE: The kind of story I’m more interested in is what I’m calling a middle-class freelance sex worker, where, usually throughout someone’s 20s, they realize they’re sexually gifted, they have a talent for sex, they enjoy pushing the boundaries, and they feel safe and comfortable enough that they can experiment with that and make a lot of cash [to] maybe help put them through grad school or just live in New York because it’s so expensive. And that’s the story I wanted to tell. I wanted the movie to be sex-positive.

I think one of the big things that people get wrong about sex workers in general is that they can and often do get pleasure out of it themselves. I feel like the narrative often wants to see them as victims. And certainly some are, but not all of them. But it’s complicated. That’s why there’s some lines in the movie where Julia’s like, “I haven’t even really processed what I feel about all this yet.” It’s not like she’s a perfect character in the sense that she’s got it all figured out and she’s totally in control. She’s certainly more in control of her life than Jack’s character is, but she still, like anybody growing up, doesn’t have it all quite figured out, and I’m sure her opinions toward what she’s doing will change on a day-to-day basis. She clearly is good at it and enjoys it but probably doesn’t want to do it forever and has weird feelings about how her boyfriend feels about it. It’s complicated.

Scarlet having a smoke in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: I also liked that there were no traumatic origin stories. Scarlet says she knew she liked to dominate boys since she was young, but there’s no psychoanalysis.

BEN HOZIE: That’s actually Julia’s actual story, because she did some domme work when she was younger, and one of the first times we hung out, just having a drink and talking about the project, I was like, “So, just out of curiosity, when did you figure out your knack for domming?” And she said, “Oh, when I was probably like 4 or 5.” I flagged that. I wasn’t going to explain it in the film, but when we were on set I had an idea for when the characters are falling for each other and getting to know each other. I said, “Julia, why don’t you tell him that story that you told me one time? You can fictionalize it a little bit.” So a lot of the stuff in the movie is like that, where semi-/quasi-documentary things sneak in and enrich the movie.

I didn’t want to pathologize Jack, either. There’s a version of the movie I could have made. You know his roommate has died, and there’s this ghost in his apartment in a way, and I ended up heavily downplaying that. It’s something that he says and reveals, and it’s teased out in a lot of the images and sound design stuff, but it’s almost like a thing left unsaid that you don’t really pick up on until you watch it a second time maybe. That’s where I settled with it in the final edit. But there could have been a version of the movie where it starts out at a funeral or, even more in a dramatic fashion, where he comes home and finds his roommate’s dead body. Then it would be like, “Oh, this guy’s going through mourning, and that’s why he gets into cam girls.” And in some ways, that is the story of the movie, but I didn’t want it to feel like that’s the reason he’s into cam girls.

To me, it was more interesting for him to be like, “I’ve always been into cam girls, but I’m also going through this thing right now.” Because I do hate in Hollywood movies, especially biopics, where they have to reduce someone’s entire character and life to this one thing that happened to them when they were like 5. I just don’t think that’s actually how personalities work.

Keith Poulson as Duke in *PVT CHAT*

Keith Poulson as Duke in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: I’d wondered if it was important to you to not diagnose either of them, especially Jack. Were you ever concerned that it might make him too unsympathetic if we don’t know why he seems to always take the creepy option?

BEN HOZIE: That’s one of the big challenges of this movie in general, putting you inside this guy’s head and doing it truthfully but not alienating people so much that they’re like, “I don’t want to be inside this guy’s head, I don’t care, this guy doesn’t have any redeeming qualities for me.” Where I ended up falling on that line was: yes, he does bad things, he does criminal things—he stalks Scarlet, he breaks into her house, he lies, things like that. But so does she. It’s a movie about criminals, more or less. But his redeeming quality to me is that he loves people.

"Some people I show the movie to are like, “I hate your movie because I don’t like that guy. He reminds me of an ex,” or something. Well, okay. Maybe you’ll like my next thing, I don’t know. It doesn’t have to be for everybody."

BEN HOZIE: That was something I hit on with Peter on maybe the second or third day on set, where I realized, “Jack is a really sweet guy. Any person you interact with, you have to be extremely extroverted and giddy and happy to be around them, whether it’s this guy painting your house or whether it’s Scarlet.” He has what I would call a very American optimism. You don’t really see this in European movies, people that are this naively looking forward to tomorrow.

I ended up falling in love with Jack just for his optimism. So I thought that if you had this guy who does these very questionable things—and he’s self-aware to a certain extent, he’s kind of an armchair philosopher, just not a very good one—that people could fall in love with him not only because they can relate to his situation—everybody’s been hopelessly fixated on somebody, and if they say they haven’t been, they’re probably lying—but mostly because of his optimism. And still, some people I show the movie to are like, “I hate your movie because I don’t like that guy. He reminds me of an ex,” or something. Well, okay. Maybe you’ll like my next thing, I don’t know. It doesn’t have to be for everybody.

Behind the scenes images from the set of *PVT CHAT*

Behind the scenes images from the set of PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: In fact, one criticism I saw was that he isn’t punished, doesn’t get a comeuppance.

BEN HOZIE: Wha— Why? What are we, God? What is this eye-for-an-eye philosophy where you have to punish fictional characters? I find that repellant. It’s not an artist’s role to be moral philosophers. We all are, to a certain extent; it’s hard to resist moralizing within the art you make, and certainly, I moralize in my work in one way or another, certainly there is a moral to PVT CHAT. But this idea that because he follows Scarlet down a dark street and it’s creepy, he deserves to get punished? I find that kind of morally repellent. And also, he does get punished!

CELL VISION: That was my thought: was that person not watching the same movie that I was? But, I guess, just the fact that he still sounds pretty optimistic at the end.

BEN HOZIE: To me, it’s like redemption. I wanted the movie to end in a positive place. It’s not like happily ever after, they’re not going to get together in any romantic sense, but I think they both are sharing a genuine moment. So in my sense, all this nihilism that he’s been talking about the whole movie is refuted in that last scene, because they are sharing this genuine, sweet moment together, and they both really have wronged each other in very different ways, but despite all that, they’re still both there, and something’s going to happen from that point on. It’s up to people to guess, but I think they’ll probably become “friends.” I wanted this notion that there’s some kind of miracle at the end, where, yes, they’ll be friends, and yes, they’ll work together to get this guy’s money. People can be redeemed.

Somehow, our culture is going to evolve in some way where we need to allow people to reform or something. And I totally get it, if someone does something so reprehensible, maybe they don’t deserve any kind of redemption, like a career to be continued. But this Old Testament eye-for-an-eye thing, I feel like that’s not the right way to do it.

More behind the scenes images from the set of PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: I think people now expect art to engage in the same sort of virtue signaling that companies do, where characters are stand-ins for a particular value through which you let everyone know that you’re on the right side of certain issues. “Being sexually creepy is bad, so you shouldn’t let him be happy.”

BEN HOZIE: Yeah. I hope that those people will one day change their mind. I don’t care if they like my movie, but I hope that they’ll change their mind about art and that kind of moral worldview in general. I don’t think it’s very healthy. People have said to me, while we were filming it, “Wow, this is a tough movie to be making right in the middle of Trump’s term,” or right after the Louis CK thing had come out. It’s trying to ask you to sympathize with a male chronic masturbator, and in fact, you’re forcing the audience to watch him do that. And part of me is like, “Yeah, that’s exactly why now is the perfect time to make this movie.” It’s art’s place to be transgressive. It’s not art’s place to just say #everybodysgreat #everybodysequal.

"Ultimately, every filmmaker wants people to empathize with your characters. I hope people that aren’t straight white males can also identify with him. I was thinking that anyone who’s ever been through desperate longing or loneliness can put themselves in his shoes. And I think it’s just a backwards way of thinking of art to say you’re only allowed to identify with people who look exactly like you. That’s not my experience with art."

BEN HOZIE: We’re so wrapped up in identity politics now, for a lot of good reasons, but I never really thought of Jack as being a stand in for a certain type of person. Ultimately, every filmmaker wants people to empathize with your characters. I hope people that aren’t straight white males can also identify with him. I was thinking that anyone who’s ever been through desperate longing or loneliness can put themselves in his shoes. And I think it’s just a backwards way of thinking of art to say you’re only allowed to identify with people who look exactly like you. That’s not my experience with art.

Filming Peter Vack on the set of *PVT CHAT*

Filming Peter Vack on the set of PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: One thought I had, having seen the other films, and especially because Jack is reading Living High and Letting Die, is that maybe Jack’s attraction to vice is misdirected revolutionary energy.

BEN HOZIE: Yes, I think so. I tend to think of it as artistic energy that’s been siphoned another way. Artistic energy is chaotic energy. It’s not very analytical, it’s like, “We’re going to make something right now, and it’s going to be spontaneous.” Revolution is like that. The very concept of a revolution has that artistic quality to it.

"I’ve found that if I truly analyze the emotions behind the radical behavior, it’s coming from this angry, not so helpful place. With this movie, I was thinking of my Lion’s Den characters in a way and saying, 'Well, let’s bracket their philosophies for a second and think about the pain that’s going on behind them.'"

BEN HOZIE: There was an early version of the script in which Jack was way more of a philosopher, and I had a lot of scenes that I cut because I didn’t think they really worked, where he would talk to cam girls and sort of really articulate this worldview which was a certain kind of leftist one but also justified his lifestyle. To me, it was to show how he was all head and no body, in the sense that he’s a pretty smart guy but he’s so completely alienated, and even though he’s masturbating all the time, he’s not having a healthy relationship with his body necessarily.

It was sort of a commentary on a lot of the people that I encountered making Lion’s Den. I love radical people, because as soon as you say anything that goes against the status quo I already love you to a certain extent because you’re brave and courageous and you actually care about the world. But [with] a lot of these people, myself included, I’ve found that if I truly analyze the emotions behind the radical behavior, it’s coming from this angry, not so helpful place. With this movie, I was thinking of my Lion’s Den characters in a way and saying, “Well, let’s bracket their philosophies for a second and think about the pain that’s going on behind them.” This doesn’t in any way discount radical philosophy, it’s just this film is much more interested in psychology, and that film was almost hardline analytic philosophy.

Osaretin in *The Lion's Den*

Osaretin in The Lion's Den

CELL VISION: In what you left in of Jack pontificating, the worldview he gives, once attributed to nobody and then, the second time, to his deceased roommate—which indicated to me that he sees less appeal in it—is kind of a libertarian position, which doesn’t really seem to fit what he says about Occupy. A lot of the talk about the film is about the digital relationship, but even in the IRL relationships, everyone does seem to want something from everyone else. It sounded like you said earlier that, at the end of the film, Jack and Scarlet had transcended that, despite the things that led them to that point.

BEN HOZIE: I think there are moments throughout the film that transcend that, but I wanted the ending to really hone that, to make that crystal clear. The reason I wanted it to be snowing at the end is because it was as if he’s been carrying around his dead roommate’s philosophy, which is one way of mourning for his friend: by refusing to let go of his philosophy, he’s refusing to let go of him. And he has that snow globe that he carries around with him that kind of stands in as a representation of his friend, and when he smashes it, it’s like all the little snow in the dome is now in the world and it’s snowing.

It’s pretty subtle, but my thinking of it was more magical, like he’s finally let go of his friend and that worldview. You could talk about that worldview as a neoliberal thing, and certainly it is that, but to me, it’s like a philosophical justification for a type of depression where you don’t trust anybody, you don’t trust yourself, and you’re incapable of love. If you think your own family member’s relationship with you is purely based on gain, that just means you’re incapable of giving or receiving love.

Jack smashing the snow globe, Buddy Duress as Larry fighting at an art show in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: There are a few recurring themes in all the films, Occupy Wall Street being a big one.

BEN HOZIE: For whatever reason, Occupy’s really loomed large in my mind, maybe because it happened right when I first started making serious work. And then immediately I got this idea for a fictional movie about these sort of post-Occupy radicals that wanted to become truly radical (Lion’s Den). It’s kind of played for laughs in PVT CHAT, but I do think that whatever Jack says is expressing an idea of mine, that whoever thinks Occupy Wall Street was a failure is totally wrong. It’s because of Occupy Wall Street that people even could accept Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric. It paved the way for those ideas. This is why art is important. It’s not going to change the world overnight but it does change consciousness, which changes people, which does change the world eventually. So symbolic protests, they may not get anything done this week, but they are important.

One thing that I am proud of, whatever else people can say about my movies, is that there is a world. All three of those movies are very different tonally in what they’re going for, but there is a visual language—that I still want to work on, and there are so many things I want to keep doing to expand on that world, but all the movies are going to be in that world, if that makes sense.

If there’s any one image I want people to know me by, it’s that image of black water with lights flickering as the ripples happen. I didn’t come up with that image, I’ve seen that in other movies, but I’m obsessed with it, and it never gets old to me. I could watch that for hours, and for whatever reason, I’ve decided that that’s going to be in everything I do. It’s meant different things to me in different movies. I guess what it always means to me is just this sense of hope or yearning, which in Annunciation reflected the spiritual aspect of the movie. I think in Lion’s Den it had something more to do with the love and hope that those characters had, and in PVT CHAT it’s just a piece of art that’s in the gallery that Jack and Scarlet both go to, but I like that both those characters are bored with a lot of the other work but they both stop and look at that same piece. It’s a little private joke, but it’s also them connecting through that.

Jack and Scarlet chatting in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: Jack’s room gets painted Bodega blue, a shade that’s been on your two LP covers. To what extent does the world of your films overlap with the world of your songwriting? Are there characters that appear in both?

BEN HOZIE: Yeah, I think so. One character that pops up from time to time in my music now, I call him the Cultural Consumer, which is maybe an exaggerated version of me, but he’s a guy who spends all of his time going through the 100,001 records you must hear before you die. He has no time for relationships or anything because he’s just constantly consuming things. There was a character at one point in Lion’s Den called Cultural Consumer. I’ve been reluctant to really fully merge the two, but they both come from the same place.

Because I wrote most of the songs on the Bodega album Endless Scroll at the same time as writing PVT CHAT, [there] are really similar themes. At the same time, I very consciously was like, “Ok, I want to make art about the internet, or if not the internet, art about how the internet is changing thought and changing relationships.” So there’s overlap there. When I was making Lion’s Den, there was a huge overlap with the one and only Bodega Bay record [Our Brand Could Be Your Life], which is full of references to how art needs to be more artificial. I had this anti-naturalism phase, which showed its head in the music and that film, where I was rebelling against things like neo-neo-realism and mumblecore. I thought the only way you could make truthful art is if it was revealing itself as very fake. I got over that phase, and obviously PVT CHAT is not that, and my band is really not that either; we’ve moved in a more confessional route in our songwriting.

The music video for Bodega's "Name Escape" directed by Nikki Belfiglio

BEN HOZIE: But it’s hard to say. I haven’t, like, written a song about Jack, although we do have a song called “Jack in Titanic,” which some people pointed out and asked is there any connection there. No, it’s just a pure coincidence I like. Jack was named because he plays blackjack and he jacks off; it was just a really stupid joke that is still funny to me. Maybe as I get better, the worlds will cross over more.

My girlfriend keeps asking me, “When are you going to just make a movie about a band? You would do such a good job at that.” Make the anti-Bohemian Rhapsody, a movie about a DIY band that’s not very good. She’s like, “You know that world so well, you could do it well.” And I know I have to make that movie, but I’m not ready for it yet. Part of the reason in my movies I don’t use pop music at all, for example, is because I write songs, and so I love pop music, and if I was to put a song in a movie, it would somehow contaminate the song and the movie. They have to be separate for me.

Jack and Scarlet snuggled up in *PVT CHAT*

Jack and Scarlet snuggled up in PVT CHAT

CELL VISION: It’s like cheating to use a song people already have a strong emotional association with.

BEN HOZIE: I taught at a film school, and they would always say, “No Brian Eno, no Radiohead.” Because you could film somebody clipping their toenails and, if you play one of Radiohead’s best songs, you can get the whole room crying, so it’s totally cheating. Maybe it’s not, I don’t know. I use music in my films to evoke emotion. I use Beethoven. And I think partially it’s because I don’t understand the mechanics of how Beethoven works. I’ve never really studied classical music. I have a fan’s understanding of these various movements and stuff, but I can’t play it. I also associate Beethoven with movies. When I hear Beethoven I’m like, “Oh, I know this piece from that Godard movie.” So Beethoven to me is like cinema. I’m perfectly fine to use classical music to evoke emotion. But because I have a personal relationship with rock ‘n roll music, it’s different.

Obviously Austin [Brown] does pop music as well, but I was like, “We’re not going to write songs, nothing with a groove or anything.” I wanted it to be very abstract. Parquet Courts-esque ideas, but as if it’s just one person in the band playing. So just one guitar part or just one keyboard part or maybe just a hi-hat from the drum set. I like to think of music for scores in terms of sampling, taking little shards of sound and using them in a very playful way. It is coloring your perception of the world, but it shouldn’t be so symbiotic with the world. And I don’t like really playing out an entire song or anything like that. I do like in movies when oftentimes there isn’t much score and then when a piece of music does show up, you’re like, “Wow, okay. Really feeling it this time.” I don’t really like to make hard and fast rules; I’ll always use music, but it has to feel like a motif.

Austin Brown's score for PVT CHAT, available as a free download on Bandcamp.

CELL VISION: Any word on the next Bodega LP?

BEN HOZIE: The songs are all done, it’s all written and recorded, we’ve just been trying to finish a mix. Been working on that one for like six months, so we’re ready to let it go. We’re just about done with it now, but we’ve got to figure out the art and the tracklisting and find a good way to get it out there. I think it’s going to come out in the Fall of 2021.

CELL VISION: And are you going to have that same color blue on the cover?

BEN HOZIE: You betcha. Well, we have to now, right?

CELL VISION: I think so!

BEN HOZIE: No, it will be.

PVT CHAT is available to rent or purchase on YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. You can download Austin Brown’s score "PVT TAPE" for free on Bandcamp via the link below.

Watch PVT CHAT on YouTube
Watch PVT CHAT on Google Play
Watch PVT CHAT on Vudu
Download Austin Brown's PVT TAPE for free on Bandcamp