News Column

Schrader's 'The Canyons' explores hook-up culture

August 8, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 08--Suddenly, Paul Schrader, the writer of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" and the director of "Hardcore" and "American Gigolo" is tied to Lindsay Lohan.

If that sounds kinky, it almost is. "The Canyons," a collaboration between Schrader and writer Bret Easton Ellis, features a famously mercurial Lohan, who has her first nude sex scenes -- with porn stars, no less.

"I'd say it's like what John Huston said about filming 'The Misfits,' " Schrader said of the last film by notoriously difficult Marilyn Monroe. "He said, 'I asked myself why I kept putting myself through this -- and then I looked at the dailies.' That's what we have here."

I'm speaking to Schrader on the day Lohan is let out of her latest rehab stint; because of that, she had yet to do publicity for the film, a cynical view of a trust fund brat played by porn star James Deen. He fancies himself a film producer but seems less interested in making movies than manipulating his girlfriend (Lohan), his assistant on his latest film shoot (Amanda Brooks) and her boyfriend (Nolan Gerard Funk of "Glee").

Schrader cuts Lohan some slack because the former Disney star had never done a sex scene, and suddenly she was doing one with porn stars Deen and Lily Labeau.

"She was a little bit freaked out about it," Schrader said. "For James, it was all a joke -- filming a sex scene with no sex! The first scene we shot was Lindsay and two porn actors. Between takes, Lily would be walking around naked, and Lindsay would be freaking out, and I'd say, 'Lily, put on a robe.' "

Schrader, Lohan, Ellis and producer Braxton Pope each own 25 percent of the film, which cost $250,000 to make (Schrader, Ellis and Pope each put in $30,000, and raised the rest through Kickstarter).

The film is Schrader's attempt to examine the hook-up culture that has become pervasive in today's world, and the emotional effect it might be having. When George C. Scott was looking for his daughter in the dingy strip clubs and peep shows of the late 1970s in "Hardcore," porn was practically underground ("Auto Focus," Schrader's 2002 biopic of actor Bob Crane's sex addiction, was set in that same world). Now it's a multi-billion-dollar industry that's in every home through pay-per-view and the Internet.

"The characters in the film were raised in the world of porn," Schrader said. "That has to change your mind-set. ... It's rewiring our children. James told me he wanted to be a porn star since he was 7 years old.

"I'm a generation away from Bret, and he's a generation away from Lindsay and James. But Bret is familiar with Blendr and Grindr sites -- sites for hooking up. We live in a world where you can hook up with someone that lives within 15 minutes of you."

Schrader feels Lohan provides the emotional center of the film, and says she hit the role out of the park. So is she worth the trouble?

" 'Blue Collar' was much harder to make," said Schrader of his 1978 directorial debut. "Richard Pryor was very difficult to work with. Lindsay couldn't hold a candle to him. When Richard got into some deep, dark mood swings, he'd always bring race into it, which really made me uncomfortable."

In fact, Schrader believes "The Canyons" could signal the start of a serious, solid direction in Lohan's career -- if she can make some personal changes.

"I talked a lot about that with her, especially in the last few days," Schrader said. "It's time for her to step up. She's got all the talent."

The Canyons: Starts Friday. Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St., S.F. (415) 863-1087. www.roxie.com. (Also available on pay-per-view.)

G. Allen Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: ajohnson@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @BRfilms Allen

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