The Directors of ‘L for Leisure’ on Their 8 Biggest Inspirations – From ‘Saved by the Bell’ to Andy Warhol

When Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s L for Leisure premiered at BAMCinemaFest last June, it fit the bill as our perfect summer movie. This Friday, the film will finally have its theatrical run at Made in NY Media Center by IFP and will again kick off the season in style. As a sun-drenched and languorous ode to the 1990s, Kalman and Horn’s film acts as an “exploded version” of their 2009 short Blondes in the Jungle, further establishing their singular directorial voice. Shot in locations around the world (from Baja to Iceland) on beautiful 16mm, L for Leisure tracks a group of graduate students as they go about their various vacations between 1992 and 1993. Like the cinematic equivalent to chill wave sonic pleasure, Kalman and Horn’s feature debut may be indebted to the iconic vibe of directors like Eric Rohmer and Whit Stillman—with its episodic adventures and stilted portraits of young, jet-setting elite—but its how they’ve filtered those influences through their own expression that makes the film its own brand of humor and intellect. 

Later this week we’ll share our interview with Kalman and Horn, but in the meantime, check out their eight biggest inspirations on L for Leisure—from the “vibrant and flat” world of Saved by the Bell to”snotty” 90s bands like Blur and Pavement.

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SAVED BY THE BELL

Saved by the Bell is a big influence on how we approach ensemble in our films. The individual characters are vibrant and flat – they have a one-note quality. But between them is a collective spirit that you can really identify with. Over the years of show this collective spirit changes and develops. That’s a good summary of our intention with the characters in L for Leisure. It’s kind of like Saved by the Bell: The Grad School Years.

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THE DEGRASSI FRANCHISE

What’s crazy about the project of Degrassi is that the characters keep growing up, but the show stays focused on the school. So there’s this constant turnover (it’s like that line in Dazed and Confused about high school girls). And while there’s continuity to the 25 year franchise – and some characters have stuck it out the whole time – as the years go on there’s an increasing feeling of discontinuity and repetition. There’s only so many kinds of high school issues you can explore, and as a result characters and scenarios start to mimic and parody past ones. This uncanny effect is something you as an audience member experience but the characters don’t – they each assume they’re important and unique.

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ULRIKE OTTINGER

Joan of Arc of Mongolia is just like a perfect, charming film, and should be on TV and like Top Ten lists all the time. But we’re probably more in line with Ottinger’s earlier low-budg films. The look of the Drive Thru scene in L for Leisure, with the harsh on-screen lighting sources, was directly inspired by this scene in Madame X where the female pirates raid a yacht of bougie vacationers. Come to think of it, our scene is kind of a mirror of that one.

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SAN DIEGO SURF

We got a chance to see the new release of Andy Warhol’s San Diego Surf at MoMA just as we’d started to really edit L for Leisure after 3+ years of shooting. It came at the exact right emotional time because you know we’d been working with our footage, and it isn’t anything like the TV shows we usually watch. And we’re seeing San Diego Surf, and people around are getting bored and walking out, and we’re just loving every moment in the film. And it’s like, oh right  – we make weird movies.

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LOVE & ROCKETS

Probably my (Lev) first encounter with something genuinely cool/underground/indie as a kid. Still probably my template for what that is. Most influenced our films in the way its characters oscillate between pop archetypes and ‘real’. Also the Hernandez bros approach ‘jokes’ in the same comic strippy way we often do.

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THE STATE / STELLA

Our friendship in college was largely cemented over frequent watchings of Whitney’s Stella DVD. The idea of L for Leisure taking place over vacations came from it. We love the way they remystify everyday conversation using absurdity, and make fun of pop-intellectualism without seeming particularly smarter than it. Thats our goal. Also the L4L jeans scene is more or less a historic re-enactment of the State “pants” sketch.

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HAL HARTLEY

There’s an phenomena we often of experience of influence in reverse. Like we didn’t really get into Werner Herzog until after Blondes in the Jungle was all shot. And L for Leisure was already years into production before we discovered the films of Hal Hartley. But when we saw them it was like Oh obviously this was the big influence all along. We just didn’t know it yet.

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 SNOTTY BANDS OF THE 90’s

Pavement, Butthole Surfers, Yummy Fur, Country Teasers, Blur

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