Mitchell Lichtenstein, whose debut Teeth was a cult favourite on the 2007 festival circuit, unveiled his second film, Happy Tears, in competition at Berlin recently. The story of two very different sisters (played by Parker Posey and Demi Moore) who find themselves looking after their father (Rip Torn) as he succumbs to senile dementia, the film has echoes of his own life.
The writer-director, whose father was renowned pop artist Roy, named Happy Tears after one of his father's paintings, and the character of Posey's husband (Christian Camargo) is the son of a celebrated painter unable to cope with his father's legacy. A case of art imitating life'
'His relationship with his father is not at all like my relationship with my father,' insists Lichtenstein. 'There was a time when I was young that his accomplishments and relative fame were oppressive to me. But my relationship with my father was not at all troubled. There's a danger that people will think it's me and I did think about not making his father a painter but then it would be obvious that I was just deflecting it.'
Apart from sitting on the board of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation ('We have one of the best artists' foundations in the world'), Lichtenstein is not involved in the art world. He spent several years as an actor, sharing the best actor award at the 1983 Venice film festival with his co-stars in Robert Altman's Streamers and starring in Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet, before moving behind the camera. He followed up his 2004 short film Resurrection with his well-received feature debut Teeth, which landed theatrical deals in the US and several international territories.
Although he has changed genres, going from comedy-horror to drama, with his second film - for which New York-based Cinetic is handling international sales - Lichtenstein did not notice much difference between making the two.
'The big difference was that in Teeth, I was working with actors who had little or no experience in film. Now I've made a leap to Demi and Parker and Rip Torn and Ellen Barkin, who all have way more experience than I have. In Teeth, I called the actors 'my ducklings' because they looked to me. On Happy Tears, it was different - I called them 'Sir' and 'Ma'am'. But that was a good thing because they really know what they're doing.'