When a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman visits an overly tidy man with an OCD who lives in a spotless apartment, this unexpected visits instigates a series of surprising events that would change the life of our unsuspecting protagonist forever. Keep it Clean is above all a charming student short film that lies distinguished among others thanks to its retro black and white photography and a lively, upbeat jazz musical score that gives the whole film an air of the charm and beauty of yesteryear.
Columbia University student Matthew Rivera joined forces with his high school collaborator Evan Sennett, and the product of this collaboration is a neat little story brought to life with enthusiasm and humor. What happens on the screen might be dark and tragic, but when such subject matter is dealt with in a cheerful way like here, you can’t help smile and laugh, at least for a bit. The acting is a bit exaggerated, which might have bothered me if this was any other kind of a film. But when the plot is this ridiculously staged, it’s rather easy to notice the actors are actually doing a great job at making Keep it Clean work as well as it does.
Considering the fact that the filmmakers are so young, which means their best work is yet to come to both our and the big screens, Keep it Clean is an accomplished little dark comedy worth your while.
Where did you get the idea to make Keep It Clean?
EVAN: After filming a concert, Matthew and I started talking about movies we wanted to make. We knew from the start that it had to be on 16mm. I had an idea about a film involving a character who is a complete germaphobe. Matthew had just seen Pierre Etaix’s Yoyo, and saw that my germaphobe idea would fit into that universe.
MATTHEW: I had been watching films by Pierre Etaix, and listening to him in interviews. He talks a lot about the beauty of the gag and how these set piece gags in his films took up so much of the budget, making his producers go nuts that he’d spent so much on something like bath bubbles for such a short scene. So that’s the mindset I was in, wanting to do gags, and then Evan told me the idea about the clean freak and it all felt right. The gags, though, were unfortunately lost by the time we came to write the script. We just don’t think in gags, but it was a starting point.
You mentioned you got the inspiration from the works of Tati and Etaix. Would you say those two helped shape your filmmaking style in general? Who are your greatest role models?
EVAN: Filmmakers are always taking bits of inspiration, consciously or not, from other filmmakers, just as we did of Tati, and just as Tati did of Chaplin. The simple reason is, filmmakers love watching movies, and little elements from our favorites creep in. Kubrick was one of the first filmmakers I idolized as the ideal auteur. Kurosawa, Godard, and Billy Wilder hold strong influences over our work, but I will always hold a soft spot for the Marx Brothers. Outside of movies, I love reading Kurt Vonnegut and drawing cartoons for my school newspaper. Matt Groening’s Life in Hell and R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural have warped my sense of humor. This stuff definitely creeps into our film work.
MATTHEW: I’d like to say Tati and Etaix had a huge influence on us—of course we love their movies—but influences are so often unconscious. My role models would include a list of directors that everyone names (and should name), Billy Wilder, Hitchcock, Bergman, certainly Woody Allen. But the directors that I’ve been admiring lately are the low budget crime movie directors from the 40s and 50s. Guys like Sam Fuller, Joseph H. Lewis, Phil Karlson, Robert Aldrich, Ulmer, who were able to use their ingenuity to make films that are really alive and personal against just about all odds. Through the demands of low budgets, controlling producers etc. their work and their work ethics were remarkable.
In your opinion, what is the greatest film of all time and why? I realize this is a tough question, but it’s a question the answer is always interesting to.
EVAN: The Greatest film of all time, I think, is a question of history more than anything. The film which most greatly marked its place in cinema history and had the greatest cultural impact. I could see Potemkin or Caligari and maybe City Lights as some of cinema’s “greatest films.” As far as my favorite films go, Sunset Boulevard embodies just about everything I love about movies. It romanticizes what its like to make a movie to the point of near mythology, and holds me in witty suspense with every single viewing. Another favorite, perhaps, is Duck Soup.
MATTHEW: Films like what Evan mentioned from that canon of “the great movies” are certainly on the table (I’d echo with The Searchers, Vertigo, and Rashomon for sure). This is a tough question because picking only one film for anything always feels like betraying all the other ones that you’ve become so close with. That said, the only movie I might just do that for is Carol Reed’s The Third Man. When I go to the movies I want to see that. It’s kind of the epitome of movies.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
EVAN: Hopefully five years from now we are out of college and making movies. Right now we have made about one short film every year. After college, we’ll try for a feature film. Wherever we go, we just want to keep making films together.
MATTHEW: Trying to stay alive, first and foremost. Hopefully we’ll still be making movies—we’ll certainly be writing, doing all the other things that we love to do that are a little less maintenance. But so long as we can keep making movies, and want to, I see no reason why we won’t.
Are you working on something new at the moment?
EVAN: We are in post production on a project shot last summer and in the writing phase of another short taking place in a sleazy motel, called Vacancy in the Night, to be shot on 16mm. Dino Risi’s film, Il Sorpasso and other movies from the commedia all’italiana are a huge inspiration for a feature that we’re toying with, hopefully to be shot on 16mm film. As long as labs continue to process celluloid we will try to shoot film.
MATTHEW: We’re finishing up a movie that we started working on about a year ago. It’s about two friends, one of whom leaves for college, and on the way their relationship changes—more sentimental than our usual thing, but still lots of fun. We’ve got another short movie that we’re writing that takes place in a rundown motel called Vacancy In The Night. There are always projects.
Rivera-Sennett is the collective naming of the films made by Matthew Rivera and Evan Sennett, two kids from Louisville, Ky who like movies and decided to try and make a few. Rivera and Sennett’s interest in film began with stop motion animation around the 7th grade, and eventually blossomed into a full blown love affair with cinema and its history. Some first influences were classic American movies by the likes of Hitchcock, Chaplin, and Welles. By now, they’ve written and directed four short films together that’ve played in festivals around the world including the San Fransisco International Film Festival (2015), Cannes Short Film Corner (2013), and the Flyover Film Festival (2012). They are currently working on a new film to be completed this year.
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