Women, Sound, Interviews

Kelly Reichardt Interview: Trains As Sound Design

Kelly Reichardt, a director of quiet, haunting films, loves trains. Before interviewing her, I noticed that Wendy and Lucy, her 2008 film starring Michelle Williams in a blue hoodie, opens with shots of a train yard. Her 2016 film, Certain Women, opens with a single long shot of a train chugging towards the camera. Those openings led me to ask her about trains, which, in the Drunk Projectionist's first episode, led to a discussion of sound design.

TODD MELBY: "For somebody who hasn't seen [Wendy and Lucy]. It starts with a rail yard."

Michelle Williams in "Certain Women."

Michelle Williams in "Certain Women."

KELLY REICHARDT: "That's right. That's true. ... And Certain Women starts with a train. I see where you are going. One trick pony. [laughs] I get it. And I have to say in both of those films ... we stole trains sounds from Gus's [Van Sant] film that were Paranoid Park trains. ... There's another money saving tips: steal sound from other filmmakers."

TODD MELBY: "Tell me more the sound design for Wendy and Lucy with trains. It did take place near the tracks ..."

KELLY REICHARDT: "Almost anywhere you are you start to listen there's trains. I rarely stay anywhere that I don't eventually hear a train. ... A train is very musical. You can use it when you start to play with distance."

TODD MELBY: "Is there symbolism with trains and you?"

KELLY REICHARDT: “Usually the characters are stuck somewhere and there’s always these trains passing in and out and on the move. They’re either emotionally stuck or physically stuck wherever they are. So I guess the sound of trains coming and going has some kind, some kind of meaning to it.”

Reichardt has been called a maker of "feminist westerns." She’s fine with that. Most of her movies center on the interior lives of women. But she does object to critics who say her films move at a glacial pace. About Certain Women she says, “It’s full of action. You got a tort claim. Michelle Williams trying to buy some sandstone. Heavy plot. Heavy plot, yeah.”

— Todd Melby