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netribution > features > interview with rob schmidt > page one
i35 year old director, Rob Schmidt's 2nd feature, Crime & Punishment in Suburbia was intended to be a straight to video, point of reference, teen-cult movie for an audience that he was once part of - the disenfranchised youth of the suburban mid west. Then it went to Sundance and London, kicked up a big stink, was unfairly referred to as another American Beauty and received an 'R' rating for violence on the cusp of the Columbine High School massacre. Schmidt defends the latter point by saying, ''This movie, at least thematically, is the same as Dostoevsky’s work, and everyone in it involved in the violence is damaged by it. Violence is not portrayed as a solution.'' Top film interviewer Steve Applebaum explores the film's message that others have clearly overlooked.

| by steve applebaum |
| photos from film|
| in london |
  Going into Crime & Punishment In Suburbia I thought it was either going to be an act of hubris or sacrilege. I came out thinking it was interesting and quite ambitious. Critics in America, though, have been quite sniffy towards the film.
The reviews that were mixed or negative, perhaps there was some issue going into the film about it being another teen adaptation of a classic work. But my impression, mainly, was that critics felt exhausted by suburban themes. They referenced American Beauty, which for me was a really frustrating thing.

You were making this before American Beauty.
That’s why that’s really frustrating. I really enjoyed American Beauty but I knew when I was watching it that this movie was going to be seen by a lot of people through that film.

You said this was a teen movie. To me, though, it addresses issues in American society that go beyond those pertinent just to teenagers.
It’s meaningful for me that you felt like the film commented like that. When I was a kid in High School I felt very disenfranchised - I carried knives, I took drugs - but because I did well, no one really noticed something was wrong. Still, I did not like the world I lived in. What saved me were films like a number of the Roger Cormans, Penelope Spheeris’s Suburbia, Over the Edge, and Coppola films, Rumblefish and The Outsiders. When I saw those movies - I was 16 or 17 years old - I felt like there was a bigger world than I was in that I might fit into. I related to what those people were describing and was moved by it. I made this movie - it was originally called Crime and Punishment in High School - hoping that some kids in the mid-west who were up at 2am because their parents didn’t keep track of them, would see it on cable and they’d be like, ‘I know this world’.

It went to Sundance instead.
I was surprised when it was invited into the competition at Sundance because I had really perceived this as a sort of straight to video teen-cult movie. I was really psyched about Sundance, it was fun, but this whole festival life the film’s had is ancillary to why I made it. I think for some critics it’s confusing because this isn’t, strictly speaking, an art house film. I think this film’s audience is primarily kids that are 15 to 18 years old.

You must have been disappointed when it was rated R for violence.
It killed this.

There is clearly a moral intention behind the way you deal with violence. Do you think the censor misunderstood your intention?
I was very disappointed that we got an R rating in the States. About three weeks before we started shooting the Columbine massacre took place, which I felt made it more important to have a film like this. But immediately after that, Congress went after studios in the States saying they were marketing violence to children. . I think it wasn’t that the censors didn’t get what was going on, but more that they rolled over. They’d have been skinned alive otherwise.

There’s a moment in the film where Vincent photographs classmates taking the Pledge of Allegiance, and he says it is because he wants to see what it’s like. Is this an affirmation of the camera’s ability to reveal the truth or a comment about how Vincent has become alienated in a media-saturated world?
The primary thing that’s from is Vincent’s a Christian character and he believes in the idea of bearing witness. It’s a religious act whereby if you’re powerless to stop evil, just bearing witness to it and knowing that it’s wrong is a spiritual act in itself. So that’s where that comes from. Also, the movie is about outsiders and being in a place where you feel alienated and there’s a rigid conformity to stuff. The Pledge is very much about everyone being the same.

Can the camera reveal a greater truth?
I think that it’s not that it reveals more but that it’s proof. It’s proof that something is happening or has happened. There’s this great photograph of a woman - she’s looking directly into the camera - and next to her is text that says something like, ‘She loved me then. This is the proof. It’s a really gratifying thing to look at. That’s what photographs are like for Vincent: evidence.
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