adam green talks aladdin, harmony korine, and the power of bell-bottoms

The ex-Moldy Peaches rocker trips out with friends Natasha Lyonne, Zoë Kravitz, Alia Shakwat, Macaulay Culkin, and more in his psychedelic immersive art film 'Adam Green's Aladdin.'

by Taylor Ford
07 April 2016, 8:55pm

Adam Green can show you a whole new world. 

Actually, it's entire alternate universe called "Regulartown" and it only existed in the ex-Moldy Peaches rocker's hallucinogenic trips until now.

Green's latest project, Adam Green's Aladdin, is a completely surreal interdisciplinary art film made entirely of papier mâiché with an original Dadaist soundtrack and cameos from New York's coolest kids. Loosely based on the Arabian Nights tale "Aladdin," it's an allegory for our selfie-obsessed culture told through an indie rocker, played by Green, who's lost his mojo until a genie grants him a 3D printer to realize his every wish. The project explores themes of greed, technology, and true love through a vortex of art and cultural history references, and a lens that's unmistakably Green's own.  

Green shot the film in a warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn that housed 30 sets and over 500 papier mâiché props. According to Natasha Lyonne, the project took over five years to complete, though Green argues it was closer to four. If you follow Adam on Instagram, it seems like #adamgreensaladdin had been unfolding through your feed forever. Twenty-four hours before the exhibition's opening in New York, we met Adam at The Hole gallery on the Bowery to talk psychedelics, Andy Warhol and why everyone should wear bell-bottoms. 

How much of the film is an extension of you? It's completely surreal but then there's a reality check when you're referred to by your Instagram handle, as Prince @AverageCabbage. 
It's autobiographical in lots of ways, but it's funny because it's actually the most unrealistic movie you could ever make. I think that I was really drawn to "Aladdin" because it's a story about love trumping material possessions. I was trying to see it through modern eyes. For example, the princess became a Kardashian and the lamp became a 3D printer. I just felt like I was getting possessed by technology and it was taking over my soul.

So it was a complete 180 from your last movie, The Wrong Ferrari, which was shot entirely on an iPhone. 
Well, I think there's a parallel. The last movie I made was about the feeling of getting one of those phones and that's why I shot on it. When I got my first smartphone I felt like I was living inside a video game. I've always felt that way since, so I was trying to make sense of it as an artist and I was like, "Okay, cool so I'm like a video game character now. I have a handle and I'm just sort of running away inside of technology, and my soul is running away from me too, and the world is dissecting it from my body and I have to look at it in the third person through social media."

You were the first person to shoot a full-length film on an iPhone and now it's almost ubiquitous. You're one of the first to venture into the post-iPhone, back to a state of primitivism. 
That's really, really cool that you get that. For me, the feeling of it was that I could make a movie about technology entirely with the most analog of materials, and we can talk about the concepts of how we're feeling, but in a completely fabricated world.

I grew up with Dogme 95 movies and I loved that. Lars Von Trier, Harmony Korine. They have a hyperrealistic cinema where you're not allowed to have any props, no background music, there were all these rules. Now I'm older and it's the opposite in a way, where the rules are just as extreme: In this movie you're not allowed to have anything real. Nothing. Every single thing in the movie was handmade. Every single object, phone, keys — we built one of everything.

When a Pharaoh gets buried they get put in their tomb with all of the possessions they're going to need for the afterlife. That's what I felt like we made so you can go into another dimension for this movie. As an artist, I really want people to feel like they took a trip into another dimension.

Was including a Kardashian a comment on the world being "vérité-everything," now? 
Bip Ling, who plays The Princess in Aladdin, is a Warhol superstar of the Internet. She's super ironic in a very funny way so she was perfect to play the princess in the movie and I needed someone like that to be something that's subversive because the movie is a super sexy film. Shit is pretty fucking hot. People are definitely turned on. It's no joke.

Do you think of this project as a modern-day version of The Factory? Francesco Clemente who plays The Genie in the film famously collaborated with Andy Warhol and Basquiat. How did that happen? 
I would like to think that. I didn't know Clemente at all but I knew I wanted to have a legendary person to play The Genie. I didn't care if it was a guy or a girl or anything, I just wanted to have a New York legend. I was on the plane with my wife, Yasmin Green — who produced the movie, works full-time for Google, and was pregnant with our daughter — and we were thinking of genie-like people and Francesco Clemente came up. We remembered that we saw him one time at a performance by Alia Shawkat (who plays Aladdin's sister, Emily) so we were like, "Should we just ask Alia?" I wrote to her and within a day or two we were at Clemente's studio trying to ask him if he wanted to be The Genie.

The film is laden with references to your childhood — Aladdin's record label is called "Zintendo," and Big Bird is a recurring theme. Is this a big nostalgia trip?
You know, I've had a few experiences, and it sounds so silly every time I mention it but it's just true: I had certain psychedelic trips and I'm just showing you what I saw.

So, you saw an asparagus chair, now here's an asparagus chair in the film?
Yeah. I mean, this is just stuff I've written down from when I've been out of my skull. And the Big Bird thing is… I've seen a world filled with yellow like that and I could taste it and it was so yellow and I just felt "I have to have the world be yellow like that and I need to make that the next day." [Makes vomit noise.] It had to be in this big yellow seat, of this Godhead of all these yellow things and Big Bird was the easiest way to express how it felt.

Is that where the soundtrack came from, too?
I really wanted to make the music of the movie's sound like "bell-bottoms." I was outfitting everybody in bell-bottoms for the movie and I just wanted it to evoke that psychedelic quality and I thought that honestly it does mean something to wear bell-bottoms. The fact that people don't wear them right now is actually really symbolic of how shitty people feel about the world because they're actually really groovy. If the world wore bell-bottoms then the world would be probably more fun.

I made a bubblegum psychedelic soundtrack and I had really great players like Rodrigo Amarante of Little Joy, Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint, and Joe Steinbreck who plays in Devendra Banhart's band. They're all into super cool baroque 60s music and they all know how to play like they just took a tab of acid in 1972.

It's my one chance to make a world and this is the world I want to show people. 

'ADAM GREEN Aladdin' 

The Hole runs April 7 - 14, 2016.  @averagecabbage


Text Taylor Ford
Stills courtesy of the artist

Natasha Lyonne
Adam Green
Zoë Kravitz
macaulay culkin
Bip Ling
film interviews
alia shakwat