Ira Sachs’ ‘Keep the Lights On’ plays for 1 week only at the Ken
By Anthony King | SDUN Editor
The latest film from Ira Sachs, “Keep the Lights On,” depicts two topics familiar to many: love and addiction. They intertwine, however, as the real story emerges while watching. It’s the story of one character’s addiction to another.
Co-written and directed by Sachs, the film follows the relationship of documentary filmmaker Erik (played by Danish-film star Thure Lindhardt) and closeted lawyer Paul (Zachary Booth). Paul has an addiction to drugs. Erik, the film’s hero, has an addiction to love and, ultimately, Paul.
The two meet as a casual hookup when, after having sex, Paul immediately pushes back Erik’s interest because of an existing girlfriend.
It will not be the relationship’s last red flag.
Produced by Music Box Films, “Keep the Lights On” chronicles the pair for over a decade, beginning in 1998. Sex, drug use, monogamy, HIV and the past are all topics; Erik’s grasp for love is the uniting force.
Sachs based the story in part on the ending of his own long-term relationship, which also spanned several years in New York City. Retold through Paul and Erik’s relationship, Sachs was particularly fascinated by the universal story of two people staying together against multiple odds.
“I was aware so succinctly that there had been a first day and a last day, and there was such an incredible story between the two ends,” Sachs said in a press release, regarding his own relationship. “The course of that experience was so clear in my mind in terms of its narrative power.”
For “Keep the Lights On,” he chronicled his own relationship by going through emails, journals, notes and other items collected through the years. Not simply a gay story, Sachs said it is ultimately a film about relationships.
“I didn’t necessarily approach it as a film about gay life per se,” he said. “I approached it as a film about a relationship in New York at this specific time that happens to be between two men.”
The director’s previous work includes “Married Life,” “The Delta” and “Forty Shades of Blue.” His most previous film, “Last Address,” is a short work honoring a group of New York City artists who died of AIDS complications. It played at the 2011 Venice Biennale and is part of the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Sachs is also the founder and co-curator of Queer/Art/Film, a monthly series held at the IFC Center in New York City, and the Queer/Art/Mentorship program that supports work between queer artists, also in the city. The subject of gay artists permeates “Keep the Lights On,” from Erik’s documentary work on a forgotten gay artist to cellist Arthur Russell’s influence in the score.
Lindhardt said his role as Erik is about loving himself. The Danish actor’s United States work includes “Into the Wild” and “Angels & Demons.”
For Paul, Sachs chose Booth, who is perhaps best known for his role in the television series “Damages.” His film work includes “The Beaver,” “Taking Woodstock” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”
“He blew us all away when he auditioned,” Sachs said. “Zachary [Booth] possesses a very human quality that audiences can feel when they watch him.”
It is hard to say who has the more difficult role, as Booth has to work through Paul’s addiction to drugs while Lindhardt portrays his character’s addiction to Paul – infatuation, desperation, rejection – with equal sincerity.
Outside of the film, and to keep in line with Sachs’ storytelling desire, producers of the film created keepthelightsonfilm.com where visitors can submit personal stories about their own day-to-day struggles of being in a relationship.
“Keep the Lights On” opens for a special one-week engagement Friday, Oct. 12 at the Landmark Ken Cinema, located at 4061 Adams Ave. For more information, including show times, visit landmarktheatres.com.