If there’s one musical group that makes every Atlantan want to sing along, it’s Indigo Girls. We already saw the response to Greta Gerwig’s use of “Closer to Fine” in “Barbie.” Now, you’ll have the chance to see Indigo Girls in a full-fledged musical setting with “Glitter & Doom.”
“Glitter & Doom” is playing at this year’s Out on Film, Atlanta’s LGBTQ+ film festival, on Sept. 30 at Landmark’s Midtown Arts Cinema. The film is a jukebox musical of Indigo Girls songs, following a love story between a musician (Doom) and free-spirited circus performer (Glitter).
From director Tom Gustafson and writer Cory Krueckeberg, “Glitter & Doom” unravels in a world that feels set somewhere outside of time and space – a colorful, fantastical world that’s more interested in emotionality than anything else. Gustafson described the movie as more of a fable than anything else, and said that part of what made Indigo Girls songs a perfect fit was their penchant for storytelling.
“Our goal for this movie was to make a fun, kind of surreal, unapologetically queer film.” Gustafson said. “There’s so much negativity right now in the world, and there’s so much sadness. And we wanted to make something that was joyous and celebratory.”
Rough Draft Atlanta spoke with Gustafson about the movie ahead of the screening. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me a bit about the inception of this project?
Tom Gustafson: The script was given to me by Cory [Krueckeberg], my partner, as a gift for our 20th anniversary. The story is loosely based on us meeting in Chicago many, many years ago. At that time, the script did not have – we knew that we wanted it to be musical, but it did not have specific songs or a specific artist in it. It just had place markers for where the songs would be and what the purpose of the songs would be in the story.
Then, immediately we started brainstorming what kind of music it was going to be – original, or if it was going to be kind of a traditional jukebox of the time period, of the 1990s. And then we thought of two of our heroes, who are Indigo Girls, and we reached out to them. Within a few days, we had the permission to use their catalog, which was crazy and incredible. Then Cory spent several months going through all of their songs and kind of ripping apart pieces that could be good mashups, using lyrics as dialogue, you know? That was kind of the birth of it all.
Could you talk about your relationship with Indigo Girls? I’m from Atlanta, so they’re obviously a big deal here. What draws you to them specifically?
Gustafson: We’ve been listening to them ever since we were in high school, college days. One, I mean, the fact that they were these trailblazing, out artists at the time is incredible, you know? That was obviously something that attracted us to them, but also they became kind of the soundtrack of our relationship. The first time I saw them, I told Amy [Ray], was in Chicago in probably like 1993, or something. That was before I met Cory, and then they were always part of our soundtrack. Obviously in the 1990s, you did the mixtapes, and they were always on the mixtapes that we sent to each other. They’re such poets and amazing storytellers, and it obviously works so well for film storytelling.
That must have been so surreal, to get to talk to them about things like that.
Gustafson: Totally. I mean, what’s also surreal is like – you always have that fear when you meet your own heroes, how they will be. And they have been so lovely, and giving, and generous, and just such great people. They live up to their status.
I was looking through you and Cory’s filmography, and it seems like you really gravitate towards musicals, or films with music or that are music-centric. What about that genre attracts you as a director?
Gustafson: I think it’s two things. Both Cory and I studied musical theater, music. He was a performer before he was a writer – he was an actor in Chicago, and he was always doing musicals. And then I – thinking back to my introduction to film studies and filmmaking – I was obsessed with the silent film era, and music obviously was a massive element of silent film. I was a huge Charlie Chaplin fan, and I think moving forward, there’s something that is so specific and unique about musical storytelling that we love to tape into. Music can change your mood and change your energy in a second. I think that when you pair that with visual storytelling, it’s just something that is so unique, and so special, and that’s why we would always gravitate towards it.
I’m a really big fan of old MGM musicals, and while I was watching this – kind of like those movies, it’s a little plot light, or not necessarily focused on plot mechanics as much as it is the emotion behind what’s going on, which I enjoyed.
Gustafson: Some of our other movies … “Hello Again,” for example, is almost like an opera. It’s sung through almost the whole thing. [With] this, we really wanted to create a film that has different types of musical storytelling. You look at our film “Mariachi Gringo,” which was much more like music performance – so all the musical numbers are grounded, because it’s a musician that’s singing. But this one, we wanted to mix it all up and have that kind of surreal, magical realism with the performance, and kind of use all the ways that musical storytelling can work in a mishmash of ways.
I’m glad you brought up that, because the set design does have a surrealist feel to it, that’s fantastical and colorful. To the point where, halfway through I was kind of like, I’m not really sure where this is, is this supposed to be a real city or not? You mentioned that you guys met in Chicago – is there any Chicago in there? What else were you thinking when you were thinking through that design?
Gustafson: There is some Chicago. We met in the club Berlin, which is a queer club – I don’t know if it’s really a queer club – it’s a club that we met in and they have queer nights, or maybe it’s a gay club, I don’t even know. But in the movie … when Glitter and Doom meet there at the club called Berlin, we actually reconstructed their sign to pay homage to that.
We shot in Mexico City, and one reason we shot there is Mexico City is so eclectic and has so many different types and styles of landscapes and locations. So we used that and leaned into it – this story, we wanted it to be more fable-istic, where it feels like it could be anywhere, everywhere. In terms of even the costume design, we worked with our costume designer to pick different decades for each character, but there’s also a mashup of decades and time. We also did the same thing with the technology in the movie. Obviously, the technology is kind of fantastical – there’s VHS, but then there’s digital, but then there’s film, and none of it is really reality. But we kind of liked that idea of leaning into the fable-istic aspects of it.
I’m glad you brought up the decades – it’s funny, you don’t find yourself worrying about it too much, but there were times where I was like, I wonder when this is supposed to be?
Gustafson: What is happening? Right. And I think Indigo Girls works so well with that, because their music – they have so many kind of fable-istic, storytelling songs. So I think that was a good marriage.
One thing that struck me about the narrative with the Alan Cammish character – Doom – is he keeps being told that his songs are too dark. That struck a chord with me, and I wondered if that’s something that you’ve ever been told, or you’ve struggled with. I thought it was interesting he kept coming back to that.
Gustafson: You know, within our relationship, I’m definitely the more Glitter and Cory is the more Doom. Cory is the writer, and he was an actor, so I think a lot of those fears and anxieties really come from him as a person, and what he’s worked through and thought through, where I’m a little more carefree in that aspect.
The other narrative thing I wanted to touch on is there’s a big focus on each of the main characters’ relationships with their mother. I liked how those intersected and paralleled, and I wondered how that became the thing they were both struggling with?
Gustafson: It was loosely inspired by our own mothers. But you know, we definitely did not want to tell a coming out story, or a story that in any way the characters are struggling with their sexuality. It’s more about the other forces within yourself that you as a human go through. In terms of the other characters in the film, we wanted it to be female or female-identifying centric. So we purposefully packed it full of females and the relationships that Glitter and Doom have with them as a main element.
At that age, when you’re kind of going out on your own and dealing with your family issues, and breaking through to find your own identity and your own path – that’s kind of what everybody goes through. So it seemed logical to make that the struggle that Glitter and Doom are both dealing with, and seeing it from two different, almost extreme opposites. Whether it’s the overbearing mother, or the mother that’s kind of absent. We liked that kind of duality, or the yin and yang aspect.
It’s kind of universal, too.
Gustafson: Right. But yet there’s still unconditional, amazing love between the mother and either Glitter or Doom. It’s just different paths that you have to deal with.