Easily one of my favorite films from the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, A Complete History of My Sexual Failures follows Chris Waitt; a jobless slacker who attempts a quest to find out why he's been dumped by every girlfriend he's ever had. As I said in my review, it's like the documentary version of High Fidelity, if that film had stayed in the UK where the novel was originally set. Throughout the doc, we follow Waitt from one ex-girlfriend to another, from an S&M Mistress to the streets of London -- all in the hopes he will finally learn why he sucks at relationships and, maybe, find a new love at the same time. Cinematical sat down with Waitt during this year's Sundance fest to find out what the hell he was thinking when he set out to make this very personal, yet extremely hilarious documentary.
Note: There are spoilers contained within this interview, so read at your own risk.
Cinematical: Ya know, I have to admit it's a little awkward talking to you an hour after watching you butt-naked, being whipped in the balls by an S&M Mistress. I mean, dude -- what was up with that?
Chris Waitt: [laughs] At that point, I think I had the realization that I had lost sight of what I was doing. And we cut from it, but I kept looking at the cameraman, sort of 'Can you do something to stop this?' And of course I was just there with the cameraman and he wasn't going to stop it -- he found it hilarious. The camera kept shaking; we had to cut between the bits because his hand was shaking so much. But yeah, she got really carried away ... that woman. But I was actually in that dungeon for two hours -- we had two hours of footage from that. Deeply painful.
Cinematical: Was it uncomfortable for you to get completely naked, especially now that you have audiences watching this film?
CW: Well, it's weird to watch it with an audience. You know, I'm not a person who thinks things through very well ... you probably realized that from watching the film. I just did what she asked me to do, and the next thing you know I'm naked -- and of course a part of your brain is thinking 'Ok, I guess we can blur it out.' But you very easily lose track of the cameras when someone is wielding a whip.
Cinematical: Hell yeah, I can imagine. Now what first inspired you to make this project? Where did this come from?
CW: Well it came from a genuine desire to sort out my life. Which was really the main issue that I kept getting dumped ... again and again and again. By a whole range of women. And so I thought maybe I could make a film about this, partly because I'd just been dumped by a girl and I thought this time I'm going to find out why. Girls don't usually tell you at the time -- when you actually get dumped they'll say, 'Oh, I just wanna be friends' or 'I really like you ... but.' You know, they never tell you the real reasons. So I thought what if I go back and visit these girls; maybe they'll tell me the real reasons, and tell me what I did wrong. So that was the plan. To give me something to do. I didn't have a job at the beginning of the film; I had made a couple short films but that was it. I'd been always living off my girlfriends and my mother; though I had the odd job here and there. So I borrowed a bit of money from my mother at the start of the film, and that quickly ran out. Then I went to this film company who I heard were willing to put money into crazy projects -- told them the idea, and they said okay. At that point, I thought great -- now I have a bit of money, I have a job, I can sort out my life and hopefully get a new girlfriend at the same time.
Cinematical: I know you said this was all real, but did you really take seven Viagra pills thinking it was a normal thing to do?
CW: [laughs] I'm ashamed to say I did. People that know me know that's the sort of thing I do. Not take seven Viagras, but I do crazy things now and again. But yeah, I did do it. I worked out the dosage afterwards -- after I had time to really reflect on it -- and I think it was two and a half times over the limit.
Cinematical: And after you took the Viagra, you ran out onto the streets looking to have sex with someone, anyone. And then the police arrested you?
CW: Well, yeah, for disturbance of the peace. That was awkward. The actual scene itself is quite funny -- the policeman came up to me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was trying to find a woman to have sex with. So he goes, 'The first thing you need to do is cut your hair and buy some new clothes -- you look like a total mess.' Then this female police officer came up to me, and I turned to her and said, 'Can I have sex with you?' That was the point where I crossed the line. In the end we didn't include that in the film because it was a bit too comic; at the time we needed the film to start to take itself a little more seriously.
Cinematical: Now one of the big stories in your film is that, ya know, for three years you can't get it up. At the end of the film, however, you never quite finalize that or bring it to a conclusion. So how are you today; I assume you eventually solved that problem?
CW: Basically, when you find out something is wrong with you psychologically, there isn't a point where suddenly you can be cured. It's not like taking pills where you can expect to get better. You just one day wake up and you have ... a huge boner, I suppose. [laughs] Fortunately with Alex, I've been able to get back to my normal form.
At this point, Chris and I spend a few minutes discussing personal matters that I don't feel comfortable sharing with thousands of other people.
Cinematical: When you first introduced this film, you said your parents were really upset that you were here, at Sundance, showing this. But you'd think they'd be happy that you finally came into your own, doing what you love to do, even though it's unfortunate you had to expose yourself in this way. So what are they so upset about?
CW: No, they're fine -- actually, I have great parents. You see my mom in the film and she's very supportive ... though sometimes harsh with criticism toward me. I think they're just recovering from the shock of their son talking about his sex life. They know quite a few of the girlfriends involved, but they didn't actually know some of the reasons why I'd split up with them. You tend to give different reasons to your parents at the time. So it was a bit of an exposé for my family, but they have started talking to me again. [laughs]
Cinematical: Have any of the girls seen the film? Have they subsequently changed their minds about you, or do they hate you even more?
CW: Pretty much every negotiation with every ex-girlfriend has been a ... negotiation. Most of them have seen a rough cut, and signed off on that. Only two girls have seen the complete film, and they were both pretty shocked by it. But there's been huge amounts of negotiations; some of them very legal; some involving money; one of the girls ended up not being in the film at all because we just couldn't get her to agree to release the footage; some of the lines we had to cut; some of the names we had to change. It was a very delicate process. I mean, you're dealing with people's private lives, so it's kind of understandable.
Cinematical: Exactly. And how long was this entire process from when you started?
CW: Basically, the whole film took a year. About six months to shoot and six months to edit. We had about 350 hours of footage, which is a huge amount to process. The edit itself was really ... troubled. It was hard to make my way through, because I'm the type of person who doesn't really think too much about what I'm doing. I sort of figure everything out later, and that's what's kind of destroyed my life and my relationships. So the first three to four months of the edit was absolute agony; just trying to make sense of the journey.
Cinematical: Now I assume you're still with Alex? Are you surprised to have even met her? I mean she was one of the girls you randomly approached on the street asking for sex, and then she actually became your girlfriend.
CW: It's still totally surreal to me, and bizarre. A lot of people say it must be staged; that she's a pretty girl and she'd never do something like that. Until they meet Alex and see she's pretty quirky, she's pretty crazy -- she's quite the character. It's actually very in her character that she'd say yes to that and go along with it. In a way I thought of that scene being like speed dating ...
Cinematical: ... well inappropriate speed dating ....
CW: [laughs] Yes, inappropriate speed dating -- just getting right to the question that all men actually want to ask. The way I make sense of it is that sometimes in life you do extreme things and you reveal your character very strongly. And someone else can see that and can really connect with it. There's a really great scene that we cut; when I first met Alex, I said to her 'I really like you,' and she said to me, 'I really like you too.' And we had just met a second ago, so I can only guess that we connected somehow.
Cinematical: How is she handling this whole experience. I mean, you have to be like 'Great, I have this new girlfriend, but now I have to show her this film about how much of a loser I am.'
CW: [laughs] It was difficult, yes. Every time I went to show her the film, I thought to myself, 'Nah, this isn't the right time.' And it finally got to the point where the first time she actually saw the film was at the Sundance Film Festival. It's fair to say she was pretty much in a major state of shock. She didn't really speak for about three hours; she was shaking. Halfway through the screening she put her coat on, and I thought 'Oh God, she's actually going to dump me during the screening.' Fortunately, she wasn't -- she just wanted to hide. She put her hood up and sat there. But after the screening, she jumped on me, gave me a big kiss and said, 'It's good.'
Cinematical: So then it was all worth it ...
CW: It was. It was.