Interview by Darcie Wilder
For five decades, the Academy Award-nominated writer and director of First Reformed has been photographed in nearly every color and style of glasses: wayfarer, owl-framed, wire-framed, rose-tinted, aviator, the list goes on.
In the home stretch of awards season, the film community continues to shower praise on First Reformed, Paul Schrader’s starkly austere meditation on asceticism and extremism. But with less than a week to go until the Oscars, we wanted answers to the one question no one seems to be asking: What is up with Schrader's suspiciously good eyewear game?
Luckily, Paul was down to chat with us and divulge his secrets to finding the perfect pair of frames, along with riveting details from his ophthalmological medical history and sage style advice from Spike Lee.
Has anyone ever asked you about your glasses before?
Uh, no. This inquiry came out of the blue.
Well, I was really excited when I heard I had the opportunity to chat with you about this.
Alright, I think I have the answer for ya.
It all begins with a broken romance.
For around forty years I wore the same pair of glasses. And then they fell off my face. Quite literally, they fell apart. I have a picture of them, I'll send to you. And then I had to think about getting another pair of glasses and I couldn't find those, so I started exploring other glasses.
And then, about a year later, I went blind and I couldn't see. I had a detached retina. And over the course of the year, I had a couple operations and now I have 20/20 vision.
I don't need glasses. But I'm a person who has worn glasses his whole life. When I look at myself without glasses, I don't know who that is. So now I go to eBay and buy cosmetic glasses. Glasses with no prescription. Which are very inexpensive, you can buy a dozen of ‘em for 20 bucks. And um, I wear whatever the fuck I feel like. So that's what happened.
That's a good story.
Yeah, that's why I told it to you.
So, did you ever consider not wearing glasses after the operation?
Occasionally. Last night I didn't wear glasses and I just felt wrong.
How many pairs do you have?
I just have a box of ‘em. And of course, because they cost nothing, I lose ‘em all the time which is fine too.
When you open the box, how do you choose which one to go for each day?
Well, I asked Spike [Lee] once. I said, "You know, Spike, how do you choose? Do you just get up in the morning and go, 'Pink'? or 'Purple'? or 'Peach'?" And he says, "You know, you gotta go with the vibe. You gotta go with the vibe of the day."
Does it ever feel frivolous, since there’s no prescription?
Yes, that's part of the fun. It's real fun. It's like you get to be a goofy teenager again. But I do have these bright orange glasses I wear from time to time. They're actually functional reading glasses. If I'm wearing the orange ones, I'm reading something.
Some of them are still utilitarian?
Just the reading glasses. But because my eyes are so good, I don't have to pay for those either. I can buy those at CVS.
What pair would you say are your favorites?
Well, the original lost ones — the ones I'm going to send you a photo of — were big 70s owl-rimmed pink glasses. Wait, not pink, amber glasses. Every photo was with those glasses and then they fell apart. They snapped at the bridge and I sent them to my archive at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas in Austin.
So they’re preserved?
Yeah, they're somewhere in their files there.
Interesting. You haven't been able to find a replica pair?
No, I haven't. But I'm going to be directing another film soon, and maybe I should task the prop department with making a pair.
Yeah, like a model of resin might do it. If you did get a replica pair, would you keep your box of fun frames?
Probably not. I would go back to my first love.
Are you a sunglasses inside kind of guy?
No, not really. But, you know I moved out here in ‘68, and like every other Angeleno, I wear sunglasses more than I need to in New York.
Ok, but they come off once you go inside?
Yeah, they come off once I can't see the stairs and wonder if I'm going to fall down.
Oh yeah, that's a real concern. Do you have a favorite eyewear brand?
No, no. The originals were called Anglo American, the ones from forty years ago.
When you're searching for a new pair on eBay what search terms are you using?
You know, I think we've covered this. This is like, becoming a doctoral thesis.
Alright, we can move on, just want to get the scoop. From a screenwriting perspective, do you think glasses can add dimension to a character?
Like, Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep? It's always tricky because cinematographers hate eyewear.
Right, because of the reflection. Do you see yourself experimenting with other accessories beyond eyewear?
No, that's enough. That's enough. Well, have to maintain some sense of dignity, decorum.
Last question, what pair are you gonna wear to the Oscars?
I don't know yet.
You’ll have to go with the vibe of the day.
Yeah, I'll have to check with Spike.