Chris Waitt interview
The ex files - A Complete History of My Sexual Failures
This article is from 2008.
Making A Complete History of My Sexual Failures involved pain, embarrassment, S&M, legal battles and impotence for filmmaker Chris Waitt. He opens up to Georgina Wilson-Powell
If someone gave you money to interview all your exes and find out what you did wrong in those relationships, would you do it? Filmmaker Chris Waitt didn’t hang around for an offer and approached Warp X with the pitch for his documentary A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, which receives its European premiere at the EIFF.
‘I had some meetings with Warp X and the producer said: “Oh, let’s make that film, that sounds hilarious”,’ recalls Waitt. ‘Obviously she was thinking: “What a fucking stupid idea but this idiot thinks it’s great, so let’s fund him and watch him fuck his life up and humiliate himself”. Which is exactly what happened.’
An endearingly hapless director, Waitt has a touch of the Louis Therouxs about him. He’s even more shambolic but has the same social awkwardness that makes these types of documentaries (a form exemplified by Carol Morley’s remarkable 2000 feature The Alcohol Years) so transfixing. At the start of the film, Waitt contacts all his old girlfriends, many of whom had dumped him for reasons he had never come to terms with. What follows are scenes of chaotic phoning around, wandering round the streets of Edinburgh, turning up on exes’ doorsteps pretty much unannounced and, as doors slam shut and phones are put down, it doesn’t look like the film will go anywhere.
‘I just set off; I do that in life,’ says Waitt. ‘I didn’t think about it that much and thought it would be over quite quickly; a few phone calls, a bit of detective work and there we are. A neat little project. I did a calculation and thought if each of my exes spoke to me for five minutes, I’ve got a film. It turned out very differently.’
Waitt’s documentary leads him down a very different path to the one he sets out on. During the course of his journey through embarrassment, pain, S&M, lawsuits and erectile dysfunction, desperate to get closure on his sexual past, his honesty and his genuine heartbreak at being single become compelling as well as excruciating. The film could have veered off into 30-year-old angst and anguish, but Waitt’s optimism at finding the magic answer to why all his exes hate him, carries you through.
The end result is a remarkably slick documentary, despite its naïve director and star. There is little pretension from Waitt, who lets himself be filmed in every situation you could think of, including a drunken sojourn into Soho having overdosed on Viagra, that results in him being banged up overnight.
‘That’s good editing,’ agrees Waitt. ‘We had the guy who did Hot Fuzz and it looks good because of him. My own camerawork is shaky. My sound too is awful, so we had top people working on the sound just to make it audible. The shoot was painful, but the editing was a nightmare: 400 hours of footage and half of it was me moaning.’
Despite his trauma, Waitt isn’t moving too far away for his next project. The sexual inability that fuels A Complete History of My Sexual Failures will be getting the animated treatment. ‘I’m hoping to do a comic book about more of my sexual problems and new problems I’ve found. I think sex is really funny, humiliating and complex when you actually get into bed. It’s a constant battle for me, full of so many disasters and challenges. It can go well, of course, but mostly it goes badly.’
It would seem he’s learnt his lesson about past relationships though. ‘I think it’s a bit like digging up corpses. Old relationships are like corpses. If it didn’t work out then leave it alone.’ Waitt thinks for a minute: ‘The exes aren’t exactly ringing me up all the time. Well, some of them do to threaten me with lawsuits. They’re all going to be at the première, so I’m going to get lynched.’
In terms of rekindling old flames, Chris Waitt’s quest was ultimately futile, but as far as the film goes, it proves that it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey.
A Complete History of My Sexual Failures, Cameo, Edinburgh, Thu 19 Jun, 8.30pm; Sat 21 Jun, 8.15pm, £8 (£6.40).