A 1920s Victrola is perched on a cabinet in one corner of the room. Burke Heffner proudly flips open a volume of vintage records and shows it to me, handling it as a most cherished possession. He appears to have stepped out of an earlier epoch himself, sporting a stubby, über-wide necktie. “It’s the future in ties,” he announces.
In strolls Veronica Varlow, a femme fatale in back-seamed stockings and jet-black Bettie Page bangs. Her lips, like the wall behind her, are blood red. She seductively settles back in a Merlot-hued wingback chair, tucking her long legs up beside her and taking a sip of tea. Heffner, her partner-in-crime, plants himself in the adjacent, identical chair and nurses his own steaming cup.
“What kind of tea is that?” I ask.
Heffner replies, sheepishly, “Whispering Heaven.”
Varlow lets out an exuberant laugh. “Um...Can you make us sound a little more hardcore? Like we’re drinking whiskey?”
“Only if you’re actually drinking whiskey,” I reply.
Contemplating the forthcoming barrage of questions, Heffner retorts, “Oh, it’s not worth it!”
Whiskey would seem more befitting to the image these two flashbacks project as they lounge in their boondock cabin in Woodstock. The debonair gentleman and his va-va-voom vixen ooze fantasies of world domination, adventures on the lam, bank heists, seedy bars, smoking pistols, and frantic liaisons. These imaginings, partnered with astronomical creativity, became the seeds of a quasi-autobiographical, yet-to-be-made motion picture, Revolver.
The film’s premise initially emerged from a romantic journal Varlow began the day she met Heffner. She, a model/actress, and he, a filmmaker/photographer, crossed paths in 2000 while working on a short art film, The Catcher in Sleepy Hollow.
“I knew the moment I met him that he was the one,” says Varlow, sparkling. “I knew my entire life was going to change. I spent three days trying to catch his eye and the last day was so pathetic. I was trying desperately to impress him.” Heffner had seemed to ignore her, which only served to stoke the intense yearning Varlow has guzzled on since childhood. Of course, Heffner had noticed her immediately. “I already had her phone number,” he says with a shrug and a smirk. “She thrives on longing in a way that no one I’ve ever met does.”
And so Varlow began penning her pining, scribbling furiously as their love story unfolded. “That journal was going to be my gift to him the day we got married,” she says. “But it turned into things we’d do together in this amazing fantasy. Eventually we’d talk about these stories, and all this crazy stuff became Revolver.”
“She hadn’t intended it to be a movie,” Heffner explains. “It was just her fantastic expansion on our relationship. She turned it into robbing banks.”
“I’ve had this obsession with robbing banks since I was four,” Varlow adds, mentioning that the goody-goody nature of her youth fueled the adventure in her reveries. “When I wrote, I had a crazy life. When I would hear about someone getting away with a robbery,”—Varlow leans back in her chair with a dreamy expression and a sigh—“I was so envious of them.”
“She shared parts of the journal with me,” Heffner continues. “I thought they were good enough to turn into a screenplay.” Thus, the two began collaborating on the tale.
Heffner has always been obsessed with stories. Growing up in Montana without a television fanned that fire; today he cannot walk into a restaurant that has one. “It sucks my entire consciousness right into it. I don’t have a TV in the house,” he says. “These are deliberate choices, because my love of storytelling is so deep and the power of cinema is so impactful. A great story has a trick to it that nothing else in the world has. If oral storytelling had more of an economy behind it, I never would have needed to go into film.”
After a stint as a wildland firefighter in Alaska, Heffner made off for NYU’s Tisch School of Arts and worked in the film industry with stars such as Olympia Dukakis, Parker Posey, Alicia Keys, and the cast of “The Sopranos.” His work has appeared at the Sundance and Berlin International film festivals and on C-SPAN, and has been covered in the Los Angeles Times, the Village Voice, Time Out New York, and dozens of other publications. Photography is another of Heffner’s passions. A connoisseur of the retro pin-up (www.thingstolookat.com), he captures women in the classic American style that was a much-appreciated distraction during the tensions of World War II. Not surprisingly, his stunning wife is his most popular model.
“Not many people can capture the classic element,” Heffner expounds. “Lots of photographers can make [women] look sexy, that’s nothing unique. But I give them a good-girl feel.”
“He shoots people who don’t normally model,” Varlow continues, “spending time with them, capturing what’s special about them, bringing out the essence of their personalities.”
This ability is also one that Varlow possesses. Though known as an actress, pin-up model, touring performer with recording sensation Emilie Autumn, and owner of the online retro boutique, Danger Dame (www.dangerdame.com), she’s also a burlesque superstar who teaches and empowers women with glamorous magic tricks she learned from her Czechoslovakian grandmother coupled with tips from old Hollywood. “I pull the beauty and grace out of women,” she says.
Varlow didn’t always feel so confident and lovely. While volunteering at an animal shelter a few years ago, a Rottweiler attack almost completely severed the nose from her face and nearly blinded her left eye; six hours of intensive plastic surgery corrected the damage. This horrifying experience spiraled her into deep contemplation about her future. “I could’ve been in the last ten seconds of my life, regretting not doing what I’d dreamed of. I realized I’d been holding back. I decided to fully go for my dreams from that time on. Within a year, we were shooting the trailer to Revolver.”
Though still just a trailer, and the first major production Heffner directed, Revolver won the prestigious Golden Trailer Award in Los Angeles. The duo had driven across America with a small crew, shooting on the 35mm film they’d won through a grant from Kodak.
The trailer (www.revolverthemovie.com) is both visually exquisite and emotionally gripping. It follows the journey of Pocket, a cowboy traveling from Manhattan to Montana with Blue, an adventurous postcard-obsessed showgirl he picks up along the way. She drags him to strip clubs, ballrooms, and bars en route to Vegas, the destination he assured her. When her questionable past suddenly catches up with her, it sends them running as outlaws with nothing but a pawnshop pistol.
Revolver has garnered a major “Where’s this movie?” buzz from producers eager to see the script ever since Heffner and Varlow appeared on “Made,” MTV’s Emmy-winning program, in repeated airings last December. “We’re so confident in the script,” says Varlow, excitedly. “I know with my heart and soul that this is the year we’re going to find the right investors. This is our life’s work, it’s why we’re here.”
At the conclusion of our interview, Heffner sets the tea aside and breaks out Drachenglut, a mysterious liqueur given to Varlow by an occultist in the Netherlands. “The name translates as Dragon’s Blood,” she clarifies, alluding to its empowering quality.
No doubt the whiskey will have to wait for the movie premiere party.
- Amber S. Clark
- Burke Heffner and Veronica Varlow
- Amber S. Clark
- Burke Heffner as Pocket and Veronica Varlow as Blue taking a break alongside Route 66 in the trailer for revolver.
- Amber S. Clark
- Burke and veronica inside the cab of the getaway truck on the set of the revolver trailer.