Kool Kat of the Week: From Whispers to Screams, Director Jeff Burr Becomes One with the Monsters as a Fangtastic Guest at the 5th Annual MONSTERAMA CONVENTION

Posted on: Oct 2nd, 2018 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor

Jeff Burr, local award-winning independent filmmaker, will be joining a sinister line-up of horrorific guests Monsterama Convention’s fifth frightening year, co-chaired by our classic monster-lovin’ fiend, friend and Kool Kat Anthony Taylor, creeping into the Atlanta Marriott Alpharetta this weekend, Friday – Sunday (Oct. 5-7)! Prepare for a ghastly weekend of ghoulish proportions including a guest list filled to the blood-curdling brim with chillers like Luciana Paluzzi (THUNDERBALL; THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN); Rachel Talalay (FREDDY’S DEAD: THE FINAL NIGHTMARE; TANK GIRL); Ken Sagoes (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3); creaturific artist Kool Kat Mark Maddox; Victorian chamber metal musicians Valentine Wolfe; Kool Kat Shane Morton, ghost host with the most, a.k.a. Professor Morte; glamour ghoul Kool Kat Madeline Brumby and so many more! So why not get wicked and haunt on down to MONSTERAMA for a weekend of monster madness!

Burr’s film career spans 30+ years as writer, director, producer and actor. His love of filmmaking spawned as a child growing up in Dalton, GA, with the production of Super 8 films with his neighborhood friends, and became full-on reality when he was a student at the University of Southern California. He and classmate Kevin Meyer produced their student film, a Civil War drama, DIVIDED WE FALL in 1982, which gained a lot of attention from film festival goers and jurors, taking home over a dozen awards world-wide. His first feature film, horror anthology FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM released in 1987 under the title THE OFFSPRING, starring the Godfather of Horror, Vincent Price, alongside a strong cast of actors and actresses. On April 28, 2015, Shout Factory released their Blu-ray of WHISPER, containing bonus features produced by local horror history expert and documentarian, Kool Kat Daniel Griffith of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures [RETURN TO OLDFIELD, and A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE]. Burr continued to delve deep into the abyss of horror as the director of STEPFATHER II (1989), LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III (1990), PUPPET MASTER 4 (1993), PUPPET MASTER 5 (1994), PUMPKINHEAD II (1993) and he will continue to play in the filmmaker fire as long as he is able!

ATLRetro caught up with Jeff Burr for a quick interview about his love of film; his first ever feature-length film, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM; his experiences with the one-and-only Vincent Price and this year’s maniacal MONSTERAMA madness!

From A Whisper to a Scream Set – Vincent Price, Jeff Burr

ATLRetro: As a visual storyteller and filmmaker, you’ve played the roles of director, writer, producer and actor for the last 30-plus years. What drew you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you playing the game?

Jeff Burr: I grew up in Dalton, GA and for whatever reason always loved movies. My mom worked for a radio station and had a pass from the local theaters to see any movie for 50 cents, so I saw quite a few movies from a young age. Both of my parents were active in community theater in Dalton, and I always loved going backstage, etc. to see how the sets were built and behind the scenes. I started making Super 8 films with my friends and it grew from there. It is a calling, or an obsession, or an addiction…pick your label. It is one of the most frustrating, heartbreaking, crazy endeavors to make a film – the only thing worse is not doing it! If you will permit a shameless plug, on the Scream Factory Blu-ray of my first feature film FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM, there is a documentary by Daniel Griffith called A DECADE UNDER THE INNOCENCE, and that is truly my origin story.

Is there a film you have always wanted to make? Or still plan to make?

Heck yes! I have several films that I want to make. One is a comedy/drama, another is a period adventure film in the vein of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, albeit lower-budget and messy, not unlike AGUIRRE in scale. I am also working with a talented writer from Florida, Jonathan Dornellas, on a horror script about a subject that affects everyone.

You co-directed your final student film for USC, DIVIDED WE FALL (1982), with Kevin Meyer, winning over a dozen awards at film festivals world-wide. Can you tell us a little about the film, and what it felt like to win so many awards as a student filmmaker? And most importantly, how can our readers access the film, if possible?

DIVIDED WE FALL was a period Civil War action/drama that kind of became our own version of APOCALYPSE NOW. The film grew and grew in scale and took close to a year to make. John Agar (a name Monsterama fans would hopefully know and love), Nicholas Guest and David Cloud starred. Future “Leatherface,” R.A. Mihailoff and veteran character actor Mike Shamus Wiles had major supporting parts. Kevin Meyer and I did everything on it – writing, directing, photographing, editing, producing, etc. We dropped out of school to finish it and had a big premiere in November of 1982. The film went on to win awards, etc., but the gates of the Hollywood Studios didn’t magically open for us, as we probably naively thought! I am hoping the film will be included on the upcoming Turbine (germany) release of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM.

Your first feature film and horror anthology, FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM (1987) [a.k.a. THE OFFSPRING], which was shot mostly in Dalton, Georgia, just a few short hours north, became a huge cult hit amongst genre lovers. Any fun/scandalous behind-the-scenes stories you’d like to share with our readers?

The making of FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM is full of stories, and if you’ll permit me one more shameless plug I would suggest that if you have any interest in the making of a very low-budget regional film in the 1980s there is an amazing documentary on the Scream Factory Blu-ray from Daniel Griffith and Ballyhoo Productions entitled RETURN TO OLDFIELD. WHISPER was my first feature film, and in many ways it felt like an extension of my Super 8 films. I was happy and lucky to have my brother William as one of the producers, and my great and talented friend from college Darin Scott as the other producer and co-writer – not to mention another great college friend C. Courtney Joyner as the other co-writer. The crew was a mix of amateur and professional, and it was an amazing experience. The cast was a dream come true, and getting to work with actors such as Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Cameron Mitchell, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Angelo Rossitto, Susan Tyrrell and Martine Beswicke was pure artistic bliss. As far as scandalous stories go, you’ll have to see the documentary and hear the commentaries!

Speaking of WHISPER, in your opinion, what are the pros and cons of directing an independent “regional” film vs. a Hollywood studio production?

Well the obvious “con” about doing a regional low-budget film is that you don’t have money to throw at problems that invariably rise up, but the good thing is that you can solve those problems with imagination. It might lead down a different and better path. What was wonderful about making the film was that I had complete creative control, and didn’t have to justify every artistic decision to some producer or executive. I am an independent filmmaker at heart, and that is where I belong. It has only taken me 30+ years to figure out what I knew at age 17! And for the record, I really have never directed a real “studio” film.  I would say I made it to the triple A ballpark but never really took a swing in the major leagues.

What were the advantages of revisiting the neighborhood backlot of your childhood?

Whisper – Roger Corman and Vincent Price unite!

The advantage of shooting a film in Dalton was that I knew some pretty interesting locations and was able to shoot them, and the town itself was incredibly cooperative and enthusiastic. No film had ever been shot there, and of course the process of making a film was very different then. Now there are films made in every small town in America! But Dalton really was a supporting character in the movie, and it could not have been made anywhere else. In a very literal sense, I owe whatever career I have and had to the town of Dalton.

What was it like to work with the “Merchant of Menace,” Vincent Price, a.k.a. Julian White, the historian and thread that tied the terrifying tales together in WHISPER?

Working with Vincent was heaven. Getting Vincent to do the movie was hell. He was just as you would probably expect – generous, funny, so intelligent, warm, and so damn talented. It was an honor, and I do mean an honor, to be able to direct him. But in the process of getting him to do the movie, man oh man there were a few moments I will never forget. Watch the documentary! (And come talk to me at Monsterama – I will tell the whole story!)

In true Price fashion, his character says, “One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” As a purveyor of horror [TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE III; PUPPET MASTER 4 & 5; PUMPKINHEAD II, etc.], would you agree with this statement? Can one be too old for spooky, nightmarish fun?

No one is ever too old for nightmares. What makes you have nightmares might change, but there will always be delicious dread certain nights when you lay your head on your pillow. And one thing that horror fans (of which I am proud to be one) have is a sense of wonder and humor that keeps you young. I don’t like the phrase “They never grow up.” Better, “They never grow old!” To have a sense of wonder about the world, and an amusement, or bemusement, even of the worst of the world is a great quality to possess.

Do you think you’ll ever return to Dalton to make another feature film?

LET US PREY (early Super 8 film starring Bobby Pike)

I absolutely intend on making more films in Dalton! There is an amazing talent pool in North Georgia, one that is growing as I type this! And the filmmaking infrastructure in GA is here to stay. GODZILLA, KING OF MONSTERS shot for one day in Dalton. I would have fainted if that had happened when I was 14!

Who would you say are the filmmakers or films that inspired you the most and what was it about those particular filmmakers/films that inspired you?

I have been inspired by many films and filmmakers. In the horror genre, David Cronenberg, George Romero, John Carpenter, James Whale, Michael Reeves, Roger Corman – way too many to mention!  Certain fairly obscure films that I saw as a kid and always stuck with me are PHASE IV, EQUINOX, SHOCK WAVES, THE TERRORNAUTS. However, I would say the most influential movie that I have seen is 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I saw it as a kid, and I have seen it many, many times since on the big screen. Just saw it twice in the 50 year anniversary edition.  I don’t know why that film hooked onto me, but it did and it has stayed with me for 50 years. Other directors/films I love are Jerry Lewis, William Friedkin, Orson Welles, Sam Peckinpah, Stanley Kubrick, Andrei Tarkovsky – again too many to mention. To be a filmmaker, you have to be a lover of film, of all film, from all countries.

Can you tell us a little about working for the king of B-films, Roger Corman, at New World Pictures?

I worked in the advertising department with Jim Wynorski, and it was as crazy and as educational as you could imagine. My crowning glory was that my tagline was used for the newspaper ads for SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE – “He’s dressed to drill!” And a few years later, I had a meeting with Roger about directing Vincent Price, and he came to the set to have a reunion with Vincent!

Would you agree that independent filmmakers have come to rely on the popularization of smaller and more local film festivals, especially genre filmmakers? Why do you feel that film festivals are so important to independent filmmakers?

Film festivals are essential to low-budget indie filmmakers, as it can be the only theatrical exposure that they have. To see a film with an audience and to hear the reactions is uplifting and incredibly educational for filmmakers.  And it is a way to break through the white noise of so many films out there, with word of mouth, reviews, etc. I hope that the theatrical experience for smaller films doesn’t go away!

Can you give us five things you’re into at the moment that we should be watching, reading or listening to right now— past or present, well-known or obscure?

The 50th anniversary reissue of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY; the reissue of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT in Burt’s memory; waiting for Don Coscarelli‘s book on independent filmmaking, TREE OF LIFE Criterion Blu-ray; and waiting for the (soon to be released) TALES FROM THE HOOD 2 from my good pals Darin Scott and Rusty Cundieff!

Any advice for up and coming filmmakers out there trying to get their foot in the door?

The most obvious piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers is get out there and make a film. Make one, learn from it, apply the lessons to the next one, and on and on in a never-ending cycle. Two more things – don’t be more excited about the gear you have to make the film than the story you are telling. Love your actors and cast very, very carefully. A wrong casting decision cannot be fixed in post. In the scripting, shooting, and post processes, take your time so you don’t waste the audience’s. And as quickly as you can, learn that the most important thing to photograph is the human face.

What’s next for Jeff Burr? Anything exciting coming down the pike?

William Burr doubles as Cameron Mitchell (Whisper)

There’s always something exciting coming down the pike! I’ve got projects I am working on, and who knows what lurks down an unknown road?

And last but not least, what are you looking forward to most at MONSTERAMA, one of our favorite local classic monster conventions around!? Anything exciting planned for attendees?

I think I will be on a panel, and there will be full disclosure about any area of my checkered career that anyone wants to know about. I am just looking forward to talking to people that have the same love of movies that I do, and I always learn of films that fell under my radar that I will then seek out, etc. I look forward to seeing Sam Irvin again – he is a great guy and a talented and dedicated filmmaker. And of course to meet Mark Goddard, Luciana Paluzzi, etc.  Meeting and talking to actors you have admired since childhood is a great thrill.  And I have some THE KLANSMAN questions for Luciana!!!

 

All photos courtesy of Jeff Burr and used with permission.

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KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Grateful for “HATEFUL”: Actor Michael Madsen Bends Our Ear about Steve McQueen, James Bond, HAWAII FIVE-O, Vintage Muscle Cars, Lee Marvin, Matt Helm, Roger Corman, and How He Saddled Up for Quentin Tarantino’s New Western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT

Posted on: Dec 22nd, 2015 By:
Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

By Gregory Nicoll
Contributing Writer

“I don’t always play bad guys,” observes Michael Madsen, his voice as raspy and powerful as a Harley-Davidson’s exhaust pipe, “but for some reason when I do, it gets more attention than when I play somebody who doesn’t have a gun.”

Even without a firearm in his hand, the burly 6’ 2” actor radiates an onscreen menace so palpable it inspires nightmares. His breakthrough role was playing Mister Blonde in Quentin Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS (1992), for which he tortured a policeman with a razor and gasoline in one of the most disturbing sequences of ’90s cinema. But despite equally convincing performances in high-profile good-guy parts – such as the loving dad in FREE WILLY (1993), the action hero in SPECIES (1995), and a stoic lawman in WYATT EARP (1994) – Madsen still finds himself cast more often on the dark side, with unforgettable bad-guy turns in KILL BILL (2003/2004), HELL RIDE (2008), DONNIE BRASCO (1997) and THE GETAWAY (1994) His latest movie is Tarantino’s much-anticipated new western, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, which opens on Christmas day in an extended limited-release 70mm Ultra-Panavision “Roadshow” presentation with a overture and an intermission (Regal Atlantic Station 18), with a wide release starting Dec. 30 (Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, etc.).

We spoke with Michael Madsen by phone from his seaside California home.

ATLRetro: Let’s hear about THE HATEFUL EIGHT. Sure hope you’re not weary of talking about it.

Michael Madsen: Not really! It’s hard to get weary of Tarantino, who’s such a force to be reckoned with. This is the third time he’s reached out to me with, “Let’s get on the bus.” Only in this case it’s, “Let’s get on the horses!”

So, this is a western about characters who all get stranded together after their stagecoach is re-routed?

It’s pretty hard to put a lid on what it is, but it’s about a bunch of eight people who’ve got an agenda, an agenda that’s pretty complicated. The script was one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever read. I guess it’s somewhere between THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). 

Hateful-Eight-posterIs there any previous classic western movie to which it could easily be compared?

Well, maybe ONE-EYED JACKS (1967), which is probably the greatest western I’ve ever seen. It’s the only picture Marlon Brando ever directed, taking over from Stanley Kubrick. I just love it. ONE-EYED JACKS is about everything. There’s nothing that it isn’t about. There are so many themes in there, it’s mind-boggling. It’s one of Marlon’s finest. Him and Karl Malden are so wonderful together, it’s just unbelievable.

Karl Malden was fabulous in just about everything, from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951) to NEVADA SMITH (1966).

That was with Steve McQueen. What a power he was on the screen!  [Quoting NEVADA SMITH] “You haven’t got the guts!” Yeah, he’s shot in the kneecaps and it’s pretty horrendous, but, wow…

When I first moved to Malibu, I lived right next door to Steve McQueen. Steve was one of those guys who came along at time when the movie industry – when Sam Peckinpah and John Sturges and Norman Jewison were making films. Those kind of directors, they don’t really exist anymore. They were as much responsible for Steve’s success as he was himself, the combination of him, a personality like that, put together with those kinda directors. Steve was one of a kind and he made some – well, I like THE GETAWAY (1972). To me, that’s the quintessential Steve McQueen movie. I got to be in the remake of it, which was great, but I would have preferred to play Doc McCoy [McQueen’s role]. Alec [Baldwin] did a good job, but I think I coulda pulled that off.

The character of Doc in the original Jim Thompson novel THE GETAWAY has much more of an edge to him than in the films.

Well, I teased Alec constantly during the making of that thing. Every single time we were on the set and he was doing something, I’d go, “You remember the way Steve was standing?” or, “You remember the way Steve was holding the gun?” or “When you look around the corner, you remember how Steve did it?” and he’d go [imitating Baldwin’s voice], “Madsen! Shut up, Madsen! You’re driving me crazy.” It was really funny. I teased him quite a bit, but he had a good sense of humor about it. At the end of the film he actually bought and gave me the Smith & Wesson handgun that I used in the movie.

Speaking of firearms, will we be seeing much of the trademark Tarantino gunplay violence in HATEFUL EIGHT?

Oh, sure. Of course. Wouldn’t be the same without it.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen in HATEFUL EIGHT. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Last year Tarantino was furious when his HATEFUL EIGHT script got leaked online, and you were one of the few insiders who’d been given a copy.

People actually thought it was me! I was in Italy at the time. My buddy and I were on an elevator, this was about 2 :00 in the morning and we’d just got back to the hotel, and he was looking at his phone, and all of sudden he goes, “Oh my god!” And I go, “What is it?” And he goes, “Oh, Michael, oh my god, somebody leaked out Quentin’s script and he’s all pissed off, and he says he only gave it to three people, and it wasn’t Tim [Roth].” And I was, like, “Holy shit, man, it sounds like I’m a suspect!” So I called him the next day and I said, “Quentin, man, say something to somebody, because obviously it wasn’t me.” And he started laughing actually. He thought it was funny that this had so quickly been heard about as far away as Italy, that the very next day it was worldwide news.

Not much later you participated in a staged public reading of the HATEFUL EIGHT script. Was Tarantino directing you live on stage?

Oh, he sure was, he had on a black cowboy hat and was coming over to the actors and giving them direction, right in front of everybody. Quentin read all the stage directions aloud. He had a coffee pot for a prop, and I had a bandana for my prop. It was a fascinating night. I’ve never done anything like that.

Did you rehearse for this?

Yeah, we rehearsed for three days before the show, and once in the afternoon right before the show. It was a lot of hustling around to get everybody together, but to have the whole cast together in one room and start reading through this thing, and putting it up on its feet, and to know now that we’re actually gonna go and film it later, it was a great, great, great kind of boost for me.

How did it feel to have that immediate feedback from the audience? People must have been laughing, reacting in various ways…

Well, everybody was very, very respectful. That’s what I remember. I’d seen everybody coming in, because I was in the back as the theater started to fill up, and I’d been looking out the windows in the front of the building, and everybody was all dressed up! It was really kind of an evening with all the girls all dolled up and guys dressed up. Nobody was allowed to bring their phone inside or have any kind of recording devices.

I heard that you don’t carry a cell phone. Is that still true?

I don’t like them, put it that way. I didn’t even get an iPad till about six months ago. I just really didn’t get the point of it. I would see people on their phones in the car, on their phone constantly, and when I had one myself it seemed like I became so dependent on it. I started wondering why does everyone need it so badly when no-one ever had it before, and back then everyone got along fine. Was it really that important to talk to somebody if you can call ‘em an hour later? But I have five kids, and I gotta have a phone,  but I frequently don’t charge it up and “accidentally” leave it somewhere, and I try really hard not to become obsessed with it.  I heard that Christopher Walken doesn’t have a cell phone, and he’s my hero; and if he honestly doesn’t – or if he’s just saying that to sound cool – I don’t know, but I’m hoping he really doesn’t have one.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Michael Madsen. Photo credit: Isaac Alvarez. Weinstein Co. Used with permission.

Speaking of contemporary actors, you recently worked with Danny Trejo on a film called HOPE LOST. What was that like?

I’m not real fond of that title but, uh, it was shot in Rome and it’s basically about girls sold into the sex trade. The movie is a little rough, not for everyone. When you’re working on lower budget things, sometimes you have a bit more control over dialogue and scenes. In the original script I did some terrible things and got killed, but I didn’t end up doing that. My character lives, and I actually walk away from a bad situation at the end. Danny’s such a great actor and wonderful presence on screen. You walk the streets of Rome with Danny, and people come out of the restaurants shouting, “Machete! Machete!” Pretty funny. He’s Machete, no doubt about it. He’s got that mug!

I always wanted to see you cast as James Bond’s CIA counterpart, Felix Leiter, in the 007 series. That unfortunately didn’t happen, but you did get that nice supporting bit in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002).

I loved working on that! Pierce Brosnan was a friend of mine and he lived right down the street from me, and that’s how that kinda happened. I went and I met [007 film producer] Barbara Broccoli, and they wanted to find a spot for me, and I did that one. I would have come back, I would have loved to. Judi Dench was such a great pleasure to work with. Having a Bond film as a credit is pretty cool. I’d like to do a few more.

You did an episode of HAWAII FIVE-O in 2014 which was notable because you were a bad guy who turned out to be a good guy.

What happened was, I’d heard there was some interest in having me on the show, and I was a huge, huge fan of the old show [the original HAWAII FIVE-O series which ran from 1968 to 1980]. That music, that opening title sequence is so bitchin’ and I remember watching that show most of my life, and just thought it was super cool. You can’t touch that thing. When they were interested in me, it was like a boyhood dream to be on HAWAII FIVE-O, but when they started calling me to do it, I said, “You know what, man, I’m not gonna come on the damn thing if you’re gonna kill me. There has to be something else. I’m gonna come in and get thrown down the steps by Scott Caan and then at the end get killed in a shoot-out. Please, please come up with something better for me.” And so, it really wasn’t until six months later after that conversation that they actually called me to do the show, and obviously when I read the script, the ending was the wonderful thing about it. You realize that this guy wasn’t such a bad person, and there’s this huge redemption, and that’s why I did it.  I’ve never seen the episode; I was out of the country when it aired. I got a lot of compliments from my family about it.

hell-ride-movie-poster-2008-1020412950You were crammed into the tiny backseat of that Chevy Camaro for much of the time.

Being trapped in a car with Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan is an interesting experience. Both of those guys are good actors and I had fun with them, but if they’re not complaining about being stuck in Hawaii, all they do is talk about cigars all day.

They complain about being in Hawaii?

These two guys, you gotta understand, were in their fourth season, and after that many episodes I would imagine that sooner or later it might start to get to you. I saw Scotty in the parking lot in the early, early morning on my first day, and I said,”Hey man, where’s a good place to eat?” And he goes, “L.A.!” [laughs]

Hey, you know who directed that episode? Peter Weller, ROBOCOP (1987)! Peter’s a really intelligent guy, and I really enjoyed working with him. He really gave me a wide berth, let me come in and do my thing. He understands the actor’s dilemma, and he’s very, very methodical in his direction of exactly how he wants certain things. I was lucky to have him there because I wanted that thing to matter, I wanted that to be a good episode, I was thrilled to be on it, and to have him direct it made it just that much better.

I’m betting that you personally own some cars that are cooler than Danno’s Camaro.

Well, over the years I certainly have had some interesting vehicles. I entertained my boyhood fantasies after I started making some money as an actor. I got a ’57 Chevy small block and put dual quads on the damn thing. I had a Stingray with a big block four-speed. I went through a couple of Plymouth Roadrunners and even a Superbird. The thing is, you get these cars that you’ve always dreamed about having, and you end up with flat tires and dead batteries. You can’t really drive them that much, and you have to keep them somewhere, and it ends up being an expense that doesn’t make sense, especially if you have children. A lot of my toys are gone. I let most of them go. The last one I had was a ’67 GTO; that was really pretty cool. I bought it from the original owner. I got a couple motorcycles and I still have my Jaguar, but I’ve recently – funny you should say – I’ve recently started to get that feeling again. Wouldn’t be nice to have a nice 427 Chevelle downstairs? Nice fuckin’ four-speed convertible. I was even thinkin’ of getting something for my son, something we can build together.

Are you a liquor guy or a beer guy?

I’m not any one thing.  I think drinking is one of those things that requires moderation.  I like to have some wine with dinner, but I’m not like a big drinker. If I’m flying on a plane, I’ll have a Jack and Coke. If I’m out with my wife and I don’t have to drive anywhere, I’ll have a martini. If I’m with my sons watching a game, I’ll drink a beer. But I’m not…

You’re not Charles Bukowski or anything.

Jesus, no!

Reservoir_dogs_ver1Or Lee Marvin.

[Laughs] You know, I’m very fond of Lee Marvin. That fuckin’ guy, he had such a – you look at CAT BALLOU (1965) or POINT BLANK (1967) – he really, really had a tremendous screen presence, and whenever you read a little bio of him, they have to throw in that last little line about him being a heavy drinker. You kinda wonder, is it really necessary to highlight that particular part of his personality? Most of the guys from that era were drinkers. Look at Dean Martin in the Matt Helm movies – he was hammered, and you can tell when you watch the movie! All of those guys were drinkers back then, and nobody thought there was anything wrong with it.

You have over a hundred screen credits. If you could pick three that you feel were unjustifiably overlooked, and get them re-appraised, which movies would they be?

I did a boxing picture called STRENGTH AND HONOUR (2010), playing an Irish-American prizefighter, probably one of the better pictures I’ve ever done, and it never got a proper release. It was actually finished at the same time as Mickey Rourke’s huge comeback, THE WRESTLER (2008).  I spoke to the director and he told me about trying to get it a second life, and how some investors convinced him he should re-release it in 3D. I was speechless! I hung up on him.

In addition, I did a cop picture called VICE (2008) which was shot by Andrzej Sekula, who was the director of photography on RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION (1994). I rewrote the beginning and the ending, and then I got Darryl Hannah into it and had a lot to do with the whole production. It’s a slow, quiet film but it’s about redemption, and I dedicated it to Chris Penn [Madsen’s RESERVOIR DOGS co-star] because he had passed away when I was making it.

And HELL RIDE! That came out on DVD, and people didn’t really know what it was. Now it’s become kind of a cult thing. The plot doesn’t make any sense, but it’s fun to watch. Those are three of them, right off the top of my head.

I know that you own your character’s motorcycle from HELL RIDE. Did you keep anything else? Do you have, say, the Zippo lighter from RESERVOIR DOGS?

As a matter of fact, Quentin has that. He has the razor, too. It’s the exact same razor that Uma Thurman uses in KILL BILL, when she’s buried alive. Mister Blonde’s razor! Quentin’s real good about keeping stuff. I’ve got a lot of clothes. I have Mister Blonde’s suit.

Tarantino must have been a big fan of John Dahl’s KILL ME AGAIN (1989)an earlier film where you tie somebody up and get rough with them.

There’s a strange story. Originally I remembered him telling me that that’s where he got the idea for me to be Mister Blonde, but I did a cable talk show many years ago and said that, and later when I ran into him he told me that was not why he’d cast me as Mister Blonde. KILL ME AGAIN was a good movie, but nobody saw it. John Dahl, man, John Dahl in his glory. Whatever happened to John Dahl? He’s vanished. I was supposed to do RED ROCK WEST (1993) with him, and then he opted for Nick Cage, and that’s where my relationship with John went south!

There was once talk of you and John Travolta reprising your roles from RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION in a prequel, in which your characters were brothers.

The Vega brothers! Well, you know John and I are not kids any more. I was at the Cannes Film Festival recently, hanging around with Quentin, when I finally met John. Now that the two of us have been standing together in the same room with Quentin, I think the idea became a little more interesting, more timely. I don’t think it would necessarily be a prequel, but I do think him and me together in some capacity, in a reminder of the other two pictures, is a lot more possible now. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? But you’ll have to ask Quentin about that.

One final question: Have you thought about doing any directing?

You know what? I just finished a Roger Corman picture called COBRAGATOR (2015). I love Roger! His movies are sci-fi pictures, and there is something about a Roger Corman film that’s different from the rest of that genre. Working for him is a pleasure, and I did get to do some directing in it, and I got a great deal of pleasure out of it. I realized that I’ve been wanting to direct forever, but nobody’s ever asked me to do it. The hard thing about it is you need that breakout, you need someone to actually say, “Okay, you get to direct this movie,” but if you haven’t ever done it before, there’s always that doubt. Can he really do it? Can he actually direct? Which, obviously, I could. I’d love to do that. I hope it’s in my future. I would like to do that a lot.    

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Retro Review: Revisiting THE VISITOR, The Most Insane Non-Indie Horror Movie Ever Filmed in Atlanta

Posted on: Jul 12th, 2014 By:

Contraband Cinema presents THE VISITOR (1979); Dir. Michael J. Paradise; Starring John Huston, Paige Conner, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Lance Henriksen; One Night Only, July 12 @7:00pm, Eyedrum; Tickets $7.00 at the door and actress Paige Conner will be attendance.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Early in THE VISITOR, an 8-year-old girl opens a wrapped present at her birthday party. Because we’ve been watching the movie, we know that the present contains a tacky statue of a bird, but now the girl inexplicably finds a gun. She grins, points it at partygoers, but then casually tosses it onto a table, which causes it to fire a slug into the back of another character, who then waits the length of a dramatic pause before collapsing to the ground. The entire incident goes from gift-giving to gunfire tragedy in less than 10 seconds.

The reaction among my friends watching the film in my living room was loud. “Wait, what?” “What the hell just happened?!” After a few moments and a few laughs, they calmed, awaiting the explanation that was sure to come.

But, of course, this is THE VISITOR we’re talking about. Explanations aren’t on its agenda, not when every second of screen time is another opportunity to smash a morsel of blazing, brain-melting insanity directly into the film. This is a movie in which legendary Hollywood director John Huston plays an “intergalactic warrior” matching wits with his greatest nemesis, a pre-tween telekinetic and her pet falcon. This is a movie in which director Sam Peckinpah plays an abortion doctor and Lance Henriksen an evil basketball team owner. This is a movie in which skating rinks and street food shops are the sites of supernatural murders. This is a movie in which the fate of the universe is decided in late-1970s Atlanta. But, above all, this is a movie that exists.

THE VISITOR fits loosely into the subgenre of supernatural child movies that bloomed in the wake of William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST (1973). Instead of a demon, little Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is under the sway of an evil intergalactic force named, of all things, Sateen, whose fractured soul is being reborn into children on Earth. I think. Honestly, the film is a tough to puzzle out, as if its heady ideas were being translated through some unfamiliar language which, in a literal sense, they were. The film was an Italian-American coproduction, written and directed by Italians and then translated into English for the sometimes-baffled American cast. But the film also routinely garbles cinematic language, connecting scenes and images that don’t make logical sense, dropping plot threads as soon as they’re introduced, and failing to explain, well, anything. In THE VISITOR, a guardian can tell a character that nothing bad will ever happen to her again about five nanoseconds before someone runs that character into a glass aquarium, and it’s not just OK, it’s expected. Anything less insane would belong to another movie.

THE VISITOR is the fevered brainchild of Italian schlock producer Ovidio Assonitis. He was The Asylum of his day, grabbing any idea that had traction in the public and churning out his own low-cost replica. From THE EXORCIST he invented BEYOND THE DOOR (1974). From JAWS (1975) he developed TENTACLES (1977) (also starring Huston!). From PIRANHA (1978) came, well, PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981). Right away, however, something felt a bit different about THE VISITOR. The production had a whiff of class about it as Huston’s name and cachet attracted more big names to the cast, including the likes of Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters and Glenn Ford. Assonitis even shot scenes in Rome, Italy, before moving the production to the tax-friendly vistas of downtown Atlanta.

Paige Conner in THE VISITOR (1979). Drafthouse Films.

For locals the film not only exists as a virtual tour through a past version of the city—including looks at Underground Atlanta, The Omni and other retro locales—but as a dubious legacy for some of the Atlanta’s most famous figures. The credits reserve a special thanks for Mayor Maynard Jackson, who worked hard to bring the production to town, and the film owes memorable scenes and locations to the cavalier whims of Ted Turner. According to legend, Assonitis wagered the fate of the production on a Hawks game with Turner. If the Hawks won, the production would get access to Turner’s home as a shooting location free of charge. The Hawks did indeed win, and the production not only gained access to Turner’s home, but the Omni as well for a key scene in which the possessed little girl explodes a basketball with her mind. (Supposedly, eagle-eyed fans can spot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the scene as well as radio personalities Neal Boortz and Steve Somers. So there’s that.)

It’s unclear whether the city or Turner were grateful for the chance to contribute. THE VISITOR flopped miserably (and predictably) at the box office, perhaps because the world just wasn’t ready to see Franco Nero (DJANGO [1966]) as Jesus Christ or to see Lance Henriksen attacked by a ceramic switchblade bird. The film made a paltry amount of money at the box office, and that’s just counting the money they got to keep. In an interview on the film’s DVD, Henriksen talks about the film’s legendary badness and his embarrassment at a screening in New York when he heard audience members demanding their hard-earned money back. Henriksen’s opinion of the film represents the consensus at the time of its premiere, but time has a way of changing the story, and THE VISITOR’s story has changed.

The film’s first supporter was supposedly Huston himself, who immediately recognized something special hiding among the frames of the film and kept an elusive VHS of the movie near his deathbed. It took longer for audiences to catch on, but a few did, and a passionate cult helped the film become a regular at midnight screening and trendy repertory houses. Audiences came for the irony and stayed for the film’s unrivaled uniqueness. THE VISITOR doesn’t make a lot of sense, but compensates with mood. THE VISITOR has a dreamlike tone, cultivating something like madness out of its odd juxtapositions of tone and images, or of the powerful performances in service of a story that can’t be unraveled. The film appears assured and confident in the story it’s telling, leaving audiences wondering if the answers are in there after all, just waiting for a keystone piece of information to unlock them. Does it make sense that Henriksen’s evil, but certainly human, tycoon character needs to marry his girlfriend in order to create another wicked psychic child? Probably not, but Henriksen seems to believe it, so why shouldn’t we?

The big coup for THE VISITOR in its reassessment came earlier this year, when Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the trendsetting Alamo Drafthouse theater chain in Austin, Texas, released a wonderful new Blu-Ray edition of the film, made with the kind of loving care and attention usually reserved for a Criterion Collection release of a prestige classic. It’s safe to say that more eyes have been on the film in the past year than in the past few decades, and the movie seems to be well on its way to a complete rehabilitation.

By this point in the article, you probably have an idea if THE VISITOR is for you. If it is, then I highly recommend seeing it as soon as possible, and Eyedrum, along with Contraband Cinema, are giving you the chance. Saturday night, July 12, the art gallery is hosting a screening of the film with actress Paige Conner in attendance. Alongside the film will be an art exhibit featuring “new and original pieces based on this unique film by a variety of local artists.” This is a special opportunity to experience a forgotten piece of Atlanta cinema history in the midst of its revival and rediscovery.

THE VISITOR, at long last, has arrived.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Bring Me the Fangs of Alfredo Garcia: Splatter Cinema’s November Movie JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES Features Some Badass Bloodsuckers But Is a Better Western Than a Horror Movie

Posted on: Nov 11th, 2013 By:

Splatter Cinema presents JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES (1998); Dir. John Carpenter; Starring James Woods, Daniel Baldwin and Sheryl Lee; Tuesday, Nov. 12 @ 9:30 p.m. (pictures and merch table open @ 9:00 p.m.); Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Still feeling unsatisfied after all of the horrors that Halloween and the Buried Alive! Film Festival had to offer? Not a problem! Splatter Cinema and the Plaza Theatre keep the gore flowing with their presentation of JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES! Turn up early to have your photo taken in a recreation of one of the film’s tableaux and check out the merch table!

Okay. Let’s be honest: the end of the 1980s was probably the worst thing that could have happened to John Carpenter. After a decade and a half of superior filmmaking—capped off by 1988’s savage and darkly comic take on Reagan’s America, THEY LIVE—the road suddenly became very bumpy for the director. Misfires like 1992’s MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, 1993’s Showtime Networks project BODY BAGS and 1995’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED were interspersed with deliberate attempts to recapture past glories. 1995’s IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, surprisingly, worked; it succeeded in closing off his Lovecraftian “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with THE THING and continued with PRINCE OF DARKNESS. But his re-teaming with Kurt Russell on 1996’s ESCAPE FROM L.A. was hardly a patch on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. It wasn’t even 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS, for crying out loud. And when a quickly-made cash-in knock-off by Enzo G. Castellari is a more entertaining follow-up than the official one, then something is rotten in the state of Carpenter. Realizing that he just wasn’t having fun making movies anymore, John Carpenter decided to retire.

Why, then, did Carpenter change his mind after just two years and film an adaptation of John Steakley’s VAMPIRE$? He largely rejected the plot of the source novel, and pretty much tossed aside the two screenplay drafts that were offered to him, so it wasn’t the story that pulled him back into the game. A good guess is that he saw this as a chance to once again have fun. And how? By making the western that he’d always wanted to make.

He’d attempted to make a western once before with his second feature, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. It was originally set in the Old West as a cross between RIO BRAVO and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. However, budgetary restrictions forced him to update the scenario to a present day urban setting. And while Carpenter had long integrated elements from his favorite western filmmakers into his work (Howard Hawks, John Ford and Sergio Leone among them), he had never explicitly returned to the genre. VAMPIRES’ Southwestern setting and revamping (no pun intended) of a “hired guns” trope allowed him to explicitly return to his own favorite genre.

The storyline is relatively simple. A crack team of Vatican-backed vampire hunters takes out a cell of vamps holed up in a New Mexico house. Afterward, an ambush back at their motel leaves only the team’s leader, Jack Crow (James Woods), his partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a prostitute (Sheryl Lee). Crow pulls together a new team in order to take out the vampire’s leader and his army. There’s some supernatural gussying-up going on (the vamps are after an ancient relic, there’s a climactic exorcism ritual as a plot turn), but as you can see, this is largely a “cowboys vs. Indians” story disguised as a horror movie.

Is it successful? Well, not entirely. It actually makes a fairly good run at turning THE WILD BUNCH into a horror flick, its action sequences are well-staged and deftly shot, it sports a typically good score from Carpenter and it’s more lively than almost anything Carpenter had done in the decade following THEY LIVE. But the leads are woefully miscast. James Woods is sufficiently vicious as a hired killer, but—let’s face it—there’s nobody among us that wouldn’t have rather seen Kurt Russell as the lead of this John Carpenter horror/western hybrid. Daniel Baldwin is…well…Daniel Baldwin, as unfortunate as that might be, and Sheryl Lee is merely okay in her role as Katrina, the prostitute-turned-vampire. But they’re all serviceable in their roles; it’s not like any of them are really bad actors. They’re just not quite right for the project. So while all of this may make this sound like it’s just one of Carpenter’s weaker films, why is it so poorly regarded?

Ultimately, JOHN CARPENTER’S VAMPIRES falls victim to its placement in his filmography. It came at the end of a “lost decade” of sorts, when his career needed a severe revitalization, and when he desperately needed to make an Important John Carpenter Film. And this movie is blissfully unimportant. Carpenter just wanted to have some fun once again, and if it had landed somewhere around BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA in his oeuvre, it would be seen as a nice little detour. Not a damaging entry into his work history, just a fast-paced bit of vampire killing with western flair. But in the context of his career, it was the wrong movie at the wrong time.

So, my advice is this: take the movie out of context. Forget what Carpenter needed, and focus on what it is: a beer-drinking, hell-raising, rip-snorting, ass-kicking, heart-staking, head-cutting, over-the-top, balls-out bit of fun. Don’t even look at it as a horror movie. Because it’s really not, once you get past the surface. Look at it as a blood-soaked action/western with vampires as the villains and James Woods chewing up the scenery like it was made out of cheeseburgers. And have a ball, because everyone making it appears to have been having one.

And thank your lucky stars that it’s not GHOSTS OF MARS.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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A History of Violence: Dwayne Epstein Aims POINT BLANK to Uncover the Real Lee Marvin in First Definitive Biography and The Plaza Screens CAT BALLOU

Posted on: Jan 31st, 2013 By:

CAT BALLOU (1965); Dir: Elliot Silverstein; Starring Jane Fonda, Lee Marvin; featuring Q&A by Dwayne Epstein, author of the new biography LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK, including a book signing; Sat. Feb. 2 3:00 p.m.; $5; The Plaza Theatre; sponsored by Atlanta Film Festival and A Capella Books. Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Lee Marvin is an icon of 1960s cinema, a legendary screen tough-guy who punched hard and lived harder, or at least that’s how the story goes. Before he became famous on the screen, Marvin worked for years in thankless villain roles and bit parts, often outshining his co-stars, and it took over a decade of hard work and a few unhappy years in series television before he finally saw a reward for his effort. During his Hollywood peak, Marvin starred in a string of classics that rewrote the rules on screen violence and forever changed the landscape of American cinema: THE PROFESSIONALS (1966); THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967); POINT BLANK (1967).

Dwayne Epstein has spent almost two decades researching the life and legacy of Lee Marvin. Epstein had unprecedented access to the Marvin family and a mountain of records and personal letters, and the result is the first major biography of Marvin to dig into the roots behind the actor’s history of violence, his unusual family legacy, and the demons that drove him to alcoholism and hell-raising. Epstein will be signing his book—LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK—at the Plaza Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. and provide a Q&A for the only film to gain Marvin any Oscar recognition, the western comedy CAT BALLOU. ATLRetro recently spoke with Epstein to ask him about the book and about Marvin’s storied career.

ATLRetro: You’ve written a large number of Hollywood biographies for the youth market. LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK is the first adult biography that you’ve written.

Dwayne Epstein: That would be accurate. The other biographies I’ve written were for a company called Lucent, and they were for a series called People in the News. A lot of them were what you would call Hollywood biographies, but also about political figures. I wrote about Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, as well as Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Denzel Washington. I wrote another book for Lucent called LAWMEN OF THE OLD WEST for a series called History Makers. That was just helpful and a way to pay bills while I worked on the Lee Marvin book.

Why Lee Marvin as the subject of your first major biography, then?

Lee Marvin has always fascinated me. I’m a baby boomer and I grew up watching THE DIRTY DOZEN on TV, way back when they were showing it in two parts. I can watch it now and distinctly remember when the first part would end and the second part would begin. Even when they show it on Turner now, uncut and all the way through. In all of his films, he was always very distinct to me, even when he was not the leading actor. Even more so after I decided to write a book on him, and the more I found out about him. He was much more than he was on screen, obviously, just like most people are. He was a fascinating man. When I researched the book, I discovered he really was the first of his kind, I mean of the post-war actors; he pretty much created the modern America cinema of violence as we know it. It came from him, not from Clint Eastwood. Lee Marvin predated Clint Eastwood by a couple of years.

You say you’ve been researching the book for a long time, and the research is obvious when you read it. How long did you research and work on the book?

I began in 1994, so that went on about 18 years. Many of the people I interviewed for the book are no longer with us, and it was a real saving grace in some ways that I was able to do it when I did. Such as his brother, who had never been interviewed before.

How did that come about?

That became kind of a cool story. Like I said, he had never been interviewed, and I found that his brother had worked for the New York City school district and that he was a teacher. I have a cousin in New York who works in the teacher union, and I contacted her and asked her if she knew of a way to get into contact with Robert Marvin, and she said if he had any connection with the teacher’s union at all, [she’ll] find him. And she did. At the time, he still lived in the Marvin family home up by Woodstock, NY. I took a shot and gave him a call, and lo and behold I wasn’t on the phone with him two seconds when I knew I had Lee Marvin’s brother. He sounded just like him.

Yeah, he had a distinct voice.

Yes, he did. That voice was one of his many, many great attributes as an actor.

Lee Marvin in POINT BLANK. MGM, 1967.

You mention in the book that there had been studio biographies written on Lee Marvin, but that they had inaccuracies. Why did it take this long for someone to get to the definitive Lee Marvin story?

When I say studio biographies, I mean something produced by the studio to promote the film. Not an actual print biography. Press books and press releases, what have you. Some of the misinformation that’s been put out there is a result of Lee Marvin himself. He loved mythology and he created his own mythology. One or two other books had been printed previously, and if there’s been misinformation there, it’s because Lee Marvin loved to tell stories. He was a heck of a storyteller. He knew a good story when he made one up, and he would promote it.

Your book is getting beyond all of that and collecting the facts from everyone else, though.

Right. As often as I could, I would verify a particular story from one source with another source. I would compare one version of a story to another, such as how he got started as an actor – him often saying he was fixing the toilet at the Maverick Theater in Woodstock when his destiny called. But there are several quotes from people in that same time period who say that would be pretty hard to do since the Maverick Theater didn’t have a toilet.

When reading the book, Lee Marvin’s family is just as important to the book as his career. He had the great uncle who died in Robert Peary’s North Pole expedition.

That’s one of the most fascinating things I discovered while doing the research. I was blown away to find out the true story behind Ross Marvin.

It’s kind of mind-blowing. Like, this guy had such a family history.

That was one of the early connections I made to create the theme of the book. If you believe in this thing about fate or destiny or what have you, it was there in Marvin’s life before he was even born. His trail was preset, as it was. It dates back even before Ross Marvin.

In what way?

I love this story, and Lee Marvin loved to tell this story, too. The earliest Marvins in America helped settle the colony of Connecticut, and there was a puritan named Matthew Marvin who would go on fiery pub raids to get the farmers out of the pubs and into the churches. There was fire and brimstone in Lee Marvin’s ancestry. He also had a varied history in terms of the colorful characters in it. He was related to George Washington and Robert E. Lee, which is why he has the name that he has. His older brother’s name is Robert, and he’s Lee. His mother was a very conscientious Virginia southern woman, and that kind of thing was important to her.

Lee Marvin in THE DIRTY DOZEN, MGM, 1967.

You talk about the theme of his family, and I noticed that there’s another theme running through his story about absent fathers. His father was always traveling, and his father was raised by his uncle who passed, and Lee Marvin was always traveling.

You’re right about that aspect, but to give it even more perspective, I would say that dysfunctional family was really a looming shadow in Lee Marvin’s life. The violence that was perpetrated during World War II did propel his career as an actor, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all. Before that, he had travails in his family. There was alcoholism, there was abuse, all kinds of stuff. And like many families like that, there was still love. Everybody in the family loved each other, they just didn’t quite know how to handle their emotions.

I want to talk for a second about this interesting chapter that you wrote. Marvin is in the Pacific Theatre in World War II, and you construct his military career almost entirely through the letters that he was sending home. You have some commentary, but almost the whole chapter is just his letters. What was it about his letters that you found so compelling that you wanted to just let him take the stage?

I’m glad you mentioned that. That was a conscious choice based on a crisis I was facing. I knew how critical that chapter was. It was the very foundation to a lot of Lee Marvin’s life, and I didn’t want to screw it up. I’ve never seen battle, and badly written battles or wartime remembrances are untrue and they can really turn the reader off to the rest of the book. If it’s done well, listen, I’m not Ernest Hemingway. I can’t write that kind of thing. And it was quite a dilemma for me how to approach it, and then I realized while doing the research that if I put the letters that I had that had been previously given from Lee’s family in chronological order, I realized that he could write this chapter himself and he should. And that was the hardest part of doing that, deciphering what he wrote. He was dyslexic, and he had terrible handwriting. It was a lot like being an archaeologist, deciphering what he wrote. Putting them together, I realized this is Lee Marvin’s voice. Let him tell the story himself.

In one of those letters he writes, towards the end of his time in the war, he’s had his fill of war. But he spent a huge portion of his career recreating war and violence on film. Was he working through his experience, or was it just another job for him?

No, it was not another job for him, I can tell you that. There was something I discovered while researching the book, and I’ll take the heat for this if anyone gets mad at me. It was my diagnosis, for lack of a better word, that Lee Marvin had post-traumatic stress disorder. I had never read that anywhere, I came to that conclusion myself researching and reading about PTSD and reading about the symptoms. He pretty much matched all of them, and it really went unknown and undiagnosed until about 1980. Marvin died in 1987, so most of his life was spent without any knowledge of that. Consequently, in having these symptoms, he had to channel a lot of the anger and emotions and the symptoms of PTSD, nightmares, alcoholism, survivor’s guilt, a need for violence. All of these things kind of came together and he had to filter it somehow. Probably the most acceptable way to do so, aside from getting arrested on a daily basis, was becoming an actor. He prided himself on being able to do things on stage and on film that people weren’t allowed to do in everyday life.

Throughout his whole life, he had struggles with marriages and struggles with alcohol. There was that infamous Robin Hood party in Vegas. What is he, dangling women out of a window with bedsheets? Do you think his alcoholism was related to his PTSD?

I think there was a vicious circle kind of thing. He drank to forget, and when he drank, he became—there’s not any one thing, of course, but there was antisocial behavior, and being in Hollywood and being a big movie star in the 1960s, that kind of behavior became the talk of the town. People loved it. It’s not like working as a plumber in small time America, where it’s “did you see what Lee did at the party?” In Hollywood, it’s like “Wow! Wasn’t Lee great drunk at the party last night?” That kind of social strata encouraged it. It also ruined his marriages. A marriage, anyway.

A lobby card of the famous drunk on a horse scene from CAT BALLOU. Columbia Pictures, 1965.

I want to talk about CAT BALLOU for a minute. You’re signing books at a screening at the Plaza on Saturday. They’re screening the film that gave Lee Marvin his only Oscar.

One for one. One nomination, one Oscar.

The funny thing about that movie and it being his only Oscar is that it’s not really the kind of movie you’d associate when you think of Lee Marvin. Why CAT BALLOU? Why did it resonate?

It’s interesting. A few years before he passed away, a reporter said to Marvin “I don’t really think you deserve the Oscar for CAT BALLOU, it’s not really your best work.” He surprised the reporter by saying “You’re right. It wasn’t my best performance, and I don’t know if I did deserve the Oscar for that. But there is such a thing as being on the Oscar track, and I was on the Oscar track with that film.” He was as surprised as anybody to see how successful it turned out. But one of the reasons why it was as successful as it is, I interviewed the film’s director Elliot Silverstein, who told me some fascinating stories about the making of that movie. Lee didn’t play that movie for comedy. The main character, I mean, because it was a dual role. He played the main character of the drunken, burned-out gunslinger as a tragic figure. He played the character as someone who is past his prime, and what do you do with a gunslinger when nobody wants him anymore? He compared it to many things, an old soldier, a broken-down prize fighter, a retired athlete who had his day in the sun and is now making change, that kind of thing. There’s a wonderful moment when Jane Fonda tells her father, “How would I know he was going to be a drunk?” And when she says that, Marvin looks over his shoulder at her, with a look of pain in his eyes. It’s some of the best acting he’s ever done. But it’s not something that normally wins Oscars.

Lee Marvin in THE WILD ONE. Columbia Pictures, 1953.

Well, if the movie came out today, I feel like it would be the kind of role to get you an Oscar. It’s a dual role, which is difficult, and he’s playing outside of his type.

He is, but what’s interesting, too, is that he was cast because in a weird way he was making fun of the stuff he had done before. There’s a lot of Liberty Valance in Tim Strawn, Kid Shelleen’s brother. There’s a little bit of that in Kid Shelleen. Silverstein said that the reason he was casting Marvin in the first place is that a couple of nights before, he had seen Marvin in THE WILD ONE (1953), and he remembered the way he fell off his motorcycle. He did that in a very funny way; he knows how to move. There’s a little bit of a lot of other things Marvin had done on film that come across.

I noticed that myself, that dual role is kind of spoofing on his Liberty Valance role. If it was just the old coot, if it was just Kid Shelleen, does Marvin get the part, or does Jack Palance get it like he wanted?

The funny thing is, Palance let everyone know that he wanted the role. Apparently he wasn’t even considered for the part. [both laugh] And if Palance had done it, he would have been parodying the character that he played in SHANE, which is what put him on the map. But for Marvin, there were several major actors at the time that were considered and for some reason or another—well, we know specifically that Kirk Douglas passed on it. Jose Ferrar was considered, Burt Lancaster. Several others. As years go by, there’s a debate about how much of this is actual and factual and how much was urban legend. But I do know that once Lee Marvin got the part—and he had to be convinced, too, by his wife and his agent—and once he got the script, he started quoting the dialogue in the party circuit, because he thought it was the best dialogue he’d read in a long time. He had problems with the character because it was a physical character to play. You have to sell it broad, but with it being broad, you’ve got to be believable, or the audience is going to say a few seconds into it that this is just a cartoon. And yet, he was able to pull it off.

To me, he definitely deserved the Oscar.

That’s another thing, too. Comedies don’t generally win Oscars, and he pulled it off.

It was fairly late in his career when he won that Oscar, but it was also fairly late in his career when he became a household name. Why do you think it took so long for audiences to warm up to him?

There’s another question outside of film in general, and that’s do the times make the man or does the man make the times? With Lee, I think it was a combination of wonderful things converging at the right time. He wouldn’t have made it as a star in the 30s, 40s, and 50s because it was a different thing required by both the studios and audiences. The 60s were a very interesting time cinematically, culturally, in this country in that the rules were changing, both on film and in the culture at large. There was the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the generation gap, war, assassinations, rioting in the streets. This cultural basis helped Lee Marvin become a star. He wasn’t the only one, there were other stars at that time. You look at somebody like Steve McQueen. They’re different actors, but Steve McQueen wouldn’t have made it in the 40s and 50s. There’s always exceptions of course, Humphrey Bogart was the anti-hero of his time and didn’t look like a matinee leading idol, but Lee Marvin got something across to the audience that the audience wanted to see and hear, which is that man is a violent animal and I’m going to show you how violent he can be! And that was a component of the 1960s, a violent time. And movies like THE DIRTY DOZEN and POINT BLANK, which really wasn’t as accepted in its day as it became later on, a cult film, they were saying that guys in the middle class, with white hair and ties—they can do some pretty despicable things if they have to. And that’s what Lee Marvin was about. He was perfect for the 60s at that level.

Dwayne Epstein, author of LEE MARVIN: POINT BLANK.

One of the stories that jumped out at me from the book is that we talk about Lee Marvin redefining screen violence through his films, but another film that’s often credited with redefining screen violence was THE WILD BUNCH (1969). Now he didn’t star in that film, but there’s a bit in the book about him helping to write the screenplay!

He did. He was the one who introduced the story to Sam Peckinpah. A friend of Lee Marvin’s had been working on the script, and Lee would periodically go over and help him a bit and mold it. And that part—if ever a part had Lee Marvin written all over it, it was the role of Pike Bishop in the THE WILD BUNCH. But unfortunately, as things turn out, he made PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) instead. And I think it’s one of the greatest ironies of all time, that a man who defined modern American screen violence missed out on making the most important violent film of all time. It changed everything. He missed out on that. You look at the American Film Institute [which] does that greatest 100 American films of all time, and Marvin has always just kind of missed the mark for being on those lists, for having his name-above-the-title type film in that list. It would have been THE WILD BUNCH, and he missed that, which is very sad.

So here’s a question, just for your opinion on his work. As he got older, a lot of aging actors go through that sad part of the career where they do a bunch of stinkers, and he did a few towards the end of his career. But he didn’t seem to sink as low as some have. He wasn’t Joan Crawford doing brain-dead horror movies.

Yeah, TROG (1970).

Yeah, yeah. So he had a knack for elevating material. Is there one film or performance in that forgotten section of his career you wish could be found again? Can you rescue something from the scrap heap?

The films themselves are of various quality—[but there are] ones that I think are worthy of being discovered. The film itself isn’t that good, but I thought he was wonderful in DEATH HUNT (1981). He did some wonderful things in that movie. Also, GORKY PARK (1983). It wasn’t a very good film; it wasn’t well-received. It was based on a popular novel, but he’d never played a guy like that before. He played an American businessman who was very rich and imports sable into the Soviet Union. He’s just this wonderfully deadly guy who can wear a three-piece suit and do something heinous at the same time. Just a great performance on his part. Like I said, something he had never done before. And probably the best of them all was THE BIG RED ONE (1980), which he did about five or six years before he died, Sam Fuller’s epic retelling of his own experiences in World War II. Lee Marvin is a nameless sergeant who—he does things in this movie that I’ve never seen him do, in that film acting. There are a lot of elements to film acting, and one of them is being able to convey without dialogue because it’s a visual medium. There’s a sequence at the end of the film where he’s helping a concentration camp refugee. He’s just liberated a concentration camp, and he helps a little boy. There’s almost no dialogue in that sequence for like 9 or 10 minutes, and it’s all played on Lee’s face. He’s very poignant, and he’s not over the top. It’s some of the best film acting I’ve ever seen. And it’s kind of being rediscovered. It’s important and it should be, because it’s a great performance and a great film.

Lee Marvin in THE BIG RED ONE. United Artists, 1980.

Actually, when I was young, probably about 9 or 10 years old, I would grab everything at the video store and try to watch it, and I saw THE BIG RED ONE then. I’m pretty sure it was my first Lee Marvin movie, and even as a kid watching it, I absolutely loved that movie. I still have a soft spot for it all the way to today.

I think in 2006, there was a restoration done.

I haven’t seen the restoration yet. I loved it in the original version, so I’d imagine I’d really love it now.

My personal opinion [is] I don’t think it was improved on all that much. I know it was meant to be a three-hour film and it got taken away from Sam Fuller, who by the way I got to know, he’s one of the many people I interviewed for the book. He loved Lee. That’s one of the tragedies, that they didn’t work together more. They worked together on television a couple of times. That was Sam Fuller’s opus, and he’s another film director being rediscovered. They discovered him in Europe first. He’s an American director, but in America he was considered a hack, and in Europe, he’s God. Now American film fans are starting to rediscover his work. He was quite an individual filmmaker. Nobody else could make a movie like THE NAKED KISS (1964) or SHOCK CORRIDOR (1963) or THE BIG RED ONE. There are things that are done in that movie that had never been done before in film, no matter how long we’d been making World War II films. The four lead characters with Lee Marvin looked like young soldiers. They don’t look like actors playing soldiers, they all looked to be the age 17 to 19, and they’re swimming in their uniforms, you know, the way it would be in real life. Things like that.

OK, so, it’s a topic that never seems to go away. Throughout his career, Lee Marvin had to field questions about cinema and violence in society. And unfortunately, your book is arriving at a moment when that conversation is back in the news.

Indeed it is. Unfortunately. The timing is badly fortuitous in terms of the book, but that conversation is out there.

Well, you quote Lee Marvin a couple of times in the book; basically his quote boils down to he wants the violence in his movies to be incredibly brutal and realistic because he thinks it acts as a deterrent. The rougher the violence, the less likely someone is to try it.

Right, that was his belief. I don’t necessarily hold to that belief, but Lee Marvin professed that. He believed that the more brutal you made it, the more you would turn people off. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case. He made those statements before there were warfare videogames and things we see on the news on a regular basis that were much more graphic. The kind of violence Lee Marvin was talking about is not the kind of violence that, say, a Jason Statham action film has, where it’s quirky and cartoony, but it’s in your face every two seconds. It’s not like that MTV editing style that’s quick cutting, that’s not about the impact you would have on another human being. It’s like a videogame or cartoon. Let’s blow up as many cars as we can. Let’s shoot as many things as we can. Marvin’s point was, let’s show the threat of violence. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said, if I’m going to shoot somebody, I’m going to knock them down, walk over, shoot them two times, and then roll them over and shoot them again. And sell it! Not just have it happen quick and go on to the next thing. That’s not really what he thought violence was about. Violence is ugly, so show it to be ugly.

It’s funny. You have this image—well, before I read your book, Lee Marvin seems to appeal to a certain stereotype of a conservative tough-guy, pro-war cinema. Was Lee Marvin pro-war?

Let me tell you something, that’s one of my favorite things about this book. I’ve been reading blogs or comments about Lee Marvin. He’s often been called “America’s favorite badass,” “he’s not a wussy,” and “he would go out there and kick Obama’s ass!” Things like that. And people who say stuff like that don’t realize that Lee Marvin was not John Wayne. Most of his life, politically, Lee Marvin was a liberal Democrat. He worked for John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960. After Kennedy’s assassination, he kept his politics to himself, but the only thing he was really a hawk on was indeed gun control. He believed very strongly in the 2nd amendment and he would tell friends that, but politically, he was a liberal. I hate to disappoint John Wayne fans out there. By the way, John Wayne and Lee Marvin were friends. They worked together, but Lee Marvin would definitely not be put in the category of a Tea Partier. Another point, too, is that you can be a liberal and be a badass. [laughs]

In the book, there are two other actors that you explore the similarities and kind of dismiss those similarities with Lee Marvin, and that’s Humphrey Bogart and Clint Eastwood. If those two aren’t good comparisons, who is the best comparison to Lee Marvin, in your opinion, before and after his time?

There are elements in terms of being antiheroes—and by the way, what I wrote in the book about Bogart was really comparisons to Bogart before he was famous. Comparisons can be made, because Bogart’s career was very similar to Lee Marvin’s. He played a lot of bad guys and secondary roles before he made it with HIGH SIERRA (1941) and MALTESE FALCON (1941) and CASABLANCA (1942) and those films, but when Lee Marvin was doing supporting and secondary roles, he really tried to sell it and do the best job he could. If you look at Bogart in those early Warner Brothers films before he was famous, he looked so uncomfortable. He didn’t look like he was enjoying himself or having a good time. He looked like he was working, whereas Lee Marvin always tried to give a little more to the character, like saying to the audience, “I’m going to do something despicable here, and we’re going to have fun.” And that was a weird thing, too, that nobody had ever done before. There’s a lot of elements of Lee Marvin in other actors, you know? There’s a great quote by Errol Flynn in THE ADVENTURES OF DON JUAN (1948). He’s about to chase a girl, and he’d said he would never do that again. His friend says “I thought you weren’t ever going to do this again,” and Errol Flynn as Don Juan says “You know, there’s a little Don Juan in every man, and if I am Don Juan, there must be more of him in me!” The same goes for Lee Marvin. There’s a little Lee Marvin in a lot of actors, but there’s only one Lee Marvin, and there’s more of Lee Marvin in him than anyone.

One last question. Besides the obvious connection to one of his most well-known films, why choose the title POINT BLANK for your book?

I had a devil of a time coming up with a title. I had several things I was thinking of, but once I wrote the introduction, I realized that what Lee Marvin did that nobody else had done before him was that he presented violence on film like nobody had done before and consistently. That’s the other thing. There were moments of violence in American cinema that were pretty bad, like when Richard Widmark pushed a lady in a wheelchair down a staircase [in KISS OF DEATH (1947)], but after Richard Widmark did that, he never played that kind of character again which is, you know, a tragedy. But Lee Marvin, once he established himself, never walked away from how violent mankind can be. He was in your face with the way it was presented. I thought if I could come up with a name for that style, and that was point blank. Just that’s how he was. He was point blank, in your face, no excuses.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 10: A Picnic of Peckinpah and Wild Oates for Memorial Day as The Plaza Says BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Posted on: May 27th, 2012 By:

 “This is one of the original balls to the wall crazyass movies. We saw that we could screen it through Tugg.com, so we had to.”

– Alex Orr, Fake Wood Wallpaper

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974); Presented by Fake Wood Wallpaper; Dir: Sam Peckinpah; Story by Peckinpah andFrank Kowalski/screenplay by Gordon Dawson; Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber; Memorial Day Monday; 9:30 PM; $9; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here. Advance tickets here.

Innocents will suffer. Holy ground will be desecrated. And 25 people will die. So announces the trailer for BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Whether you’ve just seen THE WILD BUNCH or are a diehard follower of Sam Peckinpah, the seminal director who redefined ultra-violence and realism in the Western and action film genres of the 1960s and 1970s, the chance to see a 35mm print of a Peckinpah feature on the big screen is a rare treat – so you shouldn’t have to think twice about walking out of that cookout your family or friend throws every year. Sadly given the studios’ mad race to all-digital, it could be your last time, too. Not to mention a swell test to see how many bullets and blood your new squeeze can take. [Editor’s note: I once complained that THE WILD BUNCH wasn’t violent enough. Score!]

That being said, the under-rated ALFREDO GARCIA is pretty much universally dubbed as the most surreal and gruesome of his cinematic ventures. Set in contemporary Mexico rather than the Old West, the premise is pretty basic, a hit is out on a man named Alfredo Garcia, with a million dollars reward, and yeah, the title is literal – the proof of death is in the head. The man contracted to accomplish the bloody task is Bennie, a ne-er-do-well bartender and alcoholic with a penchant for not being afraid of dishing out ultra-violence if it means revenge and retribution, played perfectly by Warren Oates who had previously teamed so well with Peckinpah on THE WILD BUNCH. The Badass Hall of Fame calls Oates their “Patron Saint,” and while they wax about his swagger in THE WILD BUNCH, they dub ALFREDO GARCIA “his masterpiece.”

Warren Oates in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

We could tell you more like there’s a sexy woman Elita (Isela Vega) with the misfortune of being along for the ride and in love with Bennie to boot, much tequila is consumed, and there will be slaughter. But if we told you too much, we’d spoil that wild ride. So instead, how about some fun facts to whet your appetite for art and violence. Yeah, you heard us right. We said “fun facts” …so what ya gonna do, shoot us?

– Peckinpah considered BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, shot in Mexico with an almost total Mexican crew, a snub on his enemies in Hollywood and his antipathy for Richard Nixon and the direction the U.S. was heading in the 1970s.

– Peckinpah also considered James Coburn and Peter Falk for the role of Bennie.

– Oates based his performance of the drunken protagonist on Peckinpah himself, even stealing his director’s trademark sunglasses for the role.

– Oates didn’t like the movie and told folks not to see it. While back then, reviewers agreed, they don’t any more, and the white suit and sunglasses Oates wears in GARCIA have become his iconic look.

Kris Kristofferson plays a biker in the movie.

Emilio Fernandez as El Jefe in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

– Mexico film director, Emilio Fernandez, who plays El Jefe, was rumored to have killed men in duels. According to screenwriter Gordon Dawson, “Emilio would take out his .38s and start blowing the art off the walls.”  (He also played Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH)

– Frank Kowalski, who shares story credit with Peckinpah, wanted to write a movie that brought together two concepts. The first was  bartenders who “lead the most colorful lives going. They live fast and get broads, and, the next thing they know, they’re 45 or 50 and it’s all over. It’s a strange life cycle, like a moth.” The second, inspired by the real life case of Caryl Chessman who raped women at gunpoint and whose death penalty conviction caused controversy, was what would a man do if forced to watch another rape his lover. Shoot the hell out of him, of course, while she watches!

Sources: The Badass Hall of Fame and BLOODY SAM, THE LIFE AND FILMS OF SAM PECKINPAH, by Marshall Fine, Primus, 1991.

 

 

 

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