Anthony Perkins Interview (Psycho III)

July 31, 2020

psychoIIIAnthony Perkins still remembers the afternoon sun slanting into Alfred Hitchcock’s Paramount office the day Hitch told him a story about a girl who stole some money, visited a rundown motel, and met the taxidermist proprietor. Perkins liked the “underplayed” script, but it wasn’t until Hitchcock told the story—“and he could tell a yarn very well”—that Perkins decided to take the role that has since become his most famous.

Perkins was in Seattle recently on a publicity tour for Psycho III, the latest installment in the saga of Norman Bates, the largely hapless motel-keeper who suffers from the cinema’s most celebrated mother complex. This time out, Perkins directed the film, too—his feature debut.

Norman has stayed with Perkins, even though the actor has played a broad range of roles, on film and stage, throughout his career. At times the identification was annoying. “I just got a little fed up,” Perkins says. “I found it hard to believe people couldn’t remember any other films I’d ever done.”

To get the chance to direct Psycho III (II was directed by Australian Richard Franklin) Perkins made an irresistible pitch to the moneymen. “I said, ‘Look, who are you going to get? These are my terms for acting in the movie, and I would throw in the directing for free.’”

Universal Pictures took the deal, and in fact Perkins proves himself exactly the right choice as director. He sprinkles in just enough Hitchcockian homages—a few lines of dialogue, a few camera angles. The opening sequence, in a bell tower, is a nod to Vertigo. Frenzy and The Birds are also acknowledged.

Perkins was faithful to Hitchcock’s rule against overt violence. Just as the knife never touched Janet Leigh’s body in the shower sequence in Psycho, so the violence is mostly suggested in Psycho III, although a good amount of blood is spilled.

And the novice director eschewed special effects: “We didn’t have any wires, no exaggeration of effects. We didn’t depend on any of that. We wanted to be as naïve and undeveloped about our action sequences as possible.”

Besides, “You can’t overdo what’s been done,” Perkins says, citing John Carpenter’s The Thing as the point-of-no-return for gross-out effects.

Psycho III received a wildly enthusiastic response from a full house at the Seattle International Film Festival in May. Perkins seemed genuinely pleased by the reception, and he was thrilled by the informal film criticism offered by his limousine driver, who likened the movie to grand opera in its dramatic movements and tone.

Perkins would like to direct again. In fact, he turned down one potential job to follow through on the Psycho III publicity campaign. He felt that, after spending a year on the film, he couldn’t abandon it early: “There’s altogether too much entertainment in the world,” he says, “and the more awareness people have that there is something called Psycho III, the better.”

As for directing, Perkins says, “It’s a great job. Andy Warhol was wrong”—referring to Warhol’s prediction that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes—“in the future, everybody will want to direct a film. It’s inimitable. I recommend it.”

He says he looks for the emotional potency of a movie: “I’m not much of a head-type. I don’t want to mix my entertainment with being lectures; I like movies that get people to feel things rather than think things. I would look for a script that gets the blood moving.”

As long as the Psycho series survives, it’s safe to predict that the latter qualification will be met—in a couple of different ways.

First published in The Herald, July 1986

A cherished memory, this interview, and what isn’t included in this article was all the great stuff we talked about in the course of a thoughtful hour. The man was jittery, as expected, and articulate. (One random memory: He talked about Orson Welles scolding Claude Chabrol on the set of Ten Days Wonder because Chabrol wasn’t lighting the actors in a flattering enough way: “You’ve got to take care of the actors!”) My review of Psycho III is here (I say in my postscript there that I would never watch the movie again, but I did, for a lecture about the afterlife of Psycho; and yeah, it was a bit of a letdown, although the limo driver with the grand-opera comment was not far off the mark.)

Bob Rafelson Interview (Mountains of the Moon)

July 30, 2020

mountainsofmoonLike Richard Burton, the hero in film director Bob Rafelson’s new movie Mountains of the Moon, Rafelson has had an unusual life of wanderlust.

His career has ranged from being one of the creators of the Monkees in the 1960s to producing the epochal Easy Rider. And, between making his own infrequent films, he takes long breaks to roam around the world.

Rafelson, who was in Seattle recently to promote the movie, said he was interested by not just the story of Mountains – “so strange, so ironic and kind of magnificent, in the details of it all” – but by the friendship of the two men.

“He was a wild man!” Rafelson said of Burton, with admiration. “The thing that I try to make the major distinction between him and Speke is that Burton was so involved in his own sense of humanity.

“What’s the rush to get to the goal if you’re not learning every step of the way, if you’re not involved in the process of this journey? What’s the rush of finishing a movie if you’re not enjoying the day’s work? Burton was getting Speke to enjoy Africa, instead of ‘Get me there and get me out.’

“I mean, Burton lived with a tribe of monkeys, and wrote a dictionary of monkey language! He was way ahead of his time, you know.”

Rafelson is aware of the film’s incongruity in today’s marketplace. “It’s a terribly difficult movie to sell to the American audience because, I’m told, it’s English, it’s 19th century, it’s about – what – the discovery of the source of the Nile. And it doesn’t have stars. So for all those reasons, it makes it, from the point of view of those responsible for selling it, almost indefensible to have made.

“Well, it’s not about any of those things,” Rafelson continues. “It’s about an intimate relationship between two men who go through such a hazardous trip together, and it’s about the pathology of their friendship, and loyalty. It’s not about the Nile.

“I find the whole concept of betrayal and friendship and the expectations of loyalty a fascinating thing for me to be making a movie about – in this setting, which personally has involved me for a long time, going on these treks all my life. It’s just like – I don’t know this is the move I was born to make.”

Mountains of the Moon begins with a scene of startling violence when Burton and Speke are overtaken by tribesmen. “I wanted to get the violence of this movie out of the way. “In Postman Always Rings Twice, in the beginning Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange make love on a kitchen table. It’s thought of as a pretty hot scene. It is a hot scene, you know? That’s in the first 20 minutes of the movie, and then I have very little sex in it, because I felt that it would keep the eroticism alive if you just got a taste of it,” Rafelson says, snapping his fingers, “early on.”

He approaches the violence in Mountains similarly. “It’s done fairly caustically,” he says of the early attack. “I mean, it hurts – the spear going in the face; the stabbing in the leg. But I get that out of the way.”

So vivid is the ambush that it cost Rafelson a pair of pants. At an early screening of the film, he was sitting next to a woman who threw up on him: “Erulp!  She just couldn’t handle it.”

But, he notes dryly, “She didn’t throw up when Rambo grenaded out a hundred and forty guys at once, with limbs flying everywhere. Because there’s something about that you don’t believe. It doesn’t touch you, in some way.”

First published in The Herald, March 9, 1990

I am cheating: This film is not from the 1980s, even if was shot then. I couldn’t help sticking this in, because I liked Rafelson’s voice, I’m printing some interviews this week, and the film is somewhat forgotten. I had a nice long conversation with Rafelson, who told stories well and had a saucy style that I could not replicate in the newspaper (I may have blushed slightly when he was talking about one particular aspect of Jessica Lange’s appeal in Postman just as the publicist walked back in the room). The film is difficult to see, but see it if you can. The cast is stellar, and the excellent male leads are overshadowed whenever Fiona Shaw is on screen.


Terry Gilliam Interview (Brazil)

July 29, 2020

brazil1Terry Gilliam’s Brazil is out – just barely. Because Gilliam’s final cut (released months ago in Europe) exceeded its contractual running time, Universal Pictures, concerned about the film’s commercial viability (and especially nervous about the ambiguous ending), threatened to cut and reshape the film for U.S. distribution.

At that point, it would have been standard Hollywood procedure for Gilliam to sulk and assume a martyr role. But Gilliam isn’t a Hollywood person (raised in Minnesota and California, the 45-year-old director and founding member of Monty Python has lived in London for almost two decades), and he refused to do that; instead, he took out a full-page ad (addressed to Universal’s studio head) in Variety that said, “Dear Sid Sheinberg: When are you going to release my film, Brazil? – Terry Gilliam.”

Then, in December, Gilliam surreptitiously showed the film to a bunch of Los Angeles film critics – who turned around and gave Brazil their association’s year-end best picture, director and screen play awards. Within a few days, Universal booked the film for a Los Angeles run before the end of December (necessary for Oscar consideration). Gilliam had literally shamed them into it. (His work has been nominated for a best screenplay Oscar.)

On a publicity tour in Seattle recently, Gilliam described his motives in the secret screenings. “We were hoping that at best we could get some special mention,” he says. “But nobody suspected, including the critics, that we were going to walk away with it.”

His sour feelings about Universal remain. “These people are paid millions of dollars a year to dictate how the public behaves,” he says suggesting that the studios are irritated when they’re proven wrong. Now that Brazil has won awards and done healthy business in Los Angeles, he says, “they just see money to be made.”

Gilliam says that the idea for Brazil had been floating around in his head for years. He wrote a screenplay, then gave it to playwright Tom Stoppard when Gilliam went to work on Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Stoppard’s script, Gilliam says, was “just a bit too tidy. I wanted more passion and anger, and I couldn’t really do that working in collaboration with him.” Gilliam brought in Charles McKeown and “we messed it up a bit.”

Gilliam cast Jonathan Pryce, who has been little seen on American screens (he played the villain in Something Wicked This Way Comes), based on Pryce’s stage Hamlet, which Gilliam says was full of unexpected humor. “He was totally, utterly brilliant – he made it brutally funny,” says Gilliam, who believes he got a similar effect in Brazil: “I can’t think of anyone else who could have pulled that off.”

As for the eccentric casting of Robert De Niro, Gilliam needed “somebody strong that you really could identify with easily and quickly – he is a hero.” The idea of casting De Niro as the revolutionary heating engineer, Harry Tuttle, started out as whimsy between Gilliam and producer Arnon Milchan (he had worked with De Niro on Once Upon a Time in America), who would joke to each other in Hollywoodese that “we gotta get Bobby in this picture.”

When they sent De Niro the script and asked him to pick a supporting part, DeNiro chose the more complex role that is played by Michael Palin. “I think it worried him to play someone as straightforward as Tuttle,” says Gilliam, who was able to talk De Niro into it.

As for his supposedly downbeat ending, Gilliam says that, “there’s the tiniest sliver of optimism – the spark is still there.” Gilliam says he wanted to avoid anything like the happy ending of Blade Runner, about which he says, “It leaves a nasty taste in my mouth, because I feel that I’m being treated like an idiot. You can’t lie to people.”

As for filmmaking theory, Gilliam is down-to-earth. “You’re feeling your way through, the whole time,” he says. “We catch them off guard, before they get angry at what we’re doing to them and walk out. I feel that we’ve gotten away with it this time.”

First published in The Herald, February 1986

My review of the film is here. As I mention there, what I remember about the interview (which took place in a limo taking Gilliam to Sea-Tac airport) includes Gilliam describing certain effects he was preparing for Baron Munchausen. It was an enormously enjoyable conversation and I enjoyed riding back in the limo, too.

Once Bitten interview: Jim Carrey

July 28, 2020

once bittenJim Carrey, star of Once Bitten, has a message for audiences everywhere. “If people go and see this movie,” he says, “it won’t change their lives. But it will change mine.”

He’s  probably right on both counts. Once Bitten is the young actor’s  first big shot, a leading role in which he gives an assured comic performance, and his stock will rise if it clicks at the box-office. Carrey was in Seattle this week promoting the film, and he described the steady rise of his career – from popular stand-up comic in Canada (he was born and raised near Toronto) to leading man in a major studio film.

He was making a lucrative living a couple of years ago as an energetic, rubber-faced impressionist-comic on the Canadian circuit. “But I was doing the same thing over and over,” Carrey says. “When people start saying your punch lines, it’s time to move on. I got real panicky and left town – burned all my bridges.”

He went to Los Angeles and found steady work at a comedy club, then got a role on a short-lived NBC sitcom: The Duck Factory. He did his stand-up routine on The Tonight Show, and had a small role in Richard Lester’s Finders Keepers, when he came to the attention of producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., who had a project called Once Bitten.

“Samuel Goldwyn wanted me in,” Carrey said, ”because he had seen me do my stand-up. So he asked me to read for the part. He was really behind me the whole time.” Carrey says he  got on well with director Howard Storm – possibly because, having directed many episodes of Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy, Storm was accustomed to creative actors. “He was pretty open to me fiddling about,” Carrey says. “Plus, he’s a total freako.”

Carrey’s just completed another role in a major film: Peggy Sue Got Married, opposite Kathleen Turner, directed by Francis Coppola. “I’m like the comedy relief,” he says of the new film, which will be released in 1986. “It’s one of those neat little parts in a movie that kind shine. Hopefully.”

Working with Coppola was one of the reasons Carrey took the part: “You know how many people get to do that in a lifetime?” Coppola, he says, is “just like a lovable, roly-poly guy, although he’s sort of tough to figure out.”

Now, Carrey is trying to keep busy between movie projects. He may do more stand-up comedy – “I want to live out the end of the world onstage,” he insists – and by writing and eveloping his own scripts. “I get sent scripts, and I read a lot of crap. I don’t want to just jump on anything now.”

For all his exuberance, Carrey seems unusually thoughtful and ambitious for a young Hollywood actor. “I’ve always wanted to do everything. I guess the logical thing to do would be to direct and write my own things.”

Carrey says that he’s not always sure what form his creative energy is going to take. “Sometimes I sit down to write a joke,” he says, “and I wind up writing a poem.”

See, Carrey is different – how many members of the Brat Pack have claimed poetry-writing as an avocation recently?

First published in The Herald, November 1985

I had an hour to sit around and talk with this ingratiating (and completely unknown to me) person, the kind of time interviewers stopped getting 20 years ago. I must say he came across as completely authentic and honest, and game to talk about a lot of subjects, which was good because it meant we didn’t have to talk about the movie. “I want to live out the end of the world onstage” – I wish I could remember the rest of that part of the conversation.


Out of Control

July 27, 2020

outofcontrolAccording to Martin Hewitt, the star of Out of Control, his new movie began life as a not-half-bad screenplay. “Originally, the director envisioned the film as a little more redeeming in social value,” said Hewitt, in town recently to promote the film. The movie even boasted a title that bid fair for respectability: Crosswinds.

Apparently, the script went out the window and into the crosswinds when the company went on location – which was Yugoslavia, where movies can be cheaply shot. The screenplay kept being rewritten, and, as Hewitt says, “It became a film about a bunch of people who go to an island and discover nudity.”

That’s a fairly accurate (and surprisingly candid) assessment of the finished film’s socially redeeming value. Out of Control is a messy exploitation flick that tries to cross Lord of the Flies with Prom Night, with a weird bit of Deliverance thrown in midway through.

Hewitt – he’s the young actor who played opposite Brooke Shields in Endless Love – plays the prom king at a Seattle high school. He and some of the other kids sneak away on prom night, borrow his dad’s seaplane, and head out for an island hideaway. The plane goes down and the teens wash up on a Yugoslavian island.

Well, actually, it’s supposed to be one of Puget Sound’s San Juan Islands. Once there, they engage in a primitive game of spin-the-bottle and the girls go swimming a lot. Then they run into some (inexplicably Yugoslavian) gun smugglers.

It’s all tied together by the insipid narration of a token fat kid (Andrew Lederer) who makes crashingly unfunny jokes about the possibility of losing his virginity while trapped on the island.

During the interview, Hewitt explained that the device of fat-kid-as-narrator was added after the movie was completed, in an attempt to lend some order. Unfortunately, it’s the same sort of order achieved when a teacher runs his or her fingernails down a blackboard: You may understand it, but you sure don’t like it any.

Hewitt also explained the bizarre opening sequence, in which the credits appear over a video of the high schoolers doing weird things to the tune of the soon-to-be-a-hit song “Out of Control,” by the Brothers Johnson. The video was supposed to be an MTV-like video produced for the prom by the big-boned kid – except in this final cut they forgot to explain that to the audience. So the film be­gins on a note of incomprehensibility and stays pretty much on course thereafter.

For his part, Hewitt has maintained his sense of humor about the film; that seems the only possible reaction anyway. He’s already got two more movies in the can, which suits him just fine: “I like to keep working. There’s a lot to be said for working, and just gaining the experience.” Well, sure. He got to go to Yugoslavia and hang around with a bunch of cute actresses for a couple of months. Something tells me that story might make a better movie than Out of Control.

First published in The Herald, January 12, 1985

This interview came very early in my interviewing career, and after doing a few hundred of these since then, I can say that Martin Hewitt was one of the most honest moviemakers I’ve ever spoken with. I think we may have been talking at the long-gone Seattle restaurant Settebello (or maybe just a hotel restaurant), where Hewitt happily ordered a couple of bottles of Perrier-Jouet champagne (something I’d never had before), and we killed a couple of hours with one of Seattle’s longtime publicist queens. They don’t let this kind of thing happen anymore. Anyway, the guy was good company, and he told me things I am too gentlemanly to repeat. The film’s most prominent actresses are Betsy Russell (Private School) and future Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Fenn (she reunited with Hewitt in Two Moon Junction). The director, Alan Holzman, did Roger Corman’s Forbidden World, and has gone on to direct and edit lots of stuff since; the movie was shot by John Alonzo.


The Mighty Quinn

July 24, 2020

mightyquinnThe No. 1 movie at the box office the last two weeks has been Lean on Me, a film neither better nor worse than your average Hollywood item. The more-or-less true story of no-nonsense New Jersey principal Joe Clark, it is a watchable, bland entertainment. It is worth commenting, however, that Lean on Me is one box-office winner in which virtually all of the major roles are played by black actors, and not one of them is Eddie Murphy.

Not only that, but there are two other movies playing concurrently that also feature predominantly black casts: Tap and the spoof, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. This entirely healthy movement comes at a time when blacks are scandalously under­-represented in executive positions in Hollywood, and films about blacks are unfairly categorized (Murphy and Richard Pryor are special cases, Spike Lee is an independent, The Color Purple was a fluke, etc.).

Add The Mighty Quinn to this short list. As it is set on an unnamed Caribbean island, the principal characters are quite naturally black. For this movie, the black cast is simply a fact of life, not a political statement, although the film doesn’t shy away from the prickly relations between the locals and the wealthy white landowners.

The Mighty Quinn, adapted from the novel Finding Maubee by A.H.Z. Carr, is about a murder and a friendship. But it’s a bit difficult to say exactly what this movie is about, because it keeps throwing in unpre­dictable elements.

Quinn, played by St. Elsewhere regular and Oscar nominee (for Cry Freedom) Denzel Washington, is the island’s police chief. He is an upright, impeccably uniformed contrast to his old childhood friend, Maubee (Robert Townsend), who has become the raggedy Robin Hood figure on the Island. Maubee is a free-living ne’er­-do-well who may be in deeper trouble than usual; he’s implicated in the murder of a powerful businessman.

Quinn, who finds and loses Maubee at various times in the story, has other problems, such as his kind-of estranged wife (Sheryl Lee Ralph), who wants to be a singer, the snooty Englishman (James Fox) who wants to cover up the crime, and a peculiar American businessman (M. Emmett Walsh) who takes an inordinate interest in Quinn.

All of this unfolds in a carefree way that sometimes threatens to become as laid-back as the sunny setting itself. Carl Schenkel, a European director who made the trapped-in-an-elevator movie, Out of Order, would seem to be a strange choice for this material, but Schenkel is adept at capturing the colors and the music of the locale (filmed in Jamaica).

Schenkel is happy to let the story digress at any moment, as with Quinn’s bluesy singing before a club full of revelers, or Quinn’s speculation that he’s playing the unsympathetic Elmer Fudd role to Maubee’s lovable Bugs Bunny. Nice movie.

First published in The Herald, March 17, 1989

I just like this film; it pops into my head at random times, and I did finally watch in again in 2016. It has one of my fave Denzel W. performances, Townsend is very appealing, and Sheryl Lee Ralph sings the Dylan song with lyrics that are re-done to humiliate Quinn in public – a marvelous scene. I have a memory that Bob Dylan writes about seeing this movie, maybe in his memoir, but I’ve lost the specifics. The cast includes Mimi Rogers, Art Evans, Esther Rolle, and Keye Luke! It’s a hang-out movie with an exceedingly pleasant feel. The novel came out in 1971, and its author (an economic advisor to FDR along with being a writer) died the same year; the material feels like it should have been made in the 70s somehow, directed by Hal Ashby or something. Hampton Fancher wrote the screenplay. Carl Schenkel went back into doing non-prominent films (I haven’t seen much of his work) and then died at age 55.


July 23, 2020

birdyBirdy is one of those nagging movies that can’t quite let you go. It nags you while you watch it, because it’s got a rather inflated sense of self-importance. But it also nags you after it’s over – this time because for all its faults, it’s got little things that stay with you.

Based on William Wharton’s 1979 novel, the film tells a highly eccentric tale of a friendship between two South Philly boys during the Vietnam years. Al (Nicolas Cage) is a normal goofball, but Birdy (Matthew Modine) is a special case. His escape from the hard reality is in the world of birds: He thinks about them, owns them, imitates them. As his sanity gets shakier – and especially as he’s rocked by Vietnam combat expeience – he gets closer and closer to transforming himself into a bird (or at least as close as humanly possible).

When the film opens, Al is visiting Birdy in an Army mental hospital, and we discover the story of their friendship through a series of flashbacks. The film employs a shrewd mix of comedy and drama in etching Birdy’s growing disassociation from reality; his 100-foot fall from a gas tower to a sand pit is lightened by the fact that he and Al are dressed in absurd pigeon suits at the time.

In fact, the difference between Al and Birdy comes out when Birdy tries to explain the necessity for the pigeon suits, which they will wear when catching pigeons to train for carrying messages. “When you put on the suit,” Birdy explains, “the pigeons’ll think you’re one of them.” Al adopts his best are-you-outta-your-mind look and says, “I don’t want the pigeons to think I’m one of ’em.” (Neither seems bothered by the fact that no bird in his right mind would mistake them for a member of the same species.) One’s the romantic dreamer and the other the sardonic realist.

That the film is often obvious and aggravating in its presentation of its themes and ideas seems primarily the fault of director Alan Parker. Parker, the British director of Midnight Express and Shoot the Moon, has demonstrated before his tendency for high-pitched stylization – lots of sunlight streaming through smoke-clouded rooms – and heavy-handedness. There’s not too much about Birdy that’s subtle, particularly in the characterizations of the supporting players.

But the two lead actors – that’s a different story. I don’t know if it’s Parker’s work, the intrinsic fable-like quality of the story itself, or just the sheer talent of the actors, but Cage and Modine are a fascinating couple.

Modine registered his likability in Vision Quest and Mrs. Soffel earlier this year, and his wide-eyed, dreamy performance in Birdy really makes him an actor to watch. He gives his character’s intention to fly an eerie determination.

Cage doesn’t have Modine’s range yet, but he’s got his own funky charm. And, as proven by Valley Girl, Racing With the Moon, and The Cotton Club (the latter for his uncle, Francis Coppola), the camera seems naturally drawn to his energy.

The film is often grating. But the chemistry between these two actors makes much of this offbeat enterprise weirdly memorable.

First published in The Herald, May 12, 1985

Maybe hindsight makes this clearer, but surely the two actors should have switched roles? Also, thinking about the fact that Modine went to work for Kubrick shortly after this film, consider the possibility that Nicolas Cage might have been cast in Full Metal Jacket instead. That would have been an interesting movie. (But then maybe we don’t get Cage in Raising Arizona or Moonstruck, both released in ’87, so that’s no good.) This is not exactly a great review, but perhaps a useful snapshot of where these actors were then. Bruno Kirby and John Harkins were also in it, and there’s an early role for Karen Young. Peter Gabriel did the music.