Wednesday, August 15, 2007

2007 DEAD CHANNELS: JACK HILL ON….

Not only did Jack Hill provide killer prints of Spider Baby and Pit Stop for Dead Channels Sleazy Sunday double-bill, but he attended the screenings to introduce each film and to field questions afterwards. His audience, though slight, was respectfully enthusiastic, filling the Roxie Film Center with their audible appreciation. This was my first opportunity to watch Jack Hill films on the big screen and—along with my filmbuds Michael Hawley, Jonathan L. Knapp, Frako Loden, and Joe Loree—we agreed this Sleazy Sunday event was one of our favorites in recent memory. I've conflated his two introductions and his two Q&As into the following entry.

On Spider Baby


For me to be places like this—and I've been quite a few places all over Europe where they got their first shot at seeing Spider Baby—it's gratifying because Lon Chaney was such a wonderful actor, under-appreciated, and this was one of his greatest performances. It gave him a chance to do comedy, which nobody else would ever think of him doing, and he poured his heart into it. It's heartbreaking for me that he passed away before he had a chance to see how much appreciated his performance would be. It's in his memory that I really get a thrill out of seeing audiences seeing the picture today.

We do have for you hardcore Spider Baby fans the original home video version of Spider Baby, which all these years was a rapid rip-off with the lab that refused to give me access to the negative. I found out that the original distributor, who I knew, what his logo looked like so I made it up on my computer and faxed him a simple order form for doing video transfer in the video department. I went in there, transferred the negative to video, paid cash, and got out of there. When the heads of the lab found out what had happened, they hit the ceiling. They were all worried about lawsuits in those days.

Things have changed, for which I'm grateful. Quentin Tarantino and Miramax were able to get me the negative because Miramax puts all their work through that lab. So this new transfer is also direct from the negative but we had a chance to do it in high-def and balance the contrast with a camera on the receive to get the sound just right. The original transfer is just fine because I had a great camera man—I didn't need much change—but, this is perfecto.


On Spider Baby's Initial Distribution

I don't know what it is about this movie that gets people; it gets me a little bit sometimes. It's just so bananas, I guess. I've been at conventions where this has happened more than once: 15, 16-year-old girls tell me how much the movie means to them. It must be just an example of unconditional love in the family, where—no matter how naughty you are—you'll still have that love. I didn't know that. I didn't think of that. But that must be it. Anyway, I wasn't even aware the picture was being distributed. When it was finished, the guys who had financed it had been in the real estate development business, which at that time really went ups and they were losing a lot of money. They went into bankruptcy and the film was locked up in litigation. The distributor who had seen it when it was first finished in the lab, kept track of it all the time during those years of litigation—about four years as I recall—and he kept the film. Finally, when it was cleared, he distributed it one summer all over the South and did very well with it. The companion picture [was a] picture that he himself made, which I don't remember what it was. I think it was another Lon Chaney movie. Some horrible film rightly forgotten today.


Then he distributed it again the following year as The Liver Eaters. Those guys used to do that in those days. They would change the title so that the owners of the picture wouldn't be aware that they're out in the boondocks distributing the picture and not paying [the owner]. The distributor, by the way, came up with the title Spider Baby. This was the genius of this guy. The original title was Cannibal Orgy. Or The Maddest Story Ever Told. I thought it was funny because there was a big movie out called The Greatest Story Ever Told at that time; but, four years later, it didn't really ring a bell. So he came up with that title. Anyway, the distributor had this great catch line for the re-release: "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if the bloodsuckers don't get you, the liver eaters must." I wasn't even really aware that the film had been released. As far as I knew it was gone, forgotten, lost.

On The Scenes Cut From the Distributed Production

They had the idea that there was something wrong with the film before they ever actually showed it. They got more and more scared about the opening action sequence where Virginia kills the mail carrier. They felt that the scene should be cut. I guess they got squeamish about it or something. I get squeamish about it myself when I know it's coming up when I see the movie. Anyway, so they cut that scene and—without that scene—the feature makes no sense whatsoever. In fact, when they first saw the new answer print with that scene missing, they realized that was a mistake. "Oh my God, what have we done?" But anyhow that's the print they sent out because time was short, they were in bankruptcy and the axe was about to fall. So that's the print that they sent to the New York studios and, of course, no one would touch it. That was the end of everything.


Then, of course, when the distributor—who had seen the film originally and had kept track of the film through the bankruptcy [until] it was released—when he saw it, he was absolutely appalled and couldn't understand what had happened. Fortunately, the missing elements were [intact] and he restored it and that's the film we have today.

On the Extra Footage Found on the Upcoming Directors Cut DVD Release

I can't say it's particularly better. It adds something to the picture mostly for people who are familiar with the original. It gives a little bit more of Lon Chaney. It's a scene that was cut—which the film gets along okay without—but, it adds a little bit. Besides that, it's copyrightable. The film was unfortunately not copyrighted but—since this particular scene was not in the picture when it was released—it is copyrightable. So there's a double reason for putting that scene in. Actually, it's a scene that I like. It has some good stuff in it. I think the picture is a little bit better for it.

On Lon Chaney

He was a sweet guy. He was just great, wonderful. He was bitter and frustrated because he felt he was a [much] better actor than he was being given credit for. He was jealous of Boris Karloff—"That guy's not one bit better than I am"—but, of course, Boris didn't drink and the reason Lon wasn't hired was because he was an alcoholic. He stayed on the wagon for this picture because he really wanted to do a good job. He wanted to play comedy and he loved the other actors and he wanted to really do his best. Little did I realize that the orange he was having for a mid-afternoon snack was heavily laced with vodka. But he needed that to get through the day.

[Spider Baby] was shot in August on a little sound stage with no air-conditioning and—during the scene—he would break into a sweat and was soaking wet. We had a guy standing by with a bucket of cool water and a chamois [to] wipe him down.

[The werewolf sequence was written] with [Chaney] in mind. He liked that too. It was just a miracle of casting because all the players just really loved each other and they loved working together. Lon loved the girls. It was just a really fun thing. Twelve very hectic days, I can tell you that; but, it was fun.

On Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner


The two girls played off of each other so nicely. Jill [Banner], the girl who played Virginia, the Spider Girl, had never done anything before. I don't remember how we found her but somebody sent her in. She came in not expecting to get much, just hopefully get a line or two or something like that, and she came in and described herself; she said, "I'm a lot of fun to have around." The way she said that, we all looked at each other and we just knew. She had a certain rhythm. All she needed was to be encouraged that she was doing well; she was very unsure of herself, of course. She, by the way, had never been to acting school or anything like that. Everything she did was just instinct.

The other girl who played Elizabeth [Beverly Washburn] had 20 years experience in films, since she was a child. And yet they worked together just absolutely beautifully, as you can see. Just amazing.

On the Illustrated Opening Credits & Film Score

I thought the guy did great titles and it was very important to the story because he showed you by the titles that the movie was going to be a comedy. Otherwise, people wouldn't have known what to make of it. They don't know what to make of it now.


[Having Lon Chaney sing the title song] was the composer's idea. Ronny Stein did most of the [scoring] for the [Roger] Corman movies. He was a wonderful composer. He had the idea to do this and Lon was all for it. He kind of rapped it. The new DVD that's coming out in September has a whole little documentary about the composer. Ronny Stein wrote the score in one weekend without touching a piano, flew it down to Mexico and recorded it with an orchestra, and brought it back; $2,100 for the whole finished score. He loved the picture and wanted to do it. For you filmmakers working with low budgets, write something people just love to do.

On the Film's Location

The existing house was in Highland Park. [The cellar] was in a sound stage in Glendale. The reason I could write this on a low-budget was because—to have a pit in a film—the set would be very expensive. It would cost too much because you would have to build a false floor and everything above it to have a pit; but, you see, I had used this particular studio before and it had originally been an automobile repair garage so I knew I had a pit before I wrote the script. It was the second time I had used it. I had used it in an earlier film called Blood Bath where I had a mad artist who [filled] the pit with wax and dipped dead models in the wax and pulled them out. So I had some experience with that.

Ray Storey designed the sets. It was very economic. You're seeing three different floors of the building. We just basically moved walls around. Except for the basement. That was built separately. He did a very good job on a very low budget. The whole picture cost $65,000 to make, including the score with the orchestra.


We did a documentary for the DVD where I went back to the house and showed where we shot this, where we shot that. Today, of course, it's been remodeled and people are living there and it's probably worth a couple of million.

Are any of the interiors shot in the house? Yes and no. The only time we put the camera inside the house was for the shot of the mail carrier looking through the window inside. That's the only time you ever actually see any of the interior of the house, basically just around the window. It was interesting too because the camera man [Alfred Taylor] was very clever. We had no electricity in the house because it was abandoned. He brought the light in with reflectors. There was a reflector outside and down the hall reflecting into the room and other reflectors on the actors to balance the exterior light with the interior—anyone who knows photography knows that the sunlight outside is brighter than the light inside the dark room—so that's low budget for you.

On A Sequel to Spider Baby

[Vampire's Orgy] was the title. Actually, I've just rewritten it. I've given it a new title: Spider Baby 2: S.Q.U.I.R.M. "Squirm" is an acronym for Special Quest of the Intersection of Resurrected Monsters. It's about a secret division of Homeland Security and a 4,000-year-old Babylonian vampire that's been sent to destroy the United States by infecting everybody, blah blah blah blah, y'know. Originally it was in a vampire mode but I've just recently rewritten the script—as I just mentioned—and you can tell in terms of [its] modern considerations. Believable, I think. Of course, when I wrote the script it wasn't really a sequel. In one sense it was a continuation of the couple that ended up on honeymoon where they shouldn't have gone. A bad choice of a town to have a honeymoon in. But I wrote it for the same cast so it has similar characters. Right now it's being shopped around looking for takers.

On Pit Stop


The beauty of black and white film. This print of Pit Stop is what we call an "answer print" from the lab. The lab used to do answer prints on a very special high quality film stock, Agfa, which the theatre goers never got a chance to see because they made the release prints on cheaper Eastman stock. So this is the original answer print and it shows you how beautiful black and white film can look.

Roger Corman financed and distributed this picture. He said, "We could make some money making a stock car racing movie." At that time they were making a lot of stock car racing movies [with] Frankie Avalon, which to real car fan addicts were just laughable. I wanted to do something that would be realistic. So I said I didn't want to make a stock car racing movie. I hated stock car racing movies. I didn't want to do it. I wanted to make an art film. So [Corman] said, "Okay, make an art film about stock car racing" and I thought he was making a joke. I said, "Okay, I got this idea. I want to make the first stock car racing movie where the hero loses the big race." He said, "No, Jack. The hero wins the big race in a stock car racing movie." I came up with the idea that the hero wins the race but loses his soul. So that's my art film.


When I see this movie today, I can't imagine how on Earth I ever got all this stuff together to do this; but, I had the idea when I first saw Figure 8 racing. That's what made me want to make a movie about car racing because I thought, "This is the most insane, typically American insanity, that would appeal to foreign markets. People overseas want to see this American racing." Not only that, but the dune buggies and all that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, they never got a chance to see it because by the time the film was released, foreign buyers wouldn't even look at a black and white movie.

Was there ever a colorized version? No. It would have been too expensive. You know what, though? If I had had the idea, what I could have done…. You see, we couldn't have done this in color. The night time racing is what got me going. Night time racing had never been seen in a movie before. All the smoke and the dust and the sound effects and the lights; to me that was very exciting. We could not have done that in color at the time. We had to use a very special high speed black and white film to shoot the races. I could have just done those night time races in black and white and the rest of the picture in color. That would have worked. But it didn't occur to me at the time, unfortunately.

[Pit Stop] was the last great action picture in black and white.




On Pit Stop's Original Title

The Winner was the original title. That's why this print—the original answer print from the lab—has that title. The title was changed because there was a racing movie being made at Universal with Paul Newman called Winning and [my] distributors were afraid there would be confusion with the title, so they called it Pit Stop. Probably a better title for the audience they were [targeting].

On the Actors in Pit Stop


As far as I know, [Pit Stop] was [Ellen Burstyn's] first feature film. She came to me because I was looking for an actress for that part. After I had done Spider Baby, I realized that I really didn't know anything about directing actors. I was just lucky with Spider Baby. I got actors that didn't need any help. I spent a year in an acting class with Jeff Corey who was one of the very finest acting [coaches]. Many well-known players came from his class. I called Jeff to have him recommend somebody for this part and he sent over Ellen McCrae. Her husband's name was Burstyn. She took his name professionally when she got a divorce. Strange.


Here we're talking about acting classes and Beverly Washburn I don't think ever went to a class in her life. And yet, she's so wonderful in this movie. It's hard to imagine that this same actress was in Spider Baby.

I like to write for actors that I know. It helps me create a character. With Sid [Haig], I knew his personality. This is him. He grew up in Bakersfield—or Fresno—what's the difference? He really knew these kind of people; but, the interesting thing is that he did not know how to drive a car at this point. There's one scene in there where you actually see him driving—he's driving the pick-up truck into the wrecking yard—so, he had to be able to do that and—when he backed up to set up the shot—he backed up into a parked car.


Richard Davalos, you might recognize him. He played James Dean's brother in East of Eden. He really didn't know anything about cars. He didn't know what a throttle was. I had to tell him, "Accelerator pedal."

I ended up with Brian Donlevy because the price was right. He was in tax trouble. We paid him $3,000 under the table for three days work. This is another Roger Corman thing you learn. You learn to have a star who's only going to work for a few days but you want to have the feeling that he's all through the movie. I think I was able to do that. You feel that he's all through the movie but he actually only worked three days.

George Barris was in the movie. There was no other famous hotrodder in there. That was another thing I wanted to document: George Barris's salon where he creates all these weird cars. He had them right there. Some car that was on TV a lot was the one he was working on there. He was happy to do it. He liked being in the movie. All of it was very authentic. In fact, all the talk about engines and all that stuff was very authentic. I didn't know a thing about them. I got the information from the people who were there and I gave it to the actors to talk about. This movie has become a real cult movie among a certain mixed audience of car nuts of that period. It turned out that the wrecking yard that we used is famous among these people. The bar where we shot is famous. It's really weird. There are some weird people out there and I just happened to connect with them.

[The old guy who trains Rick Bowman (Davalos) was a non-actor.] He was the photographer at the race track and I thought he was an interesting character. It was a little awkward because he couldn't really do lines. That's why there's some odd editing in there because he screwed up his lines; but, he was quite a character. He was a real former race driver, just like he said. He was the real thing, like the Italian neorealists. Of course, the worst actors in the picture were the stuntmen who I gave acting parts to do the stunts.

On the Conscious Use of Black Actors In His Early Films
Presaging His Later Blaxploitation Films

No connection. [In Spider Baby] I just happened to love Mantan Moreland and he just happened to be black. The other guy [in the opening scene of Pit Stop], I don't know, it just seemed kind of natural. This was at a time before there was really a lot of consciousness about that kind of thing. But, I'll tell you something interesting now that you've seen the movie and it won't spoil it for you. The black guy who was walking across the street in the opening sequence, he didn't show up the next day. He showed up one night and the next night he didn't show up. So we had to dub his voice and we dubbed it with Sid Haig, which you don't recognize because he hasn't appeared in the movie [yet].

On Editing Pit Stop's Car Crashes


The miracle of movies. Obviously, you would never see a race like that [with so many car crashes]; it would be impossible in a single race because—every time a car crashes—they would stop the race. But you couldn't make a movie like that. So over and over and over again, you get caught up in it and you don't really notice it, you see a place where two or three cars crash and roll over and two seconds later you see the same place and there's nothing. It was my hope that you'd get so caught up in the action that you wouldn't really notice it or—if you noticed it—that you wouldn't care. This seemed to work that way.

I'll tell you how we did this. We spent six weekends with five cameras shooting these races. I took a spot by the intersection [of the Figure 8] myself because we didn't have insurance and that was the only really dangerous spot. You can see the back of my head quite often here as another camera pans by. I wore the camera on a harness. I basically took all the best crashes and exciting moments and cut them all together. Then we took the crashes and I just duplicated the car with the number on it and the color and everything and showed the actor in it, right? It was kind of a documentary in reverse in a way.

As I was saying, God knows how I was ever able to put all that together like that. I don't know. Making movies, you get caught up in it and you do things that you wouldn't think you could normally do. For example, in the middle of the production schedule, we had an actual race in Riverside, which we were going to film and it was a part of the schedule and, at the last minute just as we were about to go, they cancelled that race. I was stuck with this problem of having a climactic scene in the picture with no race to shoot. I actually persuaded the owner of the stadium racetrack and guaranteed that—if he put on a race—he wouldn't lose money on it. Of course, I could do no such thing. He actually agreed to do it. He put on a race. God behind me, he broke even. That's how we were able to get that race. This is the kind of thing that goes into making guerilla movies; you need grace.

On Crashing Cars Into Houses


In the opening scene where they have the drag race in the street and [the car] crashes into the house, that was done in one of the beach cities—I forget which one—they were having an urban renewal program so all these houses were going to be torn down. We actually built a false front on the house because we couldn't really crash a car into a house; it would destroy our car. So we built a false front out of balsa wood. But the city people from this community who had given us the okay to do it, had second thoughts. They were worried because this house was on a slope and they were afraid the house would fall off [its foundation] and roll down the slope onto somebody else's house. They were seriously worried about this happening. When you're standing there watching, it's a joke because those things don't make any noise, it's just paper and balsa wood; but, they were there really worrying that they had goofed up by giving us [permission to shoot].

On His Use Of Rear Screen Projections

Every time you see one of my actors behind the wheel with the race going on behind them or some scenes where Dick Davalos and Beverly Washburn are driving around with the streets behind them at night, that was actually rear projection done in the camera man's driveway. Everybody used to think that—in order to do rear projection—you had to have synchronized projector and camera. Not so. We found that out. Basically, the trick is to use a theatre projector with a double blade. Every frame, instead of being just one, is actually double. What happens is that—when you have your camera and your projector—[they] don't always have the same frame. Sometimes it's half of one and half of another; but, it always adds up to 100%. It's really really strange. Anyway, we got the theatre projector and we made all of our plates for the races and everything. The camera man lived in an apartment and his bedroom fronted on the driveway. We put the projector in his bedroom, projected into the driveway into a mirror and then in the back window of the car we had a sheet of Eastman translite, which was a product made for photomurals, and it was a transparency. It was like a really fine screen that we projected [onto] and ran the actors through, one car after the other, and did it all in one night.

On the Dune Buggy Scene


I had heard about [this dune buggy gathering]—they don't allow that anymore; it's devastating to the environment—but, when I heard about it, I thought this would be something that would, for one thing, give us a break in mood, which we needed. You know how in a symphony they have three sections—in the middle it's kind of slow, which gives you relief from the intensity—that was one reason. Another reason was that I felt it would be something I wanted to document in the film for foreign audiences and for history. I felt that wasn't going to last and I wanted to have it on film. It worked in the story. [The dunes were in] Brawley, [California]. The Brawley Dunes. That was quite an adventure too.

On Driving the Race Cars Himself

I tried one of the race cars out on the track just for fun and it scared me because the slightest little pressure on the throttle—vrrrooooom—there was no inbetween. You were either full out or stop. It scared me. But I did drive my own Volvo around the track; my Volvo, which you saw in the movie there [with the gas tanks] if you were watching closely. That was one of them. I had two Volvos. I had the 1956 station wagon that looked like a little delivery truck. It was small and had a great little engine in it.

If you've ever seen Bergman's Shame, the central character, the musician, drives exactly that same car. In Sweden it's very well known, right? I went to this film festival in Sweden where they showed Switchblade Sisters where I have the girls loading—they used my car—and the first time that Volvo wagon appears in the movie, the audience broke into applause and cheers.

On Pit Stop's Schedule and Budget

We didn't really have a schedule and we didn't really have a budget. It ended up costing about $75,000; but, a lot was added to that by the company. That is, all the people I was working with were participating. The expenses would have been considerably more if everybody had gotten paid normally, including myself. But I never made a quarter out of it.

On Pit Stop's Score


This is another thing about guerilla filmmaking. I had absolutely no budget for music in this picture. I didn't want to have to cut in music from other movies or canned music. I came across this group called The Daily Flash from Seattle, four guys. I offered to pay them what would be union scale for their recording time and they prepared the music themselves. I ran the picture on the Moviola so they would get an idea of what it was like. They came into the studio, we ran the movie, and they improvised the music to the film. I thought it was just awful. I couldn't stand that kind of music. And yet—when critics talk about the movie—they rave about the score. One of the guys didn't even show up [on time]; he was an hour late. Most of it was just three guys, two guitars and a drummer, and yet it sounds rich and full. The guys just turned out to be really good. Just luck again.

On Yasujirō Ozu

At this particular time you may have noticed that the camera work for the film was still. I was under the influence of Yasujirō Ozu, the great Japanese director, who never moved the camera. I used to think that was great. I used to just let the actors do it. I understand that. I read in the paper recently that in Francis Coppola's new film that he made, he's talked about Ozu and [Coppola] never moves the camera in this one. He finally caught on too.

We had a theatre in L.A. called the Kabuki Theatre where they played all the Japanese movies that you would never see anywhere else. I went to see all the Ozu movies. To sit for three hours with a still camera was wonderful; he was the Shakespeare of Japanese cinema.

I strive for character-driven dramas. It might be an old-fashioned idea. That's the way drama's supposed to be. There's other types of movies. Different kinds of movies. I'm a big fan of Alain Renais and people like that, Godard, but Ozu's a good example. [His films] are nothing but the characters. You can watch an Ozu film and you go on and on and you think nothing's happening and all of a sudden something will happen and it will put together all these little details that you didn't pay attention to and something really powerful happens. That, to me, is mastery.

On Other Influences

I grew up with Warner Brothers in the '40s. My father worked at Warners. He was a set designer and art director. Warners movies at that time, the directors had to work on low tight budgets. If you see movies like Key Largo, they've got these phony-looking trees blowing in the hurricane with wires pulling them. They had to work on very low budgets so they had to have ideas, know what I mean? They had to have ideas to replace not having stuff on the screen and they had actors like Bogart, Cagney, Bette Davis, Virginia Mayo. The big studios like MGM, what did they have? Robert Taylor? What? So that was an influence on me, the way that they were able to get—again—maximum effect with a minimum of means.

On the Jack Hill Imprint on Quentin Tarantino

He'd be the first to admit that. He's kind of nutty that way. Coffy's on his list of the ten best movies ever made. C'mon…. It's all right, but, y'know?

On Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop


I didn't see Two-Lane Blacktop until just a few years ago actually. It's not fair to ask me my opinion of someone else's movie, especially somebody I've worked with. I think he was very jealous of me because my movies were big hits and his movies were flops; but, that doesn't mean they weren't good movies. They just didn't find an audience. Two-Lane Blacktop, I didn't like it when I saw it and I'll tell you why: it was totally unbelievable. It was over the top with trying to get too cool, know what I mean? Too distanced. It didn't work for me. I like to get into characters and then something happens. The idea of making movies about people who don't give a shit doesn't appeal to me. But that's just my [opinion]. A lot of people think it's a masterpiece and I can't argue with that.

[Tom Sutpen revisits Two-Lane Blacktop for Bright Lights Film Journal.]

On Contemporary Films

I don't really go to see a lot of movies. I go see all the French movies when they have the French Film Festival in L.A. every year and some of them are really good. They can do things we can't do here because they have government financing. Some of them are not good at all but they're very different. What happened with the American film industry is—well, thank God there are means now by which people, who never before would have been able to make them, are out making films and some of these are going to be really wonderful if they get distributed, which is very difficult. But the major companies are just making the same crap over and over.

I saw Pan's Labyrinth. It wasn't for me. It was just so over the top. I like [films] dealing with real people and real [situations]—what is it?—"Happy stories about happy people with happy problems"? I'm just kidding. My wife and I just recently wrote a romantic comedy, which is where my heart really is. That's what I really want to do: make movies about love, not about revenge.

The thing that's really got me upset is the [torture porn] that's going on. A friend of mine, Mark Damon, produced this movie Captivity; I can't understand why anyone would want to spend their time [watching] something like that. I don't really mean to criticize somebody else's genre, but I think it's sick. [Laughs.]

On the Aspect Ratio Of His Films

When I had the control to do so, [my films] were shot [in the Academy Ratio (1.33:1 or 4:3) and framed to be projected at 1.85:1 with no loss of information] because that's the screen ratio the theatres were projecting; but, I made sure that my camera man framed everything so that all the necessary information was within the TV port so that the pictures could be shown on television without having to be panned and scanned. It was a multiple thing in my mind. Later, in the [films] that I did for the studio, they were basically framed 1.85:1 and I was not able to make that [TV] choice because the studio controlled. It's not a matter of aesthetics. My view was, having a picture panned and scanned totally destroys it; but, they didn't have widescreen TV then so my solution was to make sure that everything would be within the TV frame so that it could be just as effective shown on TV.

On Becoming A Blaxploitation Director


It was an assignment. When I first got the assignment, Larry Gordon—who was the head of production at AIP, which was making a lot of blaxploitation movies—called my agent and my agent sent me in. He told me he wanted to make a black film. At first, my heart just sank because I didn't think I would know how to make a black film; I didn't think I was qualified to do that. But he told me what he wanted. He said, "I want a black woman revenge movie." I thought, "It's a great chance to work with Pam Grier." I could write a part for her and bring out her qualities, which I thought were outstanding. I had done two pictures with her. I had "discovered" her—if anybody can be discovered—by giving her her first real role in a movie and that got her going. By the time we got around to Coffy, she'd been in several pictures, including one more with me, one of which—Black Mama, White Mama—was fairly popular and The Arena kind of did okay, so she had a little bit of experience; but, the studio wasn't sure they wanted to use her. There were some other black actresses they were considering but I said, "Nobody else can do this." So they went with me on that. The rest is history.

[Incidentally, Coffy is being screened Saturday, August 18, 2007 at the Bridge Theatre as part of Peaches Christ's Midnight Mass.]

On Remaking the Four Scripts He Wrote For Mexican Producer Juan Ibáñez Starring Boris Karloff

Boris loved it because he got to play four characters in four weeks. It was a very complicated thing. I think only the advantage of having studied filmmaking with Roger Corman [qualified] me to do this; but, I actually had to write four scripts, which could be shot in such a way that all the stars and scenes were shot together and then the rest of the pictures could be finished at leisure … in a foreign country … by another director. The producer died of a heart attack, which was no wonder. The films were finished long after and it turned out that the producer knew that I couldn't go to Mexico to direct the pictures because the Mexican union wouldn't have allowed it. He just disappeared on me. I never heard anything more about it until many many years later I heard they were floating around on video. I picked up one of them and looked at it and I was so appalled I couldn't get myself to look at the other pictures. Our idea is to take the original scripts, update them, bring them into line with modern sensibilities and do them the way they should be done today.

Cross-published on Twitch.

5 comments:

cinebeats said...

Thanks so much for posting this Maya! It was a great read. I've never seen Pit Stop so I even learned a bit. Spider Baby and Coffy are two of my favorite Jack Hill films. I'm so peeved I missed attending this event! And the turn out was kind of low?!? Oh well... I'm looking forward to next years Dead Channels festival. I really hope it becomes a regular event.

Maya said...

As do I. Though it does become a bit disconcerting to watch such excellent programming go unsupported by the local film community. I know impresario Marc Huestis has indicated he's no longer going to program for the Bay Area due to the poor turnout at his last festival. I hate to think Bruce Fletcher would give up too.

Brian said...

That's quite disconcerting to hear that Marc Huestis is talking about turning away from programming films for our town. I'd heard that many of the screenings had posted disappointing numbers, but one must keep in mind that August is just a tough month to mobilize people anyway.

I hope Dead Channels lives and thrives for years to come; this initial program looks great, but I've simply been too busy with other priorities to attend or write about it much. I was particularly rueful for missing these Jack Hill films and the Cronenberg. I heard the latter was quite well-attended.

Word is filtering through rumor vines that the ratio of films shown on film and not DVD has been much better at Dead Channels than at another local genre film festival. That certainly makes me want to root for it.

Maya said...

Bruce believes in film. He takes great care to project film whenever possible. Yesterday's projection of Nuit Noire was stunning. The film is so lustrous and beautiful. Everyone commented on how incredible an experience it was. Everyone, I say. All six of us. It broke my heart to see hardly anyone there. This is filmmaking at its best, supported at its least.

Perhaps it is August. I don't know. Perhaps the city is glutted with festivals and folks are tried of too much choice and too much cost. I don't know. Bruce and I had a long talk about this over beers at Delirium, trying to nail why attendance was so poor, when it felt more like we were pounding a nail into a coffin.

Brian said...

I'm feeling pangs reading about such a poorly-attended screening of a gorgeous print. But, and my own evidence it merely anecdotal, but two of my friends who are the biggest into horror/fantasy film were both out of town this week. And this week in particular was an astonishingly jam-packed week for cinephiles.

Besides the Cronenberg and Hill films I missed due to work/volunteer commitments, I wanted to see other Dead Channels films, but I had higher priorities at other venues in my available time slots (which are admittedly a little less now that I'm working more hours per week this month and next): I couldn't let myself miss the Amphibian Man at the PFA Friday, nor the Herzog double-bill Wednesday. As it was I missed Stalker and Phantom of the Opera and my last chance to see Paprika at the Red Vic, all of which have a fantasy/sci-fi/horror appeal. I wonder how well-attended these events, or the SF Shorts Film Festival, or Privilege at YBCA, etc. etc. etc. were.

I hope there's a "next time" for this festival, because I really want to be there for it!