DATE October 31, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Steven Shainberg discusses his new film "Secretary" and
some of the ideas he tries to convey through his directing
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The film "Secretary" is an unusual comedy about an unusual office romance, a
sadomasochistic relationship between a young woman and the lawyer she works
for. The movie is adapted from a short story by Mary Gaitskill. My guest is
the director of the film, Steven Shainberg. He also directed "Hit Me," which
is based on a Jim Thompson crime novel. When David Edelstein reviewed
"Secretary" on FRESH AIR, he described it as a film about two monumentally
damaged people who might actually be freed from their psychological shackles
by acting out a master-slave relationship. Here's a scene shortly after Lee
Holloway, the secretary, has started working for Mr. Grey, the lawyer. He's
just asked her into the office to discuss her typing errors on the letter she
just gave him, but this feedback session takes an unexpected turn that ends
with him smacking her behind. The secretary is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal,
who is the sister of actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Mr. Grey is played by James
(Soundbite of "Secretary")
Mr. JAMES SPADER: (As Mr. Grey) Now I want you to bend over the desk so
you're looking directly at it. Get your face very close to the letter and
read the letter aloud.
Ms. MAGGIE GYLLENHAAL: (As Lee Holloway) I don't understand.
Mr. SPADER: (As Mr. Grey) There's nothing to understand. Put your elbows
on the desk, bend over, get your face close to the letter and read it aloud.
Ms. GYLLENHAAL: (As Lee Holloway) (Reading) `Dear Mr. Garvey, I'm grateful to
you for referring...
(Soundbite of slap)
Mr. SPADER: (As Mr. Grey) Continue.
GROSS: Steven Shainberg, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. STEVEN SHAINBERG (Director, "Secretary"): Thank you.
GROSS: I'd like you to introduce the two main characters in "Secretary."
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, the male lead is played by James Spader. Mr. Grey is a
small town lawyer who is living a very isolated life, not caring too much
about his law practice, which he doesn't do particularly well in. And he
engages in sadomasochistic activities in his office with his secretaries. But
he has never met a secretary quite like Lee Holloway, who is played by Maggie
Gyllenhaal, who comes to his office having been in a mental hospital and has
never really worked in the world--she's 23, 22, 24 years old, somewhere in
there--and she gets a job as his secretary. And what evolves between them is
what is generally looked upon as a sadomasochistic relationship, but it
becomes sort of a beautiful, gentle love affair, much to his surprise and much
to her surprise. So the things which he has done with other secretaries sort
of goes further with her and evolves into something much more simultaneously
threatening and tender.
GROSS: What are some of the things he makes her do?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, he does things on the tamer side. He sort of plans her
day very thoroughly and controls what she eats eventually and spanks her by
having her lean over his desk whenever she makes a typing mistake. And he
sort of takes her into a realm of sexuality and feeling which is really the
primary thing that's going on in the film, is what is he actually making her
feel. not so much what is he doing to her. But he sort of opens a door in
her life that she probably didn't know anything about before meeting him.
GROSS: In the opening scene of "Secretary," Lee, the young woman who becomes
the secretary, is just getting out of a psychiatric hospital. She's a cutter,
a self-mutilator. She has a little--under the bed, she keeps a little box of
knives and files that she uses to mutilate herself. What is the connection
you see in her psychological and emotional life between self-mutilation and
the kind of sadomasochistic relationship she gets into with her boss, the
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, one of the things about self-mutilators--and
there's--it's funny because there's very little that you actually see in the
film. You never actually see her cut herself. You never see any blood. You
never see any skin break. What you actually see is her contemplating cutting
herself and struggling with whether or not she should cut herself or will cut
But there's a fetishistic quality about both of these things. She keeps a
little box under her bed and that has the quality of--almost as if it's a
little box of sex toys. And the intensity of feeling, which somebody is after
when they cut themselves, is somewhat similar to the intensity of feeling,
just on a very fundamental level, that somebody is after when they are hit by
someone, when they're struck or when they're spanked. And so you have a
character who is after some kind of real visceral experience.
And the other thing is that someone like that has a lot of feeling, but it's
contained kind of below the surface and it's very protected, and a cutter--if
you read the literature on them, you know, the psychoanalytic literature--you
find that they're people who are extremely sensitive, actually, and they want
to metaphorically get something out. They want access somehow to all that
feeling. And I think that that's somewhat similar to somebody who needs to be
struck by their lover or their husband or their wife in order to feel
something. So there is a similarity.
The difference, in my mind, and one of the keys, I think, to the film, is that
her self-mutilation is occurring in total isolation, separate from everybody.
She has to do it by herself, kind of hidden almost in the dark in her room.
And the experience that she has with Mr. Grey is intimate with somebody else.
It's as if she's admitting somebody else into that private world. And I think
we may underestimate how important that is and how freeing that is and how,
just in everybody's life, the difference between having experience by
yourself, whether it's scary or tender, and having it with somebody else.
GROSS: Well, that's one of the almost comic aspects of your movie, is that
sadomasochistic relationship seems almost really sociable and healthy by
comparison to locking yourself in your room and cutting yourself.
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, I think a sadomasochistic relationship is healthy
compared to many relationships that we have out there in the world.
GROSS: Well, where do you come into in all this? What's your doorway into
this subject of self-mutilation and sadomasochism?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, the thing that interests me, and one of the reasons that
I was drawn to making the movie in the first place, is I'm very interested in
the ways in which people bridge their isolation, however they do that. So, in
general, I find characters who are in some way cut off, shut down, unable to
communicate how they really feel totally compelling, you know. So these two
people in the film, Mr. Grey and Lee Holloway, James Spader and Maggie
Gyllenhaal, are so sort of alone in what they're doing and in how they're
functioning in their lives. And the fact that they're able to bridge that and
find love together to me is incredibly beautiful and moving.
So that's my access to it. I mean, I feel like--it's funny. You know,
obviously, the hook of the film is sadomasochism. You know, James Spader
spanks Maggie Gyllenhaal. That's, you know, the pizazz of it. But I think
when people go into the film and they sit through it, they discover, lo and
behold, that there's something really beautiful happening. And to me, that's
what was so compelling.
GROSS: Yeah, I want to make something clear. It's not like you're really
showing much sex on the screen. So I don't want people to think that this is
like a XXX-rated movie or anything. It's not.
Mr. SHAINBERG: Yeah. I mean, I think that--one of the pleasing things about
the movie is that you don't see very much at all. I mean, most of it is
GROSS: Mind games and--yeah.
Mr. SHAINBERG: ...how these two--yeah, it's about the mind. Exactly.
GROSS: You have to be really careful with a film like "Secretary" that the
tone is right otherwise the film can appear very silly or inappropriately
brutal, which is not what you're going for. Were there movies that you
watched that have to do with out-of-the-mainstream love or sexuality and
movies that became kind of markers for you of, like, what can go right and
what can go wrong in that kind of movie?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Yeah.
GROSS: Movies to emulate and movies to really avoid.
Mr. SHAINBERG: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, you know, there are films that I
looked at, you know--obviously, you go--if you're looking at films about
sexuality and, say, edgier sexuality, you go back automatically and look at
"Last Tango," you know, and sort of move from there. And, you know, I looked
at the Japanese film, "In the Realm of the Senses," and I looked at "Bunnell,"
and I looked at a film that came out recently called "An Affair of Love," a
And these are all movies--I think the essential problem with movies about sex
is when you make the movie about the sex, you get nothing because the thing
which makes any kind of sex scene--and as you were saying earlier, there's
really very little that you see in "Secretary," but when you make a movie
about sex, you have to make a movie about character. You have to make the
movie about what does the sex mean to these people? And that better be
something substantial. If it isn't something substantial, all you get is a
GROSS: My guest is Steven Shainberg, director of the film "Secretary." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Steven Shainberg, director of the
What are some of the issues you had to face in getting distribution for
"Secretary," issues that might have arisen out of the subject matter of the
film; self-mutilation, sadomasochistic, relationships?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, you know, people were afraid of the movie all the way
down the line. I mean, from trying to get a script financed to trying to find
the right producer to work with on the project to actors who automatically
said no. My original list of editors on the film consisted of seven women
editors in New York City, none of whom would even meet with me after reading
the script. And I would say to the producers, `But let me at least talk to
them. I can tell them, you know, I'm not going to make the dark and creepy
and scary version. I'm going to make the other version.'
So when we took the film to Sundance, there was a lot of interest from
distributors, but they were very scared. And we won at Sundance the Special
Jury Prize for originality, which I think is just an absolutely delightful and
exciting award and a strange award. And subsequent to that, distributors
started coming around sort of much more aggressively.
But you know, it took a long time at each stage of the process for me to
convince people that the film could be gentle and caring and could be
revelatory and fairy tale-like, and that it wasn't going to be a, you know,
soft-core porn film or a film that would send people out of the theaters, that
it could actually be a Friday night date movie. So it took us a long time.
GROSS: Now you already had had experience in making a movie that had very,
very, very little distribution. You made a film adaptation of a Jim Thompson
novel, and your movie was called "Hit Me." It starred Elias Koteas. It
played very few places, and it hasn't even come out yet on video. It'll be
coming out next year on video and DVD. Was that a very discouraging
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, you know, it's funny because--you know, in certain
ways, yes, but in certain ways, no, because basically, what--I made a film
when I made "Hit Me" that was trying to be absolutely true to Jim Thompson's
voice, and it's a very dark and funny, weird, sad and troubled voice. And I
felt that--although a lot of other films had been made from his novels, "The
Grifters," "After Dark, My Sweet," two French films, I felt that they had
basically done Jim Thompson light, and I didn't want to do Jim Thompson light.
I wanted to do Jim Thompson for real. And I think I did.
And the fact that--you know, the movie has its fans for sure and was one of
the things that made it possible to get "Secretary" made, I think I was in,
you know, a different place in my life then in terms of what I wanted to make.
And after having made a very sort of strong and visceral, not to say it's not
funny, film, I wanted to do something softer. You know, I wanted to do a love
story. And so in a certain way, making that film made it possible to make
"Secretary." I think if I hadn't made "Hit Me," I wouldn't have been able to
come to "Secretary" with a gentler and even sort of more unusual sense of
humor. I don't think I would have gotten that out of my system yet.
GROSS: What did you have to get out of your system?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, I was--you know, at the time when I made "Hit Me," I
was living an entirely different life. I was living in Los Angeles, I was
essentially dealing with a lot more difficult life circumstances and I think I
was a heavier person and a more kind of aggressive person in terms of my
attitudes about filmmaking. So, you know, it made sense to go and make a film
like that. It came out of me.
GROSS: So in a way, would I be too reductive to say that "Hit Me" is about
`Life is miserable and you're going to be lonely and things will really be
bad,' and "Secretary" is, you know, `Life is filled with pain and you're
lonely and life is bad, but there's a possibility of actually making human
connection and turning things around'?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Yeah, but I think I would--I think that's kind of a great
comparison. If I was still seeing a psychiatrist, I would bring that in today
and we would talk about that for the entire session. But you know, I think
"Secretary" is even more playful than that. I think it's more kind of joyful
and kind of looking for humor in places that you would least expect to find
it, and I love that about it.
GROSS: My guest is Steven Shainberg. He's the director of a new film
What are some of your all-time favorite movies?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, goodness, anything by David Lynch would be number one,
probably. "Blue Velvet" was the film that really made me want to make movies.
So I just, you know, look at everything that Lynch does as if, you know, I'm
going to school. But certainly, you know, Kubrick and Polanski and, you know,
I still go back and look at all of Scorsese's films probably every year and,
you know, Mike Leigh, as well.
And I have sort of a weirdly dual personality, where I'm interested in things
that look beautiful, but I hate things that are overwhelmed by style. And so
I'll look at a film by Mike Leigh like "Life is Sweet" and feel like I'm sort
of being cleansed, you know, almost the way some writers will talk about
reading Hemingway. You know, we have to--I try to--you know, my aspiration is
to make things that I love to look at, that are visually exciting, but are
essentially about people. And I think that's a rarity. You know, movies so
seldom now are just about human beings. It's so much more about, you know,
explosions or special effects, or what have you.
GROSS: You said that "Blue Velvet" was the movie that made you want to make
movies. How old were you when you saw it, and what did you really love about
it? Like, what scenes really reached you the most...
Mr. SHAINBERG: Sure.
GROSS: ...or what about the overall story or movie?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, you know--How old was I? I guess I was probably
20--how--well, I'm 39, so I'm not sure how along ago that was, but I was
probably 23, 24, maybe something like that, 22.
Mr. SHAINBERG: You know, "Blue Velvet" was a--it's just a beautiful dream.
And there's--I could talk about the film for a long time, but certainly, it's
his use of color and the sense of mystery and the sense of wonderment about
things that are scary. You know, I remember reading a quote from David Lynch,
and I probably won't get this exactly right, but he said something like, `You
know, there are a lot of interesting textures in the gutter.' And I remember
reading that and thinking, `Oh, my God.' You know, it's like there's a whole
world out there cinematically and visually and artistically that is
discounted. And it's not necessarily things that are overtly ugly, because he
certainly makes things that are just mesmerizingly beautiful to look at.
But the film felt like--"Blue Velvet" to me felt like it was opening a door on
to something dreamlike and unconscious and incredibly moving and also
undecipherable, and something which can't exactly be articulated. And I love
that, you know, that it's not--you can't say exactly what it is that Kyle
MacLachlan is experiencing in that film. And you know, that whole ability to
kind of tread into the unknown for me was just kind of, you know, very
GROSS: Steven Shainberg is director of the film "Secretary." It's in many
theaters now. "Secretary" and his earlier film "Hit Me" will each be released
on video and DVD around March. Shainberg will be back in the second half of
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Steven Shainberg,
director of the offbeat comedy "Secretary," about a young secretary and the
lawyer she works for; two very damaged people who find liberation in a
sadomasochistic relationship. Shainberg also directed the film, "Hit Me,"
which is based on a Jim Thompson crime novel. Earlier in our interview, he
said that "Blue Velvet" is one of his favorite films and helped inspire him to
There's a scene in "Blue Velvet" in which Isabella Rossellini and Kyle
MacLachlan are beginning a relationship, and she says to him--who is much
younger and more innocent--she says to him, `Hit me.' Did that help inspire
the title of your movie, "Hit Me"?
Mr. SHAINBERG: God, Terry! You've found me out. That's where the title
comes from. Good Lord. Yes, it is.
GROSS: Oh, it is.
Mr. SHAINBERG: Absolutely.
GROSS: I thought you were making fun of me for a second.
Mr. SHAINBERG: No, I'm not. I'm startled. You're the only person who's ever
found me out, but that is actually where the title comes from, yes.
GROSS: Oh, well. Good.
Mr. SHAINBERG: The Jim Thompson book was called "A Swell-Looking Babe," which
is a title that I absolutely abhor. So I was always looking for a new title,
and the film has a lot to do with revelations, as in `Oh, my God, it hit me.'
And it also has to do with card playing, and Elias Koteas actually does slap
somebody across the face in the movie. So there's a lot of ways in which the
words `hit me' play in that film. But the original impetus was her whispering
to Kyle MacLachlan.
GROSS: Why that scene? Why did you want to pay homage to that scene? I
mean, why did that scene stick in your mind so much, the `Hit me' scene?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Sure. Well, you know, it's a scene where--I mean, first of
all, the words `hit me' were applicable to the film. So if I hadn't had a
movie that involved poker and that had Elias Koteas' character having several
kind of startling revelations about who he actually is and things like that, I
would never have used the words.
But the scene is, in my mind, so much about Isabella Rossellini's character
asking for something which she's afraid to ask for and which reveals something
so tender about herself, and which eventually, in "Blue Velvet," Kyle
MacLachlan is willing to do for her out of affection. And there's enormous
ironies, obviously, in the two sentences that I've just said, but that irony
is in the film "Hit Me," too, the irony of falling in love with somebody from
whom you're going to learn probably some scary things about yourself, which is
what falling in love always involves.
GROSS: It seems to me you were examining something very similar but from a
completely different angle in "Secretary."
Mr. SHAINBERG: Exactly. Absolutely. I mean, I think that love relationships
are much more complicated than they're usually portrayed on film. And I think
it's incredibly exciting to try to get at some of the deeper things that go on
when two people meet and end up together.
GROSS: Do you walk around thinking that a lot of people don't really admit to
some of the complex, disturbing feelings they really have?
Mr. SHAINBERG: Yeah. I mean, you know, both my parents were psychoanalysts.
And at the dinner table when I was a kid, my sister and I would be treated to
the most wonderful conversation about who said what that day and what the hell
was really going on, you know. And so my fundamental belief is that, you
know, just on the most sort of simple level, we all wear some kind of mask,
and the most exciting with somebody else or in the movies is to see the mask
removed. And when you see the mask removed, you see something essentially
beautiful because you're seeing somebody for what they are.
GROSS: So I'm wondering, when your parents were sitting around the dinner
table with you, going over all their unusual case studies of, you know,
unusual psychological behavior, were they then expecting you to be perfectly
Mr. SHAINBERG: Well, you know, that's--the word `normal' is an interesting
thing, you know. I mean, obviously, there are schizophrenics who we can say
are, let's say, abnormal, who are actually, you know, delusional. But working
your way backward from there, I'm not quite sure where we should draw the
line, normal, in the sand. I mean, I don't think the behaviors that Mr. Grey
and Lee Holloway are displaying in "Secretary," I don't think that those
behaviors are abnormal. They're not. And we may--obviously, many people are
not spanking their wife or their husband, but something else is going on, and
that doesn't mean sexually. There's some kind of thing that's hidden, that's
secretive, that you don't know about, and this occurs in all relationships.
So, you know, it's interesting to try to think about, what are my own
prejudices about other people? `That's normal, this isn't. This is OK,
that's not.' And I think, you know, certainly, the film is addressing that,
and it's one of the things that really interests me and probably comes out of
GROSS: Steven Shainberg, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SHAINBERG: Thanks a lot, Terry.
GROSS: Steven Shainberg directed the film "Secretary." It's in many theaters
now. "Secretary" and his earlier film, "Hit Me," will each be released on
video and DVD around March.
Coming up, the Susie Arioli Swing Band. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Susie Arioli and Jordan Officer discuss performing as
part of the Susie Arioli Swing Band and their new CD "Pennies From
TERRY GROSS, host:
I'm always looking out for new jazz singers, and I recently heard a young
Canadian singer that I wanted you to hear, too. Her name is Susie Arioli.
She has a swing band based in Montreal. We invited her to talk with us, along
with her guitarist Jordan Officer. Here's the opening track from their latest
CD, "Pennies From Heaven." Susie Arioli not only sings; she plays drum.
(Soundbite of "Pennies From Heaven")
Ms. SUSIE ARIOLI: (Singing) Every time it rains, it rains pennies from
heaven. Don't you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven. You'll find
your fortune falling all over town. Make sure that your umbrella is upside
down. Trade it for a package of sunshine flowers. If you want the things you
love, you must have showers. So anytime it thunders, don't go under a tree.
There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I asked Susie Arioli if she sings while seated behind the drums.
Ms. ARIOLI: Actually, I stand in front with just a snare, and the snare's up,
kind of like cocktail snare height so that, you know, I can, whatever, just
stand there and play. And I have a mike on the brushes and a mike on the
vocals, and so that I have Jordan on one side and Shane on the other. We kind
of make a slight semicircle. That's cool 'cause we can still see each other.
And the brushes are present, and they're present in the monitors and they're
present in the mains. And it's a thick, beguiling sound because in a way,
you're not sure--it's true, it could be a kit in the back not miked, you know,
but in fact, it's just the brushes that are miked. And, yeah, it's really fun
for me to do.
GROSS: Is it ever hard to coordinate the singing and the drumming?
Ms. ARIOLI: Sometimes, man, yeah. On the really slow ones, I feel--I get a
little self-conscious, I have to say.
GROSS: What makes you self-conscious on the ballads?
Ms. ARIOLI: Well, I guess because there's a lot of space, which is something
that I really love with this band is that there's lots of space to breathe,
lots of silence to put in perspective. And if you're clomping along with your
loud--I don't know. You know, sometimes you think you're a big, clomping
around like person and you're not, but you just think you have this--it's just
so loud, you know; it's so present in the mike, you know. Suddenly, the swish
is all you hear.
Mr. JORDAN OFFICER (Guitarist): Mm-hmm. Well, and Susie's such a great
drummer for what we're doing. We played with a couple of drummers--like, when
we were just starting to play together, we played with different setups. And
it's really when we started playing with Susie on a snare that--that's one of
the things that really gave the band its sound, and it just fit perfectly with
what we were doing.
GROSS: Susie, have you studied singing?
Ms. ARIOLI: I did take a little bit of classes with a woman a couple of years
ago, I guess, about 10 years ago. And that was really useful. She laid
out--she kind of scientificalized what it was to sing and everything. So that
was good. I learned a lot from that. But I didn't follow through with any
studies since then. I guess I just listen and imitate, listen and imitate.
That's a great way to learn, I found, for myself...
Ms. ARIOLI: ...to, like, imitate completely as close possible as you can.
It's really a great way to learn different types of singers, you know, how
different types approach stuff. Like, you know, their phrasing will be so
straight or whatever, so behind the beat.
And when I first started singing, of course, I imitated subconsciously, I
suppose, the person I was most listening to at the time, and that was Billie
Holiday, so I was kind of like singing in somebody else's voice. And my
mother kind of gave me some really good advice, which was to stop singing like
Billie Holiday. That was, like, the main criticism she had of my first
performance was, `What are you doing,' you know, like singing somebody else's
voice, you know, putting a mask on?' you know. So it's good, whatever. You
have both sides you gotta imitate, and then you gotta find your own voice.
GROSS: Jordan, how did you and Susie meet?
Mr. OFFICER: Well, we met at parties and jam nights. We had a lot of
musician friends in common. And this guy Stephen Barry is a blues musician in
Montreal. He has a band; he's had a band for 25 years. And he almost always
has a jam night somewhere or another. And then at one of Stephen's jams, we
were playing at the jam night and the owner wanted to hire us as a band, and
we said, `Well, we don't have a band.' But, well, this is the band, you know.
Whoever was on stage at the time became the band.
Ms. ARIOLI: Yeah.
Mr. OFFICER: So me and Susie and Stephen and Gordie(ph) did some shows
together and quickly learned--got together enough tunes for a night of music.
And so it's whatever tunes Susie liked to sing. And so there were jazz tunes
and blues and country and, like, Nina Simone tunes and soul. But then we just
gravitated more and more toward the jazz and started learning more and more of
those kind of tunes 'cause it fit best.
GROSS: So you ended up being partners offstage as well as on stage. If you
don't mind my mentioning this, there's a fairly big age discrepancy between
the two of you.
Ms. ARIOLI: Yeah, he's a lot older than me.
GROSS: Yeah. And, Susie, you're like mid- or late 30s and, Jordan, you're in
your late 20s...
Mr. OFFICER: Yeah.
Mr. OFFICER: That's right.
Ms. ARIOLI: You're such a sweetie.
GROSS: So it's--What?--like at least 10 years, right?
Mr. OFFICER: Yeah.
Ms. ARIOLI: Yeah. Yeah.
GROSS: So--but you know what interest me about that is, like, you're both
playing music that's not associated with your age at all.
Ms. ARIOLI: It's true.
GROSS: It is not associated with your era at all.
Ms. ARIOLI: No, it's not even our parents', yeah.
GROSS: Exactly, it precedes your parents' era by decades.
Ms. ARIOLI: Yeah.
GROSS: So the fact that you are, you know, comparatively far apart agewise
seems to almost decrease with meaning since you're musically living in a world
that's so not in your age anyway.
Ms. ARIOLI: Right.
Mr. OFFICER: Well, that's an interesting way of putting it.
Ms. ARIOLI: Yeah, I like that. That makes everything balanced out, you know.
GROSS: Susie, one of your influences is Billie Holiday, and on the new CD you
do a song associated with Billie Holiday, "Don't Explain." But you do it
really pretty differently than she did. Can you talk a little bit about
approaching this song that is so associated with another singer?
Ms. ARIOLI: Well, one of the reasons I'm influenced by Billie Holiday is
that, like, when Billie Holiday's writing that song, writing those lyrics and
singing, it's like that's her life, you know. That's what she's living at the
time. And that to me is heavy, you know.
So when I'm singing it, I'm not--you know, I've lived--whatever--I've had a
crappy experience, let's say, in love, but I've never had the type of
heavy-duty drama that Ms. Holiday had. So I think that my approach is,
therefore, less guttural, you know; it's less heavy. It's less trenchant.
You know, it's more--I can relate to the emotion in a way, I can sympathize, I
can try to empathize, I can feel compassionate about it, I can take it, you
know, really objectively like a story, but it's a beautifully lyricized story,
a great subject matter, you know, and this fabulous melody. And it's like a
beautiful piece of art to exploit. But you know, a lot of the songs she
sings, they're much more heavy when coming from her than from coming from some
happy-go-lucky sprite like me, you know.
GROSS: Singer and drummer Susie Arioli and guitarist Jordan Officer. The
latest Susie Arioli Swing Band CD is called "Pennies From Heaven." From it,
here's "Don't Explain," featuring Ralph Sutton on piano. This was his last
recording session before his death at the age of 79.
(Soundbite of "Don't Explain"; music)
Ms. ARIOLI: (Singing) Hush now, don't explain. You've been out there raising
Cain. I'm glad you're back, don't explain. Quiet, don't explain. You know I
love you just the same. Skip that lipstick, don't explain. You should know I
love you and what love endures. All my thoughts are of you. I'm completely
yours. Cry to hear folks chatter, 'cause I know you cheat. But right or
wrong, no matter, when you're with me, sweet. Hush now, don't explain.
GROSS: The Susie Arioli Swing Band.
Coming up, some contemporary horror movies for Halloween night. This is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Modern metaphoric horror films for Halloween viewing
TERRY GROSS, host:
If you like to stay home on Halloween and rent a horror movie, film critic
David Edelstein has some contemporary horror films to recommend.
DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:
I watch horror movies all year long, but only on Halloween do I feel
emboldened to preach the gospel of the morbid, the gross and the disreputable.
These movies are candy for the brain. No, they're not sweet, but they're
messy and indulgent, and if they're really good they leave you feeling bad.
You won't be sure whether you've exorcised some demons or been present at the
birth of a big mess of new ones.
I also love horror movies because they're worst-case scenarios. What in a
normal movie is a creepy little subtext in a horror movie is a riptide that
swallows the guilty, the innocent and everyone in between. The latent is now
the blatant, with the heart of darkness beating like a bass drum in a Sousa
It's OK if you prefer your symphonies of the human condition more nuanced, but
there is something splendidly crystalizing about the monstrous archetype.
When we consider the ways in which scientific advancement outpaces moral
understanding, we turn to "Frankenstein." When we meditate on our duty to
repress our bestial instincts for the sake of civilization, we invoke "Dr.
Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." And we have vampirism to cover a whole host of
appetites for sex or drugs or immortality, big issues.
For Halloween week, I've decided to celebrate some of my favorite modern
metaphoric horror films, not the ones with brand-X bogeymen in masks; the ones
that grapple with the same issues as mainstream movies, but in a language more
ferocious and insane.
Take "The Brood," which David Cronenberg wrote and directed in 1979 after an
ugly divorce and custody battle. He said it was his "Kramer vs. Kramer." He
said he wanted to show the cost of a hellishly bad marriage on the next
generation, and the next. In his previous horror pictures, they came from
within and rabid. Cronenberg explored the monsters that arise when people
keep their traumas bottled up. "The Brood" is the antithesis. It's what
happens when, in the name of therapy, you go too deep and too far. Here's
Oliver Reed as a psychiatrist called Raglan coaching Samantha Eggar through
some unpleasant memories of Mommy.
(Soundbite of "The Brood")
Mr. OLIVER REED: (As Raglan) You're being so unfair, sweetheart. Mommies
never do that. Mommies never hurt their own children.
Ms. SAMANTHA EGGAR: You did hurt me. You beat me and you scratched me. You
threw me down the stairs.
Mr. REED: (As Raglan) Show me what I did. Don't stop it now, darling. You
show me. Show me your anger. Show it to me. Go all the way through it. Go
all the way through it to the end, right to the end.
(Soundbite of music)
EDELSTEIN: For Raglan, going all the way through it means going until it
shows up on your body as a boil or a rash or, in the case of Samantha Eggar,
homicidal mutant babies that take a hammer to people you dislike. Some
critics have accused Cronenberg of being anti-feminist in "The Brood." I
think he's despairingly anti-everything: anti-marriage, anti-childbearing,
anti-therapy, but furiously pro-horror.
For a horror picture just as explosively original, but more female-centric,
try "Ginger Snaps," directed by John Fawcett from a script by Karen Walton.
Imagine a werewolf movie starring the two alienated Goth best friends of
"Ghost World," teen-age girls who've managed by sheer will to delay the onset
of menstruation. One of them, Ginger, gets her period and gets bitten that
same night by a werewolf. The other, her younger sister Brigitte, watches in
horror as Ginger first becomes sexually active, then grows a tail, then begins
ripping people to shreds. The critic Linda Ruth Williams described these
sisters as staring at each other from either side of the pubescent divide.
Name a mainstream problem drama and I'll give you a more amazing variation in
the horror genre. Maybe you like male adolescent misfit movies like "Igby
Goes Down" or "Ordinary People." Try George R. Romero's grueling "Martin,"
about a tormented teen-ager who reaches out to women by drinking their blood.
Maybe you like drug addiction movies. You'll never see anything like Frank
Henenlotter's "Brain Damage," in which a young man acquires a parasite called
Aylmer, which looks like a cross between a giant phallus and "South Park's"
Mr. Hanky the Christmas poo. He talks like Bing Crosby, and he sucks
people's brains out. Aylmer keeps the young man a slave by drenching his
synapses with a blue, heroinlike opiate. It's as vivid as "Requiem for a
Dream," and a lot funnier.
GROSS: David Edelstein is the film critic for the online magazine Slate.
Here's music from David Cronenberg's film "The Fly."
(Soundbite of music from "The Fly")
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
We'll close with a track by the rap group Run-DMC. Their deejay, Jam Master
Jay, was shot to death last night in a recording studio in Queens.
(Soundbite of "You Be Illin'")
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) Yo, Jay, wait.
Unidentified Man #2: (From record) One.
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) Wait.
Unidentified Man #2: (From record) Two. Three. Four. One.
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) One day when I was chillin' in Kentucky Fried
Chicken, just mindin' my business, eatin' food and finger lickin', this dude
walked in looking strange and kind of funny, went up to the front with a menu
and his money. He didn't walk straight, kind of side to side. He asked this
Unidentified Man #2: Yo, yo, is this Kentucky Fried?
Unidentified Man #1: The lady said, `Yes,' smiled, and he smiled back. He
gave a quarter and his order.
Unidentified Man #3: Small fries...
RUN-DMC: (Rapping in unison) Big Mac! You be illin', illin'.
Unidentified Man #3: Yo, yo, what you tell that kid?
RUN-DMC: (Rapping in unison) You be illin', illin'. You be illin', illin'.
You be illin'.
Unidentified Man #2: (From record) Two.
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) Today, you won a ticket to see Dr. J.
Unidentified Man #3: In free!
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) ...no pay. Radio in hand, snacks by feet.
Game's about to start, you kickin' popcorn...
Unidentified Man #3: To the beat.
Unidentified Man #1: (Rapping) You finally wake up. Doc's goin' to town.
Round his back, through the hoop, then you scream...
Unidentified Man #3: Touchdown!
RUN-DMC: (Rapping in unison) You be illin', illin. You be illin', illin'.
You be illin', illin'.
Unidentified Man #3: What you tell that kid?
RUN-DMC: (Rapping in unison) You be illin'.
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