Other segments from the episode on January 14, 2021
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. I just watched a new movie that both transported me away from this time of COVID and insurrection, yet seemed relevant to both. It's set in Texas in 1870, five years after the Civil War has ended, when many Texans are bitter about defeat and reluctant to rejoin the Union, which would require agreeing to the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which includes the abolition of slavery.
One of the first images we see in the film is of a Black man hanging from a tree. White settlers are fighting Native Americans. Everyone is hurting. The film is a Western called "News Of The World." It stars Tom Hanks. My guest is the director, Paul Greengrass, who previously directed Hanks in the film "Captain Phillips."
In "News Of The World," Hanks plays a former Confederate captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who fought in the Texas infantry during the Civil War and surrendered in 1865. The film is set five years later, when Kidd is a lonely man with unspoken regrets, eking out a living, traveling from one small, poor Texas town and muddy settlement to another, reading aloud the news from newspapers around the country as a form of information and entertainment to gatherings of people, charging 10 cents a person.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NEWS OF THE WORLD")
TOM HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) It's good to be back with you all here in Wichita Falls. My name is Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, and I'm here tonight to bring y'all the news from across this great world of ours. Now, I know how life is in these parts, working your trade sunup to sundown, no time for reading newspapers. Am I correct?
HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) But we do that work for you. And maybe just for tonight we can escape our troubles and hear the great changes that are happening out there.
HANKS: (As Captain Kidd) Starting local, then - our own Houston Telegraph from the 1 of February, this news. The meningitis epidemic continues to spread without prejudice across the panhandle and north Texas region. So far, it has claimed 97 souls in just a two-month period. In federal news, our own Dallas Herald...
GROSS: The director of "News Of The World," Paul Greengrass, started his career as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He went on to make films based on real events, including terrorist attacks. "Captain Phillips" was based on the American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. "22 July" was about the terrorist attack in Norway in 2011 by a far-right extremist. "United 93" was about the airplane passengers who fought back against the hijackers on 9/11 and died, crashing near Shanksville, Pa. Greengrass also directed three of the blockbuster Jason Bourne movies. "News Of The World" is in theaters now and will be available on premium video on demand starting tomorrow.
Paul Greengrass, welcome to FRESH AIR. And thank you for making this new movie.
PAUL GREENGRASS: Oh, my pleasure. Good to be here.
GROSS: So although this movie is set in 1870, it's feeling so current to me, like I said. You know, America still hasn't reckoned with the ongoing racism and racial injustice resulting from slavery, and we haven't fully recovered from the divisions of the Civil War. I mean, one of the images of the insurrection is a man inside the Capitol building holding a very large Confederate flag on a long pole. And of course, one of the first things we see in your film is a Black man hanging from a tree with a sign attached to him reading, Texas says no, this is white man's country. Did the movie feel current to you when you were making it?
GREENGRASS: It did. I felt when I read the novel that it's based on - Paulette Jiles' wonderful novel "News Of The World" - that there was something about Texas in 1870 in the shadow of the Civil War, America bitterly divided, uncertain where she wants to go, desperately searching for healing, but not being able to find it. And this character of the lonely newsreader, a character who'd lost everything in the Civil War - all he has is a satchel with some old newspapers. And he wanders, as you say, from town to town, reading the news for anyone who wants to hear it.
And in a way, I think what he has is the healing power of storytelling. You know, by telling these stories - the local news, the news of the meningitis epidemics, the federal news, news from far, far away - he draws his audience into a relationship with him. And, you know, I think that telling stories is a healing activity. It draws the storyteller and the audience together.
GROSS: A central part of the plot is that the man who he sees hanging from a tree at the beginning of the movie, he was transporting a 10-year-old girl to her aunt and uncle. The girl had been kidnapped six years earlier, kidnapped and raised by Kiowa Indians after they killed her parents. And now her Kiowa family has been killed by white people, so she has been twice orphaned. And the Black man who we see hanging from a tree, he was tasked with taking her to her only remaining white family and aunt and uncle. So now with that man dead, she has nothing and no means of getting anywhere on her own.
Hanks finds her, the captain finds her, and reluctantly takes on the responsibility of taking her, Johanna, to her aunt and uncle. It's a pretty long and dangerous journey, and a lot happens to them along the way. And it's hard for him to communicate with her because she only speaks Kiowa, and she identifies as a member of the Kiowa. Did you read a lot of history about that period?
GREENGRASS: I did. I did. There's quite an extensive literature, actually, for these children who were kidnapped. It wasn't that unusual. And they were lost children, of course. But, you know, part of a wider landscape of lost people, I think. Pretty much everybody in the movie has - lives in the shadow of the Civil War, lives in the shadow of loss. And their journey, Kidd and this little girl's journey, which begins wordlessly, is ultimately a journey towards finding a place to belong, I suppose, in this new landscape.
And that, to me, felt inspiring and also was ultimately the reason why I made the film. You know, I wanted to make it because in lots of ways, it's a film about the journey to hope, and that's something that's very important, I think. As the world looks ever more dark, we have to keep our minds fixed, I think, on where the hope is.
GROSS: So were there newsreaders like the character Tom Hanks plays, who actually were itinerant and read the news from town to town for people who didn't have access to newspapers?
GREENGRASS: I think, yes. Of course, many people were illiterate in those days, weren't they? I mean, I think...
GROSS: Oh, good point.
GREENGRASS: The newsreaders, really, have a gospel route. In my country, they would have been the Methodist preachers, the nonconformist preachers who weren't allowed to preach in the churches but went out into the town squares and brought the good news. And of course, that - later after the American Revolution, they were a feature of American life, too. And of course, what starts as bringing the good news becomes bringing the news, you know. And they would leaven their gospel stories with local news, and so it became, steadily, the news.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Paul Greengrass, the director of the new film "News Of The World," starring Tom Hanks. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded Tuesday with film director Paul Greengrass. His new film "News Of The World" stars Tom Hanks. It's a Western set in Texas in 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War. Greengrass got his start as a journalist and documentary filmmaker and went on to make films based on real events, including terrorist attacks. His films include "Captain Phillips" and "United 93." He also directed three Jason Bourne films.
You've studied the work of John Ford, who did a lot of Westerns, including "The Searchers" and "My Darling Clementine," "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." You not only studied his work; you talked about him in the documentary series "Five Came Back," which is adapted from a book by the same name. And it was about five directors, including Ford, who during World War II basically joined the military and did documentary films about battles as they were happening. For Ford, that included the Battle of Midway and D-Day. Like, he was there shooting footage from D-Day.
And when you were looking at those films that he shot during the war, could you imagine yourself doing that? I mean, you talk about how in the Battle of Midway, when the Japanese are attacking Midway Island from the air, that John Ford was standing on basically a pedestal, directing things so he could have a good vision of what was happening. And as you point out, if during an air war, you're standing in an elevated area, you are a target. Could you imagine doing that?
GREENGRASS: Well, I don't think I could imagine being in the Battle of Midway. But, you know, when I was a young man, when I was in my 20s, that was my job. I mean, I went to conflict zones, many of them - Middle East, Central America, apartheid South Africa, Philippines during the revolution, after - as Marcos fell. You know, that was what I did for the best part of 10 years.
And obviously, they weren't anything like in scale, you know, World War II. But the same principles apply if you see, you know, planes coming in - you get down and, you know, do the best you can. It was a young man's occupation. But it marked me, of course. Any exposure to reality in film profoundly shapes you. It's profoundly shaped my life. It's profoundly shaped my aesthetic. It's profoundly shaped what I'm interested in.
GROSS: You say it shaped your aesthetic. Can you talk a little bit more about how it shaped your aesthetic? And I mean that in two ways. You know, in "Five Came Back," you talk about how the war footage that John Ford shot, you can see the film, like, moving out of the sprockets because of all of the impact of the bombs. And you see the camera shaking. Some of the footage looks like it's singed from all the bombs exploding. Just on a film level, he kept that. You know, he - I think he wanted you to see, like, this is an example of even the damage it's doing to the film.
GREENGRASS: The struggle to create and capture the image, the drama of the experience of the Battle of Midway. That's at the heart of it, and it's at the heart of all news reportage when you get down to it. What did we see last week? Some cameras followed that mob into the Capitol building, and you saw those men and women struggling to capture those images in order to bring them to us. Your job is to move towards the trouble. That's what you have to do. And the best of those, they have an instinct to where to go.
I mean, this was the key to Ford in the Battle of Midway. He knew where to go, which is up high, to get those images. Extraordinary - at great risk to himself, of course. But that's at the heart of it. And there are many, many, many children of Papa Ford, if I can put it that way, over the decades since who've taken that lesson, and you see it every day on television.
GROSS: Now, you've shot films based on real-life events, like the United Flight 93 on 9/11 that crashed because the passengers were taking over the plane from the hostage-takers, and they prevented the plane from crashing into its intended target. You know, you did a film based on the Somali pirates who took over, you know, a cargo ship. And then you've also done these, like, big, like, Jason Bourne movies, which are not exactly cinema verite (laughter). They're not exactly like documentary. They're action films.
And then in the new movie, "News Of The World," the longest, like, action sequence in it is - it's a shootout between Tom Hanks and three kind of twisted, lost souls who want to basically buy the young girl from Tom Hanks and probably sell her into sexual servitude. But that scene, it's just like a really lo-fi shootout, you know, with Tom Hanks trying to hide behind rocks and use whatever he can as bullets to shoot at these three guys. Can you talk a little bit about, like, the different kinds of action sequences that you've shot, after shooting real combat?
GREENGRASS: Well, you have to go back to my roots, as - you know, in Britain, there wasn't - there isn't - wasn't then, anyway, certainly, a film industry. There was the television industry. That's where you went if you - you know, to work and cut your teeth and pay your dues and learn your craft. And what I was at a very young age was sent out into the world - you were sent out into the world with a crew, and you had to bring back a story from the world in action. And that meant going to places where, if it wasn't armed conflict, it was political conflict. And so that, I suppose, verite sense, that documentary eye, that instinct to capture images rather than to create them, you know, in a sort of curated way - which is really what drama shooting is - has never left me. That's my instinct.
And I brought that to the Bourne movies, too, by the way. You know, I think one of the reasons why young people particularly liked the Bourne movies is because it was one of the first kind of movies that brought that kind - those kinds of images into the mainstream because that's what kids were used to. They were using - beginning to use their mobile phones and have all sorts of rough and raw and ready verite images, and that was their language. And Bourne, I think, just brought that language into the mainstream of Hollywood cinema. Now it's much more normal to see it.
GROSS: You know, I'm wondering, having been in so many conflict zones and shot documentaries there and now watching news footage from your home in England, news footage of an insurrection in the United States - in the United States - what is it like for you to watch that, to know that, you know, it's not an emerging democracy, it's not a country where there has been just a super long history of authoritarian governments and dictatorships - it's the United States?
GREENGRASS: Well, I first came to the United States when I was 18 years old. And it's not my home country. I'm British. But it's a place I love, as I think many people who are not Americans do, you know. It's the great hope of our world, you know. So my feelings are of great shock and sadness, as I think most people's are.
What did I think when I watched it? The last film I made was "22 July" about Anders Breivik, who's a right-wing terrorist in Norway who attacked the government and the young Labour group as well. You know, it was an attempt to decapitate the state. The reason I made that film was because Breivik, Anders Breivik, is a very important figure in the growth of the far-right, both in America and in the U.K. and across Europe, because he's seen as a standard-bearer. If you look at Charlottesville, all that trouble, a lot of the language that was being used by the white supremacists was Breivik's words from Breivik's manifesto - same in some of the other right-wing attacks across Europe. You know, he's a profoundly important figure.
GROSS: So you had to study, like, who he was and, you know, what he believed, what the manifesto was. What are some of the things that you started to believe about how somebody comes to believe lies, how somebody comes to believe that certain people are less than human, that certain people are worthy of being killed and how, like, the truth, reality, is incapable of talking them out of it? Because that question is so relevant to right now.
GREENGRASS: I think Anders Breivik is a dreadful - dreadful - contemptible human being guilty of the most heinous acts. That said, you mustn't ever misunderstand these people. It was not that they thought - that he felt that the people that he killed were not human. He actually understood - he's a pretty intelligent man, Anders Breivik. What he was - and this is relevant today - was someone who believed that you needed to have a fight, that the battle needed to be waged with violence.
And that is common now. That is - the genie is out of the bottle, if I can use that expression. Do you know what I mean? It's like, that is out there in chatrooms, in the dark Web, in the meetings all across the West. And it's a big problem. And if you talk to anybody in law enforcement - FBI, you know, police, MI5 over here on the - you know, in Europe - the growth of the far-right and their desire to give battle is a real - it's a reality. It's a reality, and it has to be dealt with.
And I think you may be actually a little fortunate in the U.S. I don't know. I mean, obviously, I'm just an observer. But it strikes me that - I suspect that there may have been some overreaching, and law enforcement may really significantly go after these people and, you know, drive them back. But it's going to be a generational struggle, this - just as it is against, you know, violent Islamist extremism. And it's part of the morbid symptoms of the failure of centrist politics.
GROSS: My guest is director Paul Greengrass, his new film "News Of The World" stars Tom Hanks. It's now in theaters and will be available on premium video on demand starting tomorrow. We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview I recorded Tuesday with Paul Greengrass, who directed the new film "News Of The World," starring Tom Hanks. It will be available on premium video on demand starting tomorrow. Greengrass started his career as a journalist and documentary filmmaker and went on to direct theatrical films based on real events. "Captain Phillips," which also starred Tom Hanks, was based on the American cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in 2009. "22 July" was about a 2011 terrorist attack by a far-right extremist in Norway. And "United 93" was about the airplane passengers who fought back against the hijackers on 9/11 and died crashing near Shanksville, Pa. Greengrass has also directed three of the blockbuster Jason Bourne movies.
I want to get back to Anders Breivik because you did a dramatized version of him in your film "22 July." And he's the neo-Nazi, you know, terrorist who attacked people in Norway and had a manifesto that a lot of people on the far right have subsequently followed. I am sometimes surprised that people who are neo-Nazis, white racists, that they're - I mean, they're proud of it. They believe - I mean, that really - this is how they think the world should be. And they don't mind people knowing that.
GREENGRASS: Well, the reason I made that film, "22 July," was because it was not about Breivik. I mean, he was a central, important character in it. The film was about Norway, as an exemplar, of how a democratic society faced with this menace of white supremacy, how they reacted to this immense threat. You know, I mean, he was a double attack. You know, he blew up the center of government. And then he went and killed the next generation of government leaders when he attacked the youth camp, you know? And it was deliberate. It was an attempt to decapitate the state. That was the whole idea behind it.
And I chose a number of characters who had to respond to that, one of whom was the then-Norwegian prime minister, now secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. Another was the lawyer who represented - who became the state-appointed lawyer for Breivik and had to ensure that he had a fair trial as best he could - and then, obviously, the principal character, the family who were caught up in it, the young man who had been grievously wounded by him. And it was about their journeys to face him down. That was what the film was about. And what did that look like and feel like?
So in the end, this young man did face him down in court. But the healing, as far as you could have it after an event like that, was very partial and muted, inevitably, because of the damage he'd done. But it did leave me feeling intensely, as a parent - I mean, how are we going to get out of this? What is the road out of this going to look like? What are the qualities that we have to look to to get through this bitterness and division? That was what was going through my mind. And it was, as I say, six months later - I don't know - that I read "News Of The World."
And when I read this beautiful novel about this lonely newsreader who embarks on this journey with this mysterious little girl to take her to her surviving family, that is that road out of this. That's - and then, they're just ordinary characters. They're not famous people. They're not in the eye of some enormous storm. They're just - what it says is an attempt to understand kindness, seeing it through, facing down bigotry, standing up, telling the truth. He's a journalist. He stands up, doesn't he? He stands up in the end and says, no, I'm not going to read lies and substitute truth for lies. I'm going to speak my truth. And if necessary, he's prepared to fight for it. And that's heroic and beautiful and exciting. And, of course, it's an adventure, as it should be in a movie, you know?
And in the end, they find a way. And that's, you know, what I wanted. I wanted to make a film I could show my kids, you know, a family film. I've never made a family film. I wanted to do a Western and I wanted to do a family film. But I wanted to have the world as I see it in it. But I wanted it to have a happy ending. That's actually, honestly, the truth of it. I wanted to make a film with a happy ending.
GROSS: That's interesting. How did it feel to make a film with a happy ending?
GREENGRASS: Well, that was something that I had decided after I'd done "22 July," you know? I said, I want to make a film that has a happy ending. I want to - you know, not a schmaltzy, sentimental film because I wouldn't - it's not in my sensibility to do that. You know, these things turn around in your mind. It's - I don't know how other filmmakers do it. I can never really sort of go, oh, I need to do a story about X. Or I need to do, you know, a science fiction movie, you know? To me, I sort of dwell on a question, a feeling. And one film, it's like a conversation you have with yourself. And you go, OK, well, I need to find a film with a happy ending. I need to find a film - but that feels earned from this world, you know? And, well, what's that going to be? I don't know. God knows.
And then, you know, serendipity - six months later, you read this. And you go, that's it. That's it. And, of course, it's a Western. I've never made a Western before. That's fantastic, you know? Oh, and it's John Ford. It starts in reverse. And I did the John Ford thing. You know, when you make films, you always have to have a eureka moment, I think, when you go, oh, it's that. This is it. This is the film. I know what to do with this. This is great. It's - all those threads that have been unconnected that I've been turning over in my mind for six months or whatever it is, suddenly, this is the way I can tie them together and get a film, you know? The film will answer that question.
GROSS: What was your eureka moment when you decided to make the movie about - "United 93" - Flight 93 on 9/11, where the passengers fought back against the hijackers. But everybody on that plane died as a result because the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. I'm going to be really honest with you. I made a decision not to see that movie because, I thought, I know how the story turns out. I've read about it. I don't want to experience the horror of being on that plane. I'm going to spare myself from that. So what was your eureka moment in thinking, like, I want to reenact that in a movie?
GREENGRASS: Well, it's difficult if you haven't seen the movie to sort of - I mean, I think it's about a lot more than that, if I can put it that way.
GROSS: I don't doubt it. So you can tell us.
GREENGRASS: The simple truth about when I decided to make it was when the 7/7 attacks, as we call them in the U.K., occurred some years later, when they bombed three subway trains and a bus in London. And my son, same for many millions of people, I'm sure, in London, he was out and about. When the word came through at 8, 9 o'clock in the morning that there'd been this attack, of course, you phone. Where are you? And his phone didn't answer. And we didn't know where - we knew he was travelling across London to a friend. But we didn't know where he was. And that panic that you feel when you think - could he? Can't possibly be - you know what I mean?
And it turned out he was fine. He'd just gone to a friend's. And he was blissfully unaware and had his phone off. But we were the lucky ones. Some people weren't lucky. And I remember when the shock of - I went to the office and said, I - I had thought about that I had wanted to address 9/11 in a film, but not really knowing quite how because it was the central event in our world. It was driving. It was clear - it was going to drive all our politics. Everything was going to change. And, you know, I wanted to find a way of addressing it.
But that was the moment, truly, when I - because I remember I walked into the office and said, I'm going to make - I had thought about making what it finally became, which was really about - the air traffic control system is really what that film's about, which - 93 is one part of it. And it's really, ultimately, about the incredibly beautiful but highly vulnerable latticework that is a modern democracy and how easy it is to break it and what that looks and feels like, you know, what that's got to tell us. That was when I walked in and said, I'm going to make that film. And I did it. That must've been - that was July. And we were shooting it by October, November. I wrote it very quickly - in a couple of weeks, really.
GREENGRASS: What kind of research did you have to do in order to write it?
GREENGRASS: The first thing we did was go and see all the families and ask them what their feelings were. And they were very supportive - many, many different types of people with different opinions. Why? You see it again and again, actually. I've seen it - I mean, all terrorist attacks, acts of political violence, are different, of course. But there are some common themes you see. One of the most common I have seen is that when these events happen, there is a deep desire on the part of those of us who survive, those of us who are bystanders, to want - after a necessary period of shock and mourning, we want to get on with our lives. We want normality to return.
But, of course, if you're caught up in these acts, your lives are forever changed. And you're propelled on journeys unimaginable and unwanted. Why did this happen? What does it mean? We can't just go back to being normal now, you know? And they want to be heard. And I think, hopefully, when you make those - the film was made with great consultation and collaboration. I mean, I'm responsible for any of the failings of that film, you know? I'm not saying that. But you make it with them in an attempt to understand what it means. What does it mean as to what lessons can we draw from it? What does that have to say to this?
And, by the way, I felt very strongly that that was a process, by the way that, necessarily, always would happen. And you see it in, you know, newspapers and in television and in documentaries and in books. What does this mean? But I felt that cinema has to be part of that conversation, too. The question is, how do you do it with discretion with dignity and in the right way?
GROSS: My guest is director Paul Greengrass. His new film, "News Of The World," stars Tom Hanks. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES NEWTON HOWARD'S "KIDD VISITS MARIA")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with director Paul Greengrass. He started as a documentary filmmaker, shooting in wars and conflict zones. He's made several theatrical films based on real events, including terrorist attacks. His films include "United 93" and "Captain Phillips." His movie "22 July" was based on the terrorist attack in Norway by the far-right extremist Anders Breivik. Greengrass also made three Jason Bourne movies. His new movie, "News Of The World," stars Tom Hanks. It's a Western set five years after the Civil War.
So you know, you talked about how you wanted to make a movie with a happy ending, which you don't typically do, but you did with your new movie, "News Of The World." So after making many movies that are reenactments of really tragic events, terrorist events, now you've made a movie where there's a lot of trouble. Everyone is broken. But there is, by its standards, you know, a happy ending. What do you want to do next? Do you want to pursue something else that ends with some happiness, with characters being better off than they were when they started?
GREENGRASS: I honestly don't know. I enormously enjoyed making this film. It was a dream come true, actually, honestly and truly. You know, to make a Western, you know, you stand out in the desert. You know, you can feel, when you look out in the distance, the ghost of Papa Ford out there somewhere. You know what I mean? And you know you're going to scramble inadequately upon the shoulders of the giant and try and take a shot at a Western. You know, it was a wonderful, wonderful experience. I don't know. I don't know what I'm going to do next. It'll pretty interesting to see. As I say, I'm already asking myself the question, you know, what is the question? And I think the question is, I heard somebody on television as that event was going on last week in D.C., say he was a very thoughtful person, some political commentator. He said the question is, is this the end of something or the beginning of something? And I thought, yep, that's absolutely right. That's going to be the question, I think, that will govern probably the next two or three years of our lives.
GROSS: On a lighter note, how did you like working with horses?
GREENGRASS: (Laughter) Loved it. I used to ride a little bit when I was young, but not now. But Tom was really good on a horse. He was fantastic. But it was - it was thrilling, just what I mean (ph). You know, you go out in the desert, and you see the horses and the wagons and, you know, the way people dressed. And you're in the West. And it's mythic, and it's part of your boyish imagination, you know?
And as I say, I loved it. I loved the experience of making it. It was physically demanding as a film. You know, it was a lot of heat and dust and freezing cold at night and climbing. I mean, that shootout when we had to climb up that bluff, it was - took two hours to get the crew up there. And you had to go up on ropes. And then there were rattlesnakes around the place, you know, and we had to have wranglers. You know, it was - but the adventure of it, I think, really brought people together. I think people loved that about it, you know?
GROSS: You know, just a sidebar note - I don't think I've ever seen Tom Hanks in a Western before, except for "Toy Story," (laughter) where it's not a Western, but he is, you know - he is a toy wooden cowboy in it.
GREENGRASS: Well, he's the real deal in this. And I thought he sat well in that landscape. You know, he looked the part to me. And I love Tom when he's weathered and...
GROSS: Yes, his face is dirty most of the time.
GREENGRASS: And has years and has experience behind his eyes - he's seen things; he's done things. It's a haunted quality to him, and it seems such an obvious thing to say. But I think we must take him for granted as a movie star because he is so consistently good in the things he does.
GROSS: I want to thank you so much for talking with us. And thank you for making "News Of The World," which I enjoyed so much. Paul Greengrass, it's really been a pleasure.
GREENGRASS: Thanks a lot.
GROSS: Paul Greengrass directed the new film "News Of The World" starring Tom Hanks. It's currently playing in theaters and will be available on premium video on demand starting tomorrow. We recorded our interview Tuesday.
After we take a short break, Ken Tucker will review an HBO documentary about the Bee Gees and a new album by Barry Gibb, the only one of the three Bee Gee brothers still alive. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF BLANCO'S "PULL UP (INSTRUMENTAL)")
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The new HBO documentary "The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" follows the group's career arc, how they became stars in the '60s in the wake of the Beatles and remained popular into the 21st century. Of the three Bee Gee brothers - Barry, Robin and Maurice - only Barry is still alive. And he's just put out an album called "Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers' Songbook (Vol. 1)". It's a collection of duets with an array of country music artists. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the film and the album.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEW YORK MINING DISASTER 1941")
BEE GEES: (Singing) In the event of something happening to me, there is something I would like you all to see. It's just a photograph of someone that's I knew. Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones? Do you know what it's like on the outside? Don't go talking too loud. You'll cause a landslide, Mr. Jones.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, born in Britain and raised in Australia, discovered that the sibling harmony they were able to create was a pathway to stardom in the era of Beatlemania.
The brothers remade themselves in the '70s as spectacularly popular creators of a distinctive kind of disco music and continued to write pop hits for themselves and other artists. Maurice died in 2003, Robin in 2012. The remaining Bee Gee, Barry, has just released "Greenfields," recorded in Nashville. It's an album of duets. Here he is singing the Bee Gees hit "Too Much Heaven" with Alison Krauss.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOO MUCH HEAVEN")
BARRY GIBB AND ALISON KRAUSS: (Singing) Nobody gets too much heaven no more. It's much harder to come by. I'm waiting in line. Nobody gets too much love anymore. It's as high as a mountain and harder to climb.
BARRY GIBB: (Singing) Oh, you and me, girl, got a lot of love in store. And it flow through you. And it flows through me. And I love you so much more.
ALISON KRAUSS: (Singing) Then my life...
TUCKER: When you watch the new HBO Max documentary called "The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart?" you're struck by just how many hits the Bee Gees had. In America, it started in 1967 with the song "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and continued on through ballads like "I Started A Joke," "Lonely Days" and "How Deep Is Your Love."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE")
BEE GEES: (Singing) I know your eyes in the morning sun. I feel you touch me in the pouring rain. And the moment that you wander far from me, I want to feel you in my arms again. And you come to me on a summer breeze. Keep me warm in your love, then you softly leave. And it's me you need to show. How deep is your love?
TUCKER: With a body of work as vast and gorgeous as that which the Bee Gees created, why, I wondered, did they never quite attain the pop cultural status of contemporaries like the Fab Four and the Stones? The answer becomes clear as the two-hour documentary proceeds. I realized that the Bee Gees simply weren't as individuals interesting thinkers or commentators about their own work or about the times in which they lived. Cultural clout is handy, and they had some when their songs for "Saturday Night Fever" in 1977 rendered them momentarily the kings of white disco. But the Bee Gees were always very modest. And anyway, it turned out that cultural influence is ultimately unnecessary when you can create an utterly unique piece of delirious dance pop such as 1979's "Tragedy."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRAGEDY")
BEE GEES: (Singing) Here I lie in a lost and lonely part of town. Held in time, in a world of tears I slowly drown. Going home, I just can't make it all alone. I really should be holding you, holding you, loving you, loving you. Tragedy. When the feeling's gone and you can't go on. It's tragedy.
TUCKER: Barry Gibb, at age 74, can't sustain that sort of extraordinary falsetto crooning anymore, and so it makes sense that he'd go to Nashville, where artists can age gracefully to perform duets with acts as various as Jason Isbell, Miranda Lambert and Dolly Parton. I find Gibb's duet with Parton on the Bee Gees song "Words" the most effective and moving. Dolly, no spring chicken herself, guides Barry very shrewdly into finding a way to make the increasing fragility of their aging vocal chords sound beautifully vulnerable.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORDS")
BARRY GIBB AND DOLLY PARTON: (Singing) Talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me. And I will give you all my life. I'm here if you should call to me. You think that I don't even mean a single word I say. It's only words, and words are all I have.
TUCKER: "Greenfields," produced by Nashville ace Dave Cobb is being positioned as Barry Gibb's move toward country, but it avoids the tantalizing prospect of hearing Barry go hardcore country in favor of the familiar sounds of, as the album's subtitle has it, the "Gibb Brothers' Songbook." As such, it serves primarily to remind you how deep is our love for the idiosyncratic classics that the Bee Gees created.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed the new documentary "The Bee Gees: How Can You Manage A Broken Heart" and the new album "Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers' Songbook." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, like this week's interviews with humorist Fran Lebowitz and Adam Jentleson, author of a new book about how the Senate became so partisan and how the filibuster became an obstructionist tool, Check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews.
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