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Film critic John Powers reviews "Titanic."



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Other segments from the episode on December 19, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 19, 1997: Interview with John Woo; Interview with Bob Dorough; Interview with Charles Brown; Review of the film "Titanic."


Date: DECEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121901NP.217
Head: John Woo
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, John Woo, is the director of the new hit action film "Face/Off." It's Woo's third American film, having made 26 movies in Hong Kong, including comedies, martial arts films, and gangster films.

Some of Woo's Hong Kong movies, especially "The Killer" and "Hardboiled," developed a cult following in the U.S. Quentin Tarantino was one of Woo's early champions.

Woo made his first American film, "Hard Target," in 1992. Woo followed that up with "Broken Arrow," which like the new film, stars John Travolta. In Face/Off, Travolta plays FBI agent Sean Archer, who is pursuing psycho-terrorist Castor Troy, played by Nicholas Cage.

In a complicated plot twist, Agent Archer goes undercover, taking the identity of terrorist Troy, after government plastic surgeons transplant Troy's face onto Archer's. But then terrorist Troy forces the doctors to give him Agent Archer's face. So the good guy now wears the face of the bad guy and vice versa.

Travolta and Cage have a ball with this identity swap. Here's a scene shortly after the transplants. The terrorist, now posing as the FBI agent, has come to the agent's home. He walks into the agent's teenage daughter's bedroom and instead of being the strict father, he's leering at her lecherously and looking approvingly at her cigarettes.


ACTRESS: Chris left those here.

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: Well, I won't tell mom if you don't.


ACTRESS: When did you start smoking?

TRAVOLTA: You'll be seeing a lot of changes around here. Papa's got a brand new bag. Owooo. I do the jerk, oow. I do the swim, mmm.

GROSS: I asked director John Woo how he cast John Travolta and Nicholas Cage.

JOHN WOO, DIRECTOR: When I got a script, the first person in my mind was John Travolta, because I truly believe by John playing a good guy, he's so much convincing and it looks so real. And then after the switch, when he became a bad guy and he will definitely bring a lot of fun, and he look so charming, while he's playing a bad guy.

And then me and John was suggest using Nicholas Cage, and for myself, I always dreamed of working with Nick Cage because I found he's not only a great actor, he also is a man with a great heart. You know, he's really care about the other one and care about everything, and also very serious for -- about everything.

So I -- and then after we put them together and that make us feel these two gentlemen, that really -- the perfect match.

GROSS: It's so much fun to watch them take on each other's characteristics after they've traded faces and traded personalities. Did you make any suggestions to Cage and Travolta about what they should copy from each other?

WOO: Yeah. Before we start shooting, we'd spend some time for rehearsing to create the character, to decides lots of different thing for the two different character. Like, I had decide some gesture, you know, for them.

And the other things, most of the funny thing was create by John and Nick. So, like the way Nicholas Cage walk and the way he talk, and it just look so funny. And John was imitated from him, you know, how he walk, you know, and how he talk.

So they work really hard on rehearsing. And the other thing is that I also did some experiment, and then during the shooting, I show all the cut scenes to both actor, let them to watch each other's scene, and then to let them to learn and imitate from the tape.

So they were never make any confuse, and they go with the characters well.

GROSS: That was interesting, an interesting idea -- to show them outtakes that weren't going to be used in the film.

WOO: Yeah, because, you know, not much people will like to do that. With some director would rather, you know, keep a secrets, you know.

GROSS: There's a scene toward the end of Face/Off in which all the characters each have their gun out and each person has their gun pointed at somebody else, so everybody's got a gun pointed and everybody's got a gun pointed at them.

You had a very similar scene toward the end of The Killer, in which the two men who have been pursuing each other through the film have their guns drawn on each other in a stalemate.

And Quentin Tarantino borrowed that at the end of "Reservoir Dogs." How did this become an almost signature shot for you?

WOO: Well, I just wrote it so, you know, all mens are equal, you know, no matter the good guy or the bad guy -- and they all only have one chance to live or die, you know.

While making The Killer, I tried to create a moment to show they all mankind -- they all pretty much the same. You know, whether they good or bad. And also the idea was came from the Mad magazine "Spy vs. Spy."

GROSS: No, really?

WOO: Yeah, yeah. I'm a big fan of the Mad magazine and the cartoon, you know. You know, the Spy vs. Spy -- the black and white bird, against each other. But even though they are enemy, but actually they are friend. So I tried to create a equal moment to show that, so that's why that became my trademark.

In my theory, I always believe there's no really a good guy or bad guy in this world. I think all the mankind, they have a -- they all have a very special quality.

GROSS: So you read Mad magazine when you were in Hong Kong?

WOO: Oh, yeah. Is a -- I read the Mad magazine for years. I'm a big fan.


WOO: Yeah.

GROSS: Now, a lot of people describe your action scenes as looking beautifully choreographed, and you've said that you've been very influenced by Hollywood musicals...

WOO: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ... in how you do the action scenes. What Hollywood musicals do you particularly love that have influenced your action scenes?

WOO: Well, mostly the old classic musical like "Singin' in the Rain" -- it's lots and lots of Fred Astaire's musical; "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers;" "West Side Story;" "All That Jazz;" you know, and "The Wizard of Oz." I have seen a lot -- lots of musical. And besides the musical, I also a big fan of the cartoon. So that's why my kind of action sometimes pretty much like a cartoon.

GROSS: Well, it is like a cartoon in the sense that no matter how much a person is knocked down and beaten up, he springs back up again to fight some more, if he's the leading man. If he's a secondary character, he's probably going to get killed.

WOO: Yeah.

GROSS: But you know, some people would say that that's a bad thing because it leads people to think that violence doesn't really hurt and that violence doesn't really kill people; that violence can be fun.

WOO: Well, I think some people may be a little too serious about the -- my movie. You know, actually, the action in my movie I always feel is pretty much like the ballet dancing or the cartoon.

To be honest, I have never intends to selling violence. And actually, I'm not a violent guy, you know. I have never learned any kung fu and I've never fight with any people. I've never fired real gun in my life.

You know, I just make it fun. You know, maybe the way I show it usually a little too strong. Before I start, if I figure of something, you know, something from the news, something from the newspaper, like if I read something like a little child is murders, or some, you know, some people are being killed, you know, by a madman or by a gangster or somebody who lost their life in a war, that will usually make me very angry -- very angry and painful.

And then I put that emotional into the scene, and I will let my hero hit the bad guy harder and harder, you know. So, since -- so much emotional, so that's why the impact so strong.

GROSS: My guest is director John Woo. His new movie is Face/Off. We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is John Woo, and he directed the new film Face/Off. He's directed several movies in America, but had a long career in Hong Kong before coming to America just a few years ago.

In talking about how dance films -- how musicals have influenced your action sequences, I would imagine that was even more true in some of the Hong Kong films in which the fighting was martial arts fighting and you were doing a lot of, you know, hand-to-hand and foot-to-hand...

WOO: Yeah.

GROSS: ... kind of combat. That's very choreographed.

WOO: Yeah. Yeah, I -- some of the kung fu film, they are very choreography and also pretty much like dancing as well. 'Cause most of the Hong Kong director or stunt coordinator, they have been trained by the Peking Opera, so they are very good at those kind of, like, dancing action, you know.

GROSS: Were you trained by the Peking Opera?

WOO: No, never, never.

GROSS: Do you dance? Do you dance at all?

WOO: Yeah, I dance a little. When I was in high school, I was a ballroom dance instructor. I taught the folk dance, waltz, tango, you know. So I am -- I feel myself as a dancer, you know.

GROSS: That's great.

WOO: So that's why -- so that's why when I say that, you know, while I'm choreographing the action, it seems like I'm dancing, you know. I'm dancing with the actors.

GROSS: Now what were some of the things that you did with the camera and with the speed to make the fight scenes more dramatic? Things like slowing up or -- speeding -- speeding up or slowing down the scene?

WOO: Well, each shot I would like to set five or six or three or four camera, and each camera have a different kind of speed. You know, like one is the normal speed; the other maybe 120-frame; the other maybe 60-frame. And then I put them together see how it look, how it feel.

And then I edit with with a sound track. I mean, I -- it means I cut with the music. I usually use a sound track to cut with the scene, so when the mood or when the music rhythm go, that will usually give you the feeling to use the normal speed or to using the slow motion, you know, or slow motion shot.

So and then after we put the whole scene together, to go with the music, see how it feel.

GROSS: Is there -- are there an action scene or a fight scene that you can break down for us, almost shot by shot, and tell us how you made it?

WOO: Well, it's hard, you know. Of course, the first begin, we did some story-board, you know, but I, you know, I just use it for a reference. And in Hong Kong, you know, I have never use any story-board. So because I like to create everything on a set.

When I'm -- when I go to the set, I would like to see what I had. And so I usually choreography everything by myself, sometimes with my stunt coordinator. And I put myself, I'd say, a character -- as a hero.

So if I -- I usually see how I feel first. OK, for example, if I'm in a lobby and ambushed by 20 guys, OK, and I only got two guns in my hand, so how could I deal with those 20 guys?

So I need to figure out for myself first, and then I will choreography and my stunt coordinator and demonstrate with my stunt man. And then I will -- I will rolling on the ground and get up and shooting some guy on the left side, and then I spin around, jumping in the air -- and taking care of some of the guy on the right side.

I would like to keep the beauty of the body movement -- keep your look great if I am spinning in the air, then I would like to put some other two guy up on a ceiling, and then I shoot them in the air, you know. If I feel I could do that, it would make me feel my actors also can do them.

GROSS: When you were making martial arts movies, did the actors ever accidentally hit each other really hard and hurt each other?

WOO: Oh, yeah. In old time, yeah, you know, in some of the -- actor wasn't a real kung fu guy, you know, so they'd hurt each other by accident, you know. It's a -- it almost happen. You know, it always happen, you know, it's like the -- once a while for the Hong Kong martial arts film, they went crazy.

You know, they -- like Jackie Chan or Sam Mo-hong (ph) -- those kind of movie. They like to, you know, hit the guy real. They really kicking the guy and beat up the guy. You know, I -- sometime, I mean in the mid-'70s, you know, that people used to like to do that. So some actors would really get hurt.

GROSS: Have you ever had an actor or a stunt man hurt while shooting a scene?

WOO: No, never. I always concern about the safety -- safety first. So -- and I also know how to use the camera technique to make it look great and avoid the dangerous.

You know, only a -- sometimes, they gets slightly hurt, but, you know, a little cut, but it doesn't mean anything and I have never like my actors or stuntmen risking their life to do all those dangerous thing. I mean, it isn't worth it, you know.

I always believe movie is about editing, camera, and lighting and the drama. It's not about risking your life to do some crazy thing, you know. So -- but in Face-Off, there's a scene -- the speedboat chase -- you know at the ending?

GROSS: Yeah.

WOO: One of our stunt double, you know, he double for Nick Cage, you know -- the shot was, he fell on the boat and dragging alongside the boat and then he flip up to the ski -- you know, that famous scene. And he almost got killed in that shot. Because the first time, when he fell, and his head went down first, so his head hit the side of the boat and he lost conscious about a few seconds, you know. And he almost lost his life.

GROSS: Well, how did that make you feel?

WOO: I feel very upset. I feel -- and I did try to stop him and want him to do it again. But the guy is so brave, you know, he -- because that was his idea, you know. He want to make it -- he want to do a great job, so he try it again, so.

GROSS: Now, when you're making an action film like Face/Off, every new action sequence is supposed to top the one that came before it. It's supposed to get just more and more exciting and climactic. What do you consider to be your most exciting moment in Face/Off?

WOO: Every moment.


Yeah, I enjoy every moment in Face/Off. But the most exciting moment was in the middle of the movie. The huge gun battle scene in a loft. You know, the "Over the Rainbow" scene?

GROSS: Yeah, the -- right, the...

WOO: Yeah.

GROSS: ... the song that you're hearing is Over the Rainbow because you're hearing the cassette that a little boy is listening to as this violence erupts behind him, and he's listening to a recording of Over the Rainbow, so that's the music on the soundtrack.

WOO: And you see all the violence. So the idea with the scene is anti-violence, you know. I try to -- you know, every action sequence, I intend to send some message. So while we shooting the scene, I just hate to see, you know, the people killing each other and the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the good guys, you know. It's so boring.

And then I came up with the idea, you know, how about to put a children's song into a violent scene, beside to tell a message that's anti-violent, and also can show how the violent destroy the purity, you know.

GROSS: John Woo directed the new film Face/Off. He'll be back in the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with John Woo, director of the new film Face/Off. He grew up in Hong Kong, where he made over 25 movies before coming to Hollywood. Now, you moved to Hong Kong from China with your parents when you were three or four years old.

WOO: Yeah.

GROSS: What was the neighborhood like in Hong Kong where you moved to?

WOO: It was really bad, you know. I was -- I raised in a slum, you know. They did -- we live in a very bad neighborhood, you know, like a drug dealers, the gambler, the prostitutes, and the gangster, you know. And every day, I got to deal with a gang.

I even beat up by the gang quite often, you know. So I have to struggle very hard and fight very hard. You know, I got to fight back to be survive. It was rough.

GROSS: Were you good at fighting back?

WOO: Yeah. You got a feeling like to live or die, you know. So I was so lucky to have a great parents. My mom and dad, they taught me go for straight. And then also got help at a church.

Since our family was so poor, they couldn't afford me to go to school. And there were an American family, they send the money for a church to support my school fee for six years. That how I got education.

GROSS: Now, I understand that your house burned down when you were young.

WOO: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Where did you live after that?

WOO: We were living on the street for one-and-a-half years, like all those homeless people, you know. So -- but we have never have any self pity, you know. And my father usually give me a lot of encouragement. So I'm so proud of my parents, you know.

GROSS: When you were growing up in Hong Kong, what were the movie theaters like?

WOO: In the old time, the -- everybody -- I mean, most of the Hong Kong people, they were so -- so much crazy about theater. You know, they love movie because since we all poor, you know, the only entertainment is to watch a movie. And in old time, the parents can bring the child into a theater for free, you know. So I usually sneak into the theater to watch every movie.

GROSS: You lived in Hong Kong until, what, four or five years ago. You've made most of your movies in Hong Kong -- most of your movies so far. Is one of your reasons for moving to America the takeover of Hong Kong by the Chinese?

WOO: No, no, not really. You know, about five years ago, I was invited to come to this country. Since my movie The Killer draw a lot of attention, you know, from the studio. The Universal Studio, they were so much interest to working with me.

So I -- and then I took a chance because I just felt since I already work in Hong Kong over 25 years, I think I've done enough. You know, I really need to learn something more, something new.

So that's why I come here. And the other reason is -- was about my family, you know. In Hong Kong, I work crazy, you know. I work seven days a week, 18 hours a day. And I spend most of time in the office and in a studio. So my children, they were barely can recognize my face and they getting to hate me, you know, because they have never got a real love from their father.

So -- and that really scare me, because I -- the family is the most important thing to me. So that's why I decided to move to the states. But when we move here, I find that people here, they never work, like, on a weekend, you know, and so everything back to the normal.

GROSS: What have been the most difficult things to adjust to about working in Hollywood?

WOO: About a system, you know, because at a first beginning, I have never know they were so complicate -- everything so complicate in Hollywood. And also, there are so many people involved. And I have never get used to there are so many producers and so many meetings -- just lots and lots of meeting. And it could take six or seven months just for meeting, and repeating the same thing.

And I have never know the star got so much power. You know, the star can control the script and also could control the co-star, you know, everything. And just a little confused to me, because I always feel for making movie, should be simple. Everything got to be simple. And also, to make a movie should be a lot of fun.

The other thing was there was a different feeling about heroes. When I got here, I'd been told in the American movie, for the American hero, you know, they never die; they never cry. And the hero got to be very straight.

And then I said: well, it kind of boring, you know. I -- my kind of hero usually in between the good and the bad, you know. Is -- but the great thing I have found in Hollywood is that all the studio, they're really, really open and they really gave me a lot of great respect.

The other thing is I also found that the people here, they are so much professional and dedicated.

GROSS: John Woo, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

WOO: Oh, thank you so much.

GROSS: John Woo directed the new film Face-Off. Coming up, we meet the screenwriters.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: John Woo
High: Director John Woo grew up in Hong Kong and directed numerous films there before coming to Hollywood. He has established himself as a master of action thrillers and is known for his elaborate action scenes. Woo also directed the American films Broken Arrow, and Hard Target." His new blockbuster film starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage is called "Face/Off." It's in theaters now.
Spec: Movie Industry; Asia; Hong Kong; John Woo
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: John Woo
Date: DECEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121902np.217
Head: Bob Dorough
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Bob Dorough's best-known songs have lyrics about math and grammar. He was the music director and chief songwriter of the TV cartoon series "School House Rock." Many of the kids who grew up on those songs are adults now, and don't know about the other side of Dorough -- his jazz songs. A new CD, "Right On My Way Home," is intended to introduce them to his jazz music.

Dorough started recording in the '50s, in the days he idolized Charlie Parker. But while the boppers were blowing chord changes, Dorough was writing and singing songs. Miles Davis liked his singing and they recorded "Blue Christmas" together. Most of Dorough's records have been on his own label. His new CD is on Blue Note. Here's a song from it, written by Frank Lesser (ph).


I get the neck of the chicken
I get the rumble seat ride
I get the leaky umbrella
Everyone shoves me aside
When I wake up each day with the dawn
Sure as fate, I'm too late
And all the hot water's gone

I get the neck of the chicken
I get the hand-me-down tie
I get the cock in the kitchen
I get the small piece of pie

That's why I can't -- I can't get over
This dream come true
Now if I get the neck of the chicken
How did I ever get you?

GROSS: Bob Dorough, from his new CD Right On My Way Home. Last year, Dorough told me how he got involved with School House Rock in the '70s.

BOB DOROUGH, MUSICAL DIRECTOR, "SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK": Well, let's see. I had met the advertising people who concocted the idea. And my partner Ben Tucker in fact wanted us to write a little advertising music. He's a bass player, Ben Tucker.

So one day this gentleman from McCaffrey and McCall (ph) ad agency said: "we're looking for a guy to put the multiplication tables to music." And Ben Tucker said: "my partner Bob Dorough can do anything. He can put music to anything." "Well, let's have him up."

So I went up to meet the president of the agency, and it was his idea and his name was David B. McCall of McCaffrey and McCall. He said: "my little boy can, you know, sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, but he can't memorize his multiplication tables. So I had the idea: why not put the multiplication tables to rock music and call it multiplication rock. What do you think?"

And I said: "well, yeah. That's pretty interesting." But he said: "well, but don't write down to the kids." Well, I learned later that he had invited other Broadway songwriters to do this task, and they came up with a more simple, doggerel type of songwriting -- "writing down" as it were, to children.

GROSS: So when he said "so what do you think?" what did you really think?

DOROUGH: I though, well, yeah this is a -- this could be, you know, a limited idea. But when he added "don't write down to children," why the hackles on my neck arose and I got quite intrigued. And so, I agreed to tackle it and I spent about three weeks before I would let myself write the first song. I thought first; looked in math books. And since I picked my first title, it was called "Three Is A Magic Number," I even looked in magic and occult books for the reasons that three might be a magic number.

GROSS: Did you get anything from those books that you used in the song?

DOROUGH: I did indeed.

GROSS: What'd you get?

DOROUGH: Mm-hmm. Well, that it was one of the magic numbers and that it was, you know, embodied in certain things like the trinity; the old sayings, "the heart and the brain and the body," "faith, hope and charity" -- trinities of sorts. So I got mainly that, trinities. And of course, I also was an admirer of Buckminster Fuller, so I was thinking of his triangle concept that makes construction so strong.

GROSS: Well, why don't we pause here and listen to your version, the original version, of Three Is A Magic Number. Now, did you sing on this one?


GROSS: OK. Why don't we hear it.


DOROUGH SINGING: Three is magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number
Somewhere in the ancient mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number

In the past and the present and the future
Faith and hope and charity
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three, as a magic number

It takes three legs to make a tripod
Or to make a table stand
It takes three wheels to make a vehicle called the tricycle
Every triangle has three corners
Every triangle has three sides
No more, no less, you don't have to guess

When it's three, you can see
It's a magic number

GROSS: Now, do you think most of the people who grew up listening to your songs, and most of the people in the bands now performing your songs on the new CD, do you think that they have any idea that these weren't written and performed by people in advertising agencies or theme houses? That they were written by you -- an interesting and eccentric jazz performer? And that the other songs -- some of the other songs on here are sung by interesting and eccentric jazz performers?

DOROUGH: Yes, well I'm sure -- I'm sure they didn't even think about such things. They grew up and they learned and they watched. They were a captive audience, one of my partners pointed out -- George Newell (ph) -- because, you know, they were watching Saturday morning cartoons and suddenly, there would be this little three-minute film, and they got hooked on them, and it actually did them some good.

And as we went on in our productions, I -- I kept bringing in some of my buddies from the jazz world. So it was a kind of a -- a little bit of a underground movement there.

GROSS: Yeah, well you brought in -- you brought in Dave Frischberg (ph), the singer and songwriter and pianist; trumpeter and singer Jack Sheldon (ph); singer Blessing Dearie (ph).

DOROUGH: Yes -- Grady Tate (ph).

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

DOROUGH: A drummer who sings, or a singer who drums. Excuse me, Grady -- I didn't mean that.


GROSS: Now I'd like to give our listeners who've been hearing your School House Rock songs a taste of the other side of Bob Dorough. So, I thought I'd actually play something that you recorded in concern on our show once that you've also recorded on your own records. And it's a song called "I Am Hip," which you co-wrote with Dave Frischberg. You did the music; he did the lyric.

DOROUGH: That's right.

GROSS: And he also worked on some of the School House Rock -- he did "I'm Just a Bill." And so you recorded this on FRESH AIR in 1982. This is Bob Dorough, piano and vocals, I'm Hip.


I'm alive
I enjoy any joint where there's jive
I am on top
Of every trend
A look at me go
Voe - dee - oh - doe
Bobby Dylan, he knows my friends
So hip, hangin' out in Malibu
Well, I'm hip
But not weird
Like you notice, I don't wear a beard
Beards were in
But now they're out
They had their day
Now they're passe
Just ask me
If you're in doubt
'Cause I'm hip
Now, I'm deep
Deep into Zen
Meditation and
And just as soon as I can
I intend to get into
I gotta try some of that stuff
'Cause I'm cool
Cool as a cuke
I'm a card,
I'm a cad
I'm a kook
I get so much out of life
Really, I do
Scooby - do - boo
One more time
Play "Mack the Knife"
Let her rip
I may flip
But I'm hip

GROSS: This is just a fantastic recording, and I'm really proud that you did it on our show, so...

DOROUGH: Well, thanks.

GROSS: ... in a self-serving way, I'll just get that in.

DOROUGH: I've gotten many reports from NPR fans saying "oh, we heard you doing I'm Hip on FRESH AIR."

GROSS: Oh, good, good.

DOROUGH: That's great. It's lasting.

GROSS: Good.

DOROUGH: Well, that's -- that's me -- that's the other me. That's what I do. I go into smoky nightclubs and play the piano and sing.

GROSS: What's the difference in the kind of tune that you'd write for one of your own jazz songs and for one of the School House Rock songs?

DOROUGH: Well, it's more in the beat than the melody. I might do anything for a School House Rock song, but it -- you know, it's more apt to be a pop kind of beat instead of a jazz beat. I will tell you about "Figure Eight." It was a beautiful little melody -- sounds like a sonata almost.

And I used to play it around my house, and my late wife said: "what is that melody?" And I said: "oh, I was thinking maybe it'd be an eight -- a song about eight." And she said: "oh, no. It's too good for School House Rock." And I said: "yeah, you're right." And I wrote a different one, and they didn't like it.

So in a bit of desperation, I decided to finish it and I wrote Figure Eight. And it starts out with this very placid melody. In the middle, it goes into a rock beat where they multiply by eight, but the outside was very dreamy. In fact, we recorded it with a cellist.

GROSS: Would you sing a few lines of Figure Eight for us?

DOROUGH SINGING: Figure eight is double four
Figure four as half of eight
If you skate, you will be great
When you can make, a figure eight
That's a circle that turns 'round upon itself

GROSS: When you were first getting started musically, you were one of the people who were -- who was "chasing the Bird," so to speak. I mean, you were really deep into Charlie Parker and wanted to emulate him. And you didn't sing very much because you were afraid that singing would seem corny or too commercial, too showbiz. And so it wasn't until I think you got to Paris in the '50s for a little bit that you actually started singing a lot.

DOROUGH: Deep down in my heart, I did want to sing and I didn't do it as much because I also wanted to be a be-bop piano player, and you know, I didn't -- I would never say to one of my colleagues "let me sing one."


GROSS: Right.

DOROUGH: On the other hand, there were occasions where the band got a job and the boss would say: "does anybody in the band sing?" And you know, they'd say "yeah, the piano player will sing" and you know, I would do "Route 66" or some rhythm tune, just to show all of them that somebody in the band could sing.

It was on the Paris job at the Mars Club in Paree that I had full sway, and was able to call my own shots. I was the boss. I was working alone, mostly, but I would call up the songs I wanted to sing, and I developed my style or my act sort of there.

GROSS: What did you -- what inspired your approach to singing? Is there a singer who you were emulating or?

DOROUGH: There were several of them that -- not that I emulated them, but I got inspired by them. By and large, they're the horn players who sing, like Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie and Trummy Young (ph). And then of course, Nat King Cole, a piano player who sang. Musicians who sing inspired me more than -- not that I didn't admire Sinatra or Tony Bennett or any of those guys, but when a jazz man would sing, that would be my thing, you know. I'd say: "hey, I can do that."

GROSS: Bob Dorough, recorded last year. His new CD is called Right On My Way Home.

Let's go back to a record he made with Miles Davis in 1962, "Blue Christmas."


DOROUGH SINGING: Merry Christmas
I hope you have a white one
But for me, it's blue
Blue Christmas
That's the way you see it when you're feeling blue
Blue X-mas
When you're blue at Christmastime you see right through
All the waste, all the sham, all the haste
And plain old bad taste.
Sidewalk Santa Clauses are much, much, much, too thin.
They're wearing fancy rented costumes
False beards, and big fat phony grins
And nearly everybody's standing 'round
Holding out their empty hand or tin cup
Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme
Fill my stocking up, all the way up
It's a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy
Blue Christmas
All the paper tinsel and the folderol
Blue X-mas
People trading gifts that matter not at all
What I call folderol, bitter gall

GROSS: Coming up, Christmas rhythm and blues from Charles Brown.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Bob Dorough
High: Jazz musician Bob Dorough, musical director of the 1970s educational TV series, "School House Rock" and composer of the popular song "Three is a Magic Number." The CD, "Schoolhouse Rock Rocks", was released with contemporary artists such as Blind Melon, Lemonheads and Pavement, playing the old songs. Also, "School House Rock: The Official Guide" by the creators of the series, Tom Yohe and George Newall. Dorough's latest CD is "Right On My Way Home."
Spec: Music Industry; Television; Education; School House Rock
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Bob Dorough
Date: DECEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121901np.217
Head: Charles Brown
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:40

TERRY GROSS, HOST: Two of the classic R&B Christmas records from the early '60s are by Charles Brown: "Merry Christmas, Baby" and "Please Come Home for Christmas." This year, Charles Brown turned 75 and he went to the White House to receive a Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He'll perform some of his songs and talk about his career February 25th at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Brown had nine top-10 R&B singles between 1946 and 1952, including "Drifting Blues" (ph). He started making a comeback in the '80s. We're going to present an excerpt of our 1989 live concert with Charles Brown. I asked him to play Merry Christmas, Baby.

CHARLES BROWN, SONGWRITER AND PIANIST: There ain't' no (unintelligible) for that. Don't care where I go, whatever time of year.


BROWN SINGING: Merry Christmas, baby
You sure did treat me nice
Merry Christmas, baby
You sure did treat me nice

Gave me a diamond ring for Christmas
Now, I'm living in paradise

Well, I'm feeling mighty fine
Got good music on my stereo
Feeling mighty fine
Got good music on my radio

Well, I want to kiss you baby
While you're standing beneath the mistletoe

BROWN: That's just a little part of it. We won't talk about St. Nick coming down the chimney yet, Terry.


GROSS: Well, you've influenced a lot of singers, and one of the many people you've influenced was Mose Allison (ph), who recorded one of the songs that you did, "Fool's Paradise."

BROWN: Yeah, Fool's Paradise.

GROSS: Yeah.

BROWN: Yeah. Sam Cooke did too, and a lot of the other people, I don't know -- Johnny Fuller (ph) wrote this number. He was imitating me in San Francisco, and Leo Meister (ph) and Eddie Meister would go out as talent scouts and to find tunes that would fit me.

And they heard this number being number one in San Francisco because this company that had it wasn't able to send it across the country in distribution. So he said: "Charles, since they're trying to imitate you doing Fool's Paradise, why don't you do it?" Then I did Fool's Paradise and it was a great hit for me.

GROSS: Would you play it for us?

BROWN: Yes, I will.


BROWN SINGING: I hope (unintelligible)
It's a wonder
Charles Brown ain't dead
Drinking and gambling
Staying out all night
He's living in a fool's paradise

My mother told me
Father told me too
Someday, my child
Things gonna catch up with you
Drinking and gambling
Staying out all night
Living in a fool's paradise

Go out, learn my lesson
Like all fools I've met
I've learned things are in this world
I'll remember to my dying day
My mother told me
Father said it right
Said Charles Brown
You ruining your life
Drinking and gambling
Staying out all night
Living in a fool's paradise
Living in a fool's paradise

BROWN: That's it.

GROSS: That's great.

Charles Brown, recorded in 1989.

Coming up, a review of the new movie "Titanic."

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Charles Brown
High: Songwriter and pianist Charles Brown. He turned 75 this year. Recently he was one of the recipients of the Heritage Fellowship Award given by the National Endowment for the Arts for excellence in the traditional arts. Charles Brown is one of the most original artists in blues history. He's credited with creating an expressive style of blues that blended rough Texas blues with the soft glamour of Hollywood. This approach was dubbed "Club Blues." Between 1946 and 1952, Brown recorded 20 hits, nine on his own, the rest as part of Johnny Moore's Blazers.
Spec: Music Industry; Charles Brown; Club Blues
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Charles Brown
Date: DECEMBER 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 121904np.217
Head: Titanic
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: After months of production delays, dissension on the set, and budget trouble, James Cameron's "Titanic" arrived at movie theaters today. It's the most expensive film ever, costing $200 million. Titanic stars Leonard DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

John Powers has a review.

JOHN POWERS, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Everybody knows the story of the Titanic -- the famously opulent ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage, killing 1,500 of the 2,200 people on board. This glamorous disaster is the backdrop of James Cameron's much-publicized romantic epic named after the ill-starred ship.

The year is 1912, and Rose DeWitt Boucater (ph), played by Kate Winslet, is an upper-crust teenager traveling on the Titanic along with her mother and Cal Hockley (ph), the rich thuggish philistine she's being forced to marry. On the verge of suicide, Rose encounters Jack Dawson, who's played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Jack's a penniless young passenger in steerage who has all the love of freedom that's missing from her snooty, money-mad social circle.

The two are just beginning their love affair when bam! -- the Titanic hits that iceberg. The movie was both scripted and directed by Cameron, who's best known for "The Terminator" movies and "True Lies." His ambition has always reached beyond gargantuan explosions, and here he risks a full-fledged love story.

It is a risk, because to put it bluntly, Cameron's far better at blowing things up than he is at writing good dialogue. His screenplay is filled with howlers, kitsch, and silent movie broadness. Rose's villainous fiance, whose stridently played by Billy Zane, would twirl his mustache if he had one.

Despite all this, the movie pulls us in. As Rose, Kate Winslet starts out rather stiff and unalluring. But she gets more spirited and radiant as the story progresses. For Titanic is about Rose's transformation from a passive girl to a daring, taboo-busting woman.

She's forever changed by the free-spirited Jack, whose imbued with Leonardo DiCaprio's peculiar charisma. Although he's got a manly-man's ability to protect a woman, he has the face of a beautiful, sensitive boy.

You can just imagine the high school girls in the audience swooning when Jack gets invited to dinner with the first class passengers, and explains how he lives his life.


ACTRESS: And where exactly do you live, Mr. Dawson?

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR, PORTRAYING JACK DAWSON: Well, right now, my address is the RMS Titanic. After that, I'm on God's good humor.

ACTRESS: And how is it you have means to travel?

DICAPRIO: I work my way from place to place, you know, tramp steamers and such. But I won my ticket on Titanic here at a lucky hand at poker -- a very lucky hand.

ACTOR: All life is a game of luck.

ACTOR: A real man makes his own luck, right Dawson?


ACTRESS: And you find that sort of rootless existence appealing, do you?

DICAPRIO: Oh, yes Ma'am I do. I mean, got everything I need right here with me. Got air in my lungs and a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what's going to happen or who I'm going to meet; where I'm gonna wind up. Just the other night, I was sleeping under a bridge, and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people.

POWERS: Cameron has never been an ideas man, and the movie gives only cursory glances at some of Titanic's potentially rich themes, such as the modern worship of technology. But Cameron does make a big point about social class -- using the ship as a metaphor for a whole society.

Up in first class, it's all champagne and evening dress. On the lower decks, it's beer, bunks, and rowdiness. Meanwhile, in the boiler rooms, sweating men are slaves to enormous Dante-esque furnaces.

These class distinctions hold fast even in the face of death. As waters flood the ship, most passengers are kept caged on the lower decks, while the rich saunter around an elegant ballroom. There aren't enough lifeboats for everyone, so first class women and children are boarded first. The others are left to die in the freezing Atlantic. The systematic cruelty of this is so blatant that Titanic often seems like the first Hollywood blockbuster to have been scripted by Karl Marx.

Still, nobody's going to see this movie for a social history lesson. Titanic rises and falls on one thing: whether audiences feel what it was like to be on that fateful voyage. And it's here that Cameron succeeds triumphantly. We feel the ocean liner's legendary size and grandeur; its sumptuous staterooms; its string quintets, and labyrinthian lower decks, teeming with immigrants of all nations and hues.

And once it hits the iceberg, amazing digital effects capture the overwhelming scale of this disaster -- the onrushing water; the bodies sliding down decks and being thrown overboard; the ship plunging into the sea like a drowning skyscraper; the corpses bobbing in icy waters.

The movie lasts a bit over three hours -- 20 minutes longer than it took the actual ship to sink. And most viewers will spend the last hour rapt at the sheer spectacle. This is the most expensive film ever made, and it's one measure of Cameron's success that you won't waste your time asking how he spent the $200 million.

Big, corny, and exhaustingly spectacular, Titanic is the kind of grand entertainment that only Hollywood can make, but all-too-often does not.

GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue.

Dateline: John Powers; Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: Film critic John Powers reviews "Titanic."
Spec: Movie Industry; Shipping; Disasters; Titanic
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Titanic
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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