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David Bianculli: The Latest From The Late-Night Wars

Fresh Air's guest host and TV critic recaps the best of last night's salvos from the talk-show wars — which are getting fiercer with every passing hour.



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Other segments from the episode on January 15, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 15, 2010: Interview with Teddy Pendergrass; Interview with Kathryn Bigelow; Review of the film "Fish Tank."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
In Memoriam: Soul Icon Teddy Pendergrass


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of, sitting in for
Terry Gross.

Today on FRESH AIR, we'd like to take some time to remember Philadelphia soul
singer Teddy Pendergrass, who died Wednesday at age 59 of complications from
colon cancer. Among his many hits was this one, "Love T.K.O."

(Soundbite of song, "Love T.K.O.")

Mr. TEDDY PENDERGRASS (Singer): (Singing) Lookin' back over my years, I guess I
shedded tears. Told myself time and time again, this time I'm gonna win. But
another fight, things ain't right. I'm losin' again. Takes a fool to lose twice
and start all over again. Think I'd better let it go, looks like another love
T.K.O. Oh, oh, oh. Think I'd better let it go. What you think about it, girl?
Oh yeah. Tried to take control of the love, love took control of me...

BIANCULLI: Teddy Pendergrass, singing "Love T.K.O." Pendergrass was one of the
singers most identified with the Philly sound of the 1970s. He was the lead
singer for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, who had such hits as "If You Don't
Know Me By Now" and "The Love I Lost."

When Pendergrass went solo, he became the first black, male singer to record
five consecutive multi-platinum albums. In 1982, he was in a car accident that
left him a quadriplegic, but he slowly returned to singing and performing.

Terry spoke with Teddy Pendergrass in 1998, after the publication of his
autobiography, "Truly Blessed." Teddy Pendergrass started singing in church as
a child. When he was young, he says, he felt a calling to preach sermons. Terry
asked him if he thought he'd grow up to be a preacher.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: That is what I'm sure my mother thought I would do. And at the
time, until I learned different, until I grew up, that's probably what I
thought I would do, as well. It's just that when you reach that ripe old age of
13, young kids, you know, they start to grow up and grow out, and they get, you
know, they get into their own thing and start doing their own thing, and I
started getting involved in music and becoming interested in what we call
secular music. And I saw – got a chance to see Jackie Wilson...

GROSS: Yeah, you said...

Mr. PENDERGRASS: That changed my life...

GROSS: It really changed you.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It changed my life around, so it was...

GROSS: What was it about the Jackie Wilson performance that...?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Just a consummate performance. I mean, just my image of him
was just so huge, and he just controlled that stage. His audience was in the
palm of his hands, and as I say in the book, you know, the ladies ran down to
the front of the stage when they thought he had fell off to hurt himself. He
had just rolled off intentionally and rolled off onto the floor, and to see the
ladies run through the guardrails and just lay on top of him and appear to make
mad, passionate love to him in the middle of the floor at whatever time it was
that morning, to me it was just – my jaws dropped. My God...

GROSS: How can I do that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Right. That's what I want to do.

GROSS: Your mother worked in a club. She worked in a kitchen of a club. And the
club, well, I think Chubby Checker played there. I forget who else, but...

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Lots of artists, Frankie Avalon, a whole lot of people.

GROSS: Did that give you a sense, because I know you went with her sometimes,
that performers could be accessible as well as being like Jackie Wilson, as
well as being as grand as that? There were performers who were kind of in

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Well, no. At this – to me, it was just a huge thing. I mean, I
was a child, 14 years old, meeting Chubby Checker. It was like this was an
opportunity of a lifetime. It was huge to me.

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It just so happened to be, as I told my kid – the kid friends
I had – my mom works at a club where this one goes, that one goes. We were off-
limits to that. We were black, working in the kitchen. So you know what I mean?
It wasn't accessible to us.

GROSS: I see what you're saying, yeah.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It was still out of reach. It was just a different, it was
just a different medium. One was a club where people sat and ate dinner, and
those people that went in there were white. For me, at the Uptown Theater, it
was black kids. So that's where I went because that's where people were that I
could relate to. I felt very out of place at (Unintelligible).

I felt loved, and I felt that – I didn't feel like because of the color of my
skin was a problem because the family there treated all of us, my mother and
me, just like we were like their kids or their grandkids, like they treated
grandkids. But we weren't allowed – I wasn't allowed to sit out into the – out
in the hall and sit out there and hang out with everybody else, number one,
because I was under age, number two, because I never saw any black people out
there. So my mother always kept me in the kitchen with her.

GROSS: You first performed professionally with a small group that you met in
Atlantic City, and then you moved on from that group to perform with the
Cadillacs. And the Cadillacs' big hit had been "Speedo," but I think this was a
period when the Cadillacs had kind of franchised. So there were several – like,
several groups singing under the name the Cadillacs.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Right, right, right.

GROSS: That's happening more and more with oldies acts now. I'm wondering if
anybody ever got really angry with you when they realized that this wasn't
necessarily the original Cadillacs.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: They didn't get mad at me because I was drummer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I was just a guy in the band.

GROSS: All right.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I could care less.

GROSS: Did they get angry, though, at the singers?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I don't know. I could care less.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It was a job. Thank goodness, I had ability to play as well as
sing. So therefore, I could get a job playing until I could find a job singing.

GROSS: So drums was secondary to you. What you really wanted to do was sing.


GROSS: Harold Melvin needed more backup singers. So he hired the group you were
with, the Cadillacs, to be his new Blue Notes. So there you are, a part of
Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: As the drummer.

GROSS: As the drummer. How did you start singing, even though you were hired as
the drummer - because you became the lead singer?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Yeah. That was an interesting transition. How do I explain? As
the drummer, I was the only musician that Harold hired from the band, which was
the band for the Cadillacs. So he took the singers, and he liked the way I
played so much, he offered me a job. At the time, I said okay, more money, just
another job. You know, he didn't fire me, great, fine.

We began to realize that sometimes the group would be late, and if they were
late, the club owners would dock them. We would all make less money. So the
band began to sing the songs that the group would sing if they were late in
order to make sure - ensure that we got paid.

So sometimes, the Blue Notes would come in and hear us singing, and I'd be
sitting on the drums playing and singing. So then they realized, oh, this guy
can sing. And from there, it just evolved and evolved and evolved and evolved.

GROSS: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes was signed by Gamble and Huff, of
Philadelphia International Records. What do you think was unique about their
approach to production? And maybe another way I should put it first is: What
changed about the sound of the group once you were part of Philadelphia

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Well, I think when they came to see us at the Apollo Club in
Camden, New Jersey, in 1970, they – what they heard was a group with a lot of
dimension. They saw a group with a lot of class, a lot of savvy and a lot of
experience. If nothing else, Harold was a taskmaster, and he was extremely
knowledgeable about show business and how we should perform, what we should
look like as a unit, how you should do things together.

The choreography was like one person was dancing. I mean, we truly could work
the gamut because we had to. We had to work in front of little white ladies
with blue hair in Miami Beach, and we had to work in front of pimps and
hustlers and prostitutes in New York or Buffalo or wherever we were. So we had
to really know what we were doing in order to continue working because we were
working because of our reputation. We had no records.

GROSS: I want to play one of your really big hits during the Philadelphia
International era with…

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Okay. Please do.

GROSS: …Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. This is "The Love I Lost." You say in
your memoir that originally, this was supposed to be a ballad, but then the
tempo got picked up. What were the changes that this song went through during
the production, and why did it go through them?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It's just once you're in the studio, magic happens because
you're in there with live musicians, and as you try different feels, you try
things. And that's the ability that you have with live musicians that you don't
have with computers.

GROSS: This is "The Love I Lost," Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, my guest
Teddy Pendergrass singing lead.

(Soundbite of song, "The Love I Lost")

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (Music Group): (Singing) The love I lost was a
sweet love. The love I lost was a sweet love. The love I lost I will never, no,
no never love again.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: (Singing) I can remember planning building my whole world
around you. I can remember hoping that you and I could make it on through, but
something went wrong. We loved each other, we just couldn't get along. Take a
good look at me. I'm in misery, can't you see?

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES: (Singing) The love I lost was a sweet love. The
love I lost was complete love. The love I lost, I will never, no, no never love

GROSS: "The Love I Lost," one of the big hits of the '70s with my guest Teddy
Pendergrass singing lead.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Oh, that was good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I haven't heard that song in a long time.

GROSS: Did your fans realize that the lead voice they were hearing was the
voice of Teddy Pendergrass and not Harold Melvin? Because the group is called
Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, and you would assume that he was the lead

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Right, well, my friends knew, but nobody else knew, and that
was what really got me after a while. So a lot of times...

GROSS: Did people not believe you sometimes? You'd say, but that's me singing
lead. Did they say, sure?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Not – I didn't really tell anybody. I'm not one like that, but
however, in clubs and places we would work, and they would say, they would come
to me and go oh, yeah, that was a great show, Harold. And I'd say I'm not
Harold. That's Harold. And people would just kind of look, like huh? You know,
I guess they thought I was on dope and dog food or something because I wasn't
acknowledging that I was who they just knew I was.

And that was quite different, and it got to a point by my third album that I
demanded that my name be put on the record. I was tired of being called Harold,
and I wanted my just dues.

GROSS: After you went on your own, you eventually started doing, in addition to
your regular concerts, you started doing for-women-only shows. What was the
difference between what you did on stage or what you sang in the for-women-only
shows than the rest of your concerts?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: The difference was they were probably a little more
provocative. I probably played to the audience a lot more because they were all
female and subtle differences like that.

GROSS: What impact did it have on your ego and your personal life to be a
romantic icon?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Did have and does it have? Or did it? Because it's not over.

GROSS: So my impression, though, is that your ego has – is in a different place
now than it was before. My impression just from things that you've said is that
you felt that your ego at times was a little out of control earlier and that
that's no longer the case.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It was all new, all new. And when you get that kind of
adulation, and people are just at your beck and call and at your feet, giving
you what you want – I was a young kid. I was 26 years old, 27 years old, 28.
You know what I mean?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It can alter your thinking from it. Sometimes your head is too
big to get through a door, and mine got there. I was able to, you know, bring
things back into perspective, but you know, it can alter your ego and give you
a nice big one. I mean, at 28 years old, I mean, I was buying a 34-room mansion
in Gladwyne. That's kind of – you know, coming from a row house in North
Philadelphia and buying my mother a home a mile and a half away and filling up
the garage with Rolls Royces and Ferraris. I mean, I don't know a whole lot of
people that do that.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: So I guess it is kind of – people that live what you call,
quote-unquote, "a normal life," to even begin to understand that, I guess, you
know, normally you work through a job, and you work up, and you get a raise,
and the more you work, the older you get, the more money you're making - if
you're able to get those kinds of things later on in life, not at 28 years old.

BIANCULLI: Teddy Pendergrass, speaking to Terry Gross in 1998. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 1998 interview with Teddy Pendergrass, the
Philadelphia soul singer who died Wednesday at age 59. He was a romantic icon
in 1982, when he had his car accident that left him a quadriplegic. Terry asked
him about the accident.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It took me years to be able to drive by the accident site. So
that was the point that changed my life. That's where the old Teddy died, and
the new guy was born. So I don't live it. I don't discuss it. I just kind of
move on.

GROSS: I know after the accident, you went through a very deep period of
depression, and you write in your book about an experience you had with a
family therapist named Dr. Dan Gottlieb who everyone at the radio station where
I work, WHYY, knows because he does a show here about families. And he also was
in a car accident and is also...

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Same-level quadriplegia, yeah.

GROSS: Exactly, exactly, and you said it was really useful to talk with a
therapist who really understood what you were going through. He suggested
during one your bad depressions that you kind of stage a mock funeral. What did
he suggest that you do? I mean, you actually did it. What was that experience?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: It was the turning point for me. When you have gone through
something as traumatic as I have, and other people have like me, you have a lot
of concerns about what you're going to do with your life, and where is it going
to go from here.

Unfortunately, my drop was from – was in front of the world. It wasn't a guy,
Joe Blow, that had a car accident. This was Teddy Pendergrass, quote-unquote,
exact same thing you said, exact same, da, da, da, da, had a car accident.
What's going to happen? Where is going – it was these big questions, and I had
– I played into those questions because I was concerned about those same

So when people started writing those things in newspapers, like I say in my
book, there's a certain reporter that really asked the question: Who will be
the next Teddy Pendergrass? And he named out all of these potential artists.
And I read that, and I went, oh my God. You know, that really, really does

So the mock funeral was a turning point for me by covering myself up or being
covered up with a white sheet and having friends and family come give me their
final words as though I was dead in a casket was what that's about. Because
Dr. Gottlieb felt that there was nothing really he could say, I was in such a
deep depression.

GROSS: So what impact did it have on you? I mean, you were sitting there under
the white sheet, listening to everybody speaking about your life.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I wasn't ready for that. I was not ready to be in a funeral,
in a casket. Dying was not – dying suddenly became a non-option. Killing myself
was a no-no.

GROSS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but from your memoir, I get the sense that
after your accident, when you had to kind of re-create your life, that you had
to kind of figure out what parts of you were, like, a performing persona and
what parts of you were who you really were. Am I misinterpreting?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Yeah, I kind of had to put everything into the right

GROSS: So do you feel that you think of yourself any differently now than you
did before the accident in terms of, like, the essence of who you are?

Mr. PENDERGRASS: I think that the content of my character is much different
than it was. I think now that I'm much more of a whole individual than I was 16
years ago. I see now that I have the audacity to move through this and make
something of myself irrespective. You know what I'm saying, trying to say?
Rather, I'm not going to let this keep me from being the person I know I can be
and that I have proven to myself that I can be. With that, it really does make
me feel that life is still enjoyable.

GROSS: Teddy Pendergrass, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. PENDERGRASS: Oh, thank you very much, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Teddy Pendergrass, speaking to Terry Gross in 1998, 12 years after
the accident that left him a quadriplegic. The Philadelphia soul singer died
Wednesday at age 59. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Disarming Baghdad: The Most Dangerous Army Job?


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

What's the most dangerous Army job in Iraq? Maybe it's defusing IEDs, car bombs
and other insidiously hidden explosives, knowing that your 90-pound Kevlar body
suit with protective ceramic panels will offer only limited protection if the
bomb explodes.

The film "The Hurt Locker," which just came out on DVD, is about an Army bomb
squad in Iraq made up of three men; one who disarms the bombs and two
sharpshooters who protect him while he works. The film made many end of year
top 10 lists, and Stephen King in Entertainment Weekly called it the best
movies of 2009.

Today's next guests are the movie's screenwriter, Mark Boal, and its director,
Kathryn Bigelow. Boal based his screenplay on reporting he did in 2004 embedded
with an Army bomb squad in Baghdad. The movie "In The Valley of Ella" was based
on one of his articles.

Kathryn Bigelow's other films include "Strange Days," "Near Dark," Point
Break," and "Blue Steel."

"The Hurt Locker" is about the work of the bomb squad, but it's also about what
leads men to choose this work and what the work does to them. Jeremy Renner
stars as the sergeant who's just taken over the team. He is fearless and
brilliant at diffusing bombs but often recklessly risks his life and the lives
of his men.

In this scene, Renner and one of his sharpshooters, played by Anthony Mackie,
are in Renner's room. Mackie pulls out a box from under Renner's bed and it's
filled with fuses, wires and other remnants of bombs Renner has diffused.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hurt Locker")

Mr. ANTHONY MACKIE (Actor): (as Sgt. JT Sanborn) What do we have here?

Mr. JEREMY RENNER (Actor): (as Staff Sergeant William James) They're, you know,
bomb parts, signatures.

Mr. MACKIE: (as Sanborn) Yeah. Yeah. I see that, but what they doing under your

Mr. RENNER: (as James) Well, this one is from the U.N. building, flaming car,
dead-man switch, boom. This guy was good. I like him. This one, you know, is
from our first call together. This box is full of stuff that almost killed me.

Mr. MACKIE: (as Sanborn) What about this one? Where is this one from, Will?

Mr. RENNER: (as James) It's my wedding ring. Like I said, stuff that almost
killed me.

(Soundbite of laughter)


Katherine Bigelow, Mark Boal, welcome to FRESH AIR. In "The Hurt Locker" we see
bombs placed in all kinds of improbable places, including in a human body, in a
corpse. And Mark, I'm wondering - what are some of the bomb situations you
witnessed or were told about by the men you embedded with?

Mr. MARK BOAL (Screenwriter, "The Hurt Locker"): Well, I remember being in Iraq
for probably less than 24 hours and somebody explained to me quite casually
that he could have very easily put a bomb under the chair I was sitting on as
we were having that conversation and I would never know it, and just the
realization that you can make a bomb that's small enough that, you know, it's
no bigger than a bottle of water, really, and pretty much anywhere you could
put a bottle of water, you could put a lethal device.

And the insurgents in Iraq have been very clever and ingenious about finding
places to put IEDs, and the whole sort of name of the game of the war over
there is the American military is looking for the IEDs - it's almost like a
giant - treasure hunt is sort of sort of the wrong word, but it's a giant game
of hide and seek, and the insurgency or the resisting force, whatever you want
to call it, is trying their hardest to find hiding places. So they end up
putting them everywhere, is the short answer to your question. Anywhere you
could imagine one being, they've tried.

GROSS: Anywhere you can imagine, but what were some of the more unimaginable

Mr. BOAL: Well, telephone poles, for example, was a sort of strange one. They
started out very simply putting them in roads, in dirt roads, because it's easy
to dig up a dirt road, put a bomb in it, cover up the dirt and walk away, and
as a result of that, the Americans got very careful about the dirt roads they
would drive on and they would select their routes to stay on hard-top, tar
roads, black-top roads.

And then - so the insurgency switched and developed a method of ripping up the
blacktop, putting a bomb underneath and putting fresh blacktop over and then
aging the blacktop so it was indistinguishable from the rest of the road.

So then the Americans developed techniques to trigger the bomb before it hit
the blacktop, and then the insurgents started putting them farther off the road
into, in some cases telephone poles, in some cases garbage cans, in vehicles of
every kind, in donkey carts.

It really is one of those things where the threat is so ubiquitous that it's
impossible to say with any certainty where it's coming from, and that's part of
what makes the experience in Iraq so anxiety-producing for people that are over

GROSS: Katherine, the first IED that we see go off is in, it's close to the
beginning of the film and it's a really horrifying moment. I mean, you
basically see, and I think you shot this, part of this in slow motion - you
basically see the pavement lift up and fragment and fly into the air and then
everything else just kind of explode around it into this, you know, ball of

Can you talk a little bit about shooting that scene and making it have real
impact, and by that I mean it's not special-effects impact. There's so many
movies where things are always blowing up, and it's visually dazzling, but you
don't necessarily feel anything. You're just thinking, like, wow, pretty cool,
stuff blowing up, big special effects. But this you really feel the threat and
the impact and the danger and the horror.

Ms. BIGELOW (Director, "The Hurt Locker"): Well, I wanted to really put the
viewer at the epicenter of the event and, you know, really feel that horror,
and we shot the movie in the Middle East. We shot it in Amman, Jordan. That
particular location happened to have been in a very densely populated area.

In fact, it was near a customs house, and there was something like 200,000 cars
that traveled through that area on a daily basis, although we did shut that
part of the city down temporarily. But it was a very densely populated area,
and we knew that had to be a form and type of detonation that was very

When Mark spoke to the EOD(ph) techs in Baghdad, they spoke a lot about the
fact that sometimes Hollywood movies, or in fact virtually in every case, the
explosions in a Hollywood movie doesn't necessarily look like the real thing.

A lot of it has to do with what the matter is that's being detonated, but we
were very interested in trying to replicate it as realistically as possible. In
the case of a 155, which was the particular ordinance in the middle of the
road, it was meant to have a very dark, dense, thick look that was very
different than those kind of gaseous orange plumes of kind of fuel that perhaps
maybe is more conventional in films.

Anyway, so we performed this detonation, and the effects man, Richard Stutsman,
did an extraordinary job, but it was a very, very large - I think you could you
see it for - it was like a four-story-high explosion that you could see for,
you know, miles and miles, and I used something called a phantom camera, which
shoots 10,000 frames per second, you know, to kind of look at the granular
nature of a detonation of that size.

GROSS: Since you were setting off explosions that you could see four-stories
high, for anyone in the area in Jordan who was hearing or seeing the blast, how
would they know that there wasn't, like, war breaking out down the street? How
would they know for sure that this was a movie? How did you get the word out?

Ms. BIGELOW: Well, there's actually a fairly evolved filmic infrastructure in
Amman, Jordan. There's a film school as well, and many people in the area were
actually aware that we were filming. We actually had been filming in the area
for several days prior to the explosion. We were able to communicate with all
of the individuals, all of the owners of shops and get the word out that this
explosion was coming. So it was not something that was of any kind of surprise.

GROSS: Mark, when you were embedded with a bomb squad in Iraq, how close did
you get to any of the explosions?

Mr. BOAL: Well, I got - you know, when you're embedded, unfortunately or
fortunately, you're just sort of right there with the soldiers. So I was as
close as the soldiers would be, and it, you know, depended. If they were a mile
away, I was mile away. If they were 100 yards away, I was 100 yards away, and
close enough that you can feel the heat of the explosion, which is really quite
impressive and intensive. It's almost like someone's taking a hair dryer and
spraying it in your face, and obviously close enough that the shrapnel is
whizzing by around you, and it's very loud and percussive. It's like being at a
rock concert.

GROSS: And did the bomb squad team have a pretty decent idea of what the range
of the blast will be if the blast goes off so that they know what the safety
zone is?

Mr. BOAL: They do. They're kind of - have a very keen sense of that, actually,
and their whole expertise in terms of the physics of it is quite extraordinary
and impressive. I mean these are guys that are actually trained to diffuse
nuclear bombs. So for them to calculate the physical blast radius of an IED is
something they can do. It's the kind of math they can do in their head very
quickly, and so they can tell you with a pretty high degree of certainty where
the blast is gonna go and what the impact will be on a given structure, whether
it'll take down a house or put a hole in a house or whatever.

But again, that's assuming that they know exactly what the content of the bomb
is, and some of the time they don't really know.

BIANCULLI: Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow of "The Hurt
Locker," speaking to Terry Gross last year.

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2009 interview with Katherine Bigelow, the
director of the new film "The Hurt Locker," and Mark Boal, its screenwriter.


Part of the drama in "The Hurt Locker" comes from those moments when the person
on the bomb squad whose job it is to diffuse the bomb puts on the suit and does
the walk, alone, to the bomb, and it seems like it would be one of the most
lonely moments imaginable because you're cut off from the world by virtue of
wearing this 90-pound suit, protective suit, and then also it's just like you
there basically right next to the bomb trying to diffuse it.

Mark, would you talk a little bit about the reality of that situation, like
what you witnessed when it was time for one of the men to take that walk alone?

Mr. BOAL: It's an everyday occurrence, so I don't want to over dramatize it,
but there is something extremely iconic about that, and the bomb techs always
talk about that walk, and it's really a mark of honor if you've done it, and
it's really hard to quantify or explain if you haven't. But basically once you
put on that suit and you start walking towards the bomb, you're in a world at a
certain point in which there is no turning back, and if the bomb goes off,
you're dead. If you turn around and run and the bomb goes off, you're dead. So
the only option is to really go right into the teeth of the matter and diffuse

And they talk about how profoundly transfixing that moment can be and how at a
certain point - say it's 50 meters out - you tend to have thoughts about your
family or your friends or whatever, and then at 25 meters out, maybe your
thought process changes and your heart is now beating so fast that it's really
just a kind of instinctual adrenaline moment, and all the way to the moment
when you're actually standing over the bomb, and it's really literally
impossible to think about anything other than the simple mechanics of diffusing
the bomb.

GROSS: Since some of the IEDs could be detonated remotely by, for instance, a
cell phone, for the sharpshooters, if they saw anybody with a cell phone, like
in the movie, they wouldn't know whether that cell phone was a detonator or
just a phone, and so you're confronted with the decision: shoot or not. Is that
something that the men you embedded with talked to you about or that you

Mr. BOAL: Yeah, and you know, what was just so hair-raising about the whole
thing is that all these little kind of moments of everyday life that we never
think about as being particularly threatening or not take on this whole new
aspect when you're in a war zone, and somebody taking out a cell phone and
looking at you as he's talking on the phone, you wonder if he's, you know, is
he calling his wife and saying I'll take the roast beef for dinner tonight,
honey, or is he calling his friend who is an insurgent and saying, hey, if you
come across town, you can get an easy potshot on a bunch of American right now?

And it's just really - it's the combination of the lethality of the IEDs and
the unknowability for somebody that doesn't speak Arabic or that isn't really
versed in the culture of the motives of the people around you that makes it so

And in particular the thing that they would talk about is the cell phones and
also people signaling with flags and kites and that kind of thing, and there
was a whole sort of semiotics to that, of trying to figure out whether somebody
putting a carpet, shaking a carpet out on their doorstep, was that because they
were trying to clean their carpet, or was that because they were trying to
signal the neighbor across the street that there were Americans coming?

GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about the casting. I mean, I think everybody who
sees the film feels this way. One of the things that really throws you is that
there are several pretty famous actors in the movie, including Ralph Fiennes
and Guy Pearce, and you know, you see them, you think oh, you know, at first
you think they're going to be the hero of the film, but I mean they're not
necessarily. They don't even necessarily survive. And the people who are the
real leads in the film, you've probably never seen before or seen only in small
roles, and you think that's a familiar face. Where did I see them? It's like
reverse casting with lesser-known people in the big roles and the well-known
people in the small roles. Why did you do that?

Ms. BIGELOW: Well, part of it was to intensify and increase the element of
suspense and tension and that you are looking at a face, you're looking at an
individual for whom you have kind of an awareness of but not necessarily a
specific - you know, he or she, or he in this case, doesn't come with a kind of
provenance that therefore will protect him. In other words, this is a major
movie star. He can't - nothing can happen to him. His life won't be in peril
until the end of the film, but if you take that out of the equation, then
you're looking at these particular faces and looking at these characters, and
anything is possible. And so I think it sort of amplifies the tension.

GROSS: Katherine, one of the things that made an impression on me in the movie
is that occasionally there'd be, like, a stray feral cat walking across the
street or down the street. And one of the cats has only three functioning legs,
and one of the cats just looks half, like, starved to death and kind of afraid.
And I was wondering, like, whether you cast these cats, whether these were,
like stray cats that you found or that were actually - happened to be walking
down the street.

Ms. BIGELOW: In all honesty, they happened to be walking down the street. Kind
of the bonus of shooting in situ, in an environment that was in an area that
was sort of a down market, shall we say. And so it's a matter of always keeping
your camera department alive and looking in all directions just in case there
might be some surprise, a beautiful woman up on a balcony, head shrouded in
cloth, looking down, gazing down on you, and just trying to be very sensitive
to the environment in which you're in and open and spontaneous and take that
into consideration where you're shooting.

BIANCULLI: Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenplay writer Mark Boal of "The
Hurt Locker" speaking to Terry Gross last year. The movie just came out on DVD.
Coming up, film critic David Edelstein on "Fish Tank" and I'll look at one of
the newest, nastiest on-air battles in the TV talk show wars. This is FRESH
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
'Fish Tank': A Teen Adrift In A Tough London Suburb


Andrea Arnold's second feature, "Fish Tank," won the Jury Prize at the 2009
Cannes Film Festival. It's a coming of age story of a complicated teenage girl
from a high-rise London housing project. It opens today in New York and is
available on demand from IFC Films.

Film Critic David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: From the start, I knew the British director Andrea Arnold had
captured something volatile and splendid in her second feature, "Fish Tank." A
girl named Katie Jarvis plays London East End 15-year-old Mia, who in the first
shots stares out the window of a high-rise, working-class project from a vacant
flat where she practices hip-hop with tiny speakers. Mia has been phoning and
phoning her best friend after a bad fight, and she heads out angrily and finds
and confronts the girl in a yard, practicing hip-hop with other girls. And one
calls her skanky, and Mia instantly — like lightning — head-butts her and
breaks her nose.

As she stomps away, you can feel her insides churn, and Arnold's handheld
camera is both on her and with her. Rage, shame, defiance, longing – there's
emotion in the camera's every jitter and swerve. Jarvis is in nearly every shot
of "Fish Tank." She has soft eyes, but her Mia is angry and defensive and has a
dirty mouth. She has a feral quality that keeps you watching her closely for
fear of missing something. Mia's dancing helps to channel her feelings. But
despite big dreams, she's no Billy Elliot, and her accent and snaggly English
teeth remind you where she comes from.

It's her energy, her attack that convinces you she won't go down without a
fight. In interviews, Arnold said she wanted to cast a non-actress, and Jarvis
was discovered on a train platform having a fight with her boyfriend and didn't
believe the casting agent, who approached her was for real. Arnold's acclaimed
first feature, "Red Road," centered on another outsider, a woman who monitored
security cameras and spied and then spied on a man from her past. The film was
formally brilliant, nearly wordless in its first half, but it didn't have the
abrasive power of "Fish Tank."

Mia is constantly under siege by her mean and narcissistic mother, played by
Kierston Wareing, and even by her nasty kid sister. So when she meets her mom's
very handsome new boyfriend, Connor, his attentiveness throws her. Connor is
played by the terrific chameleonic Irish actor Michael Fassbender, who shows up
at breakfast without his shirt while Mia is watching and imitating a hip-hop

(Soundbite of movie, "Fish Tank")

Mr. MICHAEL FASSBENDER (Actor): (as Connor) Go on Mia, carry on. I was enjoying

Ms. KATIE JARVIS (Actor): (as Mia) (Unintelligible).

Mr. FASSBENDER: (as Connor) (Unintelligible).

Ms. JARVIS: (as Mia) No.

Mr. FASSBENDER: (as Connor) (unintelligible).

Ms. JARVIS: (as Mia) (Unintelligible).

Mr. FASSBENDER: (as Connor) Okay. I'm a friend of your mother. You dance like a
black. That's a compliment.

Ms. JARVIS: (as Mia) And what would you like?

Mr. FASSBENDER: (as Connor) To watch videos, like everyone else.

Ms. JARVIS: (as Mia) And that makes you some kind of expert, does it?

Mr. FASSBENDER: (as Connor) (unintelligible).

EDELSTEIN: That scene and others between Mia and Connor will conjure up so many
different emotions in different viewers that a chart of one's responses would
zigzag more than an electrocardiogram. The erotic charge is strong, and so is
our sense that Connor has more in common with Mia than he does with her mother,
who's older than he is and often drunk. So too is the sense that a relationship
between Mia and Connor would be wrong and perilous. In its outline if not its
milieu, "Fish Tank" bears a resemblance to the English art-house hit, "An
Education." But it has what that overrated film doesn't, something fevered and
amorphous that suggests its characters are unsure of their own motives, and
that they're swimming, as the title implies, in a world with few options.

Near the end, Mia is overcome with rage, and on impulse does something
shocking, nearly unforgivable. The sequence goes right to the verge of tragedy,
but the final scenes have a transcendent mixture of hope and sadness that lifts
kitchen-sink realism to the realm of dramatic poetry. In "Fish Tank," nothing
for Mia goes right, yet her fate never seems preordained. Her constant motion,
whether dancing, hurling obscenities or recklessly charging ahead, might be her
salvation or her doom — but you don't know, even in the last frame. That's a
sign of this movie's open and deeply humanist vision.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
David Bianculli: The Latest From The Late-Night Wars


I am a TV critic and I've been astounded by the latest round of the late-night
TV talk show wars. And no matter what happens today, tonight, or next week,
there's no question that already the gloves are off in a way they've never been
before, at least not in public. Tuesday, on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live," that
show's host sided with Conan O'Brien by doing his entire show impersonating Jay
Leno. And last night on NBC's "Jay Leno Show," Leno had Kimmel on during his 10
@ 10 segment, throwing 10 questions at Kimmel who was seen on a giant TV screen
in a satellite interview connecting Burbank with Hollywood. Leno's second
question threw down the gantlet.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. JAY LENO (Host, "The Jay Leno Show"): All right. Question two: Besides
doing a cruel impression of me, what is the worst idea your writers have ever
pitched you?

Mr. JIMMY KIMMEL (Host, "Jimmy Kimmel Live"): Huh, well that was my idea to be

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: But they pitch a lot of bad ideas, yeah.

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

BIANCULLI: That set the tone and the tone was vicious, in both directions. When
Leno asked Kimmel who in the world he would most like to interview, this was
Kimmel's response.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. KIMMEL: You and Conan together.

Mr. LENO: Oh, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KIMMEL: I would like to have the two of you.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. KIMMEL: In fact if Conan won't do it I would like just you. In fact, I
would like to do 12 @ 12 with you tomorrow night…

Mr. LENO: Really?

Mr. KIMMEL: …if you would be willing to do that because I have a lot of
questions to ask you…

Mr. LENO: Yeah.

Mr. KIMMEL: …about this whole thing. I don't think people care about what I
have to say.

Mr. LENO: Yeah. I agree with that…

Mr. KIMMEL: …what's going on in your life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: Tomorrow night – eh, tomorrow night bad for me. Let's move on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: From that point on, both Leno and Kimmel knew that Leno was boxed
in, forced to ask the rest of his prepared questions. And Kimmel just swung at
them like softballs and swung for the fences. Best prank Kimmel ever pulled?

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. LENO: Number five: You're known for pranks, what's the best prank you ever

Mr. KIMMEL: Well when my aunt Chippy(ph) was at work, I painted her house
orange and green once and she was not happy.

Mr. LENO: Really?

Mr. KIMMEL: The whole outside of the house orange and green, but the best - I
think the best prank I ever pulled was I told a guy that five years from now
I'm going to give you my show, and then when the five years came, I gave it to
him, and then I took it back almost instantly.

Mr. LENO: Wow.

(Soundbite of cheering)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. LENO: Very good friend, very good friend.

Mr. KIMMEL: I think he works at Fox or something now.

Mr. LENO: Yeah, I've got you. Number six…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: …ever order anything off the TV?

Mr. KIMMEL: Like NBC ordered your show off of the TV?

Mr. LENO: Yeah – no, no, no.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. LENO: Actually something like that, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Leno took a real risk though when asking question number nine.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. LENO: Number nine: Is there anything you haven't hosted that you want to

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: Oh, this is a trick, right…?

Mr. LENO: No.

Mr. KIMMEL: …where you get me to host "The Tonight Show" and then take it back
from me?

Mr. LENO: No, no, no, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: I'm not going to - listen, Lucy, I'm not Charlie Brown. I don't
fall for that trick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: And even when the 10 questions were up, Kimmel squeezed off one
final shot and it was a bull's-eye.

(Soundbite of TV Show, "The Jay Leno Show")

Mr. KIMMEL: Really. Listen Jay, Conan and I have children…

Mr. LENO: Oh, I'm sorry.

Mr. KIMMEL: …all you have to take care of is cars.

Mr. LENO: That's right.

Mr. KIMMEL: I mean, we have lives to lead here. You've got $800 million for
God's sake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KIMMEL: Leave our shows alone.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LENO: A plea from Jimmy Kimmel. Jimmy, thank you very much for your time.
See you tonight, "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

(Soundbite of cheering)

BIANCULLI: Yikes. No wonder the country is fascinated by this very public
battle. It's got everybody talking. It's got the participants rolling out their
A material and it's even got me watching "The Jay Leno Show" and laughing.

(Soundbite of music)

For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

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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