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Directing 'The Lives of Others'

German writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's movie, The Lives of Others, has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Donnersmarck writes that his film is "a human drama about the ability of human beings to do the right thing, no matter how far they have gone down the wrong path."

31:05

Other segments from the episode on February 7, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 7, 2007: Interview with Florian Henckel Von Donnersmarck; Obituary for Frankie Laine; Review of Lily Allen's album "Alright Still."

Transcript

DATE February 7, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Writer and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
discusses his film "The Lives of Others," nominated for a Best
Foreign Film Academy Award
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. While filmmakers in Germany have
explored the nation's Nazi past from a variety of perspectives in recent
years, little serious attention has been paid to the years of communist rule
in East Germany, especially the oppressive surveillance of the Stasi, the
German Democratic Republic's secret police. The Stasi recruited and pressured
informants to spy on their friends, family and neighbors on a scale
unprecedented even in the communist world. Many citizens had no idea who was
informing on them until after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when Stasi records
were open for public review.

The effect of Stasi surveillance on its targets and its spies is the subject
of a new, widely-acclaimed film by our guest Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
It's called "The Lives of Others," and it tells the story of a loyal Stasi
captain who begins to question his commitment when he's assigned to spy on two
famous artists, a playwright and his actress girlfriend. "The Lives of
Others" is von Donnersmarck's first feature film. It won seven Lola
awards--the German Oscars--and it has an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign
Language Film. He spoke with Dave Davies, who frequently guests hosts FRESH
AIR.

Mr. DAVE DAVIES: Well, Florian Henckel qon Donnersmarck, welcome to FRESH
AIR.

I wonder if you could begin before we talk about how you conceived and made
this film with just a--giving us, our audience a sense of the scale of the
surveillance and brutality of the Stasi, the East German secret service.

Mr. FLORIAN HENCKEL von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, the Stasi was the vastest, most
extensive secret service in the history of mankind with 300,000 employees
monitoring a population of only 17 million people. That's quite a small
population. That's only just about twice the size of New York, and imagine
300,000 people trying to find out every aspect of people's lives. It was an
organization that defined itself against the Gestapo. You know, very often
people now say, `It was just like the Gestapo.' Well, I mean, they defined
themselves against it, which is why it was not an organization that used much
physical violence. It used psychological violence. You know, while, at the
Gestapo, the Gestapo recruited thugs who could, who would break people's
bones, and the Stasi recruited intelligence psychologists who would break
people's spirits.

Mr. DAVIES: I know that you have an interesting background. I mean, you
spent part of your childhood in New York and then lived for many years in West
Berlin, which is, of course...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...was part of West Germany but surrounded by East German
countryside. What contact did you have with East Germany and East Germans,
and how much awareness did you have of the Stasi as a child?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Well, I had quite a lot of awareness because both of
my parents are from the East, came over before the wall was built, but we had
family and friends in Eastern Germany. Actually, an uncle of my father's was
even chief of protocol for...(unintelligible)...the communist general
secretary's office, and we often visited the East. And my parents were on
special Stasi lists because they were considered traitors to the communist
cause, and so at the border were--I remember one time when I was about eight
years old and my brother was nine, we drove over with our mother, and my
mother was just led out of the car and disappeared in one of those buildings
with these people for hours then came back all shaky and told us that she'd
been strip-searched and humiliated in all kinds of possible ways. And my
brother and I just thought this was, you know, very strange and somehow
amazing that an organization could have so much power that they would be
allowed to, you know, strip our mother.

Mr. DAVIES: How old were you?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: I was eight. And also, you know, traveling to the
East and seeing our friends there, how they were looking over their shoulders,
trying to see who was seeing us talking to them because they knew that this
could damage their careers greatly, and it probably did. You know, all that,
just seeing adults in fear, fear of the Stasi. We knew that it was the Stasi
that they were afraid of. That all made a very strong impression on me and
certainly informed, well, if not my film then at least my research for the
film. I knew that the way that the GDR was portrayed throughout all those
films that have already been made that, you know, are nostalgic of that era,
that that wasn't really a very accurate portrayal, that there was a very dark
side to it too that needed to be portrayed.

Mr. DAVIES: Now, I read that part of the inspiration for this story, and you
wrote and directed this remarkable film, I read that part of the inspiration
for the story was something that you read about Lenin, the Bolshevik
revolutionary...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...listening to a Beethoven sonata. Explain that moment and how
it...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...led to this idea.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Lenin had few close personal friends, and one of his
closet friends actually was Maxim Gorky, the Russian writer, and after Lenin's
death, Gorky wrote that Lenin had once told him, actually the quote goes
something like this" He says, `The "Appassionata" is my favorite piece of
music,' Lenin says, `but I don't want to listen to it anymore because if I do
listen to it, and when I do listen to it, it makes me want to stroke people's
heads and tell them nice, stupid things. But I have to smash in those heads,
bash them in without mercy in order to finish my revolution.'

And you know, I thought, `Aha, so this is what Lenin feels like. Now, let's
see if I can find a way to force Lenin to listen to the "Appassionata."' And
out of that I constructed this idea of a man just sitting there with earphones
on his head and expecting that through these earphones he's going to hear
words of his ideological enemies, but actually he's hearing music that is so
beautiful that it actually makes him rethink that ideology. That was the
basic idea for the film, and so Lenin changed into a Stasi officer who's
sitting in a surveillance center monitoring people. And so who would be, you
know, playing that kind of beautiful music if not artists? So I kind of knew
that was going to be the basic setting, a Stasi officer monitoring artists and
changing through that close proximity with them.

Mr. DAVIES: And so we have this film, whose central character is a captain
in the Stasi who's conducting surveillance on a playwright and his actress
girlfriend and...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...kind of being very moved by what happens in their lives. He
overhears intimate moments.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah. Yeah. He just basically becomes part of their
lives. They don't know that he's wiretapped their entire apartment and that
there are bugs everywhere, even in the bathroom, and so they really go on
leading their normal lives, and he takes part in that. And he's a Stasi
captain who's so far been a specialist in interrogations. And, of course, you
know, in an interrogation situation you never have someone just in their
normal lives, so you don't have the opportunity to compare that to your own
life because you're just always seeing them in that very same stress
situation. But here he suddenly has, you know, this daily contrast of seeing
how his life works and how these people's lives works, and I've often intercut
it in that way and, you know, what these artists' work is and what his work
is. So that does make him change and think.

Mr. DAVIES: And the actor who played him, Ulrich Muhe, do I have the name
pronounced?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, pretty good. The sound which is in his last
name doesn't actually exist in the English language, so it's actually Ulrich
Muhe.

Mr. DAVIES: All right.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: It's one of those totally unpronounceable names.

Mr. DAVIES: Well, with apologies to that, I mean, I read that he, because he
was an artist who had grown up in East Germany...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: ...had actually had some experience of being spied on by the
Stasi, as many artists did, and I wondered if that made making this film an
emotionally difficult experience for him or if it informed his performance in
some way?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, I think, you know, he, Ulrich Muhe is a really
very courageous man, and he was one of the first people to ask for his Stasi
files. He was not like 90 percent of the GDR population, even of those who
were monitored by the Stasi, that they say, `Look, we don't want to know
what's in the past. We just want to look into the future and not know who of
our neighbors and friends or family betrayed us. Ulrich Muhe was one
courageous man who went there and said, `Look, I want to know about the past.'
And he did find out some quite painful things. He found out that four members
of his theater group, that are a like a family to actors, were actually just
placed there in that theater group as actors to monitor him. He found out
that he was on a special list of people who, in case of any kind of national
emergency, would have been brought to special camps to be isolated from the
rest of the population. He found out that his wife of six years, with whom he
still has had very good relations and a very beautiful daughter, had been
listed as an informer with the Stasi and that there were 500 pages in her
informer file, you know, including constant reminders to the Stasi that he
must know nothing of this because he was an enemy of the Stasi. You know,
these are things that were quite hard for him, but he'd lived through all that
in the '90s. You know, when I offered this role to him, and I did not know
about his past with the Stasi because he is a very private man, I didn't know
these things, but I somehow suspected from all the knowledge that he had of
the Stasi--most East Germans don't know that much about it--from the way how
he knew that everything that I was telling him in this film was accurate that
there must be something. And then, as we became friends and as time passed,
he told me more and more, and then I even convinced him to speak about these
things because I think that if you keep these kind of things just to yourself,
it doesn't do you any good.

GROSS: We're listening to Dave Davies' interview with Florian Henckel von
Donnersmarck, the director of the new German film "The Lives of Others."

We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

GROSS: Let's get back to Dave Davies' interview with Florian Henckel von
Donnersmarck, the director of the new German film "The Lives of Others." It's
nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's set in East
Germany in the '80s and early '90s and is about the secret police and people
they spied on.

Mr. DAVIES: There's a scene in this film that I found interesting where the
Stasi captain, who is at the center of our story, is visited by a prostitute
and...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: I can see why you find that interesting.

Mr. DAVIES: Not so much because it's erotic. I don't know that it is.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: No.

Mr. DAVIES: I mean, he begs her to stay, and I'm wondering if you could talk
a little bit about that scene and what you were after.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Hmm. Yeah, I think that ideology makes people
incredibly lonely. I think it's one of those things you have to shut out all
your feelings and you're just about the principle that you're pursuing. And,
in a way, I think that my character, the Stasi agent, realizes his loneliness
as he experiences the lives of these artists, and he sees that people here
have a connection to other people that he doesn't and that he's somehow
isolated himself, but he doesn't even know how to go about building that kind
of bridge towards other people, and so he does what I think many people do in
that kind of situation, he just calls a prostitute. I think prostitution is
illegal here in the US, isn't it?

Mr. DAVIES: Most places.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, it's not in Germany. It's not in--I don't know,
it's probably more part of our culture. I think it was less so in the East,
but the Stasi actually had their own brothels. They also had prostitutes in
their service who would be used to compromise Westerners whom they would then
use as informers. So, actually, prostitution and Stasi had a lot of things in
common. But anyhow, he orders this prostitute thinking that somehow she will
give him what he's looking for. He's feeling these human urges in himself,
but of course, you know, after that he just feels lonelier than he ever has
felt before.

Mr. DAVIES: And he begs her to stay a few minutes. She's on to another
client.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DAVIES: Right. Right.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah.

Mr. DAVIES: I know that...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: She's a person, she's a person who works as much on
schedule as, up to that point, he's worked on schedule.

Mr. DAVIES: I know that you spent a lot of time researching the book,
talking to to ex-Stasi agents and victims of their surveillance. I mean, this
film is fictional, but was there a kind of moment, an experience, a story that
sort of crystalized this, you know, this kind of surveillance, this story that
you think really informed the film?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Mm-hmm. I remember when I spoke to the Stasi
officers, I always had to find a special technique to ask them without having
them feel my judgment. Sometimes I actually felt a little hypocritical doing
that, but, at the same time, I knew that I would have the last word because
I'd make that film and that would be my answer. So I didn't have to show any
moral outrage at the things they told me because the film hopefully would show
that. And I remember that, for example, when I had to find out about these
odor samples. The Stasi actually took these odor samples so dogs would be
able to identify who had been in contact with what and then maybe even be able
to find the dissidents. I had to find out how that worked and how people
dealt with that and whether it was something completely normal for them. So,
of course, if I had now asked this person, the Stasi officer, `These odor
samples, did you really take them? Did you really do that?' I think the
conversation would have been over pretty soon so I asked him instead, `You
know, these odor samples, did they really work?' and that got him going. He
said, `Yes, yes, absolutely. Those worked incredibly well.'

Mr. DAVIES: Now, now, you know, I want to clarify for the audience who
hasn't seen the film...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah.

Mr. DAVIES: ...how did they actually collect an odor sample of someone who
is being questioned?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: There were two methods of collecting odor samples.
The one was, if they didn't want you to notice, there was a so-called
conspiratorial odor sample, which was a cloth that looked like the cushion of
a seat that you sat on while you were interrogated, and you would actually,
you would sweat, of course, while you were interrogated, and then they would
be collected with gloves and put into a jar and locked airtight so the odor
would be kept. Another method, if they didn't have to keep it secret that
they were keeping that odor sample, was that they would actually force you to
take the cloth and wipe it between your legs and put it into the jar yourself.
That was the more common method. And I asked him, `Did this actually work?'
And he said, `Yeah, it worked incredibly well. The dogs could always
identify--oh no, actually--' and then he said, `I remember this one incident
it didn't work. There was a girl that we were interrogating, and she had her
period and there was just one drop of blood on that cloth and the dogs were
completely confused when I handed it to them. Ha ha ha.' And he just suddenly
started laughing, and then he said, `Well, you know, that's really weird, I
hadn't thought of that for like 20 years almost. No, so you're right. It
didn't always work. You have to be careful of getting blood on there.' And I
just thought it was this really weird situation. I was sitting there in this
guy's apartment, you know, a civilized apartment close to Ochsenhausen. His
wife was serving me tea. She, of course, had also been a Stasi worker because
they were only allowed to marry amongst each other from a certain level
onwards, and, you know, on the wall there were framed pictures of the
grandchildren and that really made me think of that saying about the "banality
of evil." You know, it's one of those things--and it also shows you how close
barbarism and civilization really are next to each other even in our
countries.

Mr. DAVIES: I'm wondering what you did to capture the look, sound and feel
of East Germany in 1984, how you approached that?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: That's a good question because it--the question
already implies something which I think is very true, that the Eastern bloc
did look and feel different. I think it had a lot to do with the colors.
These somehow desaturated, washed-out colors that the East had, there was
something very unique about that. I even once spoke to a chemist who
explained to me that there were certain patents that the East did not have,
and, therefore, they couldn't make those bright, neon colors that the West
had. But I didn't simply want to do it by washing out the colors or doing
some lab trick. So I tried to analyze which colors were the most shockingly
Western, and I actually found that it was red and blue. Those colors really
throw you and seem very loud and extreme. And so I said--so looking at the
pictures and films of Eastern Germany, I really saw that there wasn't so much
blue. There was a little less blue. There was a little less red. And I went
one step further and said, `OK, well, look, let's eliminate blue and red
altogether.' And that's what I did. There's no blue object, no red object in
the entire film, and I think it gives you that special feel. When we toured
through the East for that film, people said, `Wow, this is exactly what it w
as like,' and I think it's one of those cases where, again, fiction is somehow
truer than fact. It doesn't look exactly like it looked but it looks like we
remember it, you know...

Mr. DAVIES: Right.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: ...because things are made more intense in our memory.

Mr. DAVIES: And what about sound and music?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: We used a lot of the authentic Eastern music from that
time. It was a strange musical trip that I took listening to the music that
was made behind the Iron Curtain where people didn't have access to the kind
of Western music that shaped music all over the place besides the Eastern
bloc. And for the film music, I managed to get my very favorite composer, ,
Gabriel Yared, who also wrote the music for "The English Patient" and for "The
Talented Mr. Ripley." I managed to convince him to write the music, and he
wrote, I think, a score which really has such a strong message in it. When he
wrote, for example, "The Sonata for a Good Man," I said to him, "Look, imagine
you can travel back to the year 1933 and get to spend one and a half minutes
with Hitler before he's committed his atrocities, and you somehow--you were
not allowed to talk to him. You weren't allowed to shoot him. You can just
spend one and a half minutes playing him a composition of yours on the piano.
What are you going to play? And so he wrote this beautiful sonata which plays
a very central part in the film, and I think, somehow, it does contain that
message.

GROSS: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, speaking with Dave Davies. Von
Donnersmarck directed the new film "The Lives of Others." It opens in New York
and LA this Friday and will be followed by a national release. We'll hear
more of the interview in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

(Announcements)

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

We're talking about the new German film "The Lives of Others," which is
nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It's set in East
Germany in the '80s and early '90s, when the Stasi, the secret police,
pressured informants to spy on friends, family and neighbors. The story
follows a Stasi captain and two famous artists he spies on. Let's get back to
Dave Davies interview with the film's director Florian Henckel von
Donnersmarck.

DAVIES: You know, I know a lot of German films in recent years have
re-examined the Nazi experience from several different perspectives. And I
gather this subject, I mean the oppression and surveillance under the Germany
Democratic Republic, East Germany and the Stasi, really has not been covered
by filmmakers so much. And I wonder why you think that is?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Well, I think you always need some distance from the
things you are describing. And it's only been--what is it?--17 years now
since fall of the wall. That's quite recent, the whole thing. I mean, think
of how long it took for truly objective films about that time to be made in
Germany. I mean, I don't know if we're making them now, but I do not think
that a film like "The Downfall" would have been possible any earlier
than--what is it?--60 years after 1945.

DAVIES: It was the film about Hitler in the bunker.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, that is right. It is that film. It still
caused quite an outrage in Germany, but I don't think that it would have been
possible to make a film like that...

DAVIES: Well, you know, it's interesting because, I mean, I know that the
East German experience, the German Democratic Republic, has not been ignored
in German media, and I gather that there is something of a nostalgia in a lot
of television shows about it.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: That's true.

DAVIES: What is that people miss about communist rule?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, you see, I think the people are actually a
little bit confused, because I don't think they're missing communism. What
they're missing is the fact--is their own youth, in a way. You know,
they--but it's so hard to tell those two things apart because, while there was
communism, they were young, so they think they're wanting communism back, when
actually they want their youth back. I think that's a large part of it.

Another thing is, of course, there was a kind of social stability and
security, or at least people perceived it to be that way. Wolf Biermann the
East German poet, he once said there's something incredibly attractive about
the security and the stability of the life of a slave and even going so far as
to calling people their slaves. And I completely understand what he means.
You know, it was also the fact that the GDR was living wealth beyond its own
means. You know, the country, when West Germany took over or when the country
was unified, was completely bankrupt.

DAVIES: I'm interested in the reaction you've gotten to the film and whether
the reaction has differed in East Germany--the former East Germany and the
former West Germany.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: I think in the East the reaction was perhaps more
directly emotional. In the West the people saw it more as an informative
thriller and drama, with political content. In the East, people were, I
think, moved on a deeper level. Very often, after the screenings, Urlich Muhe
and I toured through the East for about two weeks before the...

DAVIES: He was one of the lead actors, yeah. Mm-hmm.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, Urlich Muhe, yeah, he's the actor who plays the
Stasi agent. We toured through the East for two weeks when the film was
released, and people would stay in there for hours afterwards still sobbing
and telling us how it reminded them of the things that they'd lived through.
And very often they told us their own personal stories, and very often they
would add at the end of their stories, `This was the first time that we've
told these stories to anybody.' People have not really been wanting to think
about the things that they suffered over the past 20 years. Often people
would also come up to me and justify themselves for the things that they did.
I say, `Look, you don't have to justify yourself to me. I can't give you
absolution. I'm not a priest. But I'm glad the whole thing made you think.'

DAVIES: You know, this is your first feature film. Right?

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, that's right.

DAVIES: And it is a huge hit. It's won many, many awards and is nominated
for many others. And so you're not at, I guess, age 34. Right? I really...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Very close, 33 still.

DAVIES: OK, so you're now, at age 33, a really hot director. I'm wondering
what you're thinking of next and whether directing in Hollywood appeals to
you.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Yeah, Hollywood is appealing, of course, but I think
that more important than the place where I work or where the financiers are is
the topic, and I think it's very important to find something that you feel so
passionate about. I have an entire filing cabinet full of ideas. When this
film--when I'm done with, you know, all the festivals and interesting events
surrounding this film, and I've set for myself--this is an arbitrary date--the
second of May, 2007, which is going to be my 34th birthday, I say after that I
will never say the words Stasi again. But after that I'll try and look
through all those things in real peace and quiet and try and see which of
those topics really thrills me most, which do I think is most relevant to our
times, most interesting. And then I'll start researching that. But, you
know, it'll probably take many, many more years.

I don't really understand how directors can make a film every year. Well,
maybe they can if they don't write it for themselves. But, you know, there
are even writer-directors who just work so fast. I'm not like that. I have
to research something for quite a long time before I feel that I have the
essence of it and before I can write confidently and feel that I'm saying
something that deserves to be listened to.

DAVIES: Well, we'll wait patiently. Florian...

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Thanks.

DAVIES: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, thanks so much for spending some
time with us.

Mr. von DONNERSMARCK: Thank you very much, Dave.

GROSS: Von Donnersmarck spoke with Dave Davies. Von Donnersmarck directed
the new film "The Lives of Others." It opens in New York and LA this Friday
and will later open nationally. Coming up, we listen back to an interview
with Frankie Laine. He died yesterday at the age of 93. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

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Interview: Entertainment Weekly's Ken Tucker describes Lily
Allen's "Alright Still" album
TERRY GROSS, host:

Lily Allen is a 21-year-old British singer who spent the last year storming up
the record charts in Europe with songs from her debut album called "Alright
Still." That album was released here last week, but her popular Web site had
already received six million hits. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review.

(Soundbite of "LDN")

Ms. LILY ALLEN: (Singing)
Riding through the city on my bike all day
'Cause the filth took away my licence
It doesn't get me down and I feel OK
'Cause the sights that I'm seeing are priceless

Everything seems to look as it should
But I wonder what goes on behind doors
A fella looking dapper, but he's sittin with a slapper
Then I see it's a pimp and his crack whore

You might laugh, you might frown
Walkin' round London town

Sun is in the sky, oh why, oh why?

(End of soundbite)

Mr. KEN TUCKER: That's Lily Allen singing in a deceptively chirpy tone about
urban misfortune. Riding her bike around London, she witnesses a mugging and
a pimp punishing a prostitute, yet the music maintains a perky ska reggae
rhythm, a horn section bleats jauntily, Lily croons charmingly.

This is Allen's basic strategy, remaining plucky and upbeat despite being
surrounded by annoyances or worse.

(Soundbite of "Knock 'Em Out")

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing)
Alright so this is a song about anyone, it could be anyone,
You're just doin' your own thing and someone comes outta the blue,
They're like `Alright what ya sayin?' Yeah, can I take your digits?'
And you're like `No. Not in a million years. You're nasty, please leave me
alone.'

Cut to the pub on our last night out
Man at the bar says it was his shout.
Clocks his bird and she looked OK
She caught him lookin' and walked his way

`Alright, darlin', are you gonna buy us a drink then?'

Unidentified Man: (Singing)
`Er, no, but I was thinkin' of buyin' one for your friend.'

Ms. ALLEN:
She's got no taste, hand on his waist, tries to pull away put her lips
on his face
`If you insist I'll have a white wine spritza.'

Man: (Singing)
`Sorry, love, but you ain't a pretty picture.'

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing)
You can't knock `em out, you can't walk away,
Try desperately to think of the politest way to say

Unidentified Woman #1: (Singing)
Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing)
`Just get out my face, just leave me alone and no you can't have my number,

Woman #1: Why?

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) 'cause I lost my phone.'

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: You can hear what I mean there about Lily Allen's spunkiness in
the midst of boorish behavior. The poor girl can't even go out with her mates
to a pub without being harassed. What comes across with glowing heat and the
occasional pungent obscenity is that our Lily knows how to give as good as she
gets. Listen to this amusing litany of a guy's flaws and her threats to his
persistence.

(Soundbite of "Shame For You")

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing)
Please don't come around and knock on my door
'Cause I don't want to have to pick you up off the floor
When you ask if we can still be lovers,
I'll have to introduce my brothers
I think that they could teach you a lesson or two,
By the time they've finished you'll be black and blue
You'll be crying like a baby,
A sea of tears they'll call the navy in

Don't take me on, no, no
Don't take me on, no, no
Don't take me on
Shattered the lie but you think I don't already know
Don't try to deny 'cause my fuse is ready to blow
It's your turn to learn, I think that you know where to go
It's a shame, shame, shame for you

(End of soundbite)

Mr. TUCKER: This 21-year-old tough cookie has become the toast of London,
and for months before her album's official American release, you could
download songs from "Alright Still" from her MySpace.com page and read her
feisty blog postings. This is one new model for becoming a pop star. And
overseas, Allen's openness has made this song, "Smile," a number one hit.

(Soundbite of "Smile")

Ms. ALLEN: (Singing) When you first left me I was wanting more
But you were...(censored by network)...that girl next door
What you do that for?
When you first left me I didn't know what to say
I never been on my own that way
Just sat by myself all day

I was so lost back then
But with a little help from my friends
I found the light in the tunnel at the end
Now you're calling me up on the phone
So you can have a little whine and a moan
It's only because you're feeling alone

At first when I see you cry it makes me smile, yeah it makes me smile

At worst I feel bad for a while but then I just smile, I go ahead and smile
Whenever you see me...

(End of soundbite

Mr. TUCKER: Lily Allen's influences include not just ska and reggae and
Spice Girl flavored pop, but also New Orlean's second line rhythm and Phil
Spector girl group gothic grandeur. She presents a cheerful, even vehement
positivism that gives her demands for respect, her contempt for authority a
wallop.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Alright Still" by Lily Allen.

(Credit)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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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