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Other segments from the episode on March 26, 2004

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 26, 2004: Interview with Paul Feig; Interview with Judd Apatow; Interview with George Pelecanos; Review of the film "Dogville."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Paul Feig discusses his TV series, "Freaks and Geeks"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

After 35,000 fans of the short-lived NBC series "Freaks and Geeks" signed an
Internet petition begging for the show's DVD release, the re-issue of that
cult series was put on the front burner. On April 6th, the complete "Freaks
and Geeks" collection will be released, including six episodes never broadcast
by NBC during its one-season run in 1999-2000. It's a quirky, funny, cleverly
detailed remembrance of the various factions and traumas of high school. What
"The Wonder Years" was to high school in the '60s, "Freaks and Geeks" was to
the start of the 1980s. Set in Michigan, the show starred John Daley as a
self-aware 14-year-old geek named Sam and Linda Cardellini, now of NBC's "ER,"
as his slightly older sister, Lindsay. Joe Flaherty played their
not-always-helpful father. Here they are having dinner and a typically
uncomfortable conversation, this time about Sam's concerns that he'll have to
shower with the rest of the boys after gym class.

(Soundbite of "Freaks and Geeks")

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: (As Sam Weir) I don't want to get naked in front of other

Mr. JOE FLAHERTY (As Harold Weir): Well, who does? Do you know how many men
have seen me naked in my lifetime? A lot. Do you think I'm comfortable with
it? No, but I live with it.

DALEY: I just don't want them to tease me.

Ms. BECKY ANN BACKER (As Jean Weir): Oh, who would tease you?

Mr. FLAHERTY: All right, look, here's what you do. You tell them you're
proud of your body. That'll show them.

Ms. BAKER: Sam, you have a beautiful body, doesn't he, Harold?

Mr. FLAHERTY: Yes, I just said he had a beautiful body.

Ms. BAKER: Those other boys are probably just jealous. Lindsay, tell your
brother what a beautiful body he has.

LINDA CARDELLINI: (As Lindsay Weir) Mom.


Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay.


Mr. FLAHERTY: Your mother asked you to tell your brother that he has a
beautiful body.

CARDELLINI: That is so stupid.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay, tell him.

CARDELLINI: It's not going to help him.

Ms. BAKER: Lindsay, just say the words. It'll make him feel better.

CARDELLINI: Sam, you have a beautiful body. You're an Adonis, a slab of
beef. If I wasn't your sister, oh, my God.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay, can it.

BIANCULLI: On today's FRESH AIR, we'll meet the team responsible for "Freaks
and Geeks," producer-writer Judd Apatow, who we'll meet in a few minutes, and
our first guest, "Freaks and Geeks" creator Paul Feig. In addition to
creating "Freaks and Geeks," Feig also worked on and directed some episodes of
another short-lived coming-of-age comedy, Judd Apatow's Fox series
"Undeclared." That one was about a young man reinventing himself, or trying
to, as a college freshman. Fans of both those shows may suspect that Feig was
kind of nerdy himself when he was growing up, and his memoir, called "Kick Me:
Adventures in Adolescence," confirms those suspicions. Terry spoke with Feig
in 2002, and began by asking him to read from the beginning of his memoir.

Mr. PAUL FEIG (Author, "Kick Me"): `There is no God. I mean, there can't
be. Think about it. If there were, then things in life would have to be
fair. There would be no suffering. There would be no war. There would be no
poverty, and none of us would be born with last names that could make us the
brunt of adolescent jokes for the entirety of our school careers. In a truly
just universe, no child's last name would be Cox(ph), Butz(ph) or Siemen(ph).
No teen-ager would come from a family named the Hardins(ph) or the Balls. A
young Richard Shaft(ph) wouldn't have to come home from school crying each
day. An underendowed Lisa Titwell(ph) wouldn't beg her parents to let her
finish her education at an all-girls school. And an adolescent Paul Feig
wouldn't have had to endure hearing the letters E and I consistently taken out
of his last name and replaced with the letter A. But alas, I did.'


That's Paul Feig reading the opening of his new memoir, "Kick Me."

Now as you point out just a little further down into your book, that, you
know, a lot of kids didn't even know what the word `fag' meant, so even though
you were being called Paul Fag, a lot of kids had no clue what that was
supposed to mean. I know when I was growing up, people used the words fag,
fruit, fairy, and it always meant that a boy was a little effeminate. Beyond
that, if it had any meaning, I don't think we knew about it.

Mr. FEIG: No, I don't think they really did. I always think it must be
something they heard from their fathers or from their older brothers, and it
sounded like an insult, and people reacted like it was an insult, and so it
just got hurled around. In my neighborhood, insults were used so oddly. For
some reason, my father bought me this backpack for my books when I was in,
like, second grade, and I would ride my bike to school, and there was these
mean kids who, when I would ride by with that backpack, they would call me the
N-word for some reason. It didn't even make sense, because I knew what that
word meant, and it was like, `Because I have a backpack?' And then if you wore
white socks you were a Polack. So there was some sort of school logic that
nobody gave me the handbook on to figure out, so I...

GROSS: So what did you do, the whole `Sticks and stones' thing, or would you,
like, insult the person back?

Mr. FEIG: No, I was never tough enough to insult them back. I would either
try to make a joke and get them to laugh, and if that didn't work I would just
hightail it out of there, basically, to my nerdier friends who were in the
same boat, and we would just do dialogue from Warner Bros. cartoons and be
glad that we had no athletic ability and no desire to beat up other kids, like
everyone around me seemed to have.

GROSS: Now your memoir of adolescence really got me thinking about some
things that I haven't thought about in a while, like you say you'd always
liked girls ever since you were five. What does it mean to have a crush on a
girl when you're five or six, when you're in first or second grade?

Mr. FEIG: It's odd, because you don't get the support of your peer group. I
thought it was normal, because I was just attracted to girls, and I would, you
know, sort of tell that to one of my friends and they'd give me this strange
look like, `Eww, you like her? Why do you like her?' And then the word
`cooties' would generally come into play, which I don't know where the whole
concept of cooties came from, but if somebody could have patented it, they
would have made millions of dollars off of it.

But you really felt alone in a weird way, because if you wanted to hang out
with girls, it was looked at that you were being a sissy or you were a girl or
something, and so they never really caught on to it. Of course then, in later
years, they surged past me very quickly, figured it out and then actually
figured what the next step was, as opposed to myself, who just became best
friend to every girl I knew and--the safe friend.

GROSS: When you created the characters for "Freaks and Geeks," what traits
from yourself did you give to the main characters?

Mr. FEIG: I actually think there's a bit of me in each character. What you
tend to do is--the way I like to work is kind of break up my personality a bit
and sprinkle it around in all these different characters.

GROSS: Well, let's look at the two main characters, the sister and the

Mr. FEIG: Yeah.

GROSS: Why don't you describe each of them and tell us which of those traits
came directly from your life, or from people that you knew.

Mr. FEIG: Well, to be honest, I always describe it as Sam Weir was me back
then, and Lindsay Weir is me today. Because I always feel--and people will
always back this up--that teen-age girls mature much quicker than teen-age
boys, to the point of, I feel, that teen-age girls are probably at about the
same emotional maturity level as guys in their 30s, because it takes us so
much longer to catch up to you guys.

But for Sam it was just this kid who really just is trying to get through the
day with his friends and the things he likes. And he's not athletic, and he
feels a bit intimidated by the tougher kids in school and the more popular
kids, but he has a crush on the most beautiful girl in the school, the head
cheerleader, which I did, too. I asked this girl to go to the homecoming
dance the day of the homecoming dance, thinking, for some reason, she would be
available and was completely relieved when she wasn't, but at least I gave it
a try.

And then for Lindsay it's just the character that questions things more. I
was really into just kind of not accepting things as they were, as a lot of
teen-agers are, but I always found that teen-age girls were a little less
likely to accept things as they were, at least the ones I knew back then. And
I just love the idea of an adolescent questioning things, questioning
everything; questioning their religion, questioning what they're being taught,
questioning popularity. And so for her to go over and hang with the freaks,
or the burnouts, was something that I was doing back then, just because I
found them to be more honest and more real.

GROSS: Were there any pressures on you when you were doing "Freaks and Geeks"
to smooth out the rough edges of any of the characters?

Mr. FEIG: Oh, yeah. The head of the network at that time, I remember, had a
lunch with Judd Apatow, the exec producer, and basically said, `Can't these
kids ever win? Can't they ever have a victory?' Like it drove him crazy that
we had one episode where Sam Weir finally goes on a date with the head
cheerleader, and when they're at the restaurant, the head football player
walks in and she basically confides in Sam that she's in love with him and
ends up by saying, `I love talking to you. You're just like my sister.' And
it just drove him crazy. He was like, `He's on a date with a cheerleader, and
she talks about another guy. Can't he have a successful victory?' And it's
like, no, he can't, because A, then what's the series, and B, that's not how
life works out. You know, if I went out with the cheerleader, head
cheerleader, and she said she loved me, well, then my whole life would have
been different, and it wouldn't have occurred, because those kind of things,
in my world, never occurred.

BIANCULLI: Paul Feig, speaking with Terry Gross in 2002. He's the creator of
"Freaks and Geeks," the cult TV series that will be released on DVD on April

Coming up, "Freaks and Geeks" writer-producer Judd Apatow. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Judd Apatow talks about "Freaks and Geeks"

Judd Apatow's TV credits read like one ahead-of-its-time show after another.
He was the creator and executive producer of "Undeclared," and one of the
writers and producers on "Freaks and Geeks." Before those series, he also was
the co-creator and executive producer of "The Ben Stiller Show," and wrote for
"The Larry Sanders Show." Terry spoke with Judd Apatow in 2001, and asked him
if he'd learned anything from his "Freaks and Geeks" experience.

Mr. JUDD APATOW (Producer-Writer, "Freaks and Geeks"): One of the nice
articles when "Freaks and Geeks" was canceled was written by Robert Lloyd in
the LA Weekly, and it was basically a letter to Paul Feig and I, saying,
`Please don't think you made any mistakes, and do not learn anything from this
situation; make no adjustments in your future,' and I've tried to listen to

That was a very unique situation, because at the time Paul Feig thought of
that idea, his main concept was, `People are sick of all of these shows about
handsome kids and their problems being written in the manner of a 45-year-old
man.' And so we thought, `Well, this could be an anecdote to all of those
shows, because it will be funny and it will be more truthful to what actually
happens when you're a kid.' And we thought it would go through the roof. You
know, we were up against "Cops" on Saturday night, how can we not win? And
one of the lessons we learned was America loves "Cops." That was the first
lesson. Then they moved us to Tuesday, and we learned America loves "That 70s

But we knew we were going to get canceled very early in our production season.
And the only thing that was preventing us from being canceled immediately was
this enormous mountain of press begging them not to cancel us. So we shot a
final episode in the middle of the season, because we knew any day we could
get the call. So we shot it early, and we had it in the can, and so if they
cancel us today, we've already shot some sort of conclusion to this story.
And as a result of the fact that we knew we would probably go down, we didn't
really take any notes from the network or make any adjustments, and we really
followed our hearts about where the show should go, and it became more of our
personal art project.

I used to say to Paul all the time, `This show is being made right now for its
cable run and for showings in the Museum of Broadcasting. It's not really
being made for NBC,' and that turned out to be true. And a year later, they
ran it on the Fox Family Channel and they ran it every week in order, and the
ratings were very, very high; whereas on NBC, we were only on 12 out of 26
weeks. So there was really no way for the audience to find the show and get
into a rhythm with our story line. That doesn't mean it would have been a
hit, because it still might not have been, but we didn't really get a shot to
find an audience for a unique show.


You did a comedy show on your high school radio station, and from what I've
read, it sounds like you interviewed a lot of comics for the show, name comics
like Steve Allen and Jay Leno, maybe before Jay Leno was famous, but still,
what was it like trying to get professionals to be interviewed by you, a high
school kid, for your high school radio show? It wasn't exactly going to sell
a lot of tickets to their gigs or, you know, get them a lot of national

Mr. APATOW: They did the interviews because I was calling publicists from
New York. And I would say I worked for WKWZ Radio, and I would never say it
was a high school station. And I would trick them into giving me a half an
hour with their client, and then I would show up with a tape recorder that was
from the A/V department and was like, an enormous boom box and at, you know,
Jerry Seinfeld's apartment or whatever. And it was basically an excuse for me
to meet people that I looked up to and have 45 minutes to say, `How do you do
it?' It was just my instruction manual. I didn't air most of the interviews.
I just kept them for myself.

But it was an amazing time, and I was so driven to do this. I think it was
because my parents had gotten divorced, and it was a time of a lot of drama in
my family, and I had to find something to distract myself, and also a way to
survive in this world because I lost a sense of safety. So I decided to
interview these people I liked and become a comedian using this information.
So I interviewed Seinfeld and Harry Anderson. I interviewed most of the
writers from "Saturday Night Live," like Franken and Davis and Michael
O'Donoghue and James Downey. I interviewed Guido Sarducci and John Candy,
Harry Shearer. And I did get an enormous amount of information that was very
helpful. And most of them were nice, and it only made me want to do what I
thought I wanted to do more.

GROSS: How old were you when you started doing stand-up?

Mr. APATOW: I was 17. I started during my senior year of high school on
Long Island at the East Side Comedy Club.

GROSS: What kind of jokes were you doing?

Mr. APATOW: I remember I used to say to the audience, `I don't know how to
handle hecklers, so I'd like to practice. So if anyone would like to heckle
me, please do it now.' And then the entire audience would start screaming and
cursing at me. And then I would say, `Yeah. See? I got nothing.' And I
would do jokes like that. I had a lot of jokes about how bad I was. I would
finish my act by saying, `You know, Jerry Lewis said you don't learn how to be
funny by getting laughs. You only learn how to be funny by not getting
laughs, and I have received a college education tonight.'

GROSS: How did you start writing for other comics?

Mr. APATOW: I was known as someone who had a good act, but I don't think I
was a very good performer, so people would just say, `You want to write jokes
for me?' And I was looking for some other income. So I started selling jokes
to a ventriloquist here, you know, people that are nothing like me, as a way
to make some extra money. And then at some point, Garry Shandling signed on
to do the Grammys, and someone recommended to him that I could write music
jokes. So he called me while I was on the road at the Dallas Improv and said,
`Do you want to write jokes?' And I said yes, and then I stayed up till 4 in
the morning writing jokes and sent him like 12 pages of jokes, like 100 jokes,
the next day. And he liked a lot of them, and we became friends and he used
me for the Grammys a few more times and eventually hired me to work for "The
Larry Sanders Show."

But that's the kind of thing I would do when I was starting out. If someone
needed jokes, I would write 100 jokes. I would always do way more than was
necessary as a way to prove that I could do it. And I always try to inspire
the writers on my show with stories like that because it is what it takes to
succeed in a business where a lot of people are trying to get in.

GROSS: You've had to direct, particularly in "Freaks and Geeks," actors who
are very young and don't have a lot of experience. What are some of the
things you learned about how to work with young, inexperienced actors who are
very talented, but it's not like they've done this a lot before?

Mr. APATOW: When it comes to young actors, it really just depends on the
person. The kids on "Freaks and Geeks" were very prepared when they came to
work every day. They had an enormous amount of ideas. And they were very
comfortable in their own skin and with their parts. So they didn't have to
reach too deep to get where they had to go within a scene. And if I gave them
space and let something naturally happen between the young people--I sound
like Jerry Lewis now--then hopefully something magical would happen. And how
I tend to do that is to shoot two cameras all the time, allow the kids to go
off page if they feel like it and try to capture a real moment.

GROSS: Can you give us an example of that?

Mr. APATOW: When we shot the pilot, for example, Jay Baruchel had to kiss
this girl he has a crush on. So instead of choreographing a make-out scene, I
just said, `OK, we're gonna put two cameras on you, and make out.' And they
were very awkward, uncomfortable, which they needed to be for the show, and
she starts unbuttoning his shirt. And Jay got very nervous and he didn't know
what to do, so he started undoing the strap on her shoe, and it's really sweet
and funny, and it's exactly what Jay would do in life. And it's my favorite
moment on the show. It's just a little choice, but it's something that I
never would have thought of.

GROSS: Does it make you feel really good and maybe even a little victorious
to see the kid who really thinks of himself as a geek and is really kind of
awkward and not handsome by, you know, model standards, kissing the girl? And
he really likes this girl a lot and she likes him, and she's smart and
attractive. Does that make you feel good?

Mr. APATOW: On the show? I mean, for me...

GROSS: I mean, to see that and to have created it, you know, as opposed to
like two fashion models kissing each other?

Mr. APATOW: I guess, you know, the point of it all for me is that I always
felt like this geeky kid in high school who would one day have his day. And I
always thought, `This isn't my time. One day I'll have my time. One day
people will appreciate my interests and what I'm really about.' It doesn't
matter that I'm bad at sports, because when you're 30, no one cares if you're
good at softball, and now I have done well. I'm proud of the work I've done.
I married a beautiful woman and had a beautiful child. And I like letting
that kid get the girl, because he deserves the girl. It doesn't mean it's not
going to be an enormous struggle. And occasionally, as a child, I did get the
girl, but I'm proud to let the geeks win every once in a while.

BIANCULLI: Writer-producer Judd Apatow, speaking with Terry Gross in 2001.
"Freaks and Geeks," the short-lived TV show on which he collaborated with
series creator Paul Feig, will be released on DVD April 6th.

I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: George Pelecanos discusses his life and career

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

George Pelecanos is a crime novelist with a growing cult following. The New
York Times critic Janet Maslin called him `one of today's most stellar writers
of hard-boiled crime fiction.' One of the things that sets Pelecanos apart
from other mystery writers is that his characters are tough guys steeped in
pop culture. His private eyes have worked in stereo and record stores and see
the world through music, movies and TV shows.

Pelecanos grew up in Washington, DC, and his novels are set there. His latest
novel, "Hard Revolution," takes place in the 1960s, during the civil rights
era before and after Martin Luther King was assassinated. It brings back
Derek Strange, the black ex-cop who has been the main character in the last
few books by Pelecanos. The latest book explores an earlier chapter in
Strange's life, where he was starting out as a rookie cop in DC.

George Pelecanos is also a writer and story editor for the HBO crime series
"The Wire," about Baltimore drug dealers and narcotic cops. And he was the US
distributor of the John Woo classic film "The Killer." Terry spoke with
Pelecanos in 1998, not long after he had published his novel "King Suckerman,"
which took its title from a blaxploitation film he had created for the novel.
She asked him what influence blaxploitation and black action films had on him
in the '70s.

Mr. GEORGE PELECANOS (Author, "Hard Revolution"): Oh, it was huge. I saw
"Shaft" at the Town Theater down on 13th and New York. My dad took me to it
when I was 13 years old and from then on I went to every movie I could. I'd
go into the inner city. I'd take a bus downtown or I'd go to the drive-ins
when we were old enough to drive, and it was my looking glass into another
world. I knew that it wasn't realistic and everybody was having fun, but it
was cool for me and also especially for black people to see a black
protagonist who wins for a change and who has an attitude, to boot.


Now your novel "King Suckerman" opens at a drive-in which is showing "Black

Mr. PELECANOS: That's right.

GROSS: ...which is one of the black action films of the '70s, and there's a
shooting at the drive-in that is timed to coincide with a shooting in the
movie, so that no one will hear the real gunshots because it'll be covered by
the gunshots on screen.

Mr. PELECANOS: That's right.

GROSS: What are some of the differences you would like to show between movie
violence and real violence in your books?

Mr. PELECANOS: Yeah, I think that's the whole inner section of "King
Suckerman," where they go to the movie theater to see this film that they've
been anticipating for weeks. All the characters, the bad and the good guys,
go down there, and what's on screen is a lot different than what they thought
they were going to see. What they actually see is what happens to a real pimp
and the guy ends up in jail dying of tertiary syphilis at the end of the
scene, and they're--when the lights go up, they're stunned. And what I was
trying to say is that--and, of course, as the book progresses from there on
in, the violence of the street, the real violence, intrudes upon their lives
in a very real way, so I was trying to show that it's not real there up on
screen, and every time somebody dies in one of my books, yes, it's very
graphic. It's graphic for a reason. I want to show people how horrible it
is. I want to shake them up, and I want to remind them that it's not a quip;
you know, those James Bond quips, `Bon appetit' when the guy falls in the
shark tank. Well, that's a real person that fell in that shark tank and I
want to show what it looks like because it's a very horrible thing.

GROSS: I think one of the ways you know about real violence is from an
experience you wish you never had, an accidental shooting when you were
younger. Would it be OK to talk about what happened?

Mr. PELECANOS: It was--there's actually nothing extraordinary about it. I
read these stories in the paper every week. It was--a gun was in the house.
I was 16 years old. I was screwing around with a friend and I shot my friend.
The only thing that I do want to say about that is--because I won't talk about
it because I don't--specifically don't want to exploit it, but I do want to
say that, to anybody that's listening, especially young people, this is not a
case of Pelecanos shot some dude. He's a hard-core guy or he's hard-boiled or
whatever. I was just a stupid kid and anybody can pull the trigger on a gun.
It doesn't take a tough guy. That's not me, you know. It was a very--you're
right, it forms everything that I write, I would say, and it changed the way I
look at things. I think that the guns have to come off the street. That's
why it is, in a way why everything is so real in my books. Everything is
informed by that one experience I had from then on.

GROSS: Did your friend survive?


GROSS: You're very anti-gun now. Did you father get rid of his gun after
your accidental shooting?

Mr. PELECANOS: Yes, he did.

GROSS: Where was your friend shot?

Mr. PELECANOS: I shot him in the face.

GROSS: You don't want people to think, `Oh, he's cool. He's tough. He shot
someone. He's a bad guy.'

Mr. PELECANOS: That's right.

GROSS: What impact did it have on your image? I mean, it didn't make you
feel tough, I imagine. What did it make you feel like when this happened?
How--did it--what effect did it have on you emotionally?

Mr. PELECANOS: It rocked my world. I mean, it was a horrible--first of all,
it was a horrible, horrible thing to see. I blew the whole side of this kid's
face off at point-blank range. And if you had just--if your whole experience
with guns had been through the movies and television images, you have no idea
what it looks like to do something like that, the amount of blood that was in
the house was splattered all over the walls. It was shooting out of his neck.
And my dad came home with the groceries in his arms and he walked--I'll never
forget, he walked into the foyer and he just dropped the bags right out of his
hands and tears came to his eyes, you know, so--but I wasn't smart enough to
totally clean up my act, I'll tell you that. I was still 16 years old so I
still, you know, did all the stupid things that kids do. I was out there, you
know, driving around with too much beer inside of me and all that and all the
stupid things that kids do. It took me a long time to wake up.

GROSS: I'd like you to read a scene from your first novel, "A Firing
Offense," and this is a kind of violent climax of the novel. I would imagine
it's the first scene like it that you wrote or at least the first violent
scene of yours that was published. Maybe you could read this for us and then
tell us a little more about what you think about when you write these violent

Mr. PELECANOS: (Reading) He began to raise his gun from his side. He must
have crouched down into a shooting position just as I squeezed the trigger.
The slug tore into him above his shirt collar, on the Adam's apple. A small
puff of white smoke and some fluid shot away from his neck as he was blown
back to the floor. Wayne squeezed a round off into the head of the South
Carolinian. His scalp lifted and his forehead came apart like an August
peach. Then Wayne moved his gun to the face of the man's startled partner and
shot him twice at close range. As he fell back, I saw nickel-size spots
steaming above the bridge of his nose. His mouth was moving as he went down
but he was dead before he hit the ground. Malone had shot the albino twice in
the chest. The tall man stumbled and, still standing, pumped off two loads in
succession from his shotgun. Malone screamed. In my side vision, I saw him
falling backwards in a V, still firing. The albino was tripping forward. I
emptied two more rounds into his long torso. The dreadlocked buyer was
spinning slowly from the rapid fire of Wayne's automatic. The second buyer
raised his gun in my direction. I screamed Tony's name. I saw fire spitting
down from above. I covered my face with my arms. There was the sound of
ripping cardboard, splintering wood and concrete ricochet. Glass exploded
around me and I went to my knees.

GROSS: Is there anything in this scene that came directly from memories that
you couldn't get out of your mind?

Mr. PELECANOS: I think you only have to see it once to remember it always,
and people like emergency room technicians, I'm sure, are haunted by this
their entire lives. And I would say that it's never going to leave my
subconscious and it finds its way into these scenes consistently. It was
pointed to me that a lot of the people that get shot in my books get shot in
the face, and I didn't realize I was doing it, to tell you the truth. But,
yeah, it's there.

GROSS: Where do you have to go, both emotionally and technically as a writer,
in order to write these scenes and write them well?

Mr. PELECANOS: Technically I go up into a little office in the loft of my
bungalow at home, and my sons sleep up there. And I have three children and
there's a lot of noise around the house and confusion. I've actually--for
some reason it helps me. I've been able to write several books like that.
But when I'm sitting in that room and I'm looking into that computer terminal,
it's like being in a tunnel. You know, there's nothing going on around me.
It's just me connected to that and playing out all these scenes in my head.
And I can hear the characters speaking.

GROSS: Do you think that your writing of violent scenes has changed in the
years that you've been writing novels?

Mr. PELECANOS: I don't think so. I mean, in the "Sweet Forever," it ends in
an almost apocalyptic descent into hell. In the drug house where the two cops
walk into, the firelight is strobing into the room and the faces are
distorted. In fact, the head guy looks like a gargoyle, almost, in that
light. It's a frightening scene. It almost veers into the horror novel
genre, and I wanted to give it that nightmarish quality. I always do. The
one thing you'll never see in my books is anybody making any kind of humorous
reference to violence or death.

BIANCULLI: Crime novelist George Pelecanos speaking with Terry Gross in 1998.
His latest novel, "Hard Revolution," has just been published. We'll hear more
of their interview in a moment. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to our 1998 interview with novelist George
Pelecanos. His new novel is called "Hard Revolution."

GROSS: Now you used to work in an audio store selling stereo components and
other things. How did you get from there into becoming a writer? Now I know
you also tended bar. I'm not exactly sure what the sequence is. But was
there, you know, a straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, and got you
from that kind of 9-to-5 life into being a writer?

Mr. PELECANOS: Well, you have to go back to college. I was turned on...

GROSS: Let me correct myself. No bartender is probably a 9-to-5 guy but...

Mr. PELECANOS: That's right. I actually did a variety of things. I worked
in kitchens and bars and a lot of sales floors. I put myself through college
selling shoes on straight commission. I drove a truck for a while. But when
I got into college, I was turned on to the genre by a professor named Charles
Mish(ph) and I wasn't even a reader, really. I hadn't read a book since I was
a kid probably, except for the ones that were pushed on me in high school.
But I saw this guy standing up here, this very tough man that was--and very
smart man and literate, who was holding these books up lovingly and kind of
stalking the aisles and I just fell in love with the genre. So for a while I
was doing these jobs for the next 10 years, I was reading two or three books a
week; everything I could get my hands on.

And like everybody else in the '80s, I was promoted very quickly and by the
time I was 30 years old, I was running a $30 million retail company in
Washington and I hated it. And so I sat down with my wife--we didn't have
kids at the time--and I said, `Emily, look, I want to try this thing. I think
I can write a book.' And she bit down hard and she said, `Well, go ahead if
that's what you want to do,' so I tried it and literally I did not know what I
was doing. I'd never had a writing class. It was all based on books I had
read. I thought, `Well, maybe I can do this thing.' So I wrote the book in
longhand in some notebooks in the back of my house and I wrote it three times
like that and I sent it off to St. Martin's Press because I thought that
they did mysteries. They did a lot of mysteries it looked like and I sent it
to one publisher. I was very naive. I said, `I'm going to wait and see what
this guy says up there.' In the meantime, I started another book.

Well, it took them a year to get back to me. They picked it up off the slush
pile. The guy called me, Gordon Van Gelder, a young editor there, and he said
they wanted to buy the book. I was walking on air, man. You know, it was the
greatest day of my life except the day my first son was born. I was on my way

GROSS: Now when you were growing up, your father had a take-out shop, a
coffee shop in Washington, DC, and you worked in that for a while.


GROSS: Did that seem to you like a neat thing to have? Is it like a meeting
place for people?

Mr. PELECANOS: Definitely. It was right in the--it was next to The Palm
restaurant, which is a famous restaurant in Washington, and right in the
district of the law firms. And I started out working for my dad when I was 10
years old. I'd take the bus downtown, transfer to a cross-town bus and then I
delivered food out on the streets for him. I delivered to offices. And it
was the first time that I really started falling in love with the city and the
people in it, because I was out there all day long running around. And I was
very proud of my dad. My dad loved what he was doing. It's very important, I
think, for a man to enjoy what he does every day. And I got that from him,
and I also got his work ethic. I saw my father getting up at 4:30. Every
morning, I'd wake up and I'd hear him walking down the stairs and he'd get
home at 7 at night and, you know, the man worked a full day and he loved doing
what he was doing. I'm doing that now. I work two jobs to this day. I run a
film company during the day, a film production company, and I write at night.
So I'm putting in my 14 hours a day just like my dad did and digging it. You
know, I can't wait to get to both of my jobs. And I think you can't be any
more fortunate than that.

GROSS: In an earlier novel of yours, one of the novels about Nick Stefanos,
the private eye, he's investigating a teen-ager who's been killed. And he's
going through the teen-ager's drawers and everything is kind of neatly
arranged. There's just kind of clothes in there and there's actually no clues
to the true identity of who this person was. And Nick Stefanos, the private
eye, is thinking as a teen-ager, he always kept a shoe box in his dresser
filled with those things that were most important to him. I figure you
probably did that, too.


GROSS: And I'm wondering, if so, what you kept in your shoe box?

Mr. PELECANOS: I still have that shoe box. It's still in my dresser.

GROSS: Really?


GROSS: What do you have in it?

Mr. PELECANOS: Oh, God, I got a baseball; you know, the baseball I had when
I was a kid, the whole time. I've got a badge that--with my name in there and
address, where I grew up. It's like a policeman's badge. You know, it's a
fake. It's a toy. I've got all sorts of little things that my grandparents
had given me when they'd go on--you know, they took a boat to Greece and came
back and they gave me a pencil, a big pencil. It said Olympia on it, and
it's--I don't know why I keep that stuff. It kind of haunts you in a way, but
it's also a connection. I've actually got a review that I wrote of my first
book, which I wrote when I was seven years old or eight years old. It was
called "The Two Wars of Lieutenant Jeremy." And the book is gone now, of
course. It was a war novel, you know, based on my experiences in World War
II. But I still have the reviews, which I wrote myself. That's--you know,
`This kid can really write,' Time magazine. I'm not kidding.

GROSS: So in some ways, although you had no clue that you wanted to write or
that you could be a writer until you started writing after holding all these
other jobs, you did have a clue.

Mr. PELECANOS: Yeah. You know, there was a seed of that. You know, the
whole thing with me was, about writing, is I never felt that it was something
that, you know, Greek boys from Washington, DC, did. You know, I thought it
was always WASPy guys with suede patches on their elbows and smoking a pipe,
that kind of thing. I just didn't think it was, you know, something that I
could do or that I was allowed to do. And then I said, `Well, why not write
about my life,' you know. It hadn't been done before. I mean, all the
Washington books are about something else. So I explored those people's lives
and I was there, you know, and I think that's my niche.

GROSS: George Pelecanos, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. PELECANOS: Thank you, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Crime novelist George Pelecanos speaking with Terry Gross in 1998.
His latest novel, "Hard Revolution," has just been published. He's also
produced a compilation CD of some of the soul music that the characters in his
books would be listening to. From that compilation, this is Wilson Pickett.

(Soundbite of "Don't Fight It")

Mr. WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) There you sit all by yourself. Everybody
dancing. They can't help themselves. The groove is much too strong; they
can't hold out long. So get up, don't fight it, you've got to feel it.

Unidentified Singers: Feel it, feel it.

Mr. PICKETT: (Singing) You better get on up and get that groove. You know
what, baby? I like the way you move. You do the thing like you ought to be,
all right. So don't fight it, oh, baby, yeah, baby.

Unidentified Singers: Feel it, feel it.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, "Dogville." We'll have a review of the new film. This

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Movie "Dogville"

The Danish director Lars Von Trier is best known for "Breaking the Waves" and
"Dancing in the Dark," films he made with the collective Dogme '95, where the
filmmakers took a vow of poverty to work under relatively primitive conditions
but with great cinematic resourcefulness. His new film, "Dogville," features
a large ensemble headed by Nicole Kidman as a young woman hiding out in a
remote and impoverished American town.


The Lars Von Trier movie "Dogville" is a stark parable of American
exploitation. It's set in the '30s in an isolated hamlet in the Rocky
Mountains, although it wasn't filmed there because Von Trier's critiques of
America are unbruised by any firsthand knowledge of the place. This critique,
all three hours of it, was shot in a black box set that looks like a giant
Monopoly game board. The actors are the pawns. They mime doors, walls and
farm implements and they're vaguely reminiscent of characters in "Our Town"
and other pieces of homespun Americana; at least until their sadism rears its

After the English narrator John Hurt introduces the denizens of Dogville in a
voice dripping with sarcasm, a beautiful woman named Grace, played by Nicole
Kidman, stumbles into town in the wake of distant gunshots. Grace is fleeing
from gangsters and her peril moves the fair-haired Thomas Edison Jr.--not the
one responsible for the microphone I'm talking into but a figure meant to
evoke American ingenuity. He's played by Paul Bettany as a wide-eyed moralist
who refuses to turn Grace over to her pursuers, even when there's money to be

It helps that she's a babe. Young Thomas can entertain thoughts of bedding
Grace at the same time he pats himself on the back for his nobility. He
prevails upon the people to accept Grace despite the risk, which makes them
feel good about their nobility.

Although Grace has never done manual labor, she offers to work for her keep,
but the townspeople, they're proudly self-sufficient and can't imagine what an
outsider could do. Here's Kidman, Bettany, Chloe Sevigny, Harriet Andersson
and, yes, that's Lauren Bacall as a shopkeeper.

(Soundbite of "Dogville")

Mr. PAUL BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Hi, y'all.

Ms. LAUREN BACALL: (As Ma Ginger) Hello, Tom.

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Grace. How are you-all doing?

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Grace. How's it all going?

Ms. NICOLE KIDMAN: (As Grace) Not very well, I'm afraid.

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Really?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Grace) No, nobody needs any help.

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Well, I thought that might be the case.

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Grace) His plan to make everybody like me has run into a few
problems, because nobody wants me to work for them. I would really like to
offer something in return. You're all running a terrible risk having me here.
I mean, I'm willing to learn.

Unidentified Actress #1: There must be somebody who needs help.

Unidentified Actress #2: Mr. McKay ...(unintelligible).

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Grace) Yes, I went to Mr. McKay. I went to Martha and to
Chuck and Vera's and nobody seems to need any help. They all think anybody
else needs something and not themselves.

Unidentified Actress #1: Funny, that's exactly what Tom said. I suppose he's

Ms. BACALL: (As Ma Ginger) Just to prove him wrong, maybe you can lend a
hand here.

Unidentified Actress #1: But, Ginger, there really isn't anything we need

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Perhaps there's something you don't need doing.

Unidentified Actress #1: Anything we don't need done?

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Grace) Something--something that you would like done but
that--that you don't think is necessary.

Unidentified Actress #1: What on Earth would that be?

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Maybe--maybe the gooseberry bushes?

Ms. BACALL: (As Ma Ginger) Oh, the gooseberries are just fine, thank you very

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) I noticed that they more or less have planted
themselves in the tall grass.

Ms. BACALL: (As Ma Ginger) We don't grow anything there.

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) Exactly. But if tidied up, who knows? Those
bushes might one day bear fruit.

Unidentified Actress #2: Yeah, that's true.

Unidentified Actress #1: That's true. Who knows?

Ms. BACALL: (As Ma Ginger) All right, girl. Those alabaster hands of yours
are hereby engaged to weed the wild gooseberry bushes.

Mr. BETTANY: (As Tom Edison) There you go.

Ms. KIDMAN: (As Grace) Thank you.

EDELSTEIN: This part of the movie, when Grace befriends the townspeople,
played by great actors like Patricia Clarkson, Stellan Skarsgard, Philip Baker
Hall and Ben Gazzara, is rather good-natured. But it's a setup for the hell
to come. Dogville loves Grace until the police say she's wanted for a string
of robberies, robberies they know she didn't do but that make her presence
more, quote, "costly." Soon she's doing more work for less pay and soon she's
being slapped, humiliated, enslaved and sexually abused. To add insult to
injury, she's puritanically denounced as a hussy.

The most fascinating part of "Dogville" is the middle, when there's a tension
between Grace's romantic notion of her refuge and her tendency to turn the
other cheek, and the town's burgeoning resentment. But Von Trier, as is his
wont, pushes the scenario to misogynistic extremes to show that victimization
in such circumstances isn't just possible but inevitable and that the American
people under capitalism are vile, in the parlance of "Dogville," dogs.

Well, I don't know. Some of us might be. But if I'm going to be told I'm an
active player in an unjust and exploitive system, I need more proof that the
director of "Dogville" could recognize human decency if it bit him on the
nose. For a feminist, this guy has a suspicious fondness for sagas of female
humiliation. He doesn't get much out of his female lead, though. Kidman
doesn't transcend her material the way Emily Watson and Bjork did in the
director's other profiles in martyrdom, "Breaking the Waves" and "Dancer in
the Dark." And the rest are marionettes on a hermetically sealed puppet

Von Trier's camera has a probing intimacy but when he gets in tight on these
amazing actors, there's nothing to see. They're half alive because the people
they play are zombies. Von Trier gives Yanks the middle finger in the credit
sequence, which serves up photos of real American poverty, hopelessness and
depravity while David Bowie warbles "Young Americans." That's when I wanted
to throw things at the screen. I'm sure Von Trier would regard me the way
Nicholson regards Cruise in "A Few Good Men." `You can't handle the truth.'
But what I really can't handle are selective half-truths by a preening,
misanthropic bully. Then again, maybe he's right that Americans are dogs. It
would explain why his movies call to me like fire hydrants.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.


BIANCULLI: 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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