DATE January 5, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Barry Werth discusses his book "31 Days" about the
first days of President Ford's presidency
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for the New York Daily News
filling in for Terry Gross.
The death of President Gerald R. Ford led us to consider the legacy of his
administration, the challenges he faced at a unique time in history and the
power players in the Ford White House who became even more prominent during
the current Bush administration. Our guest, Barry Werth, wrote a book last
year examining the first month of the Ford presidency. It's called "31 Days"
and chronicles the transition following the post-Watergate resignation of
Richard M. Nixon, the reasons behind Ford's presidential pardon of Nixon and
the early White House careers of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
Terry spoke with Barry Werth last spring when the book was published. When
Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford had to hold the government and
the country together. He was the only president who was never elected to
either the presidency or vice presidency.
Mr. BARRY WERTH: There are so many things that make the Ford presidency
unique, but one of them is that the--there were two thirds Democratic
majorities in Congress at that time, and Ford was not Nixon's first choice.
In fact, he was probably his fourth or fifth choice. But the Democratic
leadership in Congress made it very clear that only Gerry Ford would be
acceptable. So Ford was chosen--and he had no aspiration to be president, so
he was chosen more or less by mutual consensus between the White House and
Congress, and he was chosen quite specifically because he didn't have any
ambition to run for president himself. So when he came to office 10 months
later, after Nixon's resignation, he was widely believed that he was not going
to be running in 1976 in his own right, that he was going to be a caretaker.
So here we have a man who was not elected to national office, had no
aspiration to run for the presidency on his own and had less than 48 hours to
prepare for his presidency. Nixon, as we well remember, struggled to the
bitter end to retain power, and only left when confronted with certain
impeachment in Congress. And when Ford was told that he would become
president, he had two days to assemble a staff and to organize himself to
become the world's most powerful political leader.
TERRY GROSS, host:
There was a transition team that was organized to help President Ford, and
this transition team recommended that Ford not appoint a chief of staff at the
outset, but that, instead of a chief of staff, he should appoint someone who
could rapidly and efficiently reorganize the staff, but who would not be
perceived as chief of staff and would not be eager to become a chief of staff.
And when Ford read this recommendation, he wrote in the margins, "Rumsfeld,"
and that's the person who he chose. Why did he want Rumsfeld to be this
Mr. WERTH: Back in 1974, Rumsfeld was a former congressman from Illinois who
had been instrumental in helping Ford rise through the congressional
leadership. He was, fortunately for him, out of the White House during the
most critical stages of Watergate; he was our NATO ambassador. But Ford knew
that he needed to bring in somebody who would help him implement what he
called the spokes-on-the-wheel organizational chart as opposed to a top-down
organizational chart and who would not be afraid to move against the Nixon
staff, somebody who was aggressive and unafraid to take on complicated
problems, a maverick. He was comfortable with Rumsfeld from their service
together in the House, and he thought that Rumsfeld was just the guy. But as
you indicated in that quote that you read, he wanted somebody to run the
transition who did not want to be in that position and would not perceived as
wanting to be in that position. Ironically, just a couple of weeks after the
pardon, Rumsfeld became Ford's so-called staff coordinator, but in fact he was
chief of staff in the White House, and Dick Cheney was his deputy.
GROSS: One of the big decisions Ford had to make was whether to keep Nixon's
secretary of state and national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. Why was
that a controversial decision?
Mr. WERTH: The Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy, which was generally known by
the term `detente,' which meant a lessening of tensions, was very
controversial within the Republican Party. There were a lot of hard-liners
and hawks who felt that Nixon had gone soft on communism and that Kissinger's
realism in foreign affairs was making the United States, as they put it,
`provocatively weak.' It was probably the first truly controversial decision
that Ford made. At the time, as someone put it, Henry Kissinger was America's
foreign policy. Nixon had been so discredited by Watergate that Kissinger was
America's face to the world. He was enormously popular and he was enormously
effective during the previous year in negotiating settlements between Israel
and Egypt and Israel and Syria in the wake of the 1973 October war. So Ford
felt very strongly that he needed Kissinger, but he knew that he was going to
be inviting attack from the Republican right and from the so-called neocons,
who were just then beginning to address foreign policy issues.
GROSS: And where did Rumsfeld stand on this?
Mr. WERTH: At the time, Rumsfeld's charge was to stay away from foreign
policy entirely, that was Kissinger's alone to run. When Rumsfeld and Cheney
came into the White House to work on the transition, Ford was very explicit.
He said, `Look at the Office of Management and Budget, look at the
relationship between the White House and the Cabinet departments, but stay
away from foreign policy, stay away from Defense, stay away from State.'
Subsequently, Rumsfeld challenged Kissinger, but at the time, Rumsfeld's
duties were generally regarded as having to do totally with domestic politics.
GROSS: What do you feel like you could learn about Rumsfeld and his deputy,
Dick Cheney, by looking at their performance in the Ford administration?
Mr. WERTH: Well, let me put it this way. Ford started out feeling very
strongly that after Watergate and Vietnam, what the country needed to do was
to move to the center. He adopted what one of the Washington Post writers
called `the mantle of the presidential center.' The country had been so
divided, so torn, and all power was reeling, and Ford was determined to unify
the country. So he made a number of, what in retrospect looked like
extraordinary decisions: the first trip that he took outside of Washington,
he went to the VFW convention in Chicago, really the most difficult audience
he could find, to suggest that Vietnam War resisters should be welcomed home,
there should be some sort of limited amnesty. He met with the Congressional
Black Caucus, which Nixon had not met with for five and a half years, only
once, in fact, did Nixon meet with the--that congressional caucus. He chose
as his vice president Nelson Rockefeller, who was widely despised on the
Republican right. And, in fact, the choice of Rockefeller catalyzed
right-wing opposition to Ford and galvanized support for Ronald Reagan, who
challenged Ford in the 1976 primaries.
So what you had was a president starting out, trying to move to the middle,
trying to work with the Democrats. And then with the pardon, his popularity
plummeted, went from 70 percent to 48 percent and never really recovered. At
which point, Rumsfeld and Cheney came in and tried to direct the Ford
presidency, which was increasingly faced with a challenge from the right. And
they moved Ford as much as they could to face that challenge and to implement
right-wing policies himself. So in the same sense that Rumsfeld and Cheney
became the center of strategic power in the George W. Bush White House, they
became the center of strategic power in the Ford White House. And they did
then, in somewhat lesser form what they have done subsequently, which is to
make sure that they never get outflanked by the right.
GROSS: One of the things that President Ford had to do early on was to choose
a vice president. What does the Constitution say about the position that he
was in on how to choose a vice president?
Mr. WERTH: The Constitution didn't have a provision about this well into
this century. In fact, after John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, there was
no vice president at all until Lyndon Johnson was elected in his own right in
1964 and Hubert Humphrey came on. After that, Congress passed the 25th
Amendment, which says that if the--there's an unoccupied vice president seat,
that the president shall choose someone who--to be confirmed by Congress. So
this was really the signal decision of Ford's first couple of weeks. He was
having the opportunity to pick somebody who, as far as anyone knew, was most
likely going to be the Republican candidate in 1976 since Ford himself had
pledged not to run.
GROSS: So how was Rockefeller finally chosen by Ford as vice president?
Mr. WERTH: Well, it--Ford wanted somebody who had independent standing and
stature, some--and Rockefeller was in his own right one of the world's most
powerful people coming from his family and also having been the nationally
very popular former two-term governor from New York. And he also wanted
somebody who would be a strong ticket mate in 1976. Rockefeller, it was
believed, could help Ford win New York, probably California, maybe Florida.
And he also was in agreement with the Nixon-Kissinger real politic in foreign
affairs. So he--Rockefeller was really the strongest person that Ford could
GROSS: You keep describing Ford as being someone who didn't plan on running
for the presidency and no one expected him to run for the presidency. His
vice-presidential appointee was considered to be the next presidential
candidate, but that's not the way it worked out. Ford did run.
Mr. WERTH: Well, yes, he did run. And, in fact, he made the decision very
early. Let me say first that Betty Ford had hated being in Washington and
had, as we know, struggled with addictions and then had a very hard time as a
political wife and had really hoped that Ford would quit politics. In fact,
Ford had planned after the 1972 election to leave Washington. His only real
aspiration has been to be speaker of the House, but the--he had not been able
to win enough seats to make that happen. And so he first had to convince
Betty that he ought to run himself. But really what was more crucial, which
was pointed out to him by Henry Kissinger on the second day of his presidency,
was that if he was perceived as a caretaker, that would invite a succession
fight within the party that would begin immediately, and that foreign powers
would take him less seriously. He realized that, in order to be perceived as
a strong president even during this interim period, he needed to run in 1976
and show that he intended to be president for longer than that.
BIANCULLI: Barry Werth speaking to Terry Gross last spring.
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2006 interview with Barry Werth, author
of "31 Days," an account of the first month of the presidency of Gerald R.
GROSS: One of the most important decisions that President Ford was faced with
early on was whether or not to pardon Nixon. Why was that a decision that was
filled with land mines along the way?
Mr. WERTH: That's a very apt description. This could not have been an easy
or straightforward decision under any circumstances. It was probably made
more difficult by the fact that Ford owed his presidency to Nixon. But let me
try to go through some of them. There were the legal issues first. Nixon had
been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up. He was
being investigated in connection with another dozen abuses of power and the
legal brief against him was--had grown enormous. And there was no question
after the Watergate tapes came out that he was going to be indicted. The
special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, did not want to indict him. He was looking
for every opportunity to transfer the responsibility to somebody else. On top
of all that, Nixon was quite ill. We'll never know exactly how ill, but he
had suffered from phlebitis, which had caused him great pain and caused
enormous swelling in his leg and had threatened to cause a stroke or a heart
attack if he had a clot that got loose and into his bloodstream. Besides all
that, he was obviously depressed. There were reports that he was drinking and
suicidal. So Ford felt really enormous pressure right from the get-go
to--from all sides--to pardon Nixon, simply to put the Watergate morass behind
the country in a way that only he could, by one swift and decisive act of
presidential compassion and leniency.
GROSS: Now, you think that there were personal issues in Ford's life that
also led to him pardoning Nixon? What was the personal issue?
Mr. WERTH: We tend to forget this now, but Gerald Ford was not born Gerald
Ford. He was born Leslie King Jr. His father and mother divorced shortly
after he was born. In fact, his father had started physically abusing his
mother on their honeymoon. He was an alcoholic. In their divorce agreement,
he was obligated to pay child support for Ford during his growing up in
Michigan, and he was a deadbeat. He never paid any of it, to the point where
when Ford was 25 years old and a law student at Yale, Gerald Ford's father,
Leslie King, was put in jail briefly. Ford, in that, finally took the
situation and became a broker between his parents. He brokered an agreement
that his father would pay his mother a lump sum and the legal proceedings
would go away. And this was a way of him closing out a chapter of real strain
and difficulty that had dogged him throughout his life. And I believe Ford,
on top of all these other pressures that he was feeling, had a kind of inner
urgency to just resolve this as only he could, by splitting the difference
between the parties and sealing the record and getting Watergate behind the
country and behind the White House so that he could go ahead and do what he
needed to do, which was to lead the country out of Watergate and Vietnam.
As I said earlier, Ford's popularity went from 70 percent to 48 percent and
never really recovered. And it aborted what he was trying to do. After that
he was distrusted. The pardon ended up looking like the last cynical act of
the Watergate cover-up. Here was President Nixon's hand-picked successor
telling the country that he--Nixon would not have to go to jail or even face
trial while 40 of his subordinates had faced legal proceedings.
GROSS: Three of the people who were in the Ford administration, Dick Cheney,
Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz...
Mr. WERTH: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...eventually became to be considered hard-liners. Were they
considered hard-liners in the Ford days?
Mr. WERTH: Again, Rumsfeld, I don't--was the least ideological of the three
of them. But, yes, I think they definitely were considered hard-liners.
There were many people in the military and on the right who felt that Nixon
and Kissinger had compromised America's strength and that America needed to be
strong and to be able to assert its strength around the world. And I think
that was the definition of hard-liner. And certainly Cheney and Wolfowitz
were among that group.
GROSS: What was Wolfowitz's position in the Ford administration? He went on
to become deputy secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration
and is considered to be one of the architects of the Iraq war.
Mr. WERTH: Wolfowitz was nowhere to be found in the first 31 days. He
showed up in the Ford administration as one of the key members of what's
referred to as Team B. One of the things that Rumsfeld did the first time
that he was at the Defense Department was he convinced Ford to set up a group
that would independently review all of the intelligence that was coming into
the CIA regarding the Soviet Union and its nuclear programs. They felt that
the CIA was underestimating the Soviet threat. So Rumsfeld established this
Team B. Wolfowitz was a key figure in that. This must have been 1974, 1975.
And Team B issued a report which said that `the Soviets were bent on world
domination, that they were building space-based weapons to destroy us.'
Practically everything in that report turned out not to be true. But the Team
B report became a rallying cry for hard-liners who felt that the United States
had become weak and needed to become mightier and assert that might around the
So this was really, in a way, a kind of a bookend to the so-called
independence intelligence gathering that was done in the Defense Department in
the run-up to the Iraq war, in which Wolfowitz was involved.
GROSS: And did Cheney and Rumsfeld support Team B in their conclusions that
Mr. WERTH: Oh, yes.
Mr. WERTH: Yeah. And I think this--you know, by the end--you know, Nixon
had negotiated the first strategic arms reductions and was in the process of
negotiating what was called SALT II, which was the second stage of that. By
the end of the Ford presidency, Rumsfeld and Cheney had pretty much run SALT
II into the ground. The word "detente" was no longer used in any of Ford's
speeches. And the United States was starting to assert a more militant
posture towards the world. This was part of their answer to Vietnam, which
was, you know, `We didn't lose Vietnam; we're stronger than ever.'
GROSS: Do you feel like you understand Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz any
better from having studied their role in the Ford administration?
Mr. WERTH: The Ford administration was truly the formative experience for
them. I think they developed their attitudes towards the world and their
position on America's role in the world as the sole superpower during that
period. Of course, then we were still engaged in the Cold War with the
Soviets, but this is where they prepared and trained for the power that they
have had in the Bush administration. So in that sense, I--you know, it's like
going back to somebody's childhood to sort of figure out why they became the
way that they did. I think we can understand a lot about Rumsfeld and Cheney
by looking at how they became powerful the first time. And it should be
remembered that, at the time, Rumsfeld was 44 and Cheney was 33. When he
became White House chief of staff, he was 35, the youngest chief of staff in
history. So this was really his training.
GROSS: Barry Werth, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. WERTH: My pleasure, Terry.
BIANCULLI: Barry Werth speaking to Terry Gross last year. His book on the
first month of the administration of President Gerald R. Ford is called "31
Days: The Crisis That Gave Us the Government We Have Today."
I'm Dave Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
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Interview: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead discusses violinist Mark
Feldman's music, including his major label debut "What Exit"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross.
Violinist Mark Feldman toured with country queen Loretta Lynn in the 1980s
before moving to New York. Once he got there, he got involved with jazz and
open improvisation and contemporary classical music, with, among many others,
the Arcado and Masada string trios, trumpeter Dave Douglas, drummer Billy Hart
and composer Anthony Davis. His major label debut is out, and jazz critic
Kevin Whitehead says it deserves to be Feldman's big break.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Violinist Mark Feldman wasn't an obvious fit for the
ECM label when he began recording for it as a sideman a while back. When I
lived in New York 15 years ago, Feldman was easily the funniest presence on
the downtown scene. Funny introducing tunes, funny telling stories about
playing behind William Shatner and Jimmy Swaggart, funny saying hello. ECM
Records, meantime, tend to be a bit somber, some old Lester Bowie classics
aside. But Mark Feldman isn't just funny. He's also an effortlessly lyrical
player with exquisite control over his bow, an all-round terrific violinist
who can play it straight.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WHITEHEAD: One thing Mark Feldman remembers, which some jazz violinists
forget, is to take a breath once in a while. He doesn't just roll on and on
because he can. Feldman wrote all the music on his CD. Its title is a New
Yorker's traditional comeback on hearing someone's from New Jersey: "What
Exit." Romantic as much of the music is, Feldman gets to apply one asset that
makes him hilarious, his timing. He builds and releases tension with a great
comedian's grasp of beats and escalating momentum, from setup to punch line to
topper to second top.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WHITEHEAD: Two members of Mark Feldman's quartet are ECM regulars:
English pianist John Taylor and Swedish bassist Anders Jormin. But the
violinist's key ally comes from his own circle. He's played with drummer Tom
Rainey since the late '80s in groups including the quintet New and Used, with
Dave Douglas. Rainey's phrasing can be a little loose and unpredictable, his
occasional outbursts spill a little gravy on the clean tablecloth.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. WHITEHEAD: In the end "What Exit" works because of moments like that.
Good taste is cut with a whiff of anarchy, just enough to open things up. But
seriously, Mark Feldman is such a tuneful and versatile violinist who's been
making other leaders sound good for years, a classy showcase like this is long
(Soundbite of music)
BIANCULLI: Kevin Whitehead teaches English and American Studies at the
University of Kansas, and he's a jazz columnist for eMusic.com. He reviewed
the debut CD by violinist Mark Feldman titled "What Exit" on the ECM label.
Coming up, film director Richard Linklater. This is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: Writer/director Richard Linklater discusses new movie
"A Scanner Darkly" and his career
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
Richard Linklater's film "A Scanner Darkly" is a story about addiction,
paranoia, betrayal, government surveillance and corporate greed. The movie is
animated with a computer process that kind of paints over the images of the
real actors, a technique you can see in a number of current TV commercials.
Linklater also made the movies "Slacker," "Dazed & Confused," "School of
Rock," "Before Sunrise," and "Fast Food Nation." Terry spoke with him last
year when "A Scanner Darkly" was in theaters. It's now out on DVD.
The movie is based on the 1977 novel of the same name by science fiction
writer Philip K. Dick. It's set 17 years from now in Southern California.
Most of the characters in the film are addicted to pills called Substance D.
The government is cracking down on the problem by going after users and
encouraging citizens to report friends and neighbors who they suspect are
using. Here's a scene from the film. Two characters, played by Rory Cochrane
and Robert Downey Jr., are in a diner.
Cochrane is a paranoid mess from Substance D and has had hallucinations that
his hair and body are infested with bugs. He asks Downey to help him out.
(Soundbite from "A Scanner Darkly")
Mr. RORY COCHRANE: I heard you have to go cold turkey.
Mr. ROBERT DOWNEY Jr.: Cold turkey doesn't even apply to Substance D.
Unlike the legacy of inherited predisposition to addictive behavior
substances, this needs no genetic assistance. There's no weekend warriors on
the D. You're either on it or you haven't tried it.
Mr. COCHRANE: Well, I like it.
Mr. DOWNEY: Yeah. How many caps do you take per day?
Mr. COCHRANE: Mm. It's very difficult to determine, but not that many.
Mr. DOWNEY: Well, like the old school pharmacopoeia, a tolerance develops.
You know, these visions of bugs, they're just garden-variety psychosis but a
clear indication that you've hurdled over the initial fun and euphoric phase
and passed on to the next phase. News from the guinea pig grapevine suggests
that whatever it is, we won't know until it's way too late, see. You see,
we're all canaries in the coal mine on this one.
(End of soundbite)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Richard Linklater, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Would you describe the drug of the movie which is called Substance D?
Mr. RICHARD LINKLATER: You know, it's pretty vague in the book what
Substance D is. And it was something that, with the cast, we talked about it,
`Well, what would the properties of it be? What is it? Is it an opiate? Is
it a, you know, a stimulant? Is it'--we never really defined it, and I think
it's purposefully vague. But if you think about it, it's a designer drug, but
it's really for--kind of designed as a consumer product but it's kind of the
worst of all worlds. It's a consumer product and it's really bad for you.
It's highly addictive and it ultimately--this is where the paranoia comes in,
it's used for control. It's kind of--you lose yourself and then ultimately
you're kind of available as slave labor. It takes away the individual
and--but leaves the laborer. So it's your absolute, most paranoid nightmare
of your situation and how you're being used in a way beyond your darkest
imagination, but that's--I think that's valid thinking when you think of drugs
One of my heroes of all time was Frank Zappa, who's a big anti-drug guy. That
resonated with me as a teenager. That's why I've never been a drug guy
because I took that to heart, you know. He's like, `Well, when you do drugs,
there's a guy in an office wringing his hands saying, you know, profiteering
off you and you've removed yourself as a threat from the political spectrum if
you're just off using alone in your own world. You're not really challenging
the status quo or the powers that be in any way.' You know, it's a statement
perhaps but from a dropout perspective, you know.
GROSS: You're using the same animation system in "A Scanner Darkly" that you
used in "Waking Life," and it's an animation that's built on real live actors.
I'm going to ask you to describe what this type of animation is.
Mr. LINKLATER: Yeah. There's no--not really a succinct name for it. It's a
computer variation of rotoscoping, kind of an old technique where you--the
animators draw over existing imagery. In our case we make the movie like any
movie you, you know, you cast, rehearse, shoot, edit, all that live action
like a regular movie lot picture. And then you start the lengthy animation
process which is, in my case here, about 50-plus animators sitting down on
home computers and spending over about 500 hours to produce one minute of the
animation. Very painstaking but a very artistic process. I mean,
people--these are really talented drawers and painters and artists. So it's
like doing the movie twice really.
GROSS: Is there anything you did different, directing the actors, for "A
Scanner Darkly" knowing that it was ultimately going to be in animation.
Mr. LINKLATER: You know, I think every actor on the movie would probably
have a different response to that. I mean, Keanu and Winona would say no, you
know, they're very realistic, if anything even more realistic, but that's
their characters. I think Rory Cochrane, Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey Jr.
might say it freed them up or I pushed them a little more; their performances
are a little bigger. I think that's their characters and that's the story. I
think live action, it might have seemed a little too big, maybe, but the
animation I think kind of forgives it in a way and you just accept them as a
character. You know, they're having these, you know, thought bubbles, and
seeing things and hallucinations, and I think they felt free to kind of push
it a little bit.
GROSS: Your movie adaptation of "A Scanner Darkly" ends with a quote from the
Philip K. Dick book, and I want to read that quote. It says, "This has been
a story about some people who were punished entirely too much for what they
did. I loved them all. Here is a list to whom I dedicate my love." And after
each name on the list is an explanation of what happened to the person.
"Deceased. Permanent psychosis. Permanent brain damage. Permanent vascular
damage. Permanent pancreatic damage." He writes, "In memoriam: These were
comrades who I had. There are no better. They remain in my mind. The enemy
will never be forgiven. The enemy was their mistake in playing. Let them
play again in some other way and let them be happy."
Do you feel like you have a similar list of friends who you lost to drugs?
Mr. LINKLATER: I think we--everyone working on the movie and I think every
one in life past a certain age, you do have a list of friends, who, if not
drugs, it's alcohol, it's other self-destructive maybe elements they brought
into their life. And, yeah, you lose people along the way. So I think
everyone working on the film--we were all working off our own lists. And we
didn't even talk about it that much. It was just sort of there but, you know,
we're paying, you know, respects to Philip K. Dick's list because that's, you
know, it's his story. But I think in a personal way, the way we're all aboard
this project, we all felt, you know, we had those people, and it's a sad fact
that some of the brightest, most intelligent, gifted people do kind of burn
out and self-destruct young, you know, much earlier than their time.
You know, it's, you know, one of the tragedies of life. And Philip K. Dick
himself died much too young. He was only 53, which when I was 22, you know,
when I heard he died, I was like, `Well, that's--yeah, he lived. That's a
long time.' You know, as you get closer to that, you start thinking, `Wow,
that was really young.'
Mr. LINKLATER: There's 20, 30 more years of books he could have written.
The tragedy, and then you meet his daughters and you realize, oh, they have
kids now that never got to meet their grandfather. The human toll there is
enormous, and I think...
GROSS: Was his death related to drugs?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, brought on. He died of a, you know, stroke, heart
attack, you know, these kind of things brought on by, you know, a long period
of amphetamine use. So, yes.
I mean, when I first met his daughters to get the rights to do this novel,
they were very protective of it because it was so personal to their dad and
they were very concerned about the tone I was going to take, in particular, in
relation to the drug use. I mean, Isa, his youngest daughter told me, you
know, `I, you know, just so you know'--she pointed to the list, you know.
`That's my dad.' Because Philip K. Dick put himself on the list. And she
pointed down the list a little more and she said, you know, `That's my mom.
You know, I lived in that house. We moved out and those guys moved in. So
and if it wasn't for drugs, you know, our father would still be writing.' So,
they just wanted to know what my take was on the drug element.
GROSS: How did you first get to watch movies that weren't the movies playing
in the multiplexes?
Mr. LINKLATER: Well, for me, it was curiosity. I'd been to a couple of
years of college. And, you know, every college professor is kind of a--every
English professor is a, you know, film critic. So we started--this is in the
early days of, you know, VCRs. We'd watch a film at night, you know, once a
week, in the English department. I was studying, you know, it would be
"Clockwork Orange" or "2001" you know, something, and we'd talk about it, and
it got me thinking about films in that way.
At that point I think I was an aspiring writer or maybe playwright. I was
writing some plays, but I hadn't really thought seriously about cinema. You
know, I grew up in east Texas, and it wasn't a career option. Especially back
then, I don't think people even knew what a director did. You know, for me,
films are just something that came to our town, we watched them, and they went
away, you know. But once I started thinking about it seriously, I just
started seeking out alternatives in the history of cinema. And I found
myself--I was an offshore oil worker for a few years. I was living in Houston
but they still had repertory theaters. And when I wasn't on the rigs, I was
in a movie. I just found myself in a movie theater watching three, sometimes
four movies a day. I'd go home and read about the talent involved in the
movie, you know, the writers, the director, the producer, whoever, you know,
actors. I was just educating myself. I bought some books on like the
technical aspects of filmmaking, and I just found myself being totally taken
over by cinema. I realized I had films in my head. So I was just doing a
segue from my earlier ambitions into realizing cinema was probably the medium.
It was kind of discovering--I was discovering it, and so it was a wonderful,
wonderful period of my life. I just saw tons of movies and educated myself
and thought about getting in film school, but I never did.
GROSS: Do you have any idea when you first realized that there was such a
thing as a film director, that it wasn't just stories and actors on a screen?
That there was actually a job called "director" and it might be a job you'd be
interested in doing.
Mr. LINKLATER: Gosh, I mean I'm almost embarrassed to say, I didn't really
know. I was probably, almost college age, I mean, which is unfathomable now,
but, you know, 25 years ago, it was--I mean, it wasn't a part of the culture.
I knew who Alfred Hitchcock was, just because he was that kind of big guy who
made--he had something to do with those scary movies, I don't know. I thought
maybe he wrote them or some--I didn't know. Growing up, he was like the
But I didn't really--I think Martin Scorsese was one of the first ones I
really, like, went out of my way, like, `Oh.' I saw "Raging Bull" and I was
like, `Wow! Geez, you know, film can do that?' And then I, like, looked it
up, `Oh, there's this movie "Taxi Driver" I need to see.' So I, you know, it
was playing at this repertory theater. I went and saw that. And I started
kind of like, `Oh, wow, you know, what an artist!' You know, I discovered him
but at the same time I was discovering, you know, world cinema and the French
new wave and the new German cinema, you know, it was just--all hit me at once.
But I came to it really late, but I certainly caught up pretty quick.
But I'm kind of glad it wasn't an ambition of mine growing up. I think if
you're nine years old now--I meet nine-year-olds who want to be film
directors. I'm like, `Hey, you know that's great.' It's probably not a lot
different than wanting to be a pro ball player, though, you know. The odds of
you actually getting to do this at this level are probably even less, but not
a bad ambition to have but kind of a hard skill set to define, that I'm still
trying to figure out but I feel myself very lucky to, whatever combination it
is, to be able to, you know, be here and get to keep doing it, you know. I
GROSS: Well, Richard Linklater, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. LINKLATER: Yeah, really nice talking with you. Thanks, Terry.
BIANCULLI: Filmmaker Richard Linklater speaking with Terry Gross last year.
His movie "A Scanner Darkly" is now out on DVD.
Coming up, two new movies reviewed by David Edelstein. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Film critic David Edelstein reviews two movies, "The
Painted Veil" and "Miss Potter"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:
In December studios tend to open movies for grown-ups in New York and LA so
they'll qualify for the Academy Awards. Then they release them nationally in
January. And so it is with two films, "The Painted Veil" and "Miss Potter."
One from a novel from Somerset Maugham, the other about the life of the author
and illustrator of Peter Rabbit, among many other animal stories. Film critic
David Edelstein reviews both films.
Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: In movies there will always be an England. That is, a
Victorian or Edwardian England, a bustles and derby hats and sexual tension
barely masked by formal manners. There will always be an England even if
producers have to cast non-English stars to get their pictures financed. Now
come two period films, "The Painted Veil" and "Miss Potter," featuring three
international actors: the Americans Renee Zellweger and Edward Norton, and the
Australian Naomi Watts. They both make for decent escapist fare, but they'd
be better I think if their Englishness wasn't in quotation marks.
"The Painted Veil" is based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel, from an era
in which white people fantasized about journeying to Third World countries,
tending to the sick and discovering in the midst of death a higher calling.
The film centers on a desperately bored flapper, played by Watts, whose
plodding bacteriologist husband, played by Norton, discovers she's sleeping
with a rake, played by Lieb Schreiber. So he blackmails her into accompanying
him into a rural Chinese village in the middle of a cholera epidemic. He
makes her sleep in the bed of a missionary who expired a few weeks earlier.
It's the sort of leisurely English movie where she takes a while to confront
him about it.
(Soundbite of "The Painted Veil)
Ms. NAOMI WATTS: (As May) I know you're angry at me, but if we could just
try and talk about...
Mr. EDWARD NORTON: (As Walter) May, shut up! Honestly I don't understand
you. What is it that you want from me.
Ms. WATTS: (As May) Perhaps I just want us to be a little less unhappy.
Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) You're mistaken in thinking that I'm unhappy. I've
far too much to do here to think of you very much at all.
Ms. WATTS: (As May) That's exactly what I'm trying to say. I feel useless.
Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) What do you propose that I do about it?
Ms. WATTS: (As May) For God's sake, Walter, will you stop punishing me? Do
you absolutely despise me?
Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) No, I despise myself.
Ms. WATTS: (As May) Why?
Mr. NORTON: (As Walter) For allowing myself to love you once.
(End of soundbite)
Mr. EDELSTEIN: Norton is unconvincing, to say the least but these scenes are
powerful anyway. The director, John Curran, made the marital psychodrama "We
Don't Live Here Anymore," which also featured Watts, and here he gets at
something that Maugham glides over, the sadistic, passive aggression of this
repressed cuckold. He's so horrible that when his wife begins to register his
selfless devotion to the Chinese villagers and to find him attractive, it's
quite bizarre. It's also way, way out of keeping with the movie's source.
Maugham's heroine has a spiritual and religious awakening, not a romantic and
sexual one. That said, "The Painted Veil" makes for a good old-fashioned
wide-screen diversion, and Naomi Watts is so open, so soulfully petulant, so
transcendently pretty, that even Maugham might reconsider the pleasures of the
In "Miss Potter," Renee Zellweger has rounded gerbil cheeks and squinched up
little eyes. She looks less like Beatrix Potter than a Beatrix Potter
illustration. As she proved in "Bridget Jones's Diary," she's in clover
playing English girls. She snuggles herself inside her accent and blithely
pops out her lines. She's dear enough to make this 19th century biopic
bearable, but you have to love the genre to seat through scene after scene of
dialogue like "Really, Beatrix, what young man is ever going to marry a girl
with a face full of mud?" and on and on in scenes that make their biopic
points and then skip biopickishly along. Beatrix is unmarried and according
to her snobbish mother like to remain so as long as she's always painting
garden creatures with waistcoats and walking sticks, instead of sensibly
allowing herself to be courted. But her beasties are her friends, she
insists, and by way of illustration, the director, Chris Noonan, who made
"Babe," brings them to cartoon life, often with a sprinkling of piano keys
like fairy dust. It's less cloying than it sounds, but the movie could use a
touch of something less Beatrix Potterish.
The focus shifts to the so, so tentative courtship of her insipidly sincere
publisher, insipidly played by Ewan MacGregor. Dark clouds loom. In a
biopic, there's no such thing as an insignificant cough, and a character who
goes out in the rain without a coat is signing his own death warrant.
"Miss Potter" hardly deserves ridicule. It's rather sweet, with lovely lake
district vistas and a heartfelt endorsement of land conservation. And I'm
happy that Zellweger got to traipse around the hills and dales, hugging a
sketchbook to her chest and talking to cartoon ducks. It's a nice change from
"Cold Mountain," where she was wringing the necks of roosters. We all should
have a chance to play `English' for a time.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine.
(Soundbite of music)
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.