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'Persian Cats' Just Want To Rock 'N' Roll ... In Iran.

No One Knows about Persian Cats, which won the Special Jury Prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival, has now opened in theaters across the U.S. Critic John Powers says that Bahman Ghobadi's film — about outlaw musicians in Iran — is a reminder of the liberating potential of rock.

06:01

Other segments from the episode on April 23, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, April 23, 2010: Interview with James Cameron; Review of the film "No One Knows About Persian Cats"; Obituary for Dede Allen; Review of the film "Handsome Harry."

Transcript

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James Cameron's Craft: Blockbuster Special Effects

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, sitting in for Terry Gross. Film director
James Cameron has created the two highest-grossing movies of all time, the 1997
film "Titanic," and of course his latest, "Avatar," which is now out on DVD.
"Avatar," which has made over $2.7 billion, also received Oscar nominations,
including Best Picture and Best Director.

Cameron first came up with the idea for "Avatar" 15 years ago, but he shelved
the project, feeling that the technology didn't exist to make the film. In the
intervening years, Cameron helped develop a new digital 3-D camera system,
which he used to film many underwater documentaries, as well as "Avatar."

Now, most of the major animation studios and a handful of A-list directors are
investing heavily in 3-D. They hail it as the next revolution in film. Terry
spoke with James Cameron in February.

"Avatar" follows Jake Sully, a former Marine confined to a wheelchair, who
along with other military contractors is hired by a corporation to become part
of a mission on the planet Pandora. The company's goal is to extract a precious
ore on Pandora, but the Na'vi tribe, who live on Pandora, are getting in the
way. Jake becomes part of a scientific team that's tasked to interact with the
natives.

He becomes an avatar in the form of a Na'vi. He's adopted by the group and
begins to fall in love with his guide, Neytiri. As he becomes more and more
involved in life on Pandora, he begins to question his mission.

Here's a scene from early in the film. Jake is recording his first video log.
He talks about starting to learn the Na'vi ways.

(Soundbite of film, "Avatar")

Mr. SAM WORTHINGTON (Actor): (As Jake Sully) This is a video log, 12 times 21,
32. Do I have to do this now? I really need to get some rest.

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) No, now, when it's fresh.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WORTHINGTON: (As Sully) Okay, location, shack, and the days are starting to
blur together. The language is a pain, but you know, I figure it's like field-
stripping a weapon. It's repetition, repetition. Na'vi.

Unidentified Woman #2 (Actor): (As character) Na'vi.

Mr. WORTHINGTON: (As Sully) Na'vi.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

Mr. WORTHINGTON: (As Sully) Neytiri calls me scoun(ph). It means moron.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Jim Cameron, welcome to FRESH AIR. Can I ask you to give us an example of a
shot or two, or a scene, that epitomizes for you what you can do with 3-D that
you couldn't do in a regular film?

Mr. JAMES CAMERON (Filmmaker, "Avatar"): Well, I think it's sometimes as simple
as, you know, a shot in a snowstorm would feel so much more tactile to the
viewer. You'd actually feel like the snowflakes were falling on you and around
you, you know, that sort of thing, any time that the medium of the air between
you and the subject can be filled with something.

So we did a lot of stuff in "Avatar" with, you know, floating wood sprites and
little bits of stuff floating in the sunlight and so on, and rain and
foreground leaves and things like that. It's all a way of wrapping the audience
in the experience of the movie.

GROSS: And there's even a shot - and I think this looked deeper because of the
3-D, but you tell me - there's a shot in which the spaceship that's
transporting the people to Pandora, it's a shot of, like, a long, narrow bench,
basically, of seats, like a row of seats that the guys are sitting on. And I
think it looked particularly long because of the 3-D, or is that just me?

Mr. CAMERON: No, I think you're right. I think it's an enhanced sense of depth.
We get depth queuing in flat images all the time. We understand perspective,
you know, linear perspective, aerial perspective. When we see a human figure,
and that figure's very tiny, we don't - our brain immediately says that's not a
tiny guy, an inch tall, that's somebody very far away.

So all those depth queues are always there. When you add what 3-D does, 3-D
gives you parallax information. It actually gives you the difference between
what the left eye sees and what the right eye sees, and that creates even more
depth information.

So now all these different depth queues have to be correlated in the brain in
the space of a few microseconds when you first see the image. And I would
submit, although I haven't seen data on this, that the brain is more active.
The brain is more engaged in the processing of the images.

GROSS: So do you see in 3-D as you're shooting?

Mr. CAMERON: Well, I mean, we all see in 3-D all the time.

GROSS: But not through a lens.

Mr. CAMERON: Well, no, I mean, I can. I have a 3-D viewing station nearby, but
I typically don't use it because I've done - I've shot so much 3-D, I kind of
know what it's going to look like. So I don't slow down to check it. But you
know, I have somebody watching, and if there's something that I'm not aware of,
they'll let me know.

GROSS: Didn't you help develop, like, a special, new virtual camera?

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah, but that's a whole different deal. That has nothing...

GROSS: What is it?

Mr. CAMERON: That has nothing to do with 3-D. The virtual camera was a way of
interfacing with a CG world so that I could view my actors as their characters
when we were doing performance capture. So imagine, here's Zoe Saldana or Sam
Worthington in our capture space, which we called the volume, and when you look
at them, they're wearing kind of a black outfit, which is their capture suit.
But what I look at, and what I see in my virtual camera monitor is an image of
them as a 10-foot-tall, blue, alien creature with a tail.

GROSS: Wow, that's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: And it's in real time.

GROSS: That's kind of amazing.

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah, it's simultaneous.

GROSS: So there's, like, a computer, a CG computer in the camera that
transforms the image?

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah, more or less. The camera really is just a monitor and a set
of tracking markers, and it connects to a couple of computers, actually. The
first one takes in that tracking data and figures out where the camera is in
space relative to the actors. And then the second computer takes that
information about the characters and where they are and turns them - or the
actors and where they are and turns them into their characters and supplies the
setting.

So I would see Zoe and Sam as Neytiri and Jake in the jungle of Pandora, for
example, you know, fully lit image of the Pandoran rainforest. You know, it's
not the same as the final image of the movie in the sense that it's a much
lower resolution so it can render in real time.

GROSS: Now, you had to make up a language, also, I think with the help of a
linguist.

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah.

GROSS: What were you looking for in the language, and how do you put together a
kind of grammatically coherent language?

Mr. CAMERON: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, that's where the linguist, Dr. Paul Frommer,
came in. And he was the head of the linguistics department at USC at the time,
and he did more than help. He actually created the language. Or more properly,
he created the translations of the lines that we needed for the script. I don't
think - he didn't create, like, a full language with a vocabulary of 20,000
words, but I think we now have a vocabulary of about 1,200 or 1,300 words.

And I actually had him on set with me so that if the actors wanted to
improvise, they could go over to him, and say how would I saw this, how would I
say that? Sometimes he had to create words right on the spot, but they had to
be words that were consistent with the kind of sound system that we were using
for the language.

And I guess I sort of set it in motion when I created character names and place
names and based them on some, you know, kind of Polynesian sounds and some
Indonesian sounds. And he riffed on that, and he brought in some African sounds
that were ejective consonants and things like that, kind of clicks and pops,
and he sprinkled those in. And he came up with a syntax and a typical sentence
structure, which I think has the verb at the end, kind of in the German
sentence structure, you know, I to the store go. It's noun, object, verb. So I
think that's how Na'vi is structured.

So it follows linguistic rules, and that's why it sounds correct. And all the
actors had to adhere to a standard of pronunciation so that it didn't sound
like everybody was making up their own gobbledygook, which I think over a two-
and-a-half-hour movie you would have felt you were being had if we had done it
that way.

GROSS: So can you speak to me in the Na'vi language?

Mr. CAMERON: You know, I mean, I can only say lines that are in the film.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, that's fine.

Mr. CAMERON: I can say, well: (Speaking foreign language). That means I see
you, my sister. No, I see you my brother.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: (Speaking foreign language) is I see you, my sister. Or (Speaking
foreign language) means I was going to kill him, but there was a sign from
Awha(ph).

GROSS: "Avatar" combines a lot of different movie genres in its own way.
There's aspects of the Vietnam War movie, aspects of the Iraq War movie because
a lot of people think Iraq War is about oil, and...

Mr. CAMERON: Sure.

GROSS: ...the battle in your movie is about some kind of ore, some kind of
mineral that's very valuable.

This parallels to the Westerns, where, you know, like the white people come and
conquer the indigenous people. And there's parallels to, like, creature films
like "King Kong" where he battles other prehistoric creatures and, you know,
"Rodan vs. Godzilla" kind of film.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Were you thinking of all those genres?

Mr. CAMERON: Now you're getting out on a - you're getting out on a limb now.

GROSS: No, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: Well, you know, look, the Vietnam stuff and the Iraq stuff is
there by design. And the references to the colonial period are there by design,
the way in which, you know, European civilization flowed outward and sort of,
you know, took over and displaced the indigenous people in North America, South
America, Australia - pretty much everywhere they went, you know.

And, you know, so I think it's at a very, very high level, at a general, at a
very generalized level, it's saying our attitude about indigenous people and
our sort of entitlement to what is rightfully theirs but our sense of
entitlement is the same sense of entitlement that causes us to bulldoze a
forest and not blink an eye.

You know, it's a - it's just human nature that if we can take it, we will. And
sometimes we do it in a very, you know, just naked and imperialistic way, and
other times we do it in, you know, very sophisticated ways with lots of
rationalization, but it's basically the same thing. It's a sense of
entitlement. And we can't just go on in this kind of unsustainable way, just
taking what we want and not giving back.

GROSS: The main character, the main male character in your movie is a Marine
who lost the use of his legs in war, but by becoming an avatar, he gets to live
a parallel life...

Mr. CAMERON: Right.

GROSS: ...through his avatar. And his avatar has these incredible physical
adventures, beautiful physical adventures.

Mr. CAMERON: Right.

GROSS: And I read that your brother is, or was, a Marine.

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah, well, you're never an ex-Marine. You know, once you're a
Marine...

GROSS: Right, right.

Mr. CAMERON: ...you're always a Marine, even if you're out of the Marine Corps.
You know, he was in - he fought in Desert Storm in '91. And you know, he's
regaled me with tales of the Marine Corps. And you know, I have a number of
guys that work for me that were, you know, his squad mates or other Marines
that he met, you know, in his travels.

And I have a great deal of respect for these guys. I really personally believe
in their world view, which is one of a sense of being able to overcome any
obstacle. They have a great sense of duty. They want to have a mission.

And I thought: How cool would it be to have a main character in a science
fiction movie who was a Marine? And so I just played that idea out. You know,
that was on my mind. You know, Desert Storm was in '91. I was writing this in
'95.

And I think that's - and one thing that has struck me recently because there's
been so much chat, kind of, around this movie, is that there's been almost zero
dialogue about the fact that you have a major action movie where the main
character is disabled, which I think is actually unprecedented. And yet
nobody's said anything about that. I think it's kind of strange, to tell you
the truth.

DAVIES: Director James Cameron, speaking with Terry Gross. More after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with director James Cameron,
recorded in February. His film "Avatar" is now out on DVD.

GROSS: You are now probably most famous for your biggest films, "Titanic" and
"Avatar," both of which have a lot of special effects and feats in them. But
you started off helping to make Roger Corman's films.

Mr. CAMERON: Mm-hmm. Right.

GROSS: Movies like "Battle Beyond the Stars," "Galaxy of Terror." And Corman is
famous for, in his early career, making these like, real low budget, quickie...

Mr. CAMERON: Cheap.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah, you know, action films and...

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah. He's famous for being cheap.

GROSS: Yeah. So, what did you learn from the real cheap side of special
effects...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...that you later applied to the real expensive side of special effects?

Mr. CAMERON: It's a funny question because I was just talking to Roger last
night, and I haven't seen him in years, but we ran into each other, and we were
joking about the fact that he's made - probably all of his movies combined
would not have cost as much as "Avatar." And he's made, you know, 100 films.

But, you know, we were having a good laugh about that. But yeah, there are
lessons that one learns in those early kind of guerrilla filmmaking days that
stay with you the whole time.

And, you know, and what you learn in those early films is just that your will
is the only thing that makes the difference in getting the job done - one's
will. And it teaches you to improvise and in a funny way to never lose hope,
because you're making a movie, and the movie can be what you want it to be.
It's not in control of you. You're in control of it, you know, so there are a
lot of lessons that are more really character lessons.

GROSS: So can you share your favorite cheap special effect that you were
involved with from a Corman film?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: Well, they were all cheap. You know, I mean we used to love - we
actually were fairly sophisticated even for that time. We were doing motion
control and fairly complicated optical special effects and so on for Roger.

But, of course, the ones we liked the best were the biggest cheats, where we'd
glue a model to a piece of glass and stick it in the foreground and pretend it
was far, you know, far away and really big and have all the actors turn away
from the camera and point at it even though it was sitting right in front of
the camera. And it actually created a compelling illusion, you know, foreground
miniature. It was a lot of fun. And it's the ones where you really think you're
get, you know, you're pulling something over on the audience that were the most
fun.

GROSS: Now, you know, in "Titanic" there were so many like, water-rushing-in
kind of effects when the boat was – when the ship was sinking.

Mr. CAMERON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And I know you grew up not far from Niagara Falls. Is that right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: Right. Yeah.

GROSS: So is it stretching too much to think that the power of the water of
Niagara Falls had some kind of influence on you?

Mr. CAMERON: Well, you know, I mean I grew up within the sound of Niagara
Falls. I lived, you know, with that constant rumble in the background. So I
certainly always had a respect for the power and the force of water.

And then in the filmmaking, starting with "The Abyss," I saw how, you know, you
can dump a dump tank with 10,000 gallons in it and have it destroy your set, I
mean literally rip it apart. And so, over time, I've learned to really, really
respect that force of water from an engineering standpoint.

And I'm very rigorous when I work with water that my, that, you know, my
special effects guys and my set construction people, so on, really understand
what they're dealing with. Because generally speaking, they underestimate the
force and energy of water by a factor of 10.

GROSS: When you say that this thing of water ripped apart your set, you mean
accidentally, right?

Mr. CAMERON: Accidentally, yeah.

GROSS: What happened?

Mr. CAMERON: Well, it blew the wall right out. You know, we were doing a
flooding scene, and it hadn't been properly strong-backed. And, you know, no
one was hurt but, you know, it really makes you realize what you're dealing
with.

So on "Titanic" we had a lot of water stunts. And, you know, I would, you know,
constantly, you know, walk the set, look at how it was rigged and so on, and
I'd want to see the engineering. I'd want to see the numbers. I'd want to see
how they had calculated everything to make sure that there was a safety margin.

GROSS: Okay. James Cameron, years before Governor Schwarzenegger was governor,
he was...

Mr. CAMERON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...your cyborg in "Terminator."

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So I'm sure you've told this many times but...

Mr. CAMERON: I'm not sure who was working for who at that time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm sure you've told the story many times but tell us how and why you
cast him.

Mr. CAMERON: Well, you know, I actually had this kind of flash that Arnold had
this amazing face. I wasn't - I mean his physique was fine, made sense that we
could hide this kind of infernal machine inside that, you know, inside his size
of his physique, but it was really his face that was interesting to me.

And, you know, someone suggested that he play the character played by Michael
Biehn, and that didn't make much sense to me. But I wound up going to lunch
with him, and we had this great time talking about the movie and just life in
general. I found him to be incredibly charming and intelligent, and that was
really the beginning of a friendship.

And so I went back to the executive producer of the film and said, you know,
he's not going to work as Reese, but he'd make a great terminator. And we
offered him the part that day and that's how the movie got made.

GROSS: Now, Charlton Heston was in one of your movies "True Lies," which...

Mr. CAMERON: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...starred a more charming version of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's like
a...

Mr. CAMERON: Oh sure.

GROSS: ...a secret spy in it, and even his wife doesn't know he's a spy. And
he's very charming and elegant in that side of his life.

Mr. CAMERON: Right. Right.

GROSS: And very tough and brutal on the other side of his life. Charlton Heston
has a small part in it.

Mr. CAMERON: Yeah.

GROSS: And it must've been interesting to direct him. I mean, he was, among
other things, Moses in the movies. I'm sure your politics are very different
from him.

Mr. CAMERON: Oh yeah, very different. But I found him charming and really
humble before the craft of acting in the old-school way. He came in, he said,
just call me Chuck. Don't let the fact that I'm an icon, you know, affect you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: And...

GROSS: He said, modestly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CAMERON: He said modestly. And then he sat in a chair, and he never left
the set all day long. He came in for off-camera, you know, to do his side of
the scene for off-camera, which, you know, certainly a star of his stature
wouldn't need to do. And he never left the set. He just sat there and read.

And you could just see that it was a life of - there were patterns formed by a
life of dedication to the craft, and I really respected that. And, you know, I
felt I had to really be on my game that day and be 100 percent professional as
a director because, you know, he came from the studio system where, you know,
you shot X number of pages a day, boom, boom, boom, and everybody knew their
tasks and, you know, it was a lot of fun working with him.

GROSS: Now, you didn't expect to go into movies. So what was your break that
led you through the door?

Mr. CAMERON: Well, I think you make your own luck, you know, and it wasn't
really a break. I had started – I had sort of quit my job. I was working as a
truck driver. I quit my job. I started making little films, you know, used up
all my savings. And somehow a little effects film that I had made got the
attention of somebody who was working for Corman on "Battle Beyond the Stars."

And I wound up getting an interview and coming into the model department and
sort of clawing my way up through the system pretty rapidly, which you could do
in that kind of environment because it was so kind of ad hoc, and nobody really
knew what they were doing anyway.

So, you know, I mean you get the door open a crack, and then you, you know, you
just keep wedging your way through the door. That's how you work it.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been fun and
interesting. Thank you.

Mr. CAMERON: Thanks.

DAVIES: James Cameron, speaking with Terry Gross, recorded in February. His
film "Avatar" is now out on DVD. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.
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Persian Cats' Just Want To Rock 'N' Roll ... In Iran

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross.

There's an acclaimed new music film from Iran now in theatres and available
through IFC Video On Demand. It's called "No One Knows About Persian Cats," and
has been admired abroad. It won the Special Jury Prize at last year's Cannes
Film Festival, even as it was being suppressed back in Iran. The movie was
directed by Bahman Ghobadi, an Iranian Kurd who's earlier films include, "A
Time for Drunken Horses" and "Marooned in Iraq."

Our critic at large John Powers says the film is a reminder for Westerners of
the liberating potential of pop music.

JOHN POWERS: When I was growing up, it was an article of faith that rock 'n'
roll could change the world. These days that faith has waned. You see, rather
than overturning mainstream culture, rock has turned into it. The Who didn't
actually die before they got old, they played halftime at the Super Bowl.

But there are places in the world where pop music still does carry a
transformative charge. One of them is the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose
leaders are still busy clamping down on the millions who believe that the
ruling government stole last summer's election.

The state's attempt to squash free expression lies at the heart of "No One
Knows About Persian Cats," a jagged, energetic, touching new movie by Bahman
Ghobadi. Shot without permission on a small digital camera, this thinly
fictionalized portrait of Tehran's underground music scene uses real musicians
to re-enact the conflict between indie rockers who just want to make music and
authorities who find the Great Satan's horns in every riff and backbeat.

The movie centers on two mild-tempered musicians: the bearded Ashkan and the
scarfed Negar, who've just gotten out of prison for their musical crimes. He
and she aren't radicals who are looking to rock the Casbah, even if the Casbah
was in Iran, not Algeria. No, they just want to find some musicians for their
band - it's called Take It Easy Hospital - and to get documents so they can
play abroad. To do this, they enlist the help of their wheeler-dealer friend
Nadar(ph), an exuberant DVD bootlegger.

The three spend the movie zooting around the city, often traveling in darkness
and dipping into basement hidey-holes. Along the way they encounter music
producers, traffickers in illegal passports, bullying magistrates and above
all, other musicians. There's the handsome singer who teaches refugee kids from
Iraq and Afghanistan. There's the metal band that practices among cows in a
barn. And there's the terrific rap group Hichkas, who insist that their songs
can only have meaning when played for people in Tehran.

As we listen to the various bands, Ghobadi offers us video montages of that
city - shades of early '80s MTV. They give us a feel for the texture of a
sprawling metropolis defined by wealth and poverty, exuberance and repression.

None of these songs are directly political and it startling to realize that the
mullahs could actually feel threatened by glum song like this one. "Human
Jungle" by Take it Easy Hospital.

(Soundbite of song, "Human Jungle")

TAKE IT EASY HOSPITAL (Band): (Singing) I've been there alone. I've been there
with you. Believe me out there, there's a jungle. Together or alone. Together
or alone.

People are looking for a way to survive. But we are just looking for a shortcut
together or alone. Together or alone. Nobody knows me. Nobody feels me. Nobody
knows me. Nobody needs me. Human jungle rules our lives...

POWERS: The great Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski used to say that one of
the most crushing flaws of communism was its totalizing vision. It had opinions
about everything - art and science and what you ought to be thinking. The same
holds true for a theocracy like Iran, where the state weighs in on how people
dress, what they do with their pets - Persian cats, for example, can't be taken
outside - and what culture they're allowed to enjoy: a bullying well documented
in Azar Nafisi's superb bestseller "Reading Lolita in Tehran" and in Jafar
Panahi's wonderful movie "Offside," about teenage girls who disguise themselves
as boys to attend soccer matches because women aren't allowed to attend. It's
worth noting, by the way, that Panahi - the key Iranian filmmaker of the last
decade - is now in prison for protesting last summer's election.

Now, you can understand why the mullahs hate rock music, which doesn't merely
possess an unruly energy. It enters people's heads as the siren song of the
West. They're well aware that rock 'n' roll became one big way that Soviet and
Eastern European dissidents showed their rejection of communism. It was no mere
coincidence, after all, that Vaclav Havel, the king of Czechoslovakia's Velvet
Revolution, was a huge fan of The Velvet Underground. That said, the Iranian
authorities are stuck with the same paradox that boomeranged on the communists:
When you crack down on rock music, you only make it a more powerful and
alluring metaphor for freedom.

That's precisely what we see in "No One Knows About Persian Cats". Negar and
Ashkan and their pals aren't radicals. They're passionate young people who just
want to play the alienated music they love. But because the authorities won't
let them, they believe, as one says, you can't do anything here. And it's this
angry disillusionment - far more than any rock song - that explains why
hundreds of thousands of young people have taken to the streets, and why the
Iranian theocrats should be worried that the times, they are a-changin'.

DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and his reviews and columns appear
on Vogue.com.

Coming up, we remember a pioneering film editor Dede Allen who died Saturday at
the age of 86.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Remembering Pioneering Film Editor Dede Allen

DAVE DAVIES, host:

We're going to remember Dede Allen, a master film editor who died last Saturday
in Los Angeles. She was 86 years old. One of her achievements was editing the
classic 1961 movie "The Hustler." It starred Jackie Gleeson as Minnesota Fats
and Paul Newman as the aggressive young pool shark Fast Eddie Felson.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hustler")

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN (Actor): (as Fast Eddie) I dreamed about this game, fat man.
And I dreamed about this game every night on the road. Five ball.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) You know, this is my table, man. I own it.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Thirteen ball.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Seven ball.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Four ball.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Game.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Eleven ball.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Rack 'em.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Ten ball in the corner.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

Mr. NEWMAN: (as Fast Eddie) Ten ball in the corner pocket.

(Soundbite of pool balls)

(Soundbite of applause)

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as character) Game.

DAVIES: In 1999, Dede Allen became the first film editor to receive a Career
Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. She's credited
with editing or co-editing 20 major films over a 40-year period, including "Dog
Day Afternoon," "Serpico," "Night Moves," "The Missouri Breaks," "Reds," "The
Breakfast Club," "The Addams Family" and "The Wonder Boys."

Editing is essential in shaping the narrative and rhythm of a film, yet we
often aren't conscious of it. But in Arthur Penn's 1967 film "Bonnie and
Clyde," the editing of the final shootout was clearly remarkable. It was one of
the most violent death scenes in cinematic history up to that point. As Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow were hit with dozens of bullets, we see their bodies
twitch and jump with the impact of each hit. And adding to the impact of the
scene were the rapid edits that conveyed the fury of the bullets and showed the
action at varying speeds.

(Soundbite of movie, "Bonnie and Clyde")

(Soundbite of gunfire)

DAVIES: Terry Gross interviewed Dede Allen in 2000. They began by talking about
that shootout scene in "Bonnie and Clyde."

TERRY GROSS: You know what's always interested me about that scene, that it's
really so little blood for so many bullet holes. It's almost as if there's a
double standard in what violence is acceptable, that the bullets were okay but
not the blood.

Ms. DEDE ALLEN (Film Editor): Well, an interesting thing, which is a parallel
thing to this, is when we saw it, it was at a preview and Arthur almost died
because everything was so bloody and so red. And I spent 11 more days at
Technicolor to get the tone that Arthur wanted. I mean he was just distraught.
It was a great preview. You know, it saved our lives that preview, but the
color was pretty heavy and dense and the blood was very, very dark.

And I don't know how that quite relates to the bullets but certainly, I don't
think Arthur was ever interested in having violent blood spurting out unless it
was a real reason for it because basically this was a film that he made after
the Kennedy assassination, and I've always felt that that was – that last scene
was a kind of a symbolic scene about the violence in America which, of course,
still exists.

GROSS: When you were first learning how to edit film were there certain rules
that you were told were basically unbreakable that you've subsequently broken?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALLEN: Oh yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALLEN: I remember one man, a very, very generous man who was doing Ann
Miller pictures and he took me in and said I want to teach you something. He
said you always start with a long shot, then you move in to an over shoulder or
a group shot. And he said and you never change that order. Of course, when I
started cutting in the years in New York before I could get features I was
working in a - what was called a spot house and I was doing industrials and
things. And somehow or other I was breaking that rule constantly.

I was doing medical films where, you know, I just didn't seem to think about
that that way. When I got a chance to cut for Bob Wise I was terrified. He was
after all, Orson Welles' editor and, you know, and I was very impressed. This
was the first picture he also was in charge of producing. Harry Belafonte was
producing a picture called "Odds Against Tomorrow," 1959, and I was by then 34
years old and I had been – I had started when I was 18, so that was a long
route to get there.

But the first Saturday that I ever showed Bob Wise my first scene it was a
scene up on Riverside Drive in a clunky apartment where Ed Begley and Robert
Ryan first meet with Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan plays a very racist bank
robber. And I worked that scene over and over and over again. And in those days
you had hot splices, meaning big foot splices where if you lost a frame you had
to slug it in black.

And so the first sequence that I showed him it had what I used to call little
blackies in them. You know, little black slugs in them. And he looked at the
scene and he punch me on the arm and says good girl. I like to see you've been
working with that. Never be afraid. I said, oh I was so afraid all my mistakes
would show. He says no. He says you've been working the scene. It wasn't like a
time now where it would be Avid or something where can do it any one of a dozen
ways and nobody sees your mistakes. He was just so encouraging. I mean I
couldn't have had a better mentor as my first big feature.

GROSS: Let me ask you about the film "The Hustler," one of the early films you
edited. This is the 1961 classic about pool hustlers starring Paul Newman and
George C. Scott.

Ms. ALLEN: Right.

GROSS: And Jackie Gleeson. It was directed by Robert Rossen. In the pool scenes
there's a real great rhythm between the pool shots, the view of the table and
the cutaways to the reactions of the players and the spectators. And in some
scenes the pace seems to just escalate as the game goes on and tension
increases. Can you describe your approach to editing those pool sequences
through the film?

Ms. ALLEN: Yes. Actually the pool sequences were the first things that were
shot. We were in Ames Pool Hall for a long time and I was back in my cutting
room cutting it. And when we shot what became montages and even the ones that
were montages as the pace increased in that whole sequence at the beginning of
the first big game that Minnesota Fats wins, it was long but it played.

This is the point I think I'm trying to make, it played. It played long. Once
it was say a full reel and I got it down to then a half a reel and then, you
know, this is for each montage. Some of the montages were faster. But if a
scene played Rossen would tell me well it's kind of a he said don't piss in the
mustard. It's kind of a dirty expression.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALLEN: I don't know it you can use that. Don't improve it into a disaster.

GROSS: So you like to be at the rehearsals if possible. You like to be on the
set. You like to see the dailies. Do you ever worry that that will influence
your decision? That when you're actually editing a movie that a scene might
look different than your memory of it or then the way it played on a set, and
that you'll be kind of too influenced by the way it played on a set as opposed
to...

Ms. ALLEN: Well, that's a good question. That's a very good question because
actually I don't like to be on the set. I don't want to know who's fighting
with who. I don't want to know any of that. That doesn't interest me in any
way. I'm only on the set when I'm called on the set.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ALLEN: Otherwise I don't really go on the set. I never go on the set
because I like to look at the film and for me it's fresh.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. ALLEN: And I don't have to know any of the baggage that goes with making
it.

GROSS: What should a good editor do to watch out for an actor?

Ms. ALLEN: Well, you just don't put anything – you never make an actor look,
for instance, if a woman is going up a staircase and there's a camera following
her and it's someone who's being photographed, even if they have a very slender
figure, sometimes they could look a little wobbly in the rear end. You would
never put a shot like that. And I've sometimes seen things like that, where
actors weren't protected as much as they could or an actor has a bad take and
you - or they take a breath or they take that pause that you know is a
preparation, and I've sometimes seen those left in films, and that’s someone
who just didn’t know that they could get rid of that and cover it and not show
where an actor basically paused because they were doing a prep. You have to
know when they're really into the character and when they're not. It’s a matter
of knowing good acting, I guess.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. You’ve seen the technology of film editing change a lot since
the 1940s, when you started as an apprentice. Tell us how you made an edit when
you first started and how you make them now, digitally?

Ms. ALLEN: Well, when you first start you make an edit on film, you cut it on a
splicer. And the splices have all changed too, because they used to be - or you
do it with a scissor. I beg your pardon. I haven't gone back far enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ALLEN: You do it with a scissor and you would lose one side of the frame.
You would lose a frame between each cut and so you had to put – there are some
even - I think in 16 mil – when you lose two frames. I can't quite remember,
but that's what I meant when I was talking about the Bob Wise, the first scene
I ever cut.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. ALLEN: If you lost the frame, you had to slug it and you would slug it in
black because that shows better than white. You wouldn’t slug it in white
because that would flash bright. So you would see the thing shatter with these
little black things going through. I remember at Columbia, where I first
started, I never got into the picture department there, but I remember before
preview there would be these – I would go up sometimes and be called in to help
clean the film. They would clean the film within an inch of its life and
replace any slug that was in it for the preview, and you would have your hand
in a big double tin of carbon tet, which became very dangerous later. And you
would squeegee it through various solvents very, very slowly to clean it up for
the picture.

GROSS: Carbon tet is like a dry cleaning fluid.

Ms. ALLEN: Yeah. It’s something used to be used for cleaning film, but it’s an
noxious one. I mean it’s not, you know, you can get very sick from it.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. ALLEN: But we didn’t know that in those days.

GROSS: And now you’re editing digitally.

Ms. ALLEN: Now I'm editing digitally. Then there was the period when you had
tape, of course. You know, you spliced it and you had - then you had the period
of the Carlos Rivas, which is a straight splicer, where you only have to put
one sprocket. And then Walter Murch developed one where you only had to put a
half a sprocket, an little tiny thing where you never saw the tape. I mean each
generation contributes. It’s wonderful.

GROSS: Did you ever find yourself resisting change and preferring it the old
way? Or did you go along with all the changes and welcome them?

Ms. ALLEN: You can't work in this industry if you resist change. I happen to
love equipment. I mean, you know, when I lived with my grandparents the last
three years of high school, I would fix the pluming and stuff like that. My
grandfather was a surgeon. He wouldn’t touch anything like that. So I was
always - had fun with my – mechanically - so I had no troubles with Moviolas
and things like that, because mechanically I kind of liked them.

GROSS: When you started off in movies during the war and lot of men...

Ms. ALLEN: Second World War.

GROSS: Yeah. And a lot of men...

Ms. ALLEN: We have to say that these days.

GROSS: That’s right. And a lot of men who had had jobs were off fighting the
war, so there were more openings. Do you think anything was more difficult for
you as a woman? Were there any obstacles put before you? Were people willing to
mentor you in spite of the fact that you were a woman?

Ms. ALLEN: That’s a word that wasn’t used in those days. Nobody – I used it in
terms of – I think I used it earlier in the interview because I've heard it so
much lately.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. ALLEN: Obviously there are people who encourage you. I mean I never
would've been able to get ahead in anything because I was working mostly with
men, unless the men who helped me were encouraging. I mean that’s, as far as
I'm concerned, it took in my generation, certainly, men to help women. You just
couldn’t go blasting your way. After all, you had to – the hardest thing to do
is to be able to learn everything of what goes on in a laboratory and not be
considered a, you know, an overbearing ballbuster, is the word that they used
to use. I guess they still do. They use worse words now.

Anyway, it’s very hard to retain yourself as a woman and still be
knowledgeable. And the only way you can do that is to learn everything you have
to know about everything so that nobody can fool you, and laboratories were a
wonderful place because I ended up with great relationships with people in labs
because I had come from having cut commercials and industrials and laying out
my own opticals.

So I knew labs and I knew the people who did the opticals and I knew what you
could do. And when you know your stuff, they respect you. They don’t think of
you as a man or a woman. But it took in every new relationship in the early
days. It took going through that period of learning that I really didn't know
what I was talking about. So you had to work harder.

DAVIES: Dede Allen speaking with Terry Gross in 2000. Allen died Saturday at
the age of 86.
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..PGRM:
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In 'Handsome Harry,' Guilt Plays A Starring Role

(Soundbite of music)

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Bette Gordon is known to some moviegoers for her 1984 indie film “Variety,”
about a woman who takes tickets at a porn theater and becomes obsessed with
watching men watch women.

Her new film “Handsome Harry” is about male sexuality. It stars Jamey Sheridan
as the title character and features Campbell Scott, Steve Buscemi, John Savage
and Aidan Quinn.

Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: One way to think of Bette Gordon's “Handsome Harry” is as a
revenge movie turned backwards and inside out. That is, the bad guys take
revenge on themselves. Thirty-three years after they did a very bad thing,
they're still eaten away by guilt, and one of them goes on a kind of pilgrimage
to ask forgiveness from the person who was violated.

The pilgrim is Harry, once dubbed "Handsome Harry," a divorced Albany, New York
contractor played by a brilliant actor named Jamey Sheridan. He has a long,
somewhat flat face that can seem a mask of blandness or take on, in the movie's
shadowy lighting, a faintly satanic cast. It's the face of a man with a secret,
and also, perhaps, of a man who keeps secrets from himself.

Shortly after his 52nd birthday, Harry receives a call from an old Navy buddy
on his deathbed - Kelley, played by Steve Buscemi. A long time ago, Harry,
Kelley and three others drunkenly brutalized a fellow sailor, Kagan, they
learned was gay. In his hospital bed, Kelley's memories flood back.

(Soundbite of movie, “Handsome Harry”)

Mr. STEVE BUSCEMI (Actor): (as Tommy) You remember the night Kagan took us to
the Five Spot and you two busted my (bleep) because I never heard jazz before?

Mr. JAMEY SHERIDAN (Actor): (as Harry) Yeah.

Mr. BUSCEMI: (as Tommy) Tell you, that was the most beautiful (bleep) sound I
ever heard. In fact, that was one of the best nights I've ever had in my whole
entire miserable life. To tell you the truth, Harry, I'm not even that sorry
see it end. I just don’t want to go to hell.

Mr. SHERIDAN: (as Harry) You’re not going to hell.

Mr. BUSCEMI: (as Tommy) You don’t know that. I'm pretty sure it was me who
(bleep) Kagan so bad.

Mr. SHERIDAN: (as Harry) All five of us did that.

Mr. BUSCEMI: (as Tommy) I think I was the one who dropped that generator on his
hand.

Mr. SHERIDAN: (as Harry) Are you sure?

Mr. BUSCEMI: (as Tommy) Harry, just tell him I'm sorry. Please?

Mr. SHERIDAN: (as Harry) I will.

Mr. BUSCEMI: (as Tommy) You promise?

Mr. SHERIDAN: (as Harry) I promise, Tommy.

EDELSTEIN: Prompted by Kelley's death, Harry visits one old Navy mate, and then
another and another, heading south toward Miami, where the victim, Kagan,
lives. The structure is a little plodding. There's a buried secret, but it's
broadly telegraphed. But the movie's flaws in the end recede. Each of Harry's
encounters is strange, gripping and revelatory. None of these men has put that
night behind him. Yet none has coped with the memory in anything like the same
way.

Nicholas T. Proferes' screenplay breaks each meeting into vivid dramatic beats,
starting with glimpses of each man's broken life or marriage, followed by
Harry's awkward, inevitable, urgent question: Do you remember what happened
that night?

The actors are beyond praise. Buscemi is more gaunt and hollow-eyed than ever,
which is saying something. As an affluent, alcoholic realtor, John Savage plays
a man deformed by a messy, uncontainable rage. Aidan Quinn is a professor who’s
channeled his guilt into an anti-military, anti-macho philosophy; this is the
film's least credible idea, but Quinn gives it weight.

Finally and most frightening is Titus Welliver as a born-again whose wife is a
paraplegic and who thanks the Lord in almost every sentence. The sight of him
clutching a golf club and fighting to keep his true bile from rising is
indelible.

Bette Gordon has radar for the uneasy posturing of the archetypal American
male, especially when the subtext is homosexuality. But her vision isn't
reductive. Harry is damned, but we still have glimpses of a larger spirit, of
the passionate man he was.

The victim, once a concert pianist, finally makes an appearance, although not
in the way we expect. He's played by Campbell Scott, and his restraint is far
more haunting than rage and tears. Kagan is a passive revenger. He has waited.
And Harry's sin, we learn, came from a different place than his buddies' blind,
stupid prejudice.

Underneath the revenge story in “Handsome Harry” is a kind of ghost story.
Those ghosts aren't just the victims of hate, disfigured by a violent,
senseless world. The ghosts are also the victimizers - men like Harry who are
pale shadows now, having murdered what was best in themselves.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

And with apologies to the great Merle Haggard, we have a correction. In our
review yesterday of Haggard’s new CD, “I Am What I Am,” we added a few years,
10 actually, to his age. What he is is 73 years old, and still walking the
floor over you.

For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of song, “Walking the Floor Over You”)

Mr. MERLE HAGGARD (Singer-songwriter, musician) (Singing) You left me and you
went away. You said that you you'd be back in just a day. That day has come and
gone but you’re still away from home. I'm walking the floor over you.
..COST:
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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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