DATE January 29, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Kevin Phillips discusses the Bush family legacy
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
My guest is commentator and author Kevin Phillips. His new book about the
Bush family is called "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the
Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush." Phillips, once a Republican
strategist for Richard Nixon, takes a harsh look at four generations of the
Bush family. He concludes the family's ties to oil, investment banking and
the intelligence community have allowed the Bushes to reward friends and build
political power. Phillips is the author of nine books, including "The
Politics of Rich and Poor" and "Wealth and Democracy." He writes for several
publications and is a commentator for National Public Radio. I spoke to Kevin
Phillips last week.
Kevin Phillips, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. KEVIN PHILLIPS (Author, "American Dynasty"): My pleasure.
DAVIES: Your book introduces us to some of the Bush family ancestors that
most Americans have probably never heard of but were important and influential
people in their day. Let's meet some of them. Now you introduced us to
George Herbert Walker, who I believe was the first President Bush's maternal
grandfather. Tell us about what he did for a living, why he's important in
this family's legacy.
Mr. PHILLIPS: George H. Walker was really the Joe Kennedy of the Bush family.
He was the founding father, the man who made the bigger bucks and made the
bigger connections. He was a financier based in St. Louis, and during World
War I, he managed to sort of jump his profile a bit and become active in
wartime finance and in terms of arranging things that were made in the United
States and went over to Europe. And by the end of the war, he had made enough
of a mark that Averell Harriman, who was the heir to the Union Pacific
fortune, wanted to enlist George H. Walker in his new brokerage firm, W.A.
Harriman & Company, which they did. And during the 1920s they got involved
in quite a few businesses and investment opportunities in both Germany and
Russia. And as a result of this, really what they were doing was combining a
kind of political intelligence operation with business and commerce in two
countries that were thought to be enormously important, not just as markets
but given the political future of Europe. And as a result, George H. Walker
made himself into an important behind-the-scenes player in both Washington and
DAVIES: So it was George Herbert Walker's daughter Dorothy, I believe, who
married Prescott Bush. Is that right?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes.
DAVIES: And then Prescott Bush and George Herbert Walker and the Harriman
investment banking business were an important link here.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Absolutely. You had, in addition to George H. Walker,
Prescott Bush's father, Sam Bush had been a major regulator of the munitions
industry in the United States during World War I. And Prescott Bush, when he
got out of Yale in 1917, briefly went into the Army. And when he came back to
the United States in 1919, he found himself, because of both his father's
connections and other connections, in industries that had basically had
something to do with the war: equipment, heavy steel construction, rubber.
And that's where he worked until 1926, when he became a vice president of W.A.
Harriman & Company, essentially working for his father-in-law, George H.
DAVIES: Now you write that the Bush family had some business associations
with Nazi Germany. Tell us about that.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, the associations they had grew up during the pre-Nazi
period, during Weimar, Germany. And essentially they were across quite a
spectrum of the German economy. Harriman and Walker took a participation in
the Hamburg-America Lines. They'd been the biggest steamship line in the
world before World War I, and as a result of World War I, they were sort of
out of luck and out of ships. And Walker and Harriman got some of the ships
and became involved in the management of the Hamburg-America Line. They also
worked with a Thyssen Steel interest in Germany and wound up setting up a bank
for the Thyssen Steel interests that was in New York but was owned by a bank
in Rotterdam, Holland, and ultimately was owned in Berlin. Now they got into
some other things too: zinc mining. They had participations in the German
trans-Atlantic cable. They did some bond issues in Germany. They were a
major player in Germany. But this is before Hitler. You have to underscore
Mr. PHILLIPS: However, their links to Germany continued into the 1930s. And
this is where the framework of knowledge becomes pretty thin. There was a
bank, the Union Banking Corporation, set up, as I mentioned for the Thyssen
Steel interest, and that bank continued until 1942. Prescott Bush was a
director, and in 1942, its assets were seized by the alien property custodian
because it was German and the United States went to war.
DAVIES: So when Hitler became--Hitler came to power in 1933 in Germany. And
his intentions became increasingly apparent throughout the '30s, how did the
Bush family and the Walkers respond to that? I mean, did they divest from
that or did they maintain those investments?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, we can say with considerable accuracy, they didn't
divest. They didn't shut down the bank. Now I suppose they could have. They
didn't shut down the zinc mine connection on the Polish-German border. They
did keep some links with the Hamburg-America Line by the middle '30s, but it's
not clear that they really amounted to too much. Now there are records in
some books--there are several books written about the intelligence community
and the operators who were working for some of the New York investment firms
in Germany in the late 1930s. And several books cited one individual as being
the German go-between for one of the big New York banks and for Brown Brothers
Harriman. Now Prescott Bush was involved with German accounts, but we don't
know exactly what those German accounts were. We don't know what the
go-between did for Brown Brothers Harriman in Germany. There's only one
transaction that can be linked to Brown Brothers Harriman that I can be
specific about and that's they provided some sort of security or collateral
for a transfer of--or a provision of tetraethyl gasoline from the United
States to the German Luftwaffe in 1938. But the record is really very thin on
all of this.
DAVIES: Well, including this material in the book, of course, inevitably
is going to raise the question of whether the Walkers or the Bushes were
really patriotic at a critical time in American history. What's your
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, my judgment is that during the 1930s, the late 1930s and
early 1940s, they were so close to other people in Brown Brothers Harriman who
were involved in the intelligence community. I mean, for example, there was
Robert A. Lovett, another partner in Brown Brothers Harriman who, after
World War II, became the secretary of Defense and was the architect of the
CIA. So I can't imagine that they weren't close to those people. In 1941,
the New York Herald Tribune published a front-page article on Union Banking
Corporation, referred to the possibility that it was holding money for Hitler
cronies. And the people at Brown Brothers Harriman, including Prescott Bush,
had already been speaking to the New York state banking superintendent about
should they get out of the bank? Should they leave the board there? What
should they do? And I think it's quite clear that, far from being in bed with
Hitler, which is kind of ridiculous, they were obviously pretty close to the
intelligence community and probably reporting on things in Germany. By the
end of World War II, quite a few people who had been involved in some sort of
economic relations with Germany in the 1930s emerged as important people in
the intelligence community because they obviously could give advice and
probably a little more than that during the war.
DAVIES: So rather than being profiteers from the Nazi war effort, it appears
they might have been using their commercial links to play a patriotic role in
helping military intelligence?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes. I think that you have to draw that conclusion because of
the large number of people that they were involved with who wound up in the
War Department, the State Department and the OSS, which was the intelligence
service during World War II. Having said that, it's equally clear that they
were involved in commercial relationships with Germany after 1933. But the
overwhelming aspect of this is that they had to be involved at the same time
with the intelligence community.
DAVIES: All right. So Prescott Bush is a senator for many years. It is his
son, who is George Herbert Walker Bush, who at a relatively young age does not
follow the footsteps of his forbearers and go into investment banking but sets
off to Texas. This is an important move in a sort of aristocratic family,
isn't it, to relocate southwest?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, it's an interesting move because it can have a number of
interpretations. The Texas oil fields, the west Texas oil fields, the Permian
Basin, were attracting a lot of people from the Northeast from families that
had quite a bit of money and a lot of them went to Midland, which is where
George H.W. Bush himself wound up. That was kind of an outpost of the Ivy
League and they had streets named for Harvard, Yale and Princeton. It was all
very Northeastern in some ways. But it's also clear that he went out there
because he wanted to get out of his father's sort of white-shoe investment
community. But what he did, in addition to going to this pot of black gold
out in Midland with oil, he got involved with a firm where his father had been
a director for, at this point, 15 years, Dresser Industries, which is now part
of Halliburton. And Dresser Industries was not just an oil service firm but,
as World War II came along, with the help of Prescott Bush, who had a lot of
connections, they got to work on many, many defense contracts, including the
atomic bomb project.
DAVIES: So in moving to Texas, you don't see this as a real departure from
the family's historical relationships to investment banking, to energy and to
intelligence? It transplanted it to Southwest?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Yes. In my opinion, that's exactly what was going on. Before
George H.W. Bush went to Texas to work with Dresser Industries, he'd been
lined up--or his father had lined up a possible job in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a
man named Ray Kravis, who was one of the great experts on the tax shelter
aspects of the oil industry and on all the ways in which you could set up
deals that would maximize the profit. In my opinion, he was really doing Wall
Street type work even when he was in Texas half the time at least.
DAVIES: My guest is political commentator and author Kevin Phillips. We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: We're back with author and commentator Kevin Phillips. His new book
is called "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of
Deceit in the House of Bush."
Now you note that one of the themes of the Bush family over four generations
was its involvement with the nation's intelligence community. And, of course,
we know that George Herbert Walker Bush actually headed the CIA in the late
'70s. But I'm wondering, did you find evidence of earlier contact between
George Herbert Walker Bush and the CIA when he was involved in the oil
Mr. PHILLIPS: I found what we'd have to call circumstantial evidence and let
me go through that. It's not obviously legal proof in the sense that you
don't have what would be necessary for a courtroom, but I think we have some
of what's necessary for an historical evaluation. The people who've looked at
this have weighed the different times during which George Herbert Walker Bush
could have become connected with the CIA or its earlier framework, the OSS. A
few think that maybe when he went into the Navy during World War II, he
actually had an OSS connection that allowed him to get pilot training even
though he didn't meet the requirements. More think that, well, when he was at
Yale. Yale, of all the universities in the United States, was the great
source of people going into the intelligence community and CIA. There's just
an awful lot of that. The connections were so strong that people would joke
about hearing "The Whiffenpoof Song" being hummed in the corridors of the CIA.
So maybe it was a Yale connection.
But the bulk of the betting is that the connection came when he was in the
offshore oil drilling business, principally in the Caribbean through a company
named Zapata Offshore. And this again was financed by his uncle, who was
also a Yale man and very interested in things having to do with cloak and
dagger stuff. And the thought is that by the late 1950s or early 1960s, as
the United States was getting more and more interested in what was going on
with Fidel Castro and Cuba that Zapata Offshore might have been a conduit or
an asset of the CIA in terms of surveillance of Cuba and possibly even
preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion. That seems to be the larger
speculation. I've seen that in four or five different places.
DAVIES: Kevin Phillips, you write that the Bush family's rise was very much
associated with what you call crony capitalism. Explain this and give us an
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, crony capitalism is basically when, you know, deals are
made between friends and associates, not in a very public way, behind the
scenes with connections and odd obligations and funny reasons for investing.
Now, if you look at the history of the Bushes from the standpoint of crony
capitalism, you get the first generation of George Herbert Walker and Sam Bush
and obviously they had a whole lot of friends in business, in finance, in
various military production firms. And they did a lot of this on the QT.
Nobody knew exactly what was going on. So it's fair to say there was an
element of crony capitalism here in these interlocking directorates and deals
that came during and after World War I.
By the time you get to Prescott Bush, when you're talking about crony
capitalism, you're talking about a firm, which was Brown Brothers Harriman, in
which crony capitalism was really the name of the game but in a pretty
elevated sense. They'd all been at school together. They worked together.
Dresser Industries, where George Herbert Walker Bush had his first job in
Texas, had been reorganized by these people in 1929 and Prescott Bush became a
director of it. Really closely participated in running Dresser because the
head of it was his friend who he'd helped get the job and so small wonder the
friend appointed his son to a position after World War II. Cronyism, in an
honest, fairly up-front way, was the name of the game.
But when you start getting into Texas oil in the 1950s and '60s, and
especially when George W., the current president, gets into the act, he
financed his businesses in ways that were much more a question of people
investing money who didn't really expect to get paid back and the argument is
that they invested because they were dealing with the son of the vice
president or president. And there was quite a bit of that in his Arbusto
partnership in the late 1970s and quite a bit of it in the late 1980s in his
being bought out by Harken Energy and these are other portraits and the other
brothers both of George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush were likewise involved
in some of the same crony capitalist ventures.
DAVIES: It's one thing, of course, for a business to hire friends and
relatives. I mean, that happens all the time. It's another thing if private
interests reap profits either at taxpayer expense or with special privileges
or information that they get from the government. One of the things you
write about is the Bush administration's ties to Enron and the Enron collapse.
Now President George W. Bush described that as a business scandal, not a
political scandal. What connection did you find between the Bushes and the
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, the answer is many, many, many. The notion that this is
just a business scandal and not a political scandal is a joke, because Enron
didn't even exist under that name until 1985, '86. And it went from being
just a minor blip in the corporate system to, by the years 2000 and 2001, a
company that was growing so fast that some of its own executives thought it
would become the largest in the world within a couple of years. Now a lot of
this had to do with Enron's connection with the Bushes. You also have to say
that a number of Democratic politicians, including the Clinton White House,
were involved with helping Enron, too, but the Bushes' role was much more
prominent. Ken Lay was a natural gas executive who came from Houston.
By the early 1980s, he had become involved in a fairly small way with George
H.W. Bush when Bush was vice president and he was in charge of planning a lot
of the energy deregulation moves of the Reagan administration. And he became
fairly close to Lay and George W. Bush became close to Lay, too, and by the
time we have 1988 and George Bush Sr. is about to be elected president, right
after he was elected, George W. Bush called up a high Argentine official to
push for Enron to be considered for a pipeline. So obviously they were
getting friendly even before George Bush became the president and when he was
the president, he appointed Lay to the President's Export Council. He
appointed Lay to be the host and arranger of one of the G7 economic meetings
that was taking place in Texas. He positioned him to be credible with the US
agencies that are vital to a company trying to go into international business,
which Lay was. And because of these connections, Lay was able to get
financing from the Export-Import Bank, the overseas private investment
corporation, and he was able to put Enron in a number of situations around the
world with the help of the federal government. He also profited enormously
under the Bushes from various stages of deregulation, but that picks up on
another angle and that's a longer story, too.
DAVIES: Commentator and author Kevin Phillips. He'll be back in the second
half of the show. I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music; announcements)
DAVIES: Coming up, we meet Afghani filmmaker Sidda Barmak. His new film,
"Osama," just won a Golden Globe. And Ed Ward tells us about the 1970s band
Television. Also, we continue our conversation with Kevin Phillips about the
Bush family. He tells us how the Reagan and Bush years have affected his own
identification with the Republican Party.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies of the Philadelphia Daily News
filling in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our conversation with commentator and author Kevin Phillips
who's new book takes a critical look at four generations of the Bush family.
It's called "American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of
Deceit in the House of Bush."
You know, I wonder if the Bushs can be seen as a dynasty any more than any
other power--we've had powerful political families in the past: the Kennedys,
the Tafts. I mean, even Al Gore's dad was a senator. I mean, are they
Mr. PHILLIPS: What to me is different about the Bushs' dynastically is the
importance of their power at the presidential level. The other dynasties,
like the Kennedys, just got one president. They tried for more but they
couldn't do it. With the Roosevelts, you had, yes, two presidents but they
were 20 years apart and they were in different parties. The Adams, two
presidents but 24 years apart and in different parties. What you had with the
Bushs was a strong continuity as I've mentioned between the 41st president and
the 43rd, a passage of only eight years, and then looking back at the four
generations of Bushs, before you had the two presidents, you also had the
grandfather of the current president who was a senator from Connecticut. When
he left office, his wife later said that by the late 1950s, early 1960s, he
had thought and discussed with her that if he'd gotten involved in politics
earlier, he could have been president. So they--they've been thinking about
becoming presidents in three generations over nearly 50 years. That's really
unusual to have that continuity, to have them come out of, steadily, the same
sort of interest groups--finance, oil, military, industrial complex and
intelligence. So I regard it as a dynasty. I don't think that these other
parallels are really there. This is much more.
DAVIES: Kevin Phillips, it's interesting to see this book which is so harshly
critical of the Bush family coming from a man with a long, early history as a
Republican. He worked on the Nixon campaign in the '60s and then wrote a
widely quoted book about the Republican strategy that was so successful in the
last part of the 20th century. And I'm wondering, you know, a lot of people
who are now in their 50s who were left as radicals in college look back at
their old selves and kind of laugh, and I'm interested in your ideological
migration and whether you look at the Kevin Phillips of 30 years ago and think
you were wrong or did the party change?
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, I guess I probably wouldn't do exactly the things that I
did back then over again because we all know things from a later perspective,
but I wouldn't do it too differently. The thing that I had a sense of very
strongly in the late 1960s and early 1970s was being for a politics that was
changing the alignments between the parties so that the Republicans could
represent a conservative access that went across the old Mason-Dixon Line and
stood for more middle America as opposed to the country clubs and the mahogany
panel rooms in the old stereotypical Republican loyalty patterns. And part of
the reasons I didn't like the Bushs is that I always had the sense that George
Sr. basically stood for the whole, very important, back room club member,
select family, social registered type of Republicanism that basically wasn't
interested in the average American and didn't support the type of Republican
policies and party alignment that I did.
Interestingly, in 1990, I wrote a book called "The Politics of Rich and Poor"
which was critical of some of Reagan's economics but especially critical of
the whole socioeconomic loyalty pattern of the Bush family, George H.W., in
particular. The lead quote on the back of the book jacket of "The Politics of
Rich and Poor" came from Richard M. Nixon who shared my doubts about the
elitist economics of Bush. So I feel, yes, I've changed, but under the Bushs,
in particular, the party has moved away from me and it represents something
that it didn't used to represent. I could go back at great length, describe
how many Republicans beginning with Nixon but including Ronald Reagan and
others really did not think much of George Bush Sr. and had a lot of doubts
about him. Ross Perot was another Republican that was motivated to run
against him. He called Bush Sr. a rabbit. He couldn't stand him. John
McCain ran against Bush the younger and had major doubts.
So, yes, I've changed, but I think that the rise of the Bushs within the
Republican Party to the point of really controlling it for much of the last
quarter century has not gone down so well with some other old-time Republicans
and I do hear from some of them.
DAVIES: I mean, what struck me about the book is that I've never seen this
picture of the Bushs, and yet, most of the material has been there. I mean,
did you feel that sort of you were looking at the truth, it was hidden in
Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, there's an interesting history to this. There were no
independent biographies written about George Bush Sr. until the last year of
his presidential administration when a pair of Time reporters wrote a very
good book, but prior to that time, the only books that had been written were
two by people who were either social friends of Bush or one who would work for
him at the United Nations and then a couple of books that were basically
looking at Bush and his war record in the South Pacific and they were admiring
portraits of his time as a very youthful Navy pilot.
So basically the family flew under the radar, and in 1992, when Bush was
defeated, everybody figured, `Well, he's gone.' They didn't think that the
son would come back, but they knew he was gone. So there really wasn't any
visitation of all this information which is, as you say, available from public
sources. You can put it together. But I thought because I saw continuity
between all the Bushs and especially George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush that
it was time to put it all together and that's the book.
DAVIES: Well, Kevin Phillips, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. PHILLIPS: Thank you.
DAVIES: Commentator Kevin Phillips. His new book is "American Dynasty:
Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush."
Coming up, Afghani filmmaker Siddiq Barmak. His film about life under the
Taliban just won a Golden Globe.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Siddiq Barmak discusses his film "Osama"
DAVE DAVIES, host:
American film audiences will soon have a vivid look at life in Afghanistan
under the harsh rule of the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime with the
release of the new movie "Osama." My guest, Afghani film director Siddiq
Barmak, just won a Golden Globe for "Osama" which was made in 2002 without
professional actors. The film isn't about the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin
Laden. It tells the story of an Afghani family of three women who face
starvation because of Taliban prohibitions on female employment. In
desperation, the family decides to cut the hair of their 12-year-old daughter
and pass her as a boy. A friend hoping to help conceal her identity calls her
Osama because the name implies strength and masculinity. The film opens with
a compelling image; scores of women marching in a street protest, each
shrouded in a blue burqa.
Siddiq Barmak was trained in Moscow's All-Soviet Film Institute and headed the
Afghan Film Organization before he fled to Pakistan when the Taliban took
power. He returned when the Taliban were ousted by American-led forces in
2001 and he's now working to rebuild the Afghan film industry. I spoke to
Barmak earlier this week.
Siddiq Barmak, welcome to FRESH AIR.
Mr. SIDDIQ BARMAK ("Osama"): Thank you so much.
DAVIES: The lead character, the 12-year-old girl played by Marina Golbahari
has such a striking face. Where did you find her?
Mr. BARMAK: For this main character actually I searched a lot of young girls.
I was in different places, but I accidently found Marina on the street on
front of the park screen where it was shown the first time, "Osama," and she
was unfortunately at that time begging on the street. And, suddenly, I saw
her face and it was so impressive and so beautiful and her eyes really shocked
me. And then I ask her, `Do you want to play some role in my film, Marina?'
And she was surprised by this word, and she asked me, `What's the meaning of
film, uncle?' And I really was frozen because I thought, `OK. My God, she
never saw a film. She never had the opportunity to watch the TV.'
And she was so emotionally. When I had a discussion about her personal life,
to know something about her personal life, she was a part of all these
tragedies. She saw a lot of suffering during the Taliban. She lost her
sister. Her father several times was arrested by the Taliban because he was a
music player and a very old Afghani instrument, and she was escaping a lot of
time from the Taliban. So she had this experience of these feelings and
atmosphere. And she knows better what's the meaning of escaping.
DAVIES: The child in your film who impersonates a boy, the young girl, picks
the name Osama. That's a powerful name for any film in the modern world. Why
did you select that name?
Mr. BARMAK: In one scene, the little girl is disturbed by noisy boys on the
street, and Espandi wanted to protect her. So these noisy boys says, `If he's
a boy, so what's his name?' And Espandi's thinking and he said, `His name is
Osama,' because he thought that this name should create a scare and a fear
inside of these boys, and they will be released, the girl. And I found that
he's right because Osama bin Laden is behind all these horror situations. He
was a creator of this all difficulties and terrible struggles in Afghanistan
and also in other world as you know, 9/11 was proof of that. And I found
that it should be a good title for me because I really wanted to show who was
behind all this losing, who created this all: Osama bin Laden.
DAVIES: I'm struck by the appearance of the village in this film. I mean,
just many buildings seem reduced to semi-rubble...
Mr. BARMAK: Yeah.
DAVIES: ...and you don't see a fresh coat of paint anywhere, and I wonder,
were you looking to create this effect or is that simply what you see when you
go to an Afghan village during the Taliban days?
Mr. BARMAK: Of course, everywhere you can find a distraction of buildings,
cities, villages everywhere, and this is the side of the war from '80s decades
until end of fall of Taliban. But I really wanted to symbolize and other
things also. I really wanted to transfer this meaning that these peoples are
also destroyed by war, and all background, if you see the destroyed city,
destroyed houses, there is no brightness colors. There's all dark and silver
or dusty. It's all because I really wanted to symbolize inside of this
DAVIES: What has the effect been on the child actors that you discovered who,
you know, you brought literally out of poverty and are now in a film that's
gotten international recognition. What has happened to their lives?
Mr. BARMAK: Marina, for example, she changed completely. Actually now she
is going to school. She's never come back to begging on the street. And now
she got an offer for a terror film. She has second role in short film. She
wanted to become a professional actress. We were together in Boston Film
Festival and she received some awards in different film festivals as best
actress and now she bought for herself new house. Of course, it's not too
much pretty good house, but it's her house. And also for a little boy, he's
working. He bought for herself a horse and also he has bicycle, to work with
this bicycle, but unfortunately, he never came back to school because his
father's jobless. So he had his own difficulties, but by the way, the film
changed a lot of these people. Now they wanted to play some roles, and a lot
of these extras was played in several films and mother and grandmother
received another offer for playing a role in different films.
I believe that if our films could change at least some people behind the scene
and in front of the scene, we are successful because the film has big power to
change the society as well.
DAVIES: What reaction have you gotten in Afghanistan to the film and
particularly from some of the more, you know, traditional and clerical
elements of Afghan society?
Mr. BARMAK: I've shown my film in Kabul and it has been released in August
2003, and three movies theaters in Kabul and the reaction was great. Believe
me that the people was coming from these movie theaters and they were crying
because maybe different reasons, because maybe they found themselves in this
very tragic history. Some of these especially young audience, they told me
that now they are feeling deeply their own pain, and one of them, they told me
that the same story happened with his neighbor daughters' girls. People were
moved by this film and they accept this story because it was the reality of
their life, because it was their own natural pain.
DAVIES: Siddiq Barmak, you were head of the Afghan Film Organization in the
'90s. You were trained in the Soviet Union, and in effect, headed the Afghan
film industry when the Taliban took over. I read that you and some of your
colleagues made some pretty heroic efforts to preserve film archives risking
Mr. BARMAK: They're my colleagues. Yes, they risk their own life and they
were very brave-heart people. I was at that time in Pakistan. I was in
exile, but they were working not in Afghan Film Institution because it was
impossible for them to work there because the door was closed. They were
working in Afghan radio which was made only propaganda for Taliban. And when
they heard that after the destruction of Buddha statues in Afghanistan, the
leader of Taliban ordered to destroy all National Gallery, National Film
Archive, archive of radio and TV. So they decided to did something, and they
went in the dark night and they started hiding these all original films,
around 6,000 films. Can you imagine? It was not--they hiding these old reels
everywhere it was possible, like underground in some darkrooms and some
between walls and behind some screens. And they put some Islamic posters with
Islamic statements on the wall to masquerade. So they never found these
But unfortunately they found some copies outside of this building in other
place, and they started burning these films, around 2,500 or 600 films from
different countries, even also some films which was produced by Afghan
filmmakers. And I lost my two short films which was made during my studying
in Moscow as well there, and I hope to find some way to have these films once
again, but I'm not sure about it. So we lost a lot of things during of
Taliban, but these brave-heart people, these nine guys, they saved the life of
DAVIES: What filmmakers have you learned from, been influenced by?
Mr. BARMAK: In my opinion, there is a lot of great people and great
filmmakers in the world, and they have their own place in my heart and my
mind. I love Tarkovsky; I love Bergman; I love Spielberg, Mila
Schroemann(ph), Sean Penn. I love Godard, Fellini, Bertolucci. I love
Kiarostami, Makhmalbaf. I love Akira Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray. So you can see
that there is a lot of great people, and everybody has their own words in this
world, their own idea, their own influence.
DAVIES: What's your next project?
Mr. BARMAK: I really wanted to make some good black comedy, to see something
in some smiles in our face of our people, because they need to laugh; they
need to smile.
DAVIES: Siddiq Barmak, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. BARMAK: Thank you so much. It was a good opportunity to introduce my
people and my cinema.
DAVIES: Afghani director Siddiq Barmak. His film "Osama" opens in New York
next Friday and the rest of the country in the coming weeks.
Coming up, Ed Ward on the '70s band Television. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Analysis: Early days of band Television and lost third album
by them just out on CD
DAVE DAVIES, host:
The first band to play the mother church of punk rock, CBGB's, wasn't even a
punk band. Known long for ecstatic guitar solos and abstract lyrics, the
group Television was one of a kind. Now with the release on Rhino of a
25-year-old live broadcast and the remastering of their first two albums, it's
time to hear their story from rock historian Ed Ward.
(Soundbite of music)
ED WARD reporting:
It was a teen-age fantasy come true. Tom Miller and Richard Meyers were
boyhood friends feeling trapped in the Southern town where they grew up. They
dreamed of running away to the big city, New York, and becoming poets. And
that's just what they did in the early '70s. Tom changed his name to Tom
Verlaine and Richard became Richard Hell. They both wrote poetry and began
hanging around the scene that was beginning to coalesce on the Lower East
Side. In 1974, they formed a band, The Neon Boys, with drummer Billy Ficca,
with Tom on guitar and Richard on bass. They weren't very good, but they
Then one day, somebody introduced them to Richard Lloyd, a guitarist looking
for a band. It was just one of those miracles. He and Tom locked their
styles together so well, it sounded like a four-armed man playing a
double-neck guitar. There was another newcomer, too, a young poet named Patti
Smith, who fell for Tom's lanky good looks. The Neon Boys recorded a single
for Ork, a New York label owned by a guy who sold movie memorabilia, called
"Little Johnny Jewel," about someone who tries to tell a vision. Suddenly The
Neon Boys had another name: Television.
(Soundbite of music)
WARD: Discovering a bluegrass bar on the Bowery with a biker clientele, Patti
Smith convinced the owner to book Tom's band. The bar was CBGB's, and
although no one to speak of came the first night, history was made.
(Soundbite of music)
TELEVISION: (Singing) It was a tight toy night, streets so bright. The world
was so thin, between my bones and skin there stood another person who was a
little surprised to be face to face with a world so alive. I fell. Didja
feel low? No, not at all. Huh? I fell right into the Arms of Venus de Milo.
You know it's all like...
WARD: The bands that followed Television into that bar were very different,
but the attention they drew got Television a record deal. After trying demos
with Brian Eno and firing Richard Hell, whose drug problems had gotten out of
control, they went into the studio and produced "Marquee Moon" in 1977,
which many people, including myself, think is one of the best records of the
(Soundbite of "Marquee Moon")
TELEVISION: (Singing) What I want, I want now. And it's a whole lot more
than `anyhow.' I want to fly, fly a fountain. I want to jump, jump, jump,
jump a mountain. I understand all. I see no destructive urges. I see no, it
seems so perfect. I see no, I see, I see no, I see no evil.
WARD: The next year's album, "Adventure," was hated, although I still think
it's pretty good in retrospect. After all, you only get to make one debut
record. And I saw them on the tour they did to support it, one of the finest
evenings of live music I've ever seen. What's incredible is that evening was
recorded and has just come out on a CD. Considering that the band broke up
soon afterwards, it's sort of a miracle, the lost third Television album, just
as wonderful is the news that the band has reformed yet again. A previous
reunion resulted in a mediocre album and a quick split-up. And the word I've
gotten is they're excellent. I hope so because I've never stopped listening
to their first two records. They're that good.
DAVIES: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
Television's "Marquee Moon," "Adventure" and the concert recording "Live at
the Old Waldorf" are now available through Rhino Records.
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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.