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Portman vs. the Man: 'Vendetta'

V for Vendetta stars Natalie Portman as Evey, a wallflower who teams up with a superhero to resist an oppressive futuristic government. The movie's producers include the Wachowski brothers, of The Matrix fame.


Other segments from the episode on March 17, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 17, 2006: Interview with David Cronenberg; Commentary on the girl group "Reparata and the Delrons;" Review of the film "V for Vendetta."


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

Interview: Director David Cronenberg discusses his career and
movies, including "A History of Violence"

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

"A History of Violence," the David Cronenberg movie about the origins,
consequences and temptations of violence, was released this week on DVD. Our
guest on today's show is the film's director, David Cronenberg.

Cronenberg's earlier films include some envelope-pushing entries in the realms
of relatively realistic science fiction. There is the mind-altering,
body-altering future TV as "Videodrome," the mind-controlling human weapons of
scanners in "The Dead Zone," the scientific experiment-gone-wrong in the
remake of "The Fly," starring Jeff Goldblum, and the reality-warping
interactive videogame of "eXistenZ."

Cronenberg's other films outside the sci-fi genre include "Dead Ringers," "The
Naked Lunch," "M. Butterfly" and "Crash," the twisted psycho sexual drama
about people excited by car crashes and injuries. Not the film of the same
name that just won the Oscar.

"A History of Violence" was nominated for two Oscars at that same Academy
Awards. One to William Hurt for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting
Role. The other to Josh Olsen for Best Screenplay based on previously
published material.

Terry spoke with David Cronenberg when "A History of Violence" was first
released last year. The central questions in the film include whether some
people are inherently violent and whether they can change. The film stars
Viggo Mortensen as Tom Stall, a husband, father and owner of a diner in a
small town in Indiana. He becomes an instant hero when he kills two armed
robbers who are threatening the lives of everyone in the diner. Soon after, a
mysterious man with a scarred face shows up at the diner and claims that Tom
isn't who he says he is. The mysterious man is played by Ed Harris.

(Soundbite from "A History of Violence")

Mr. VIGGO MORTENSEN: (As Tom Stall) Well, welcome to Stalls. You gentlemen
like some coffee?

Mr. ED HARRIS: (As Carl Fogarty) You're the hero.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) Oh, I don't know, sir. It was just a...

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) You're the big hero. Sure took care of those two
bad men.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) I don't really like talking about it, sir. We're
trying to get back to normal here. Can I offer you gentlemen some coffee?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) Sure, give me some coffee. Make it black...

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) Yes, sir.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) ...Joey.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) And your friends?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) They don't drink coffee. It doesn't agree with
them, Joey.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) Who's Joey?

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) You are.

Mr. MORTENSEN: (As Stall) My name's Tom, sir.

Mr. HARRIS: (As Fogarty) Of course, it is.

(End of soundbite)


David Cronenberg, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. DAVID CRONENBERG (Writer & Director): Thanks.

GROSS: "A History of Violence" is basically saying that everyone, or at least
most people, have the potential to be violent but some people are forced to
become violent to fight a bully, whereas others just seem to have a taste for
it. Do you believe that most people do have that potential?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, I think it's innate in us just genetically that we are
capable of violence, but in specific cases, you have to go on a case-by-case
basis. But I think in the movie, it's really examining the ambivalent
attitude that people have towards violence. It's, you know, you sort of don't
want it to come and visit you in your house but, on the other hand, you might
find it rather exhilarating when you see it visited on other people, either in
the movies or alive. So it's--I think, the movie does deal--is a meditation
on that ambivalence rather than, you know, saying anything very specific about
genetics, let's say.

GROSS: Well, you know, talking about that ambivalence about violence, I think
movies themselves reflect that, because violent movies are incredibly popular.
People seem to like violent scenes in movies. At the same time, there's
always this kind of attempts to crack down against violence in movies and, you
know, fear that violence in movies will lead to violence in real life. How
does that whole infatuation with violence and movies--how did that affect your
style of shooting the violent sequences?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, rather than having an overarching theory of where
violence in cinema should go or shouldn't go or even thinking about my old
movies and what people expect from me or don't expect from me, getting rid of
all that, I think only about what is in this movie, and in it, I say, `OK.
Where does the violence come from?' Well, it comes from specific characters.
What does the violence mean to those characters? Where did they learn to be
violent? That really was the ruling factor in deciding how to portray it.
And I came to the conclusion that for these people--I'm quoting a line from
the movie--"Business would come first." You know, it's business for them.
It's criminal enterprise. It's not sadistic pleasure. It's not ballet. It's
not aesthetics. It's not martial arts. It's business. Get it over with, get
it done. If you have to kill somebody or hurt somebody, you do it as
efficiently as possible and normally using techniques that you've learned on
the street. You know, you haven't been trained professionally. You haven't
been in the Army or anything like that. So that was the tone that I gave to
the violence in the movie.

And it's very intimate, the theory being that when you want to kill someone,
you get close to them. You don't get far away from them. You actually get as
close to them as you can. So the violence in the movie is very, very short
and quick and realistic, no slow motion, no multiple cuts and so on, and it's
very strangely intimate and very physical.

GROSS: What did you have to learn about guns and fighting in order to direct
the film?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, I really started only learning about guns through
movies because in Canada, you know, we have very strict gun control laws, and
I actually never held a pistol in my hand until I was making a movie actually.
And in terms of killing on the street, well, I did find a couple of DVDs on
the Internet that purport to teach you how to do exactly that, you know, how
to kill somebody with your bare hands if you're attacked, mugged, robbed. And
that was also one of the places where I found that sense of intimacy with the
person that you're trying to kill. The whole idea of those was that you move
into the person. You don't step away so that they can shoot you or stab you
or whatever. You actually get close to them so that you can touch them, feel
them, smell them, see their sweat, see their pores, and from that vantage
point, you actually are much more capable of inflicting damage and surprise on
an attacker than you would think.

GROSS: Was it kind of creepy to be watching this DVD about how to kill

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, it's presented in a very matter-of-fact, pragmatic
kind of way, you know, with a great patina of professionalism and so on.
There wasn't just one. It was several. And so it kind of decreases the
creepiness. It sort of...

GROSS: The presumption is you're the innocent victim who's...

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, that's right. I mean, it...

GROSS: ...learning how to kill in self-defense, and you're a good guy. No
bad guys are watching this DVD.

Mr. CRONENBERG: That's right. And you're getting--and you're seeing
testimonials from old-aged pensioners in Miami, you know, who are saying, `I
feel much more secure walking down the street now that I know I can kill,' you
know? So it kind of takes the sinisterness out of it, which in a way makes it
even more sinister I suppose. And, of course, I have no idea whether I could
ever do that based on what I saw or not. You know, I mean--and certainly one
hopes never to have to figure that out.

GROSS: Now "A History of Violence" is--it's kind of like a Western, and in
part, because there's a character in it who has renounced violence but is
forced back into it in the way that a lot of characters in Westerns have been,
like Johnny Guitar, you know, the guy who gives up guns but has to pick them
up again because of threats against him and someone he loves. Was your style
of shooting this movie inspired by Westerns?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Not really the style, but certainly one of the things that
attracted me to the project was that kind of iconic Americana tone that there
is, and it's not just Westerns but gangster movies as well, and it's kind of,
you know, America's mythology of itself, which it has very successfully
exported to the rest of the world through its movies and its art and so on.
The man standing alone with a gun protecting himself and his family against
the bad guys and taking vengeance and having that be very justified because of
what he is and taking the law into his own hands is another very American
theme which is not particularly obvious in other countries, including Canada,
the idea that you--at a certain moment of crisis you must take the law into
your own hands, that sense of individualism and righteousness. The
righteousness of the individual is foreign to many countries, most countries,
I would say.

GROSS: I really like the opening shot of the movie. And when I saw it, I
thought, `Oh, this is going to be good.' And in the opening shot, two guys are
walking out the door of a motel room, and they're walking into bright sunlight
and they really have to squint. The sunlight really hits them, and you can
tell that they've come from a world that's, like, really dark...


GROSS: ...into this bright light, and you figure there's something really
dark about these guys, and there certainly is. Can you talk about what you
try to do in an opening shot to try to establish the tone, the mood,
because--and how important do you think that opening shot is?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, you know, it's interesting. This movie, I don't have
an opening title sequence that's separate from the movie and I've often talked
about my enjoying doing that, that is to say making a title sequence that
isn't a scene from the movie so that people are not put in the position of
reading titles and watching the movie at the same time and using that title
sequence as a kind of vestibule, you know, to kind of ease the audience into
the movie from being in their own world and using that title sequence to set a
tone that will set them up for the movie.

In this case, I shot that scene, and it's really--it's a single shot that
lasts for four minutes and is quite a complex little shot with dollying and
craning and a few other things, not for spectacle. It's quite tight and
intimate, but it does go through some very difficult little moments. And
there's a kind of strange languidly sinister tone to these two guys, and they
take their time talking and I don't rush them. There's a lot of space between
the words and so on. And I really like that tone so much that even though I
did shoot coverage for it, which is to say shot--did other close-ups and so on
so that I could tighten the scene or whatever by cutting into it, I thought
that the one--the single shot worked so well that way that I would leave it
and not cut into it. And at that point, I thought, `Well, here's a perfect
opening scene that I think I could put titles over in a way that I haven't
done for many, many years,' and then, therefore, this shot would have to do
two things. It would have to be the first scene in the movie and it would
have that vestibule effect that I normally use a title sequence to get. That
is, it would be a scene that would tell the audience a lot about what they
were getting into with this movie.

And interestingly enough, too, there's no music over this shot, which is also
I think rather rare these days. So it turned out to be, I think, quite an
important shot and quite an important sequence for the movie because it does
set up really an awful lot the more you think about it.

BIANCULI: David Cronenberg speaking to Terry Gross last year. More after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULI: Let's get back to Terry's 2005 interview with David Cronenberg.
His movie "A History of Violence" has just come out on DVD.

GROSS: There is two sex scenes in "History of Violence" that are both very
passionate. And one of them is kind of playful and about role playing, and
the other is much more in anger and in violence, but still very, very
passionate. And both scenes reveal a lot about the characters. Actors are
always talking about how difficult it is to perform the sex scenes and how
self-conscious they are and uncomfortable. What about directing scenes like
that? What are the challenges in directing them?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, the vulnerability both physically and psychologically
of actors in a sex scene is probably pretty obvious to most people, but there
is the same thing going on with the director. You know, the director is very
sexually inhibited or repressed or shy or embarrassed or anything else.
Inevitably, it's communicated to the crew and to the actors, and it makes them
be the same. And, therefore, you don't get a very good scene probably. So
it's really a matter of being funny, being loose, being specific, giving the
actors a sense you know what you're doing. In my case, I make sure that the
actors can look at a monitor and see the recording of what they've just shot
at any moment so they know exactly what they look like and what's going on.
No secrets, no surprises to hit them later. And it's just being very gentle
and supportive, you know, and still, of course, getting what we want, but
never letting go until we've got what we want.

There's a scene on the stairs, sex on the stairs, very hard wooden stairs
between Viggo and Maria Bello, and that was physically very difficult, too,
because she was really--they were both, actually, quite battered and bruised
after that because it took a day and a half to shoot that, and those were real
wooden stairs. At one point, I asked my stunt coordinator if he had stunt
pads, and he said, he laughed, he said he'd never been asked for stunt pads
for a sex scene before. But, in fact, we couldn't use them because, you know,
you'd see them, so they had to do them without them.

But, yeah, I think it is a challenge. I think some directors are very
inhibited, and you can tell, it gets communicated.

GROSS: Is it hard to not feel like, you know, you're a voyeur or a peeping
Tom when you're setting up a scene like that?

Mr. CRONENBERG: You are totally a voyeur and a peeping Tom, and it's better
if you just admit it. You know, because at that point, you are the audience
as well, and you are watching, you're watching sex. I mean, it's not real
sex, but you're watching a simulation of sex. So this is something, once
again, is joked about on live set. I mean, we all are in on the joke.
There's no--you know, nobody who is not. So all of those aspects of it are
out in the open, and there's no--you know, nothing is covered up.

GROSS: Are these the most passionate sex scenes that you've ever done as
opposed to sex scenes that are about the potential for contagion?

Mr. CRONENBERG: No. I mean, I think that there was a wonderful scene
between Jeremy Irons and Genevieve Bujold in "Dead Ringer."

GROSS: Oh, sure. Sure, sure, sure.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, that was pretty passionate and could be, you know,
intense. And so I've done that before, it's just each scene, of course, is
unique. And, for example, the cheerleader scene, as we call it, the
role-playing scene where Maria dresses up as a cheerleader, and the idea is
that they're going to create a past for themselves that they never had because
they were not teenagers together. He came to town later. It--of course, it
does have resonances for the whole theme of identity and role playing and so
on in the movie, so it's not just a sex scene for sex. It's--and also, it
really pleases me that these two scenes, the only two sex scenes in the movie,
take place between a couple who have been married for 20 years and have two
kids, you know, because certainly in American movies, it's like adolescent sex
or forget it. It's like, you know, if you're married, your sex life is gone,
not worth filming.

GROSS: You've written some of the movies you've directed, but "A History of
Violence" is an adaptation of a graphic novel. You were approached with the
screen adaptation of the graphic novel and decided to direct the film. Is
there a difference for you in how you approach material that you've written as
opposed to approaching material that you have not? And I'm wondering in a way
if you feel freer to take liberties with either of the two.

Mr. CRONENBERG: No, I feel free to take liberties with everything. You
know, I mean, to me, that's what I have to do. At the--my first adaptation
that was "The Dead Zone," an adaptation of a Stephen King best seller, and
before that, all of the movies I had made I had written myself. They were
original screenplays, and I felt that--it immediately became obvious to me
that in order to be faithful to that book, I had to betray the book. In other
words, there is no way of translating a book to the screen because the two
media are so completely different. There is no dictionary for that
translation. You know, you really have to reinvent it totally for the screen.
And what you do is you try to capture the ambiance, you know, this tone of the
book rather than be faithful literally because if you try to do it literally
faithfully, you're doomed to failure. So taking liberties with adapted
material was as necessary as when you've written it yourself.

GROSS: I'm glad you mentioned "The Dead Zone." This starred Christopher
Walken as somebody who--when he touches someone, he can see their future. And
this was relatively early in Walken's career, and since then, you know, a lot
of comics and impressionists have affectionately mocked his very strange
pattern of speaking where accents fall on very unlikely words within
sentences. Were you aware of that when you were directing him, and did that
throw you at all?

Mr. CRONENBERG: No. I mean, I think it's a brilliant performance. You
know, remember, he had won an Oscar at that point.

GROSS: For "The Deer Hunter."

Mr. CRONENBERG: For "The Deer Hunter," yeah. He's a fine actor.

GROSS: Oh, yeah. He's great.

Mr. CRONENBERG: You know, it's--but every actor has a specific kind of
rhythm and diction, and you develop a relationship in the editing room with
the actor that's a unique relationship. Nobody has that relationship other
than a director who's editing an actor because you live with that diction for,
well, weeks or months that you're editing the movie, and you become so attuned
to that. I mean, for example, Jeff Goldblum also has some very unique and
specific speech patterns that are not like anybody else's, you know, and you
have to deal with that when you're editing. How much do you go with it? How
much do you try to force it into a more familiar rhythm and so on?

GROSS: Can you think of an example either with Christopher Walken or with
Jeff Goldblum about how those rhythms made you need to make a difficult
decision, how it was unpredictable and it threw you?

Mr. CRONENBERG: No, never. I mean, it's always--it would delight me and
surprise me, but not...

GROSS: Oh, how about an example of how it delighted you then?

Mr. CRONENBERG: When Chris wakes up from his coma in "The Dead Zone" and
they tell him that he's been gone for five years. He says, `Five years.' You
know, it just--I didn't really capture it. I haven't listened to it for quite
a few years, but there was just a wonderful--the surprise, you know, the shock
and the horror of it all was expressed just in those two words, and it was the
way--it was the rhythm between the two words, just having two words to work
with, that expressed that, and, you know, it's just fantastic.

BIANCULI: David Cronenberg, director of "A History of Violence," out now on
DVD. We'll hear more of Terry's interview with David Cronenberg in the second
half of the show. I'm David Bianculi, and this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculi in for Terry Gross. Today
we're listening back to Terry's 2005 interview with David Cronenberg, director
of "A History of Violence," which just came out on DVD. Many of Cronenberg's
previous films, almost all of them really, have death with violence and sexual
fantasy in one form or another. The underground porn in "Videodrome," the
elicit and violent videogame of "eXistenZ," the kinky car crash receptions of

Terry asked David Cronenberg about his willingness and eagerness to push
certain boundaries on film.

GROSS: You've made a lot of films with very dark and potent fantasies in
them, and I want to quote something that you've said. You've said, "As an
artist, one is not a citizen of society. An artist is bound to explore every
aspect of human experience, the darkest concerns. You cannot worry about what
the structure of your own particular segment of society considers bad behavior
or good behavior. You have no social responsibility whatsoever." First of
all, does that--do you still agree with that?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Absolutely I do.

GROSS: Why do you think it's important for an artist to not be inhibited when
it comes to exploring the darkest parts of their imagination?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, this society does not tend to encourage people to tell
the truth. Society in general is interested in sustaining itself. You are
not encouraged really to tell the truth. You're encouraged to be a good
citizen, I mean in a bad sense, which is to say an obedient citizen, one who
toes the line, one who sort of accepts the standards of society without
question. And this is a natural thing. All societies have this kind of
gyroscopic need to sustain themselves, maintain themselves, and that imparts a
certain stability. But at the same time, if you only go with that, then you
never get improvements. You never get corrections of injustices and so on.
So you need the words of, you know, the rebels, the artists, the people who
will not accept reality as it is presented but figure that there's something
else going on, there's some other things--I don't mean--I'm not talking about
conspiracy theories. I'm talking about looking for the truth about the way
things work and how those things might be improved. So it's a--you need both
forces, though, you know, for civilization. You need both of them.

I mean, in the Freudian formula, civilization is repression, you know,
repression of the most basic, base primitive instincts, but you don't get
civilization without a rebellion against repression as well, as in the
Freudian formula that would come from the unconscious and dreams and so.

GROSS: So are you working under the premise that most people have very dark
thoughts or fantasies that they wouldn't admit to in public and that it's in
part your job to talk about those things that people have but they won't
necessarily say that they do?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, I think that's true. I think if you imagine just
taking anybody asleep and drilling a hole in their forehead and having their
dreams projected onto a screen for a couple of thousand people as though it
were an entertainment, what do you think you'd see from anybody? You know, I
think you'd see some pretty--you'd see some boring stuff, but I think you'd
see some amazing things as well, you know, perhaps quite shocking, and it
would come from straight citizens of all kinds, you know, and it's all there.

GROSS: A couple of your movies are almost about that, like "Scanners" in a

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, I mean, that was...

GROSS: It almost operates on that principle.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, there is a hole drilled in a forehead in "Scanners,"
and I suppose I've been taking my metaphor that I just gave you from that.

GROSS: So if we're operating on the premise that you've done a lot of scenes
over the years that are about these dark places that we don't want to admit
exist in our minds, which of those scenes has gotten the strongest reaction
from viewers and has proved to be, like, most troubling to viewers?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, I think there are some scenes in "Crash" that really
have disturbed a lot of people. That movie caused a lot of controversy in
various countries, including this one, and...

GROSS: Well, "Crash" is a movie about people who get turned on basically by
car crashes in which they or other people are injured. And so...

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah, that--it's--but they're not exactly turned on. You
know, they are and they aren't. It's really--don't forget, everybody in that
sort of strange, invented subculture has been in an accident as a sort of
life-transforming accident, and it's almost as though in order to come to
terms with the fact that they survived that and perhaps were deformed by that,
that they have to relive it in a more controlled way, and they find that the
only people they can relate to are other people who've undergone the same

So, you know, in a way, the movie is a metaphor for those people who undergo
these life-shattering experiences, whether it's being comrades in arms in a
war or whether it's people who have had to fight off the same disease as you
have, finding people who are, as I say, almost a subculture who are the only
ones who can understand what you've gone through and finding strange ways to
relive that experience and so come to understand it.

GROSS: And transform it so that it has a different meaning.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yes, that's right...

GROSS: So...

Mr. CRONENBERG: ...or transform it so that it has any meaning, because you
might think that the thing that struck you is meaningless, and we are
creatures who do not like to feel that things are meaningless, and we are very
prone to giving things meaning whether--meaning really only comes from us in
the universe. As far as I'm concerned, the only place that meaning comes from
in the universe is the human mind. Without the human mind, there is no
meaning in the universe, as far as I'm concerned. So we are the inventors of
meaning, and we are the only consumers of it. I mean, your average bunny
rabbit in the grass does not need meaning to exist, but we seem to need it.

GROSS: You've done several horror films. I mean, they're not standard horror
films, but they're, like, your take on horror films, and you've said that the
horror in horror films is about the inevitability of death. Do you think your
understanding of death and your way of addressing it has changed as you've
gotten older?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, I think my understanding has gotten deeper and more
profound. Yeah, I think so. I don't know that that really necessarily will
change the way that I deal with death in films. I said very early on that I
think as early as "Scanners," I seem to recall saying to somebody, `Every time
I kill somebody in my movie, I'm really rehearsing my own death, you know?
It's like a trial run to see how it would feel, to see how I would feel.' And
I still think there's still some truth in that. You know, that's why I don't
take death lightly in my films. It's always a very significant event.

GROSS: Does it give you a sense of control to be directing a death scene?
'Cause we really have no control over death, but as a director, for those
moments, you do.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Absolutely. I think that's one of the reasons that
directors become directors and actors become actors. It's--imagine the sense
of control you have as an actor to sort of die doing 10 takes in a movie and
then you get up and you're still alive, you know? It gives you a feeling of
some kind of immortality, even though you know it's a false sense, and it
gives you a feeling that perhaps in some way you will be more prepared for
your own death, having rehearsed it so many times.

GROSS: I was reading a little bit about your father's death. He had what
sounds like a horrible disease that--where the disease attacks the body's
ability to process calcium, and your bones become so thin and brittle that
they could break just turning over in bed, which is what started happening to
him. I don't know when your father died, but, you know, when I see your movie
"The Fly," I always think about how the body can betray you because the Jeff
Goldblum character, who mixes his genes with the genes of a fly and starts to
transform himself into a fly, his body starts to putrefy, and it's a very
disturbing movie because of that.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Yeah. Well, it's--once again, it's like--it's rehearsing.
You know, at the time, people wanted that to very much represent AIDS, and
they were sure that I was creating that as a metaphor for AIDS, and I said,
`Well, really it's more like a metaphor for aging and the kind of thing that
everybody has to undergo.' We all have this one disease, you know? It's
called mortality, and we are absolutely doomed to play that out. So it--but
once again, I mean, that character starts to feel that he's not just dying,
he's transforming, he's becoming something else. And, of course, in a certain
narrative sense in that movie, he really is becoming something else, but he's
also transforming into oblivion, let's say, and that's something that's very
difficult for people to accept, you know, their non-existence, and so much of
art and religion and politics has to do with evading that reality, to not have
to accept one's own personal oblivion.

GROSS: Are there scenes in movies that you saw when you were young that
disturbed you, that you were afraid to go to sleep afterwards or that those
images would kind of come up and bother you and you couldn't get rid of them?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Oh, sure. "Bambi" terrified...

GROSS: "Bambi" with the fire?

Mr. CRONENBERG: Terrified. Terrified. Oh, the death of the parents and,
you know, "Dumbo," you know, the scene where Dumbo's being separated from his
mother, because these are things that--censors, who were worried about what
children can take and what they can't take, seem never to understand is that a
child's perspective on things is quite different from an adult. And
separation from the parents is one of the huge traumatic things that exists in
a kid's mind. And so I can say that the original "Blue Lagoon" movie, not the
Brooke Shields one, the one way earlier with John Hall, there were scenes in
that--that was a movie that made me sleep with the lights on for a week. It's
about a couple of kids who are on a boat. The boat catches fire and sinks,
and the kids are the only ones left alive, and they swim to this nearby island
and they grew up in isolation on the island. But it's the fact that they're
alone, you know, that their parents have died; that was the terrifying thing
about that movie for me.

GROSS: And did that contribute to you wanting to make movies, being so...

Mr. CRONENBERG: I doubt it. I doubt it. You know, I always thought I would
be a writer, and even at that early age, I thought that I would be a writer
and my father was a writer. I'm sure that had a lot to do with it. I used to
fall asleep to the sound of his typewriter, you know? So it was kind of a
surprise when I found myself being a filmmaker. It was really not something
I'd ever anticipated, and it really didn't come to me until I was at
university, University of Toronto. So it was relatively late in life compared
with some of the Hollywood wunderkinder whose fathers were in the film
business and so on. So they had a lot of models for that, and I didn't have
that. I had the model for writing really.

GROSS: David Cronenberg, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CRONENBERG: Well, it's been a pleasure for me, too. Thank you.

BIANCULI: David Cronenberg speaking to Terry Gross last year. His most
recent film, "A History of Violence," has just been released on DVD.

Later, David Edelstein reviews "V for Vendetta," another film also based on a
graphic novel, built around themes of violence and human nature. But first,
coming up, rock historian Ed Ward unearths a mostly forgotten girl group from
the 1960s. This is FRESH AIR.


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

Review: Ed Ward reviews the work of Reparata and the Delrons

With a name that sounds like an extraterrestrial life form, Reparata and the
Delrons was the last girl group of the 1960s, poised somewhere between the
Shangri-Las and the Mamas & The Papas. Fronted by a feisty Irish American gal
from Brooklyn, they managed to hang on in a decade whose pop music had passed
them by. Rock historian Ed Ward takes another listen.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA: Hi, this is Reparata...

DELRONS: ...and the Delrons.

REPARATA: And we're here to tell you about...

REPARATA and the DELRONS: (Singing) "Boys, see the way they're groovin'.
Boys, see the way they're movin'. Boys, not a care to slow them down.

Girls, see the way they're working. Girls, like they're window shopping.
Where there are boys, there are girls around.

And one thing for sure, until they've found a cure, because where there's
boys, there girls will always be."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. ED WARD: Mary Aiese O'Leary is a retired schoolteacher now, who once
upon a time she was Reparata. It was her confirmation name. And let's face
it, it sounds better than Mary and the Delrons. In 1963, as a Brooklyn high
school student, she and three friends started singing together and eventually
won a talent contest that got them an audition with a local record company.
The record that eventually emerged didn't set the nation on fire, but did OK
on parts of Long Island.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA: (Singing) "We fell in love. He agreed to be mine."

DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "La-la-la-la, la-la-la-la."

REPARATA: (Singing) "They think we're young, we can't pass the test of time.

REPARATA and the DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "Leave us alone. Leave us
alone. You were young once too, and we're no different than you.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Delrons were managed by the Jerome brothers, Bill and Steve.
And they had big plans for the girls. First, they put Mary Reparata out
front. Next, they found a label, World Artist, which was having success with
Tad and Jeremy, and signed them to it. And the girls had their first hit.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA: (Singing) "My mama said to me, `Do you really love that guy? Does
he ever make you cry?' Rain falling from the sky. Bluebirds, they don't fly.
The stars, they're not so bright. The moon stays in at night. It seems the
whole world dies whenever a teenager cries."

DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "When teens cry."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "Whenever a Teenager Cries" got to number 60 on the national
charts in January 1965 and would be the trio's biggest hit. That's really
remarkable when you consider what else was going on in pop music at the time
and that Reparata and the Delrons were something of a throwback to an earlier
era. But it's also worth remembering that, particularly on the East Coast,
the British invasion and the Beatles were seen as foreign interlopers, and
there was still a demand for homemade pop music like the Delrons and the Four
Seasons were making. None of which kept World Artists from going bankrupt
right as it was time to pay royalties on "Whenever a Teenager Cries," of
course. But the Jeromes had friends at RCA. And even though Mary's original
two Delrons had quit due to parental disapproval of the group's touring
schedule, a new trio went into the studio with the Jeromes producing, and
their musical director Harry Lookofsky, who called himself "Hash Brown," doing
the arrangements.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA: (Singing) "Ever since I met him...(unintelligible). His love has
been warm and tender. The only boy I've ever known. The only boy I've ever
shown my love to. And now he's gone."

DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "Gone."

REPARATA and the DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "And I'm nobody's baby now.
I'm on my own. Nobody's baby now."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: "I'm Nobody's Baby Now" is one of the most perfect clones of the
Phil Spector sound ever released. But even Phil Spector was finding it hard
to sell records in 1965. RCA kept the girls on through the middle of 1967,
when they released another out-of-time classic.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA and the DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "It may be sunny as I walk
along, but something's wrong, baby, something's wrong. I know it's wrong.
But, baby, I can hear the rain falling. I can hear the rain failing. I can
hear the rain falling down."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: The Jeromes then moved the Delrons over to Mala Records, a
division of Bell Records, which has just opened an office in London. In a
surprise move, this trio of throwbacks to the pre-British invasion period
wound up having a smash hit in England in 1968.

(Soundbite of Reparata and the Delrons)

REPARATA and the DELRONS: (Singing in unison) "This is the captain of your
ship, your heart speaking. We've run into a little storm. The boat's
leaking. And if you haven't guessed, this is an SOS. If you still love me
answer yes. Yes. You're going to lose a good thing. You got to let him know
that you need him. You got to let him know that you need him. You got to let
him know that you love him now. You got to let him know that you..."

(End of soundbite)

Mr. WARD: But time was catching up with Reparata and the Delrons, whose
records were doing nothing in the States. Mary herself got married in 1969
and happily handed the name of the group off to Lorraine Mazzola, who
continued until 1973, when she disbanded the group and joined Barry Manilow,
an obscure saloon singer, as a backup vocalist.

In 1975, Mary made a single called "Shoes" about Greek wedding and released it
under the name of Reparata. The next thing she knew, she was being sued by a
group called Lady Flash, Barry Manilow's backup group, and told that Lorraine
Mazzola was the real Reparata. The suit went on for years, but today Mary
Aiese O'Leary is Reparata again and custodian of the legacy of the last girl
group of this era.

BIANCULI: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "V for Vendetta." This is FRESH AIR.


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

Review: David Edelstein reviews movie "V for Vendetta")

You've probably seen photos of actress Natalie Portman with her head shaved,
many of them accompanied by the caption, "Natalie Portman with her head
shaved." The movie for which she cut her hair is "V for Vendetta." She plays a
young English girl taken under the wing of a masked revolutionary, played by
Hugo Weaving. Film critic David Edelstein has a review.

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: The comic book thriller "V for Vendetta" unfolds in a
totalitarian Britain of the near future, some years after a devastating
terrorist attack has led the government to put the kibosh on civil liberties.
The model for the '80s graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd was clearly
the Soviet Union by way of Orwell. But it was Britain's Thatcherism that
inspired the project. And in the movie, it's hard to miss the mischievous
jibes at the present US regime.

As written by the Washowski brothers of "The Matrix" fame, "V for Vendetta" is
not an earnest civics lesson like "Good Night and Good Luck." The masked
avenger who calls himself V blows things up real good, and he gleefully chases
his conflagrations with fireworks and a booming "1812 Overture." Early in the
film, V, played by Hugo Weaving, picks up a protege aptly named Evey and
played by Natalie Portman, and he lectures her in the ethos of muckraking,
burlesque, sexual freedom and anarchism. He proclaims that people should not
be afraid of their governments. Their governments should be afraid of them.

Given his habit of assassinating...(unintelligible)...exploding landmarks and
hijacking state-controlled propagandistic TV networks, his government is
certainly afraid of him.

With even retired Supreme Court justice and Reagan-appointee Sandra Day
O'Connor warning recently of the beginnings of the dictatorship in this
country, it seems like the perfect moment for this movie, which is often
ridiculous, but more often riotously enjoyable. Like "The Matrix," it's
something of a pop hodgepodge, but I'm happy to say, without that trilogy's
ponderous religious allegory, V is part-Zorro and part-Cyrano, with a touch of
Tim Burton's "Batman." He's also disfigured like the Phantom of the Opera.
His mask is modelled on Guy Fawkes, who was executed in 1605 for his attempt
to dynamite the English parliament. And it's remarkable how alive that
smiling papier-mache Fawkes' visage seems, especially when it is underscored
by Weaving's rolling baritone. Weaving was the anti-Christ Agent Smith in
"The Matrix," and he's brilliant here, a ham bone with a rapier edge.

Evey is a fairly colorless ingenue, but Natalie Portman's watchfulness and
unaffected beauty keep you entranced and keep the movie from drifting into
camp. Whatever else it is, "V for Vendetta" is not frivolous. One of the
Wachowskis is reportedly in the midst of a sex change, and the film introduces
a lesbian martyr to make a plaintiff case for the right to be what one is.
V's underground lair is crammed with works of art and literature forbidden by
the government, and the penalty for possession is imprisonment or worse. In a
grueling sequence, Evey finds herself charged with sedition.

(Soundbite of "V for Vendetta")

Unidentified Actor: Do you know why you're here, Evey Hammond?

Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN: (As Evey Hammond) Don't, please.

Actor: You've been formerly charged with three counts of murder, the bombing
of government property, conspiracy to commit terrorism and treason and
sedition. The penalty for which is death by firing squad.

You have one chance and only chance to save your life. You must tell us the
identity or whereabouts of code name V. If your information leads to his
capture, you will be released from this facility immediately. Do you
understand what I'm telling you? You can return to your life, Miss Hammond.
All you have to do is cooperate.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. EDELSTEIN: After Evey's head is shaved and she endures a marathon mental
torture session, she emerges with a new fearlessness and we expect great
things. It's a lapse in the screenwriting that she's barely tested. She's
like a Joan of Arc who never fights. And I wish that John Hirts' fascist
chancellor, who is mostly seen on video monitors, weren't such an
old-fashioned Hitler-type. The movie might have seen fresher with more
up-to-the-minute satire, but the director, James McTeigue, who is the
assistant director on "The Matrix" movies, achieves a delirious swashbuckler
tone with splashes of bejeweled blood and dollops

V relishes his complicated schemes, and so does McTeigue, who devises an
amazing montage around the image of V exalting over a field of tumbling
dominos. "V for Vendetta" will doubtless outrage conservatives and unnerve
fuddy-duddies with its magisterial irresponsibility. For the rest of us, the
movie's pop art mixture of revolutionary symbols from history, literature and
painting is one subversive hoot.

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

(Soundbite of music)

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

Sign-off: Fresh Air


For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculi.
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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