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Other segments from the episode on February 26, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 26, 2002: Interview with Peter Jackson; Review of the Television show "Watching Ellie;" Interview with Doug Niven; Commentary on Johnny Cash.


DATE February 26, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Peter Jackson discusses the film "The Lord of the
Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" and his movie career

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring")

Sir IAN McKELLEN (As Gandalf): In the lands of Middle-earth, legend tells of
the Dark Lord Sauron and the ring that would give him the power to enslave the
world. Lost for centuries, it has been sought by many and has now found its
way into the hands of the most unlikely person imaginable.

GROSS: Sir Ian McKellen describing the premise of "The Lord of the Rings."
The unlikely person put in charge of the ring is the Hobbit Frodo Baggins.
The trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien was adapted into three films, directed by our
guest, Peter Jackson. Part one, "The Fellowship of the Ring," has received 13
Academy Award nominations, including best film and best director. All three
films have been shot. Jackson is currently halfway through editing the second
film, which will be released around Christmastime. The third film is due out
in December 2003. Director Peter Jackson is from New Zealand. He first
became known in the States for his 1994 film "Heavenly Creatures." His other
films include "The Frighteners" and "Meet the Feebles." Peter Jackson spoke
with Barbara Bogaev, who often guest hosts FRESH AIR. Before we hear their
interview, let's hear a scene from "The Fellowship of the Ring." The wizard,
Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen, is asking Frodo, played by Elijah Wood, if he
can detect anything unusual about the ring.

(Soundbite of "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring")

Sir IAN: Can you see anything?

Mr. ELIJAH WOOD (As Frodo Baggins): Nothing. There's nothing. Wait. There
are markings. It's some form of Elvish. I can't read it.

Sir IAN: There are few who can. The language is that of Mordor, which I will
not utter here.

Mr. WOOD: Mordor?

Sir IAN: In the common tongue, it says, `One ring to rule them all. One ring
to find them. One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.'


"The Lord of the Rings" saga is such a monster project, and the plot is so
dense and complicated and detailed. Did you have one unifying concept going
in to making the film that helped you organize such an overwhelming amount of

Mr. PETER JACKSON (Director): Well, I think the process of adaptation of any
book--and I guess "The Lord of the Rings" is the most extreme example--it's
simplification, but not simplifying it enough to lose the essence and the
spirit of what makes the book great. And obviously, "The Lord of the Rings"
requires a little bit more simplification than most books because Tolkien
absolutely delighted in the complexity and the detail and going off on
tangents, which, in the book, creates an amazing world. You know, it creates
a feeling of this authentic culture in history of Middle-earth, but the actual
plot is relatively simple. I mean, the plot of "The Lord of the Rings," at
the spine of the story, is obviously about Frodo Baggins, this Hobbit, who has
to carry a ring through many dangers to take it to the one place in
Middle-earth, this land where the ring could be destroyed.

So really, I mean, we obviously focused on that as being the main plot of the
film, and we were very picky about what other extraneous elements of the book
we should be including, because the movie, we felt, had to basically be driven
by that single story line.

BOGAEV: Did you make a conscious effort to base or ground the movie in some
kind of historical feeling or historical fact?

Mr. JACKSON: Sure, yeah.

BOGAEV: Because it feels very real, and I think that played a part in that.

Mr. JACKSON: Right, good. No, good. And I'm saying good because making it
real was actually our mantra during the shoot. I mean, I think a lot of
people that haven't read "The Lord of the Rings" but have heard about it would
have assumed that it was set on another planet, that it was like pure fantasy,
that it was almost like science fiction, you know, and Middle-earth was
another world somewhere else. But that's not the case at all, because Tolkien
was really creating a mythic prehistory. He was creating what he described as
being events--he was recounting events that took place on Earth in a form of
early Europe about seven or 8,000 years ago. And so we really took our lead
from there; that in a sense, no, we're not making a fantasy film. What we're
doing is making much more of an historical film.

So we approached the historical element as if we were making "Gladiator" or
"Braveheart," you know, from the point of view that you would research ancient
Rome or you'd research medieval Scotland if you were making those films, and
we had to research the world of Tolkien's Middle-earth as if it really
existed. And Tolkien wrote an enormous amount of material about this world so
we were able to investigate the different cultures. Because at this time in
our history, the world was populated not just by human beings but by elves and
Hobbits and orcs and dwarves, and we just approached it as if it was real. We
just stopped thinking of it as a piece of fiction.

BOGAEV: I thought the evil stuff in the movie was great, that the
battles--and there are large epic battles--the lava-belching volcanoes of the
evil kingdom and the black-robed horsemen.

Mr. JACKSON: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: They're hooded, they're riding these huge black, sweaty horses. Is
it easier to figure out ways to depict evil cinematically in a fantasy than to
depict goodness? I noticed the Hobbits and the elves--they're good, too. But
they--especially the elves, come off as kind of plain vanilla.

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah. The forces of evil--the antagonists in Tolkien's
story--there's both the good and bad side to that because you do have some
very potent, visually interesting creatures like the orcs and like the Black
Riders. I mean, there's something--because it is interesting, because I agree
with you that the Black Riders, who are the Ringwraiths, who are these
creatures that hunt for the ring, they are nothing more--I mean, it's the
image of the Reaper, really. It's the black, faceless cowl, you know, robed
creatures, who--there's something that just is scary about those sorts of
characters. You don't need to make them incredibly overdesigned, you know.
Just the simplicity of it is scary.

But so we had that and we had the orcs. And we had obviously--Christopher Lee
plays a wonderful character who represents really most of the views of the
antagonist. But the fundamental problem with "The Lord of the Rings" that we
are continuing to confront as we move into the second and third film is the
fact that the main baddy, Sauron, manifests himself as a giant, flaming
eyeball. And now in a movie--if you're writing a movie from scratch, just an
original movie, you would never choose to have your villain be a giant,
flaming eyeball. It has some limitations.

BOGAEV: It's unfortunate.

Mr. JACKSON: There's certain limitations to it. And so we do have to grapple
with that. It comes across incredibly well on the printed page as this, you
know, very ethereal concept that you--is actually quite chilling. But in a
movie you have to be very, very careful how you depict that stuff.

BOGAEV: Yeah, I think you'd have to be very careful with a lot of this stuff
that's kind of pseudo-medieval fantasy. So much can go wrong.

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah.

BOGAEV: They can almost seem a parody of themselves.

Mr. JACKSON: It can.

BOGAEV: And there is, in fact, a parody of "Lord of the Rings" already. I
believe it's called "Bored of the Rings." And the only line...

Mr. JACKSON: I've never...

BOGAEV: Do you know this?

Mr. JACKSON: I've never read it. I've seen it. I've never read it. I've
deliberately avoided it because I thought it would contaminate me too much.

BOGAEV: Oh, really? That can happen?

Mr. JACKSON: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

BOGAEV: You shot all three films back to back.


BOGAEV: How did you do that? Did you shoot them as three separate movies in
your own mind, in the organization or as one long one, thinking you'd break
them up in post production?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, we shot them as one long one. We had three screenplays,
so we definitely wrote and structured three separate movies so that they had a
beginning, middle and an end in themselves. And so that's how the scripts
were, three separate scripts. But once we started shooting the stuff, we
really just didn't think too much about, you know, film one, film two, film
three. We just scheduled it and shot it as if it was one continuous film.
And we were always jumping around. We didn't just stick to one movie. You
know, on a Monday we might be shooting something from film three. On a
Tuesday we'd be back to doing a scene from film one; you know, film two on
Wednesday. It was just very intimate.

And then we also had--and then the other thing is we had multiple units
shooting, so we--so I might be directing a piece of drama with the actors
from film two and on the same day there might be a battle scene being
photographed by the second unit that was from film three. So we'd be looking
at footage each night, you know, and even the footage that we looked at on a
single day was spread around the three different movies. So it was done very
much out of sequence, and with us really just thinking of it as one, you know,
probably nine-hour-long movie.

BOGAEV: There's some amazing landscapes in the film, locations, shot in your
native New Zealand. The evil empire of Mordor is always depicted with active
volcanoes and black mountains...


BOGAEV: ...and ominous rocky terrain. Where did you film that?

Mr. JACKSON: Most of the Mordor scenes were filmed on Mt. Ruapehu, which is a
genuine active volcano that's in the middle of the North Island.

BOGAEV: I believe you had ski lifts that shuttled the crew up and down for
those scenes?

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah, well, we shot during summer because during winter it's a
ski resort, and it's covered in snow, obviously, but during summer the snow's
thawed away, so we got the resort to activate the ski lifts for us so we could
shuttle people around, yeah.

BOGAEV: Did it get a bit toasty there?

Mr. JACKSON: It was rugged. I mean, it's volcanic rock. It actually got--it
was actually very hard--you know, people would get lots of cuts and bruises
because it's that kind of rock that's hard to walk on, and it was all very
sharp and pretty dangerous, yeah.

BOGAEV: What was the hardest terrain you filmed in or the roughest shoot?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, we did quite a few scenes where we had to helicopter
people in because we looked around for the most stunning locations we could
find, and often these, obviously, don't happen to conveniently be next door to
a road or near a hotel. You know, they're obviously very wild and rugged.
And we flew around in helicopters, found these places, interesting rock
formations. And the scenes in the first film--there's a scene where they have
to hide from a swarm of crows that have been sent out to look for them. And
they hide under rocks as the crows fly overhead. And that was shot in a place
where we could only fly everybody in and all the gear in on choppers, so we
had four or five choppers just ferrying people up and down the hill with all
the equipment.

That particular scene we had to--because it was also dangerous to some degree
because these are quite high, rugged mountains, and we'd always have to take
survival kits up so that if in the event that the clouds suddenly came in and
we didn't have time to get people off the mountain, there would be a
possibility of having to stay overnight with--you know, just like sleep there.
So we always had these survival rations. We had Primus, you know, stoves. We
had sleeping bags. We always had that stuff available in case we ever got
stuck up there. But fortunately it never happened.

BOGAEV: You know, Tolkien fans are so dogged and diehard. Were you ever
dogged by them during shooting? Did they ever show up and...

Mr. JACKSON: Well, surprisingly not. Not really. There was--occasionally
there'd be somebody hiding in the bushes with a camera and you'd get home at
night, and you'd go on to the Net and you'd see a photo of yourself from some
time during that day shooting the scene, and someone had been hiding, snapping
pictures. But they genuinely really didn't make themselves visible. We
didn't really have situations where we had much problem from the fans. I
think helped by the fact that we were obviously down in New Zealand shooting,
so we were fairly isolated.

But it was a unique experience because normally--I mean, I'm used to making
films in New Zealand--other films I've made where, you know, no one has a clue
what you're doing. They're original screenplays, you shoot your movie, no one
knows anything about it and then, you know, you take the film to Cannes, to
one of the film festivals, and then you've got to work really hard to make
people even aware of the existence of the film. And in this situation it was
almost the extreme opposite where we'd go to work every day, you know, doing
shooting over this 15-month period, and we were acutely aware that there were
millions of people who were watching and listening for any information about
what we were shooting on that day.

But it was actually a positive. I mean, ultimately I thought it was a very
positive thing because getting through 15 months of shooting is obviously a
very arduous process, and the presence of the fans, the presence of the
interest of the fans, of this incredible excitement and anticipation that was
out there for the last two or three years, we all felt every day that we'd
better deliver the best possible film that we could make.

BOGAEV: I'm talking with filmmaker Peter Jackson. His new movie, "Lord of
the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," has 13 Academy Award nominations,
including best picture, director and screenplay. We'll talk more, Peter,
after the break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson. His new film "Lord of
the Rings" has tallied 13 Academy Award nominations. Jackson's other films
include "The Frighteners" and "Heavenly Creatures."

You grew up in a small town in New Zealand. I think I read the nearest movie
theater was a bit of a drive away. But you started trying to make movies when
you were just nine or 10 years old. What got you into it?

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah. Watching the original "King Kong" on TV--the 1933 "King
Kong," which I watched when I was nine or 10 years old. And then, you know,
there's a lot of that movie that really inspired "The Lord of the Rings" in a
funny kind of way, too, because it swept me away and it was escapism. It took
me from my seat into the world of the film. I was transported, which is what
great movies do to you. Obviously, if you're in the audience and you just
forget you're sitting in your chair and you go into the film and participate
in the movie. And I loved what "King Kong" did to me and I just thought it's
the magic of film, this is what I want to do.

And I had a disadvantage because New Zealand at that time--you know, we
weren't making movies. You know, there was no feature films whatsoever being
made in New Zealand; hence there was no film industry; there were no film
schools. And so I ended up--my parents had a super 8 movie camera for taking
home movies, and so I ended up grabbing that. It was obviously in the days
before video cameras, but super 8 was kind of the video version--the film
version of what video cameras are today. And so I'd be filming little movies
with my super 8 camera all the way through my teen-aged years. And they got
more sophisticated.

BOGAEV: Well, what were your childhood early movies like?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, they were little five-minute things, two-minute things.
They were like monster--clay monsters, clay dinosaurs that I'd animate,
stop-motion animation on the kitchen table. I got friends together to do a
World War II movie at some stage, digging a trench in my parents' back yard
and putting up sandbags and barbed wire and making sort of a little war movie.
Horror movies--I made a vampire film, a zombie film. And these were like--you
know, they were usually quite short. When I was at school I made a Monty
Python sort of parody, because I had started to love "Monty Python's Flying
Circus," the TV show, which was screening in the late '60s, early '70s. Then
by the time I was 20, I had a 16mm camera and I started to make a movie in the
weekends with my friends. And I was in the movie. I directed it. I did
camera work most of the time. I built all the monsters. It was a
science-fiction/horror film called "Bad Taste."

And after four years of shooting basically on Sundays, we had a feature film.
And then the New Zealand Film Commission took that to the Cannes Film Festival
and it literally was a home movie, but it was, you know, finished with sound
track and music and it was an hour and a half long. And they took it to the
Cannes, I think, in 1988, and it sold. It sold to like 30 countries in the
space of a few days at Cannes, and was regarded as being highly successful by
the New Zealand Film Commission, who then obviously wanted me to make more of
these. And they were sort of prepared to support me. So suddenly we had the
government--because the New Zealand Film Commission is like a
government-funded agency. So suddenly we had the government making horror
films--funding horror films in New Zealand, which I always found quite

And so I made "Meet the Feebles," which was a really outrageous sort of adult
puppet film, but like th...

BOGAEV: Now, I have to interrupt you here...

Mr. JACKSON: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...because "Meet the Feebles"--I have a description of it that I just
have to read.


BOGAEV: `A backstage musical that rivals "Springtime for Hitler" for
aggressive tastelessness. "Feebles" is cast entirely with puppets and actors
in foam rubber animal suits. The plot involves the efforts of a third-rate
vaudeville animal troupe to land a syndicated television series.
Back-stabbing, gluttony, drug overdoses and interspecies lust are the order of
the day.'

Mr. JACKSON: That's a fair description.

BOGAEV: Well said. It is just so hard, though, to imagine that the folks at
New Line Cinema gave you, Peter Jackson, the director of "Meet the Feebles,"
$270 million to make...


BOGAEV: ...three movies based on the most revered work of literature.

Mr. JACKSON: It's a mystery. I mean, "Heavenly Creatures," which was a film
that I made a few years ago, that in a way broke me out of the horror mold and
gave me some legitimate sort of art house attention. And that--you know, I
think when people saw that, they realized that I was capable of doing a little
bit more than just sort of special effects stuff.

I mean, "Lord of the Rings" was made as a low-budget independent film. I
mean, it was because we made it in New Zealand, we made it with a lot of the
same crew that I've used on my other movies; the same kind of infrastructure.
We made it the New Zealand way, not the Hollywood way. And you know, what
that enabled us--because obviously it wasn't low-budget; we still shot it as a
low-budget film and so all that surplus money could go straight onto the
screen. So we were able to build enormous sets and have hundreds of extras
and, you know, hundreds and hundreds of computer shots and all the wonderful
costumes. You know, we had--that's where all our money got spent, which we'd
never been able to do before. Obviously, making low-budget films you just
can't spend money on any of that stuff. So now we had all the money that we
needed to bring this world to life.

BOGAEV: Is there now a Hobbit village amusement park in Wellington, New
Zealand, or something like that? Does this live on in ancillary marketing?

Mr. JACKSON: Well, there should be. There should be. I mean, the Hobbit
village was absolutely amazing. I mean, people can see it in the movie. It
was the most beautiful thing. We built the Hobbit village a year before
shooting commenced because I wanted all the grass to grow. And we planted
real vegetables like carrots and brussels sprouts and cabbages in the gardens
of the Hobbits so that--and we had gardeners doing the gardening so that over
a year everything sprouted and germinated and it was just amazing. And then
we shot there for about two weeks, three weeks, I think we shot there. And we
finished and it all got bulldozed down. It all got returned back to farmland
again. And it was sad. I mean, we all said, `Why can't this be kept? Why
can't people come to visit the Hobbit village when the film comes out?' And
we actually all feel really bad about that, but one of the problems with film
sets in themselves is that they're never built to last. And so, you know, it
was built sort of to do the job for the film and it would start falling to
pieces if tourists started to climb all over it, you know, so...

BOGAEV: Well, Peter Jackson, thanks so much for talking with me today.

Mr. JACKSON: It was a pleasure. Thank you.

GROSS: Director Peter Jackson, speaking with Barbara Bogaev. His film "The
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" is nominated for 13 Academy
Awards. Jackson is currently halfway through cutting the second film in the
trilogy. It's due out in December. Part three is scheduled for release in
December 2003. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, pictures from the Vietnam War from the other side. We talk
with Doug Niven about tracking down pictures taken by North Vietnamese
photographers and collecting them in a new book. Also, David Bianculli
reviews the new sitcom "Watching Ellie," and Ken Tucker considers Johnny
Cash's career on the occasion of Cash's 70th birthday.

(Soundbite of music)

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

Review: New sitcom starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Watching Ellie"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Michael Richards and Jason Alexander returned to TV after "Seinfeld" with
their own sitcoms, but both shows flopped. Now another "Seinfeld" alumnus,
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is trying to move from supporting player to star. Her
new sitcom, "Watching Ellie," begins tonight. TV critic David Bianculli has a


Almost every discussion of "Watching Ellie," the new NBC sitcom starring Julia
Louis-Dreyfus, invokes what it calls the "Seinfeld" curse. It's based on the
idea that someone coming from a hugely successful TV sitcom is unlikely to
succeed in a second hit show. In this way of thinking, that's why Michael
Richards, who played Kramer on "Seinfeld," flopped in NBC's "The Michael
Richards Show." It's why Jason Alexander, who played George Costanza, flopped
in ABC's "Bob Patterson." It's even why Patrick Warburton, who played
Elaine's face-painting boyfriend on "Seinfeld," didn't succeed in the Fox
superhero comedy, "The Tick." But that's nonsense. There is no "Seinfeld"
curse. There's just the general curse of television itself, which is that
most shows fail and it's hard enough to make a good show, much less a
different and daring one like "Seinfeld."

"The Michael Richards Show" failed because it was an awful, ill-conceived
sitcom; so was "Bob Patterson." Both shows were built around strong comic
personalities, but built with no sense of purpose or design, but that has
nothing to do with a curse or with "Seinfeld." A few years ago, NBC failed
horribly with an unfunny sitcom starring Nathan Lane, just before he starred
in "The Producers." How do you make an unfunny sitcom starring Nathan Lane?
Now that's a curse. Besides, "The Tick" was a funny and very different kind
of comedy. It just didn't catch on. And over on HBO, the co-creator of
"Seinfeld," Larry David, has both starred in and written "Curb Your
Enthusiasm," a comedy so funny and bold and clever that I really do think it's
the best sitcom since--well, since "Seinfeld." Maybe it seems so fresh in
part because David wasn't on camera in "Seinfeld." But a "Seinfeld" curse?
No way. Which brings us, finally, to "Watching Ellie."

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, instead of playing a single, high-strung New Yorker named
Elaine, plays a single, high-strung Los Angeles nightclub singer named Ellie.
The show's central gimmick is that each episode follows her for 22 minutes of
her life in real time, interrupted only by commercials. A clock in the lower
left corner counts down the moments to zero, like the Fox drama series "24" in
reverse and without the tension.

With Louis-Dreyfus in the leading role, the supporting characters are a
mixture of credible and cartoonish. The buffoons are Steve Carrell, from "The
Daily Show" as an annoying ex-boyfriend, and Peter Stormare as a Kramer-like
building super. The more quietly drawn characters are Darren Boyd, as Ellie's
current boyfriend, and Lauren Bowles, as her sister. In real life, the two
actresses are sisters as well. And behind the scenes, "Watching Ellie" is
created and written by Brad Hall, who is Louis-Dreyfus' husband. More to the
point, he's also the creator of the lifeless sitcom, "The Single Guy." Now
"Watching Ellie" is much better than "The Single Guy" and much, much better
than the sitcoms starring Richards and Alexander. It's no "Curb Your
Enthusiasm" and no "Seinfeld," but it grows on you.

When Carrell, as ex-boyfriend Edgar, chases down Ellie on the street, the
dialogue is loopy enough to be entertaining. And for Ellie, who's late for
work, the clock is ticking, literally.

(Soundbite of "Watching Ellie")

Mr. STEVE CARRELL: (As Edgar) Ellie! Ellie!

Ms. JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS: (As Ellie) Ah, Edgar.

Mr. CARRELL: My, God...


Mr. CARRELL: Ellie, Ellie.


Mr. CARRELL: Well.


Mr. CARRELL: I guess this was inevitable, huh?


Mr. CARRELL: Well, you break up. Sooner or later, you're going to run into
each other.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, we didn't run `into' each other exactly; you chased
me down the street.

Mr. CARRELL: OK. Let's try not to make this, like, totally awkward.

(Soundbite of laughter)



Unidentified Woman: Hello.


Mr. CARRELL: So how are you--how are you doin', Ell, you OK?

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: Yeah. I'm doing fine, Edgar. I'm actually doing better
than fine.

Mr. CARRELL: Really?


Mr. CARRELL: You seem tense.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: Mm, no, no, no. I'm just a little late. Oh, wow, I'm
really late.

Mr. CARRELL: Oh, that's fast.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, I'm still late.

Mr. CARRELL: Is that why you look so frazzled?

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: I don't look frazzled.

Mr. CARRELL: Yeah, you do.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: No, I don't! Please don't say I look frazzled when I
absolutely do not!

Mr. CARRELL: OK. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. OK. Wow! My mistake. To
me, you looked a little frazzled and tired.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: OK. Do you see? Do you see? This is what you do, Edgar.

Mr. CARRELL: What? I didn't--I didn't say you looked bad.

Ms. LOUIS-DREYFUS: Well, frazzled and tired isn't bad?

Mr. CARRELL: No. OK...

BIANCULLI: The first two shows end with Ellie on stage, singing. It's during
these last moments that the actress succeeds in creating a character fully
separated from Elaine. Elaine would sing about as well as she danced. Ellie
is worth listening to, just as "Watching Ellie," on its own merits, is worth

If you want daring and different television, though, I want to steer you
toward "Six Feet Under," which begins its second season this Sunday on HBO.
This very dark-comedy drama about a family-run funeral home really came into
its own about five episodes into last year's run and this show's first four
episodes, sent for preview, have left me desperate for more. Forget all the
talk about TV curses, there are blessings, too, and "Six Feet Under"
definitely is one of them. Watching "Ellie" is an option; watching "Six Feet
Under" is mandatory.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Coming up, pictures of the Vietnam War taken by North Vietnamese
photographers. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Interview: Doug Niven talks about his book, "Another Vietnam:
Pictures of the War from the Other Side"

There are several now famous photographs from the war in Vietnam that have
helped create our collective memory of the war, such as the picture of the
young Vietnamese girl running naked, her clothes burned off by napalm.

Doug Niven has found the photos from the other side, pictures taken by North
Vietnamese photographers. With a couple of exceptions, these are pictures
that haven't been seen before in America. Most of these photos were never
even published in North Vietnam. Nixon made 16 trips to Vietnam to find
photographers and photo archives. The pictures he collected are now on
exhibit at the International Center of Photography in New York and they're
collected in the new book, "Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the
Other Side." Niven is a photojournalist who worked in Cambodia from 1992 to

One of the most interesting photos, I think, in your book is one that was
never published. It's a 1970 photo of a makeshift operating room that's
actually in the middle of a swamp. It's not really a room, it's just
outdoors in the middle of a swamp. Would you describe the photo?

Mr. DOUGLAS NIVEN (Photojournalist): Sure. There's a few doctors in their
smocks with their mouths covered, and basically they're in kind of a
tent-canopy, which is a mosquito net, and a patient with a very serious head
wound is being carried in to be operated on right in the middle of a swamp.
It's really an incredible picture.

GROSS: And the person bringing in the stretcher and the doctors, the
nurses--they're all standing in water above their ankles.

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. I mean, they really had to work in very difficult
conditions. And the interesting thing about this picture to me was the fact
that the photographer never printed that himself. He didn't think this was
particularly remarkable. So when I first saw that picture--I saw it at a very
small size--I just looked at it and the whole picture just opened it. It was
a whole story inside that picture.

GROSS: Who was the photographer?

Mr. NIVEN: His name's Voan Kang(ph) and he lives way down south, in the
farthest tip of the southern peninsula in Vietnam. And he never really worked
for anybody. He kind of took pictures during the war almost as a hobby, so he
really had this very interesting collection of pictures.

GROSS: What else was in the collection?

Mr. NIVEN: It was mostly pictures of Viet Cong and the challenges they faced,
the difficulties families had. They had to live in mangrove swamps because
they were trying to hide from American bombing.

GROSS: What motivated him to take these photos if they weren't being

Mr. NIVEN: Well, what was interesting about him is in the late '50s his
family had a photo business, they had a photo shop in Baklia, which is in the
southern part of Vietnam. And when the war came to their village in 1960,
they had to close up shop. And he felt a sense of purpose that he just had to
take pictures of what was happening. It was just such a disgrace to his
morals that the business was destroyed, that their village was being attacked
and that everything they had to go through. So he just felt a real sense that
he had to capture this particular moment in time.

GROSS: Another photo that you reprint in your book is a picture of the downed
US Navy pilot, Robert Schumaker, being walked by militiamen after they've
captured him. This was a very upsetting photo to American eyes. How was this
photo used in North Vietnam?

Mr. NIVEN: Well, what's interesting is the way that picture is printed in the
book you can actually see the full frame and on that frame you can see some
slight marks, and those were the cropping marks that the photographer wanted
how the picture to be cropped. So he wanted that picture just to be shown
with that one militiaman and the American pilot, Robert Schumaker, when, in
fact, there was this larger group. So that's how they wanted the picture to
be seen. And it was kind of like a trophy picture really, showing that they
had captured this American pilot and they love to have very small soldiers
with guns standing next to very big American pilots. It made them feel proud
and strong when they saw pictures like that.

GROSS: So they wanted to crop just one-on-one so that this one North
Vietnamese soldier would seem so much stronger and braver?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah, I think so. And I actually think the more interesting
picture is the full frame because it shows you the surroundings and it gives
you an idea of what the conditions were like that day. Because he had really
been shot down a half an hour before that picture was taken.

GROSS: Were a lot of the photos that you found propaganda photos, where the
people are actually posed?

Mr. NIVEN: Oh, there's lots of pictures like that. And the Vietnamese loved
to put those down on the table to show me those first. They seemed to like
those pictures the most. But I have a real aversion to that type of picture.
And in the end, I also thought it was important to include a few of those in
the book because it's part of the story. But, yeah, they really liked the
propaganda picture, but I think that they don't resonate very well and they
don't stand up to time very well, either.

GROSS: Did you come any photographers who prided themselves on the fact that
they took unposed shots and that they were where the action was?

Mr. NIVEN: Oh, sure. There's a few photographers that fit that billing. One
photographer was the army photographer, and he has a lot of pictures in the
book. His name's Don Kong Ting(ph), and his nickname by his friends was the
King of the Battlefield. And in the middle of battles, he would stand up and
take pictures. And when he was a young photographer, he'd heard this famous
quote from Robert Capa saying, `If the picture's not good enough, you got to
get closer to the picture.' So he'd stand right up in the middle of battles
with a 50mm lens and shoot pictures.

GROSS: It's interesting that he would be inspired by this comment from an
American photographer while his people were fighting the Americans.

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. And also, don't forget that Robert Capa was killed in North
Vietnam in the early '50s during the French period.

GROSS: Good point. Did you find any pictures taken in the tunnels, like the
Cu Chi tunnels, where North Vietnamese soldiers lived and worked out of the
sight of American soldiers?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. There's one picture in the book of the actual digging of
these tunnels. There's also another picture in the book--there was a very
similar tunnel complex up North, just north of the DMZ in a place called Vin
Bin--I'm sorry, Vin Luk(ph), and that was a big tunnel complex, too. So that
was a very important part of the war for them and pictures inside that really
showed the difficulties for the Vietnamese well.

GROSS: Did the photographers talk at all about the difficulty of
photographing from within the tunnels without any natural light?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. In fact, one photographer had a very novel way to shoot
pictures inside these tunnels. None of them really had a flash, so what he
did was he emptied a bullet and gathered the gunpowder and he lit the
gunpowder so it would flash. And he has this wonderful picture of some women
singing inside one of the tunnels just lit with gunpowder from a bullet.

GROSS: What were some of the other technical problems that these
photographers were up against?

Mr. NIVEN: Well, one of the most incredible things for me was hearing their
stories about being trained in Hanoi for six months and they had very
extensive training. They were instructed to strip apart cameras in the dark
and they had very good training. And then when their training was finished,
they were given a camera, usually with just one lens, like I said, and then
they were sent down the Ho Chi Minh Trail for three months. And just before
they were sent on this long trip, they were given two rolls of film.

GROSS: Boy, you had to make every shot count if you're doing that.

Mr. NIVEN: They did. And often I would look on their rolls of film and I
would see one picture and then next picture was taken several hundred miles
away and the next picture was several hundred miles away from that, so they
really had to make each picture count.

GROSS: The photographers you were talking about who were told to, you know,
take two rolls and film and then come back, were these people who were on
assignment from the state?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. Those guys were state photographers working for the
government news agency and their pictures were generally used in a few
official publications.

GROSS: So did these photographers have to go after like only photos that made
the North Vietnamese look victorious?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. Typically I think those photographers took some of the
least interesting stuff, to be honest. Their pictures were very much geared
for this propaganda element. The really interesting pictures were taken by
the army photographer and by another photographer in the North who
specifically focused on daily life in the North during the war, and he just
had very beautiful pictures of very natural scenes of what life looked like
during that wartime.

GROSS: One of the photographers who you spoke with had been the official
photographer for Ho Chi Minh. How did he get that position?

Mr. NIVEN: Actually, he's still alive, too. He's a really interesting guy.
He was a young peasant from really far out in the sticks in the North. And
during the '40s, just following World War II, he was hanging out with the
young revolutionaries, Ho Chi Minh being one of them, and he was asked to take
pictures of them. And it was as simple as that. And after that he became Ho
Chi Minh's personal photographer. And during the war, too, he traveled down
the Ho Chi Minh Trail and did a long story on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which in
the end he lost 100 rolls of film. He lost six months of work during a
bombing. And he has a very vivid description of seeing all his film strung up
in all the trees, hanging from the branches in little strips.

GROSS: Would we recognize any of the photos he took of Ho Chi Minh?

Mr. NIVEN: Well, there's a very famous picture he took of Ho Chi Minh sitting
at a desk outside signing letters. I think that's one of the real icons from
Vietnam. And this is one of his pictures.

GROSS: One of the last photos in your book is taken on the outskirts of
Saigon on April 30th, 1975. And there's just like dozens of combat boots in
the street. Would you describe the photo and what's happening?

Mr. NIVEN: Well, this is like the National Highway One out of Saigon and it's
just littered with army boots and uniforms. The South Vietnamese soldiers
that were there on April 30th, 1975--as soon as they heard that North
Vietnamese were invading the town, Saigon, they just stripped off their
uniforms and took off their boots as quickly as they could, because if they
had been caught wearing those they'd be likely shot or punished. So it's just
an incredible scene of this highway just littered with boots and uniforms.

GROSS: Who took the photo?

Mr. NIVEN: A guy named Zulin Tang Fong(ph). And he was the Cu Chi tunnel
photographer as well. And he didn't have a lot of pictures, but the few
pictures he did have were very good.

GROSS: What kind of condition were most of the photos in when you found them?

Mr. NIVEN: Actually, a real variety of conditions. Some of the negatives
were in absolute pristine shape. The photographer kept the film and still
keeps the film in an old American ammunition case. Inside he has roasted rice
which keeps the humidity out and he buries this box underground. And this is
what he did during the war, too. And his negatives looked like they were made
yesterday, they're so perfect.

Another photographer, this army photographer, his negatives were in terrible
shape. He brought me plastic bags full of film that he'd kept in his bathroom
right under the bathroom sink. And I had to go through these bags of film and
hold the film up to the light and look at these very dusty, moldy pieces of
film that were just falling apart.

So we had from excellent to terrible.

GROSS: Were you able to use any of those moldy films?

Mr. NIVEN: Yeah. It's amazing what you can actually do with film like that.
You can clean the film, you can flatten it, you can straighten it out and
sometimes you see the marks of the pictures. Some of the pictures in the book
have marks like this, but I don't think it hurts the image itself.

GROSS: For the photographers who weren't working for the state and were just
working for themselves, how would they develop their film?

Mr. NIVEN: Oh, these guys would wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, camped out
along the side the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and they carried a little tea saucer in
their backpack. And they would mix the chemistry by hand with water from a
stream and they would process the roll of film by the dark of the night. And
they joked about it, saying they had the world's biggest darkroom. And they
would process their film under the stars in the middle of the night when it
was quiet, and they would wash the film in the stream. And in the morning
they'd have their finished pictures.

GROSS: Doug Niven is the co-editor of the new book, "Another Vietnam:
Pictures of the War from the Other Side." Those photos are also in the
current exhibition at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.

Coming up, pop music critic Ken Tucker considers Johnny Cash on Cash's 70th
birthday. This is FRESH AIR.

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

Profile: Salute to country music legend Johnny Cash, who turns 70

Country singer Johnny Cash turns 70 today. To celebrate his birthday, a
two-CD collection called "The Essential Johnny Cash" has just been released.
In March, Columbia Records will reissue five Cash albums from the late '50s
through the mid-'60s, and in June a tribute album featuring covers by artists
including Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen will be released. Rock critic Ken
Tucker considers Cash's career.

(Soundbite of album)

Mr. JOHNNY CASH: Hello. I'm Johnny Cash.

(Soundbite of cheers; applause; music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) I hear the train a-comin'. It's rollin' around the bend.
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in Folsom
Prison and time keeps draggin' on. But that train keeps a-rollin' on down to
San Antone. When I was just a baby, my mamma told me, `Son, always be a good
boy. Don't ever play with guns.' But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him
die. When I hear that whistle blowin', I hang my head and cry.

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Johnny Cash wrote and first recorded a studio version of that song in the late
'50s, when he was signed to Sun Records as a rockabilly singer. But unlike
his label mates Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, Cash didn't
have much of a feeling for rock 'n' roll. Raised on gospel music and a fan of
Western swing, he hooked up with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall
Grant, the so-called Tennessee Two, to create a sound: no fiddles, no pedal
steel; Perkins used one hand to deaden his guitar strings and played triplets
that rose to meet Cash's sinking baritone. The result was a rhythm so
elemental that Cash has played variations on it ever since.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Mmmmmmm. I keep a close watch on this heart of mine. I
keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that
binds. Because you're mine, I walk the line.

TUCKER: Johnny Cash gradually went from rockabilly hell-raiser to founder of
a liberal wing in country music. He married June Carter Cash in 1968, had Bob
Dylan on the first edition of his ABC TV show in '69, and as for why he became
known as the Man in Black, well, he told us why himself in 1971.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Well, you wonder why I always dress in black, why you
never see bright colors on my back. And why does my appearance seem to have a
somber tone? Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on. I wear
the black for the poor and the beaten down, living in the hopeless, hungry
side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but
is there because he's a victim of the times. I wear the black for those

TUCKER: Cash has always been a man in whom opposites attract. Piously
devout, he's recorded a lot of religious music. And one of the reissues,
"Hymns by Johnny Cash" from 1959, was promoted by Columbia Records as `the
album he came here to record,' a reference to Sam Phillips' disinclination to
record anything by Cash on Sun that wasn't rockabilly.

On the other hand, Cash has a wild streak he's done nothing to hide. He
gulped speed; in '64 he was arrested for possessing 688 capsules of Dexedrine.
And Cash in live performance could achieve the sort of ferocity that justifies
the melodramatic declaration of the character in "Folsom Prison Blues," `I
shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.'

But then again, for a poker face in black, Cash is also painfully fond of
mediocre novelty songs; not just his 1969 number-one hit, "A Boy Named Sue,"
but also stuff like "Everybody Loves a Nut" and "Look at Them Beans." I'll
spare you those and play what I think is his best, certainly his least
sentimental song ever, from when he was first starting out in 1955.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down. I
think you only live to see the lights of town. I wasted my time when I would
try, try, try. 'Cause when the lights have lost their glow, you cry, cry,
cry. Soon your sugar daddies will all be gone. You wake up some cold day and
find you're alone. You'll call for me, but I'm going to tell you `Bye, bye,
bye.' When I turn around and walk away, you'll cry, cry, cry. You're going
to cry, cry, cry and you'll cry alone. When everyone's forgotten that you
left on your own, you're going to cry, cry, cry.

TUCKER: These days Cash has been weakened by respiratory ailments that keep
him from performing. He's going to get a lot of salutes. And the company
putting out his reissues is being overly generous. Believe me, when you've
heard one Johnny Cash train song, you don't need to hear a whole album of

Since he's always appreciated forthrightness, I'll be blunt. Cash has gotten
credit for more than he deserves, but you've got to like a guy who can parlay
a flat voice and flattened guitar strings into a good reputation and a
marriage that's always seemed better than good. Happy birthday, Mr. Cash.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Entertainment Weekly.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CASH: (Singing) Well, my daddy left home when I was three and he didn't
leave much to ma and me, just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now I don't blame him 'cause he run and hid, but the meanest thing that he
ever did was before he left he went and named me Sue. Well, he must have
thought that it was quite a joke and it got a lot of laughs from lots of
folks. Seems I had to fight my whole life through. Some gal would giggle and
I'd get red, and some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head. I'll tell you, life
ain't easy for a boy named Sue.
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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