DATE March 19, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Professor William Taubman discusses the life of Nikita
Khrushchev, as well as current events pertaining to Russia
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The breakdown of the American-European alliance in the days leading up to war,
with Russia siding with France and Germany against the US, is one of the
unpredictable ways in which world politics have changed since the end of the
Cold War. We invited William Taubman to talk with us about the current state
of US-Russian relations and to talk about his new book, "Khrushchev: The Man
and His Era." It's a biography of Nikita Khrushchev. During the years he was
the Soviet leader, 1954 to '64, Khrushchev provoked the two biggest crises of
the Cold War, the constructing of the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile
Taubman started researching his biography in the '80s before the collapse of
the Soviet Union. After the collapse he gained access to newly opened Soviet
archives. Let's start with the state of current relations. The Russian
parliament has postponed its vote on a bilateral nuclear arms treaty in an
expression of anger toward the US and its decision to go to war. Had the Bush
administration gone back to the Security Council for a vote, Russia was
prepared to veto it. I asked William Taubman why Russia was willing to veto
Professor WILLIAM TAUBMAN (Amherst College): It may sound strange to put it
this way but I think the main reason Russia said it was willing to veto was
that France was willing to veto. I think if France had ended up on the
American side, and the only, or the main, veto had been Russia's, I'm not
convinced it would have done it. In fact, I doubt it would have.
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, you know, after 9/11 Putin made a decisive break with
the past pattern of--not only of Soviet but even of Russian foreign policy
and he cast his lot with the West. This was not a popular move in Russia.
There was opposition in the Russian elite. I don't think it was popular among
the mass of people, but he did it anyway. And he did it because he believes
that Russia's future is with the West and that the West can help him in his
own war against what he regards as terrorists in Chechnya. And so it--in a
way, I think it's a surprise that he ended up opposing the United States on
Iraq. I think he would have liked not to have. And I think if he'd been the
only one, he would not have vetoed it in the end because France gave him the
cover to do what was in his interest at home. I think it was politically
useful for him to be seen as standing up to the United States because of the
opposition that I mentioned to his moves after September 11th. So I think
it's more a political opposition based in his concerns about his own public at
home, although I don't think he would have been keen for the war in any event
but I think he would have gone along with us if he were alone.
GROSS: Now Putin has been dealing with Chechnya and he describes the
opposition in Chechnya as being terrorist-related, Islamic terrorism, whereas
the people in Chechnya say, `No, it's just an independence movement, trying to
break away from Russian rule and from Russian invasion.' So how has Chechnya
affected, do you think, Putin's position on Iraq?
Prof. TAUBMAN: I think it's absolutely central. I was reading Putin's
autobiography recently and I was struck by the fact that the most passionate
passages in it had to do with Chechnya and his conviction that in opposing
Chechnya's separatism, he is saving the Russian state from fragmenting and
potentially even breaking up. So Chechnya--if you see Chechnya as he does in
that way, and you see, as he does, terrorists as playing a part in it, then
that explains his alliance with the United States in the war on terrorism.
But I think he, like we, both in a war on terrorism, had to decide whether
invading Iraq advances the war on terrorism or actually inhibits it or worsens
our situation in it, and I think he chose the other way, as many Americans
would have wanted us to do, too; that is, thinking that invading Iraq and
fighting Saddam Hussein in this way will actually end up strengthening
terrorists around the world who will have recruits join them based on this.
He said yesterday, Putin did, he reminded the world that he has some 20
million Muslim citizens of Russia. And then there are many more in the states
on Russia's borders which used to be part of the Soviet Union--Uzbekistan,
Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan--all of these places which are crucial to
Russian security filled with Muslims. So he obviously is worrying that
Muslims are going to be radicalized by this war and if so Russia could be hurt
and the Chechnya war could be exacerbated.
GROSS: Now the Bush administration recently designated three rebel groups in
Chechnya as terrorist organizations, which is something that Putin has wanted
for a while, the US designation of these groups as terrorist groups. Do you
think that the Bush administration did that in an attempt to get Russia's
Prof. TAUBMAN: Yes, I think the--well, I think they probably have no
compunction about demonstrating groups that might be terrorist groups as
terrorist groups because they probably figure the wider the net the more
they'll catch. But in this case it was definitely a gesture toward Putin and
Russia, which is necessary because traditionally the United States has been
very tough on the human rights violations carried out by the Russian army in
its brutal war in Chechnya. And that rankles in Moscow, and so with--if the
United States can be seen as sympathetic to the Russians as they deal with
what they regard as terrorists, that helps. So that was definitely a bow
toward Mr. Putin.
GROSS: Bush and Putin seemed to get along so well at the beginning, after
Bush was elected to the White House. Has there been a fundamental change in
their relationship? Is this a blip? Or do you think there's been a
Prof. TAUBMAN: I think Mr. Putin is a shrewd guy and I think he probably
understood that that initial lovefest was a bit strange. I say that advisedly
because you may remember that after they met for the first time, President
Bush said something like `I looked into his soul--eyes or his soul and I could
see he was a good man.' And there's a kind of tradition in American
presidential dealings with Soviet and now Russian leaders in which they say
things like that and it really is embarrassing because it personifies a
relationship which is not really in the end a relationship between two people,
but between two states, with everything that that implies. So I think Putin
must have been pleased but he must also have slightly winced. I don't think
he was ever quite as keen on Bush as Bush seemed to be on him. And he
probably expected, being as shrewd as he is, that there would be an ebb and
flow to this thing, and now it's ebbing.
GROSS: The primary issue that the Bush administration has used to explain war
with Iraq is weapons of mass destruction. Now there are--I don't have the
figures in front of me, but there are, I think, like, thousands of nuclear
warheads that are still unaccounted for from the former Soviet Union. Have
you been thinking about those weapons a lot lately?
Prof. TAUBMAN: It's not just weapons, it's nuclear materials, some of which
are in laboratories. I'm not an expert on what exact--which particular kinds
of materials are most potentially dangerous, but I think that the general
impression we have, we all have, is that Russian security around a whole set
of installations, military and civilian, which might have anything to do with
nuclear materials, has just not been as good as it should be, especially in a
time when terrorists are ever more eager to get their hands on them. We've
been trying to help the Nunn-Lugar bill, or Nunn-Lugar fund, former Senator
Nunn and Senator Lugar, put up a lot of money that's been designed to increase
security in Russia and I think it's accomplished a lot. It's one of the best
things that's been done in the post-Soviet period by the United States, both
in its own interests and in the world's. But I don't think anybody pretends
that it's foolproof, and that's scary.
GROSS: What was the Soviet Union's relationship with Saddam Hussein?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Soviets were fairly close. Of course, if you go far back
enough, so was the United States. But I know more about the Soviet side.
They cultivated him as a Middle East leader. They were very interested in his
oil. They had contracts for his oil. There's a particular Russian, Soviet
Russian leader, Yevgeny Primakov, who became the prime minister of Russia
under Yeltsin and who was, for a while, a candidate for president, and many
people thought he would eventually prevail. And he began his career as a
Middle East expert for the Soviet Union and he traveled a lot in that area,
got to know Saddam Hussein. And if it's possible to be a, quote, unquote,
"friend" of Saddam Hussein, he apparently is. He went to Baghdad in 1991 to
try to prevent the Gulf War. He went again a few weeks ago, apparently to try
to convince Saddam to leave. So the Russians have personal ties. They have
oil ties. They have a geostrategic interest in the area. All of these things
are there. But I don't think, in the end, they explain the Russians'
nervousness and opposition to the American war; they're part of the
background. But I think that's a larger fear of the kind I was talking about
before, having to do with both the danger that the war will exacerbate Muslim
opposition to Russian statehood and that it will complicate Putin's own
relations with his own people who are opposed to the war.
GROSS: My guest is William Taubman, author of a new biography of Nikita
Khrushchev. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is William Taubman. He's a
professor of political science at Amherst College.
Let's talk about your new book now, which you've worked on for so many years.
It's called "Khrushchev: The Man and His Era." Let's start with the things
that Khrushchev is responsible for, that have changed the world in profound
ways. If you could just list some of the things that Khrushchev was behind
that have had a profound effect on the shape of the former Soviet Union and
Prof. TAUBMAN: I think the single most profound effect was of the secret
speech he gave in 1956, unmasking Stalin as a tyrant. The effect of that,
essentially, was to begin the end of the Soviet Union by destroying a god whom
so many had worshiped and which had legitimized or helped to legitimize Soviet
rule. So that was an epochal event, both for the Soviet Union and the world.
If one shifts to foreign affairs, I think the event I would probably choose
is the Cuban Missile Crisis, the decision to send to Cuba missiles capable of
reaching the United States with nuclear weapons, triggering a crisis which was
eventually resolved peacefully but which could have sparked a nuclear
GROSS: Well, let's get back to the secret speech in which he talked about
Stalin. He knew Stalin very well. He was one of the top people under Stalin.
Did he have any objections to what Stalin was doing when he was working with
Stalin and carrying out Stalin's orders?
Prof. TAUBMAN: This is a kind of mystery, but I think I have at least
partially resolved it. If you read what he said in public during the Stalin
years when he was one of his closest henchmen, you would have thought he had
no doubts about Stalin, but of course he had to talk that way. If you read
his memoirs, you discover that he is critical of Stalin, but in a puzzling,
surprising way, he still manages to praise Stalin at a point when he had no
conceivable reason to do so. So the puzzle remains.
But the thing that helped me solve it was on one of my trips to the Soviet
Union I went down to Ukraine and to the city called Donetsk in eastern Ukraine
where Khrushchev had been an official, had sort of grown up and been an
official in his early years. And I found a woman who had--who was the
daughter of one of his very best friends from childhood, and she had been
there and witnessed a conversation between Khrushchev and her father in 1940
when Khrushchev confessed to her father, with nobody else present, that he was
angry and almost in a rage about what some of Stalin was doing. And when she
told me this story, I couldn't believe it. But she described it in detail and
then I found some further documents which supported it, and I slowly came to
the conclusion that Khrushchev had harbored dismay, anger, maybe even rage,
and that that had come out in a flood in 1956 and was one of the main reasons
why he gave that speech.
GROSS: What did he say in that speech?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, it was a partial unmasking of this terrible tyrant. It
did not criticize everything Stalin had done. It drew a kind of line in 1934
and said that until then Stalin had done many good things. And, of course, we
know that many of the things he did before '34, like ordering the
collectivization of agriculture in which millions died, were not good, but
Khrushchev drew the line in 1934 and said it was after that that the terrible
things began. So that makes it sound as if it was a kind of moderate
compromise of a speech. But it certainly didn't sound that way to the people
who were in the hall that morning in February 1956.
GROSS: Who was in the hall? Who was he addressing?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, he was talking to the 20th Congress of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union, and that means the top elite of the members of the
Central Committee, which is a smaller group, and then several thousand more,
the elite, and this included people who--many of whom were Stalinists, many of
whom had blood on their hands, many of whom secretly had hated Stalin, but
none of them had expected what they heard that morning, which was this attack
on Stalin himself. So there was a kind of deathly silence in the hall. One
of the people I talked to or I read about said there was a kind of buzzing
noise in response to what they were hearing. They sort of left the hall in
silence. They were absolutely thunderstruck that their leader had done this.
GROSS: You're not supposed to talk about this stuff if you're under a
totalitarian regime. Did this help or hurt Khrushchev?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, I think it helped him to feel as if, in the end, he was
an honest man, that he had a conscience and he had acted on it. I think it
also helped him, or so he thought, that he had sort of cleared the air. One
of the reasons he did it, I think, was that he believed that if he didn't do
it then, that somebody else would do it a few years later, and then the
question would be why hadn't he done it? He also felt that it helped him
because, bloody as his hands were, some of his co-leaders, some of his
colleagues in the leadership, were even more complicit in Stalinist evil, and
so by unmasking Stalin, he was really unmasking them, which was a good thing
for him, or so he thought, in his battle against them for leadership of the
And in one other way I think he thought it was a good thing for him. He was a
kind of idealist and a true believer, and he believed in socialism, communism,
and he thought that once he had purged it of this terrible Stalinist stain, it
would go on and inspire people forever. So he thought it was a good thing,
but I think it turned out to be not a very good thing for him because turmoil
exploded in the Soviet Union--not really demonstrations but at meetings. Then
there were strikes and demonstrations and people killed in Poland shortly
thereafter. And then there was the Hungarian Revolution in November 1956 in
which the Soviets had to invade. So in the long run, it was devastating
really for the Communist system and it was devastating for Khrushchev.
GROSS: It was devastating for the Communist system because why would people
put up with it once Stalin was unmasked and they started to rebel?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Yes. Because he had been a kind of god, and his godlike
status had been one of the things that people had been forced to believe in.
Many of them did believe sincerely; others pretended to. It had held the
system together. And to say suddenly that this figure, the leader of the
country, the leader of the party, the leader of world communism, the leader of
all progressive forces, or that's the kind of way they would have put it, was,
in effect, a mass murderer was to begin the unraveling of communism in the
Soviet Union and eventually everywhere.
GROSS: One of the great contradictions about Khrushchev is, on the one hand,
he criticizes Stalin for the bloodbaths and, you know, many human rights
abuses and, at the same time, Khrushchev is guilty of plenty of human rights
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, he certainly was. He was the party leader in Moscow at
the height of the most terrible purges, the great terror in 1937-'38. And
there are documents which show that he not only carried out orders to approve
executions, but in at least one case asked for the quota to be increased. And
among the people who died, not at his own direct hand but with his approval,
were some of his absolutely closest associates, friends whom he had known for
years. And then in 1938, Stalin sent him--he'd done so well in this job in
Moscow, Stalin sent him down to Ukraine where he was the party boss of the
whole Ukraine. And there, too, again, he signed documents. I found one in an
archive--I remember in the KGB archive in Kiev, a document, an indictment of a
particular leader of the Young Communist League in Ukraine, and scrawled
across the top in Khrushchev's familiar handwriting was the word `arrest, N.
Khrushchev.' So we know he had blood on his hands there. You asked the
question why? That's another story. But there's no doubt that he had
blood--as he himself said in retirement at one point in a conversation, he
said, `I have blood up to my elbows.'
GROSS: William Taubman is the author of the new book, "Khrushchev: The Man
and His Era." Taubman is a professor of political science at Amherst College.
He'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Nikita Khrushchev's mood swings. We continue our
conversation with his biographer, William Taubman. Also, coming attractions;
we meet two filmmakers who make movie trailers. And music critic Lloyd
Schwartz considers movie scores from the silent era to today's Oscar
contenders. We're listening to one now.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with William Taubman, author
of the new book, "Khrushchev: The Man and His Era," a biography of Nikita
Khrushchev, the Soviet leader from 1954 to '64. Taubman has been researching
Khrushchev's life since the '80s, before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When we left off, we were talking about Khrushchev's contradictory personality
and politics. For example,he was critical of Stalin's human rights
atrocities, but he was responsible for many human rights abuses.
One of the things you wanted to know is how did he manage to have such a
contradictory personality and such a contradictory set of achievements. Part
of your investigation was psychological. You consulted psychiatrists and
psychologists, presented them information about Khrushchev and asked for their
analysis. What are some of the things that they told you about his
personality, based on the information you gave them?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, I have to admit it wasn't so much that they gave me an
analysis; it was more that I tried out my own notions, with some great
hesitation, because I'm not a psychologist myself. So with their help in that
sense, I developed several notions. I developed the notion, for example, that
this was an ignorant peasant in the beginning. He grew up in a poor peasant
village. His parents didn't even have a horse, let alone a house, and he had
probably no more than two years of elementary education, possibly three or
four; he's a little vague on it. Twice later on, he goes back to school,
attempting to get into an adult education program, and each time he gets
distracted by politics. So this man is, as the sculptor Ernst Neizvestny said
once, `the most uncultured man I'd ever met in my life.'
But he has great hopes for himself, I think fostered in part by a particularly
powerful mother who seems to have idolized him, and also by a schoolteacher
who told him that he could do anything. So he sets out to do anything, and he
succeeds. He moves miraculously up in the Communist Party ladder, into
Stalin's inner circle, eventually becomes the leader of the Soviet Union, but
I think he was sort of plagued not only by his primitiveness, which remained,
but by his knowledge of it. And then complicating that even further is that
the way he survives as Stalin's henchman in a time when so many did not is by
playing the fool.
Prof. TAUBMAN: So the irony is that he's forced to play the fool to survive,
but the fool is what he doesn't want to be, and in this sense, he sort of goes
through life succeeding. Then when he gets the full power, he's suddenly
responsible for the welfare of a transcontinental empire in all of its
aspects. He's not really equipped to do it; in trying to do it, he ends up
making terrible mistakes which prove him, in some ways, to be as foolish as he
feared he would be, and so by the end of the time in power, just before he's
ousted, there's a kind of surreal quality to him. He's just undermining
himself left and right without seeming to realize that that's what he's doing.
He's alienating all of his supporters just when he needs them.
GROSS: Well, it...
Prof. TAUBMAN: And he's sparking a conspiracy against him.
GROSS: You describe Khrushchev as having been prone to depressions,
alcoholism, hypomania. Do...
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, yes, I got the term hypomania from the CIA, believe it
or not. It's the...
GROSS: Well, what does it mean? Yeah, go ahead.
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, the CIA conducted a--gathered about 20 shrinks together
at one point in 1961 to prepare a study of Khrushchev for President Kennedy,
who was going to be jousting with him shortly at a summit in Vienna, and of
course, that study hasn't been released, but one of the people who was there
did release an account of it, and the account says they decided, after looking
at interviews--interviewing people who'd met Khrushchev and looking at film,
that he was hypomanic.
What hypomanic means, it's a sort of subclinical case of bipolarity; that is,
there's mania, there's depression, but they're not so serious as to paralyze
him, and indeed, he functions, and functions quite actively and at times quite
well. But nonetheless, there is this tendency toward explosiveness and
impulsiveness and the sense `I can do anything and I can do it now' on the one
hand, coexisting with moods of sort of bleakness and blackness and sadness.
And after I read that I interviewed a Jane Thompson, who was the wife of the
American ambassador, Llewellyn Thompson, who flew with the Khrushchevs to
America in '59, and Jane Thompson said Nina Khrushcheva, Khrushchev's wife,
had said to her on that flight, `He's always either all the way up or all the
way down.' So I felt that was enough confirmation.
GROSS: How do you think that these mood swings affected his style as a
negotiator, you know, as a negotiator with the United States, as a negotiator
during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, I think one way to put the decision to send those
missiles to Cuba, with all the risks involved and without consulting with his
most knowledgeable advisers, was to say it was a manic move. You know, he
suddenly had confidence that he could do anything, and some of the other
things that he did were probably--also reflected that. I mean, I daresay that
even the speech attacking Stalin probably reflected this sort of sense that he
could do this tremendous, stunning thing that nobody had expected. I'm
certainly not reducing any of the things that he did to this particular
feature of his psychology, but I think it was there in the background.
And as a negotiator, it made for some absolutely hair-raising and very funny
negotiations. One of my favorites, if I can tell you about it...
Prof. TAUBMAN: ...is with Senator Hubert Humphrey, who was pretty
effervescent himself, one might say, and Humphrey goes to Moscow in December,
I think it was, 1958, to try to figure out what Khrushchev's up to with this
Berlin ultimatum of his, and he expects to get, if he's lucky, maybe an hour
with Khrushchev. He ends up spending eight hours in the Kremlin. Khrushchev
wines him and dines him, and at one point Khrushchev sort of gets up, goes
over to a map on the wall and says, `Where are you from?' And Humphrey says,
`Minneapolis, Minnesota.' And Khrushchev takes out a fat blue pencil and
draws a circle around it and says, `That means we'll spare Minneapolis when
the rockets fly.' And Humphrey, who was no slouch, says, `Well, I'm afraid I
can't do the same for Moscow. Sorry about that.' And Humphrey was absolutely
snowed. He said, `I never met a guy like'--he said, `I loved him like the'--I
wish--I don't remember exactly what the words were; I could open my book and
find them, but he says, `I had the greatest time with this guy. This guy was
amazing. He gave the best speech I ever heard against racism.' But he also
went away saying that the Americans should assign some sort of psychologist to
study him, because he had a tremendous inferiority complex and they better
figure him out before something bad happened.
GROSS: How is Khrushchev described now in Russian textbooks?
Prof. TAUBMAN: Well, he's gone from being a non-person, which is what he was
all the years after he was ousted, until Gorbachev resurrected him as a sort
of predecessor, somebody who tried to reform the Soviet Union before he,
Gorbachev, renewed the attempt. So he's treated as a man who tried his best
to make the changes that were necessary, but he's also treated as somebody who
has blood on his hands.
I think the irony is that these days Russians don't pay all that much
attention to him. Their lives are too complicated; they're too busy
surviving; they're too busy trying to get ahead, and they don't, as a rule, I
think, want to pay that much attention to their past.
GROSS: What's your final analysis of Khrushchev?
Prof. TAUBMAN: I feel a kind of affection for him. He's a wonderfully
colorful character. He's a sort of self-made man who couldn't unmake what his
origins had made of him. He's a man who found himself in a situation where he
was committing great wrongs and tried to repent and do good. He's all too
human in so many ways. I find as a person there are things that I admire and
things that are almost embarrassing. He was profane. There's a lot of
profanity in this book. And as a political leader, he's also contradictory.
He was an accomplice of Stalin and Stalin's terrible crimes, but at the same
time he tried to change his country. He was naive in thinking he could do it,
but that naivete was also something to admire. He tried to mitigate the Cold
War; ease it, if not absolutely end it. And instead of easing it, he produced
its two worst crises. So he's an incredibly complex, contradictory,
fascinating character for whom I feel both affection and admiration on the one
hand, and almost revulsion if one's talking about the bloody years and a kind
of disdain on the other.
GROSS: Well, William Taubman, I want to thank you very much for talking with
Prof. TAUBMAN: You're quite welcome.
GROSS: William Taubman is the author of the new book "Khrushchev: The Man
and His Era." Taubman is a professor of political science at Amherst College.
Coming up, coming attractions. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Michael Greenfeld and Mark Woollen discuss the job of
making coming attractions trailers for movies
TERRY GROSS, host:
My guests are two filmmakers who don't make movies. They make the trailers
that preview the movies. Their companies did the trailers for several films
that are nominated for Oscars. Michael Green's company, The Ant Farm,
produced the trailers for "Chicago," "Adaptation" and "The Lord of the Rings:
The Two Towers." Mark Woollen's company, Mark Woollen & Associates, produced
the trailers for "The Pianist" and "About Schmidt."
Last week, "About Schmidt" got the most awards at the Golden Trailers fourth
annual ceremony. That's the Oscars of the trailers world. "About Schmidt"
won awards for best of show, best comedy, best voiceover and best music. The
music in the trailer is often different from the music in the actual film.
Often the film's soundtrack hasn't even been completed when the trailer is
produced. Here's the trailer for "About Schmidt."
(Soundbite of "About Schmidt" trailer; music from "Dream Weaver")
Mr. JACK NICHOLSON: (As Warren Schmidt) Dear Ndugu, my name is Warren R.
Schmidt, and I am your new foster father. I am 66 years old and recently
retired as assistant vice president at Woodman of the World Insurance Company.
When I was a kid, I used to think that somehow destiny had tapped me to be a
great man, but somehow it just didn't work out that way. All I know is life
is short, Ndugu, and I can't afford to waste another minute.
(Soundbite of wind blowing; "Dream Weaver")
Mr. GARY WRIGHT: (Singing) I just close my eyes again...
GROSS: Let's start with the question that everyone wants to know, which is:
Why do coming attractions so often give away so much of the plot or so many of
the jokes or so many of the action high points of the film? So often people
after seeing coming attractions say they feel like they've already seen the
Mr. MARK WOOLLEN (Mark Woollen & Associates): I think because, you know, it
is a business and things are kind of so market-driven and there's a big
investment that studios are trying to recoup, and there's a lot riding on that
opening weekend that they have to rely on research testing as a tool as to,
you know, what elements are going to make people go see this movie. And so
the more of those elements you put in, the higher the testing scores go and,
Mr. MICHAEL GREENFELD (The Ant Farm): And, therefore, it ends up in the
Mr. WOOLLEN: Yes.
Mr. GREENFELD: That's not always the case, but I mean, you're right. More
often than not, it seems like all the best bits are in the trailer, and what's
left in the movie? I can say to that that we wouldn't necessarily want to put
all the worst bits in the trailer. You know, that certainly wouldn't
advertise the film. I think that a lot of us who make trailers sometimes have
a real problem with the fact that it's a very research-driven business now,
because years ago, we would pretty much do what we thought as trailer makers
and marketers, you know, to sell the movie. But you know, we've sort of
employed lots of other people in the research game to help us out.
GROSS: All films are rated. I know certain things that you're not allowed to
show depending on what the rating is. Are all coming attractions rated?
Mr. GREENFELD: Yes.
Mr. WOOLLEN: Yes.
GROSS: And do they all have to be, like, a general audience kind of rating?
Mr. WOOLLEN: Yes.
Mr. GREENFELD: Yes, they do.
GROSS: So even if you're promoting an R movie, it still has to play to a G
Mr. GREENFELD: Uh-huh. Right. The MPAA has--in fact, there's a woman, her
name is Beth Lynn Hand, who's going to be retiring this year. She's been
doing this for many, many years. And she and her staff see every trailer
that's made and they approve it for all audiences. Regardless of whether it's
an R or a G, it still has to go through that process in order to make sure,
hopefully, that, you know, young children, families, are seeing things that
are not inappropriate.
GROSS: So can you think of a film that you did that was an R and you had to
translate it into G terms for the trailer and still represent what the movie
Mr. WOOLLEN: I mean, the example that always comes to mind for me that was
really challenging is we did the trailer for "Traffic" a couple of years ago,
and here was a movie that was, you know, an examination of drugs in society
and all their far-reaching effects. But you know, we were saying the word
`drugs'; there's drugs throughout the movie. But when it came to doing the
trailer, we had a really difficult time even getting a single mention of the
word `drugs' in, or an image of even just a package of something that may kind
of infer drugs. So that was really hard when the movie is, you know, all
Mr. GREENFELD: Right.
Mr. WOOLLEN: There's a lot of other things, I think, that have come up, you
know, probably especially post-Columbine with, you know, gunplay and things
like that. And so I think a lot of the stuff has to end up being a little
more sanitized than, you know, maybe prime-time television would be, 'cause
the idea is that it may have to play, you know, with the new "Rugrats" movie
or something, and so you have to make it safe for all audiences.
GROSS: Are there any trailers that you've done where you've been told that
the trailer really succeeded in selling the movie?
Mr. GREENFELD: I think that we did a trailer this year for a movie called
"Catch Me If You Can."
Mr. GREENFELD: Although it wasn't nominated for anything, it was one of my
favorite trailers we did this year, and I think it really sold the movie
beautifully. From the get-go, Leonardo DiCaprio says, `I'm going to buy you a
steak dinner,' and then the girl behind the window just laughs and you can
just see how giddy she is, that she's excited and titillated by this guy, this
handsome movie star, and, you know--Boom!--we're off and running on this kind
of fun and exciting story. And I mean, that was one of my favorites this
year, and a lot of people told me that they really liked it and I think that
certainly the box office didn't hurt from that trailer.
GROSS: You used music in there that wasn't in the movie, "Don't Rain On My
Parade." How did you come up with that?
Mr. GREENFELD: Well, actually, we had a meeting in my office--the producer of
the trailer and the editor and myself. And we had our music supervisor--we
have a nice--at my company, we have a music department, and we try very hard
to come up with all kinds of music ideas. And the more brains on it, the
better. And this particular project, a guy named Nathan Duvall was in my
office and said, `How about "Don't Rain On My Parade" by Bobby Darin? It's
perfect!' And it was. I mean, it had shown up in "American Beauty" a couple
of years ago. Do you remember the scene, when Annette Bening is driving and
she's singing the song, I believe?
Mr. WOOLLEN: Oh!
Mr. GREENFELD: Anyway--and it's just a great piece of filmmaking, and I guess
Nathan thought, `Gee, wouldn't this be a fun'--it was...
Mr. WOOLLEN: It's a good find.
Mr. GREENFELD: It really captured, I think, you know, the spirt of the film.
And at that time, we didn't have a soundtrack and we didn't have a score, so
there you go. That's true.
GROSS: How did you each get into this business?
Mr. GREENFELD: By accident. I can't speak for Mark, but for me. I came out
to California to be in the movie business, and ended up getting a job at a
company that does trailers. And I thought this is really cool because you get
to make a new movie, you know, like, all the time. Every trailer is a little
minimovie, and I guess for somebody who has a short attention span like
myself, it seemed to work.
Mr. WOOLLEN: I mean, it certainly is such a specialized thing. I don't think
anyone ever grows thinking that they want to do this because, you know, you
don't know that it's out there, I guess. I started editing professionally
when I was about 16 and was working on documentaries and was working on a show
called "America's Most Wanted," and was at a point where I just couldn't
handle cutting together a scene of someone else being, you know, killed in a
horrible death again this week. And there was an ad in Variety for a company
that was doing trailers and I thought, `Well, that might be an interesting
thing to try.' And so I started working there, and it went from there.
GROSS: OK. Well, I want to thank you both very much for talking with us.
Mr. WOOLLEN: Thank you, Terry.
Mr. GREEN: Oh, you're very welcome. Thanks for having us.
GROSS: Mark Woollen of Mark Woollen & Associates and Michael Greenfeld of The
Ant Farm. Both companies produce movie trailers. Here's The Ant Farm's
trailer for the film with the most Oscar nominations, "Chicago."
(Soundbite of "Chicago" trailer; music)
Unidentified Man #1: A flash of leg, the taste of temptation, the smell of
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: ...and things that go bump...
(Soundbite of music; gunshot)
Unidentified Man #1: ...in the night.
(Soundbite of "All That Jazz")
Ms. CATHERINE ZETA-JONES: (As Velma) (Singing) So lick your hair, wear your
buckle shoes and all that jazz.
Unidentified Man #1: Velma has it...
Ms. ZETA-JONES: (Singing) ...I want a brand-new start to do that jazz.
Unidentified Man #1: ...Roxie wants it.
Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER: (As Roxie) All my life, I wanted to have my own act.
Unidentified Man #2: That's great. We'll be in touch.
Ms. ZELLWEGER: You know, I'm not quite finished yet.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #3: Face it, Roxie, you ain't ever...
GROSS: Coming up, music critic Lloyd Schwartz talks about old and new movie
scores. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Use of classical music themes in movie soundtrack scores
TERRY GROSS, host:
It's Oscar time, and this year's nominees for best soundtrack include
minimalist composer Philip Glass for "The Hours" and veteran Hollywood
composer Elmer Bernstein for "Far from Heaven." We've asked our classical
music critic, Lloyd Schwartz, to consider movie music past and present.
(Soundbite of Chopin's "Funeral March")
LLOYD SCHWARTZ reporting:
Even before sound, so-called silent films had musical scores, often using
themes from classical music to fit a given situation. Tchaikovsky's "Romeo
and Juliet Overture" was used for hundreds of scenes of tender passion, and
Chopin's "Funeral March" for sadder occasions. Any wedding scene had a
wedding march by Wagner or Mendelssohn, and Rossini's "William Tell Overture,"
"The Lone Ranger" theme, was the music of choice for the cavalry coming to the
rescue. Now it's a cell phone ringer setting.
Bernard Herrmann's memorable love theme from Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo"
actually alludes to Wagner's "Love-Death" music from "Tristan and Isolde." If
you catch the reference, you know from the music that the relationship between
James Stewart and Kim Novak is doomed.
(Soundbite of music from "Vertigo")
SCHWARTZ: Appropriations of classical music can also invert a composer's
original intentions. Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" depicts demigoddesses
carrying the bodies of dead warriors up to Valhalla. In "Apocalypse Now,"
Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, Robert Duvall, plays a recording of it in his
helicopter, pumping up the volume because, he says, it scares the hell out of
the Vietnamese villagers he's firing down at.
After Alex North wrote one of the most vivid movie epic scores for Stanley
Kubrick's "Spartacus," Kubrick asked him to compose music for "2001: A Space
Odyssey." But he dropped North's new score for older music, like Johann
Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz," the music that accompanies the space station's
waltzing through space. Nineteenth-century waltzes were intended to convey
the illusion of floating, dancers lifting off the dance floor. What an
inspiration to have such old-fashioned music depict the modern idea of
"Unfaithfully Yours," Preston Sturges' brilliant comedy about a jealous
conductor, takes classical music a step further. We see Rex Harrison's three
fantasies of getting even with his allegedly unfaithful wife as he's
conducting. Sturges virtually choreographs every gesture to fit the music.
Instead of the music illuminating the action, the action is really determined
by the music.
The film industry has lured some pretty distinguished classical composers to
create soundtracks. Aaron Copland won an Oscar for "The Heiress," the movie
version of Henry James' "Washington Square." William Walton's stirring score
for Olivier's "Henry V" helped rouse flagging English spirits towards the end
of World War II. Prokofiev's powerful cantata for Sergei Eisenstein's
historical epic "Alexander Nevsky" has taken on an independent life in
concerts. This year, Philip Glass was nominated for an Oscar for his
numbingly repetitive score for "The Hours."
If I were a member of the academy, my vote would go to Elmer Bernstein for his
lush, yearning music for Todd Haynes' "Far from Heaven," which is a kind of
serious parody of Douglas Sirk's juicy 1950s melodrama "All That Heaven
Allows." That movie opens with a soupy orchestration of Liszt's saccharine
piano piece "Consolation No. 3," perfect to express the sacrifices Jane Wyman
must make to maintain her respectability. But Haynes, by using original music
instead, leavens the romanticism with a healthy dose of irony just as Julianne
Moore balances her performance perfectly on the razor edge of sincerity and
One of my favorite original scores is Anton Karas' zither music for "The Third
Man," which captures both the charm and the sinister decadence of postwar
Vienna embodied in Orson Welles' Harry Lime. It was so infectious it became a
pop hit. Whenever I see the film, that music stays in my head for weeks.
Whenever I hear the music, I think of Orson Welles running through the sewers
of Vienna. Movie music doesn't get much better.
GROSS: Lloyd Schwartz is classical music editor of The Boston Phoenix. "All
That Heaven Allows," "Spartacus" and "The Third Man" are now available on DVD
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of music)
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