Writer/Director Paul Schrader
He directed the film Autofocus, about the life and death of actor Bob Crane. It is now available on DVD, and will come out on VHS next week. Schrader wrote the screenplays for a number of classic films, including Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Films he directed include Affliction, The Comfort of Strangers and American Gigolo. This interview first aired October 14, 2002.
Other segments from the episode on June 27, 2003
DATE June 27, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Martin Scorsese discusses the making of his new
film, "Gangs of New York"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
Martin Scorsese's film "Gangs of New York" comes out on DVD and video next
week. Scorsese grew up in Manhattan's Little Italy, a few blocks from the
neighborhood that was once called Five Points, where the movie takes place.
It focuses on the conflict between two gangs in Five Points, the Irish
immigrants and the natives who are Anglo-saxons born in New York. Daniel
Day-Lewis plays Bill the Butcher, the leader of the natives.
Mr. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS: (As Bill the Butcher) You know how I stayed alive this
long, all these years? Fear, the spectacle of fearsome acts. Somebody steals
from me, I cut off his hands; he offends me, I cut off his thumb; he rises
against me, I cut off his head, stick it on a pike, raise it high up so all in
the streets can see. That's what preserves the order of things.
BOGAEV: Terry spoke with Martin Scorsese in January. She asked why he cast
Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Bill the Butcher.
Mr. MARTIN SCORSESE (Director, "Gangs of New York"): Ultimately I think what
I was really hoping for, and I think we got, is a man of that period, a man
who is a warlord of that period, let's say. And many of these men were
ex-pugilists--most of them were--ex-fighters, butchers, whatever. The butcher
was looked upon by the working class and the lower classes as a sort of king
of merchants in a way, and so he already had some power going in as a showman.
And this was what I wanted, the theater piece, the showman, the man who, as he
later says, conducts--Or how should I put it?--commits fearsome acts, with a
sense of theatricality and a sense of humor, a charismatic leader, and this is
what I wanted. And I knew that he would be able to find that, although with
him--last week we were talking--he pointed out that usually the character has
to find him, has to let himself be known to him, and so he just becomes--after
about two or three weeks, you find that whatever moves he's making,
suggestions for an improv or something, is coming from the character, who's
now sort of permeating his being, in a way.
So when he talks to you, and when he talked to me like off-camera, or just
even on the telephone, it's no longer as Daniel, and it's not some magical
process. It just happens to be the way he goes through it, and I...
GROSS: But he starts talking to you as Bill the Butcher?
Mr. SCORSESE: Oh, constantly, so even if it's a telephone on the holidays, at
dinner, and sometimes would make comments, particularly when he was in costume
and off-camera, he was definitely Bill, and comment about the--of course, you
know, Daniel's Irish, but he would comment about the Irish, make comments
about them on the set, stir up trouble that way to keep the energy going.
GROSS: Well, how do you respond to that, though, when you know somebody's
talking to you in persona, and it's in fact...
Mr. SCORSESE: It's easier.
GROSS: ...a persona you created. It's easier?
Mr. SCORSESE: Oh, much easier. Much easier.
GROSS: What do you mean?
Mr. SCORSESE: You're dealing with the real thing. You're just going, `OK,
Bill, what do you think of this?' `Well, if he did that to me, I would have
to do this.' `I see, uh-huh. True, but what if he went this way?' And, I
mean, it goes on, it goes back and forth. It's actually cutting out a
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah, it's cutting out Daniel.
GROSS: ...that's funny.
Mr. SCORSESE: It's going straight to Bill. It was fine with me.
GROSS: Yeah, but what if he starts talking to you about like the weather as
Bill the Butcher, or, you know...
Mr. SCORSESE: That's what he did.
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah. That's OK.
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah.
GROSS: Anybody else you've worked with do that?
Mr. SCORSESE: A couple of people, yeah. To a certain extent. I don't think
as much as I encountered with Newland and Bill, let me put it that way.
GROSS: And his accent--where does that come from?
Mr. SCORSESE: Well, we started working on the accents--Tim Monich is our
dialect coach, you know, from "Age of Innocence" on all my movies. And Tim
got together with me, and we did some research with Bill--I mean, with Daniel.
And one of the first things he found was, of course, there's no recordings.
There's a lot written in colloquial New Yorkese, so to speak--these plays on
the Bowery about the Bowery Boys in the 1840s, and 1850s, 1860s. There's a
lot in the written page. We see the way the words are written. Bhooys is
B-H-O-O-Y-S or something. I might be wrong about that. But Tugalese Mag(ph)
and the names of the people. And, of course, the jargon, or I should say
the--they really had their own language. It was written up in 1859 by an
ex-police chief into a collection called "The Rogue's Lexicon." And we use a
lot of those words in the film. And in some cases we could have done more,
but it was almost--you would have to have subtitles.
Mr. SCORSESE: And so what Tim Monich first discussed was listening to a
recording of Walt Whitman, the only recording of Walt Whitman I believe,
reciting four lines from one of his poems about New York. And one of the
phrases was the `ample streets of New York,' if I'm not mistaken. But I know
the word `ample' was in there. And we say ample (pronounced AM-pul); Whitman
said ample (pronounced EAM-pul) apparently on the wax disk cylinder, which
made a flat A. Then I remember Louis Auchincloss talking to me after "Age of
Innocence" and talking about the Mrs. Mingett character who's based on Mrs.
Jones, the original Mrs. Jones. And he said that they spoke in an odd way, he
said, at times. He said, for example, Mrs. Jones would have said to her
children, `Don't forget to take your pearls (pronounced POY-uls), girls
(pronounced GOY-uls).' So then you got pearls, girls, ample (pronounced
POY-uls, GOY-uls, EAM-pul) and suddenly becoming like New York cabbies in the
'30s, '40s and '50s, you know.
GROSS: Exactly, yeah.
Mr. SCORSESE: The Bowery Boys, you know. And so we went with that. And he
started writing--I mean, Daniel started reading the Bible aloud and working
with an accent that way with Tim. So we created our accent based on what was
GROSS: The opening scene in "Gangs of New York" is a battle scene in 1846
between Irish immigrants and the men calling themselves Natives because they
were born in America. Liam Neeson leads the Irish gang; Daniel Day-Lewis
leads the Natives. And they're fighting with knives and with cleavers...
Mr. SCORSESE: Right.
GROSS: And in this fight sequence, particularly like Daniel Day-Lewis, who
plays a butcher and a gang leader...
Mr. SCORSESE: Yes. Yes.
GROSS: ...he's walking around with this huge cleaver...
Mr. SCORSESE: That's right.
GROSS: ...just kind of hacking away at people's legs...
Mr. SCORSESE: Absolutely, yes.
GROSS: And it's gruesome. And I'm remembering back to a previous interview
that you recorded on FRESH AIR, you had...
Mr. SCORSESE: Ah, but I didn't say it was graphic, though, like...
GROSS: No, no, no, no, but I'm interested why you wanted to make it not
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah. Because I made so many films over the years that deal
with violence in a pretty flat, straightforward way, I just didn't know how
else to do it except the way I did it in "Mean Streets" and "Taxi Driver" and
"GoodFellas" and "Casino." But by the end of "Casino," the killing of Joe
Pesci and his brother and the string of killings in Las Vegas, in my mind, I
think, you know, it's very important to depict this lifestyle, and you have to
show the downside, and this is the downside of it.
And you have to be honest with it. I just think you have to be honest in the
portrayal of violence, not glorify it, but just put yourself in that
position and to understand the brutality of it and particularly the killing,
let's say, of Pesci and his brother at that point, by his best friends, simply
with baseball bats. The brutality is primeval, you know, and I think--I don't
want to make it stylish anymore, but I didn't want to fall into a cause and
effect of violent movement and you see the effect, graphically. I wanted to
suggest it with camera moves, camera speed--48 frames, 64 frames, 12 frames,
speeding up and down, starting a shot at 48, going to 12, then going to 24,
back and forth, reverse it, that sort of stuff--and also through sound
effects, but very little sound effects, so that I wanted to stylize,
particularly the opening battle scene, based on--well, of course, you know
there's Orson Welles' the best battle scene ever in the film, "Chimes of
Midnight," and films--I just enjoy watching the Russian cinema of the 1920s,
Petovkin(ph), particularly Eisenstein, Danchenko and a number of others.
And so certain--there was one instance in "Potemkin" that I saw that was
interesting. Again, I--naturally, everybody knows "Potemkin" and particularly
the Odessa Steps sequence, but I always remembered the scene where the sailor
is washing dishes, and he comes to a dish that says, `Give us this day our
daily bread' on the dish, and the scene before had shown that they were
feeding the sailors rotten meat, and the sailors were about to mutiny because
of this, and he was washing this dish, he's wearing a striped T-shirt, and he
just looks at the dish, and it cuts back to his face, looks at the dish, and
then he smashes the dish, and I think maybe in the smashing of the dish,
there's maybe 12 cuts, but the cuts I was interested in were the cuts on his
arm, elbow, having had completed the motion of the breaking of the dish, the
power in his arm, but it was after the action and so this gave me an idea of
different aspects of different parts of--let me put it this way, stunt moves,
battle moves. In other words, I was more interested in not necessarily
GROSS: The knife going into the wound, yeah.
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah, exactly, but I also wasn't that interested--I mean,
basically, if it was all hand-to-hand combat, it...
Mr. SCORSESE: ...should be done in another way. In other words, there was
no big surprise. The big surprise, ultimately, is when Bill the Butcher
finally finds his way to Priest Vallon. That's the surprise. Everything
else, I was interested in the movement, the movement and the creation of a
kind of confused, futile, primeval world, everything--just the futility of the
fight itself. And you add to that the music that we put on that--it was a
piece by Peter Gabriel called "Signal to Noise," which is pretty
interesting--and I think you got a sense of what I was trying.
GROSS: It's not giving away anything about the story to say that at the end
of the film, the film kind of dissolves and we see a modern...
Mr. SCORSESE: Yes, all New York.
GROSS: ...New York skyline.
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah.
GROSS: We see a couple of New York skylines as they evolve, and in the final
skyline, the World Trade Center is in it.
Mr. SCORSESE: Yes.
GROSS: So that's the final image that we see. Did you think of adding a
post-September 11th, post-World Trade Center skyline?
Mr. SCORSESE: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, from way back in the very
first draft, Jay Cocks' draft in '78, '79, that was the way it ended. We knew
that we were diehard New Yorkers and it had to end with the skyline being
built. It just had to. In fact, we have a second part of the story that we
wanted to do which was building the Brooklyn Bridge and how the bridge linked
Manhattan to the rest of the country or vice versa. And so it had to end with
that. We just couldn't resist it.
The thing about it, of course, is that we did that painting and I should say
series of dissolves and paintings before September 11th. And right after it,
I thought about it and, you know, we're making a film. I felt that taking out
the towers was not the right way to go. I felt we should leave them in. The
people in the film, good, bad or indifferent, were part of the creation of
that skyline, not the destruction of it. And if the skyline collapses,
ultimately, we're aware of the struggle of humanity if there's any left
building up another one.
I think this is the sense of time going by, the sense of civilization changing
and primarily the idea of the city that we know now coming out of this
extraordinary struggle which not many people really know about. And so I felt
it was more--I felt it not would have been right to go in and keep revising
the New York skyline in movies, erasing the two towers. That was the way I
GROSS: Martin Scorsese, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SCORSESE: Thank you. Thank you.
BOGAEV: Martin Scorsese speaking with Terry Gross this winter. Scorsese's
film, "Gangs of New York" comes out on DVD and video next week. Coming up,
screenwriter and director Paul Schrader. He's collaborated on a number of
films with Scorsese. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Paul Schrader discusses his new movie "Auto Focus"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Paul Schrader and Martin Scorsese have a long history as collaborators.
Schrader wrote the screenplays for the Scorsese films "Taxi Driver," "Raging
Bull" and "The Last Temptation of Christ." His directing credits include
the films "Affliction," "American Gigolo" and "Hardcore." Schrader's latest
movie, "Auto Focus," is now out on DVD. This is how Terry described the film.
TERRY GROSS, host:
"Auto Focus" is about sexual obsession and how it can be fed by the adulation
that comes with celebrity. It's based on the true story of a minor celebrity,
Bob Crane. He starred in "Hogan's Heroes," the '60s sitcom set in the
unlikely place of a World War II prisoner of war camp run by the Germans.
Here's a scene from the actual sitcom, featuring the characters of Sergeant
Schultz, Colonel Klink and the American POW Hogan, played by Bob Crane.
(Soundbite of "Hogan's Heroes")
Mr. JOHN BANNER: (As Sergeant Hans Schultz): Up, up, up, up, up, everybody.
Up, up, up, up.
(Unintelligible comments from group of men)
Mr. BANNER: (As Schultz) You're going to be counted, everybody. Up.
Unidentified Man #1: ...counted.
Unidentified Man #2: What do you mean? This is ridiculous.
Mr. WERNER KLEMPERER: (As Colonel Wilhelm Klink) Gentlemen, gentlemen, sorry
to disturb your beauty sleep. This won't take very long. Count them,
Mr. BANNER: (As Schultz) Jawohl, Herr Commandant.
Mr. BOB CRANE: (As Colonel Robert Hogan) Hey, hey, hey! What's all the
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) Ah, Colonel Hogan, good evening.
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) Don't you Germans ever knock?
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) I wanted to keep it a surprise.
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) It's bad taste waking people up in the middle of a
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) Just a minute, Hogan, the count is not over yet.
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) All right, get on with it.
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) What's your rush? You're not going anywhere.
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) As a matter of fact, I have a date in town.
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) Oh, really? Who's the lucky girl?
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) It's not a girl. It's an Eskimo.
Mr. KLEMPERER: (As Klink) Good old Yankee sense of humor.
Mr. CRANE: (As Hogan) Right. We're going to laugh all the way to Berlin.
GROSS: What viewers of "Hogan's Heroes" didn't know is that actor Bob Crane
was obsessed with sex. He used his fame to attract women and would often
record his adventures with them on early state-of-the-art home video.
After "Hogan's Heroes" ended in 1971, Crane had trouble finding work. He
toured the country doing dinner theater.
In this scene from "Auto Focus," Crane is washed up and still trying to
impress women with whatever celebrity remains from his "Hogan's Heroes" days.
Sitting at a hotel bar with his eye on a woman, he asks the bartender to
switch the TV to the channel showing a "Hogan's Heroes" rerun. Crane is
played by Greg Kinnear.
(Soundbite of "Auto Focus")
Unidentified Woman: I'm sorry to bother you. It's just that I was sitting
over there and I noticed the TV, and I--well, is that you on the TV? Is it?
Mr. GREG KINNEAR (As Bob Crane): Oh, my gosh. That is embarrassing. I
didn't even know it was on. I'm Bob Crane.
Unidentified Woman: I know. I thought so.
Mr. KINNEAR: Yeah.
Unidentified Woman: Bob Crane, gosh, it's nice to meet you.
Mr. KINNEAR: Nice to meet you, too.
Unidentified Woman: I--Susan.
Mr. KINNEAR: Susan, all right.
Unidentified Woman: I loved your TV show.
Mr. KINNEAR: Well, appreciate that. I'm just in town here to do a little
bit of theater.
Unidentified Woman: I just wanted to say hi.
Mr. KINNEAR: Sure. Can I get you something? Another drink, an autograph...
Unidentified Woman: Well, I...
Mr. KINNEAR: ...a nude swim?
Unidentified Woman: (Laughs) Bob.
Mr. KINNEAR: You know, I'm a real photo nut. And how long are you girls in
GROSS: Bob Crane's secret life was uncovered after he was beaten to death in
his hotel room in 1978. I spoke with Paul Schrader about directing his new
film, "Auto Focus."
How do you see the character of Bob Crane connecting with other characters
you've made movies about, like Travis in "Taxi Driver" or the character in
"American Gigolo" or the father in "Hardcore"?
Mr. PAUL SCHRADER (Director): Well, I mean, I think that like beginning with
Travis, the first script I wrote, or going to "Affliction," you have a person
who is, again, acting at cross-purposes, and so, you know, Bob Crane is
saying, you know, `I'm a one-woman man, I'm a family man,' and all the while
this tail is growing out of his backside. Usually when I make these kind of
characters, at some point, at the end, they have a brief moment where they get
it, you know, because essentially they're kind of clueless and they're out of
sync. And all of a sudden they get it for a moment. Wade Whitehouse in
"Affliction" gets the fact that he has to kill his father. But Bob Crane
never gets it. He's as clueless on the day he dies as he was on the day we
GROSS: Yes, the Bob Crane character in your movie is delusional, he's
clueless, he thinks he's kind of happily indulging in sex, not realizing the
depth that he's sinking to, but he also narrates the movie, so what are some
of the tricky issues you have to deal with when the main character is
narrating their own story but they're kind of totally delusional and clueless
about what's really happening to their life?
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, you've just touched on something that I really love
doing, which is the unreliable narrator, because narration works sort of like
intravenous feeding. You're getting nourishment but you don't taste it, so it
seeps into your consciousness and so therefore you assume that your narrator
is reliable. Well, when he's unreliable, it creates a nice little frisson
between what you're seeing and what you're hearing. And again, it goes back
to "Taxi Driver," you know, my first script, where you had an unreliable
narrator who's telling you how the world worked and you are seeing that world
and it wasn't working the way he was telling you it worked. Again, the same
here with Mr. Crane. So the narration does a number of things. It helps you
expositionally because you're covering 15 years. It also allows you to hear
how this man thinks, but it also creates an odd dislocation between what
you're hearing and what you're seeing.
GROSS: In your movie the character of Bob Crane has a friend named John
Carpenter who's based on a real character in Crane's life and he's a high-end
video salesman and repairman who's in on all the new technology of the '60s,
so you have--you know, he's selling these, like, emerging videotape recorders
that you can use at home and video cameras and this is kind of revolutionary
for home recording equipment and the celebrities, the rich people, are the
first people who can afford to buy it. So Crane's really thrilled to get into
this. Tell us a little bit about the John Carpenter character and his role in
Mr. SCHRADER: Carpenter worked for a company called Sonycom at that time,
and they were issuing the first VTRs, which was a videotape recorder before
they were VCRs, and he kind of freelanced and he tried to place this equipment
in the hands of celebrities, as they often do when they have a new product.
And he had sold one to Richard Dawson, who was a gadget freak, and
then--Dawson was on the same show, "Hogan's," as Bob Crane--and he met Bob
Crane. Well, they became pals, and Bob's eldest son, you know, told me that
he thought John Carpenter was his father's only friend. And they hunted
chicks together and they hunted chicks for a dozen years, and they videotaped
and catalogued their exploits. And, you know, they became a kind of symbiotic
team. When Crane was murdered, it was the police theory that Carpenter killed
him because Crane was trying to break off the relationship. They subsequently
took John to trial and he was acquitted. They had--it was a good fit for
them. It was motive, means and opportunity. Unfortunately, they just didn't
have the evidence, and the jury was out about 20 minutes and he was acquitted.
BOGAEV: Paul Schrader. His film "Auto Focus" is out on DVD. We'll hear more
of Terry's interview with him in the second half of our show.
I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back to our interview with Paul Schrader. He wrote the screenplays
for "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "The Last Temptation of Christ," and
directed the films "Affliction," "The Comfort of Strangers," "American
Gigolo," "Hardcore," "Light of Day" and "Blue Collar." Terry spoke with
Schrader last fall about his latest movie, "Auto Focus," which is now out on
DVD. It's based on the sordid secret life of actor Bob Crane, the star of the
'60s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes." Crane had a sexual obsession, and used his
celebrity to attract women. Crane is played by Greg Kinnear.
(Soundbite of interview)
GROSS: Another interesting thing about Bob Crane is that here he is a
celebrity indulging this sexual--overindulging this sexual appetite, but he's
a kind of small-time celebrity. He's kind of like a one-hit wonder. And, you
know, at a certain point in his life, he's--he has to go to, like, hotel bars
to find women who will recognize him. So it's another really interesting
angle of it that it's not this big celebrity he has, it's kind of small-time.
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, he ended up on the dinner theater circuit, which, you
know, was quite lucrative and it brought him into, you know, all the bedroom
communities of America, and...
GROSS: And their bedrooms.
Mr. SCHRADER: ...he had--yeah. And he had, you know, a regular routine, you
know. They would do the show and then he would come out afterward and speak
to the audience and sort of work them up and tell them where he was going to
be; and he had it down.
GROSS: And in terms of, like, small-time celebrity John Carpenter, the video
salesman--is always bragging about how he sold video equipment to Tommy
Smothers, Dick Rowan and Elvis, and I love hearing their names all mentioned
in the same sentence. Like Dick Rowan and Elvis on the same level.
Mr. SCHRADER: Actually, he also sold it to Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto,
and there's a whole kind of Lone Ranger and Tonto motif in the film because
Carpenter was half-Indian and, of course, Bob Crane was the masked man.
GROSS: Right. Right. As you explained, because John Carpenter is this video
whiz, he hooks up this videotaping system where he and Bob Crane can secretly
tape their sexual adventures with the women they bring over, and then they can
get aroused again by watching back the tapes. And they often watch the tapes
together and they masturbate while watching these tapes. You have a scene in
which that happens. That's a really interesting scene, and I'd like you to
talk about shooting that scene, directing that scene, and what kind of tone
you were aiming for in that scene, because you have to strike the right tone.
Mr. SCHRADER: Yeah, I like that scene. I think it's an absolute hoot. While
we were shooting it, I had to sort of bite my tongue to keep from laughing.
You know, they're two--they're sitting there watching the videos and
complaining about women, you know. And Crane says, `What is it about women,
Carp? You know, they get you and they change their minds,' and all the while,
you know, they're jerking off and can't quite figure out why women don't
understand them. And I just thought this was just delicious in the extreme.
And I ended up the scene and fell back and did a kind of tableau, which I sort
of like to think of as my Norman Rockwell, you know, the all-American scene,
only in this case, it's these two home-porn pioneers complaining about women
and watching their videos.
GROSS: Instead of drinking beer and watching the football game...
Mr. SCHRADER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...and complaining about women. Right. So what was it like directing
that scene? What did you tell Willem Dafoe and Greg Kinnear before shooting?
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, as in everything in this particular film, you want to
keep underplaying it always because it's the accretion of underplaying that
finally, you know, gets under your skin and feels really creepy. And so
that--you're always understating it. And so I think Greg at one point wanted
to separate the women talk and the masturbation. And I said, you know, if you
do that, then you lose the underplaying. The truly sort of funny odd thing
about it is that, you know, both these activities can happen at the same time
and they don't see the connection.
GROSS: No, that's how clueless they really are. The look of the earlier
scenes in the movie--in which Bob Crane is still a family man and he hosts a
very popular morning radio show in Los Angeles and then starts on "Hogan's
Heroes," which becomes very successful--the look of those earlier scenes is
much different than the look of the later scenes as he descends deeper and
deeper into this sexual obsession. Can you talk a little bit about the
difference in shooting the earlier scenes and the later scenes?
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, we came up with an idea called the accretion of clutter,
which is that his life just gets messier and messier, and it originally began
as an idea for set design and then we applied it right across the board--color
scheme, film stock, camera style, hair, makeup, wardrobe, music, camera
technique. And so that by the end of the film, you know, you become aware
that you are watching a different movie than you were watching an hour ago
and, therefore, there's a kind of incremental shift in all the elements of the
film, trying to obscure the exact point where it shifts into another
sensibility, you know, much like an addiction itself, you know? An addict
can't really tell you the moment it all changed.
GROSS: And what's different about the camera technique?
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, it starts out very fluid, you know, dollies and--locked
off and dollies and then it moves to steady cam, and then it moves to a kind
of handheld pretending to be steady. And then it moves to a handheld not
pretending to be steady, and then it moves into hard-core shaky cam where
you're going out of focus and everything.
GROSS: And what about the visual clutter you were talking about, you know,
the theory of clutter? What's--how does the visual clutter change as the
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, that first just came out of the idea of cords, of TV
electronic cords, and everybody who's had video in the house knows what a mess
that technology makes in your house. And so just using that idea and taking
it forward, so that, you know, the neat, well-ordered house of 1965 becomes
the video clutter of 1978.
BOGAEV: Director Paul Schrader. His film, "Auto Focus," is out on DVD. More
of Terry's interview with him after this break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Let's get back to Terry's conversation with Paul Schrader. His
latest film, "Auto Focus," is out on DVD, and will soon be released on video.
Greg Kinnear plays the TV actor Bob Crane who starred in the '60s sitcom
(Soundbite of interview)
GROSS: Now there's a scene early on in the movie where Bob Crane meets with a
priest. This is when he's still kind of holding to the fiction of his life.
And the priest says `It's not easy to resist temptation. You must remove
yourself from the occasion of sin.' I thought of two things when the priest
says that. One is when he says `It's not easy to resist temptation,' I
thought of your film "The Last Temptation of Christ," obviously. And then I
also thought a little bit about your own life, since you grew up in a
fundamentalist family, in a family where even dancing and going to see movies
was forbidden. So I guess I'm wondering if when you broke away from that,
where so much that we would consider ordinary and commonplace was forbidden,
if it was ever easy to swing to the other extreme and overindulge in things
that had been forbidden?
Mr. SCHRADER: No, I don't think so, for me, because I had a Calvinist
background, and that ethic is pretty rigorous and it's pretty hard to escape,
this whole sense that you are put on this Earth for a reason; there is moral
certainty; at the end of your life you will be called into account. Even when
you leave that world, even when you break away from it, those elements still
stay with you, you know. You really can't run far away enough to run away
from that. So, you know, even though, you know, I became so-called liberated
and lived in Los Angeles, my primary drive was the work and to do things that
I felt would be worthy of my talents.
GROSS: You said that Pauline Kael convinced you to become a film critic
instead of a minister, which was what you were originally studying to be.
What did she say to you that convinced you?
Mr. SCHRADER: No, I was in pre-sem, and I had met her through one of those
serendipities of life that changes one's life, and I had come to New York for
a summer to see movies because movies were forbidden and I wanted to know more
about them. And after meeting her, she said, `You know, you want to be a film
critic, and we are going to keep in touch.' And we did, and she became my
mentor, and eventually she got me into UCLA Film School and got me a job as a
GROSS: Your first produced screenplay was "Taxi Driver." And in the book
"Schrader on Schrader," in which you're interviewed and also some of your
early work is reprinted, you said that when you were writing "Taxi Driver,"
you were very enamored of guns, you were very suicidal, you were drinking
heavily and you were obsessed with pornography in the way a lonely person is.
Can you talk a little bit about that obsession with pornography and how, if at
all, it figures into the new movie "Auto Focus."
Mr. SCHRADER: Well, I was wandering. And at that time in Los Angeles where I
was living, you know, the pussycat theaters were open all night long. And so
it was kind of loner's paradise. And also, it really is such a strong visual
world that it kind of is like a narcotic or alcoholic kind of, you know, blurs
and blots out all the other pain in your life. So I think that was really
more of the function than any overheated prurience.
GROSS: I want to just get back to that quote from the book "Schrader on
Schrader" where you said that, you know, when you were writing "Taxi Driver,"
among other things, you were very enamored of guns and you were suicidal. You
owned a gun then. Was the gun for possible suicide or for self-protection?
Mr. SCHRADER: I thing, again, you're talking about blotting out a certain
level of emotional pain. And just the fantasy that you can end your life is a
palliative and an anesthetic. So that kind of drifted around in the back of
my consciousness for a number of years. And then when I got married and I had
a daughter, I remember quite well this--you know, shortly after she was born,
I was lying in bed and I realized all the suicidal fantasies were gone. They
were just gone now, and I had suddenly been jolted into a reality where I
realized how selfish and silly all these fantasies were and that I could
proceed now without them. And I have, although a friend--I told this story to
a friend and he reminded me, he said, `Don't worry. They come back.'
GROSS: Wasn't that reassuring? That's what friends are for. But I imagine
you've used some of those fantasies of your past for characters or at least
used them to help you understand marginal characters.
Mr. SCHRADER: Yeah. I mean, you know, the secret of the creative life is how
to feel at ease with your own embarrassment, you know.
GROSS: That's interesting.
Mr. SCHRADER: Yeah. Because, you know, we're all in, you know, the dirty
laundry business, and we're being paid, you know, to take risks and look
silly. You know, some people, like race car drivers, get paid to risk their
lives in a more concrete way; we get paid to risk our lives in an emotional
GROSS: Since writing and directing a film is risky business in that respect,
do you have to banish the film critic in you when you're working on a movie?
You know, because a film critic is very critical and that kind of criticism
can paralyze you while you're in the creative process.
Mr. SCHRADER: Yeah, absolutely. The analogy I like to draw is that, you
know, the film critic is like a medical examiner. He gets the cadaver on a
table, you know, he opens it up and tries to figure out how it lived or why it
died. And the filmmaker is like a pregnant mother who is just simply trying
to nourish this thing and trying to make sure that it is not born stillborn.
So that you have to keep the medical examiner out of the delivery room because
he will get in there and he will kill that baby.
GROSS: That's a great analogy. I really like that.
Well, Paul Schrader, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SCHRADER: Thank you, Terry.
BOGAEV: Paul Schrader spoke with Terry Gross last fall. His film, "Auto
Focus," is available on DVD. It comes out on video July 8th.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Showtime's "Dead Like Me"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
For years, HBO has gotten most of the attention when it comes to weekly series
made for a premium cable network. TV critic David Bianculli thinks that the
newest effort by HBO's archrival, Showtime, deserves to shift the balance a
These days, HBO's best is also among TV's very best, "Six Feet Under" and "The
Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." HBO rules, even if
it is only on Sunday nights and only on a rotating basis. But cable didn't
always used to be this way.
Back in the mid-1970s, in the cable TV equivalent of Genesis, HBO didn't have
any original series. It didn't even run for 24 hours. A night of HBO
programming back then could consist of two uncut and uninterrupted Woody Allen
movies with a countdown between films to let viewers know how long until the
second feature started. And when it was over, that was it for HBO until the
In the early 1980s, HBO presented its first made-for-TV movie and began
dabbling in weekly series, like the anthology suspense series, "The
Hitchhiker," which made sure to work nudity into almost every episode. Back
then, the premium cable network doing the best TV series work wasn't HBO at
all. It was Showtime. Showtime had Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theater,"
and continued the TV series, "The Paper Chase" after CBS canceled it, and even
presented "Brothers," the first sitcom with a gay character in the lead.
After that first burst of creativity, both Showtime and HBO concentrated on
movies and specials. Recently, while HBO rules the roost, Showtime has made
inroads, targeting specific and loyal audiences with shows like "Soul Food,"
"Resurrection Boulevard" and "Queer as Folk."
And tonight, Showtime launches a new series that is the most original and
perhaps potentially successful weekly drama it's shown in many years. It's
called "Dead Like Me" and stars Ellen Muth as Georgia, a college dropout who's
working at a temp job she hates, living at home with a family she can't relate
to and generally wandering around aimlessly with plenty of attitude. Her
favorite response, uttered with as little emotion as possible, is that
familiar word, `whatever.' And then she dies. Suddenly, absurdly, she's
caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, and her life is over.
"Dead Like Me," though, is just getting started. By another fluke of
circumstance, she's recruited against her will to replace the grim reaper who
collected her soul moments before her death. Her new job in the afterlife is
to collect other souls just before they die. She works as part of a team of
reapers and, like them, gets her assignment each day from a boss named Rube,
who scribbles the vital information, expected victim and time and place of
death, on a Post-it note and hands it out to her at their regular meeting at a
greasy waffle house.
Mandy Patinkin plays Rube, which is the first indication that "Dead Like Me"
is something special. He's an actor who usually makes very intelligent
choices, not only about the way he performs, but the roles he takes. Other
members of this particular grim reaper team include Jasmine Guy, Rebecca
Gayheart and Callum Blue.
I know this may sound like a blatant attempt by Showtime to jump on the "Six
Feet Under" postmortem bandwagon, but "Dead Like Me" stands on its own. One
key part of the show is that Georgia, nicknamed George, not only haunts her
family, showing up looking unrecognizably different, but is haunted by them as
well. This show is so good at examining teen angst, it could almost be called
"My So Called Death." But it's the ideas behind "Dead Like Me," as well as
the performances and characters, that make it so compelling. Writer-creator
Bryan Fuller lays out his imagined world very slowly, and we learn as George
does. When George draws her first solo assignment, it's a young girl who's
fated to die in a train wreck. George saves her instead of harvesting her
soul. Then she has to face Mandy Patinkin's Rube, who at the moment is a very
(Soundbite of "Dead Like Me")
Mr. MANDY PATINKIN (As Rube): What did you do? What did you do?
Ms. ELLEN MUTH (As Georgia): She's not dead. I didn't remove her soul.
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): You mind telling me what it is you think you're
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): I'm letting her live.
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): Cardinal rule: everybody dies. Now you better
march on over there, and you take her soul right quick.
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): If you want her to die so bad, you do it.
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): I can't. No one can except you. Death is
nontransferable. She's your mark. Only you can do the deed.
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): Well then barring any unforeseen accidents, I'd say
she has another 80 years.
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): Yeah, well, you believe me, that's 80 years she
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): What is that supposed to mean?
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): Her fate was sealed the moment she stepped onto that
train. Her soul has expired. You know what happens when you keep a soul
around after its time?
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): No.
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): Same thing that happens to milk. It spoils, goes
bad. Souls go bad in all kinds of ways.
Ms. MUTH (As Georgia): But...
Mr. PATINKIN (As Rube): If you're having trouble comprehending the severity
of the situation, why don't you consult Webster's on the definition of `bad.'
If you don't take her soul, it's going to wither and die and rot inside I've
seen it happen.
BIANCULLI: "Dead Like Me" is the sort of show that will have you thinking
about it long after it's over. During the summer, when most TV shows don't
even want you to think while you're watching them, that's meant as high
praise. With "Dead Like Me," Showtime is back in the major leagues.
BOGAEV: David Bianculli reviews television for The New York Daily News.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Coming up, a review of the new film, "28 Days Later." This is FRESH
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: "28 Days Later"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
The director of "Trainspotting," Danny Boyle, has come back with "28 Days
Later," a new genre film about a virus that turns the population of England
into crazed and highly infectious zombies. Film critic David Edelstein has
"28 Days Later" is written by Alex Garland, who also wrote the best-selling
novel "The Beach." If you read it, you'll remember its climax was extremely
jarring. The book was set in a wanna-be utopian society on an island off the
coast of Thailand. But in the face of external threats and internal tensions
and a big dose of hallucinogens, the supporting characters got carried away by
their rage and turned into flesh-gouging zombies. It was a cross between "The
Bockeye(ph)" and "Night of the Living Dead."
Before I saw the movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Danny
Boyle, who had made "Trainspotting," I wondered how the filmmakers would shoot
that over-the-top finale. Well, they punked out. Screenwriter John Hodge
came up with something more like a high school shunning, and I bet that
novelist Garland was disappointed because he turned around and wrote Danny
Boyle a full-length flesh-gouging zombie movie.
"28 Days Later" opens 28 days earlier with a prologue in which a bunch of
pesky animal rights activists break into a lab where scientists have infected
monkeys with a virus of, quote, "pure rage." I was annoyed to see the animal
activists get the blame instead of the scientists, but that's consistent with
the message of "The Beach," too. It's another idealistic counterculture
impulse that turns into a bummer of a scene, and I mean a bummer, man. The
protagonist, Jim, played by Cillian Murphy, is a bicycle messenger with the
good luck to be in a coma when the rage virus hit the fan. Twenty-eight days
after the prologue, he wakes up to find London eerily quiet and stacked with
dead bodies, some of whom open their red eyes and come after him. He's saved
from a rampaging zombie priest by two other survivors, Mark and the dishy
Selena played by Naomie Harris, who fill him in on what he slept through.
(Soundbite of "28 Days Later")
Mr. NOAH HUNTLEY (As Mark): I've got some bad news.
Ms. NAOMIE HARRIS (As Selena): It started as rioting, and right from the
beginning, you knew this was different, because it was happening in small
villages, market towns. And then it wasn't on the TV anymore. It was in the
street outside. It was coming through your windows. It was a virus, an
infection. You didn't need a doctor to tell you that. It was the blood or
something in the blood. By the time they tried to evacuate the cities, it was
already too late. The infection was everywhere. The army blockades were
overrun. And that's when the exodus started.
EDELSTEIN: I want to make my biases plain. It's been too long since we've
had a good flesh-gouging zombie movie or any flesh-gouging zombie movie, and
this one is like all three of George Romero's "Living Dead" pictures rolled
into one. Sure, it's derivative, but it makes up for that by moving at a
ferocious clip, just like the zombies themselves. They don't lope in this
picture, they streak. They're a barely seen blur, which makes them doubly
frightening. When they're hacked up or shot, their blood spatters in shiny
diamonds, and it's lethal blood. If it gets in your eye or your mouth or a
cut in your hand, then, bang, you're a frothing bloody-eyed zombie in 10 to 20
Danny Boyle's work here surprised me. It's less show-offy than
"Trainspotting" and a lot less dopily picture postcard than "The Beach." The
movie was shot on video by Anthony Dod Mantle, who often works with a low-tech
Danish film collective dogma, and it has an unusual graphic style, fluid like
a documentary, but punchy like a horror flick. And in one sequence, Jim and
Selena and a father and daughter, played by the great Brendan Gleeson and
Megan Burns, head for a military compound through a tunnel stacked with
burnt-out cars and corpses. They laugh hysterically as they drive over
bodies. Then a tire blows out. Then they turn to see a tide of rats heading
their way, not spreading infection, running away from the infected.
I don't want to spoil anything, but I also don't want to leave you with the
impression that "28 Days Later" is just about shooting and stabbing ghouls.
It turns out the true horror isn't the zombies. It's other people and what
they'll do to one another to stay alive. And in the last section, the
survivors stumble into the military compound, where all is not what it seems
and where the true face of evil is revealed. Like the Romero films it apes,
"28 Days Later" reminds us that zombie splatter pictures can also be humanist
parables. That's not the only reason I like them, but it eases my conscience.
BOGAEV: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine "Slate."
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
(Soundbite of music)
Announcer: Tapes and transcripts of FRESH AIR are available at
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(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: On the next FRESH AIR, James Wood, senior editor of The New Republic,
discusses his new novel, "The Book Against God," about the son of a priest who
becomes an atheist. Also, Derek Bok on the commercialization of higher
education. He's a former president of Harvard University and author of
"Universities in the Marketplace." Join us for the next FRESH AIR.
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.