Thursday, February 26, 2015

Neko Case & Mike Nesmith Talk REPO MAN For Film Acoustic: Part 2

This is part 2 as the conversation between Neko Case and Mike Nesmith at the Carolina Theatre in Durham following a screening of REPO MAN earlier this week was so enjoyably rich with insights that I wanted to give it more space (click here for Part 1). For the second installment of the new series, Film Acoustic, the acclaimed singer/songwriter Case had chosen the 1984 cult classic, being one of her all-time favorites, to screen, and invited its executive producer, Nesmith, who you also may know from a little band he was in called the Monkees, to discuss it and other related topics with her.

Here, Nesmith speaks about the Monkees' sole film project, the possibility of a REPO MAN sequel, and whether or not popular singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett had a cameo in the film.

Nesmith on HEAD, Bob Rafelson’s 1968 psychedelic masterpiece starring the Monkees: “It’s actually a masterwork. And whose masterwork it is, is Jack Nicholson’s. When HEAD came about, it was, I don’t want to build too much – take it on fact, that the movie Bob and Bert (Schneider) had decided to do, HEAD, as a kind of assisted suicide for the Monkees and they hired Jack to come in and help them. ‘Cause they wanted to kill the monster. The monster had turned on them.

They had been praying for the little wooden boy to come to life and suddenly it did, and it scared the hell out of them so Geppetto was going to throw the marionette off the bridge. Well, okay off the air, but what do you do in that particular case with the music? What do you do with what that film is about to become? And Jack was able to bring the music into that film in such a way that it satisfied what everybody wanted out of that movie, that wanted anything out of the movie. And instead of killing the monster, it imprinted it forever on the history of film. And there it is, there it jolly well is.

Bob tells this story in the commentary of the movie’s Criterion release of HEAD where he says that Jack and him were sitting around loaded, and Bob gets dark and Jack said ‘what’s going on?’ ‘I’m thinking about the blackest, darkest thing in the world.’ And Jack said ‘well, what would that be?’ And Bob said ‘Victor Mature’s hair.’ And Jack said ‘that’s it! The whole movie takes place in Victor Mature’s hair!’ I thought Jack had one of the greatest dope riffs I ever heard!’ But he took that and suddenly he made it all work around that music.”

Nesmith on his favorite line in REPO MAN: “‘The life of REPO MAN is intense’ is the fulcrum. That’s talking about intensity, it’s talking about what happens to you when you watch the movie – it’s intense.”

On Alex Cox having the rights to the screenplay to REPO MAN: “Now Alex has the right to make a sequel if he wants to.”

Milazzo: “If he rang your phone and said ‘hey, would you like to jump on this journey again with me?”

Nesmith: “No.” (audience laughs) I know, it sounded flip but no. It’s not because it was a bad experience because that’s not…I’m not sure that there is a sequel to REPO MAN. I think REPO MAN is a whole complete thing.”

Case: “I’d be really sad if they made a sequel.”

Nesmith: “Yeah, I’m kinda following you in on that. He wrote the sequel called “Otto’s Hawaiian Holiday.” (audience laughs) Just as funny as you think it is.

Questions from the audience Q & A:

Audience member: “The last scene, or near the end, with the guy that says ‘I love my job’ and they bring out a book, I think I remember that being a copy of ‘Dianetics’ but I didn’t quite pick it up in the movie…”

Nesmith: “I’m so glad you asked me that, because it’s one of the funniest jokes in the movie and nobody sees it!”

Audience member: “And I just watched BATTLEFIELD EARTH yesterday!” (laughter)

Nesmith: “You see, and this is an example, like how we got the generic food, they’re not gonna let us use Dianetics!” So Alex calls it ‘Diaretics’!

Another audience member: “Jimmy Buffet is credited as one of the blond agents, which one is he?”

Milazzo: “Where’s Jimmy Buffett in this film?”

Case: “Did they make that up?”

Nesmith: “No, no – Jimmy was there.” (audience laughs)

Case: “You guys planted this stuff like they’re little landmines that are just gonna keep going off for years and years.

Nesmith: “Nobody planned it. They just fell off the truck and landed some place.”

Case: “Jimmy Buffet’s on the lot.” (laughter) “Do we have a size 44 blazer? Show Mr. Buffett in.” (more laughter)

Nesmith: “That’s exactly what it was. That very thing. He and I were sort of friends, and hanging out, and was ‘what are you doing?’ “Shooting REPO MAN,’ ‘oh I want to come to the set.’ Alex said ‘do you want to be in the movie?’ and handed him a blazer and a pair of sunglasses. And he is part of the team when they set the body on fire that’s on the park bench, he’s one of those guys and if you look at it – he’s standing by the back of the van. That’s Jimmy.”

Nesmith on the legacy of REPO MAN: “Alex and Peter were all frustrated by the way that movie got distributed, and what happened to it in the public’s mind. The fact that it has gotten some traction, and there are people who love it, and people who really get it, is nourishing. 

Case: “And I’m thinking that it probably made more money than GREYSTOKE: LEGEND OF TARZAN that came out that same year.” (audience laughs)

Nesmith: “Actually, that’s my favorite movie, GREYSTOKE: LEGEND OF TARZAN.” (more laughter)

Milazzo: “Goes without saying.” (even more laughter)

The next Film Acoustic is a real doozy: Frank Black from the Pixies Presents Terry Gilliam's BRAZIL, another favorite film of mine, on Thursday, March 19th. Tickets are on sale now.

More later...

Neko Case & Mike Nesmith Talk REPO MAN For Film Acoustic: Part 1

Film Acoustic, the Carolina Theatre’s new series which pairs special guests with their favorite movies, went down in Durham earlier this week on Monday evening, February 23rd, which was luckily the night before the big snowstorm hit the Triangle area. It was an event that was highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint: Neko Case presents Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic REPO MAN, with Very Special Guest Mike Nesmith.

Unlike last month’s program with Lucinda Williams, there was no music played but the discussion with the two fine musicians, Case and Nesmith, who was the Executive Producer of REPO MAN, after the film was lengthy and incredibly engrossing (it may have been too lengthy for my wife, but that’s another matter). 

The last time I saw REPO MAN It was on its 25th anniversary on the big screen in the Cool Classics series at the Colony Theater (read my post about it from back in the day), and I enjoyed seeing it again. I think it’ll always hold up as Cox’s weird, funny curio and it has one of the greatest soundtracks ever.

After the screening, a video of Case’s was shown, “Maybe Sparrow” from her excellent 2006 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood,” then Modern School of Film founder and Duke graduate Robert Milazzo introduced Case, who was greeted warmly by the Fletcher Hall audience.

Case spoke about seeing REPO MAN and how it reflected how scary it was as “a 14-year old who grew up in the Pacific Northwest” living in the Reagan/Cold War era. “People look back now and talk about Ronald Reagan like he was this really beloved President, but people fucking hated that guy,” Case explained to some clapping from the crowd. “People thought George W. Bush was funny, nobody thought Reagan was funny.” 

Case went on about the film: “I looked for myself in everything as well, and I never could find a female. And in this movie, the female characters are all just like fragments of women. Kind of like the men are fragments of men, like nobody’s a complete character. It’s very cartoony, which makes sense since Alex Cox drew a comic book strip first.”

After Case talked about how she “knew a lot of boys exactly like Otto,” how New Wave was the death knell of punk, and that this was the first time she’d ever seen REPO MAN on the big screen (“I’ve only seen it in rooms with shitty Christmas lights”),
moderator Milazzo introduced Nesmith who walked from the back of the theatre to huge applause. My wife leaned towards me and said, “that’s a Monkee!”

Milazzo gave the interview over to Case, and they revealed that this was a continuation of their three hour conversation at lunch (Case to Milazzo: “We cheated on you with each other…in a restaurant”).

Here are some highlights from Case’s talk with Nesmith:

Nesmith on the inception of REPO MAN:
“I had just finished doing a movie called TIMERIDER. Harry Gittes and a friend of mine, Bill Dear, who I’d been working with for a while, directed that movie. And I made friends with Harry, and Harry was working over in Jack Nicholson’s office at Sony, and this script came across the desk, and he called me up and said ‘you’ve got to see this.’ So he sent it to me, and I read it, and I said ‘this is great! What do we do?’ He said ‘well the studios are going to make this picture but I thought maybe you would be interested in doing it as a independent producer.’ I said ‘well, let’s talk to the guys.’

So they set up a meeting with Alex, Alex Cox, and Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy to his office. And I just went over, and, you know, at that point I was in the middle of kind of a roll-off of my artistic endeavors and so forth. Come off a bunch of albums at RCA, was done with the Monkees, it was, you know, everything was kind of behind me, and TIMERIDER had not been successful either in theaters, or artistically, it just hadn’t quite worked like I wanted it to work. But I had financial freedom because my mother had left me a lot of money, she died in 1980, and I was knocking around looking for something to do, in terms of how to keep going as an artist, because I figured it was over for me at that point.

So when I met them in Harry’s office, I was in a frame of mind which was, I thought maybe what I could do is help get this movie made somehow, and if I can do that, what I should do, not that I can, but what I should do is not mess with it. I shouldn’t try to fit this into some sort of mold. What I could provide as a kind of role where I could stand between the filmmakers and the studio, and the filmmakers could do the film they wanted to do, and the studio would get either delivered to them a product that they could quantify somehow.”

Nesmith on the screenplay: “It was like free association origami. I mean, I knew it was not gonna turn into a swan, but it was folded up somehow; everything had a point, it had a way of referring and closing up loose ends and so forth.”

Nesmith on the original ending: “It was supposed to end with Otto as a Salvadorian rebel. And Marlene and the Rodriquez brothers were really sort of the American conscription for South American rebels.”

Case: “And that’s why you see her in her Che Guevara outfit.”

Nesmith on revisiting the movie: “When I watch this movie, and this is the first time I’ve seen it with an audience in 30 years, as it develops along, one of the things that’s outstanding to me about it, and it just holds, is that it is a comedy that doesn’t have one gag in it. They don’t play anything for funny. Even ‘let’s go get sushi and not pay,’ he reads that line flat! And Alex never cuts tight on the generic food cans, you can barely see it say “food,” he’s eating food. And the standard play, the TV play, the formula play is cut, cut on “food,” so people go ‘ho ho, it’s food.”

Nesmith on the ending they used: “Alex called me up at some point, and he said ‘you know, I’ve been doing this movie now so, and I still don’t know how to end it, but I think something’s happened with Miller *. I think he’s come forward as a fulcrum, a kind of nexus of the film.’ And I thought, ‘this is genius. This is smart. This is right. What are you gonna do?’ He said ‘I don’t know. But can I have some money for special effects? I think I want the Malibu to glow.’ I said ‘that’s a great idea.’ ‘Can I have some money.’ I said ‘no.’ Million eight, that’s it. ‘I’ve got to make it glow for a million eight.’ So he went out and bought the reflective tube they use on the highway, and painted the whole car with a brush. And shot green lights on it – that’s what you see in the film! That was great filmmaking.”

Nesmith on what was in Otto’s can of “food”: “Corned beef hash.

Nesmith on the killer punk soundtrack: “The soundtrack ultimately redeemed the film financially - it made money.”

Case: “Which is my favorite story about the movie.”

Nesmith: “It came out, Universal released it and put it in one theater in Boston, where it played for a year. And that was it! We were done, we were toast. And so we, you know, slumped shoulders and went home, and then suddenly, Universal people at music said ‘holy crap, look at this soundtrack!’ And they put it out and it sold 5 times what soundtracks sell, which was not a huge number but was enough to get us attention.”

Nesmith on nearly contributing the score for EASY RIDER: “Dennis (Hopper) said ‘would you be interested in doing the music?’ So I came up with some sort of thing, it was like a cross between Memphis horns and cherry pink and apple blossom pie– it was some stupid idea, about I would use brass band in sections, and I realized that I didn’t have a sense of this, I didn’t have any idea. And he looked at me and he was courteous, which was kind of a first for Dennis, and he was ‘okay, good’ and I was out! And then the next thing you hear is “If 6 Was 9” by Hendrix, and you realize ‘okay, they created a whole other world that I could’ve massively fucked up with cherry pink and apple blossom pie.’”

Nesmith discusses one of my favorite films ever, the Monkees' movie HEAD, a possible REPO MAN sequel, and much much more in Part 2.

More later...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bad Timing For BATMAN

Months ago, the Colony Theater in Raleigh (where I work part-time) booked Tim Burton’s 1989 superhero hit BATMAN for Wednesday, February 18th, for their Cool Classics series. The Colony’s General Manager Denver Hill told me that it was timed for the lead up to Michael Keaton winning a Best Actor Oscar for his acclaimed role in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN.

BIRDMAN - full title: BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE IF IGNORANCE) - is undoubtedly Keaton’s comeback to the mainstream, albeit in an abstract indie project, in which his character is an actor aching for a comeback via a shaky Broadway production, after being written off as the star of a superhero franchise.

As its Best Picture Oscar win on Sunday attests, BIRDMAN has a lot more going for it than that meta-aspect but re-visiting the classic Keaton performance that made that angle possible was the agenda for the Colony’s revival screening of BATMAN, and I was excited as I haven’t seen it in over two decades.

To plug the event, I wrote it up in the Film Picks column in the Raleigh News & Observer, and put together a slideshow of behind-the-scenes pics for the Examiner to further promote the show.

But a week ago, the day before the screening, we got hit by what they call a wintry mix that blanketed Raleigh in ice and snow. As a result, only 40 or so people braced the elements to come see Burton's late '80s fan favorite take on the Dark Knight.

We were disappointed that the weather so affected the turnout so Denver made plans to have an encore presentation the following week on Wednesday, February 24th.

In the meantime, despite the film and director Iñárritu winning, Keaton lost the Academy Award to Eddie Redmayne (for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING) and so the idea of the BATMAN screening celebrating Keaton’s win was, of course, no longer a thing.

This was very surprising as the odds so seemed to be on Keaton to win. I, like many, had predicted such.

And, as the internet has pointed out, Keaton himself thought he had it in the bag as he can be seen tucking his acceptance speech back into his jacket in this clip that’s, of course, gone viral:

When I shared this clip with Denver on a Facebook chat he said: “Jeez. That is sad. But it’s kind of fitting. Seems like a scene from ‘Birdman.’”

It does indeed seem like a postscript for Keaton’s self put-upon character Riggan Thompson.

But what’s also sad is that the Colony’s encore BATMAN screening is again the victim of bad timing as we were hit by another snowstorm today.

Do Mother Nature and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences both have it in for Keaton or what?

Whatever the case, I’m still planning on revisiting the man’s breakthrough lead in BATMAN - whether or not I do it by bracing the elements on Wednesday night, or by putting on the DVD at home, as of this writing, remains to be seen.

More later...