Friday, September 19, 2014

FROM THE VAULT: My brunch with Richard

Linklater, above, says 'Dazed & Confused' was mis-sold as a pot movie.

Austin cineast Richard Linklater sits down at the Stars Seeds Cafe to chat-n-chew about his lack of hiring black actors, Janet Reno setting the Branch Davidians ablaze, gay rumors surrounding Houston footballer Jeff Alm’s suicide and one last dig about Robert Plant
By Daniel A. Kusner
During the early-’90s, Richard Linklater seemed especially accessible to his Austin neighbors. 
Back then, our Texas capital was a smallish, laid-back college town — one that’d often slept at night. And where honking your horn was as rude as spitting at someone.    
As an emerging visionary, Linklater’s scripts gave chatty and near-silent characters room to breathe. Showcasing Austin’s unpretentious landmarks, the filmmaker framed lingering sequences that cruised along our modest streets. He had a knack for casting future A-list talent and capturing moods didn’t favor rapid-fire special effects. He also developed the Austin Film Society. 
So how did I end up having at brunch with the director of “Dazed and Confused” on Dec. 21, 1993?
While I was working as a gallerina at the Dougherty Arts Center on Barton Springs Road, Linklater attended a performance by local choreographer Andrea Ariel — who just landed the job of teaching “Red, White and Blaine” moves to the cast of “Waiting for Guffman.”  
I noticed Linklater in the Dougherty lobby and asked if he was down for an interview. 
He said, “Sure,” and  told me to phone his production office. The next week, he suggested we meet at the Star Seeds Cafe at 11:30 a.m.

[Waitress approaches. I order coffee. Richard orders water.]

We’re in the thick of 1993 holiday movie season. Catching any end-of-the-year releases? I'd like to see Oliver Stone’s “Heaven and Earth.” And Mike Lee’s “Naked.” But Mike Lee movies don’t quite make their way to Austin — out in the boonies as we are. What else is opening? 

“Philadelphia,” which Gene Shalit dissed this morning. What'd he say about it? Too much like a TV-movie? 

Shalit liked Tom Hanks but said everything else was disappointing. The industry is so cynical while trying to be one step ahead. If “Philadelphia” could've come out quietly, it might have been appreciated. Finally a mainstream movie about AIDS. But “Philadelphia” was announced so early. Now everybody’s anticipating it. Plus, Hollywood thinks they're so cool for making it. So they're gonna prove they're not dupes. That they're tough critics — even with their most politically correct movies. So they'll backlash against “Philadelphia” to prove they don't fall for every formula. 

Speaking of formula. What do you think of movies like “The Pelican Brief.” What do you mean?

I liked “The Firm.” Maybe because I didn’t anticipate anything. And since I don't read too many legal potboilers. I can't read those thriller-Grisham-Clancy books. I’d rather just watch the movie for two hours. The books are apparently movies in book form to begin with.

The books are created to be translated into screenplays? That's where the money is. Every writer knows that. But I liked “The Firm,” too.

I often hear, “The movie wasn't as good as the book.” Fuck the book. I hate that. 

Waitress: Do you want a few more minutes?

Yes. A couple of minutes, please. 

How firmly constructed was “Dazed and Confused” while trying to score financing? I was working on the script, but no one had read it. I told them the idea, and they financed the writing part. It wasn't in development, but I gave them an option — an option that I’d turn in the script when I was finished. They could say yes, and I'd do it in the summer. They could say no, and I could do it with another studio. 

When you're writing, do you flesh out the whole script? As much as you can. Until the last step — which is production — you can't really do it all until you have the cast and location. In Hollywood, the execs would like to think that the script is “the movie.”  The script is something they can latch onto as security. They have to like the script before it goes into production. 
You couldn't mention a gesture or a funny expression. I don't write that visually. I just write dialogue and what happens in each scene. 

After you finished the script, was part of the deal that the studio would automatically pick it up and put it into production? No. They liked the script enough that it leapfrogged over, like, 35 other projects and right into a production slot. So I wasn’t complaining. 

Your “Dazed and Confused” journals were excerpted in the Austin Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. Was production as hectic and speedy as you described? Yes. Production feels like that anyway. You hear about big directors complaining that they only have like a 9- or 8-week schedule…. 

[Our waitress takes our order.]

Can I have the Choice Omelet, please?
Waitress: Do you want everything on that?
Waitress: Potatoes or grits? 
Potatoes, please. 
Waitress: Do you want a biscuit or English muffin? 
English muffin. 

How's your oatmeal? 
Waitress: It's not real thick or real soupy.
I'll try the oatmeal with hash browns.  
Waitress:  How ’bout an order of toast?
Do you have wheat? 
Waitress: Uh-huh. 
That works. Thanks.

[The sound-system pipes in The Beatle's “Paperback Writer.”]

So how long were you shooting “Dazed and Confused?” Six weeks. Six-day weeks. Thirty-six days was our schedule. We ended up with 38 days. It was a huge cast. A lot of locations and car shots. It all takes place at night. And Texas summer nights are only nine hours long. 

Did you hang out with the cast and get to know them? Only in a director-cast way — which is rehearsals. Not too much socially. Not until we wrap. I intentionally don't do that though. 

How come? I don't know. First, you don't have time. They have time to go fart around and play. But I don't. Also,I think the director-actor relationship is good if there’s distance. Especially at this phase in my career. I think as I get more mature and more experienced, I could handle that — like, working with my best friends. On “Slacker,” directing my best friends was difficult. 

Directing friends is tough? It was. Directing is authoritative. If you have a close relationship with an actor, and then you’re sudden their boss, telling them exactly what to do... It’s awkward. I might smooth into that role a little better. Many directors work with their best friends. Like John Cassavetes. I'd like to do that. 

Any actors you want to direct? Warren Oats, but he’s been dead for 12 years. I don’t think that way — like, “There’s this great actor. I want to work with them….”  In general, you see a lot of talented actors. But I wouldn’t design a project around an actor. I usually don’t think of anyone while I’m writing. 

What do think of the title “The John Hughes of the X Generation?” I haven’t seen that in print, so I’m not answering that question. 

What’s it like to have your work pigeonholed? It’s inevitable — especially if you make two films. “Slacker” couldn’t be pigeonholed. But nicknames are weird. If I’d made three teenage movies, I’d accept that comparison. I made one, which is the antithesis of John Hughes. 

Ever been critically attacked because your stories contain unexpected narrative development? Like how the “Slacker” plot moved from one eccentric, aimless character to another? Not personally. I know people probably think that. I can tell when a reviewer just didn’t get it. 

Ever confront that when meeting potential financiers? With Universal studios, yeah. They always knew “Dazed” had a big ensemble cast. They were afraid of too many characters and not enough “through line” for the story. 
Well, I just had to say, “The story is really just about this one night. And here are the little threads — the through lines.” 
You just have to explain what the plan is and how you intend to maneuver around it. 

Are you convincing? The film convinced them. They always liked the film. They weren’t sure how people would respond. They’re fine — now that “Dazed” got such good reviews.They’re like, “Oh, yeah. We were with it all along.” But the truth was —  they didn’t have much confidence in me. 

[John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Paper in Fire” is playing] 

Do studios brass worry that your tastes don’t satisfy mainstream filmgoers? The whole industry is based on fear. They all have their jobs, but so few people are based on talent. They’re intermediaries. In their minds, they raise those jobs to high importance. But the root is insecurity. They leech off others’ ideas. They’ve got no inspiration. No gut instincts. They're skeptical and immersed in fear. Fear makes people formulaic. They don’t know what audiences want — they don’t even know what they want. And they don’t have much of an aesthetic to begin with. They want money and power. It depresses me to talk about it. So much time is wasted in Hollywood meetings. 

Are these positions, like, “consultants?” Who eat up money and drive away the unusually talented? Yeah. Never under the title “consultant.” They’re just called studio executives or co-producers. My experience wasn’t really that top heavy. I intentionally kept it pretty lean. There weren’t too many cooks. 

I work at a TV station and watch anchors lose jobs over crummy “Q-scores,” which measure popularity and likability. It seems like bogus. That’s frightening. The movie equivalent of that is previews where audiences fill out these cards. 

I’ve been to those. In L.A.? 

No, in Dallas. They do previews in Dallas — not many in Austin.

Those puny cards mean something? Oh, my God. They mean a lot. There was a time when the head of Universal showed up to a preview screening, and somehow the cards weren’t there. There weren’t going to be cards at the screening. We had already rented the theater. I said, “Why don’t we just show it with an audience?”
And they go, “No! Without the cards, a screening is worthless.”
They would never just watch a film with an audience and try to “feel” if it’s working. I like experiencing a film with an audience just to confront my own material. To see if a  sequence seems too long. It helps me figure out if I should cut an exchange. In the editing booth, you can kinda lie to yourself, but with an audience…  

So interpreting the mood of the theater can extend a filmmaker’s creativity? Yeah. What’s working — what’s not. But studio executives want to take it to that next step and quantify it. WIth questions like, “Did you like this character?”
The whole audience doesn’t like a certain character, and they react with, “Oh, no. They’re not responding to that. Let’s cut it.” It’s so simple minded. 
Like the “bad” character in “Dazed” …. There are two bad characters — mean characters. So the cards indicate that the audience doesn’t like those characters. So you have to explain, “You’re not supposed to like them. But don’t cut out the bad guy from the movie.” After all that, they finally go, “Oh. I get it.”  They’re not quite dumb enough to make you cut out that character. But they’re certainly dumb enough to take it that far where you have to explain it to them.

[Our food arrives.]

I never knew the importance of those cards. It’s too bad becase those
Canoga Park teenagers who think the cards are a joke can be very critical. I sat in screenings and could just tell the audience loved the movie. Everyone laughed. There was scattered applause. I got that feeling that they really liked it. 
Sure enough, at the end of the screening — it’s like, “Okay. Now be critical.”
The younger the audience, the more critical they are. The questions were, like, “What did you think about the ending?” 
The more they think about it, they thought, “Well, I don’t like the ending. Because it’s not really an ending. Nothing happens.”
That reaction just puts pressure on me — and ultimately hurts the film. If audiences knew how influential, and how these studio people actually read their cards…. 
That's how films don’t get distributed properly. That's how films get taken away from their directors and re-cut by studios. 

Two-hour screenings are long enough. Sometimes I skip the cards. That’s bad, too. They assume you hated film so much that you didn’t fill it out. I hate those audience-assessment previews. I’m trying to get my contract to say, “No previews.” 

Before “Slacker,” I you made “You Can’t Learn to Plow by Reading a Book”?  The title is “It’s Impossible to Learn to Plow by Reading Books.” That’s my Super 8 opus, $3,000, 89-minute feature film. The true prequel to “Slacker.” It was a learning experience. For every first film you see, someone has a closet full of films that no one has ever seen. 

Did you study film? No. Not academically. 

You started in your late teens? No. Early 20s. I’m 32 now. I was 21 when I started watching three films a day. Got my first camera when I was 22. 

So the technical side  — like editing — you’re self-taught? Yeah. But I made up for lost time. For a couple of years, I saved money. When I moved to Austin, I didn’t have to work, and I wasn’t in school. So I spent every second — watching three movies a day. I’d read and write. Then shoot film during the day and edit all night, working on shorts. I spent 17 hours a day in film-related activities. I did that for two solid years. I still do. It’s what you have to do. 

Just submerge yourself? Yeah. But I thought about going into film school. 

You did? Vaguely. I didn’t know how to go about it. The hardest thing to get going in film is figuring out where to start? You need money, a crew, equipment.... It’s tough. You have to find your own way. There's no real, one, set way.

You worked on oil fields? Yep. 

The dangerous kind? Where oil-workers lose fingers? Yeah. I worked on production platforms: oil wells that've already been drilled and are just producing. Those were a little safer. But I also worked on drilling rigs. 

That’s challenging, isn’t it? Yeah. I had one friend who got killed. But I’m glad I did that.

 Did you do that for a long time? For two years. When I moved to Austin — more than nine years ago — I kept my college-student lifestyle. I lived on nothing. Didn’t buy anything. But I was actually making good money.So I just saved all of it.
I didn’t exactly know what I was going to do. I knew it would be something in film. I just wanted to have all my time to myself. I was trying to buy my way out of this system. Freedom exists for those who can buy their way out. I moved to Austin, and I had like $18,000 saved up — all in cash. 

From working on rigs? Yeah. 

That’s a large chunk of change. It took a lot of discipline. Even when I moved here, I didn’t buy a new car. I bought a camera and film stock. That car lasted me several years. My savings enabled me to live and work on films. 

So did you pretty much graduate from high school and go out to the rigs? No. I went to college for two years. I mostly studied English and Drama.

What's the last book you bought? Richard Avedon’s “Autobiography,” which was a Christmas present for my parents.

That huge picture book? Yep. Also, Dean Martin’s biography. In New York, I got a wonderful book on Jean-Luc Godard — about his later work. As far as a novel — I used to spend years just reading all the time. When I worked on shore, I’d read 12 hours a day. That’s kind of gone. I don’t have that “fun reading time” anymore. That’s a loss. I’d like to take a year off and just read. Read and watch movies. 

I get to read some while working at the art center. What’s your job there? 

I man the information desk. Which is how I met you. Oh. Warm body job. 

That’s the title of the last book you just bought? No, that’s what kind of job you have — where they need a warm body. 

Totally. Just a functional human in case something happens. The last job I had was at a hotel — the only job I’ve had since I’ve lived in Austin. I was the nightshift bellman at the Double Tree.  This was in ’88. I was completely out of money. I needed a job, but I wanted to have time to read and write letters.

Balance your checkbook? Yeah, all that. That’s the best job. So your freetime can truly be that. It can be creative time. 

Do you think social criticism in films is constructive? What do you mean?

I just saw “The Piano.” Later that same day, i saw a cable-access review that gave “The Piano” a thumbs down because of the docile portrayal of the native Polynesians. I know I enjoyed the movie way more than if I’d seen her review beforehand. So as you watched the movie, you weren’t, like, “That Indian looks primitive. That’s a bad portrayal.”  I haven’t got much of that. If I have, I’ve zoned it out. Most filmmakers have asked themselves all that. All Jane Campion could do was ask herself was, “In what year was the story set?” The natives were not academically educated. Because to make a whole other movie about that one Indian, who went away on a ship, got educated, tried to revolt and was murdered by the evil white man…. That’s not this movie that I’m making — so I’ll be generally accurate about the portrayal. You cant win. It’s not a filmmaker’s job to answer all those questions. Like, “Dances with Wolves.” An obvious Academy Award winner: The white men are so evil, and the Indians are all so pure. Yeah, right.  History isn’t so clean-cut. But people only want to see a simple rendition. If I was gonna do a movie about Indians — and I want to someday — about Indians in Texas in the 1870s. A young Indian, like, 17-20 years-old, stealing horses, riding around and just raising hell. You can’t tell me that the young Indians got into all that religious, mystical, spiritual... That's probably for their grandparents, you know? I’m sure the same codes exist. But to see these portrayals. All they’re doing is making up for other movies. The simplifications of how Indians were treated in so many Westerns — kind of faceless, dangerous tribes.

Remember when GLAAD and Queer Nation bitched that the main character in the “Silence of the Lambs” was a negative stereotype? Which makes me wonder if the backlash inspired Jonathan Demme to direct “Philadelphia.”  That’s like the criticism John Singleton got for “Boys in the Hood.” That the film was all about guys and no women.” So he makes his next movie about a woman to please people. It doesn’t work like that. 

Facing criticism must be hard for a director? With Demme, the gay protest is probably the loudest and most unified. Like any negative gay portrayal is — Boom! Immediately. Like with “Basic Instinct.” With “Silence of the Lambs” — who’s to say that person is gay? 

[Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” plays.] 

That “Buffalo Bill” character was a super-fucked-up psycho killer. In the movie, they say he wasn’t even gay or transsexual — just a guy who hated himself. The upstanding Italian Americans — every year they have their little code. Whatever Italian gangster films come out, they always have to say, “Only .22 percent of all Italians are involved in organized crime. This is a bad stereotype.” 
I think it’s more entertaining to have gangsters. 

Have you been called out for not incorporating enough black people in your films? Yeah. I got that with both “Slacker” and “Dazed.” Just very subtly. I think I’m not established enough or high-profile to offend many groups. I’m too smalltime. If you’re Spike Lee — you’re someone in a bigger league. He had what was seen as a negative Jewish stereotype in “Mo’ Better Blues.” The bar owners — the Flatbush brothers — are a Jewish stereotype. Some of my Jewish friends were very offended by it. But everybody needs a sense of humor. I mean, it was a funny scene. Big deal. So what?

Did you face criticism for the of drug use in “Dazed and Confused?” Surprisingly, not very much. 

Even with the studios? Not really. Like I said in the Austin Chronicle, I was in that position of being “the young, hip, independent director.” Also, it was just pot, and I think they all smoke pot. So it’s not a big deal. It certainly passed in the script phase. But there was a little more in the movie than in the script.

I recently came across a tidbit: You don’t have to hold your inhale when smoking pot. I guess it’s similar to your body ventilating oxygen — that your lungs processes the gas all in one breath, and you exhale carbon dioxide. Immediately? Do people just guess they’re getting a bigger high? People don’t do that with cigarettes, right? I mean, you just smoke. 

Guess so. Well, good. See, I don’t even smoke pot. I hate smoking — the physical process. I could stomach it as a teenager but... 

You don’t smoke pot?  No, I haven’t smoked pot in years. Seriously. Since high school, I’ve probably I’ve smoked — or shared — maybe five joints. 

It seems like a prerequisite to see “Dazed and Confused” fucked-up. I could imagine it. 

Wasn’t that in the advertising campaign? Hey, I didn’t have anything to do with that. 

You didn’t? Fuck no. 

You’re kidding me? What, you think film directors do that? I wish I did. I think it was totally mis-sold as a pot movie. That was never what it was about. 

You had no say over the tag line: “See it with a bud?” Or the fucked-up happy face? No. I got to say, “That was a really juvenile, stupid idea.” 
They told me, “Just trust us.” That’s how much I got to say about it. 

Could you have insisted upon a different approach? No. I just didn’t have any support. I didn’t mind some of the drug humor. It’s in the ’70s tradition of Cheech & Chong’s “Up in Smoke” tag line — “Don’t go straight to this movie.”  But the distributor got carried away. They were a little older — in their 40s. They thought it would be so the cool “Just Say Yes” movie. They thought they were so hip.  But they missed the point of the whole movie, which was... I was trying to steer to the cast, and the ’70s, and high school… And make it more of a high school movie than a pot movie. I thought more people would relate to that.  They think that it’s some big deal now, but it really isn’t.  Pot smoking has resurfaced in the media. But more people aren’t really smoking, I don’t think. It’s a little more out of the closet than in the ’80s. But statistics don’t really support that there’s this massive upsurge in smoking marijuana.  Two years ago, when I was working on the script, I ate a pot brownie. It was wild. I was at a party. The experience gave me so many ideas. And you see Mitch — he’s kinda high and drunk for the first time. How everything is kinda close to him. I was just kinda gauging how I felt — kinda fucked-up. And how certain conversations and music sounded and things kinda came out at you — especially if you’re a little paranoid. I just tried to recapture that. it was research. It’s been weird. Everybody thinks I’m going to support ...  whatever about pot. People wrote articles and wanted to interview me as a marijuana smoker.

Back to “moral responsibility.” Do you remember when Janet Reno spoke out against  “Beavis & Butthead”With that little kid from New York set his trailer-home on fire and blamed it all on “Beavis & Butthead”? That was so stupid.  We live in a media society. And every time something goes wrong, you can’t just go back and find some source and blame everything on that. That’s like trying to sue a rap artist after a cop gets killed. It’s such a stupid scapegoat. Let’s sue Judas Priest because our teenager committed suicide
I was surprised that Janet Reno was so lame -- hunting for a patsy like that. Why? 

I assumed she was a sharper player. With a job like that? Well, if she was, she would’ve gone in and talked to David Koresh instead burning him and all the Branch Davidians out of there. 

Not sure. It was very critical. And watching it was freaky, because it was abruptly interrupted with a hokey country video. The government fucked up the day they went in there. Everything they did was just wrong. That’s what should upset everyone — how the government will suddenly ambush and shoot you. That’s what happened. It’s frightening. 
They could have easily waited. Koresh left the compound every week. When he was driving around, they could have stopped and questioned him. But no. They went in and made a big stir and ended up killing a bunch of people.
I have a friend who writes for Esquire magazine. He wrote the Esquire piece on that. He was down there for the whole time and he says the day after the seige, it was apparent that all those guys, the ATF — in the days leading up to it. They were shooting-off their mouths in bars saying they were gonna go in and people were gonna get killed. Everybody knew it was about to happen. 

Wasn’t the ATF ultimately reprimanded?  Finally. Months later. It’s only now coming out just how poorly... That they didn’t abandon the plan — even after they knew the Branch Davidians had been tipped off. Stupid! They had their own people kill, basically. And then, because those people had been killed, that totally negated their possibility of any kind of negotiation.  It all comes down to dumb, fucked-up macho posturing. 

“Slacker” has fun with conspiracy theories. Sure. 

Does the Koresh story interest you as a political conspiracy? Not so much as a conspiracy. It’s just government incompetence. There’s a lot to be paranoid about. They thought Koresh was a religious fanatic. The U.S. now having a problem with that. Koresh was just a rock ’n’ roll guy? It’s weird. 

What’d you think of the way the media covered Waco? The news-media are cahoots with the government. There was never an attempt to look at it from Koresh’s side. Right after the raid, there were shootings. They immediately portrayed Koresh as “The Waco Madman” with all these wives, kids and guns. A complete fanatic. We went in and tried to stop him, but he killed a couple of our people…”
Before the raid, there were no problems with Koresh. And during those ensuing months to tried villainize Koresh — the same way they villainized Saddam Hussein. They made Koresh into a madman, which justifies killing him. Everyone is tried by the court of public opinion these days — not by any legal procedure. Michael Jackson’s already been convicted. He’s already dead. 

Did you see that he was strip-searched yesterday? I heard about it.

He said the strip-search happened twice. He looked pretty sad Michael Jackson has been effectively lynched by our society and media. We’re sacrificing him. 

With the news being so quickly assembled, it’s hard to figure out exactly how the news is manipulated. Did you hear about Jeff Alm, the Houston Oilers football player who shot himself? Right, yes. 

Did you hear any rumors surrounding Alm’s suicide? No. 

Supposedly, Alm was driving on a freeway exit ramp and got distracted while receiving a oral sex from his male friend. He lost control of his car, sideswiped a guardrail and — like “The World According to Garp” — the impact caused him to lose his genetalia. The impact also sent the passenger, his longtime buddy, flying out the window to his death. Now wait…. How documented is this? 

Well, everything but the blowjob and severed penis. The accident happened at like 2:30 a.m. I arrived at the TV station at 4 a.m, and I could see the predawn live shot from the scene of the Houston accident. There were so many emergency vehicles at the scene. By 4 a.m., this rumor was already spreading like a virus in Austin. Anyway, his best friend is flung out of the window and dies. Alm is still on an elevated ramp — 20 feet above from where his buddy landed below. Alm figures he can’t disguise the accident. He’s a gun collector and has a shotgun in his Cadillac. So without even going down to check on his friend, Alm dials 911 on his cellphone. On the tape, you can hear cars whizzing by as he fires three shots in the air and then turns the gun on himself.  Oh, wow. 

I asked a news producers, “Why wouldn’t you cover this suicide and the impulsive reasons behind the tragedy?” He said, “Oh, no, no, no…. There are just some things one doesn’t do.” Like they’d even hesitate if it was Michael Jackson. But the image of a football player is somehow sacred.

I’m transfixed by how quickly Alm decided to take his life. It’s a sad, but fascinating story.That’s a great story. In the ’20s, F. W. Murnau came to the U.S. to make “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.. He also made “The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari” and other films. He died in an auto accident. They say Murnau’s car went over a cliff. The rumor got out he had this Filipino chauffeur — a 14-year-old Filipino chauffeur. Murnau was gay. The rumor said that he was giving his driver a blow job while they were driving and caused the accident. No one came to his funeral. It still goes down in history that that’s how he died. Just immediately documented. But it was such a big thing that…. 

That story is eerily similar to the Jeff Alm rumors. With shows like “Hard Copy” and “Current Affair,” you’d think a footballer’s suicide might be covered. The footballer story might come out on “Hard Copy,” don’t you think? 

Don’t hold your breath. So has your economic status greatly improved since “Dazed”? Personally speaking? 

Yeah. Well, better than “Slacker” that’s for sure. With “Dazed,” I got paid for the first time. I got salary — no profits. By Hollywood standards, the film was low budget. But by my standards, it was plenty. Not that I’ve changed my lifestyle. I’ve put all my money back into my company and buying equipment: a camera and editing gear. I still live in the same apartment. 

Really? Just for a while. Whatever income I get, I’m put back into the company. Plenty of time to worry about other things later. 

Will you have an easier time raising money for your next movie? It’s something I’ll always have to deal with. It looks like a company is going to let me do whatever I want. I mean not whatever I want. Same kind of system: You show them a script. If they like it, then I can do it. But when I do it, the deal is cleaner.  I get to be the sole producer. And my company, Detour, produces it. I have all final cuts.  I didn’t get creatively burned by Universal. It could have been worse. Every other director working there had more troubles than I did. I was always lucky that “Dazed” was always “working.”  You get in trouble when it’s “not working.” When audiences aren’t responding. That’s when you hit an impasse. And that’s when the studios start doing the work — taking over the project and recutting it. I was lucky that never happened, but it could have.  And it might happen on future film. So I’m trying to nip that — where I have final cut. There are some movies that I want to do that are on a much lower budgets too. Like “Dazed” was a pretty big budget: $6 million. But the next film I want to do is pretty low budget — more like a million.

As a filmmaker, do you still make, like, super-8 short? The way an author would write a short story? Can’t say that I have. I don’t have time. I spend most of my time just writing. I shoot some video, but that’s more just farting around because I think my short films are like a low-budget film. I mean, I would really like to do a low-budget experimental feature. That would be like my equivalent to, like, a painter who would paint a huge canvass in, like, four months, compared to, like, a little sketch that takes less time. 

Any developments on your feud in the press with Robert Plant? That’s totally manufactured by others. But he ends up looking bad — when he lashed out, “I never heard of that fucking movie until two weeks ago.” That was my point. He hit me at the wrong time. I really nailed him in The Chronicle because I was getting a lot of shit from everybody. It was frustrating. I was having so much trouble with the music industry. He was the final straw. Maybe I did go overboard in that article — focusing on him. To me, he was a symbol. Because you’d like to think, “Well, artists don’t treat other artists this way. It’s always the companies.”  But when artists insulate themselves so much. I felt that if I could’ve had a one-on-one with him — like I did with Jimmy Page — via video and things like that, Robert Plant would have responded. I don’t think he could have not. But he’s isolated himself. That’s okay. If you’re gonna be some Howard Hughes-rockstar, you’re just gonna suffer the consequences. And this is one that slipped by you and you’re gonna look bad. So fuck you. 

[I can’t stop laughing.] So I didn’t mind saying that. And every interview I did, I mean — nationwide — they’d go, “So no Led Zeppelin?”  And I’d say, “Yeah, Robert Plant and his people wouldn’t allow it.” I just told them exactly what they told me: They “thought it would interfere with his solo career.”

“Hope I die before I get old.” Interfere with his solo career — even though he’s touring as “Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant.” It was the dumbest thing I ever heard. But I just plant the seed and say, “Solo career?” and let other reporters ask, “What solo career?” And then they would blast his album about how bad…. I just gave them a little bit and let them go off. Then finally, his people were calling my music supervisor and going, “What the fuck? This guy has to stop. What’s he doing?” I don’t mind that reputation.  I mean, if you fuck with me, I’m gonna sometime, in the future, have a mouthpiece. And when your film comes out — you have access to the media for a while, right? It’s good that people in the studio and people you’re working with know that. It’s a power thing: the studio knows at the end of the day, I would have my say and they wouldn’t. 

Are you beings serious or silly with this feud in the press? Have you even met Robert Plant? No, I haven’t met him. But the feud was… I didn’t even have to contribute to it. I said one thing. A feud is a back and forth thing. And the back and forths were other people. It wasn’t me, and it wasn’t Robert Plant. It was others taking sides. 

Like, your “entourage” or something? Yeah. [laughs] Not even that. It’s people in the media. No one I work with commented or cared. I mean, they cared. But I think people in the media picked up the torch and ran with it. The whole thing was funny. 

Is the “Dazed and Confused” title Led Zeppelin’s property? No. Anyone can use titles. 

Do you watch TV? No. I don’t have cable. Haven’t since I was a teenager. If I’m in a hotel or at a friend’s house — where there’s a TV. I don’t want cable because I know I’d watch too much of it. I know I’m missing a lot by not watching TV. I just can’t go through all of that crap to get to that few good stuff. It just doesn’t weigh out for me. If something cool is on, usually someone has taped it. When Oprah Winfrey interviewed Michael Jackson, sure enough, a friend taped it, and I eventually saw it. 

What’s some of the worst advice thrown around in the film industry? Faster? Funnier? I don’t know. I always try to avoid those people. That’s why I didn’t go to film school. I hate rules. I didn’t want to know what I can’t do. If I went to film school, by the time I got out, I never would’ve thought about making a film like “Slacker.” Film schools don’t want movies like that. There’s no real reason for a film like “Slacker” to exist. I’d hate to know about the rules for things you can’t do. 

Did you face studio restrictions while making “Dazed”? “Dazed” was different. It’s not a radical film. It’s a teenage-rock movie. I felt confident going into that territory because I knew — at the end of the day — I’d deliver the goods. I described commercial aspects of the film: “funny, ’70s rock, driving around…” 

How’d it feel selling “Dazed” like that? Like a salesman. I had to do what I had to do. And I knew I wasn’t lying to them. Because “Dazed” is a big party movie. But I like it when 35 year olds tell me, “That was my life. It was so sad — tragic. I laughed the whole way, and then I was really depressed for a couple of days. Just reliving everything.”  That’s reaction is good, too. Because that’s how I feel. “Dazed” is a lot of different things. So I chose to talk about — to people with money, who were going to finance it — I’d just conveniently just pick the most commercial…. It just makes sense. I mean that’s just some. That’s a rule, I think. 

Last questions: Any New Year’s resolutions? I never do those. I have daily resolutions — little to-do lists. 

Do you get it all done? About 80 percent. That’s good. Because It’s an ambitious list. I just got an office and hired people. But in 1994, there are some big plans: A deal where a company will pay my overhead. So I’m getting to that point where I can be productive — instead of just struggling. Because I spend so much time just trying to get things happening, which subtracts from time spent creating. I don’t want to be two years in-between projects anymore. I really want to make three films in the next two years or something like that It would be quicker. 

Your production company is named Detour, right? Yeah. I’ve had that company since ’86. It was nothing at first. It’s been a long, slow process. But it’s good to have cash for the first time ever. Back in the “Slacker” days we did everything out of my bedroom... an allowance from my parents. Now it’s so great to hire someone to take care of the business aspect. Because once you are legitimate... There are two ways: one is underground, the other is legit. And if you go legit, you have to do that. You have to pay your taxes, file reports, deal with insurance. It’s so…. real. Ugh. 

[Getting the check] 

I read that Derek Jarman financed his first film with a computer loan. That can happen. I financed “Slacker” with credit cards. Whatever you can come up with. You want me to get the tip or something? 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Remembering Rachel van Horn

SERVING SELFIE: Rachel and I at Ervay and Main Steet.

I remember the first time I met Rachel.
It was at the Magnolia Gallery  — the opening of my first show as an artist.
That night, I was a ball of nerves.
Friends and relatives were being so supportive.
But I had no idea how people I’d never met would respond.
That night, the Magnolia Gallery was crowded with my muses: a flock of drag artists and supreme transgender beings.
These special ladies filled the gallery with blingy heels, vintage floral gowns, blue eyeshadow and architectonic boobs.
With so many scene-stealing glamazons in such an intimate space like the Magnolia -- other people tended to blur out.
But as I was threading my way through the gallery, an imposing female figure — with shoulder-length rocker-babe hair and wearing a concert T-shirt — excitedly rushed towards with the force of an incoming tsunami.
She grabbed my forearm and said, “Oh! My! Fucking! God!  I love your work.  Jesus Christ!”
It was Rachel.
And she was as overzealous as a teenage boy seeing breasts for the first time.
I might add: We were indoors. It was nighttime. And Rachel was wearing sunglasses.
On the night of my first time to exhibit artwork, Rachel’s reaction helped repair so much damage of self-doubt, fear and insecurity.
Rachel literally shook me from my core.
She distracted me from letting my neuroses eat me alive.
She helped restore my ability to put my work out there.
Rachel was like high-octane inspirational fuel.
The next time I saw Rachel was in this very building at CentralTrak — one room over.
Heyd Fontenot had been mentioning that Rachel and I should get to know each other.
Heyd knows that sometimes I can get so I excited that I almost combust.
And I think he realized Rachel’s intensity and my own were more than a little similar.
I’d barely stepped foot into Heyd’s studio. And before we even exchanged niceties, Rachel turned to Heyd’s laptop and said, “Hey, let’s watch some porn.”
In her own adrenalized manner, Rachel began issuing high praise to website that specialized in a very specific brand of kink.
This erotica featured passive partners who suffered outrageous verbal and genital humiliation.
But what really impressed Rachel was that at after the climax, the obedient sex-slaves were finished off with violent, bare-knuckle punches to the face.
For a split-second, I was a little aghast.
But then Rachel locked eyes with me.
And I saw a girl ..... with the world’s worst poker face.
Beneath the gusto of Rachel’s commanding, “Come on, man! Let’s do it” was a hint of panic; wondering if she’d gone too far; worrying that maybe she offended me.
I’d seen that expression before.
... On my dog.
... When I’d come home after he just dug through the trash.
The instant I saw Rachel’s eyebrows wrinkled in guilt-stricken, apologetic anxiety, my heart melted.
And we bonded.
Since then, it’s hard for me to remember attending a Dallas gallery show where Rachel didn’t practically tackle me in one of her enveloping bear-hugs.
I vividly remember the last time I saw Rachel.
It was the day after a very rough night of personal disappointment.
That would be Dec.18. At noon...
I was biking down Ervay Street. And right near Nieman Marcus, I spotted Rachel stomping down the sidewalk.
I hollered at her from across the intersection.
She greeted me with, “Shut the fuck up. I didn’t know you biked.”
Rahcel immediately began admiring me, “Dood. You look so fucking sexy.”
Rachel knew how to pour it on thick.
A small pack of female pedestrians were waiting for the light to change, and Rachel interrupted them with, “Come on. Doesn’t he look hot?”
The women gave me the once over... And they charmingly humored both of us.
That exchange — when my self-esteem was at an all-time-low — couldn’t have come at a better time.
Rachel totally inflated my spirits.
Then we each busted out our cellphones: Rachel took a picture of me, and I took one of her.
I asked Rachel where she was going.
She explained that she was literally pounding the pavement, looking for a job. She asked, What do you do now?”
I explained that I’d entered the public sector as a civil service employee.
She looked at me like I was a freak and asked, “Ewwww. What’s that like?”
I explained, “The work is really tedious and grueling. The hours suck. And the pay was shit. But ... it’s a job. I could send you a link where you can apply.”
Rachel flipped her hand in dismissal and said, “Fuck that shit. No thanks.”
Then she kissed me and we were on way.
I went down Ervay.
And I could see Rachel stride down Main Street, with her club-kid backpack bouncing to her pace.
That afternoon, Rachel possessed an unshakable confidence. A trait of hers that I just envy.
Tonight, I invited a performance artist to reinterpret a folk-hymn that dates back to 1748.
I only wish I could sit right beside Rachel, so we could watch this together.
I’d like to introduce y’all to miss Sally Duvall.

BACKSTAGE PASS: Drag artistry thrives as a communal, creative force of nature inside Dallas’ Rose Room dressing suite

The Rose Room is arguably Texas’ finest cabaret venue specializing in gender illusion. 
The Dallas landmark is known for ushering in pageant-polished “queens” since 1988 — and putting Big D’s “big hair, big drag” reputation on the map.
Only about 10 or so entertainers are tapped to earn official spots on the Rose Room Cast’s current roster. Those lucky “showgirls” are given lockers and a seat at the dressing table in the communal backstage area — where the pre-show creative energy is so powerful, it could electrify a Beyonce halftime performance.   
Some artists arrive at the Rose Room backstage by 8:30 p.m to prepare for the first show, which is at 11 o’clock. And by that time, they’ve already worked through many creative layers beforehand — concepts, costumes, choreography, character work, body tights, rhinestones, feathers, jewelry, heels... It’s estimated that each performer has a library of at least 50 of their own wigs. 
While they sculpt body padding and slip into undergarments, a “sisterhood” emerges. One that‘s never short of laughter or imagination.
Whether they’ve been working for weeks toward unveiling a new performance, or they’ve improvised an Amy Winehouse Tribute on the diva’s saddest day, an esprit de corps unifies these visual-and-dramatic creators.  
Some achieve smoldering glamour with hooded eyelids and smoky-black shadows. Some define their lips with flesh-toned pencils and finishing touches, like, liquid-liner beauty marks. And some mega-watt veterans can remember what the Rose Room looked like when the first George Bush took office. 
The art of gender illusion has always been a magical experience. Maybe during the art of preparation is where most of those supernatural feats emanate.

Daniel Kusner