Your favorite book?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. You know that already, though. Let’s mix it up, then, and say ‘Lamb: the gospel of christ according to his best friend Biff’. I really, really like this new author. Well… new to me.
Your favorite movie?
Big Fish. Re-reading over this, before I hit ‘publish’, maybe I should have said ‘Spinal Tap’. There is a 2 page diatribe down there on how great the film is, how great the actors are, and how incredible it is that they wrote and scored and improvised the film. But… you know that movie. You may not know ‘Big Fish’. It is perfect storytelling. The cinematography is stunning. Can you imagine if Tim Burton tried to make something joyful? Just for once? Well, with Big Fish, he did. Don’t worry, it still has his wife. (Shakes fist in the air). Don’t just watch the movie, just go buy it. Get it in blu-ray, too. You really want the full cinematic experience, if you can. Don’t have blu ray yet? Buy it… just for this movie.
Your favorite adaptation of a book to a movie?
Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. So good it is freaky! Depp goes FULL Hunter Thompson in this role. Not just window dressing, either. HST was in full cooperation with the film… well… as cooperative as someone like HST could be. Depp lived with Hunter for months before the filming. They became fast and close friends. So much so that when Hunter died, Depp paid for the whole ‘launching his ashes into space from a Gonzo fist cannon that was several stories high’. Yeah, that isn’t a typo or urban legend. It happened, and all thanks to Johnny. They had a kinship all along as they are both from Kentucky.
Your least favorite adaptation ever of anything to a movie?
Being a book guy, I am always supposed to say ‘the book was better’. However, I have almost universally enjoyed adaptations of my favorite books into movies. I like to see the creativity of filmmakers trying to capture such an ephemeral thing. For example, the last ‘Alice in Wonderland’ movie with Johnny Depp. Everyone shit on it. There are good reasons to shit on it – it WAY over featured Johnny Depp, and of course since it was Burton the lead role went to his wife. He does that EVERY FUCKING MOVIE. Though my praise for Depp’s acting in ‘Fear & Loathing’ is effusive… he isn’t too good in this movie. Too hammy, just chewing up scenery being all proud of himself for looking clever. We can blame Burton for that, though.
But… I loved it (Fear & Loathing, that is). Here is why – everyone has told that story in various forms of film. It’s a classic. The Burton one, though, is a totally different telling. It takes a story never told… which is what happens if Alice goes back to that world as an adult. What happens? Who is there? Did anything, or anyone, change? Did it ever really happen? I think that is cool and creative. I haven’t seen the second one, but I will. I waited on purpose. Since it was reviewed to badly, I knew I could wait and just buy a bluray copy for $10. I like those (as opposed to just watching it on Amazon) because you get all the featurettes and behind the scenes stuff.
Your first ever novel/comic book/movie character crush?
- Editors note: Long diatribe warning
The guys in Spinal Tap. I mean, it is just some British actors playing dumb, right? Not remotely! The actors are all American, and improvised the entire movie, AND wrote AND performed those songs. It went so well that the fake band accidentally became a real band. They released albums and recorded new music and even toured. If you look at all these starlets today, you see Spinal Tap was more real than any of them. Think Rhianna writes her own songs? Think she can play and instrument? Think she actually sings in concert? Spinal Tap wins on every level.
In fact, those guys went on to do more movies together, and the guys wrote an entirely new music act for ‘a Mighty Wind’, which is actually a great folk album. Got to see them live, and they played both Spinal Tap songs and a Mighty Wind songs. That movie (another Chris Guest project) was also entirely improvised.
Why do it? They are crazy rich. The bass player is 40% of the voices on the Simpsons. He probably has 100 million in the bank, and he is schlepping around from city to city playing these silly and perfect songs from 30 years ago.
My favorite thing about these guys when they did press for Spinal Tap (not known as a classic when it was released, but a stupid and pointless low budget art film)… they only did it in character. You never got to interview Chris Guest or Michael McKean or Harry Shearer. You could only talk to Derek Smalls, Nigel Tufnel, and David St Hubbins. Now… we know Chris Guest as a genius filmmaker, and Harry Shearer as most of the Simpsons. Back then, in 1980? A bunch of improve yahoos. Michael McKean was only known for playing Lenny in Laverne & Shirley.
Can you imagine how they got that film financed? “I need 5 million bucks to make a movie with these unproven and unknown actors.” Who will compose the score? Who is your screenwriter? Who is going to actually record the songs they pretend to sing? You know, like we did with the Monkeys.
Well… about that. No script. No musicians. No songwriters. No famous actors. We are just going to throw it to some improve guys. There is no screenplay, they are just going to make up the dialogue as we film. They will write the songs themselves, and play all the instruments in the recordings. It’s about a fake British heavy metal band that is washed up.”
Has that ever been done before then? Roy Scheider is quite famous for improving the line ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’ in Jaws. Everyone looks to that moment to prove his genius. One sentence. BFD. If it were Chris Guest’s crew, they would have made up all the dialogue, built the boat themselves… and fought a real fucking shark.
I mean, I know it is a masterpiece now… but at the time I bet they got laughed out of Hollywood. Now, hopefully, you recognize the great McKean from Better Call Saul. Jesus, is there anything these guys can’t do? Listen to ‘listen to the flower people’ and tell me that song is not as good or better than anything of that era. Also, full disclosure… I finally got my band to learn ‘Big Bottom’. We played it at our last gig.
*bonus news, the guy behind these films, Chris Guest (Spinal Tap, Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, For your Approval, a Mighty Wind…) has a new film out soon. It’s called ‘Mascots’, and will be on Netflix soon. Like everything Larry David does, you can assume it will be all improvised, and wonderfully stupid.