PK: You were saying how the Zeitoun movie isn't political.
In a sense though "Melvin and Howard," even though it's an entertaining, weird
buddy movie, and many other things, is kind of political, a statement on class
JD: It's true. That's part of the brilliance of Bo Goldman's
screenplay -- to dig so deep into the truth of this one struggling American, to
put it mildly, on the one hand, and this giant billionaire, on the other hand,
and to get so deep inside of them and focus on what he imagined their human
connection would be that it end up shining a lot of light on more than
anything, how hard it is to survive in America.
PK: It seems even harder now, 25 years later.
JD: I know!
PK: The class divide is even greater than it was back then.
It seems that there is a populist spirit going on that is being misled by
certain leaders. How do you think this movie would play today?
JD: "Melvin and Howard?" Before I think about it too much, I
think the film plays terrific. Bo Goldman deserved the Oscar for the characters
he wrote. The performances are amazing in that movie. I think we did a first
rate job capturing it on film. I'm hoping to find it extremely fresh. It was a
film that was considered very eccentric and outside in its day. It was not by
any stretch of the imagination a success at the box office. It got some
critical notoriety and won some awards but it was considered way too outside a
movie to have been a success. Maybe if it came out today it would have a better
shot at being a success.
PK: How about a film like "Beloved"(1998) which
was a very powerful statement about race and racism in America? Do you
think that would do better now that Obama is in the White House?
JD: I think it would do better now if we could figure out a
way to somehow make it shorter so that it was easier for people to plan and
see. I also think that if we released it now, I'm afraid that we may have taken
a little bit too much of a it's time to take your medicine and come see "Beloved"
in the way the film was presented. I think we would probably find different
aspects to put forth. We may have emphasized the legacy of slavery, which is
what it is all about in so many ways, but I think it made it sound tougher to
watch then it turned out for many people. It's another film that didn't do very
well at the box office but has been a constant DVD item ever since it was
shown. A lot of people love that movie very much.
It's tough for these long ones. When the movie came out and
my son and I went into a multiplex and we had gone to see "Rush Hour" and "Rush
Hour" was in one room and "Beloved" was in the other, I said this on "The Charlie
Rose Show," but I know that I, who made the film, as I walked in on a Friday night,
I thought, you know, I want to see "Beloved" but tonight, I want to see "Rush Hour."
I just need to be entertained. When you do a film with strong, tremendously
important themes, it's tough to get it out there.
PK: I think that's happening with films like "The Hurt
JD: I love that movie so much. Don't you?
PK: Yeah. Our group gave it best picture, and maybe the
Oscars will too, who knows?
JD: That would be a beautiful thing. I would love to see
that happen. I think it's just a fantastic American movie, oh my God. I called
Catherine Bigelow up after I saw it and raved at her for like an hour.
PK: It is a wonderful movie, but hardly anyone has gone to
see it because they are saying who wants to see another war movie. Let's go see
"Valentine's Day" or something like that.
JD: It's hard to argue with that. It's really hard,
especially in these troubled times. Man, it's hard to argue with.
PK: It is entertaining though.
JD: And how! And how. Has all the notoriety not perked it
PK: It's not screening anywhere. They probably should, and I
think they are, putting it back into a third release now.
JD: They better hurry up, gosh.
PK: Another film of yours I really liked, I think it's one
of your best films, is "The Manchurian Candidate." (2004)
What happened with that?
JD: "Manchurian" did well. It did well. It exhausted me and
I went on kind of a sabbatical. My next movie after "Manchurian Candidate" was "Neil
Young: Heart of Gold." (2006). That movie did well.
PK: I was always afraid that the thought police were going
to catch up with you after making "The Manchurian Candidate." What's the deal
with Neil Young now? You are making a trilogy?
JD: I would obviously love to do a third film with him and
Neil likes the idea. We just need to figure out what that would be. I just
found out that "Neil Young: Heart of Gold" has done very well, at the box
office. It has done very well, financially, around the world since it was
released. It has made me kind of hopeful that our new film, "Neil Young: Trunk
Show," may attract a similar audience.
PK: That's coming out here on March 1. They are going to show it during your gala.
JD: Yes, and this will be the first showing ever of the
final color corrected, tweaked sound track version so it ought to be quite a
PK: Can you sum up in a couple of sentences what it is about
Neil Young that makes you want to make 3 movies about him?
JD: Neil Young's music became a big part of my soul when I
first started hearing it as an extremely young man back in the 60's. I think he
is a great artist, a great great great great great artist. I just adore his
music and it's been so exciting to work with him these times, to get to know
him and see how he conducts himself and listen to the way he thinks. Neil is of
course, musically, a giant, and Neil is also an exceptionally cinematic guy. I
like the films he has made very much. I particularly love "Greendale."
an exciting person to collaborate with.
PK: Are there other directors besides Bigelow and, I guess,
Bernard Shakey that you are excited about?
JD: That's right, his [Young's] nom de cinema. I recently
saw "Youth in Revolt," Miguel Arteta. Did you see it?
PK: Uh. I did.
JD: You didn't care for it?
PK: I just thought that's the wrong direction for
independent movies to go. It was too much like "Juno." Maybe its because it
stars the same guy.
JD: Right, well I'm a big Michael Cera fan. So Michael Cera
times two I thought that film was really charming and I think Miguel is extremely
PK: I like his previous film a lot.
JD: "The Good Girl" (2002)?" You've seen "The Prophet" of course?
PK: No, it hasn't shown up here yet.[I'll be reviewing it next week]
JD: That is just an extraordinary film, oh my god. As you
know, he did "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (2005)
"The Prophet" is just killer. It's really strong, incredible film making.
PK: Lest we forget the origin of your career, you gave an
to Roger Corman.
JD: I handed Roger his statue. I couldn't believe it. That
was a wonderful moment. Obviously, Roger changed my life by imagining that I
might be able to write a screen play [for "Angels Hard as They Come" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066771/
(1971)] that could be filmed and then giving me the opportunity to produce that
screenplay which Joe Viola directed and then giving me an opportunity to direct
which is something I fell madly in love with doing and have really continued
loved doing ever since then. Roger is such a great guy so it was very special
to be able to hand him his Oscar.
PK: What would you say his legacy is for American film
making in general?
JD: The independent spirit, the think up a movie and go
ahead and make it. You don't need the establishment to make a movie. And you
don't need the establishment to make a movie that is going to find an audience.
I just think it's absolutely amazing and certainly as a filmmaker I think he is
exceptionally talented. Especially when you isolate films like either "Bloody
Mama" or "Saint Valentines Day Massacre." He made "The Intruder."(1962) [starring
William Shatner!] I don't know if you ever
PK: No I didn't.
JD: That's a film that Roger and his little tiny low budget
crew from California
almost got lynched. Making a film about racism in the American South in the
60's, in Mississippi!
Its such a great legacy. It takes me a long time to get to the provider of
opportunities, the people who went on to do one thing or the other. And then
there's Roger's personal body of work, his personal vision of what you can achieve
when you set your mind to it is so admirable.
PK: Plus the vast number of alumni from his school of
JD: That too. Of which I am proud to be a member.
PK: There doesn't seem to be anybody playing that role these
JD: No, no.
PK: Yourself, do you, since this is a career milestone,
getting this award, do you have thought on what your legacy might be in
JD: I don't. The thing I mentioned to you about "The
Agronomist." If that's my legacy, if "The Agronomist" touched a soldier in Iraq
and led him on a certain kind of journey to becoming a filmmaker himself
committed to making films that somehow move his country forward, then that's an
amazing legacy right there.