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Wednesday

From The Vault: Joe Dante On Homecoming

When Gremlins director Joe Dante was given carte blanche to make an hour-long film for the made-for-cable series Masters of Horror, he and Batman screenwriter Sam Hamm chose to make a political statement about the Iraq war. Based on Dale Bailey's short story Death and Suffrage, Homecoming sees soldiers killed in an unnamed "evil" war rise from their coffins in a bid to vote out the president who sent them to their deaths for a lie. The film received a rapturous reception at last year's Turin Film Festival and has been hotly debated and argued about on the web.

Were you surprised by the level of freedom you were given on this?

“Well, no actually. The series this is part of is not a political series, it’s 13 episodes directed by different horror movie directors, and because there wasn’t a great deal of money or time, the trade-off was that we were promised creative freedom to do whatever we wanted. So while most of the directors took that as a sign that they could push the envelope for the graphic content of the shows, it seemed to me that it was an opportunity that I wasn’t going to find anywhere else, which was I had a whole hour to play with and no one telling me what to do. So my friend, the screenwriter Sam Hamm [Batman], and I came up with this idea of doing a piece about the war, which no one else seemed to be covering dramatically, so we managed to sneak this by everybody.”

What was the producers’ reaction when you showed them the script?

“Initially we had a short story called Death and Suffrage, which is a Monkey’s Paw type story, although the hook in the story is gun control, not the war. When we submitted that story I think the producers were a little confused and they didn’t understand how we were going to turn this into a Masters of Horror episode. But once they read the script they were completely onboard with it.”

So they had no problem with the political content at all? The film deals with these issues more directly than anything else that’s come out of America, or how we often think these issues are debated in America.

“Well that’s true. And usually, certainly in the horror movie genre, the messages are coded. Usually there’s metaphors and symbols, but it seemed to me that this issue was so strong that it needed to be blunt. So we made it as obvious as we could make it without naming real names."

Before the opportunity to do this arose, had you wanted to do something about the war?

"Well I had wanted to see something done. I don’t know if I wanted necessarily to be the one to do it. But it just seemed to me that the political situation here in America is so volatile and so dire that it demanded some kind of dramatic examination and it just wasn’t getting much. There have been a couple of movies – Syriana, and Goodnight, and Good Luck, which is set in the 50s – which sort of grapple around the edges of these stories, but this big elephant in the room is this war; people are dying every day and it’s sort of shunted off to a couple of announcements every day of how many more people are dead, and otherwise people go on with their lives. That just didn’t seem right to me.”

There’s been a lot of press recently about how films like Syriana, Goodnight, and Good Luck, and Jarhead perhaps herald a return to the overt political filmmaking of Hollywood in the 70s. Do you think that is the case? Do you think it’s possible?

“No, it’s not. I don’t believe that. Jarhead is not a political film. The two George Clooney pictures [Syriana, Good Night, and Good Luck], I mean he is one of two people in Hollywood who is really willing to put his money were his mouth is. His pictures do have a point and they do have an agenda, and I think that’s great. But for the most part that’s not considered a safe bet commercially, because obviously you’re going to offend half the audience. So I don’t see a groundswell of new political films being made. There is a picture by the Weitz brothers called American Dreamz, which is a satire, which I understand has a lot of contemporary relevance, but I haven’t seen it.”

The Clooney films see the present through the past. Is that really the only way a studio could do it, so as to try to not polarise people?

“Well I don’t think you’re going to find these pictures made by studios. Even when they’re released by studios they’re usually made by independents, and I think that that’s really the only viable way to do it. It’s just not a climate where you’re going to be able to get somebody to spend $35 million making, you know, an anti-war statement. Those days, I think, are past.”

So claiming these films herald a new era in political filmmaking is a bit premature?

“I think so. I’d like to think I’m wrong but I just don’t see much sign of it.”

You’ve said that if you want to see what a country is really thinking, look at its horror films. Is this because they work on an unconscious level?

“Well it seems to be related to turbulence. Whenever times are rough, people seem to want to see horror films. Now I don’t know whether the appeal is seeing someone who has worse problems than you do, or just that there’s a darkness to the national mood. But you have to keep remembering that traditionally the audience for horror films is young. Even in the 30s and 40s, those pictures were made for younger audiences generally. And I think partly that’s because the idea of risking death and going on a scary ride is a lot easier when you’re far away from death, when it’s not staring you in the face. When audiences get older they tend to be a little bit more circumspect about wanting to confront death every day. So I think horror movies have been, and always will be, a young person’s genre. Young males.”

Films like Eli Roth’s Hostel, which is doing very well in America at the moment, and Rob Zombies Devil’s Rejects are very extreme as they’re a throwback to 1970s horror filmmaking.

“Well they’re progeny of the Chainsaw Massacre. They’ve sprung from that particular well. There were Hills Have Eyes and Last House on the Left, in the late 70s and early 80s there were a lot of films like that; they were gore films but also torture films. I find it interesting that the rise of movies where people are tortured in horror films is now sort of a post Abu Ghraib phenomenon.”

I was going to ask whether you think there is a connection with the events at Abu Ghraib.

“I think there is. And you can’t discount the jaded factor that people have now seen virtually everything that can be done to a human being on screen, and that’s why Saw, I think, used its premise so cleverly, in that people had to do the mutilating themselves. There’s always going to be a market for this kind of thing. And, I think, as long as times are what they are, you can’t go wrong making a $5 million horror picture.”

There’s been a resurgence of zombie movies since 9/11, beginning, really, with 28 Days Later. Why do you think that has happened?

“Well, you know, these really aren’t zombie movies. Zombie movies began with The White Zombie in 1932 and they were usually West Indian zombies. They were dead natives or dead tribesmen who were used in the sugar mills, and there was kind of a class consciousness sub-plot about all of those pictures. Frankly, it’s been a pretty maligned genre. There’s been very few masterpieces, I Walked with a Zombie being one of the few. But then in 1968, when George Romero made Night of the Living Dead, which was a ghoul movie, not a zombie movie, the appellation of zombie started to adhere to the idea of anybody that was a walking dead person. So as a result with all the Italian imitations of that picture, we ended up with sort of a new genre, which is the zombies who aren’t really the original zombies, they’re just somebody who happens to be alive after being dead. So that has really taken off. There are many more of those films than there ever were of the West Indian zombie movies.”

Since Romero especially these movies have been read as political. Are they or are people just reading things into them?

“Well it’s a very malleable genre. Because you’re dealing with blank slates you can impart whatever motives you want to the zombies and the zombie masters. You got to remember there’s always zombie masters; zombies always have to work for somebody or be after somebody. Land of the Dead, which was not a very successful film here, was widely read as a political film. Critically it was quite well received but for whatever reason the audience stayed away.”

Do people want to see political films?

“I think there are always people who will appreciate political content in a horror film but I don’t think that’s the reason why the pictures are successful. They’re successful because people want to see zombie movies. 28 Days Later came out and revitalised the genre because they now moved fast, and some people complained that the reason the Romero picture didn’t work was because audiences are now used to seeing fast zombies. They don’t want to see shuffling, slow zombies anymore. I don’t know how true that is but it could be that the film was perceived as old fashioned.”

In Matinee you showed an era in filmmaking coming to an end with the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Do you think the current situation will require a new kind of film to address it, or a stylistic shift?

“No, I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of imitations of Homecoming. It’s really a fluke. It’s a fluke that it got made. It happened to come out at a time when the political situation here is so volatile that it got a lot of attention that it wouldn’t have ordinarily gotten. It was first run in Italy at the Turin Film Festival, and the audience reaction was explosive, they just thought it was the greatest thing since chopped liver. I have a feeling that it came from their surprise at seeing any American-backed entertainment that took this stand. I think they’re so used to not seeing that from America.”

There’s a lot of anger in Homecoming but is there also a lot of frustration precisely because of the way discussion about the war has been squashed?

“I think it’s even more frustrating in that it’s not just been squashed but that the majority of the public just doesn’t seem to give a shit. It’s hard for those of us who came of age in the late 60s and early 70s to conceive of the public just turning its back, as they did in Germany in 1933, to what’s going on and saying, ‘You know it’s not my problem. It’s somebody else’s problem. As long as I get my three square meals a day and I can fill up my SUV, I don’t care.’ That’s not the country I grew up in. And, I think those of us who have seen the change, are very disturbed by it.”

Does consumerism have a lot to do with it? You know, people are just happy with their lot and don’t really care what’s going on?

“Look, this is the fattest country in the world. It has more obesity here and more waste. We use up seventy-odd per cent of the world’s resources on twenty-five per cent of the population. I mean it’s a pretty unsustainable model it seems to me, in its current form. Prior administrations used to just put them on the backburner and think that they’d deal with it later. The current administration is actively undoing everything that was ever done ecologically or politically, and trying to turn the country back into what they think it should be, which is a model from like the late 40s and early 50s, which is impossible. It can’t happen. We can’t go back there. But, nonetheless, we’re currently having hearings, a new Supreme Court Justice [Samuel Alito] is probably going to get confirmed, and strike down a number of things that my generation has counted on legally. These 5-to-4 decisions are now not going to be 5-to-4 decisions anymore, and the tenuous grasp that we’ve had on civil liberties issues in this country are going to be overturned. There’s no way around it. These people have the votes, they have the majority, and they’re going to do it, because that’s been their goal. This administration didn’t come in with no agenda. Their agenda was to roll back everything that Roosevelt did and return us, I guess, to Herbert Hooverland.

“And they’re right on target. Despite their massive incompetence and their incredible stupidity they have gambled on the lack of interest in the American public, I guess, or the easy gullibility of the American public, and they’re just pushing through with their agenda and there doesn’t seem to be anybody to stop them.”

Why do you think the American press was so supine?

“I find it perplexing and embarrassing. Edward R. Murrow, wherever he is, I’m sure he’s happy they’re making a movie about him but I can’t think he would be too happy about what’s going on in this country. The press has been complicit in this takeover. I think partly it’s because the right wing were very smart in their moving into the media. Once they perceived it was a liberal media, they wanted to change that, and they have now managed to completely overturn that and the media is now largely conservative. The commentators who are supposedly not taking sides simply bring up White House talking points at every turn. It’s as if they’re all reading from the same playbook, which, of course, they are, because talking points are given out to right-wing hosts and all that. But when you watch a programme like Meet the Press, which is supposed to be a bi-partisan programme, and you see that the moderator is not only involved in the various scandals that are going on but has actively shilled for the Republican Party, it’s pretty astonishing. And the fact that people just sit back and say ‘Oh well, I guess that’s just the way things are,’ it’s astonishing to me. In my day we tried to do something about things like this.”

Was there something quite subversive about the fact that Homecoming was on TV because that’s where a lot of the manufacturing of consent went on for the war?

“Well it was on TV but it was on cable TV, which is not exactly the same as being on TV. That programme could never be aired on a network. There’s no way. First of all, in the majority of situations, you have to take notes from your producers, which we didn’t have to do, but then you have to go out and run the film at some mall somewhere and get cards from teenagers, who will complain that everyone in the movie is too old. We didn’t have to do any of that. As a result it didn’t go through the filter that all network programmes go through, which is why it could never have been on network television. Cable television is a medium people pay for, so you have a somewhat more limited audience. Showtime has a smaller audience than HBO. But originally this series was done as a series of DVDs for Anchor Bay, and I think whatever penetration this is going to make is probably going to come when the DVDs come out.”

George Clooney has said Michael Moore polarises people whereas he wanted to bring people together in debate. You, on the other hand, seem to be very much in the Michael Moore camp.

“I’m afraid so. I think what is interesting is that after his movie came out, which you might recall won a lot of awards overseas -- it’s actually a terrific piece of propaganda --  he was pretty much marginalised. He was vilified, as if the things in the movie weren’t true. You know, you look at the movie today and it’s even more devastating now than when it was new, because we know more. But that approach has been effectively marginalised to the point where you don’t even hear much from Michael Moore anymore.  He’s such a lightning bolt for controversy that people don’t bring him up, which I think is a shame.”

How did you decide what to put in and what to leave out, because you seem to be taking on the Republicans’ crimes and misdemeanours one by one, and with the recreation of the banned photographs of the coffins at Dover Air Force Base, their attempts at censorship? With so much to choose from, was the problem deciding what to leave out?

“Well we were basically trying to hit as many points as we could in an hour and still have a story. There was no point in pulling our punches because we only had an hour. And we wanted to make an impression and get press, so it couldn’t be a subtle little story that goes by and people take it to their heart and say, ‘That was a well done little story.’ This had to be in your face. So it’s a very rude film that has a lot of satirical stuff in it, and it also has a lot of images that are very loaded, very powerful. When those soldiers come out from underneath those flags, it’s a very powerful image. And we’re not unmindful of how powerful it was.”

What sort of consideration did you have when you were dealing with the zombies for the families who have lost sons in Iraq or whose sons are currently serving out there?

“Since in any horror film you naturally assume that the monsters are the bad guys, and the tradition is that when people come back from the dead they want to kill you, and they’re bad, obviously we had to turn that around, because these guys are the heroes of the movie. I’m sure it’s an offensive movie for people who have lost people in the war, but we did make a concerted effort to try to be dignified, as much as possible in the circumstances, as far as that aspect of the movie went. But there’s a point beyond which you can’t go: they are zombies and they do have to get shot, and stalk people and do all the horror movie things that people do. So, you know, it was uppermost in our minds how we were going to portray these guys, and I think we ultimately made them sympathetic.”

Where did you decide to draw the line?

“Um, I don’t remember consciously doing that. We may have. But there’s also the pressure of making the film extremely fast and extremely cheaply. It is only 10 days, and you don’t get another day, and you can only have X-number of zombies -- because that’s how many we can afford -- and you can only have X-number of bullet hits – because that’s all we can afford – so you’re constantly working with those kinds of strictures while also saying, ‘Well you don’t want to run this off the rails and you don’t want to get too crazy or too campy or too offensive, or too whatever.’ It’s a fine line. But I think it was a line that Sam and I walked unconsciously. We didn’t really have time to do a lot of deep thinking about it. It’s a very intuitive kind of a movie. It really did spring from convictions. So I think it sort of became what it became and we sort of went along for the ride.”

I guess that nothing you did could really be as obscene as the lies that sent the soldiers to war in the first place.

“Well that was kind of how we felt. When people said, ‘Don’t you think this is in bad taste?’ we said ‘Well yes it is in bad taste. But then our actors they come back from the dead, get shot, and then they go home for dinner every night. And the people in Iraq who are getting shot don’t go home for dinner every night, and I think that’s a lot worse.’”

People on some right-wing websites have criticised you for putting anti-war sentiments into the mouths of the dead soldiers, and said that what you’re doing is as bad as what you’re saying the Republicans do. How do you respond to that? Is there a significant enough number of soldiers that are anti the war for you to legitimately do that?

“Well there are. Certainly John Murtha, who has gotten a lot of ink recently, for saying that he thinks the mission is a disaster and the soldiers should come home is being smeared and vilified. He’s a Republican, he’s a veteran, he’s a respected guy, but as soon as you say something about these guys that they don’t like, their initial reaction is smear, smear, smear, and that’s what they’ve been doing. And there are a number of soldiers who don’t feel that this has been going well. Even people who may have thought it was a good idea at the beginning are looking at where we are with the casualty numbers, with the incredible cost, which, of course, we can’t afford because we don’t have any money; we’ve given it all away and we’re borrowing from China now. If they call in their loans I don’t know what we’re going to do. You couldn’t run a delicatessen the way that these people have run this country without having the Board of Health close you down. And yet for some reason these people are not being closed down, and I don’t understand why.”

Over here a former General who commanded the UN forces in Bosnia has called for the impeachment of Tony Blair. There have also been calls in the States for Bush’s impeachment. What are the chances of that happening?

“Nobody takes it seriously because the media won’t let them. The media doesn’t want to take it seriously and they just poo-poo the whole thing. But, you know, when I did this film there was no spying scandal. That happened afterwards. Everything these people touch turns to shit. The impeachable offences go way beyond their attempts to remake the Constitution. I mean the sheer incompetence with which they’ve botched everything they’ve touched is enough reason to get rid of them. I think they ought to go to jail. I don’t think they should just be impeached, I think these people are war criminals. That’s my opinion. Other people might have a different opinion. That’s fine. Let them go make their movie.”

How were you responding to the news as you were writing this? Were you adding things and taking things out as you were going along? I believe that you had the Gold Star Mom in this before the emergence of Cindy Sheehan.

“Well Cindy Sheehan hadn’t appeared but there was a very compelling figure in Fahrenheit 9/11, a woman who lost her son and had been a supporter of the war and then changed her mind, and was a real person and it was very moving. I think she stood in for a lot of people we figured were out there. Obviously where there are casualties there are mothers and so we put that character in. We had no idea that within a couple of weeks of us writing it all of a sudden Cindy Sheehan would appear and galvanise the movement. Although speaking of smears, there’s another character. As soon as she showed up, it was like ‘Let’s get her.’”

Is her son and the way they try to manipulate him in the film a nod to Jessica Lynch and the way the military tried to use her as a symbol for their cause?

“They do use people that way. They’re so cynical. When I introduced Homecoming in Turin, I very glibly said, ‘Well it’s a horror movie because all the main characters are Republicans,’ which is a cheap shot because these Republicans aren’t the same as the Republicans I grew up with. The word doesn’t even have the same meaning anymore. The actions of the people in the movie are so deeply cynical, and yet I don’t think even touch the surface of how cynical the real people are.”

Yes, you’ve said this is satire but when I looked at Ann Coulter’s website, there was very little difference between what she was saying and how she presents herself and the character Jean Cleaver in your film. For a moment I couldn’t tell whether the site was actually hers or something set up by someone like the Yes Men.

“See the pictures of her in her miniskirts? That’s her website. That’s why I think in our film we’re actually nicer to her than we really should have been. She’s one of those strange, cartoonish, by-products of all this -- a person that has found a way to say the most outrageous things so that they can get more publicity for themselves. When our character is asked if she believes all of this, she says, ‘Well, you know, you say what you have to say.’ I don’t know whether Ann Coulter is really as crazy as she seems or whether it’s just an act, but either way it’s like this sort of sideshow and it makes satire redundant.”

Exactly. When I read her material online I thought you were spot on and there wasn’t much exaggeration there.

“No, no, no, our actress is more attractive, I think.”

I read there were certain things you couldn’t do for legal reasons. Was that why you changed the names of these characters? After all, you kill them, too.

“Not at all.  I think it’s distracting to name them after the real people. We named them similarly to the real people but to be able to call that character Jean Cleaver is funny. I think it’s funnier than if you used the real name. And if you do use the real name than you really do open yourself up to lawsuits because then you’re really putting words in people’s mouths, and they can say, ‘I never said that and that’s not me,’ and who needs that anyway?”

How easy was this to cast? Were there people who were put off by the subject matter? Is there still a fear among people of the effect that appearing in something like this could have on their careers?

“There were some people who we went to that didn’t want to get involved with it -- people who you would ordinarily have thought would be on the same political page -- but they would read it and just thought ‘This is just too controversial, there’s going to be a lot of complaints about it and I don’t need this for my image.’ So we didn’t end up using anybody with a big name. We just got good actors.”

Do you think what happened to Maggie Gyllenhaal, who experienced a backlash when she made comments about 9/11, has put people off?

“I don’t think it helps when celebrities are vilified for what they say. I would have thought that you could take a stand by appearing in a film like this but I also understand the downside to it. It’s not like you’re going to get a lot of money, and I don’t know how creatively satisfying it is to make a movie in 10 days, and so for whatever reasons the big names that we went to had other things to do.”

How did you and Sam work together on the screenplay because he’s said he’d never written a horror film before and, of course, you had?

“Well, I don’t know, he wrote the first Batman and that was a horror flick. Sam likes horror pictures and we had actually been kicking around some other ideas for some scripts, and then when this came up we had a couple of short stories we thought would make good episodes but we couldn’t get the rights to them, and then finally time started running out and I said, ‘Let’s just do something of our own. Let’s do something about what’s going on. Let’s do something that’s not werewolves and vampires, like what everybody else is doing.’ So in relatively short order we came up with this take on the original story, which was actually put together very quickly.”

And what did your fellow directors think of the film?

“Um, a number of them were in Turin and seemed to be onboard with it. A couple of them sort of wished they’d maybe done something more substantial than the stories that they did. But on the other hand the whole purpose of the show was to do horror stories. Mine is actually the anomaly of the group.”

After Fahrenheit 9/11 people on the right attacked Michael Moore for being, as they saw it, un-patriotic and anti American.

“It’s a very patriotic movie!”

But what kind of reaction have you had?

“Well, it depends on what side of the fence they’re on. If they tend to agree with you they think it’s good. I’ve had some people agree with me politically but think the movie is bad, and I’ve had people who disagree with the movie politically and think that I’m the worst director who ever lived. Which is fine with me you know? Once it’s out there it’s out there. The trick is getting it out there.”

Because horror is still regarded as a disreputable genre . . .

“Well that’s its strength, actually. That’s one of the reasons its’ still around. There are so few things that are still around that are actually really disreputable.”

But is one drawback of tackling a subject like this in the horror genre that the message doesn’t perhaps gets taken as seriously as it should, because horror is not a “legitimate” genre?

“Well, you know, I don’t think about stuff like that. Directors make movies for themselves. They don’t make movies for anybody else. And if they are making movies for anybody else, they’re making a big mistake, because you’re the audience. The trick is never to do anything that you wouldn’t go see. If you start taking on pictures in genres you don’t like or types of pictures that you feel above or whatever, then you might as well stop working.”

This was never going to screen in the Liberty Film Festival, and people on the Libertus website were making the point that they couldn’t make a film where they blow Howard Dean or Al Franken’s head off [Dante laughs]. But could they?

“Well they could if they wanted.”

Would anyone fund it?

“Would there be anybody to see it is the real question. The Liberty film festival is not the most well attended and popular film festival of all time. It’s true that people on the liberal side of the fence tend to be, I think, somewhat more artistically bent than people who aren’t. Funding of the arts is not really a high priority for people on the other side. What they think we think is art is a crucifix in a bottle of urine [Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ”], and that’s pretty much as far as they want to go with it.”

At the heart of the film is the question why? Why were people sent to war? Why do you think America went to war? Are you with the people in the film seen wearing the No Blood for Oil T-shirts? Is that the statement you’re making?

“I’ll stand by anything in the movie. It’s an attempt to catch a little moment in time. I don’t know what this movie will look like in 10 years, but that wasn’t the point. People said, ‘The going to look so dated,’ and I’m like ‘Yeah, fine.’ The point is to try and catch a moment in time that is here now, and hopefully in a couple of years will be different. Everything that is in there is in service of that. Yeah, I agree with just about everything that’s in the movie. I even believe that Republicans have consciences. The lead character finally sees the errors of his ways. If I didn’t believe that then I wouldn’t have a story. So it’s not all about being bad. I’d be very curious to see what kind of a life, if any, this film will have.”

What were your thoughts as America started on the road to war? A lot of people fell into line but there were . . .

“Well a lot of people fell into line because they were lied to. Now their story is ‘Well we didn’t tell you anything that wasn’t true.’ Well you did leave out some pretty significant details, though. You know, after 9/11 they certainly had a carte blanche to do something. The fact that they took out this particular guy who, for all of his evilness, seemed to be running that part of the world in the way that part of the world needed to be run, apparently, because it was somewhat stable, if he didn’t have all that oil, you can’t convince me that they would have gone in there. Why didn’t they go into North Korea? Why didn’t they go into a bunch of other places where there are bad guys doing bad things to people? It’s because this has all been part of the plan. It’s part of the plan before 9/11.”

There were people who were talking out against the administration, though, like Scott Ritter.

“He was pretty widely discredited. And so was everybody who was saying anything. Listen, we have an administration that doesn’t hear what it doesn’t want to hear. And any time that anybody has come up and said, ‘Look, this is what is really happening and you guys should listen to me,’ they’ve been bounced out on their ear. There’s a whole raft of people that tried to blow the whistle on these guys and got cut off at the knees for it. That’s just not the way it works. They don’t want to hear anything that they don’t want, and that wasn’t what they wanted. What they wanted was, ‘This guy’s got weapons, he’s the worst thing that ever happened, he’s going to blow us up, little children are going to be turned into puddles of gello by this guy and if we don’t go and get him there, he’s going to come and do it here,’’ all that crap. So people bought it.”

It’s amazing that people bought the democracy idea . . .

“No, no, what they bought was a consistently different reason for going into Iraq. First it was the weapons of mass destruction – ‘Oh, he didn’t have any of those.’ So now it’s to bring democracy. To bring democracy? These are the people who said they were going to dance in the streets and throw flowers at us, you know? They didn’t do their homework. They were told there was going to be an insurgency. They were told how difficult it was going to be in a post-war environment and they chose not to listen, because they just didn’t give a shit. They figured ‘Well, we’ll just clean ‘em up.’ Now they’re bogged down like a new Vietnam, the have no way to get out, and they’re just constantly trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes by changing the subject. And it pretty much works. When you’ve got the media, and you’ve got that constant repetition day after day after day of the same lies, then after a while people start to think they’ve heard it so often it must be true.”

But as you remind us in the film there was gerrymandering in Florida, possibly . . .

“Possibly? The first time the guy didn’t even get elected, he got installed [by the Supreme Court].”

No, I was going to say possibly in Ohio.

“Possibly [sneeringly]. That’s another reason: imagine how frustrating it would be if you thought there was no way to win the election.”

Exactly. What do you think people can do if they are effectively disenfranchised?

“In 1776 I know what they did. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But they aren’t going to be able to do it without the media. Somehow they’ve got to try and get the media back.”

You’re harking back to 1776 with the final shot of the zombie fife and drum corps marching against the Stars and Stripes. It’s a warning and a call to arms.

“Yeah, and it was intentional.”

Are you in any sense optimistic about the future of your country?

“[Laughs] No! How could you look at that movie and say that I’m optimistic? It’s bleak. Bleak!”

Not a lot to look forward to then?

“Well, you know, it’s certainly ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It is that. But I basically see it as the dissolution of what used to be the meaning of my country. I think that’s what I’m watching. It’s a pretty sorry sight.”

Copyright Stephen Applebaum, 2014

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