(This article is mainly a rewrite of Patrick Runckle's article on Inksyndicate.com.)
Menahem Golan (born Menahem Globus; he took his name from the Golan Heights) was born in Tiberias, Palestine, on May 31, 1929.
With his curly-haired cousin Yoram Globus, Golan led the Israeli film industry in the 1970s with films like 1974's Kazablan, Golan's Israeli retelling of West Side Story, and Operation Thunderbolt, Golan's story of Israel's 1976 raid on Entebbe, both starring Israeli actor Yehoram Gaon. Lemon Popsicle, an irreverent youth comedy hit set in the fifties, was produced by Golan and Globus and directed by their friend Boaz Davidson.
Golan and Globus, former Israeli paratroopers, moved to the US in 1979 after buying a controlling interest (for 20 cents a share) in Cannon Films. It was a struggling production company that had several minor B-movie hits in the early seventies, including Joe, starring Peter Boyle. The Israelis made a distribution deal with MGM and started producing exploitation fare like Death Wish 2, Enterthe Ninja and The Last American Virgin in 1981-82.
Next came Breakin', Death Wish 3, and Bolero with Bo Derek, Missing In Action, The DeltaForce and Invasion U.S.A. with Chuck Norris.
Golan and Globus wanted to create a seventh movie studio. The Cannon Group produced 125 movies in ten years. In 1986, when Cannon’s stock reached its high of $45.50, Cannon produced 43 movies.
Patrick Runckle writes on Inksyndicate.com: "Golan was an aggressive salesman, and he sold the rights to his films to different theatrical and video distributors in many territories before the film was finished, and sometimes, before it was even started."
Golan and Globus bought a large international theater chain from Lord Lew Grade and they invested in the video market, buying the international video rights to several classic film libraries. But they financially overextended themselves. They produced and released expensive bombs like Tobe Hooper's 1985 science-fiction film Lifeforce, s a $30 million investment that had an American box office of $10 million.
In 1987, Cannon released such bombs as Golan's Over The Top, an arm wrestling movie starring Sylvester Stallone, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, and Masters of the Universe starring Dolph Lundgren and Frank Langella.
In 1987 the Cannon Group took $25 million cash from Warner Brothers for some of its video assets. Globus said: "Our only crime is that we love cinema. You don't see us at the Polo Lounge, on the tennis court or at parties. You see us at the office seven days a week.''
Tobe Hooper, who directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce, said: "Cannon was really a good company to work for, actually. They made hundreds of movies. They did not have that many hit films, but both Yoram and Menahem just loved movies. They loved films and loved the filmmakers and really treated them well. It seemed more, when I was there, like maybe what the old system was like. I miss it. I miss that kind of showmanship and chance-taking."
Cannon also financed art pictures like Andrei Konchalovsky’s 1985 Oscar-nominated Runaway Train, Konchalovsky’s 1986 drama Shy People, Barfly, Jean-Luc Godard’s version of King Lear, and Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance.
Film critic Roger Ebert said in 1987, "No other production organization in the world today has taken more chances with serious, marginal films than Cannon."
Ebert writes about Golan’s obsession with the Cannes Film Festival in his 1987 book Two Weeks in the Midday Sun: "Cannon’s historical failure to win the Palm d’Or was not through a lack of effort. The company has always been cheerfully schizo, announcing its art films with the same gusto it uses for its exploitation product ... For years [Golan] has arrived at Cannes with at least one film he announces as a good bet for the Palm d’Or, and every year he has been disappointed ... People wonder how the same company could remake King Solomon’s Mines and film Verdi’s Otello in the same year."
In 1989, Cannon faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings and an investigation from the Securities and Exchange Commission over mistakes and omissions in its financial records. Golan and Globus fell out and stopped speaking to each other.
Crooked Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti took over Cannon and MGM. Parretti was later charged with numerous SEC violations.
Globus got the Cannon imprint and turned out a few pictures. Golan formed the 21st Century Film Corporation. They competed to see who would release the first film about the Lambada dance craze of 1990.
I spoke to producer Joel Soisson April 11, 2002.
Luke: "Menahem Golam and Yoram Globus of Cannon Pictures."
Joel: "Showmen. I worked with those guys for a while. I remember one time I went to Cannes and they had this big poster selling, 'Mitchum, Wayne, Taylor.' And it was Chris Mitchum, David Wayne, John Taylor. Those guys would do anything. And they're all cheap.
"I got involved after Menahem and Yoram split up and had this holy war against each other. Yoram Globus was my guy. Yoram was more the producer/financial side and Menahem was more of the creative guy.
"I got involved at the time of the Lambada dance craze. I had gone to Cannon Pictures from Dino De Laurentiis after making Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Dino had phoned up his pal [Giancarlo] Paretti. [Fortune magazine article] And we got a call, my partner Michael Murphey and I, to head up the new Cannon Pictures. We were totally jazzed to run a studio. We get there and meet with Chris Pearce, Yoram's backroom manipulating guy.
"We asked, 'So, what do we do?' Chris said, 'I'm not sure yet. There's another guy who wants to run the studio with you.' He sent us down to the script library to see if there was anything we wanted to make into a movie. Something to kill time.
"We come back up after lunch. Chris said, 'We'll figure this all out later. Just go down and get your ID cards so you can get a parking pass.' And I am so passive on these things. I say ok. So I went down and the screening guy asked for my title. I said, 'Story Department.' That got me the Lambada job.
"They had this new dance wave coming. They didn't have a script. So they gave me this old script that had nothing to do with dancing about a math teacher in East LA. 'Just put some dancing in it. Make it the Lambada. I don't care if you know how to dance or not. Just say, whenever they dance, that it is the Lambada. Just put a sexy girl in there and lets go. We've got to beat Menahem. They're shooting now.' They wanted to totally destroy the other guy's company.
Writes a critic on Imdb.com: "This film [The Forbidden Dance] that was hastily made to cash in on the short-lived 1990 Lambada craze is entertaining, to a point. Don't expect great dancing or a great film; this is basically an exploitation flick, what with those scenes of the Brazilian princess, who is trying to enter a national dance contest in the U.S. No, see it for nostalgia's sake, and because one of the things that makes this film entertaining is all the corny dialogue. Not only the Lambada, but also the save-the-rainforests subplot, were timely topics in 1990; remember just how hip an issue ecology was in 1990?"
As for Lambada. a poster on Imdb.com writes: "J. Eddie Peck smolders as Kevin Laird, a high school math teacher who lives in 2 worlds, the Beverly Hills school where he teaches and the east LA world where he came from. Delicious to watch, the dance scenes with the pulsing sexual undercurrents showcase J. Eddy Peck's attributes beautifully as does a voyeuristic butt shot as he writes on the blackboard in front of his Beverly Hills class. The classic themes are all here: there are no bad kids they're just misunderstood (West Side Story), we have more in common that we have differences, acceptance of diversity, you can't judge a book by it's cover. This movie will entertain, it has music, dancing, competition, overcoming obstacles, family values and a happy ending. Great date movie."
Joel: "The two versions came out a week apart. One had something like a two week post. The other had a three week post. Both were awful movies. The box office on ours was $1100 per screen [not good]. But Yoram was triumphant because it was $200 more per screen than Menahem's made. It didn't matter that they were both abject failures. It was that we won. I just realized that so much of this business is all about ego."
[Lambada - Set The Night On Fire grossed $2 million in 1,117 theaters, while The Forbidden Dance grossed $720,000 in 637 theaters.]
Luke: "How long did you last at Cannon?"
Joel: "My history seems to be that I hook up with a company, bankrupt them, and then move on. I never deliberately do this. I bankrupted Sandy once or twice. I got hired by Bob Shaye at New Line and made one of the Nightmare on Elm Streets. I thought they were about to go bankrupt, so I hopped over to DEG (De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, everybody in the '80 was an entertainment group) before I drove another company to extinction. And what do I do? I bankrupt DEG. Then I went to Cannon and bankrupted them. Then I worked with MCEG and bankrupted them. I did this horrible movie called Boris and Natasha. That was MCEG's last gasp. I don't think they ever made another movie. I don't think DEG ever made another movie after Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.
"Then I stopped bankrupting other people's companies and came close to bankrupting my own when I started Neo Motion Pictures Arts & Logic in 1989 (later became Neo Art & Logic). But we've held together for 12 years now. We've tottered a couple of times. People suggested that I call my company 7/11 Productions because I'm always considering which bankruptcy option to take.
"I'm holding on at Miramax now. I haven't bankrupted them yet. I gave them an off year or two. But I think I've turned the corner."
Golan and Globus reconciled at the 1992 Cannes film festival. Globus told Daily Variety, "Golan came to my table and started to talk, so I talked to him. We are cousins, we are family. We have not made friends exactly, and I never really fell out with him. I wish Mr. Golan all the best from my heart. We went our separate ways because we had separate points of view."
In December 1997 they announced they would run First Miracle pictures together. Globus said as a guest of CNN’s Showbiz Today in early 1998, "We divorced us after making between us almost 300 movies and after nine years we agreed both together we're stronger, wiser and we can serve the industry better."
After a few months, the Israelis left to form yet another company, a subsidiary of First Miracle called Magic Entertainment. They put out three flops, including Speedway Junkie. Golan was fired from the company and accused of financial fraud in New York Superior Court by Miracle's owners.
In late 1999, Golan showed up with another film company, Film World Inc. After a corporate re-organization in December 2000, the company got out of the film business to concentrate on making environmentally friendly petrochemical products.
Golan formed New Cannon Incorporated. His partner is young Israeli filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky.
Afineevsky said, "We are doing a remodeling and reconstruction of the old [Cannon] stuff, with new beautiful stories of our time. Menahem wants to use the same concepts of low-budget movies with great stories and slowly rebuild Cannon to make it New Cannon."
Globus also has a new company - Frontline Entertainment. Globus produced Lemon Popsicle: The Party Goes On, the eighth sequel to 1979’s Lemon Popsicle. The original Lemon Popsicle director Boaz Davidson claims to own the rights to the series and has sued Globus in Israel.
Struggling With God
David Poland writes on his Hot Button: "The only other commercial filmmakers working in the realm of God as openly as Shyamalan are Scorsese and Schrader. Obviously, The Last Temptation of Christ is on that list. But Bringing Out The Dead is an overt reimagining of Jesus in modern day and Kundun shows that Scorsese’s passion for religion is not limited to Christianity, but to the principles he sees at the heart of his religious belief.
"Schrader is playing in spirituality almost every time out. Blue Collar, Hardcore, Cat People, Mishima, Light Sleeper and Touch are about, respectively, auto workers, pornography, science fiction, a Japanese poet, a drug dealer and a con. And all six are also about God and Schrader’s struggle with that relationship."
Luke says: Schrader and Scorsese play in the realm of God as much as the devil plays in the realm of God. As the saying goes, even the Devil can quote Scripture. Their work is profoundly against everything that organized religion holds sacred. Nobody active in any organized religion would be allowed by his religious community to make such films as Hardcore or Last Temptation. Last Temptation is a blasphemous movie, and I am not even a Christian.
Schrader and Scorsese play with their emotions about religion but neither of them take religion's moral demands seriously. If they did, they could not make the films they make, and they would find it nigh impossible to work in Hollywood, a profoundly pagan environment rooted in firm opposition to the Judeo-Christian ethic of self control and love of God, Scripture and a higher moral law.
Khundum is about organized religion disembodied from moral demands, the only type of "religion" that is popular in Hollywood. Easy spirituality without discipline and self sacrifice. It is cheap grace.
David Poland writes: I would say that Last Temptation is very respectful of Jesus... Scorsese's love of Christ comes through his willingness to answer the questions that come with being a man. Hardcore is also about facing the devil... No doubt that Schrader particularly is enraged by God and organized religion, but he seems to me to be in a long-lasting search for grace.
Luke replies: David, With all respect.... I know nothing about your private life. It's none of my business. But I can guarantee that you are not a Christian, meaning that you are not actively involved church-going every Sunday believing that Jesus is God. You are surely secular, because virtually everyone I've met in Hollywood is, as are most journalists. I've interviewed 100 producers so far and only one, Douglas Urbanski, goes to church every week.
Of course you can be a wonderful human being and secular... I'm not questioning your decency. But because you are not playing the music of organized religion every day like I do and most of my friends do (we're Orthodox Jews), you are tone deaf to serious organized religion and how Schrader and Scorsese crap on it, along with the rest of Hollywood.
Watching Jesus as a voyeur watching a prostitute at work is blasphemous to anyone sensitive to the claims of Christianity.
Schrader is about desecration, pornography, drugs, self destruction, playing with guns, and dwelling on the dark side. Anyone in organized religion knows you are not allowed to play with these themes, or even "explore" these themes in the words of secular artists. These parts of life are forbidden to the religious, and you are certainly not allowed to depict them in the detail of Schrader and Scorsese.
And my proof is that you can go ask any priest, minister or rabbi (unless they are of the radical left) about this, show them LAST TEMPTATION or HARDCORE, and watch them flee the room, shut their eyes and otherwise be appalled.
Luke's Acting Career
I've tried the past two years to pass as an orthodox Jew. I'm not doing well. I've yet to fool my target audience. Perhaps I should go more Stanislavsky or Meisner in my approach?
Khunrum writes: No, go Actor's Studio i.e.. James Dean..The "Method" ......long angst ridden glances followed by unintelligible mumbling. Make them think you are suffering trying to pull off this Hebrew charade.
Triumph of the Producing Class
Michael Cieply writes in the New York Times about USC's Peter Stark producing program:
Jonathan Glickman remembers exactly how he broke into the movie business. As a first-year student in the University of Southern California's Peter Stark producing program, he watched a guest lecturer, the producer Joe Roth, step into an elevator in 1993, and suddenly realized the visitor controlled what might be the last available summer internship. "If I don't run into that elevator with him, someone else is going to," Mr. Glickman recalled thinking as he pounced.
Years later, a classmate, John August, told him: "I was in that elevator. I thought you were psychotic."
Mr. Glickman, now 33, landed the spot with Mr. Roth's Caravan Pictures and quit graduate school to make it a full-time job. Just nine years later, he has amassed a phenomenal list of 18 producer credits, including the back-to-back "Rush Hour" blockbusters, and he reigns as production president of the Spyglass Entertainment Group...
Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, a writing and producing team since their U.S.C. days, are the executive producers responsible for the WB network's "Smallville" series, even while they work on the script for Columbia Pictures' "Spider-Man 2." A pair of classmates, Gregory McKnight and Charles Ferraro, are agents at the William Morris Agency and the United Talent Agency, respectively. Others hold key positions with some of Hollywood's most prominent production companies, including James Whitaker, an executive vice president at Imagine Entertainment; Scott Strauss, president of Outlaw Productions; Samuel Dickerman, president of Radiant Productions; and Ashley Burleson Kramer, executive vice president at Pandemonium.
Black TV Producer Charles Floyd Johnson
I interviewed producer Charles Floyd Johnson (an African-American) at his office in the Sunset-Gower Studios July 10, 2002.
Charles speaks in a measured cultured tone. "I did a panel once with Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker at the TV Academy. I remember her saying, 'There is no road map [into the entertainment industry] because if you talk to 25 different people in the business, you will get 25 different stories. People come from all walks of life. You don't need a Masters in Fine Arts to be in this business. It takes a certain amount of inquisitiveness, ingenuity and creativity to want to be a producer.
"I was born in Camden, New Jersey. An only child, I grew up in a small town (Middletown) of 3000 people in Delaware. My mother (had a Masters degree and was working on a doctorate) was school teacher and my father (a college graduate) was a realtor. Television was just becoming [in the 1950s] a big thing in households. I remember being fascinated by television because of how vast it was and how it connected people but I had no thought of becoming a producer. At one point, I thought about being an actor. That was easily understood.
"The whole image of television changed from the 1950s to the 1960s. We started having African-Americans as professionals on TV.
"It was a foregone conclusion that I was going to college. When I was 14, I was sent to Stoney Brooke College Prepatory School in Long Island. It was the worst time. It was all white. I had come from an all African-American segregated school. The US Supreme Court ruling for desegregation, Brown vs Board of Education, was in 1954. But by 1958, the schools still had not been integrated in that little town.
"There wasn't much to do in our small time except go to movies. My parents would never go to the movies because the theater was segregated. Blacks had to sit in the balcony."
Luke: "Did you have a sense of burning injustice about it?"
Charles: "I was aware that I didn't like sitting there. All the orchestra seats were for whites. The balcony was divided. I always sat one seat over on the white side. I was never asked to move. That was my form of rebellion.
"My parents taught me to respect people on their merits, and not on color. I had no problems at prep school. I was accepted at Cornel but I really wanted to go to an African-American school. I decided on Howard University in Washington D.C.. Thurgood Marshal, Andy Young, and Vernon Jordan went there. Four years later, I had a degree in Political Science.
"My mom became a principal (of Silverlake Elementary) when they integrated the schools in my town. The first African-American principal in my home town.
"My parents discouraged me from pursuing acting. I went to Law school at Howard. Then I served two years in Vietnam. I then worked for two years in the US Copyright office. In the evenings, I'd direct and act in plays.
"I went to a State Department conference on copyrights. I met a judge from Sweden. He steered me towards some grant money so I could come study in Sweden for eight weeks. I then spent two weeks in Paris. Three days before I was to leave, I got a call from my office asking me to attend a UNESCO conference in Paris. It lasted about ten days. I discovered there was a job available to work three years in Paris.
"I got the job. I got my security clearance. And then I said I didn't want to go. I was getting close to 30 years of age, and I felt I had to change my career.
"In 1972, I decided to move to California to pursue the [entertainment] business. I took some acting classes and classes in film and television. I ran out of money and I looked for a job. I drove out to Universal Studios. I'd read those stories about Steven Spielberg sneaking on to the lot. I went to Personnel and they had nothing to offer me but the mail room. I took it.
"Two days later, I moved up to business affairs due to the influence of a man whose wife did a play with me. I got the promotion because: 1) I was on the lot. 2) I was a lawyer. 3) I was African-American.
"Universal was making a ton of TV shows. My job was production coordinator. We were assigned to shows and different producers. We got the scripts and submitted them for legal clearances. We made deals with writers and directors. I made a deal with director John Badham.
"We went to dailies to make sure that nothing was shot that had not been cleared legally. Depending on how much the producer liked you, you got to go to rough cuts and dubbing stages. I started out working for Roy Huggins (the Fugitive, Maverick). He loved to teach. I went to the rough cut of the show and saw where the music and changes were going to be and then take the print to the network and their broadcast and standards people.
"One day I was assigned to work on The Rockford Files. I was the production coordinator on the pilot. Eight shows in, they fired the associate producer and I got a call from producer Stephen J. Cannell.
"I was still acting in my spare time. I had small parts on TV shows like Kojak where I worked with Sylvester Stallone.
"In 1978, Rockford Files won an Emmy for Best Dramatic Series. Suddenly I was walking down the aisle with Stephen J. Cannell and David Chase.
"In 1980, Cannell left Universal to form his own company. I got a deal to stay at Universal as a lot producer. I worked on the pilot of Simon & Simon. In 1981, Donald Bellisario asked me to help produce Magnum PI. I didn't write many scripts. My strength as a producer is my ability to organize. I lived in Hawaii for the next six years and then two years in Florida on V.L. Stryker.
"I got married about a year after I went to Hawaii. My wife stayed in Los Angeles. We traveled back and forth a lot. Usually once a month one of us would fly over. And when we got together, we treated it like a honeymoon.
"I've worked as co-executive producer on JAG since 1995 (my third show for Don Bellisario). The arc of the show has changed. The more we went into courtroom drama, the more we went into character. So the show that had a limited male audience gained a larger female audience.
"I've been lucky in doing shows. I've worked with creators, who when they're moved on to other things, feel like they can entrust shows to me. I work well with the studios in making the shows as creative as possible while staying within budget. I get along well with people. I've been lucky to be a producer, who not a creator, has worked a long time. I've hardly ever been out of work.
"A few years ago, I got a call in 1989 from George Lucas to work on a project with him at his ranch. I thought it was a joke because I did not know George Lucas and he would not tell me what the project was. It took me three months to make it up to the ranch because I was busy. We spent a lot of time together. It was a project about the Tuskagee airmen, the black fliers. He wanted an African-American producer and director on it. Some of his research people kept getting my name.
"We worked on that for five years. Then in 1995 HBO made a movie on it. It was close in style and structure to what we were doing as a feature and we abandoned it."
From Imdb.com: "During the Second World War, a special project is begun by the US Army Air Corps to integrate African American pilots into the Fighter Pilot Program. Known as the "Tuskegee Airman" for the name of the airbase at which they were trained, these men were forced to constantly endure harassment, prejudice, and much behind the scenes politics until at last they were able to prove themselves in combat."
Luke: "In this wonderfully liberal industry, have you often run into racism?"
Charles: "I am often asked that question. Not really. I always feel that I am obliged to talk about it this way. I am aware that it is there. Even though it is not that pronounced in my career, I've seen it in other ways. I'm always vigilant about it."
Luke: "Vigilant about it, how?"
Charles: "Racism is so pervasive in most societies that a lot of times people don't even know that they have racist attitudes. If you're an African-American, you're probably always attuned to it and sometimes see it when it is not there. I am aware of it in casting and in how sometimes African-Americans are portrayed. I try to make sure on JAG that we have a good ratio of minorities on the show.
"I'm working on a book about 50 years of African-Americans in front of and behind the camera. I'm looking at how the medium has impacted the image [of African-Americans in American society] and how the image has impacted the medium. I think the image has been driven by the business of television and not much by the social conscience of the people who make television. It's about what sells and not about what's racially balanced or racially correct or politically correct."
Luke: "According to the ratings I've seen, whites don't watch shows primarily about blacks and blacks are less likely than whites to watch shows primarily about whites."
Charles: "It's a real problem. There has never been a successful drama with an African American man or woman in the lead. There have been attempts to make an interracial sitcom. They don't work.
"Sitcoms tend to play to the lowest common denominator. I was never a fan of The Jeffersons. I didn't like the George Jefferson character. But he was no different than Archie Bunker. The difference is that there were another 35 sitcoms out there about white people and only another three about African-Americans, and they all lean towards stereotypes. To succeed, you often have to pander... And the audiences often don't laugh with but at.
"A lot of our young African-American writers and directors get their breaks working on these [lowest common denominator] black sitcoms. They learn their craft on them but they write what they're expected to write.
"There's a limiting artistic thing there. You'd like to think that people can break out of their roles. You'd like to think that an African-American or Hispanic writer could write a play Lion in Winter. And sometimes I think they don't because it is not their experience and they don't think it is expected of them.
"In the sixties and seventies, African-Americans wrote a lot of plays about the black experience fighting whitey. But by the eighties, there was a dearth of interesting African-American playwrights. They didn't feel that they had the subject matter and the audience to do it so they weren't writing broader content.
"I've come to the conclusion that we watch what relates to us."
Luke: "Why does it matter if whites watch white television and blacks watch black television?"
Charles: "Because it means we are segregated."
Luke: "What's wrong with that?"
Charles: "I'd like to do think we could do something more politically correct and universal."
Luke: "People live in segregated neighborhoods. The older people get, the less they like to be around people different from them."
Charles: "We don't like to admit that. To African Americans that feels like a regression. And African-Americans go to white movies and watch TV shows like Seinfeld but it doesn't work in reverse."
Luke: "You're about the only African-American producing white shows."
Charles: "There's Arthur Fornay who works on Dick Wolf's show [like Law & Order]. Kevin Arkadie co-created New York Undercover. Many work in features.
"When I first started at Universal, I'd get calls from executives at the studio when they wanted to do a black project and they wanted a black director or writer. I could reel off the list. I can't do that now, which is great."
Luke: "When did you start using the term African-American?"
Charles: "About 1992."
Luke: "When did you stop using the word 'negro'?"
Charles: "A long time ago. By college. I was at Howard with Stokely Carmichaell, who invented black power. He ran across th campus one day with his fist in the air, screaming, 'Black power!' We became much more into saying 'black.'"
Luke: "You live in a white neighborhood."
Charles: "Yes. No problem. When I walk into a room, I'm often the only black man."
LA Times Adds Tough New Critic
L.A. Weekly's Manohla Dargis will become a film critic for the Los Angeles Times as of August 12.
Jeffrey Wells writes: The Times is obviously aware Dargis can be a tough, flinty critic when so inspired, and is not one to mince words. Remember when Entertainment Weekly removed her as a Critical Mass critic, supposedly because her negative reviews were bringing down the overall grade curve? How her incisive, boil-lancing style of expression will mix in with the general tone of dullness, editorial soft-peddling and political restraint that has come to define the coverage of the film industry and its output by the Times' Calendar section remains to be seen.
Luke Gets Mail
Rodger Jacobs writes: "Art is self referential and a lot of art has become about the process of art."
Great quote! Good interview [with Lewis Chesler], too, despite you're repetition of questions you've asked a million times to other producers. Have you thought about curving your book theme to fit with guys like Chesler, producers who work on the fringes of Hollywood? (Kubrick was one of those)
Hey. Your Alexa ranking has gone way up. Last month your numbers were 1 million and something (that's a low ranking) but now you're at 263,614, due in no small part, no doubt, to the fact that I'm writing about you a lot and sending traffic thataway.
Stopped in Auburn for lunch when we went to Nevada City on July 3. Strolled through Old Town for awhile --- the antique shops there are great but way over-priced.
Dear Mr. Litvinoff
Robert writes: I must admit that yes, Luke does work in an extremely sloppy way, but in his defense, I must point out that he has remained pure, untouched and insulated from the gross depravity and vile temptations that surround him. Luke continues to be a gentle soul whose commitment to God and truth is absolutely unassailable. He stands alone in the cesspool of Hollywood as a shining beacon of both dignity and class. Luke has proven time and again to be an upstanding entertainment journalist deserving of both industry accolades and his peers' respect. Luke. I salute you.
Producer Lewis Chesler - The Hitchhiker
I interview Lewis Chesler of Chesler-Perlmutter Productions at his office in Westwood on July 9, 2002.
It's a hot day and his secretary wears shorts. Lewis wears pants and a white undershirt. He moves his hands nervously during our interview, continually rearranging his hair and desk. Sometimes his voice falls to a whisper.
Chesler/Perlmutter received a glowing profile by Variety 6/30/02: Canada's most persevering indie production duo, Chesler/Perlmutter, has stepped up the tempo -- and they're making it happen without the aid of handouts from federal funder Telefilm Canada. The Canuck agency is desperate to convince Canadian producers to make more commercial pics. But Chesler/Perlmutter Prods. is already successfully cranking-out market-driven pics and TV projects, all financed sans Telefilm coin.
Lewis Chesler and David Perlmutter...are masters of the complex co-production, a type of financing on which Canadian producers were relying long before it came into vogue everywhere else.
Now almost everything Chesler/Perlmutter does is a CO-production, usually with Euro producers.
"Since I first went to Europe in the early '80s, I've steered the sensibility of our projects toward the ambiguous and the morally complicated," Chesler says.
Chesler's early breakthrough, "Hitchhiker," the cult HBO series, utilized some exotic Euro auteurs and established a signature off-center tone a decade before "The X-Files" appeared. Perlmutter was originally an accountant who got into the film biz during the boom years of tax-shelter financing in the 1970s, and he has helped put together the financing for Chesler's projects for more than 20 years. The pair founded Chesler/Perlmutter in 1990.
Lewis tells me: "I was a Cultural History major at Amherst College in Massachusetts. I was interested by literature. I found fiction to have more vivid truth than reality.
"After college, I joined the Peace Corp and went to Venezuela for two years."
Luke: "You were like a Mormon missionary."
Lewis smiles: "No. I was there making friends for America. It was a different time. I was a child of the sixties. It was a romantic time and I was there supposedly to promote universal fraternity and brotherhood. Really I was stoned out of my mind for two years (1968-70).
"After school, I thought I might go into broadcasting but I found by working in the medium that it was reductive, didactic and propagandistic. I was then drawn to producing works of dramatic fiction and stories of imagination.
"Now, even in speculative fiction, it has become didactic. This business has become moralistic. It's not filled with contradiction and it is not allowed to be messy and complicated and contradictory and interior. It's forced by market demands to be simplistic, formulaic and one dimensional.
"After Venezuela, I came back to New York and I started working in the performing arts as a producer and administrator. I had a girlfriend who was a dancer. I fell in love with her. I eventually lost her but I kept on loving the dance. I ran several modern dance and ballet companies. At the time, it was a fast growing entertainment form (it's since lost its appeal). I still love dance. I think it's the purest art form there is. It's simply the body as idea.
"I recognized that you couldn't make a living working in the performing arts because there is no support for the arts in America.
"I then went to work in the mass media. Entertainment is a serendipitous business. Through a series of random events, I came to the West Coast and became a theatrical producer of spectacle entertainment like theater, rodeo and rockn'roll shows. I became the artistic director of the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center.
"In 1979, I lost that job because of funding cutbacks (Proposition 13). I was stranded here in LA. I looked around for work.
"At the Center, I'd created a theatrical event televised on HBO. I'd met television producer Riff Markowitz who I'd introduced to an executive at Home Box Office, Michael Fuchs, who subsequently became the chairman of HBO.
"Through our joint relationship with Michael, Riff and I became one of the leading independent producers for pay television. We made a lot of event programming for HBO like concerts (Crystal Gale), one-man shows starring comedians like George Burns and Red Skelton (who taught me that great clowns are not about making us laugh but about breaking our hearts)...
"Network television was strictly hierarchical then. It was hard to gain entry unless you'd started at an agency or studio or network and worked your way up. Because cable was an emerging industry, it allowed you lateral entry. I went to Michael Fuchs and said that I wanted to do drama. I created an anthological concept (The Hitchhiker) inspired by The Twilight Zone and the idea of kurt metrhes (European notion of small films).
"HBO was then chiefly a purveyor of film, not conventional television programming. We discovered that the creative license of pay television allowed us to produce these shows with creative licenses not available in standard network television. We used a European flavor with a more graphic visual presentation. We had more license with language and provocative ideas.
"This made the programming distinct and and a value to HBO, which was trying to sell itself as a premium service. HBO wanted the audience to understand that they were getting something of value for their subscription."
Luke: "I remember in high school people were talking about it because it had a lot of nudity."
Lewis: "I wanted to deal with emotion, sexuality and psycho-erotic ideas in a way that no other American medium allowed you to do. Sexuality is a fundamental part of the dramatic conflict. In the 1960s and early '70s, it was a part of American filmmaking but since then American film has become chaste. Even suspense has been removed from storytelling. American films are star driven. Because you have to protect the longevity and the heroic value of the star, you know that Julia is going to be all right. So what's the point of seeing the movie? Once you have invested so much in personage, there's no investment in story.
"The Hitchhiker was also distinct because it was done as a Canadian-French coproduction. It was a progenitor of the hope of globalization. I've long been a fan of European cinema. I used directors like Paul Verhoven, Philip Noyce, Roger Vadim and Wayne Wang who'd rarely worked in North America and never in television. HBO was not a signatory to the Directors Guild of America at the time. I became the definitive expert on Eastern European and South Pacific directors. They in turn brought in feature talent like Klaus Kinski, Gary Busey, Willem DeFoe, Karen Black and Peter Coyote.
"European television at the time was state-run television. It was rudimentary.
"The last 25 30-minute episodes of The Hitchhiker were made in Paris.
"There's a tradition in Europe of the small movie. That's what we were making. NBC Entertainment President Brandon Tartikoff took note of The Hitchhiker. He was one of the few people in Los Angeles with a satellite dish. HBO did not have penetration into Los Angeles then.
"Brandon solicited me. Through his largesse, I went to MGM for seven years where I created and produced mainstream television programming."
Luke: "You've made a ton of stuff over the past three years, most prolific."
Lewis laughs: "Until today we were. It is getting more difficult. The fragmentation of the market. The collapse of the world economy. The collapse of the broadcast market in places like Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK."
Luke: "There was a glowing article about you in Variety a week ago."
Lewis: "Yeah. I hope it is not my obituary. There have been some cataclysmic changes in the multimedia business."
Luke: "How do the sinking stock prices of companies like Vivendi, AOL etc affect you?"
Lewis: "Those are the distribution streams we sell to. They need to take their cash and not spend it on content but on keeping their own companies afloat. It's all changing and at such exponential rates. Fifteen independent distributors have gone out of business in the last 12 months. And I'm a company dependent on those kind of distribution companies."
Luke: "How much time do you spend in LA a year?"
Lewis: "As little as possible, because the more time I spend in LA, the more time that I am not working. I like to supervise production. I've just returned from six months in Paris where we shot Tempo for Canal Plus. I usually spend about three months a year in LA."
Luke: "Are you married?"
Lewis: "I was in a long term relationship."
Luke: "That must be hell on your relationships."
Lewis: "It's hard. Is this a personal interview or a professional interview? I've been a gypsy for 20 years. I love the excitement of it. I love to experience new things. I love the interchange with creative people. We're crazy. This is a community of misfits. We live on the marginal edges of reality."
Luke: "How much fraternity do you have with your fellow producers?"
Lewis: "I rarely see them."
Luke: "What is the filmmaker's moral responsibility to society?"
Lewis: "To subvert. I would make any film [regardless of moral concerns]. Artists are not supposed to be good citizens. They must challenge the system, not reinforce it. American studio films reinforce preconceived notions."
Luke: "Have you ever read a script and thought, 'This is too immoral for me to make.'"
Lewis: "No. Immoral is not a word I use.
"There's no point to humor unless it wounds."
Luke: "What are some of the taboos you've run into?"
Lewis: "You couldn't do a movie now about pedophilia. It's part of the human condition and you should be able to do a film about it so that people can make their own judgment on it."
Luke: "What did you think of American Beauty?"
Lewis: "I thought American Pie was better."
Luke: "It doesn't seem that the projects you work on live up to the ethos you espouse?"
Lewis: "It's hard because the market compromises everything you do."
Luke: "Which producers do you admire?"
Lewis: "I think the Weinstein brothers are the most interesting American producers and entrepreneurs."
Luke: "Why is your industry so afraid of themes dealing with organized religion?"
Lewis: "Many things are taboo - politics, religion... Many things can not sustain legitimate discourse in American life. We're not an introspective culture."
Luke: "What's the most desperate thing you've ever had to do to get a film made?"
Lewis thinks. "In comparison to the truly desperate things that some people have to do to survive, I haven't had to do anything desperate. Mostly what you have to do to get films made is lie."
Luke: "How do you handle bad reviews?"
Lewis: "Nothing bothers me. I have no character. I don't get that invested. As my former partner used to say, 'At the end, it's just a TV show, not a religious crusade.' I've always separated myself from the produce of my labors."
Chesler is a founder of The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and is on the board of numerous ballet and modern dance companies.
I did a follow-up interview with Lewis on July 19, 2002. He still wears a white singlet.
Lewis: "I fear that I may have made my last movie. So if this interview is going to be epitaph, I have some things to say about the industry."
Luke: "Why so dour?"
Lewis: "The independent movie business has collapsed. With the concentrations of the big media companies, with the nature of the changing viewing patterns of the public, it may never come back. I hate to be dire. There have just been many sea changes in viewer interest, demand, taste, satisfaction levels and cultural changes in notions of originality and authenticity versus the lack of need for them. Those things are no longer valued.
"This is prevalent not just in popular culture, but was first introduced in high art, where authenticity was no longer valued. The aping of means of mass reproduction, with people like Warhol, became valued. Warhol did it in an ironic fashion. His was a critique that had value and originality but in the 40 years since Warhol, it has overwhelmed us. This has impacted on story telling and people's response to story and the values they look for in story. Stories are no longer sequential, linear, interior, contradictory or original. The audience wants some level of reassurance that formula and engineered response provides them.
"There was a review today of K-19 by Kenneth Turan that said the film was fundamentally undermined by the fact that it was so predictable in its key moments, in comparison to the definitive submarine piece of Das Boot.
"There are a number of factors that mitigate quality work. We're an ahistoric culture. There's a despotism of the present. We're a reductive culture. Everything is reduced to compressed, simple, intense ideas. I think that's the influence of advertising and the exponential growth of information. The only way to take in all this information is to compress it. Unfortunately, we've lost essential information in the process.
"We've lost the deliberation of information and knowledge. The kind of knowledge we receive does not permit us reflection. There is no contemplation any longer. There's certainly no contemplation in popular art, film or television. There's not only an intellectual change in the way we perceive things, but thanks to the introduction of the computer, there's a sensory change in the way we receive information. We're no longer a linear, sequential, chronological. We're now a random binary culture. Thanks to video games and music videos, our narrative structure has been altered significantly.
"Why we can't deal with other kinds of information is of interest to me. American culture defends itself against pain and suffering and history, loss, death and ultimately life. We're a death-denying culture. We're a life-denying culture. We're a sex-denying culture. This is a residue of the fact that we're fundamentally a Protestant culture and therefore we're a culture that is sexually guilty and bodily shameful."
I stare at notes Lewis has made to himself and wonder what language they are written in. They appear Cyrilic.
Lewis: "There is no willingness in America to deal with dark intent. We had artists who did - Edgar Alan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mailer - but they don't speak any longer to the culture. American life has been homogenized and sanitized. We're the residue of an English culture. Remember the E.M. Forster comment about the English not being disposed to accepting human nature.
"I think that most of it has to do with sexual guilt. I have always felt there's a relationship between sexual repression and the violence that is so endemic to American culture. One part of American's fascination with horror is that horror is basically sexual projection. If there was a greater genuine sexual permissiveness, we would be less violent. The moralistic self-righteous critics of American culture say there is too much permissiveness. I find that to be a coy permissiveness. It's manufactured. It doesn't allow the genuineness, the pain, the raggedness of real emotion and therefore sexuality.
"Our notions of beauty have become artificial. The constructed, the manufactured, the augmented breasts, is now what is perceived as the ideal. The human, the regular, the slightly misformed is repressed and denied. This is a residue of the Protestantism of the American culture. One of the premises of that approach was grace through good works and purification and that we are a very insistently self-improving culture. This process of self amelioration denies and attempts to cleanse human nature, which I think is impossible.
"It's not unlike when Marquis De Sade wrote."
Luke: "Is he a good guy in your eyes?"
Lewis: "Oh no."
Luke: "He seems to be the opposite of everything you've decried."
Lewis: "The point of Sade was to critique the utopian hope of the Enlightenment. He wanted to subvert or challenge the investment in reason and science as salvation by saying that not withstanding the progress in those areas, man was still ruled by fundamentally bestial, aggressive, and libidinal impulses."
Luke: "What did you think of the movie Quills?"
Lewis: "I didn't like it. It was too flamboyant and theatrical. I like the French version of Sade. I'm not an expert on Sade. I only read him because he turned me on as a kid.
"The other principle, by the way, that we deny in our culture is the principle of pleasure. Even our popular culture doesn't give us pleasure. It gives us engineered sensation but not genuine pleasure the way a great work of art should. It should be erotic, tactile..."
Luke: "I don't get why you didn't love American Beauty because it glorifies the homosexual couple, portrays everyone else as screwed up..."
Lewis: "I thought the targets were easy."
Luke: "But they're all the targets you just named."
Lewis: "But I thought it was too easy. It wasn't wounding enough. It wasn't scabrous enough. It didn't truly pierce to the heart of anything. It presented it all with a sitcom irony. These are things that have been addressed by other ironists and satirists in American culture in a deeper way."
Luke: "Who has pierced through and been scabrous enough?"
Lewis: "I like the black artists."
Luke: "Spike Lee. Clockers."
Lewis: "Yes. Chris Rock. Richard Pryor."
Luke: "Quentin Tarantino?"
Lewis: "Yes and no. He's more about form. He's more of an aesthete than a social critic. His art is about art. His filmmaking is about filmmaking, which is ok. Art is self referential and a lot of art has become about the process of art.
"The reason I think I am citing some of the black artists is because the outsider has nothing to lose. They can have the courage to be most wounding. When Roseanne did her piece, because she was fundamentally an unattractive woman in the conventional sense, she was so audacious and honest in her pain, that I thought, even in the context of a sitcom, there was real humor in what she did.
"It's been almost impossible for [true artists] to work [within the system] in the last 10-15 years because the economic forces of the market are so overwhelming."
Luke: "Are there some pornographers that you find piercing and scabrous enough?"
Lewis: "Not that I know of... I've watched it randomly but I wouldn't know anybody specifically.
"I also like the lyric and the tender. I don't think that's present in a lot of American work. That's a result of a desensitization of feeling. We've become feeling less. We are not permitted to be vulnerable. That is some kind of a warding off or a defense against some of the notions I've talked about.
"You asked me about morality. I think that's a religious or aesthetic term and one therefore that I don't recognize. The point of art is to engage taboo not to recede from it."
Luke: "What did you think of photographer Robert Maplethorpe?"
Lewis: "He was an aesthete. He forces us to deal with issues of gender, identity and politics, which is where art went. Everything in recent art has been seen through the prism of identity. This ignores our common humanity. We are all searching for the same thing - love, affirmation, and intimacy. I don't care what social or political group you come from. I say that so much of American work has become didactic and propagandistic because it focuses more on social-political association and connection then it does on human need. There is no censoring the human heart."
Luke: "So who are the guys in town who are fighting this good fight?"
Lewis: "I don't think anybody is. I can't cite a commercial film that was moving. I think there are films made by North Americans that have tremendous energy of form, style and skill. I can't care less about the sophistication of film. When special effects come on, I close my eyes. I was never interested in cinema as a kinetic art. I've always treated film as pictorial literature, and maybe that's not fair to film. Maybe film is its own thing and I should look for the qualities that I want in film in literature.
"I remember films of greater depth, complexity and beauty. I just watched Training Day and I don't know how to comment on it when I compare it to a film like French Connection.
"Training Day was completely manipulative. It was so posed that every frame was a tableau. There didn't seem to be any arc to the cinema let alone to the character or the story. There didn't seem to be any truth. I didn't believe a single moment.
"Maybe everything has been said. Maybe there are no more stories to be told."
Luke: "Could you get any darker and more pessimistic?"
Lewis laughs. "You're young. There are guys who preceded me who said this.
"I once read a quote by Jean Luc Godard. It said that anytime that anything good is successful, it must be the result of a misunderstanding. I said, ohmigod, how wry, how clever, how sardonic. Then I was reading an exchange of letters between Heinrich Mann and his brother Thomas in which he says that anytime that anything good is successful, it must be the result of a misunderstanding. I said, ohmigod, Jean Luc Godard must have plagiarized. And he was one of my cultural idols.
"But after I thought for a second, I said, 'But of course. That's exactly what he was about. Appropriation. Godard's work was only about deconstruction and appropriation."
Luke: "So what great loss did you suffer that made you so cynical?"
Lewis: "One day, when I was young, I went home and I lost my puppy. And I've had a forlorn view of life eversince."
Luke: "It doesn't go any deeper?"
Lewis: "What else is there? For Citizen Kane, it was his sled Rosebud. For Proust, it was his tea cookies. Ultimately, it's all irony and pathos."
Luke: "It doesn't have to be. Why do you want to choose that?"
Lewis: "Because I don't know how else to treat the world."
Luke: "That's it. Secular life is so reductive that if you are intelligent, there's no alternative but the dark view."
Lewis: "Faith. I can't partake in it. I find transcendence through art."
Luke: "You have no hope."
Lewis: "I can always hope for an increase in my Master Charge line."
Luke: "Why do you get get up every morning and keep doing this?"
Lewis: "Because of pleasure. I have pleasure in experience and learning. Business is a pleasure. Life is a matter of wasting time, so what's the difference?"
Luke: "When was the last time you were starstruck?"
Lewis: "I was never starstruck. I've never had a hero."