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Hal MacDermot [Celluloid 03.08.09] movie news horror

On 5 March, world class directors Richard Elfman, Mick Garris, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, Bill Malone and Stuart Gordon, met in an LA theatre to discuss the relationship between their movies and art, especially painting. Lucky me, I was in the audience. The inspiration for the event was Bill Malone’s visually powerful feature, Parasomnia, a movie which itself incorporates the stunning art of the late great Polish surrealist Zdzislaw Beksinski.

Richard Elfman (Forbidden Zone) chaired, and an audience packed with LA genre filmmakers enjoyed. After the discussion, we were treated to a slideshow of Beksinski’s amazing and dark art, followed by a screening of Parasomnia. Now, thanks to a stunning feat of memory, here’s a mostly complete transcript of the horror/art discussion.

All after the break!

Richard Elfman: Film and art, art and film. Hmm. Gentlemen, when was the first time that each of you became aware of art and how did it affect you?

Stuart Gordon: I attended the art institute of Chicago, which I enjoyed very much because it was a great opportunity to look at naked women. And I also enjoyed the work that I saw, there’s a great Impressionist collection there, I became an art fan over night

Bill Malone: I think actually that I remember my evil cousin had a Pulp magazine, and I started looking at it, very dark and weird, and that got me looking at art, and other genres of art, and when I saw Fantasia as a kid, that was amazing.

Tobe Hooper: where I come from, I saw a lot of western paintings, an paintings of the capital of Texas, but my babysitter was a movie theater, so I have to include Tom and Jerry (laughter).

Richard Elfman, Mick Garris, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Bill Malone, & Stuart Gordon

Wes Craven: I don’t know, I come from Cleveland and … they would take us to the New York metropolitan museum, and to the symphony…

Mick Garris: My introduction was through my father, he had been an art student, and he was unable to make a living at it and support his 4 kids…but I learned from him, he was a painter. I wanted originally to be a painter and cartoonist. The first artist I knew by name was Dali, I love the surrealists, and the pointillist painters, but really, it was Creepy and Eerie magazine, artists like Graham Ingels, who really influenced me.

Richard Elfman: well asides from Stuart, I did take some drawing classes when I was 15 one summer in Mexico, along with my friends Beavis and Butthead, but who else has studied art?

Bill Malone: For those of you who don’t know, Rick made one of the coolest movies, which has an enormous amount of art in it, and I would like to know where the inspiration came from? (applause)

Richard Elfman: well, the art direction was German expressionism, Max Fleischer, a bit of Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Anyway, this is not about me so, how would we describe how art has affected our films?

Bill Malone: A lot of times I start out with the image itself, I see a painting by somebody like Giger or Brezinsky, and that stuff, you look at it and it sparks so many ideas, I use it a lot

Hooper: in Texas Chainsaw Massacre a lot of the exteriors are undeniably inspired by Andrew Wyeth, also I had this really great production designer, and we were trying to make some aspects look like Chagall with those tones and colors, and I make homage several times to Hopper and Maxwell Parish, and so I borrow a lot. Van Gogh was painting with a knife in Sunflowers, so it looks different in different light.

Craven: I was kind of a book hog when I was a kid, I liked the ilustrations in the books of Robert Louis Stevenson , they were done by N.C. Wyeth. I wasn’t allowed to watch movies when I was a kid. Certainly Goya’s engravings of nightmares, and also there’s a great painting called Kronos Devouring his Children, which I always cite to those people who say “why don’t you make something artful” and I say quite often a painting is thought to be ugly and obscene, but they were wrong. The other thing is never think of yourself as doing art, you have to just do your thing, or it will cripple you. When I saw starry night by Van Gogh as a kid my jaw just dropped. Art can go straight to your heart and soul.

Garris: Blake and Bosch were certainly two of the horrific image creators that stuck with me. But whenever I’m doing a film or a project I try to get a visual manifesto together and share it with the heads of department and try an put together what the visual theme will be. I did a movie called Sleepwalkers based on a work by Steven King, I shot a montage that we never used for the opening titles, where I actually recreated half a dozen Norman Rockwell’s, each of them with a dark punch line. So, the sailor laying in the town square in a hammock, but with a little kid with a match under it. The movie was really Norman Rockwell goes to hell. Movies are the ultimate art form because they have composition, music, performance, all of these things in one, but the difference is, it has a mobile frame.

Richard Elfman, Mick Garris, Wes Carven, Tobe Hooper

Gordon: Dali was a huge influence, and Giger, if it weren’t for him there would be no Alien. You know, the writer Dan O’Bannon came upon one of Giger’s book called Necronomicon and he said, this is what the Alien should look like and they were able get Giger to come in and work on the film. He was actually there sculpting the alien. He ended up designing the whole damn movie. He looked kinda like Peter Laurie. Movies encompass so many arts, it’s just a joy when you can get a fine artist to work beside you.

Malone: I worked with Giger on a couple of projects that sadly never got made. One was called the Mirror, and one was called Dead Star, which did get made and was called Super Nova, but had no bearing on anything we did way back then. I visited his flat in Zurich, the walls were painted all black, and the paintings were stacked 4 or 5 feet deep, and one of them had little holes in and I said “Giger someone’s damaged one of your paintings” and he said (German accent) “Oh no, that’s where my girlfriend blew her brains out” and it turned out to be true, and he left the bullet holes and the blood on the painting as part of the art.

Richard Elfman: I think everyone here is a writer as well as a director. Does art affect your writing even before production begins?

Garris: Bill Malone is a really fine painting, and he will often start with that, and he’s a really good artist. But me, I usually start with the story and then move forward to the visuals.

Craven: well it’s certainly thinking visuals, but you’re thinking so many things at once, you’re thinking about story, characters, what the places look like, and then there’s that weird thing you end up in some place that doesn’t look like what you imagined. I was working on a film called 25/8 which is coming out later this year, and I said to my wife that I still don’t know quite what the bad guy looks like, so we got this conceptual artist, Daniel Auber, we said this is a figure who lives under the river and sleeps under bridges and ate bark for 16 years, and he came back the next day with this fantastic rendering, he works in photoshop, and it was beautiful, luminous, and I was Wow, there he is, there he is. It’s quite interesting how this one single mind and eye came into the film in a very visual way.

Hooper: I did hire the guy who did the cover for the Eagle’s album the Hotel California, to do these incredibly elaborate paintings for concept art, for Poltergeist, with the clown spinning around on the bed, but obviously not practical for storyboards because each panel would take him about 3 weeks, but I had some wonderful pieces.

Malone: for me, a lot of times it comes from a painting, then I’ll figure out what the story needs to be, and then I’ll start looking for a lot of artwork that I like, and then when I see them, I’ll start coming up with concepts, and then with the script, I’ll start writing those things in.

Tobe Hooper, Bill Malone, Stuard Gordon

Elfman: Stuart by the way is an excellent artist.

Gordon: You know, the paintings of Frank Frazetta have inspired me. I did a play in Chicago back in the day, it was called Warp, and it was a Sci fi adventure thing and Frazetta’s painting inspired it as well as the Marvel comics of the time, like Dr Strange or Thor.

Elfman: Gentleman, who can start telling the audience about your relation as a director with your art department. Anyone can start.

Hooper: I don’t think there’s any department as important, you have the DP at one shoulder and then the production designer at the other. Without that you’re lost. They are always there, working all night, covered with paint they’re out there, helping you out.

Elfman: this is an esteemed group here. We’re gonna take some questions from the audience, it can be on anything at all.

Bloke with blond hair: horror films reflect fears of the time. How do your movies do that?

Craven: I think all of our movies are like that. The People Under the Stairs was like that, it was during the first Bush administration and there was an enormous amount of wealth at the top of society and very little at the bottom. Horror films are the nightmares of the culture at a time, the nightmares of the human species. At a specific point in human evolution, people confronting what they need to confront. Some of the things go back to the Greek myths, and are still directly relevant today.

Another bloke in audience: Remake of classic films, who’s got an opinion?

Craven: I have one coming out next week and I can tell you it is a fine and wonderful film (Last House on the Left). It was one of the cases where the guys who made a film got to own it again after 30 years, with total control, a great director Dennis Iliadis. You probably know this, but the Maltese Falcon was a third remake of a previous film, so there’s no really relevant whether it’s a remake or not, it’s just whether it’s a damn good film.

Hooper: when Chainsaw the remake, originally I was going to direct it, and it didn’t feel right, so I asked Gus van Sant his advice, and he said “I don’t know man, I would probably remake everything I’ve ever done.”

Audience: what’s the scariest movie you ever saw?

Malone: I don’t know the scariest movie, but it was the audience of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and I remember it was packed with 14 year old kids and when the little girl starts stabbing the Mom, the entire audience starts counting “ONE, TWO, THREE…” laughter

Elfman: well I think the scariest movies out there were written by these gentlemen here

Laughter and Applause.

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Elisa (14 years ago) Reply

It was particularly enjoyable rewatching "Parasomnia" (I had seen it originally at the premiere last fall) after seeing Beksinski's art, since I could truly see Malone's inspirations in the film, which made it a richer experience.

Glad you had a good time too. I enjoyed it. :)


Anonymous (14 years ago) Reply

I just watched the trailer for Parasomnia.

Its hard to believe its by the same guy who directed FearDotCom OH WAIT NO ITS NOT!



Bedamned (14 years ago) Reply

Props to you guys for this movie and the event. I got the flyer for this from school (UCLA), I had never even heard of this movie or the filmmaker before then, I went because Beksinski is like my ALL time favorite artist!! I'm really glad I stayed for the screening. Whata creative and unique film, I totally wasn't expecting what I saw! Both the story and the visuals are bad ass! Especially where they use Beksinski Artwork and that crazy ending with the mechanial figures. I loved the bad guy! He's like a Hannibal Lecter on steriods! The girl is totally hot! I thought all the acting was really good. This Director is both very creative and totally wacked!

I've been looking all over the web trying to find out if there will be another screening or was this like a one time thing. I know alot of people at school who'd really like to see this movie when they get back from spring break. Did you guys happen to ask the Director when the next screening is or when it will be in theaters?


Angeleyes (14 years ago) Reply

Its hard to believe its by the same guy who directed FearDotCom OH WAIT NO ITS NOT!. After seeing it Thrusday night, you were right before you corrected yourself. It actually is hard to believe! I had to go look it up on IMDB after I read that, just to make sure you knew what you were talking about! WOW the comparison is like night and day, I never woulda guessed it was the same filmmaker! This movie is by far a MUCH better movie! I know sometimes it takes time for creative people to become confident enough in themselves and their work to get the balls to do something bold. Thats the only explaintion I can come up with. Malone has found some wicked confidence with this film. I agree with everything Bedamned said, its very fun and imaginative. It's kinda like a slasher fairytale that doesn't take itself too seriously. There was so much story in the movie, i'd like to see again!


Grungy (14 years ago) Reply

Damn it I keep missing the screenings! I had to work!! I keep reading really good reviews of it! Even the guys over at JoBlo are (which usually is quite harsh) are giving it an excellent review! When is this Coming out!?

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