You know back when I was just getting my mind around becoming The Black Saint in the 80’s, I spent nearly all of my free time on the famed strip known as “The Deuce” here in NYC. Forty second street between 7th & 8th avenue was just a hotbed of sleazy, filthy, depraved drug addled fools. And then there were people like me, people who soaked up that atmosphere like they were sponges. There were so many theaters lining both sides of the street. So many different movies to see, double bills, triple bills.
And you could stay & watch them all again when they were over if you liked, no one cared. If you wanted to take a chance & sit on a filthy seat on a sticky floor and have the occasional rat run over your feet (Followed closely by a hungry cat I might add), this was the place to be. You could watch first run Hollywood hits directed by Spielberg, Lucas or Scorcese on double bills with films directed by Andy Milligan or the latest of Roger Corman’s “Flavor Of The Month” directors.
I usually went with a group of friends & spent the entire day watching movies & observing life as it was on the strip back then. The drug dealers & their customers. The prostitutes (Both Male & Female) plying their wares up & down the streets. The men with their collars pulled way up over their heads as they sauntered into the peep shows to watch a “Live Sex” act taking place five feet in front of them. And the innocents that just got off of the Port Authority bus terminal, looking for the big break that Broadway promised to those with talent. A few weeks later it was no surprise to see those same innocents sauntering up & down the strip, garish makeup covering their bruises that came from their pimps as they were “Turned out”.
One day, back in 86′, I found myself alone wondering what was new for me to watch. I stumbled upon a film called “Combat Shock”. I’d never heard of it, never saw a trailer for it & couldn’t recall reading anything about it either. The poster wasn’t too promising & I had never heard of anyone associated with it but the words “Troma Presents” loomed above the title so I figured “What The Hell?”
About eighty or so minutes later I found it very hard to get up out my seat. I found it hard to pick my jaw up from off of the (Still Sticky) floor. I had experienced something of a revelation that afternoon. My love of film was reaffirmed after seeing this movie, not that I had ever lost it but there are always moments when you wonder if that’s all there is sometimes. You can only watch so many serial killer movies. But director Buddy Giovinazzo kept me in that theater for nearly 10 hours as I had to sit through two more films whose titles I will never recall because they played after “Combat Shock”. But eventually it came back on & like Manna from heaven, I sat satisfied and amazed at what was playing before my (Admittedly) weary eyes.
I met Buddy earlier this year at a “Weekend Of Horrors” as he was promoting his latest effort, an anthology film called “The Theater Bizarre” and I just had to approach greatness. Firstly, I rose to ask a question but what i felt it was my duty to do was to tell all of the little Sheep in the audience of the man who was sitting on the stage in front of them and tell them that a life without having seen “Combat Shock” at least once is a life not really lived at all. I just wanted to thank him for it. Much to my amazement, he approached me afterwards & thanked me for being “One of the seven or eight” people who’d actually seen & liked his film. I cannot describe the feeling I got when he told me that. Since that first meeting we’ve tried to get together for a proper interview & (Mainly because I’m a forgetful old fool) couldn’t get it sorted out. But finally, we managed to settle down for a proper chat, me in New York & Buddy in Berlin. But I would’ve called him if he was on Mars shooting a film if I had to…phone bills be damned! Here is the result of our chat…
HN: I guess I have to just ask question right away, to satisfy my curiosity. Why Berlin? Why did you leave the states?
BG: Well, I don’t know how old you are but I’m in my early fifties..
HN: I’m not that far behind you Buddy!
BG: Berlin to me is like NY was when I was twenty. Berlin is like run down & grimy like New York. It has that hard energy of New York and it’s really f*cking cheap. New York just became so corporate, rich, yuppified & so stupid. When I come back to NY, I have no friends there anymore because no one could afford to stay. They all had to move away. I was living on the lower East side in the East village & you could find affordable housing there back then. My first apartment’s rent was $320 monthly for a studio.
HN: You can’t fill up the gas tanks on some larger cars now with $320 dollars..
BG: Two things. I wasn’t able to make it living in America. I was living in L.A. for awhile after I had finished “No Way Home” (Another must see film). The other thing is that once I came out to Europe I realized I had a real fan base there, the people here liked my work more than the Americans liked my work. And so they started offering me work. It was an easy decision for me, I could move back to L.A. and stay there another five years and take meetings or I could just live here & make movies. I’ve done 14 films in 10 years here.
HN: When I told some friends I was going to speak with you they all asked the same thing…Why did he leave NY?
BG: Well I feel like I moved to New York! I mean Berlin is so much like New York in so many ways. There was no culture shock. When I moved to Los Angeles from New York there was a MAJOR culture shock.
HN: Did you speak the language (German) when you arrived in Berlin?
BG: No, I had to learn. It took me a very long time because it’s a tough language to learn. I still make mistakes.
HN: Is your wife German? Did you meet her there?
BG: Yes, we met about 7-8 years ago. But when I first moved out here I did about the worst thing I could do and wound up with a British girl. So I didn’t speak any German for the first three years I was here.
HN: So what you’re saying is Berlin reminded you of say..Times Square back in it’s heyday?
BG: I wouldn’t compare it to Times Square because that was a completely separate universe from the rest of the city. Berlin to me now is like the lower East side of the East village in the 80’s up until the 90’s. It’s a community of artists: Musicians, painters, filmmakers, actors…everything! And people here have a real quality of life that they fight for whereas in NY we sort of lost that because we had to work so hard just to pay our rent. Where do you live now?
HN: I live in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Right by the West Side Highway. We own the joint but on average between our mortgage & our maintenance it costs us $3000 dollars just to open the front door every month.
BG: Wow. See what I mean? But you were smart enough to buy the place. We didn’t buy back in the day, we could’ve bought more than two bedrooms back in the village for $40,000 dollars but we didn’t think about a mortgage. We weren’t making that type of money to buy a place anyway but we were able to live. I was teaching film 2-3 days a week and I was able to pay my rent.
HN: I think it’s terrible that someone with your talent was driven away because you couldn’t afford to live here.
BG: Listen, there were things I could’ve done to stay but the fact is that I had a chance to make movies here. Had I moved down here & my films weren’t well known & nobody offered me any work I couldn’t have stayed. I’ve been able to live here just by making movies. When i fill out my taxes here I can write down “Filmmaker” under the “Job title” question. I was never able to do that before in my life.
HN: That must feel quite good actually…
BG: Yeah, it does! I’m expressing, one of the reasons why my latest films are as good as they are is because I’ve had time to practice working with the actors and the equipment…making movies.
HN: You mentioned that once you arrived in Berlin you were already fairly well known. At that point what films did you have under your belt besides “Combat Shock” & “No Way Home”?
BG: That’s all I had! I had those two features and they were both very well known here. “No Way Home” especially because it’s pretty much unknown by everybody in America. It’s not even out on DVD because the company that had originally bought it was bought by two other companies that didn’t want to spend money on a movie that they didn’t make. It played on cable for a long time but that was it. Over here, “No Way Home” was fairly well known.
HN: That’s interesting because I found that whenever I mentioned your name to someone while discussing film in general that “No Way Home” comes up before “Combat Shock” does.
BG: Really? That’s funny…It ran for years on IFC & The Sundance Channel so I guess that’s where people saw it But you can’t get it on DVD which really bugs me. I have it on a disc from England, one from Germany & one from Italy.
HN: I thought there was an American pressing of it available at one time…
BG: I don’t know. I’d be curious if you can find one in America. I had heard that Lionsgate ended up with it but I don’t know if that’s so and if they did they haven’t done anything with it…
BG: Well, I’d go there to visit. When I was a kid we’d go there to hang out. We used to buy switchblades down there! That was the only place where you could buy a switchblade or fireworks. Do you remember those shops?
HN: Fuck yeah! They would be on display in the windows along with the swords & throwing stars that you’d see in martial arts films.
BG: Then as I got older it became more of a place to seek/watch or participate in sex. It was a block long sex emporium. That’s when it started to get dangerous.
HN: I never found it dangerous actually. I found it fascinating as a matter of fact. I practically grew up in the area during my teen years.
BG: That’s wonderful!
HN: Yeah it was. It’s pretty much where I got my film education. I mean I spent a lot of time in the local theaters where I lived & I saw so many wonderful films there but it was on the deuce where I could watch a kung fu film, a Swedish sex comedy & an Italian horror film all on the same bill. I learned so much about the nature of filmmaking from all over the world on that street.
BG: The Liberty, The Lyric, The Selwyn….
HN: Exactly! It’s where I saw “Combat Shock”. They still had balconies back then that you could use to watch a movie back then although I tried to stay away from the balconies unless I had no other choice. Balconies were rough, especially after dark.
BG: I was too young to hang out there at night. But this was before computers & the internet, so this was where a lot of people got their p*rno. Going to the peep shows..”Fun World”, places like that.
HN: Wait a minute, you said you were in your early fifties right? Can I ask how old you are?
HN: Well you’re not much older than I am & I spent time “Behind The Green Door” every so often. What kept you out of the peep shows?
BG: When I was 15 or 16 I wasn’t thinking about going into “Show World” and f*cking a prostitute! I was fascinated by the whole thing & I loved to be around it but I was more of an observer. I wasn’t really into partaking. I would go down there and get my switchblades, fireworks & some p*rno magazines. It was like going to another planet basically.
HN: That’s a nice analogy. It was like another world on that strip.
BG: I was from Staten Island. My father always took us to the city when we were kids so I was aware of it. So when I became a teenager, I took the ferry by myself and would go see three movies for $1.50 & then buy a slice of pizza for $.15 cents.
HN: Most of “Combat Shock” was filmed on Staten Island, correct?
BG: All of it. There’s not one scene that’s not in Staten Island.
HN: When was the last time you visited the areas where you made the film?
BG: Last year because my mom still lives there. Basically my wife & I travel to L.A. and…wait, that’s where I met you right?
HN: Yes sir. That’s where we met.
BG: So we usually try to stop off in Staten Island for a few days after L.A. to visit my mother & my brothers. So while I’m there I’ll drive by a few of the locations. Very little of it looks the same now. Some of the really run down streets where you see him walking alone are still vaguely similar but nothing stayed the same. The house where he lives, that exterior block is completely knocked down. The house where we shot the interiors, which we never showed the exterior of has been completely knocked down. It was a big beautiful house and they knocked it down and put up five townhouses where there used to be only one.
HN: I suppose that takes away some of the memories you have of making the film.
BG: Well now they make everything so cheap & shoddy. They’re there just to make money now.
HN: That’s a good point. Contractors just put up buildings as quickly & cheaply as they can & charge premium rents.
BG: Yeah, That bothers me some.
HN: I was very surprised when you approached me in L.A. & thanked me for being one of the “7 or 8” fans of “Combat Shock” that you knew of.
HN: I was really taken aback by that afterwards because I think the film is genius and..
BG: Thank You.
HN: No, Thank You! Whenever I mention it on Facebook I get responses from so many people that love it as I do. Are you aware of how popular it’s become over the years?
BG: Well, it’s got a small cult following I suppose. You know I’ve been going to a lot of horror festivals as of late promoting “The Theater Bizarre”. So I’m surrounded by true horror fans when I’m there. And I grew up on horror films, I mean I saw “Mark Of The Devil” in the theater..
HN: So did I! I wish I still had one of those vomit bags they gave away when the film was released!
BG; That’s what I did every weekend. I went to see horror films, I grew up on them from when I was a kid. But now when I meet horror fans, most of them don’t even know what “Combat Shock” is. So I never assume they know anything about me or the film. I was happy to meet you because Tom Savini had no idea who the f*ck I was & once he saw you talking about my film he looked at me in a completely different way!
HN: Get Outta here! Savini had never met or heard of you before then?
BG: He did but he never remembered me because Tom is so caught up in himself…And he’s like “The Great Tom Savini” and he’s looking at the rest of like “Who the f*ck are these kids”? So when you said what you said about my movie Savini looked at me and must’ve been thinking “What the f*ck did this kid do”? I actually met Savini by way of Bill Lustig. They are very close friends. It was pretty funny!
HN: Well, I’m glad I got him to wake up & notice you. I’ve met him a few times, he was very kind to me & my daughters. He even tried to hit on one of them once. I remind him of this & he claims not to remember but then I’ll pull out a photo & he’ll rub his chin and say “Oh yeah…I remember her”. She loved it too and he was nothing but a gentleman as he made his move…
BG: His girlfriend is in “The Theater Bizarre” in his section of the film. Her name is Jodii & she’s very young & beautiful.
HN: Oh, I know they’re young!
BG; I say “OK! Go for it Tom!” She was actually there the day we met. Did you see the redhead he was with?
HN: I’m sure I did but I don’t remember quite frankly. I was far more excited to be meeting you to be honest. But I have nothing but respect & admiration for Savini. He earned all of his success. I actually was kinda proud that he thought enough of my daughter to make a move on her. That same day John Landis hit on her as well…
BG: John Landis? That dirty old man!!
HN: She was digging it for awhile but it got a little too creepy for her eventually so she bowed out gracefully. No harm done. Enough of the dirty old men talk (Laughing)! What kind of budgets do you have to work with in Germany now?
BG: 1.2 to 1.5 million Euros basically.
HN: What does that add up to in American dollars?
BG: The exchange rate is almost one to one. Everytime I do a feature here it’s like doing a low budget feature in America.
HN: What was the biggest budget you’ve ever had to work with?
BG: The biggest budget I ever had was for a film called “The Unscarred”(1999). We had $4 million dollars for that one.
HN: Can you describe what the biggest difference is between working with that kind of budget & the one you had on “Combat Shock”?
BG: Well you can’t compare it. Nobody was paid on “Combat Shock”, we had a $40,000 dollar budget for that one. When you have a $4 million dollar budget everybody is getting paid. With “Combat Shock” it was more like “What are you doing on Tuesday? Nothing? Good! You’re gonna work with me on this film”!
HN: How long did it take to complete “Combat Shock” from start to finish?
BG: Three years. That’s one of the reasons I cast my brother in the lead. I needed a guy I knew I had access to!
BG: I actually thought about that though. What if I cast a guy and all of a sudden he decides to shave his head six months later? Or move away? Or fall in love & get married? I had to think ahead…
HN: Who was responsible for the design of the baby in the film?
BG: A guy named Ralph Cordero Jr or the third. He was a guy I met just when I had shot the jungle scenes. And I had told him I was never going to show the baby. The baby was just going to be something in her arms that you’d never see but you’d hear. So I told him my idea & I showed him the jungle footage which I cut together in fifteen minutes and he said “Let me make you a puppet”. So I told him I couldn’t afford it, I had no money and this was all coming out of my pocket. He said “You know what? Give me $140.00 for materials and I’ll build you a puppet”. And around this time “E.T.” was just about to come out or had just been released so he decided to do an “E.T. on LSD”.
HN: I always thought it was inspired by the mutant baby in “Eraserhead”.
BG: Well, it was but I was never going to show it. The entire film was inspired by “Eraserhead” & “Taxi Driver”
HN: “Eraserhead” I can see, but “Taxi Driver”?
BG: Yeah, because it was about a guy living in this house surrounded by a society that was crumbling. Hopelessness, no escape. That was pretty much More “Eraserhead” than it was “Taxi Driver”. Once we decided we were going to have the baby shown I knew it was never going to look as good as the baby in “Eraserhead”. There was no way…I didn’t have the budget. For $140.00 I was lucky to get anything. And everytime you see the baby crying & you see the baby’s tongue, that tongue is Ralph Cordero’s thumb!
HN: Really? (Laughing)
BG: Yeah, for those shots we dressed up Cordero like the mom with the baby in his arms And his right hand was in the back of the baby’s head controlling the eyes & the mouth. So everytime you see the inside of the baby’s mouth, that tongue is his thumb.
HN: The actress couldn’t manipulate the baby’s head movements herself?
BG: No. She was an actress who was there to act. It required a lot of technical skills she didn’t possess. We had tubes & bladders in it. It was more complicated than I thought it would be. Her job was to act, I didn’t want her to be the special effects artist. Plus it was Ralph’s design & he was a special effects artist. That’s what they do. It would’ve been hard for me to have him create it & then hand it off to someone else less qualified than he was to operate it.
HN: Do you consider yourself an “Actors” director?
BG: Completely, but not on “Combat Shock”. It would’ve been a lot different if I had known what I was doing back then. By the time I got to “No Way Home” and started working with actors like Tim Roth & Deborah Kara Unger then I got into understanding what I needed out of my actors.
HN: Are you a stickler to the words printed on the script or do you allow ad-libbing if you think it helps in a certain scene?
BG: Definitely. There’s an old saying that goes like this: “There’s three films that you write, the one that you write, the one that you shoot & the one that you cut”. You can’t really force any of those three films to be the first, second or third. They’re all completely new films & you have to go with what works. So an actor will come up to me and say that this line doesn’t really make sense & I’ll ask him “Well, what do you think will make sense?” And he’ll come up with something and I’ll say “Yeah, you’re right. that’s better. Say that instead”. I don’t think you can just go onto a set & just improvise a complete scene. Maybe you can if you have the right actors but there is a tremendous risk of winding up with sh*t. I do believe that the script is basically the blueprint and if you have really good actors you can let them get to the point of the scene and not really get every word correct. Sometimes there’s word games and sometimes a word in a scene has resonance in a scene ten minutes away so you have to be aware of that. But generally I give my actors a free hand.
HN: I actually thought the opposite of you quite honestly.
BG: If you cast a film right, a lot of their ideas are going to be really great. Some of them will be bad because they’re only thinking of their acting and you’re thinking of the whole film. But most of the time every scene has a point and if the actors can hit that point…I tell everyone on my set, my crew, cameramen, actors, etc..I tell them we’re playing jazz. We know what the song is but we’re not exactly sure how we’re going to play it yet. And that’s what we do, I work with my actors & we block it out, we try things. Sometimes the script is great on paper but when you say it out loud it doesn’t work, So then what do we do? We work on it.
HN: I can’t speak for your German films but I have to ask why are all of your American films so downbeat? No one gets to the end of your American films with a smile on their face.
BG: That’s true huh? (Laughing)
HN: Yeah, they’re all pretty grim. I wonder is this something that you do consciously? Do you relate better to these types of scripts as opposed to others?
BG: I think in some ways it’s probably more realistic to me. I grew up on the “Happy Endings” like we all did. Growing up with TV & watching all of those old WW2 movies with the hero at the end and such. I just think that to my taste things don’t always have a happy ending.
BG: Although when I see it I like it. I guess there are enough films with happy endings. I just like to take my audience into a different place…someplace that’s unexpected.
HN: You certainly did that with “Combat Shock”. That ending is pretty…
BG: That ending is horrible! The poor f*cking guy is going back to the same place where the movie started no better for the experiences he went through during the day.
HN: I remember first seeing it with my jaw on the floor. I was so bitch slapped by the way it all ended. The baby in the oven…
BG: It was unexpected.
HN: Exactly. I mean I’m sure it’s happened somewhere before but I never saw it.
BG: Well that did happen actually. I read about that in a newspaper once. A Vietnam vet came home & put his baby in the oven because he thought it was possessed & he was going to bake it out of him. I never forgot that story. Then I decided to use it in “Combat Shock”.
HN: The shooting first, all the blood…
BG: The wife.
HN: Jesus Christ, the wife…
BG: It’s interesting you say that because that’s one thing I try to do in all my films. We grew up with “Clean” Violence, TV violence. People get shot, they fall down & that’s it…they’re dead. That’s not really the reality that I know. I’ve seen violence living in NY and violence to me was extremely f*cking bloody. Imagine if you had a bucket full of water & you put holes in it, that’s what somebody getting shot is like. You’re emptying out blood and I wanted to portray that. I wanted violence to be more shocking & disgusting like in real life. So when he shoots his wife at the end and she’s not dying and he screams at her to “DIE DAMMIT, It’s not supposed to be like this!” And he shoots her twice more…that’s it! That’s far more realistic than most of the shooting that you see in movies. People tell me “It’s too much” or it’s “Over the top” and I tell them “No. You’re f*cking wrong”.
HN: She’s choking & gurgling up blood…
BG: You know a bullet goes into a body & it just doesn’t go through. It bounces around in there like it’s in a pinball machine & it causes all kinds of f*cked up damage.
HN: You seem to know a lot about that…(Laughing)
BG: That’s to me what it should be like. Anytime I’ve seen anything violent it’s always been shocking and violent to me…traumatizing.
HN: You mean in reality?
BG: Oh yes.
HN: I can relate, I grew up in the South Bronx…
BG: So you know all about it then.
HN: Sadly, yes I do. I saw a man shot to death 20 feet in front of me. I’ve seen suicides from across the street where I lived.
BG: That’s f*cked up.
HN: It was a hard f*cking childhood I had in my day. OK, let’s get off of that topic. I want to ask about “Mr. Robbie” aka “Maniac 2”. Now I know that the footage that exists was footage that was shot to attract investors, correct?
BG: That’s exactly what it was.
HN: Were you always slated to direct it though? Or was Lustig going to take over if funds were procured?
BG: Lustig didn’t want to direct it. I didn’t know Lustig but I loved “Maniac”. I was a huge fan of “Maniac” and one day the gaffer I had on “Combat Shock” found out that Joe Spinnell was looking for someone to shoot “Maniac 2”. So I said “I want to work with Joe” and he gave me a phone number to a bar and told me to call this bar at 11:30 that night. So I call and ask to speak to Joe Spinnell, next thing I know Joe is on the phone telling me to come on down. The bar was on 82nd St. & 2nd Ave. Actually that’s where we shot the short at, the bar where Joe hung out. So I get there about 12-12:30 and he’s telling me about the film. It was Joe’s story, he came up with the story about a kiddie show host who kills abusive parents at night. He told me that what he hated about “Maniac” was that he loved women but women hated him. All of the feminists & women’s rights groups couldn’t stand him. He was getting picketed & such but that’s not who he was. He was a very gentle guy that loved women, he loved them all but the fact that they hated him was bothering him so he wanted to play this sympathetic serial killer. When I heard this idea it just made me laugh, I laughed in his face and told him “Joe, that’s brilliant”. The next thing was that I didn’t want to step on Bill Lustig’s feet & I think that’s why I’m really good friends with him today because I called him up, I got his number from Joe, and I said “What’s up? If you want to do “Maniac 2″ I won’t go anywhere near it because that’s your baby. You created it”. He told me no and he had some plans to move on. There was another project he had lined up to do. We still hadn’t met at that point but I knew that when I met him and even today when we hang out, the fact that I did that (Asked permission) of him him was the greatest thing for our friendship. So I’m glad I did it.
HN: He is a great guy to hang with…
BG: It’s depressing too because how could I have done “Maniac 2” if the guy who did “Maniac” doesn’t want you to? You can’t! That’s not who I am, I don’t work that way & I will never work that way. And I’m glad because it became the beginning of this 20 year friendship with Bill Lustig.
HN: What went through your head when you found out that Spinnell had passed away?
BG: He was a hemophiliac so it was not a shock whatsoever. I was married at the time to a nurse and we were on set and like I said earlier, Joe loved all women. He was friends with women from all over. He was hanging out at the bar with my wife one night while we were shooting & she asked him why his teeth were so f*cked up? He told her that he couldn’t even brush his teeth because if he accidentally scraped his gums & they started to bleed, they wouldn’t stop. So he knew he was in a fragile state and he took too many drugs. He smoked too much, ate too much, did everything too much. He did everything to excess. There wasn’t any governor to stop him.
HN: There is a short tribute to Joe on the “Maniac” DVD that basically says the same thing. He loved life too much. In essence, Joe didn’t know how to slow down.
BG: He didn’t know how to slow down! You know what? That’s exactly right!! Whatever he did he just did to the fullest. I wasn’t shocked, I just felt bad. Joe was the first real actor I ever worked with. The people on “Combat Shock” weren’t actors. And Joe taught me a lot.
HN: I was watching “Cruising” the other night and..
BG: Oh! He’s great in “Cruising”!
HN: He sure is. The funny thing is that even though I’ve seen the film multiple times and I know he’s in it, I was still surprised when I saw him as the corrupt cop in the film. He just becomes that cop & I realized that I was watching a real actor get into his role like it was a treasure chest full of Gold.
BG: He’s f*cking evil in that movie man. He’s evil and he’s mean.
HN: He knew how to modulate the tones of the character so well.
BG: And it’s still a really good film.
HN: It’s an excellent film. I still remember the picketers in front of the theaters that were running it, protesting it’s supposed “Anti-gay” message.
BG: Yeah I remember that. They didn’t want it to be shot at all.
HN: And I sympathized with them up to a point. “Cruising” at it’s heart is just a bizarre murder mystery that takes place in the world of gay men in NYC.
BG: It was a film that dealt a lot with the specifics (The Ramrod) of gay life. And it wasn’t all gays. I remember the West Side Highway with the Underground, the Ramrod and all those clubs. That was it! Where did those guys go?
HN: I don’t know. I still see some vestiges of the old neighborhood when I’m in that area.
BG: Right, but where did those guys go? I remember there was a whole strip over by Christopher Street. It used to be like a city filled with these weathered out guys. Half wearing those caps & those thick mustaches. Usually shirtless as well. That was the world of “Cruising”.
HN: Would you rather direct your own scripts or are you open to working with one you had no hand in writing?
BG: I like both. But there’s no script that I haven’t had any input in because when I direct a film I always have to give the script a polish. I have to tailor it to my style. I like doing other scripts because, like you just said, my four American scripts are depressing…
HN; Oh yeah, Rough stuff in your American films.
BG: That’s pretty much me on my own. If you give me some money & tell me to make my own film my tendency is to pretty much go & do something depressing. I’d like to be pulled out of that. I’d like somebody to give me a really good script that has a direction opposite of depressing.
HN: So what you’re saying is you’d like to do a…..comedy?
BG: I’d like to make a black comedy in the vein of the Coen brothers or Tarantino perhaps. I would never want to do “The Hangover” or something like that. That’s just not my strength even though I liked “The Hangover”…It’s a good film & it made me laugh. I would love to do a film like “Black Swan”. My idea of a film I’d like to do is something like “Black Swan” or “The Fighter”. I’d like to make bigger films but I’d like to keep my own voice in them as well because it’s just too hard to make them at this level. It’s too hard to find the money.
HN: Of the films you’ve made in Germany, can you call any of them “Buddy” films?
BG: They all have elements of me in them. They’re pretty much crime movies so they don’t have the depressing ending but the violence that I can get away with here. They tend to be more violent than what they’re used to here and the acting is really great. The Germans don’t really work with actors here. One of the reasons that I get as much work out here as I do is because the actors all want to work with me.
HN: Well, that has to be very gratifying for you to hear.
BG: They know they’re going to get direction when they work with me.
HN: What is it you look for in a script that makes you want to direct it?
BG: I look for characters that are realistic & interesting. There’s two main things for me, the script & the actors because generally when I come onto a project the main actors are pretty much set. So there might be say, two main actors and if I like those actors & I like the script then I’ll do it. I like realism, characters that are reasonable. Too evil doesn’t work for me. The characters I like have some color to them.
HN: I can see that. “Life Is hard In Cracktown” is full of very colorful characters indeed.
BG: The main guy, Evan Ross is tremendous in the film. He’s a fantastic actor & in some ways you feel the most sympathy for him even though he’s playing the worst character in the film.
HN: You’re right. I hated him for the entire first half of the film.
BG: You hated him after the first scene
HN: But as the film continued, my stance softened on him a bit as he became a bit more…human
BG: You know Evan is Diana Ross’ son don’t you?
HN: Nope, I had no idea.
BG: You can see it as soon as you look in his face.
HN: He’s a good actor. You taught film for about 10 years or so, correct?
BG: Yeah, that sounds about right.
HN: Did you enjoy it?
BG: Yeah, I did.
HN: Do you know if any of your students went on to bigger and better things in film afterwards?
BG: Let’s see, In NY I had a few students that went on to do music videos but nothing bigger than that to my knowledge. I’ve taught out here as well & my students out here have gone on to have careers & have made some feature films. So I’m rather proud of that.
HN: That has to be extremely gratifying..
BG: Yeah I run into them every so often at parties & screenings & such. It’s always good to see them again.
HN: I noticed an entry in your bio of a film called “The Aristo-Frogs”. That title caught my eye because of it’s pretty eclectic cast(Stacy Keach, Ken Russell, Simon Rumley, Seymour Cassell) & it’s running time. It’s listed as having a three minute running time but it has seven directors attached to it. What’s the story behind this film?
BG: “The Aristo-Frogs” was a promo reel for a film festival called The Overload Film Festival. What they wanted was a group of directors directing a few seconds of different people telling the same joke. We got like 20 different actors to tell the same joke but intercut them telling different parts of it. So you hear the same joke being told in snippets by different actors in sequence. Mind you, it’s the same joke. Nobody adds or subtracts anything to it
HN: Sort of like “The Aristocrats”. A movie that was released here a few years back.
BG: Exactly! But in “The Aristocrats” they were telling the joke their own way. Every comedian came on with a different take on the same joke. Each one of them trying to top the previous one with their own unique twist on it. But in “The Aristo-frogs” we have a succession of actors telling same joke, one line at a time. And it was repeated for three minutes until it got to the end of the joke.
HN: Are you happy with the way your career has turned out so far? With the choices you made?
BG: In regards to the choices I made filmwise, I wish they would have been more successful & easier but I can’t complain. I have friends who are out here dying that just have no work whatsoever. When I look back at the films I’ve made I must say that I’m happy with them. I would’ve liked to have had a career akin to those of David Cronenberg or David Lynch. Those are guys that have made very idiosyncratic films that are very powerful and they’ve found an audience that can support them. I haven’t found that yet, I haven’t found that audience…or rather I haven’t hit it yet.
HN: Right! Say it that way. You aren’t going anywhere yet.
BG: I look back on my career and although I’m happy with the films I’ve made, sometimes I have to take my lumps as well.
HN: Do you have a “Dream Project” that you want to make and haven’t had the chance to as of yet?
BG: Well, “Cracktown” was my dream project and I made that already so I’m looking for another dream to come my way. “The Theater Bizarre” is actually one of my better projects. It came out much, much better than I thought it would.
BG: The guy who put out the re-issue of “Combat Shock” was working for the company who was producing “The Theater Bizarre”. And they had all their directors pretty much except for one. They were looking to hire a french director but he was turning out to be a pain in the ass. So I was suggested to the producers about a year ago. It was a chance to do something without any interference whatsoever form the higher ups. Each director was allowed to film his script his way with complete freedom. I just thought that would be great, especially after all of the German TV films I had been making.
HN: Your segment is called “I Love You”. Did you write it?
BG: Yes, I did.
HN: Can you just expand on it a bit & give us a hint as to what it’s about?
BG: It’s about the deterioration of a marriage. It’s about a couple breaking up and it’s painfully honest. They have a conversation between them that none of them want to have yet they have to have it. And it’s just really painful for both of them. It has an unexpected twist at the end.
HN: How long is it?
BG: Twenty minutes. All of “The Theater Bizarre” segments had to be between 12-20 minutes. They couldn’t run longer than that.
HN: How long is the whole movie? And how does it feel as a whole movie? Do the segments fit well together?
BG: 114 minutes. It feels good. Udo Kier stars in the wrap around & he introduces each film & he connects the whole thing because it’s connected by theme. He’s wonderful in the film, he plays this really twisted puppet that as the movie goes on becomes more human & the people listening to him become more puppet-like.
HN: Is it going to get a theatrical release?
BG: It’s going to be playing in NY at Lincoln Center at the end of October. The 29th I believe. They’re having a great film series that weekend with some really good films playing.
HN: If you had a chance to remake any film you could, which one would it be? And why?
BG: God…which film would I want to remake? The film I would’ve loved to remake but it’s already been remade is “Rollerball”. I thought it was a really terrific movie but it suffered because the characters weren’t strong enough. But the whole story, I liked it a lot.
HN: I never would’ve figured you for a “Rollerball” fan..
BG: It’s such a depressing film! Think of it, it’s vision of the future is so depressing. The guy’s wife is taken from him and given to a corporate honcho. And he’s gotta play in this brutal, death defying sport. John McTiernan did the remake & it was just awful. I would’ve liked to have remade that film. I think the James Caan & John Beck characters weren’t strong enough. I loved the whole political setup, the emotional setup, being trapped in this almost Orwellian “1984” world. It should’ve been a great film and it wasn’t.
HN: I want to ask you a question that’s not related to film but I’m really curious as to what you’re answer is going to be. What are your thoughts on the state of the world right now? Where do you think the world is headed?
BG: Hmmm. I don’t know what to say to that…
HN: You know why I wanted to ask you this? It’s because your films have very particular vision. I’m fascinated by your work because of your vision. And I’m sure you have an opinion on what the world is like right now and where you think we’re headed as a whole?
BG: Well you know, it’s funny because my films don’t have anything to do with the way the world is right now. I’m shocked at how conservative young people are. I cannot accept that young people are so Republican & so conservative because when I was growing up young people were rebellious. We were the opposite of that. What I find shocking today is that young people buy into the whole corporate mentality thing. And they’re happy with it, they want to succeed at that level. I’m just shocked by it all. Look at the movies that Hollywood is making! That proves my point. They just swallow this stuff whole, not caring what it is. Maybe it’s just the backlash because they’re parents were liberal & that’s their only form of rebellion. I hope it swings back. I think it has to swing back in the next election. There are more poor people than rich people and the conservative mind set is anti poor. I’m hoping people see that eventually.
HN: Do you know of the Wall Street sit-in protests? That speaks to what you’re talking about right now.
BG: Oh yes, I read the newspapers everyday. I’m aware of the movement. I’m hoping that the majority of people wise up. Generally what they’ve done is they vote against their own best interests. That’s another thing I find shocking. I don’t understand how poor people can vote so conservatively.
HN: I don’t think they’re looking at the big picture. They’re looking at the here & now. They’re not thinking about tomorrow.
BG: Yes, but it’s still against their better interests! There’s no advantage for poor people to vote so conservatively, even today. Look at “Joe, The Plumber”. There is no reason whatsoever for him to have the political vision that he does. His position is so opposite to his actual situation. He thinks that he’s going to be a multi millionaire which is the American dream but…I just don’t understand young people for that reason. They’ve just become so conservative. Even on college campuses…they’re not allowed to say certain things on college campuses. When I was going to college, it was anarchy! That was the time to be anarchic!
HN: All right. Let’s get off of that topic. I just really wanted to know your thoughts on it. I’ve got something in a lighter vein to ask you. I was asked by a good friend to ask you if you’re brother is a millionaire yet?
BG: (Laughing) No! He’d like to be & he’s working hard at it for sure but he’s not there yet.
HN: You were quoted somewhere as saying that you couldn’t afford to work with your brother, Rick or your cousin, Carmine, anymore. They got too expensive for you.
BG: (Laughing) What I meant by that was that my family makes much less working with me than they do at their jobs! My cousin should be a millionaire but I’m not sure. Tell your friend that my brother is definitely not a millionaire, my cousin I’m not too sure about though. they’re both doing OK.
HN: What have you seen theatrically that you’ve liked this year?
BG: Well, we’ve been in festivals only this year so I haven’t seen much of anything in a commercial theater lately. There is one film I’ve seen in a few festivals called “Clown” that I thought was great. Have you heard of it?
HN: No, I haven’t…
BG: Well if you could imagine “The Hangover” on crack, then you’d have “Clown”. It’s a Swedish film and it’s one of the funniest & darkest films I’ve ever seen. That’s one of the best I’ve seen this year. There’s also a very creepy Swedish film called “Marianne” that’s really creepy & good.
HN: What’s your favorite film of all time? If you had to pick one…what would it be?
BG: (Silently thinking for a few seconds) If I had to choose one it would probably be “Gates Of Heaven”.
HN: Good choice. Beautiful film.
BG: I’ve probably seen that film theatrically 15-20 times. “The Godfather” would have to be right up there as well.
HN: Did you see Malick’s “Tree Of Life”?
BG: Yeah, I didn’t like it.
HN: Neither did I. It was marvelous to look at but I didn’t get it.
BG: Me neither. I’m not into that type of visual poetry over two hours. It’s too long.
HN: Exactly! I needed some semblance of a cohesive plot.
BG: I require at the very least a bit more of a narrative over two hours. A story.
HN: Well, I’d like to end this by saying that I honestly think that you’re a genius in my humble opinion. When the day comes that someone cares enough about my opinions to ask me what my ten favorite films of all time are, “Combat Shock” will always hold a place in that list. It got under my skin 25 years ago when I first saw it and it did again 2 days ago when I watched it again. It’s just a brilliant film.
BG: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I really do.
There was so much more to our discussion but a lot of it dealt with our personal lives & situations. Buddy is a very complex man indeed. But his honesty in his films and in his life make him something of a hero to me. He quite literally, takes no prisoners & doesn’t compromise his vision in any way. Both honorable traits in the industry today. There will always be a spot on my mantle for any of his films & books. You should look up some of his titles and see what I’m talking about. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in the least.
Interview: Buddy Giovinazzo – Writer/Director (Combat Shock, Life Is Hot In Cracktown)