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Interview de Suzanne Donahue & Mikael Sovijarvi - Gods In Spandex - Gods In Polyester

Si nous aimons rire d'un certain cinéma déviant, nous sommes très loin de mépriser les hommes et les femmes qui s'y sont impliqués ou compromis. Il nous a ainsi paru enrichissant de faire raconter le nanar et son univers par les gens qui l'ont vécu de l'intérieur. La diversité des intervenants et de leurs réponses nous a rendu encore plus proches du cinéma que nous aimons : vous découvrirez, au fil des entretiens que ces différentes vedettes ont bien voulu nous accorder, des informations précieuses pour le cinéphile et le cinéphage, des anecdotes cocasses et, en esquisse, le portrait attachant de personnages souvent hauts en couleur.
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Suzanne Donahue & Mikael Sovijarvi - Gods In Spandex - Gods In Polyester


Suzanne Donahue and Mikael Sovijarvi are the authors of Gods In Polyester and Gods In Spandex, two books that offer a brand new look upon unknown cinema. Brand new because they allow those whose speech counts most to express themselves: the actors and directors who made these movies. Expect no analysis nor harsh criticism, but a huge number of testimonies which offer a new, interesting enlightment. Reading the amount of work done by these Finish cinema addicts, we wanted to find out more: where, how, when, why, who ? The answers to all these questions are in this interview, fulfilled with obscure cinema references.

Interview menée par La Broche and translated by Nikita.


Could you briefly introduce both of you ?

MIKAEL: I'm me. 33 years of age, a starving artist trying to make a living selling newspaper subscriptions on the phone. Technically I should be a graphic designer working in an advertising agency but it's best for the world that I don't. A Finnish passport. Lived here, there, everywhere. Nomadic, talk too much, irascible, a moodswinger, noxious personality. Easy to hate but near impossible to love. Love my cat, my friends, outsider art, outsider music and outsider movies. The single good quality I have is that I never give up on anything I genuinely want to do. A bulldozer. But I'm not really interesting. What I am means nothing. What I do means everything.



SUZANNE: I'm pretty much the opposite of most human beings on the planet, and have been since the moment I was born some 30 odd years ago. I don't think like other people. I don't express myself like other people. I don't dress like other people. I refuse to grow up. I certainly won't conform. And I have never, ever believed in the notion of "guilty pleasures." What's important to me is generally of no consequence to the majority of folks I meet, and vice-versa. The things I collect and have a passion for most people either don't care about or don't know about. All of which has somehow made it possible for me to earn a living as a writer, and at the end of the day it doesn't get much better than being paid to talk about the films, music, books, comics, and toys I adore. Of course, I have on many occasions been called a "problem person" due to all of the above, but those I care about (including my movie-loving little black kitten) can grin and find as much fun in the aptness of that description as I do. Still, better a problem person than a boring one. So while a lot of other folks spend their afternoons eating Big Macs, trying on the latest Nikes, and downloading ringtones onto their cell phones, I'll continue to spend that exact same time doing things like helping to build a Hy Pyke tribute page on MySpace and watching every Filipino action movie Richard Harrison has ever made. Vive la difference.

Could you tell us a little about your cinematographic tastes ?

MIKAEL: I grew up on and still love 30's and 40's classic Hollywood flicks and Finnish films of the same era that my grandparents used to watch. Bogart, Bacall, Ida Lupino, Boris Karloff, Tauno Palo, Ansa Ikonen, Regina Linnanheimo. The last three names mean absolutely nothing at all to the most of you. Beyond that, I'm stuck with the 60's-70's era of experimental/arthouse flicks (have to namecheck Kenneth Anger here), hippy-trippy psychedelics, dystopian science fiction and most of all "out there" American and European low-budget horror. There's a particular kind of vibe about films like Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, a sense of total unpredictability, that I can't really get out of anything else. Maya Deren and Anger come close but not quite. And yes, I also get a kick out of the Kinavesa/Silver Star flicks for their total absurdity.

SUZANNE: Every weekend of my childhood was spent at the nearby drive-in, where I saw a great many of the American horror, sci-fi, and blax/exploitation films featured in Gods In Polyester on their initial runs. Talk about love at first sight! Then a rather amazing independent video store opened up near our house, and the owner turned me on to the European and Asian movie scenes right away. I would come home with bags full of Italian post-nukers, Spaghetti Westerns, kung fu flicks of every variety, jungle actioners, giallos, you name it. Around the same time, a local television station started running Godzilla classics, Vincent Price/Barbara Steele gothic scares, and black-and-white monster movies daily. So needless to say, it wasn't long before my film collection grew into the apartment-swallowing creature it is now. Honestly, I love everything from Lynch to Hitchcock to silents, and as a rule I try and see each new movie that comes down the pike because I always want to have an informed opinion. But it's the weirdness, darkness, unapologetic boldness, and outright zaniness of the 60's/70's/80's worldwide independent film scene that still holds the biggest soft spot in my heart. Those are the flicks I can never get enough of.

How did the idea of writing these books about B movies come about ?

MIKAEL: I was at a point in my life where I had spent a good ten years being stuck in useless part-time jobs and equally useless occasional "artistic" projects (which wound down to doing a poster or two for people I already knew once or twice a year, for basically free). A rapidly approaching midlife crisis coupled with a growing sense of being a complete failure made me want to do something megalomaniacal, insane and way beyond my abilities, otherwise I wouldn't have any worth as a human being. That became Polyester. Spandex was a natural continuation of that. The subject turned out to be obscure and generally forgotten B-movies because nobody else had done a similar book at the time and both of us were fans.



SUZANNE: We had been enthusiastically discussing these films for ages, and eventually got into a conversation about how neat it would be to track down the people involved--to find out what it was like making movies such as Lemora: A Child's Tale Of The Supernatural, Black Gold Dossier, Lovely But Deadly, Disco Godfather, and Satan's Children. Since neither of us is timid, one night we just decided to throw the 70's gauntlet out there and headed in the general direction of Google. At the outset, we were't sure how many of these actors and directors could be found--and if found, how many would bother to respond. But when Richard Harrison, Leo Fong, Ed Adlum, Don Dohler, and Carol Speed all got back to us in less than 48 hours, the Gods In Polyester candle was lit. Gods In Spandex was almost a given for us after that because the 80's were filled with an equal number of little-known movie gems which we felt deserved some long overdue attention.

Both of your books deal with not so well known actors and directors. We know that finding those kind of people can be very difficult. Was it the case for you ? Were there people in the book with whom you really wanted to get in touch, and who turned out to be especially difficult to lay a hand on ? What was (or were) your method(s) to get in contact with these people ?

MIKAEL: Not at all. Most of the contributors were found via Google and email. Sometimes, contributors put us in touch with others. William Shatner came through William Grefe, Richard Harrison through John P. Dulaney and so forth. Tracking down Hy Pyke took about a year and involved calling several senior citizen centers he had performed at, but everyone else was easy.



SUZANNE: Almost everybody we wanted to find had some link on the internet that could be easily pursued--whether it was a personal website, a business website, a prior interview, or some footsteps left on a message board somewhere. So we located most of the contributors for Gods In Polyester and all of the contributors for Gods In Spandex pretty quickly. 'Tis the beauty of the worldwide web. The internet definitely wound up being our best resource. And as it turned out, there were only a few Polyester exceptions to this contact rule. Bruce Glover and John Phillip Law needed to be reached first by snail mail and then by telephone, as neither of them spends much time online. In addition, Hy Pyke, George "Buck" Flower, Norman J. Warren, Laurel Barnett, and Felton Perry were all called first because we had phone numbers for them before email addresses. But that meant I had the chance to talk with all of these folks live, which is something I will always treasure. Such smart, funny, interesting people. As far as relations and networking go, the only contributor who came about that way was Alan Scarfe. On a whim, I contacted a gentleman with the same last name working at a Canadian university, and it turned out to be Alan's brother. That was just pure luck!

To what extent the Internet made the making of these books possible ?

MIKAEL: Without Google, there would be no Gods In Polyester or Spandex. Period. Or the books wouldn't have been made by people with no connections and very little money.



SUZANNE: Almost everyone who was ever part of the 70's/80's independent film scene can be found in minutes on the internet, so the use of websites is invaluable for this kind of project. When I try to imagine doing Polyester and Spandex without the internet--trying to track down private mailing addresses and private phone numbers as non-Hollywood-based individuals, using outdated or inaccurate information from the back of fan magazines, etc.--the mere notion makes my head spin. There's just no way. These books would have remained ideas in our minds and nothing more.

How did these people react when you contacted them? I ask you this because we experienced the case of finding people who were astonished that someone, somewhere in the world was interested in their career (Mike Abbott and Stuart Smith for example).

MIKAEL: Most of them were genuinely surprised that there was an interest in their career, let alone that anyone remembered who they were. This was especially the case with Polyester, which featured a lot of actors and directors who did one to three films, like Laurel Barnett, Robert S. Fiveson and George Barry.



SUZANNE: There were basically three types of reactions. The first involved people who seemed completely shocked to be contacted at all. Hy Pyke and George "Buck" Flower certainly fell into this category, and both said the exact same words when I spoke with them: "Thank you for knowing who I am." How anyone could forget Hy or Buck is beyond me, but it nearly brought tears to my eyes just to hear that. The second involved people who had either almost forgotten about the films in question, or who had simply never been given the opportunity to talk about them. For example, Daphne Rubin-Vega got a genuine kick out of being reminded of her part in The Occultist, and Gary Graver had, by his own admission, been waiting to tell the Texas Lightning story for three decades. And the third type of reaction involved people who were contacted once in a blue moon to discuss the movie at hand, but who never got tired of doing so. Folks like T.G. Finkbinder (on The Redeemer) and Kenneth J. Hall (on Evil Spawn) fell into this category, and their initial emails echoed a similar sentiment: "Every once in a while someone comes around asking about this film and it always makes me smile..." All of these responses just confirmed for us that we were on exactly the right track with the books' contents.

Did some people refuse to appear in the book ?

MIKAEL: I think that the only person who refused to contribute to Spandex was G. Gordon Liddy, whom we approached on Street Asylum. A shame, really. That would have been a historical event. There were a few others who were interested but asked for money, and countless people who never got back to us. Polyester happened so long ago that I've forgotten if anyone refused. I think that a certain American actor who enjoys a popular singing career in Germany didn't want to discuss his role as "Boner" in Revenge of the Cheerleaders, but I could be wrong.



SUZANNE: It's true, some folks just didn't answer the emails we sent, and a couple simply couldn't finish their pieces in time for the Gods In Spandex deadline. But one person who refused our Gods In Polyester offer--other than the aforementioned "Boner," of course--was former porno star Harry Reems. I spoke with him briefly on the telephone, hoping we could convince him to write about one or two of the groovier 70's flicks on his resume. But alas, although Harry seemed like a nice fellow, he wasn't interested. So Inside Deep Throat will have to suffice, I guess.

Who would have you liked to interview for the book that you did not manage to get in touch with ?

MIKAEL: Robert Voskanian, the director of The Child, for Polyester. One of my favorite forgotten American horror gems from the 70's. A crude and amateurish film, but at the same time atmospheric and beautifully twisted. We never got in touch with him, but did manage to find Laurel Barnett to contribute on the film and Stephen Thrower tracked down Voskanian for Nightmare USA, so I think that everything that's to be said about The Child has been said now. For Spandex, basically anyone of the Silver Star/Kinavesa actors. Romano Kristoff, James Gaines, Bruce Baron, Mike Monty, Ronnie Patterson. Take your pick. Besides the people you've interviewed on Nanarland and what Richard & Sebastian Harrison and John P. Dulaney wrote for Spandex, that whole chapter of Filipino B-movie history is an enigma. What little I know makes me want to know more. The people who made those films really were a different breed. To everyone who's reading this right now: go to www.fearzone.com and read Sebastian Harrison's piece on Fireback there for free. It really couldn't get any better. Or funnier. Or more absurd.



SUZANNE: Aside from the people Mikael has just mentioned, I was really hoping we could get the late Jack Creley to talk about making The Reincarnate (1971). Very few people have actually heard of that film, but it's one of my favorites from the 70's and features a hairpiece that has to be seen to be believed. We did manage to track down Gene Tyburn, who co-starred with Creley in the movie, but he couldn't even remember being in it in the first place. Rip Torn's thoughts on another little-known flick called Scarab (1984) would also have been extremely welcome. His psychedelic monologue at the beginning of the movie is the stuff of legend. In addition, I must add the late Aldo Ray and Cameron Mitchell to the list. These two gentlemen were so prolific in Gods In Polyester and Gods In Spandex movie territory that I have no doubt their stories would have surpassed even my wildest expectations. And last but not least, Andrew Prine should be mentioned here. Simon: King Of The Witches (1971) is easily in my top three films of all time, and while director Bruce Kessler was kind enough to provide a lot of information on the movie for Polyester, Mr. Prine's perspective is something I remain very curious about. He gave a performance worthy of awards in every language including Aramaic.


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