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