Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Moon in the Gutter Q&A with Author Ryan Clark

Today I am very pleased to present this new Q&A with author, film-historian and all-around great person Ryan Clark.  Ryan, the author of the terrific Thrill Me blog, is currently working on a sure to be awesome book, with the noted film scribe Lee Gambin, on the making of Brian De Palma's Carrie and I am very happy to have him drop by and give us a sneak peak. 

Hi Ryan,
Thanks so much for stopping by Moon in the Gutter to participate in my Q&A series. I am extremely excited about your upcoming book BLOOD AMONG THE STARS: THE MAKING OF CARRIE, that you are working on with Lee Gambin, and I really appreciate you doing this. To start off with, can you tell us a bit about your background?


Thank you for having me, Jeremy.  I'm a big fan of your site.


I have been a horror fan my entire life, ever since I first saw The Ghost of Frankenstein when I was five or six years old.  That's really the first horror film I remember seeing.  I've always been a writer, too – I used to sit at the table and draw and write brief picture books based on the films I had seen.  I later graduated to writing short stories, though I never got any of them published and they were actually pretty terrible, but I guess they were impressive for someone my age.  So it's only natural that I would eventually want to combine the two – horror movies and writing!  I am also passionately interested in filmmaking, and I'm working on several screenplays.


My co-writer, Lee Gambin, is actually much more accomplished than I am.  He writes many popular articles for Fangoria magazine, and he has a book out now called Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film, which you should all go out and buy.


I typically ask folks here about the films that provided the earliest influence but I also wanted to include music in the mix as I know you are equally passionate about both. Tell me some of your early film and music favorites.


As I said, the first horror film I ever saw was The Ghost of Frankenstein, so the Universal horror films were really my first love.  Aside from that, my mother used to record many horror films from TV in the 80s, and she had a bunch of them that I ended up watching, like Carrie, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho and Psycho II, The Amityville Horror – a lot of the classics.


For music, I listened to a lot of the stuff my parents were into, like Madonna, Tina Turner, Blondie, and Michael Jackson.  It wasn't until I was in high school and I had regular access to the Internet that I formed my own musical taste.  I began to explore a lot of artists' discographies and fell in love with Nina Simone, Millie Jackson, Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield, Curtis Mayfield, Robyn Hitchcock, and Patti Smith.  My musical interests run the gamut.


So, we’ll have to do a chat sometime about how much Debbie Harry means to both of us. I am still grateful you told me about that reissue of KooKoo a year or so ago. Debbie has been one of my great influences since I was a kid and I was hoping you could chat her up a bit here before we delve into the book?


Debbie Harry is quite simply one of the coolest and most beautiful people in the world!  Madonna has admitted she was an influence, but no one can compete with Debbie.  When I first heard Blondie, I only knew their greatest hits, but when I began to delve into their albums, I discovered that they had explored quite a range of musical styles on their album tracks – particularly on AutoAmerican – and that intrigued me.  But, as I am wont to do, I usually end up championing the underdog albums that few people like or know about, so my favorite Blondie album is actually The Hunter, the last one they did before their reunion in the late 90s. I am also extremely fond of Debbie's solo career, in particular the Koo Koo and Rockbird albums.


Awesome, okay so the obvious question…why CARRIE?


Carrie is one of the earliest horror films I saw, and it always stayed with me, mostly because the ending terrified me, the shower scene baffled me (I was probably about five, remember), and I just really loved that 70s high school atmosphere.  But it didn't become my all-time favorite movie until I was in middle school.  I think the reason is obvious:  middle school is pretty much the worst time in the lives of most children, so I really connected with Carrie in a big way.  I've been an obsessed fan ever since, and in 2011, I decided to put my obsession to work and actually do something with all of my passion for this movie.


CARRIE is indeed one of the great books and films of the seventies and one of those pop-culture cornerstones that continues to resonate to this day. How did the idea for the book first come about and how did you and Lee Gambin initially hook up to write it?


The project started when I began chatting with Terry Bolo on Facebook.  Terry had been an extra in the movie, and she convinced me to go ahead with this book.  I now realize that I probably couldn't have finished the book if it had been up to me to locate all of the cast and crew and persuade them to do interviews, but at the time I was determined to make this work.  I started up a Facebook page to raise awareness of the book and make people excited about it, and I noticed Lee joining in on the discussion.  He sent me a private message asking if he could help out, and I was aware that he had interviewed Sissy Spacek for the then-recent issue of Fangoria.  I figured he would be a great help if I brought him on to help me write it, so I asked him if he would be interested, and he said yes.  It's really been a wonderful experience.  Lee is a great guy, and he's been invaluable to this project.  We have become really good friends even though we have never met!  It's a beautiful thing.


You’ve managed to interview some truly remarkable artists for this book. Tell us about some of them.


The first person I interviewed was Terry Bolo.  She was a background player in many well-known movies like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Little Miss Sunshine, and she was really helpful with stories from the Carrie set.  It was a great jumping off point for me.  She put me in touch with Edie McClurg and Doug Cox.  The three of them were all original members of The Groundlings improv troupe, and they have remained friends since the 70s.  Several people from that group appear in Carrie in small roles.


Lee was able to get P.J. Soles involved, and she was instrumental in helping us get Nancy Allen and Piper Laurie.  Lee and I worked together to get Stephen King.  Mick Garris and Steve's lovely assistant, Marsha, had a lot to do with that.  I was able to contact Brian De Palma through a friend and spoke to him at length about the film.  That's a fantastic interview.  These are just a few of the many generous and talented people we've been in touch with.  They have all aided us in making this book the absolute best it can be.


Was there anyone in particular you have chatted with for the book that particularly blew your mind and is there anyone in particular you haven’t been able to interview that you had hoped to?


De Palma and King definitely made me sit back and go, "Whoa!"  It's really shocking to me that we have been in touch with our heroes.


I am not at liberty to say exactly which of the major players declined to be involved, but it's a little obvious if you look at the contributor list on our website.  We hope that these people will come around eventually, but if not, we understand.


After immersing yourself in CARRIE was there something surprising that came out of your research that really caught you off guard about the making of the film or the film itself?


Well, for one thing, I was really surprised by the number of critics and viewers who thought that Sue Snell was in on the joke.  It's pretty clear when you watch Carrie that Chris does not have Sue's allegiance anymore, yet there are people getting paid a lot of money to write about movies who are mixed up when it comes to Sue's motivations!  It's mind-boggling.


The other thing that surprised me most about the making of Carrie was that Brian De Palma allowed the entire cast to watch the dailies almost all the way through the shoot.  This is not at all common.  Most directors don't let the cast see the dailies, because they don't want the actors to adjust their performances.  I think De Palma sensed that allowing the cast to see the dailies every night would add to the camaraderie.  You're around the same people all the time when you're in high school, and he had to quickly bring that familiar feeling to those scenes with the students in Carrie.  Obviously, it worked!


I’ve never made any secret of my love for Brian De Palma. In fact if I was forced to name a favorite American director he would be my choice. What are your thoughts on his other films and what are a few favorites along with CARRIE?


Oh, I totally agree.  Brian De Palma is my favorite director, if only for his brilliant run of films from 1970-1984.  No one can match his stunning visual and musical sense – not even Hitchcock.  Yes, I said it.  I love Hitchcock, but I prefer De Palma's eroticism, his warmth, his humor, and his propensity for sleaze.  He's always willing to go much further than Hitchcock ever did.  Aside from Carrie, I absolutely adore Sisters, Blow Out, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, and Phantom of the Paradise.  Of course, he has also made some great films outside of his peak period, like Casualties of War and Carlito's Way.


When can we expect the book and is there an official page or two fans can follow regarding its progress?


We aren't sure of the release date yet.  It will be out at least sometime next year, but we may have to put it out to coincide with the remake in October.  We are keeping everyone updated on our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages.


Okay, we’ve all got one…favorite CARRIE moment???


Do I have to pick one?  I guess if you held a gun to my head, I would pick the ending.  I have never seen a more convincing portrayal of hysteria than Amy Irving in that scene.  But I also love the famous prom sequence, as well as the volleyball scene, opening titles, and shower scene in the locker room.  Pino Donaggio's music fits so beautifully with all of these sequences.  I hope De Palma never stops working with him.


Thanks so much Ryan. This has been a pleasure and I really do wish you a lot of success with the book. I know it is going to be amazing and a big success!


Steve Langton said...

Fascinating interview. Sounds like the book is going to be just terrific, and great to encounter another fan of Debbie.

Ryan Clark said...

Thank you, Steve. I appreciate your kind words. And thanks to Jeremy for allowing me to do this interview! I hope we can do that chat about Debbie soon! :D