By Jonathan Marlow
February 21, 2006 - 11:46 PM PST
Between working with Alejandro Jodorowsky as a producer and, most recently, making the documentary Rush to War, Robert Taicher has directed narrative features of his own. One of them, Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth, a hit at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival in 2002, returns to the Roxie Cinema (and the Elmwood Theatre in Berkeley) on Friday, February 24. Jonathan Marlow talks with him about his wide-ranging career.
Before we discuss your work as a director, I wanted to briefly explore your relationship with Alejandro Jodorowsky. You produced two of his films - Holy Mountain, in the early 1970s, and The Rainbow Thief, a decade and a half later. How did you first meet Jodorowsky?
I met Jodorowsky through a mutual friend who knew Dennis Hopper. Dennis was supposed to be in Holy Mountain and he invited us, my friend and myself, along with a beautiful French woman he was living with at the time, down to Mexico City to meet Alejandro Jodorowsky. I was fortunate to go to a private screening of El Topo with him and, from that point on, I was offered a job on Holy Mountain. One thing led to another. The original producer, Roberto Viskin, who had produced El Topo [and Jodorowsky's first film, Fando y Lis], for want of a better word, failed in the middle of the film. There were all kinds of problems in negotiations and I offered to help finish the film. I was able to raise the money to finish the film and that's how it all happened, in a nutshell.
Seeing El Topo, what was your reaction at that time?
I thought El Topo was one of the truly great films that I'd ever seen. It's on my top ten list. Have you seen it?
Well, you know - it's metaphysical, it's spiritual and it's also funny and horrific. It has so many elements to it. It's just a great film.
You have a role in Holy Mountain as well?
I do, actually. I played the part of the Poet. It was actually a take-off on Allen Ginsberg, and I'm in a "Uncle Sam" hat with a shawl, nude to the waist. It was quite an experience. It was just a small part but I loved the fact that, in addition to producing the film, I appear in the film. I get a real kick out of that.
Your scene, although small, is fairly important to the film.
In the scene, the master and his disciples journey by boat across the waters to the Holy Mountain. They come to the island and discover the Pantheon Bar, which is a metaphor for all the people in life who have set goals for themselves and then were sidetracked. These are all people who have excuses why they never climbed the Holy Mountain to seek enlightenment but remained in the Bar instead. There are a lot of levels of interpretation, but that's Alejandro Jodorowsky for you - a brilliant, brilliant artist. He's more than just a writer or director and actor. He's an amazing guy, one of the truly amazing people that I've ever met in my life. It was a great pleasure to know him and to work with him.
How did you step in to produce The Rainbow Thief?
I have to correct you on that. I was not the producer [although he is credited as such]. I will flatter myself and say that Alejandro Jodorowsky has called me on a couple of films and asked me to come and work with him. I'm very pleased that he has done that. In the case of The Rainbow Thief, he called me because he was being asked to direct a film that he did not write. The film was actually produced by Alexander Salkind, who did Superman and a number of big films, and it was written by Berta Domínguez, who was his wife. The cast included Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif and Christopher Lee, so it was quite an adventure. Alejandro Jodorowsky asked me to come over to work with him because it was not his screenplay and it needed some work. Basically, it needed to be pared down and I would do that. We would work on the next day's edits, doing some rewriting and then, in the morning, I would show it to him and he would approve it. Then we would go forward from there.
You completed your first feature as director, Inside Out, a few years earlier. At what point did you decide that you wanted to start directing?
I wrote the screenplay in the early 1980s and it was sent to a producer [Sidney Beckerman] in Hollywood by a mutual friend. I didn't expect very much but, it turned out, the producer loved the screenplay. I came out and met with him and we decided to make the film. Then we started to interview directors and I was not particularly pleased with the people who were coming in to meet with us. At a certain point I said, "Look, why don't you give me an opportunity to direct the film?" He thought I was crazy at first because I hadn't directed before, but I said, "I know this story backwards and forwards. These are my characters." I had visualized every scene in my head, because that's the way I write. I even knew where the furniture was and I knew who the characters were, where everybody was in the scene and what they were doing. I was able to convince him and I wound up directing the film. It got some very nice notices around the country. I'm very proud of it.
There was a bit of a gap, I would say, between Inside Out and your next feature.
You are correct.
What were you doing during that period?
I had several personal things that happened. My father died, but I won't get into that. I wrote two screenplays. During that time I met Gregg Gibbs, who wrote Shut Up, Little Man. We were friends and he came to me and asked me if I was interested in this play he was doing. I didn't know much about it. He gave me the script and, of course, this is what became Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth. He also asked me to play the third character, this former Vietnam Vet house painter friend of the two main characters, Pete and Ray.
We wound up doing the play in Los Angeles and it was outrageous. We only did a couple of weeks. It was so popular that we got invited to New York the following year. Then Greg Gibbs and I decided we were going to make a film out of it and we proceeded along that line for quite some time. You know how long it takes sometimes to get a project done. At a certain point, he no longer wanted to direct it and I got the rights from him and made Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth.
At what point did you decide that the title of the film had to differ from the play?
I don't want to go into too much detail but we had a dispute with someone who was previously involved with it and they wanted us to change the title. We just felt that we would agree to their wishes. We didn't want to step on anyone's toes. Actually, it is a line that is used a lot of times in the film. Pete tells Ray to, you know, "Shut your dirty little mouth!" It's a funny line. Some people thought it was a better title so we didn't have too much of a problem with changing it.
The actors who played the two main characters, were they involved in the play as well? Were they on stage?
One of them was. Gill Gayle, who plays Raymond, the "little man." He's absolutely great. That's kind of an interesting story. Because it was a small play, everyone just did their own makeup. I felt very strongly, since the characters were in their mid- to late-50s, that I needed to have actors for the film around that age. I started casting and there were a number of really fine film actors that were interested in it. I actually had readings with M. Emmet Walsh, Michael Jeter and Judge Reinhold. Unfortunately, we couldn't come to terms with Michael Jeter and Gill wanted to do the film very badly. He actually found us two makeup people [one of whom was Nick Marra]. It's a curious thing, but there's a whole group of makeup artists who were aware of the tapes [the play was inspired by a series of secret recordings that were taped in San Francisco during the late 1980s released upon the world shortly thereafter] and these two guys were huge fans of the tapes. They agreed to do makeup and Gill was in makeup for four-and-a-half hours every morning to change him physically from a late-30s healthy young man to a 60-year-old alcoholic.
I guess that's a long answer to a short question. I met Glenn Shadix at a mutual friend's party. I had seen Glen, of course, in Beetlejuice and I always loved his work. When I saw him, lights went off because we hadn't cast the part of Peter yet. I asked him if he would be interested and he was very receptive to the idea. I sent him the script and he loved it. We got together and did some readings with Glenn and Gill Gayle and they hit it off. That's pretty much how I got my cast.
Were you familiar with the tapes before Gregg Gibbs wrote the play? Had you heard these tapes before all of this started to happen?
I had not. Gregg Gibbs had introduced me to the entire phenomenon. He had gotten a hold of the tapes - Greg is a performance artist and a very fine painter and, curiously enough, we're doing a project together now. Something that I'm producing and he's directing.
What is that?
It's called The Treasures of Long Gone John. It's a great project. I'm very pleased with it and we're almost finished with it [in fact, it will premiere at SXSW 2006].
Having Glenn and Gill in these parts, do you think it adds something for the viewer to not immediately recognize the actors? It distances the audience a bit from the characters, as opposed to the experience if M. Emmet Walsh were in the film?
I have very strong feelings about that. I think there are a lot of films that would be better served with an actor that the audience is not identifying with from previous roles. Particularly in this case, I think that it worked very well for us.
To be honest, when I first learned of the film, I suspected that it was the sort of project that could never work. However, thanks to their remarkable performances and the way that you work with these actors in a relatively confined space, it never feels particularly stage-bound. The actors really nail it.
That's a great compliment. I really appreciate you saying that. [Film critic] Jeffrey Lyons said, "The acting is intense and powerful." I would tend to agree with that. I take some small credit for directing and conceiving the film, but the actors were tremendous. Glenn Shadix and Gill Gayle both did incredible work in the film and I'm really pleased that you recognize that they're great in their parts. They really make the film work.
How did the belated theatrical release at the Roxie Cinema come about?
We sent a tape to Bruce Fletcher [programming director] at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival - he didn't know us, we didn't know him - and he just loved it. Bruce Fletcher has great sensibilities about films. He really knows film. We were fortunate to win Best Picture [in 2002]. The Roxie wanted to play it immediately after the festival and, in hindsight, I should have done that but I just wasn't prepared. I had all kinds of ideas about distribution and all those kinds of things. The Roxie still had an interest in the film and actually wanted to do it again, so we're coming back to the Roxie where it started.
As someone familiar with the original recordings, I believe that you did the material right.
It's self-serving but I'll tell you that the people who know the tapes at all, the ones that I've talked to when I was in San Francisco at the festival and in other situations where we've screened the film, everyone says we did it justice. But people who don't know anything about it, that don't know the tapes, that don't know the story, loved the film, too. If people come to see it they'll be in for a treat. I love it. Of course, I'm prejudiced, but Gill and Glenn are so great in the film that people will really have an experience. It's so different.
Somebody described it as, "Waiting for Godot meets The Odd Couple in hell." We're going to do an ad. I was just on the phone will Bill Banning from the Roxie and I was telling him what Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News said about the film. "Intensely inappropriate. Leave your delicate sensibilities at home, this film could very well damage them."
I noticed that Alejandro Jodorowsky appears in your most recent work, a documentary entitled Rush to War.
Yes. I recently completed the documentary Rush to War and the subject is 9/11 and American foreign policy. Alejandro Jodorowsky was in Monterey, Mexico, attending a book fair for a new book that he had written. I flew down with my cameraman and we interviewed him in Mexico for the film.
Now, why did I do that? First of all, I have enormous respect for his judgment and his vision of the world. He was born in Chile but he lives in Europe. I knew that I would get an entirely different perspective separate and apart from who he is, living in Europe, and having a completely exterior view of the United States. We did a great interview. He was very helpful and he's an integral part of Rush to War.
I've never really been politically active but this whole situation with the war in Iraq put me around the bend. I spent three years working on this film because I feel so strongly about it, but it's 180 degrees from Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth. It's really kind of odd that if somebody saw Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth and then they saw Rush to War, they just couldn't imagine that the same person made both of these films.
I look forward to a dissertation trying to craft a complete thread through Holy Mountain, Shut Yer Dirty Little Mouth and Rush to War. I'd like to see that.
back to articles >>>
"Everyone says we did it justice."
back to articles
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
February 6, 2007. Mark Savage & the D.I.Y. Aesthetic by Jeffrey M. Anderson
February 3, 2007. Seeing the Humor in Sexual Identity by Michael Guillen
January 29, 2007. Smokin' Aces with Joe Carnahan and Jeremy Piven by Sean Axmaker
January 26, 2007. Include Me Out: Interview with Farley Granger by Jonathan Marlow
January 25, 2007. Grindhouse: Chapter Four - The 1960's by Eddie Muller
January 19, 2007. Charles Mudede: Zoo Story by Andy Spletzer
January 19, 2007. Mark Becker: Merging the Personal and the Political by Sara Schieron
January 19, 2007. Micha X. Peled: The Lives of the Sweatshop Youth by Hannah Eaves
January 16, 2007. Djinn: A Taxi Driver Dreams of Perth by Jeffrey M. Anderson
January 12, 2007. Clint Eastwood: Flags and Letters From the "Good War" by Jeff Shannon
view past articles