23 September 2014

[continued from Part II]

TT: So you've outlined a climate of moral reaction in Hollywood, a temporary backlash to Lennon's murder. And you feel that when it came to ratings time, MBV paid for it as a scapegoat of sorts, if even only subconsciously?

GM: Yes, I really do. That's my theory. Everyone, even people whose economic interest was to allow MBV to be what it was, jumped on that bandwagon.

I think the MPAA's reaction at the time mirrored the average person's reaction. Nobody in the film business was going to allow themselves to be the ones to have a finger pointed at them saying, "Look...they're still doing it."

And of course, we were locked into this release date and the Valentine's Day phenomenon. All the marketing, all the promotion. If it had another title and release date, things might have been different.

Actually, the original title was called The Secret.

TT: Did you like that title?

GM: Yes, I did. I thought The Secret was a very good title as far as I was concerned.

TT: But they really wanted to lock it into the holiday trend.

GM: Yes. I believe what would have happened is if it wasn't locked into the Valentine's Day thing...if all that money and machinery wasn't already geared up, they could have waited until the problem had blown over. Friday the 13th didn't have that problem. Halloween II didn't have that problem because it was still months away. By that time of course, it was back to business as usual.

TT: Right. We asked Dunning about the MBV cuts and he places the blame firmly on a vindictive Jack Valenti [then head of the MPAA].

According to Dunning, Valenti was upset that a company like Paramount was debasing itself by turning to horror films. And so Valenti released his anger at Paramount by 'emasculating' MBV at ratings time.

Paramount basically left it up to Cinépix to get the film passed and being an independent, Dunning feels, left them without any real power to put up a fight. In effect, Valenti decided to teach Paramount a lesson.

GM: Yes, of course there was that layer going on too. The whole thing was very disappointing and actually kind of depressing. My feeling about making any film has been that you make the best you possibly can.

If you're making a slasher horror film, you've got to make it a slasher. Horrible and ugly. One of the things we always wanted to do philosophically...was not to make it pretty. I mean, this shit was supposed to hurt.

TT: You've already touched upon it, but we were going to ask how the harsh cuts affected you personally.

GM: Well, it was kind of depressing only because four months later, you go to the theater and you see stuff going on and you think, "Oh my God, we did it so much better."

TT: Were you angry?

GM: No...by that time there was no anger. We were so damned exhausted. I would say that from the end of June until that February, we were all sleep-deprived zombies. Basically, I took a cruise from Los Angeles to Jamaica. What can you do? It was not in our control.

I stopped off in Dallas, watched all the MBV promos at the airport...it was on the radio, everywhere you can imagine. I just disappeared for a few months to Jamaica and the Keys with Steve Miller, my producer.

We thought we did the best we could. It still did okay. Box-office wise, it did pretty well. [MBV was released theatrically on February 11, 1981 and would go on to earn just under $6 million in overall ticket sales].

TT: Dunning says he has 8-9 minutes of the cut footage. We've already discussed here what kinds of gore cuts would be in that footage. And we're gorehounds just as much as anyone. But would there be any exposition in that? Any non-gore?

GM: I don't seem to remember any full scenes as such being cut. Probably out of that nine minutes, there must be a few minutes of dialogue at the end or beginning of a sequence. I haven't seen that footage. I believe John when he says that most of it is the gore.

The reality is that all these sequences have a buildup to the carnage and to the aftermath, which had to be cut much shorter.

Like for instance, there's at least a minute just from Sylvia's death that's gone. And keep in mind that we have a healthy body count with MBV.

TT: Why don't you have a copy of that uncut stuff?

GM: The answer lies in the technology of those days. In 1980, we were all working on film. There were no video copies. We had a work print.

Basically, we had negatives and we had work prints. So, whatever the work print of the director's cut was would then get re-cut and become the final cut.

At the time, there was no real way of documenting and/or preserving a stage in a cut like you do now. The same reel of film that you watched your first cut (which could have been 2 1/2 hours long) became the reel.

And now the reel would go to 1 1/2 hours long...with 8 frames here and 10 frames there and 13 frames there and 17 frames there, all accounted for because they used to have these numbers on the side of the negative and the work print that would match so that you would know where it came from.

So you'd end up with a couple of reels of unused footage. Generally, the work print would be put away.

Now, negatives you don't keep yourself. You have to keep a negative generally in a vault. It's an extremely fragile thing, especially as the years go by. Even that negative, from what I understand, took a long time to find.

Because of the fact that in Canada twenty-five years ago (aside from John Dunning's company Cinépix) most companies made a film and when it was finished, the offices would disappear and the same people would come up with a new name and new company and make another film.

There wasn't really that much continuity among what you would call permanent production houses. Aside from John's. I think the only reason he has those [cuts] is because he had a permanent production house.

Normally, that stuff would have just been thrown out because once you've delivered the film, what do you need it for?

TT: Dunning just discovered the footage within the past couple of years. He mentioned to us that it's in excellent shape too, which is good news. Was there other footage that you can recall?

GM: Oh yeah. There's quite a bit of footage that wasn't used, of course, like in all films. At one point, John contacted me a few years ago about maybe doing a "director's cut "of MBV and I said sure.

And then we found out that aside from those snippets that were cut out from the nasty bits, all the rest of the footage has disappeared. That was apparently in Los Angeles some place.

TT: So in addition to the 8-9 minutes that Dunning has, there was other footage in the can...but which is now missing?

GM: Yes.

TT: That's a shame.

GM: You know, when you're trying to make a film at the time, sometimes some of the atmosphere shots would have been gone. You can cut a scene short or you can cut a scene long.

TT: Were you approached by Paramount for the DVD release, either for an audio commentary or interview?

GM: No. I wasn't even really aware of its release until my daughter and some friends watched the DVD and she came running down and said, "Dad, you made My Bloody Valentine?!"

TT: What a missed opportunity for MBV fans.

Some folks might think it's easy to simply throw on a mask and be scary. But you really do need a menacing physical presence of sorts...and planning. Any thoughts on Peter Cowper, the stunt man who played the killer miner?

GM: I haven't seen Peter in a long time. You're right; we actually did choreography with Peter and worked out a ballet of all his movements, his actions.

TT: How did composer Paul Zaza come into the project?

GM: At the time, Paul was probably the top professional film composer in Canada. He also had a full recording studio. In those days, having a 48-track recording studio was a big deal.

Paul was fully equipped and John really liked his work. John asked me to meet him. So I went to Toronto and met Paul and he seemed like a really interesting man. Certainly a pro who could put that stuff out for us in the time we had.

There weren't many choices in those days and still wouldn't be if you think about the fact that the final picture edit was done just before Christmas. In those days, you couldn't really fly a videotape over to a composer and say 'start working on the concept or the idea or the feel off of that.' I mean, you could of course, but it was a complicated thing. They would actually need to show up and watch it on the machine.

Paul was one of the few people at the time who, in the eyes of directors as well as producers, was bankable or secure enough to be able to deliver what he said he would. Again, because he did it all through his own studio.

TT: Sounds like it was an organic process out of necessity. In our interview with producer Peter Simpson, he had nothing but high praise for Zaza.

GM: Yes, Paul has worked a lot. Not just slasher films. He did an incredible amount of movies in the '70s and '80s. He still does.

TT: How do you feel about the open ending in MBV? Was that a conscious move for a sequel?

GM: I think it was done consciously but not just necessarily for a sequel. To my mind, it was done to curse T.J. and Sarah. To underscore that they will never have a happy moment together. They'll never put what happened behind them.

TT: So it was as much for the conventions of the time as for a sequel?

GM: I think it was a combination. Knowing John Dunning and understanding his incredible uncanny sense for business, I'm sure that both things went through his head. I kind of liked it for the idea that it fit into the whole metaphor of no future.

To me, it was more of the fact that it fit into this whole concept that two people signified whatever was left of the generation. And even though this generation survived, they'll never be able to get past it.

TT: That's a great perspective.

Do you have anything to tell us about the uniquely Canadian feel to MBV? There were other Canadian slashers at the time (such as Terror Train and Prom Night) but there seemed to be an effort to Americanize them, to de-emphasize the Canadian. MBV doesn't belie its origins.

GM: What we decided to do was to be honest about the whole thing. We said, "Okay...so what we're going to do is have a bunch of Canadian actors with Canadian accents in obviously a Canadian setting. We can't exactly throw in fake American money and pretend they're in the States."

TT: Although T.J.'s accent kind of comes and goes.

GM: Well, with T.J....he was kind of a difficult young man at the time. We tried to somehow or another not hide it. But basically in those days...showing anything Canadian wasn't done. The reality is, it's still a bit of a hybrid because if you look at it, there's a sheriff. Don Francks plays a 'sheriff,' not a 'police chief.' You don't have sheriffs in Canada.

At the same time, we let the cat out of the bag on a regular basis. That was sort of our own subversive way. I mean, there's still tons of Moosehead in it!

TT: When we talked with Dunning recently, it was clear he's very excited about a sequel to MBV. He's tentatively calling it The Return of the Miner.

Does a MBV sequel hold any interest for you?

GM: Oh yeah. For many years, I wouldn't want to do it. For many years, if anybody mentioned to me, "How about another My Bloody Valentine?" - I'd say, "No thanks."

TT: So if the sequel continued to move forward, you would be directly involved?

GM: Yeah, I would very much be involved. I mean, you never know with these things in terms of what you're doing or what you're committed to at the time and when things happen. But I'd say if everything was equal...then yes, I'd be doing it.

TT: You might be one of the first original directors to go back and film a sequel to his own work this many years later.

GM: Yes, I would be. Also, John is absolutely right that part of the cachet of a sequel would be to get as many of the original cast members back as possible. I can't speak for John...but I think that having some of the original cast and having the original director would make it a much more salable project.

TT: Affleck still works in film and television, doesn't he?

GM: Yes. He's an animator now, from what I understand. From a sequel standpoint, you've got several key players who survived the first picture. You'd have Axel, you've got T.J., you've got Sarah - and of course, Don Francks. Don is still around. I remember seeing him in the series La Femme Nikita. He still looks and sounds the same.

MBV over the years has sort of gained in popularity (and you guys probably know more than I do) but it's generally in the top ten of whoever talks about this stuff. It's one of the only ones that has not had a sequel.

TT: Dunning wants to use the original cut footage from MBV in this proposed sequel (in the form of nightmare/flashback sequences). It sounds like an interesting idea.

GM: The last time I spoke to him, that's what he's intending to do. Or that's what he'd like to do. From what I understand, he's going to have a screenplay to show me real soon.

TT: Without giving away too much, Dunning gave us a few tidbits. The story picks up with Sarah now the sheriff of Valentine Bluffs. She and T.J. are married and they've had a few sons of their own, the latter around which the basic action will focus.

Seems the little town has decided to turn the old mine into a carnival attraction complete with a Mine of Terror thrill ride. And surrounding the ride are theme concessions selling masks, miner helmets, toy pick axes, t-shirts, etc. Needless to say, with their experience from the past, an older and wiser Sarah and T.J. are not enthused!

It sounds pretty cool, so far.

GM: Yeah, I think there's a good chance that there will be finally a sequel. I'm perfectly comfortable with the concept now. I mean, after twenty-five years...why not?

A funny anecdote that convinced me that it could be interesting to do a MBV sequel is that I was in Dublin last October. It was for an international Directors' Guild meeting, with Canadian, British and Australian directors, etc. All sorts of directors from across the world were at this convention. And I get into a taxi and a young Irish cabbie in his thirties asked me if I was "part of that gang of directors." And I said, "Yes I am."

He asked me if I had done anything he might have seen. So I mentioned that I had shot a picture with Michael Caine called Bullet to Bejing. Blank. A couple of things that I had shot in England with Kyle McLachlan, like Thunder Point. Blank. I mentioned Watchtower with Tom Berenger. Blank. I then told him I had done a horror film but that he was probably very young when it came out...it was called My Bloody Valentine.

And he says (in a heavy Irish brogue), "Bloody Valentine!?! One of my favorite films!" And he went on and on and on. So I figured, what the hell? Why not do a sequel? There was even a '90s punk band that stole their name from the movie...

When my fourteen-year old daughter found out all these things, I got major rehabilitation in her eyes and all her teenage friends' eyes.

TT: You got gold points for that!

GM: That's right.

TT: Are you a horror fan in general?

GM: I'm not obsessive but I like a good horror film. I mean, I went to film school so I watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari with Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt. I watched all those wonderful, old horror movies. I went to see Friday the 13th on my own...nobody forced me to. All genres can be fun.

TT: Was Halloween a favorite of yours?

GM: Halloween I liked a lot.

TT: How about Black Christmas?

GM: Yes, I've seen that. That was pretty good. As I referenced earlier, to me...one of the all-time best is Polanski's Macbeth.

TT: You're right...that's a creepy film.

GM: It is really, really nasty. Polanski's Repulsion is also amazing. I liked Possession with Isabelle Adjani.

TT: Those are some good picks.

The timeline we have is a preferential timeline based on what we feel are stylistic values that began to change around 1987, moving horror towards a sardonic comedy. With that in mind, how do you feel about modern horror since then?

GM: It's become too synthetic and plastic, hasn't it? It's all about the CGI. At times it tries to get too high brow, which I think is the wrong thing for it to be. I think it has to enjoy its beginnings and its roots. It's like blues music. If you pretend it's an orchestra piece, then it's not going to work.

TT: It's either cold CGI or overly convoluted plot gimmickry. With CGI, if you tried to do Sylvia's death today...it would lose something in translation.

GM: Yes. What the older films show is the fact that it was done by hand and it's organic.

TT: It imbues it with a spirit. Forgive the pun here...but old rubber and latex lends the effects real 'heart.'

GM: Absolutely. It's the same as playing an instrument or playing a synthesized version of that instrument. You can get some really great stuff with synthesizers but it's not the same. It will never have that human touch, that warmth. It's the same thing as the difference between analog and digital.

TT: That's totally true.

GM: Don't forget that in analog, there's a universe between any two points. The variation is infinite.

TT: You see an unerring quality to the digital format that always lends itself to that strange bluish-green, robotic feel to nearly everything. The "hospital" look.

GM: Yup. With digital, there's nothing in between any two points. Yes, you can put another digital point in between...but whatever is not in the point is nothing.

It's also the same as digital amps and tube amps. Why do people now want to have tube amps? Just to end up giving warmth to their digital player.

TT: How do you feel about MBV now, nearly two and a half decades later?

GM: It's hard to say, only because no one has seen MBV the way it should have been seen. It's been judged by many people...some very positively, some vehemently negatively...

TT: Ah, screw the latter!

GM: Yeah. But the fact is that unfortunately after all these years, it's never been judged on what it was.

TT: Is it true that some uncut prints of MBV went out to Asian markets?

GM: No, that's all myth. No prints ever went out that were not the same. Unfortunately, no one will ever see what MBV was meant to be like in terms of a horror film. Because of the cuts, it was asked to stand on its own as a drama.

And I guess the only positive thing about it is that after all these years, there's still interest. We all know that if you take out the major elements in a horror film (which is the slash, the horror), well it's not exactly Academy Award-winning drama material. MBV got to be judged more on that than it did on its impact on an audience for what it was supposed to have been.

That's like asking somebody to create the best chicken soup possible and by the time you're serving it, there's no chicken meat in the soup. Then have it judged along with all the others that still have chicken in them. I think in that sense, MBV has stood the test of time. Only myself and maybe about six people have ever seen it in the form it should have been in.

TT: What was the difficulty you had with Kelman who played T.J.?

GM: Well, Paul thought or had the misguided impression that this was going to be his On the Waterfront.

TT: He hasn't done much since, has he?

GM: Not that I know of.

As for me...after MBV, I basically left the feature business for awhile. I did a bunch of high-end television commercials and lived in Europe and did some TV series there. So for about four or five years, I didn't do any horror or anything on the Canadian scene. Until I came back to do The Blue Man with Karen Black.

TT: Did you enjoy working with her?

GM: She was great. Absolutely fantastic.

TT: She's one of our favorites.

GM: I loved her dearly. We were gonna do another one together but somehow or other, things didn't work out.

TT: What are you doing now?

GM: Right now...I'm working on a horror parody, actually. It's called Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. We're developing that and it will get to a theater near you next year. It's very, very funny.

I also do a lot of work in French. I do a great deal of comedies in French and I'm working on one at the moment. I'm always developing a lot of things.

TT: And you're with the Directors Guild of Canada.

GM: Yes, I'm Vice-President of the Guild.

TT: George, you've been very kind. Thank you so much for taking the time out to get down and dirty with us about MBV.

GM: My pleasure.

TT: What better way to cap off this interview than an extensive MBV Gallery? We've compiled a varied catalog of images from and about the film: promotional materials, pressbooks, assorted artwork, candids, etc. So click The Gallery banner below and be transported back to 1981. If you dare.

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