Still don't know when the hell we'll ever get distribution, but I found some stills to give some idea of the speaker list.
Back when the MadLab theatre group out of Columbus, Ohio, staged an award-winning production (a revival, as the world premiere happened at the Overtime) of my play Clowntime is Over, the director/actor Andy Batt sent me a few questions to answer. I did my best to answer them. (Note: this Q&A took place in August of 2015.)
ANDY BATT: Do you have any personal feelings about clowns, llamas, bunnies, mice, or snakes that you feel we should know about?
JOE GREEN: Yes. I love bunnies more or less like an eight year old. Llamas are generally amusing, and the snake...to reveal that story will give away plot points in the play. However, someone very close to me had a snake (which I had named Pancakes despite the snake already having a name) that inspired that element.
This play has a lot of religious as well as scientific ideas and philosophies floating around in the text. Do you identify yourself with any specific religion? Atheist or Agnostic?
I became an atheist around age 12 or so and stayed that way for twenty years. I would lean agnostic these days. I studied Western philosophy from a young age and am reasonably familiar with its major tenets and movements up until Wittgenstein, where in my opinion things got a little derailed. But that's a long story.
You also touch on a lot of historical psychiatry. Do you have a love of psychiatry? If so, where does that come from? Tell me about your mother.
Nice. No mom issues here! I am familiar in a casual way with psychology but am in no way expert. Jung is an important thinker to me, but almost every writer or artist will say that.
What was your initial inspiration for the play?
One of my best friends is Michelle Mezzone, for whom the play is dedicated. We were talking one day about a television show she used to watch in the Pacific Northwest that featured a clown, and as she was describing it to me the first act of the play more or less appeared in my head. That doesn't happen very often - very little of my life directly comes into my plays, except this one. Which might be why it's my favorite of the ones I've written.
Who is your favorite playwright and why?
An impossible question. I love so many modern playwrights - Shanley, McNally, Mamet, Durang, Kushner, Guare, and of course Beckett and Ionesco and Stoppard and Robert Bolt. I do gravitate more to post-Beckett playwrights than, say, O'Neill or Williams. I actually kind of dislike Arthur Miller. Very difficult question.
What is your favorite play and why?
Jesus. Probably the play I've read more than any other is Richard III for the sheer pleasure of the words. I could go Travesties, by Stoppard. Speed the Plow or Glengarry, Mamet was at his peak then. Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, and this one thing - a little one act where these two kids fall in love that Shanley did that just knocks me out every time. [I didn't remember the play at the time, but it is The Red Coat.] It's a really hard question and hope I didn't bore you with the answers. Also - I'm a pretty big fan of Clowntime.
When I was about eleven years old, I received a Leonard Maltin book as a gift: a thick paperback movie guide full of capsule reviews going from 1983 to The Birth of a Nation. I carried that thing around everywhere for a while, like a teddy bear. I also read it not like a reference book, but rather front to back, because nobody said, hey stupid, that’s not how you read a book like that.
The book opened up a world of making: actors, directors, writers, and producers, from Ida Lupino to Howard Hawks to Akira Kurosawa. Soon, the first journal I ever kept was filled with my own reviews and thoughts about then-contemporary pictures like War Games and the films of John Carpenter. It started my love affair with movies -- seeing them, thinking about them, writing about them -- that still burns, only a touch less hot than then.
That love affair also drives San Francisco State University professor Joseph McBride, and his new book is a vast, stunning exploration into filmmaking, criticism, and legend. Two Cheers for Hollywood resembles its author in being difficult to summarize due to its incredible scope. McBride, in addition to working as a journalist for entities like The Nation, has written definitive biographies of Frank Capra, Steven Spielberg, John Ford, and Orson Welles, has made major discoveries in the JFK assassination, acted in the “lost” and final Welles picture, The Other Side of the Wind (rescued by Netflix for future release), and co-wrote the Ramones movie, Rock and Roll High School. He's racked up endorsements, including from director Guillermo del Toro. (And it continues: up next, a critical study of the great Ernst Lubitsch.)
In the course of this nearly 700-page book are interviews including everyone from Francois Truffaut to Richard Lester to Gore Vidal to Peter O’Toole, and many others, some with names less familiar. For example, one of the most fascinating interviews is with John Lee Mahin, who was a budding playwright when his friend Ben Hecht said he and Charlie MacArthur were going to Hollywood. Mahin agreed to tag along, and embarked on a life of writing pictures for MGM – one of his first jobs was fixing the dialogue on a little movie for Howard Hawks called Scarface.
It is, at least in part, these sorts of details that form the subject for much of this book. How does Hollywood work? How do good pictures get made? How does any picture get made? And in between the rain drops, as it were, are the thousands of observations and interesting facts that make up the text of Two Cheers for Hollywood. Another example: The director John Huston made a terrific adventure film called The Man Who Would Be King, based on Kipling, despite his own qualms about the colonialist point of view of the source material. He also notes that, in casting, the picture had been offered to Paul Newman and Robert Redford, hot off the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but Newman himself felt the lead characters should not be Americans. Indeed, Sean Connery and Michael Caine are perfectly cast in the finished film. (And, many years later, Robert Redford would play an Englishman – an Englishman who just happens to be from that part of England where people have the exact speech pattern as Robert Redford – in Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa.)
Films featuring commentaries from author Joseph McBride
As an interviewer, McBride proves again and again to bring excellent questions to bear -- although John Ford hilariously disagrees in an early interview. However, as an essayist there are moments here that are nothing short of extraordinary. In a piece written for the New York Review of Books, McBride tackles director James Whale’s life as reflected in the media, particularly Father of Frankenstein, Christopher Beam’s literary take on Whale, and the subsequent film Gods and Monsters with Ian McKellen and Brendan Fraser. Whale directed such films as Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man, but after a certain point his career dissipated. Did his homosexuality play a role in Whale’s separation from filmmaking? Perhaps, although as McBride observes, “…it’s a known fact in Hollywood that when someone is already on the skids, everything seems to be working against him, and it can be hard to distinguish gratuitous snubs from root causes.” (358) Indeed.
McBride also delves into the film catalog of the Coen Brothers, and it is fascinating to read as he deconstructs much that is good and bad at their core. He contrasts their own Inside Llwellyn Davis with Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind, and points out that both films downplay the politics of the period. I entirely agree, and found fault with the Coen Brothers picture for utilizing the period without getting into the larger issues driving the behavior. Why use this backdrop if the Civil Rights movement will play not role? (In the Guest film, this was merely a continuation of his attitude at National Lampoon, where he helped write a skit making fun of earnest protest singers. Which is perhaps to be expected from Baron Haden-Guest.) He also chastises Miller’s Crossing for lacking the sense of humor found in their other work – and puts his finger on what might be the reason I always found it not quite satisfactory (the script reads better than the film plays).
But this just scratches the surface. There is an excellent back-and-forth on Irish representation in John Ford’s The Quiet Man, an appreciation of the complexity of John Wayne’s screen image, a spirited defense of the more “serious” work of Steven Spielberg. This is a book to ponder and savor, a glorious treasury of cinema history. McBride has described his time spent filming The Other Side of the Wind with Orson Welles as a “Walter Mitty dream.” Two Cheers for Hollywood is Walter Mitty’s diary, a compilation of observations from a cinephile’s cinephile. Reading this book has given me the sort of pleasure I associate with my eleven-year-old self, when this whole magical world of filmmaking was first revealed. If you have any curiosity for film history at all, you must have this book.
A PDF version of an essay from my first book, Dissenting Views, about the mythology of science. In light of the recent science march - which I agree with in some ways - it seemed apropos.
Max Good is the documentarian behind the new project The Assassination and Mrs. Paine, a film that takes one of the major characters in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and puts her in front of the camera. Good, who has an MFA from Stanford University in documentary film and previously made the film Vigilante Vigilante, agreed to speak with me after his project was brought to my attention by Vincent Salandria.
For the uninitiated, Ruth and Michael Paine were the people who allowed Marina Oswald to stay in their home in Irving while Lee Harvey Oswald lived in Dallas at 1026 N Beckley. (Note: I was able to go inside the Paine home and snap some photos while they were restoring the property for use as a museum.) Lone nut-theorists see Mrs. Paine as one of the most important witnesses in the case, and her garage as the repository of the famous Minox camera that allegedly took some very compromising photos of Oswald. For others, Mrs. Paine’s rather unusual high-level connections, as well as a garage that had an odd habit of producing evidence just when the authorities needed it, seem suspicious.
Max kindly agreed to answer a few projects about his ongoing project, which is at Kickstarter now but only until April 22, 2017.
JOE GREEN: Can you say how you managed to get Ruth Paine on camera?
MAX GOOD: I first approached Ruth with the idea of making a film in 2013. At the time, I was a graduate student in the documentary MFA program at Stanford. She asked me if I was familiar with the Edwin Walker shooting and I explained that I was. This is usually the first thing she asks anyone who wants to interview her. I think it helped that I was a student at the time. I told her that I wanted tell her story and explore some of the suspicions that had been aimed at her and Michael. The film was a chance for her respond to some of the harsh accusations out there. I tried to go into the project as open-minded as possible and eventually she agreed to participate.
How familiar are you with the assassination literature? How did you get started in reading the literature?
I’m 38 and I probably read my first JFK book about ten years ago. The first book was Peter Dale Scott’s Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, which is a great book but probably not the best for a beginner. [Author’s note: Agreed, on both counts.] The second book was E. Martin Schotz’s History Will Not Absolve Us, which I highly recommend to people just starting to learn about this issue. I’ve probably read about ten books total—which is not much compared to many serious students of the assassination. I’ve tried to make myself familiar with the writings of those who argue against conspiracy as well. As the best researchers know, critical thinking involves the consideration of multiple perspectives and the willingness to reexamine your positions. There is a lot of suspect material out there, on both sides.
Can you talk a bit about some of the interesting connections Mrs. Paine has to the military-industrial-intelligence complex?
I first read about the curious connections between the Paines and the intelligence world in James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable. Later, I also read various things online. It wasn’t until I started working on the film, that I was actually able to start digging up some of the primary documents. According to this declassified document, Ruth’s’ sister, Sylvia Hyde Hoke, was identified as an employee of CIA. Her father, William Avery Hyde, was considered for a CIA assignment in Vietnam in 1957, but not used, according to this document. Michael Paine’s family also has some interesting connections to Allen Dulles through his mother. You can read more about the Paines in Jim DiEugenio’s Destiny Betrayed and George Michael Evica’s A Certain Arrogance.
Has she seen the film? If so, did she render an opinion?
The film isn’t done, so she hasn’t seen it. The first thing she saw was the Kickstarter campaign and trailer. She said it was “somewhat distressing.” I don’t intend the film to be hurtful towards Ruth and I would like to keep a dialog open.
Vincent Salandria, a legend among researchers, has not often participated in these films. How did you approach him?
I exchanged a few emails with Martin Schotz back in 2006, after reading his book. He brought Vince Salandria into the conversation and I very much appreciated their insightful analysis of the case. I hadn’t spoken to them in years, but when I started working on the film, they were among the first experts I reached out to.
Speaking of Marty's History Will Not Absolve Us, this is also one of my favorites along with False Mystery, although you do not often see discussion of it in the research community. What attracts you about the book? Is there value in trying to see the psychological motives behind the big picture of the assassination and foreign policy?
The psychological and philosophical aspects of the case are more interesting to me than anything else. I think I first heard about Martin Schotz's book from Mark Robinowitz’s Oil Empire website. Marty’s analysis cuts to the heart of the issue and explains how all the great research has had so little impact on the wider society. Like many others, I’ve spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the evidence. But I also feel that some of that energy is channeled towards a never-ending search for the final answer, the smoking gun. The fact is that mountains of evidence have already been uncovered. Perhaps the continuing search can be a form of distraction and denial. This is related to Vince Salandria’s idea of a “false mystery.” Here’s a great quote:
"One of the primary means of immobilizing the American people politically today is to hold them in a state of confusion in which anything can be believed and nothing can be known… nothing of significance, that is."
-- E. Martin Schotz, History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy
That was also a favorite quote of John Judge.
How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
I wanted to make films from the time I was in college, but I always felt like it was too tough to break into. I worked on a documentary with some friends about underground bicycle gangs, B.I.K.E. (2006), and on the Academy Award-nominated The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg & the Pentagon Papers (2009). But it wasn’t until I finished my own feature documentary, Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression (2011), that I really felt like I could be a filmmaker. That film was on Netflix and got great reviews, but I was still broke after making it. I went back to grad school for documentary at 35 so I could get the skills and credentials to continue making more films. It’s still tough to make it as an independent documentary filmmaker and I work freelance editing and shooting to survive.
Obviously you don't believe that this is all ancient history, or there was no reason to make the film. What connects 11/22/1963 to now?
This is something that people unfamiliar with the JFK assassination often wonder—what’s the appeal, what’s the point of spending so much time on this in 2017? Inherent in the question is an assumption that we will never know the truth, that it’s already been settled, or that it doesn’t matter either way. People who have studied the history understand that there is a direct line through the Cold War and the JFK assassination through the Vietnam War and on to the War on Terror and our current situation. If it’s true that we had a silent and successful coup in 1963, we are obviously not living in the democracy that we claim to be. The fact that so much amazing research deconstructing the “official story” has been ignored and marginalized says a lot about the state of the media in this country.
How did you select the other figures who are interviewed in the film? It runs the gamut from Jim, Salandria, Schotz, Dr. Gary Aguilar, [who also appeared in The Men Who Killed Kennedy and Randy Benson's The Searchers] and Bill Simpich, to Priscilla Johnson MacMillan. How did that come about?
I reached out to many people for interviews. John Judge was one of the first people I contacted, but he passed away before I started filming. Thomas Mallon declined an interview. I tried to reach Gerald Posner but could never get ahold of him. I wanted to include both sides of the debate (on the Paines and the assassination). I guess it’s ironic that the two authors (Max Holland and Priscilla McMillan) I got who are on the side of the “official story” have been linked to the CIA. If any non-CIA linked experts want to come forward to represent the “lone-nut” position, I would be happy to interview them. [Author’s note: I would love to hear from this, I suspect imaginary, person as well.]
Assuming you get the finishing funds, do you have a plan for what comes next? Do you know what that finished film will look like in terms of its basic shape?
If I’m able to raise the $25K on Kickstarter, I will be hiring an editor and working alongside them to finish the film within the next year. The film will be 60-90 minutes and will interweave Ruth’s first hand story with the opposing voices from the conspiracy and anti-conspiracy camps. As the film progresses, it will go deeper into the various suspicions and evidence surrounding the Paines. I have some new leads and witnesses that have never spoken publicly before.
Has making this film changed any of your ideas about history? Has it caused you to reflect on any other historical "truths" in our society?
I was familiar with most of this stuff before starting the film, so I wouldn’t say it has changed my mind. We live in an empire that is starting to show some cracks. A lot of myths go into maintaining an empire.
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