The Preston Guiz interview
In fall of 1995, Detroit Film Archive director Preston
Guiz caught Alan Smithee in a rare chatty mood while on
the set of JADE SHOWGIRLS (rumors of amphetamine
abuse were proved to be groundless).
Mr. Guiz found Smithee to be relaxed and cheerful
between set-ups, though he did make an odd guttural
noise whenever Karen Black passed by in her State
But this strange reaction only adds to the legend that is
Q: First, let me state on behalf of Smithee devotees
world-wide, a simple thank you for agreeing to this
A: Is nothing, Presta. I do for anyone who loves the film,
Q: Um, Preston.
Q: My name.
A: A nice one too!
Q: Ah...yes. Thanks Alan.
A: You can call me Al.
Q: Okay, Al.
A: Or you can call me--
Q: Mr. Smithee--
A: You interupt me?
Q: No, no, no. I'd like to start with dominant themes.
A: Ah, we get kinky quick, no?
Q: I meant in terms of text and subtext.
A: Oh. The fancy stuff.
Smithee lights a cigar, offers one to Mr. Preston, who
A: No like smoke? A good cigar better than a dead
woman, we always say back home.
Q: In Bucharest.
Q: I thought you were born in Bucharest.
A: (shrugs) Is close.
Q: Okay, back to themes.
A: The fancy stuff.
Q: Right. The dissolution of the human body is an image
central to your films. I point, of course, to such classic
images as the final love scene in KISS ME BEFORE I MELT
(1993) in which transformed ice-woman Drew
Barrymore echos the title quite evocatively. Or even
more provocatively, the choice to have Madonna, in a
startling narrative trope, suddenly turn into a wax statue
that melts in an obvious post modern hommage to JOAN
OF ARC in your version of EVITA A/K/A JUNGLE CHICK
FEVER (1997). What does this signify Alan? Or, Al, rather.
A: Well, for one thing, Drew and Madonna, they have--
how you say--nice tushies.
Q: (silence while Smithee draws on his cigar)
A: I please the audience! I direct EVITA, and there is
Madonna with her nice tushie and I think: what does
audience really want with Madonna? What? (PAUSE) So I
melted her. As for Drew...I think we just had her for
three days. So, well, melting seemed, like, a good thing.
Q: Yes. Moving on--one signature of your ouerve is
casting: if one sees John Saxon, Lee Van Cleef and Karen
Black in one film, it's a good chance it's a Smithee film,
no? (CLEARS THROAT). I mean, isn't that true?
A I don't know. The camera is my eye. Actors are what I
see. The film is my canvas. If my eye sees something I
paint it with the colors of the eye, which is my camera,
which I focus on the actors, who then become pictures
on my canvass that move and tell a story that I saw with
my eye. Which is my camera. (PAUSES) It's all very
Q: No. I mean, okay. You also are alone in your even-
toned treatment of marginalized groups.
A: You mean weirdos?
Q: I mean, for example, the that despite their becoming
RTD busses with headlights for mammaries--a brilliantly
self-reflexise move, I must say Alan--
Q: --you're welcome. Despite this strange imagery, the
women of BUSWOMEN and it's sequels are treated as
intelligent, self-impowered characters. The same for
blacks in SAMBO and SEPIA. And in MUDWOMEN OF
ZIMBABWE (1963), you eschewed the cheap way out and
presented the indigenous rituals of African Mud Mother
worshippers with tact and sensitivity.
A: (SMOKES CIGAR). Um--I don't remember those
pictures. But I always like the negro, you know? And
women, well, better than dead goat, like I said.
Q: I thought you said a *cigar* was better than a dead--
A: (Waves Preston off, lapses into deep reverie) I say
much. I mean little. It is my way. The artist's way.
Suddenly Smithee's mood lightens and he laughs.
A: Did you know Lee Van Cleef was--how you say--a bum-
Q: A what?
A: Heh. A funny boy. You know. That mustache, and
nobody ever figured.
Q: Moving on to critics, you have often been accused of
being derivative. Critics point to KILLER IN A DRESS
(1974), your fascinating meditation on themes presented
in DePalma's lackluster DRESSED TO KILL. Or LAST
POSSESSION ON MANDROID STREET, which many find
traces THE OMEN, THE TERMINATOR, LA JETEE and THE
LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. What do you, Alan say to
A: Poppycock! I am not derivative! Never! What *I* do is
this: I steal. Everything. Is a big difference, no?
-- Grey Zone 1