Joe Dante on Joe Dante: video gallery
This week the Cine-Excess festival will give its Lifetime Achievement Award to Joe Dante, the enfant terrible who fused B-movie invention, cartoon slapstick and satirical, Spielbergian small-town stories to create the likes of 'Piranha', 'Gremlins' and 'The 'burbs'. At the festival, Dante will also be introducing a 90-minute extract from his 'lost' film, 'The Movie Orgy', a kaleidoscopic four-hour celebration of cinema
The Movie Orgy (1968)‘It’s a strange film, just pieces of other films stitched together. It played on college campuses in the ’60s. The Schlitz beer company would give out free beer, and the kids could watch for a while, then go out and get pizza, and when they came back they hadn’t missed anything. It’s very ’60s centric. I worried it wouldn’t have any kind of entertainment value, but there’s a lot of crazy stuff in there that’s still pretty funny.’
Piranha (1978)‘I was convinced it was going to be a disaster, I spent all my nights and days in the editing room trying to fix it, I didn’t even go to my own wrap party because I was so terrified it was going to be awful. But then it was a surprise hit.’
Police Squad! (TV, 1982)‘It was a great show to work on. It was brilliant, but way ahead of its time. They’d modelled it so consciously on old shows, a lot of people flipping the channel just thought it was a straight cop drama. There was no laugh track, it had straight actors in it. It was very poorly watched. But it was so clever, much cleverer than the ['Naked Gun'] movies, I think.’
Gremlins (1984)‘I’d heard the stories about Spielberg [supposedly] taking over "Poltergeist" from the director Tobe Hooper, so I was concerned when I signed up to work on "Gremlins". But Steven had heard the same stories and didn’t want them to go any further. He thought that if people believed he was taking over he’d never be able to hire anyone to work for him. So I was pretty much left alone. In fact, when he saw what I’d made, he was pretty perplexed. Originally it was a low-budget horror film, but by the time he saw it, it had become a comedy. The original ads made it look like a sequel to “ET”, so when Mom puts the gremlin in the blender people were going, “Wait a minute…”!’
Explorers (1985)'There was a rush to put "Explorers" together, so I never really got to complete the movie. I regret making it. It was quite personal to me, but it was a career stopper. It was the anti-"ET": these kids were looking to the universe for the answers to the riddles of the cosmos, and what they get is a reflection of themselves.'
The 'burbs (1989)‘The ’burbs today is revered as a cult classic, but at the time it got the worst reviews since “Mein Kampf”. When you get really bad reviews, you tend to remember them. The New York Times said "as empty as a movie can be without actually creating a vacuum". I saved that one. But people have warmed to the movie, and it was a lot of fun to make.’
Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)‘They said, "If you make a sequel, we’ll let you do whatever you want." And I held them to it. I decided to make a movie about how silly it is to make a sequel, plus a little bit of social satire about the coming ’90s. It was a lot of fun, we had three times the money, and I got away with a lot of things. It’s a pretty pure expression of my id; if I had to be remembered for one movie, I could do worse. It’s a signature piece.’
Matinee (1993)‘Parents would take their kids to show them how Dad used to go to the movies. But it wasn’t a big studio movie. It’s a nice little film for people who like movies. I was lucky it got made. I’ve worked on a lot of movies that got cancelled. As the corporatisation of movies took hold in the ’90s, there were no opportunities to make movies that weren’t remakes or sequels. There were fewer jobs, because there were fewer movies being made. Either you spend a lot of money on a big movie or you spend a teensy amount on a very small movie, but that middle ground of what used to be the mainstream is just gone.’
Homecoming (TV, 2005)‘Homecoming was the bluntest film I ever made. Nobody was saying anything [about the Iraq war], they were afraid or they were buying the spin. But there were a lot of us who were angry and frustrated, and this golden opportunity came along to make any story I wanted provided it was a horror movie and it was cheap. There’s nothing subtle about it, but it’s how I felt, and how I still feel. We’ve changed presidents but nothing’s changed.’
The Hole (2010)‘I always liked 3D. I was a kid when the ’50s 3D boom happened. But I don’t agree that every movie should be in 3D and I definitely don’t believe you should shoot a movie in 2D and then have some technician layer the picture like a Viewmaster. If they continue to provide substandard 3D they could kill the whole thing, just like they did in the ’50s. I’m very happy with the 3D aspect in "The Hole". It’s a very stimulating way to make movies, it’s like Cinemascope or colour, if it’s used well it helps the movie. For example, "Avatar" is a compendium of every movie cliché ever, but it succeeds because it puts everything together in a new way. There’s nothing new in the entire film, it’s derivative in the extreme, but it looks so great that people actually want to live in the movie, they don’t want to leave.’
The future‘There are the movies you want to do, and the movies other people want you to do. And the movies you want to do are generally a lot more interesting. I’ve been offered some movies that went on to be very successful, but I just wasn’t the right guy to do them. I want to make movies I want to see. There’s a spark of inspiration that makes a really interesting movie, and it’s usually the excitement and interest of the director.'But now everything is changing, there’s a lot of fear out there. People don’t know what films to make, they don’t know who to make films for, and when they’ve made them they don’t know how to distribute hem. They don’t know where they’re going to end up: on TV, on pay-per-view, on computers, channeled into your eyeballs? So there’s a lot of uncertainty at the moment.’
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