FILM
Lloyd Kaufman Interview: Part Two
Gabriel Ricard

Gabriel: Now, when we had to leave last time, you were telling me about a Vietnam project of some kind.

Lloyd: Yeah, through the Roan group. www.roangroup.com. It has nothing to do with Troma. It’s totally separate, and my name shouldn’t be associated with Roan.

G: Okay.

L: It’d give Roan a bad reputation.

G: Nah.

L: They put out a lot of classics. If you go to www.roangroup.com, you can see what they are. They’re movies by Ernest Lupitch, by Joseph H. Lewis. There’s an Oscar winning documentary about Albert Schweitzer. There’s the first movie of Vincent Sherman, underground, which was also the first Hollywood anti-Nazi movie. There’s wonderful serials, too. It’s all classic type stuff. And in that collection, they also own a documentary, which is called No Substitute for Victory. That documentary was made in 1968. It was hosted by John Wayne, and features many of the opinion makers of 1968. Soldiers, congressmen, entertainers, ect, all talking about the Vietnam War and why it was very important.

G: Yeah, because John was very pro-Vietnam, wasn’t he.

L: Yes, he was. And now, the documentary’s going to be re-released. But they (Roan) have been filming guys like Tony Blankley, who is the editor of the Washington Times, congressman Dana Roarbacker. They have been filming the same kind of people, but these are modern day people, and having them comment on how the Iraq situation is different from Vietnam, or if it’s the same. So, you’ll watch the documentary, and you’ll come to a point where there’s maybe something about weapons, and then you click on the icon that appears. I’ve heard they do this with porno films.

G: Yeah.

L: But of course, I’ve never seen one, so I wouldn’t know.

G: Neither would I.

L: But an icon will come up, and it will not be the guy who’s trying to take over Time Warner. It’ll be a different kind of icon. But when that thing pops up, you click on it, and then you’ll get something like General Singlao, head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, talking about the Iraq situation. Or maybe you’ll get Martha Raye, from 1968, talking about Vietnam, you’ll click, and you’ll get Skunk, from Steely Dan, talking about it. That’s the idea. It’s a very interesting, historical document.

G: For the sake of anyone who might not be aware, who may not have read your excellent books, I was wondering if you could tell us how you got started, how Troma got started, how you got into filmmaking.

L: It sounds like you, Gabriel, haven’t read my excellent books. That’s why you want me to tell you.

G: I skimmed through them, remember? I read the first twenty or thirty pages of Everything I need To Know About Filmmaking I Learned From The Toxic Avenger at a bookstore

L: But if you don’t think it’s worth reading, then why would anyone else have interest in reading them?

G: Because I’m broke!

L: My books are in the library.

G: No, they’re not.

L: You can’t afford to go to the library?

G: Our library kind of scares me, actually.

L: Did you try?

G: Yes, I did. I went in there one time—

L: Did you ask for my book?

G: No. But they definitely didn’t have it.

L: If you didn’t ask for it, how can you say they didn’t have it?

G: I looked around that library—

L: You should ask for it. I’ll bet you they have it. All libraries have both of my books.

G: I’ll bet you fifty bucks they don’t.

L: Where is your library?

G: Waverly, Virginia.

L: Let me look it up.

G: Okay.

L: I’ve got every library on file here.

G: Awesome.

L: Nope, they don’t have it.

G: Thank-you.

L: They have the bible.

G: Yes, they’ve got the bible.

L: I get mixed up with the bible sometimes.

G: Yeah.

L: It was the sixties, and I was a freshman at Yale, and I was intending to be a teacher or a social worker. Try to do good, change the world, do great things, teach people with hooks for hands how to finger paint, teach bums how to paint happy faces on beads and string the beads together.

G: Get a nice, tidy profit, too.

L: So, I had a roommate who was a movie nut, at Yale. And he was head of the Yale Film Society. And it was a very tiny bedroom, our beds were head to foot, and at night, I’d inhale his stinking feet. And the next thing I knew, I was hooked on movies. I couldn’t stop watching. I started getting into John Ford, Howard Hawks, Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Andy Warhol. And I couldn’t stop, and that was it. It was all Yale’s fault. Then, one day, I was at a screening of Ernest Lubich’s To Be or Not To Be, starring Jack Benny, Carol Lombard, and Robert Stack. And I was watching that movie, and it was such a masterpiece, and it was right there that I made the decision that I just didn’t want to help the people with hooks for hands how to finger paint, I didn’t just want to help the bums to paint happy faces on beads and string the beads together. I wanted to film them. That was when I made the decision. So, if you want to blame someone for Troma, go and dig up the body of Robert Stack.

G: I’ll put that on my list of things. I’m a fan of his, actually, so it won’t be a problem.

L: It’s all his fault.

G: I was going to ask you about Tromadance. I know you just had one.

L: Sure did.

G: And I understand it was a pretty big success, as it has been in the past.

L: Well, this year was really great. It’s now being taken seriously by the New York Times and the media as a real festival.

G: I noticed that.

L: And about a month later, whenever the Berlin festival occurred, there was a Troma Alley, like the Berlin Alley, in Berlin. Film enthusiasts put it out, and they put on the German version of Tromadance, in Berlin, during the Berlin Film Festival. And it was even more successful than Tromadance. It went on for ten days.

G: Wow.

L: You can go to the Tromadance website, and you’ll see the link to Berlin Alley, and you’ll get a sense of what Berlin Alley’s all about.

G: Well, personally, I’ve always wanted to attend one, but I can’t drive, sadly.

L: Well, this summer, there will be Troma Fling. The second year of Troma Fling in Edinburough, England. So, the point is Troma’s become an art movement. It’s all over the place.

G: I’d say it’s a philosophy, more than anything.

L: It’s more than a philosophy, because people are taking action. People are tired of the status quo. They’re tired of being manipulated by the media to go to see movies that they wish they hadn’t paid their twelve dollars to see. And they want their independent movies. They want independent art back in their possession. So, these people have started Tromadance, Troma Alley, Troma Fling, Tromapalooza, and we don’t have anything to do with them. The only one we have anything to do with is Tromadance. I go to the other ones, and I think we gave a little money to Troma Alley, but other than that, we did nothing. It was all done by the fans.

G: That’s incredible.

L: And as you know, Troma movies are not shown at any of these. It’s all independent cinema.

G: It’s just people bringing in their stuff. I know there’s no fee.

L: Yes, there’s no entry fee. You can enter for free. In Germany, they had free food for all ten days. I think you had to buy your own booze. But you could get a big glass of gin for just one DVD. But don’t tell anybody.

G: Don’t worry, I won’t.

L: If you get one drink, here, in New York, a gin on the rocks costs like twelve bucks, and they measure it with a thimble. But at Troma Alley, I gave the guy a DVD under the table, and he filled up my glass.

G: Well, free booze is always good.

L: All right, next question.

G: Do you ever feel like it’s tough to move between maintaining the integrity of Troma being an independent film company, and trying to get your stuff out there, dealing with Hollywood, dealing with corporations. Because I know you still have to deal with that, to a degree.

L: I think we just do what we want. And if whatever we’re doing, somebody wants to show it, a theater wants to show it…

G: Right

L: Because it doesn’t matter what we got. Cannibal! The Musical has never been on Comedy Central. We’re blacklisted. Economically blacklisted.

G: From Comedy Central?

L: From everywhere. If Comedy Central cannot take Cannibal! The Musical, which has sold two hundred thousand DVDs, with no advertising , which features the only people who have any kind of ratings on Comedy Central, then it’s obviously the Troma factor. It’s the only reason. We don’t have to compromise, because we could give them Gone With The Wind, and they wouldn’t play it. So, it’s very easy, when nobody wants your movies, to have some integrity.

G: The funny thing, to me, about Cannibal! The Musical is that there’s not a whole lot to it that should keep it off TV. I mean, there’s a little bit of gore…

L: It’s because we’re blacklisted. Do you not understand?

G: No, I hear you. I do.

L: You’re supporting what I just said.

G: So, I guess you don’t feel like you have to walk between maintaining that integrity and selling out.

L: No. You’ll see that the only regrets I have is when I did compromise, which I haven’t done in fifteen years. And I always regretted it when I did. I did it a few times, and it never paid off.  “INSERTINSET, to thine ownself be true. That was a phrase coined by William Shakespeare, who wrote that great book, 101 Moneymaking Screenplay Idea, otherwise known as Hamlet.

G: What pisses you off?

L: I think the hypocrisy of the so-called populist world that we live in, the limousine liberals that you see on the morning television shows, the hypocrisy of people like Hillary Clinton.

G: Not Hillary!

L: These so-called liberal Hollywood people who say they only get their news from Jon Stewart, shit like that.

G: I think Jon’s funny…

L: He’s very funny. But you don’t get your news from that. You get your news from reading. You get your news from going on the internet and reading things, from subscribing to newspapers and magazines and newsletters. And you don’t get it from Katie Couric. You know, these people who say “I only get my news from Jon Stewart.” Fuck em. They deserve to be eating dog food. They deserve to have the Chinese, to whom Clinton gave away all our military secrets. You deserve to be taken over by the Chinese, if that’s how you’re gonna get your news. Yes, Clinton gave away all our secrets. He, more than any other president, should’ve been impeached, kicked out. Not Bush. Bush didn’t give away any secrets. Clinton gave everything away. And he was partners with Arasteed in 80, on the Trone system, too. There’s a nice partnership.

G: Well, it just seems like it’s all kind of hard to decipher, for me. It all feels like bullshit.

L:  Well, Abraham Lincoln was no bullshitter. Thomas Jefferson was no bullshitter.

G: No, I’m talking about print media.

L: Well, you gotta read. You read The Wall Street Journal, you read Harpers, and you read Wacko, and you read The Televive Press, and you read everything. You try to read it all and be a man sharing in the actions and passions of his time. Read Yankee from Olympus, the autobiography of Oliver Wendell Holmes. A man cannot live until he has shared in the actions and passions of his time.

G: I dunno. It seems, and I’m guilty of this, too, that it’s easier to just throw your hands up and sit back.

L: There’s a certain daoist side to that, sure. The leader who leads by not leading. That’s okay, too.

G: It’s not the best solutions, but it’s, you know…

L: The best solution is a big forty-proof bottle of gin.

G: You’re a gin man, aren’t you?

L: I used to be vodka, but my mother said that gin’s got judaburg in it, and that’s about the only decent piece of advice she ever gave me. Judaburg, apparently, is healthy. You won’t get malaria. There’s a lot of malaria in New York, as you know. Those mosquitoes are all over the place.

G: I think that’s what I had last week, when I had to postpone the second part of the interview.

L: Well, there you go.

G: I was going to ask you about the effects of your two books, and your documentary, Make Your Own Damn Movie. Have you had people approach you, through things like Tromadance, and tell you that they’ve made their own films based on your books and documentary?

L: Yes, quite a number. If you go to Amazon.com and read those reviews, you’ll see that many people from all over the world have put up reviews saying that’s exactly what they did. The book’s inspired them to make their own damn movie. You know Ang Lee, have you heard of him?

G: Yes.

L: Well, need I say anymore?

G: Ang Lee’s a Troma disciple, eh?

L: He’s certainly written enough about it. Have you heard of Busley Berkley at all?

G: No.

L: Well, go to the IMDB. You’ll see that he wasn’t going to make a movie until he read Make Your Own Damn Movie.

G: Well, I know you’ve got Eli Roth, who counts himself amongst the Troma faithful.

L: Oh, that’s great. I didn’t know that.

G: Have you ever run into any surprising Troma fans?

L: Certainly, James Ivory. That was a big surprise. Jon Voigt.

G: Really? Jon Voigt?

L: Yeah.

G: Wow.

L: Troma’s a guilty pleasure of many, many people.

G: Were you shocked that Lemmy is such a fan.

L: I was very happy.

G: I finally got one of his CDs, actually. I’ve been a fan of his stuff for a long time, but I’ve yet to go out and actually buy an album, so I went online and got one his greatest hits collections.

L: That’s great.

G: Is there anybody out there whose work has influenced. Maybe, someone whose work has really impressed you?

L: Takashi Miike. I’d say that he was a big fan of Troma, but it’s come around, and now I’m the one who’s inspired by him. Alex Dela Englazias, the Spanish director, who’s also a big fan of Troma and loves me, but now, I’m looking at his movies. Gaspar Noey, who did The Irreversible, who loves Troma, and I think I’m influenced by his stuff. Mike Figgits, who’s probably never heard of Troma, but I definitely love his movies.

G: Is there ever a temptation to do remakes of past Troma glories?

L: No. I already did the remake of Amestad, and that’s enough.

G: Like, if somebody offered you a whole pile of money to do a remake of The Toxic Avenger, would you do it?

L: Oh, sure. And get it right this time.

G: I think you got it right the first time.

L: Thank you. But sure, absolutely. If somebody gave me a shit load of money, I’d do it in a minute.

G: Tell us really quick about the Toxic Avenger book, if you could.

L: It’s coming out in May, through Avalon. The actual imprint is called ThundersMouth Press, which is an imprint owned by Avalon Press. They’re Norman Mailer and J.D. Salinger’s publishers, and they’re the best. The book comes out in May, and the novel will give you the back story of Tromaville, and the Troma indians, and Toxie’s mom and her family tree. J.D. Salinger actually wrote a chapter for the novel. As did Mr. Oliver Stone.

G: Is J.D. Salinger dead yet?

L: If he is, then I don’t know how he wrote that chapter.

G: What’s your favorite film that you’ve directed?

L: I think Poultrygeist. I think Poultrygeist’s going to be something that is, if it were a fair world, something that is a major part of film history. I think my swan song’s going to be a chicken hymn.

G: I personally can’t wait to see it. I read the magazine article on Troma.com. I’ve looked over the cast, and it just looks like really good stuff.

L: It’s all coming together. I really think it’s going to be a masterpiece.

G: Well, personally, and this is probably going to be the most kiss ass thing I’ve said in this interview, but Troma has yet to let me down with a movie. The only one I didn’t care for was Toxic Avenger Part III, and even that one was still entertaining.

L: That was one of the ones were I compromised and regretted it.

G: Well, you know, even a bad Troma movie is still pretty damn good.

L: I agree, and I thank you for saying so.

G: I was going to ask you about the many, many pseudonyms you’ve had over the years. Is that just you being crazy?

L: I was in the Director’s Guild of America, and in order to make a living, I would have to go out and be a production manager on big-time movies. That was kind of my film school, was working on movies like Rocky and Saturday Night Fever.  So, while I was directing my own movies, which were not done under union rules, I would have to use a pseudonym. And the union, the Director’s Guild, kept putting me up on charges. They kept bothering me, so I just said “Fuck it.” I resigned from the Director’s Guild, and used my own name. So, that was the end of my career, pretty much. Because I was never gonna be able to move up the food chain, because I’m not in the Director’s Guild. So, thanks to them, I’m ruined.

G: It’s okay. You still have your fans. And Michael Herz. And Lemmy.

L: Well, Troma’s the longest running independent movie studio in history.

G: I’d say there’s a good reason for that.

L: Point is, the Director’s Guild forced me out, and maybe they shouldn’t have done that. Maybe, if they kept me in, I could’ve brought them a lot of glory. Instead of In Her Shoes, which is kind of the typical movie that their membership is making.

G: Well, it’s their loss.

L: I think it may well be. I would not wanna be depending on my Director’s Guild pension. I’d say they’re in the same boat that General Motors is in.

G: If you could shoot any movie, any idea in your head, and you could cast it any way you wanted, and nothing could hold you back, what would you do?

L: I’d do Pal Joey, the John O’Hara short story that was made into a musical by Rogers and Hart. And it’s very dark. There’s a lot of wonderful songs. I’d love to do that.

G: Is there anybody you’d like to cast in it? Or in any movie?

L: I like Fiona Apple.

G: Yeah, she’s pretty good.

L: I like her brain and her beauty.

G: That last album she put out was pretty good.

L: I actually dedicated my first book to her, back in 1996.

G: Have you actually met her?

L: Nope.

G: No.

L: At any rate, go on.

G: Funniest joke you’ve heard lately?

L: I haven’t heard any.

G: Well, here. I’ve got one you can use at parties.

L: Okay.

G: Okay, you hold out your arms out, like you’re being crucified, and you say “What’s this?” and people will go, “I don’t know, what is that?” and you say, “A really shitty way to spend Easter.”

L: (Laughs) Good one.

G: Anyway, I was actually wondering if you could tell me a little about the whole Morton Downey thing, from a few years back.

L: I was brought on under false pretenses. They said it was gonna be a Halloween celebration, a big party, and everybody there loved Troma. And I went on, and the audience had been primed…

G: To tear you to pieces?

L: Yeah. When the time came. And my wife had just given birth, and it was our first night after she had given birth to our mutant child, and that was that. They wanted to kick me off the stage. And the only way to get off the stage was to walk through the audience, and some of them were carrying fake weapons, and I didn’t want to go through that. It was like a wrestling match. So, I stayed on the stage. I figured I’d wait on the stage. I refused to leave. And they had their big, fat thugs pull me off. My watch flew off, and they dislocated my shoulder, and all that kind of stuff.

G: And you haven’t done one of those shows since, right?

L: Well, I’ve been a little more careful. I refuse to go on the Geraldo show, because he’s a scumbag. But for the most part, I’ll go on a show. I’ve been on Politically Incorrect a couple of times. I just don’t want to go on something that’s going to be stupid.

G: I always thought Bill Maher looked like somebody who’d be a little difficult to hang out.

L: As long as it’s an intelligent show.

G: Yeah.

L: My problem was that they brought me there, and then they beat me up.

G: You got beat up on Bill Maher’s show, too?

L: No, no. On Morton Downey.

G: Didn’t he die of cancer?

L: Yeah.

G: Oh, okay.

L: I was out of town, when the booking came in, and my assistant thought it would be a good idea. And it was a new show, too.  That was the first week it was on. In fact, before, it was live, and after my event, it went on tape delay. We sued them, too.

G: Did you win?

L: Yeah.

G: Awesome.

L: They definitely were shamed, and they were definitely punished. And he’s dead, too.

G: Yeah.

L: And the little shit who made Street Trash was in the audience. And after I was hauled off, he went to the podium, because they let the audience come up and say anything, and he said, “I’m not like that guy,” meaning, Lloyd Kaufman, “I’m with you people.” He was doing The Ox Bow Incident. And Street Trash was a total rip-off of a Troma movie anyway.

G: Yeah, it seems that Troma’s been very influencal on a number of B-movie-esque movies.

L: Not just B-movies, but Peter Jackson.

G: Well, it looks like Slither has a definite Troma vibe going for it.

L: Well, James and I worked together. And he’s the best. He wrote Tromeo and Juliet.

G: Oh, he wrote Slither?

L: Yeah.

G: Oh, okay, okay.

L: He’s been doing everything he can to help Troma. He’s wonderful. He and his wife made a movie called Lollilove, which is one of our best movies this year.

G: I’ll have to check it out.

L: Please do. It’s a wonderful film, directed by Jenna Fischer, who’s also the star of The Office.

G: Okay, last question, and then, you’re free from me, until I feel like bothering you again. What do you want Troma to be remembered for?

L: I don’t know. I don’t care. I would like to be remembered for being loyal to my friends, to my partners, to my wife, and being a genuine supporter of art and independent spirit.

G: I think that can be arranged.