Gone Fishing: An Interview With the Legendary John Lurie

What first attracted me to John Lurie as an artist was a passionate sense of nonchalance. A contradiction, yes, but as a wildly talented man who focused on his varying artistic endeavors, he seemed to exude a sense of ease and agility, weaving his way between mediums while creating something idiosyncratic and bizarrely unique. Since the early 1970s, the prolific man of talents has become a cultural icon, transcending movements and finding new ways to reinvent himself as an artist. Starting out as the frontman for illustrious jazz band The Lounge Lizards, Lurie played a mean sax before pursuing acting, starring in some of Jim Jarmusch’s best films—Stranger Than Paradise and Down By Law, among others. But it was the 1990s television show he conceived and directed which really catapulted him into a cult obsession: the strange, wonderful, and hilarious Fishing With John.

The concept of the show was simple: each episode, Lurie would take one of his pals to a certain locale around the world and fish. Just real men doing real things. Those pals also just happened to be Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits, Willem Dafoe, Dennis Hopper, and Matt Dillon. From Maine, Jamacia, and Thailand, Lurie would travel with his guest of honor and set out to brave the elements, search new territory, and, of course, catch some fish. The result was a fantastic exploration of finding the comedy in the mundane—the pleasure of watching two men sit on a boat in the heat or freezing to death on a frozen lake heightened to the surreal, with a narrated voiceover that could double you over. Tom Waits gets cranky, Jim Jarmusch is bored, Willem Dafoe dies, Dennis Hopper is…well, Dennis Hopper, and naturally a bit of disaster ensues.

Fishing With John is currently streaming on Netflix, but has also been released by the Criterion Collection, and tonight, Lurie is headed to Nitehawk Cinema for the second time. After a screening and Q&A back in November, he will be returning to show three episodes of the Fishing With John, in addition to his 1979 film Men in Orbit and two of his short films . 

Personally, I had seen the series a while ago and loved it. But recently, my friend and I spent a Friday night sitting in my bed watching all six episodes, rediscovering just how enjoyable it truly is, and coming to the conclusion that I’d have to get the chance to talk with Lurie myself. Thankfully, he agreed to carry on an email interview with me to talk more about his early jazz days, the late-night inception of Fishing With John, and his more recent work as a highly acclaimed painter.

Can you tell me a little about the beginning of your career in the late ’70s and the beginnings of The Lounge Lizards? New York was obviously a very different place then; did that breed a certain kind of creative energy for you? You’ve always had a very idiosyncratic sound but how was the music scene for jazz at that time?
That is kind of a book of a first question. I came to New York as a saxophone player and was interested in the jazz scene. But the jazz scene was pretty thin. The musicians I admired could barely get gigs and were struggling to make ends meet. I was shocked actually because they were heroes of mine and I thought of them as stars. But what was happening around that time and was very alive; it was a scene that bubbled out of the punk movement. Everything was wild and irreverent. I had come from London when things like the Sex Pistols were happening but found it kind of silly—not the Sex Pistols, but the attitude, the nihilism and the spitting. Everyone was doing things they didn’t know how to do. And through Eric Mitchell, I started making Super 8 movies. I almost had to hide the fact that I made sure to practice the saxophone every day because that was sneered at. And I most certainly did not think of anything in terms of a career at that time.

And how did you meet Jim Jarmusch and begin working together—as an actor and musician.
I met Jim on Eric Mitchell’s movie Red Italy. He was the bar tender and I danced around like a freak. He was a film student which made us all go, ick.  Being a film student to that crowd was like being an accountant, not cool at all. And if my accountant reads this, I don’t mean you PJ. Although PJ did once show me the music on his playlist and I said, See, there are no accountants with taste. He didn’t smile. But the first thing I did with Jim was play the saxophone on the street in Permanent Vacation. I gave him some music for that.

Jumping forward a decade, where did the idea for Fishing With John come from? What did you want the show to be exactly? Did you know who you wanted to bring along as guests on the episodes?
The idea came from coming home late one night, or I guess morning really, and the only thing on any channel was a fishing show. And I thought, I want to do this. I had always had this thing since I was a kid where I would watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlon Perkins and he would always be telling you what the animals were thinking, and I just always wanted to do my own show where I would tell you what the animals were thinking. So I was talking about it, more like a joke, a threat—I am going to make a fishing show. And then it sort of fell into place. 

Were there certain places you knew you wanted to travel or were they specific to each guest?
It wasn’t so thought out who I would go with or where. Tom and Jim seemed obvious. Long Island was the first one, the pilot, and was the closest, cheapest thing to do. Dennis wanted to go to Thailand. Willem decided on the ice fishing in Maine, I thought he was nuts.

Ice fishing with Willem definitely seemed the most dangerous but that one is so good. Were you nervous about going into it?
No, that wasn’t really dangerous. It wasn’t even unpleasant actually; that cold is so intense that it is kind of exciting. There is a thing that’s in the show where I get water in my glove and my hand is numb in seconds. I was actually in a bit of trouble then, but that was kind of it. There was a thing with the camera mounts on the snowmobiles, where the mount broke and the camera went flying into the air, then one of us ran over it. The sound is still going, but there’s no picture and you can hear the guy who installed the mounts screaming over the black screen, "Am I fucked now! I am so fucked now!"

And what Dennis, did you know him before going to Thailand? 
I met Dennis in Tokyo. We were doing this thing for Commes Des Garcon. We hit it off immediately. But I didn’t think he would actually do it. It was kind of amazed that he did.

 

So going into each epsiode, did you have an idea of how it would go or was it pretty much on the fly?
It was mostly on the fly. And a lot was decided in the editing room.

How did you find Rob Webb to do the voice-over? How scripted was his narration? It’s pretty perfect.
Of course it is scripted. I worked hard writing that, you think he just made it up on the spot? Damn.

No, no I didn’t think he made it up on the spot at all. Maybe I was thinking more along the lines of how you went about writing that narration because it really does make the show so entertaining. Did you anticipate the show gaining the cult following that’s gathered over the last decade?
I don’t know what I anticipated. I didn’t really think about it.

Did you run into any major sort of disasters or problems while shooting? 
It was kind of all disasters really.

Was it difficult transitioning into the art world as someone who was known for your music and film work?
Music was by far the most important thing to me, and then because I got so sick I couldn’t play anymore. I couldn’t even listen to music any more. Wasn’t really a career transition. I was stuck in my home for years and I made them, I don’t know why.

What are you drawn to as a painter or what inspires you?
I have no idea what inspires me to paint, or even why I do it at all. I think I would probably do them even if I knew no one would ever see them—meaning, if not even another human were to ever see them. There is something that compels me to do it. And I feel cleaner when I do it.

I imagine painting is a lot like creating music in that it’s about intuition and requires a spontaneity but also the structure and skill there to back that up. Do those two interests—music and painting— play off each other?
I never imagined that painting would be as real as the music was. But it is now. The best music I wrote and the best music I played, it was almost like John wasn’t there at all. The best paintings are like that now.

Something I love about a lot of your paintings is how alive they feel, in that, between the colors and the figures and the amalgamation of all the elements, you’re getting a lot of feeling from somewhere that feels very psychological. When you’re creating, is it sort of a subconscious effort?
I often invent techniques as I go. I usually have a few paintings going at once. Sometimes if I haven’t worked on one in a while and start working on it again—let’s say I was doing the side of a building by using oil pastels and graphite, but now I don’t remember exactly how I was doing it—I go, how the fuck did I do that? I think I remember, and then start but it doesn’t look right at all.

You have some pretty great titles to your paintings—I especially love ones like "the skeleton in my closet has moved back to the garden" and "there is a caveman in my apartment examining the fur. i wish he would leave." How do you go about naming a piece?
Man, I am baffled by questions like that.

Below are a few of John’s paintings but to see more check out his site or follow him on Twitter.

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Invention of animals

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Give up. Americans have the right to bear arms

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Birds of hideous divine

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You have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Good luck with that

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Panther outside of house as photogrpahed by Abraham Zapruder

Oh, Good Friday: Here Are the Ten Hottest Jesuses

If I’ve learned anything from Hollywood, it’s this: Jesus was a hottie. There’ve been hundreds of actors throughout the years who have donned the robes and the wigs and the fake beards to play our Lord and Savior, but only a select few could be singled out as being the hottest Jesuses in cinematic history. So on this Good Friday, sit back and click through this slideshow of heavenly eye-candy. There are a lot of thin white dudes with light-colored eyes to feast upon here, just as God would have wanted. Hosanna, y’all! 

Jeffrey Hunter, King of Kings (1961)

Max von Sydow, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Ted Neeley, Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

Robert Powell, Jesus of Nazareth (1977)

Brian Deacon, Jesus (1979)

Chris Sarandon, The Day Christ Died (1980)

Willem Dafoe, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Christian Bale, Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999)

Jeremy Sisto, Jesus (1999)

Jim Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ (2004)
 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

See New Photos From the Set of Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

After Moonrise Kingdom swept people away with its whimsical meditation on first love, the sartorially-minded autuer has been working hard on his next ensemble feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson and his slew of handsome stars have been shooting in Germany since the new year and whatever sector of Wes’ world this film falls into, he’s surely rounded up quite a cast. With Alexandre Desplat scoring the film, the synopsis tells us that The Grand Budapest Hotel will follow, "The troubles and tribulations of Mr. Gustave, who serves as the hotel’s perfectly composed concierge." Everyone from Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum to Ralph Fiennes and Adrien Bordy to Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel are in the mix, and thanks to The Film Stage we now have a nice roundup of images from on set, as well as a behind the scenes clip. Enjoy.

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See the First Image from Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’

Without a wealth of knowledge on the project—save a brief synopsis and some photos of the cast looking appropriately somber—the follow up to Lars von Trier’s end of the world ballet Melancholia, the psycho-erotic drama Nymphomaniac, has topped my list of anticipated films for the next year. And today we’re given a first look, albiet slight. The still from the film features von Trier muse Charlotte Gainsbourg lying helpless, injured after being attacked in a snowy back alley. Nymphomaniac focuses on her character and unfolds in eight chapters, as Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Stacy Martin, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen, Udo Kier and Jean-Marc Barr rotate in and out of the picture.

In an interview for Melancholia, Lars spoke about working on his next project and the influence of beginning to read again:

It’s an interesting point why the hell films have to be so stupid! Why do all lines have to be about something? A plot. when books have a red thread, they only brush it momentarily….Whereas a film is completely tied to the plot. Even a Tarkovsky film has nowhere near the same depth as a novel. It could be fun to take some of the novel’s qualities—even that they talk nineteen to the dozen, which is what I like in Dostoyevsky—and include that. 

It’s interesting to think how this would factor into his own writing, translating his next film into something even more powerful. Moving onto talking directly about Nymphomaniac or his second title option, Shit in the Bedsore, he went onto say that,  "But it’s no fun if they’re just humping away all the time…then it’ll just be a porn flick."

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To go a little more in depth, Nymphomaniac is a "wild and poetic story of a woman’s erotic journey from birth to age 50 as told my the main character." Gainsbourg plays Joe, the self-diagnosed nymphomaniac whon, on a cold winter’s evening, meets the old, charming bachelor Seligman (played by Skarsgard). After finding Joe in an alley, Seligman brings her home where he "cares for her wounds while asking her about her life." As he listens, the eight chapters unfold as she recounts the "lushly branched-out  and multi-faceted story of her life, rich in associations, and interjecting incidents.

Things You Should Include in a Super Bowl Ad To Make It Not Terrible

Super Bowl 47 is behind us, Ray Lewis will take the field nevermore, Beyoncé and Destiny’s Child (briefly) awed, wings were consumed and the field of multimillion-dollar commercials sported a whole lot of mediocre offerings. At their best, the ads will be memes maybe through the rest of the week, at their worst; they were sexist or overly pandering. Taco Bell went with the cliché old-people-gone-wild approach. Dodge will probably get a lot of people talking about the “God Made A Farmer” spot, which, though beautifully done, making a very important point and featuring the beautiful, clear ringing voice of Paul Harvey, felt cheap and pandering at the end when it became about the truck. Also, it’s been done, and not as a car commercial.

And then there was the usual glut of gross, objectifying ads, which it’s sad that I even have to say “usual glut of gross, objectifying ads” in 2013 or at all, including Audi calling assaulting a woman “brave,” Axe Body Spray continuing to corner the douche market and GoDaddy surprising no one. Why do you actively want to pay lots of money to continue to be the absolute worst in front of millions of people, GoDaddy? Why?  It is 2013, there have been 47 Super Bowls, ads objectifying women and excusing sexual assault are a part of our collective largest cultural event and an expectation, and advertisers should know better than that. We can do better.

That said, not every Super Bowl commercial was completely terrible. Here are some things people put in their commercials that made them entertaining or effective without being sexist or cheapening an important point. See you next year.

I. Staged fights in unlikely places.

Not much to say about this one other than the Oreo library brawl commercial was the first ad of the whole night that I didn’t flat-out hate. There’s still a place for slapstick, and it’s a pretty typical device for Super Bowl spots, but it worked here.

II. Stars from recently departed or on-their-way-out NBC comedies.

Nothing like watching the soul-crushing circle-jerk of CBS touting their “most watched” status during the breaks thanks to awful, unfunny sitcoms like Two-and-a-Half Men and 2 Broke Girls to make you want to watch the programming of pretty much any other network.  Appropriately enough, two of the funniest ads of the night came from stars from NBC’s Thursday night lineup, the first in which National Treasure Amy Poehler made jokes about the word “dongle” for Best Buy and Twitter went crazy because Amy Poehler.

And then, for Americans still mourning the loss of 30 Rock, Tracy Morgan essentially reprised Tracy Jordan / played himself in a brief tribute to American ingenuity for Mio Fit sports drinks. “We didn’t like the shape of our chickens so we made them into nuggets!”

III. Baby pandas in spacesuits. 

This Kia Sorrento commercial that responded to “where do babies come from?” was a bit bizarre, but it did have smiling baby pandas in spacesuits, which is certainly an upgrade from those weird E-Trade talking baby commercials that dominated the space for a while. We’re moving up, people.

IV. “Landslide.”

The Budweiser Clydesdales have become as synonymous with the Super Bowl as the Lombardi trophy and Buffalo wings, so expectations (at least among people who pay attention to advertising things) are pretty high. Like many hyperemotional Super Bowl ads, this one was cheesy and using our emotions to sell us stuff, but it included two of the most wonderful and effective tug-at-the-heartstrings devices: interspecies friendships and “Landslide.” Mostly “Landslide.” For real, you could set one of those terrible Axe body spray commercials to “Landslide” and it would seem like there was actually a soul present in it.

V. Leon Sandcastle.

A lot of the ads about football during a football game were hokey or overdone, but Deion Sanders’ goofy “Leon Sandcastle” spot, wherein the NFL Network lampooned the hype machine it creates, was fun.

VI. Willem Dafoe as Satan.

Like most car commercials throughout the evening, the “Soul” spot for Mercedes-Benz was kind of dumb, but “Sympathy for the Devil” and a smirking Dafoe redeemed it. Someone needs to make a movie wherein Willem Dafoe plays the Devil. He’s already played Jesus. It only makes sense.

See Willem Dafoe As An Ill-Fated Boss In Antony’s “Cut The World” Video

The video for Antony and the Johnsons’ “Cut the World” has enough contemplative gazing-out-the-window- shots to rival the last season finale of Mad Men, but with a far more unsettling conclusion. In the video, the first taste of Antony Hegarty’s new live album of the same name, his lush and lovely baroque pop track plays while some office drama plays out between boss-man Willem Dafoe and his revenge-hungry executive assistant, played by Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones.

The video is the work of Nabil Elderkin, who directed some recent and well-received clips for Kanye West, Frank Ocean and more, and artist Marina Abramovic, who collaborated with Dafoe for the play The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, makes an appearance as a fellow unlikely assassin.

Those who will not be able to see Hegarty’s work at the Meltdown Festival in London next week can watch below, but if vengeful throat slashing isn’t your bag, you may not want to stick around for the final third or so. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Johnny Depp is the Newest Addition to The Wes Anderson Players

Upon seeing the news this morning about a new Wes Anderson film titled The Grand Budapest Hotel and starring Johnny Depp, I immediately assumed someone was making a joke about Anderson and Depp’s recent work seeming tired or repetitive, wrapped in an allusion to the early-bird-special comedy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. But it seems I was wrong! After Moonrise Kingdom brought in $40 million at the box office with its whimsical meditation on love and youth, the sartorially minded auteur is already gearing up for his next project—and everyone seems to be abuzz with anticipation.

There has yet to be much revealed about the film, save the fact that it will be set in Europe and stray from the “family-friendly,” nature of his recent work. Scott Rudin, who has worked with Anderson since the Tenenbaum days, will come onboard as a producer as the list of possible actors grows from his usual favorites like Bill Murray and Owen Wilson to Willem Dafoe and Angela Lansbury.

And as for Johnny Depp, it will be a relief to see him take on something new, even if it means hopping in the arms of a new auteur. Not to say his work hasn’t been good over the past few years, but it will be nice to see him take on something challenging (not like, say, The Tourist). Wes Anderson’s films speak their own cinematic language, and it’ll be interesting is to see how Depp, someone so honed in his own personal style, adapts to that world. 

Willem Dafoe & Paz de la Huerta Consider the Apocalypse in Abel Ferrara’s ‘4:44 Last Day on Earth’

With December 21, 2012 just on the horizon, movies about the end of the world seem to be popular right now. In 4:44 Last Day on Earth, Abel Ferrara of Bad Lieutenant infamy explores what would happen if everyone on Earth knew the apocalypse was coming, and how they’d cope. Led by Willem Dafoe’s existential angst, it looks to be what you’d expect from the man who once directed Harvey Keitel to masturbate in a car window for like seven minutes. "With these final minutes, it doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you have," a newscaster intones at the start of the trailer, "today we are all going to face the same fate at the same moment." (It’s not a comedy.)

Effusive praise from high-minded critical bastions like Sight and Sound and Film Looks accompany the trailer, which overlays dramatic religious imagery over a twangy, Western-influenced score. Paz de la Huerta (Boardwalk Empire) and Natasha Lyonne (American Pie) also show up because the end of the world isn’t complete without some intergender boozing, and what sex is better than apocalypse sex? Last Day on Earth is set to received a limited theatrical run on March 23.

Golden Globes’ Blindsight: Highlighting Oscar’s Dark Horses

Yesterday, we learned many things with Golden Globe nominees. Above all: That many of all will overlook most industry snubs if Joseph Gordon-Levitt picks up not only his Golden Globe, but also his Independent Spirit Award, and makes real the chance for Cameron from 10 Things I Hate About You to become a real Oscar contender. But also that movie awards snubs come in two classes. There are those that while snubbed by the decidedly popcorn-flick favoring ranks of the Hollywood Foreign Press, still stand a very real chance at Oscar gold. And then there are those must scale a nearly impossible impasse before they get on Oscar the Grouch’s radar. These are what we call “dark horses” and they’re delightful! A quick run-down after the break.

Best Picture, Drama, Musical, or Comedy: I don’t really understand the point of separating films up into such three pointless genres, but that’s the Foreign Press for you! In any regard, Precious for its many well-deserved nominations, probably shouldn’t be counting a Best Picture among them. Rather, a film like Amreeka, and perhaps even Up which only appears in the Best Picture, Animated category but was one of the year’s most universally-appealing films, would’ve made excellent additions. Oscar still possible? Eh, the competition for this prize will play out almost the same way at the Oscars with Amreeka getting ignored and Up being marginalized to the kids’ table.

• Best Actor, Drama: Dafoe’s turn in Antichrist is an odd case. It works as an offbeat Oscar favorite and a dark horse alike. Even though, at this point, an actor must realize that for all the critical attention starring in a Lars von Trier vehicle earns him, it will never get him anywhere near Oscar gold. If Björk couldn’t do it with Dancer In the Dark or Nicole Kidman with Dogville, Willem Dafoe will never do it with something even more outrageous like Antichrist. Proceed to rage, rage against the dying of the light, if you must. Oscar still possible? Nope.

• Best Supporting Actor, Drama: I’m totally going to keep crowing the same old song here: Alan Rickman needs more than a single prize for his turn as Severus Snape. Oscar still possible? Possibly in 2012, which is when the last Harry Potter flick will ideally take home a barrel-load of awards for the entire franchise’s cinematic and blockbuster achievements.

• Best Actress, Drama: As highlighted with her ISA nomination, Amreeka‘s Nisreen Faour would’ve made for a refreshing upset. Especially in the place of someone like Julia Roberts who must’ve gotten an award because many voters, having not seen any of the filmes, voted on name alone. Honestly though, the real shitshow’s in the Best Actress, Musical or Comedy category where Meryl Strep is nominated twice. Oops! We’ll cut Faour’s loss here, then. Oscar still possible? Yes and here’s why. The Oscars are like a genetic cross-breed between the Golden Globes and the ISAs. It’s that rare recessive trait that presents a totally unexpected candidate–and because such nominees tend rile up critics and consumers alike, the Academy tries to curb such instances. Should Faour turn her ISA nomination into a win, then Oscar chances spike accordingly. The Academy also loves immigrant tales and occasionally vaulting unknowns into the limelight. Both should help Faour overcome this glaring GG oversight.

• Best Supporting Actress, Drama: Diane Kruger from Inglourious Basterds. Yes, yes, the Bear Jew was quite yum!, the Jew Hunter was ahh! ,and even Aldo was LOL! at times, but damn, Bridget von Hammersmark was diii-vine. In fact, von Hammersmark was the bad-assiest of all the Basterds in all the movie. More than that, von Hammersmark is easily one of Quentin Tarantino’s most impressive accomplishments as a heroine. Tarantino basically sucks at writing women. This insight from someone who adored all of Kill Bill. Nonetheless, Krüger did something remarkable with von Hammersmark’s character: She essayed a Tarantinian femme fatale while keeping her fatale from completely overtaking her femininity. The end result was the only supporting character who could hold her own against Colonel Landa and make you wonder why Basterds didn’t simply feature Christoph Waltz and Krüger butting heads. Oscar still possible? Not really. She’s failed to amass buzz this far and as the awards shuffle goes into overdrive, sadly Kruger seems set to get lost in the mix. Although the Academy is totally welcome to prove me wrong.

• Best Director, Drama: Many are faulting Pedro Almódovar for kind of phoning it in with Broken Embraces, which is why he’s slid from “critical darling” to “dark horse” this year. Although, such positive response really can’t lie. And let’s say that Broken Embraces wasn’t quite Talk to Her, we’ve let industry favorites slip in with worse material. Who else is going to remember Renée Zellweger’s undeserved 2003 Oscar for Cold Mountain? Anyone? Oscar still possible? Easily.