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Film critic David Edelstein

Film critic David Edelstein reviews City of God.

05:29

Other segments from the episode on January 24, 2003

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 24, 2003: Interview with Chris and Paul Weitz; Interview with Garth Fagan; Review of the film "City of god."

Transcript

DATE January 24, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
 TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
 NETWORK NPR
 PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Chris and Paul Weitz discuss films they have directed
BARBATA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

"About a Boy" starring Hugh Grant is a relatively small-budget Hollywood movie
that has made a big impression. Last year, Time magazine film critic Richard
Schickel called it `the smartest, funniest and most winsome big-studio release
of a so-far dismal year,' and the film earned Grant a Golden Globe nomination
for best actor. It's now out on video and DVD.

Chris and Paul Weitz directed "About a Boy," which they adapted from a novel
of the same name by Nick Hornby, who also wrote "High Fidelity." The Weitz
brothers seem like an unlikely pair to take on this sophisticated comedy
since they were best known for directing the teen comedy "American Pie." They
also wrote the screenplay for the animated film "Antz." Terry spoke with
Chris and Paul Weitz last June.

"About a Boy" stars Hugh Grant as a single guy living on the royalties of his
late father's hit novelty Christmas song. He enjoys the uncommitted life--no
job, no family--but he does like having relationships with women as long as
they don't require a deep commitment. He's figured out that single mothers
are easier to score with. So he pretends to be a single father, which is his
ticket into a single parents' group, where he hopes to meet women. Here he is
at a meeting, putting on his act.

(Soundbite of "About a Boy")

Mr. HUGH GRANT: I have a two-year-old, Ned. He's got blue eyes and sort of
sandy-colored hair and he's about 2'3". Um--and his mum left.

Unidentified Woman #1: Really?

Mr. GRANT: Yeah. Yeah. I mean obviously, it was a very big shock because we
were so happy. Sandra's neurology practice was just up and running, and then
one day her bags were packed and my best friend was waiting outside in his
Ferrari. Yeah. You know the Moderna, the one with the supercharged engine,
where you can actually see the engine through the back window?

Unidentified Woman #2: May I ask, does your ex see Ned at all?

Mr. GRANT: Well, sorry, I didn't catch your name.

Unidentified Woman #2: Susie.

Mr. GRANT: Susie. She doesn't see much of him, no. No.

Unidentified Woman #2: How does he cope without her?

Mr. GRANT: Well, you know, he's a very good little boy, very brave. They've
got amazing resources, don't they? Just the other day I was thinking about my
ex, and he came crawling up and put his little pudgy arms around my neck and
he said, `You hang in there, Dad.'

Unidentified Woman #2: God, that's amazing for a two-year-old.

Mr. GRANT: Is it?

Group: Yes.

GROSS: Chris and Paul Weitz, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. CHRIS WEITZ and Mr. PAUL WEITZ (Directors, "About a Boy"): (In unison)
Thank you for having us.

GROSS: Is there anything that you related about the scheme of this single guy
to create an imaginary kid so he can make it with single mothers?

Mr. C. WEITZ: The fact that we've done that before, I think, really...

GROSS: I knew it.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. They're method actors, we're method directors.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Well, I think that every man at some point or other has come up
with some cockamamy scheme to meet women, whether it be a haircut or a much
larger kind of con. So I suppose I could sympathize with that, but more so
with the character who essentially does nothing because he can afford to do
nothing and is trying to occupy his time on the way to the grave as
entertainingly as possible.

Mr. P. WEITZ: I think, I mean, in a larger sense, I certainly can identify
with the idea that you pretend to be something before you actually are that
thing. I mean, when we first were getting the chance to direct, we had no
idea what we were doing, and we actually didn't pretend all that much. We
pretty much told people we didn't know what we were doing, and this is a guy
who pretends to have a child, and during the course of the movie he actually
finds that the one thing that he's pretty good at is being a mentor, or father
figure. He's not particularly good at anything else.

GROSS: Did you read this book when it was first published?

Mr. C. WEITZ: We didn't actually, no. It had already been published for
three years by the time I got around to reading it, and I read it on vacation.
And Paul and I had been looking for a book or a movie idea with a kind of
Billy Wilderesque theme to pursue, and I thought this was the one.
Unfortunately, it had already been bought by Robert De Niro's production
company, by New Line Studios. So it had been knocking around for a while
before we came to it.

Mr. P. WEITZ: There was another director attached, which was the unfortunate
part, and there was another script which had changed the character to be an
American living in London. We read it and we thought that Hugh Grant would be
perfect for it, because it was supposed to be somebody who's sort of gotten by
on their charm through much of their life, and I think you can really believe
that with Hugh. And it was also incredibly funny in a very verbal way, and
Hugh's great at that kind of thing, so we just sort of hovered around like
vultures until the project fell apart, actually.

GROSS: And how did you convince the people you needed to convince, who I
imagine included De Niro's production company and Nick Hornby, the author of
the book, that you were the guys?

Mr. P. WEITZ: I don't know that we ever did convince Nick Hornby, so
hopefully once he saw the film--no, he's been very kind about the film, and I
think that he feels like we were really true to the spirit of the book.

Mr. C. WEITZ: But I think that both he and Hugh had their doubts about
whether the directors of "American Pie" could make this kind of book into the
kind of movie that it is. I think they were so rabid about getting a chance
to do it that eventually they just gave up on trying to put us off.

Mr. P. WEITZ: I mean, how...

GROSS: Well, I can understand that they would think that the directors of
"American Pie" are the wrong guys to do this, so what did you do? I mean, did
you show up and say, `Well, we made that movie and it did really well, but
that's not who we really are'?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well, not really. I mean, just by being mildly articulate, you
know, you get a lot of credit. I mean, the lower the bar is, in a certain
way, it was as if they were dealing with a talking chimp, you know--the fact
that we directed "American Pie," but, you know, had some degree of
sensitivity. I mean, the thing is that our approach to "American Pie" was
pretty much to try to make it as humanistic a telling of that genre piece as
possible.

But no, we also stuck around. I mean, the project didn't get made for a
little while, and I think that we could clearly articulate what we wanted it
to be like, which helped the studio get its head around it. And we said we
wanted to try to make a movie that is akin to "The Apartment," which
actually--I mean, the character in "The Apartment" has a similarly ludicrous
scheme to get ahead, which is that he thinks he's going to get ahead in the
corporate world by loaning his boss the keys to his flat so his boss can have
affairs, you know--not a particularly wise, you know, way of climbing up the
corporate ladder. But that's a movie that also has some really dark sort of
things happening in the middle of a very funny comedy, so I think that if
you're able to articulate the tone of what you're trying to do, then you're
ahead of the game.

GROSS: Nick Hornby's novels are filled with pop culture references. He wrote
"High Fidelity," and even in "About a Boy," I mean, one of the ways in which
the main character mentors the boy in his life is by giving him the right CDs
and buying him the right sneakers...

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and it's just a lot of pop culture stuff. How did you find a
visual language that you thought would work with the kind of pop style of Nick
Hornby?

Mr. P. WEITZ: I mean, for one thing, when you're following Hugh at first, we
shot it sort of like a very slick commercial, and the color tone is all blue,
and when you're seeing the kid, the camera's fairly static and there's a lot
of sort of warm earth colors. I mean, the other thing we did...

Mr. C. WEITZ: So there's a distinction, initially, between the kinds of
worlds in which these two people operate. The first sequence, you never see
Hugh's face in the credit sequence. You just see things. You know, we
decided his apartment was very much about the things in it, so it's a lot of
shots of very glossy, shiny objects that people might like to have, so when we
do see him in the trappings of pop culture, it's often in a, you know,
gigantic record store or a superstore.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. And in the movie, we tried to put him in as many sort of
gigantic consumer venues as we possibly could. I mean, the other thing, too,
is that, I mean, when he buys the kid these sneakers in the movie--because the
kid is dressed horribly by his mother and given a horrible haircut--he buys
the kid these sort of cool sneakers, but, I mean, in the usual way you'd
handle that, the kid would be transformed and there'd be some sort of, you
know, musical montage where he's making the kid look cool. In this version,
the next thing you see is the kid's standing barefoot in the rain because the
kids at his school have stolen the sneakers that Hugh Grant has given him.

I think that going back also to "The Apartment," there's this fantastic shot
of Jack Lemmon at the insurance company where he works, surrounded by tons and
tons of uniform desks, which is actually, I think, a quote of a film called
"The Crowd," which was a great silent film about sort of the American Dream.
But nowadays I think that, to intellectualize somewhat, we've gone from being
a manufacturing culture to a consumer culture, so in this case we were trying
to put him in these sort of gigantic consumer venues that would depersonalize
him.

BOGAEV: Chris and Paul Weitz, directors of the film "About a Boy." It's now
out on video and DVD. We'll continue Terry's interview with them after this
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Let's get back to Terry Gross' interview with Chris and Paul Weitz.
They directed the film adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel "About a Boy." It's
just been released on video and DVD.

The first movie they directed was the hit teen comedy "American Pie" about a
group of boys in their senior year of high school who vow to lose their
virginity by the end of the senior prom. The film starred Jason Biggs.
Eugene Levy played his well-meaning but clueless father. In this scene, Levy
goes into Biggs' room for a father-son talk about the facts of life.

(Soundbite of "American Pie")

Mr. EUGENE LEVY: (As Jim's father) Oh, I almost forgot. I bought some
magazines. You want to just flip to the center section? Well, this is the
female form, and they have focused on the breasts, which are used primarily to
feed young infants, and also in foreplay.

Mr. JASON BIGGS: (As Jim) Right.

Mr. LEVY: This is Hustler, and this is a much more exotic magazine. Now they
have decided to focus more on the pubic region, the whole groin area.

Mr. BIGGS: Right. Uh-huh.

Mr. LEVY: Look at the expression on her face. You see that? See what she's
doing? She's kind of looking right into your eyes, saying, `Hey, big boy.
Hey, how you doing?' You see?

Mr. BIGGS: Right.

GROSS: Now this is a teen movie about several guys who kind of make this pact
that they'll lose their virginity before college, hopefully by the time of the
senior prom. And the movie is their adventures in virginity losing.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah.

GROSS: I mean, is that the kind of movie you felt like, `Yeah, this is it.
This is what I really wanted to direct'?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well, the thing is, to me, it was a very human contained story.
To us, what it was really about was guys going through a rite of passage--not
the rite of passage of losing their virginity, but the rite of passage of
graduating from high school. And they have this incredibly close friendship,
and they all sort of know that they're not really going to be able to be that
kind of friends anymore, so in order to not dwell on that, they become
obsessed with losing their virginity. And also what we were consciously
trying to do was to make the film less misogynistic than most of the films of
that genre tend to be.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Yeah. I think there are a few genre conventions that we had to
satisfy. There have to be some breasts on display at some point or other, and
people have to be caught in compromising positions. But that seemed to be the
easy thing to do, all the gross-out humor. What felt harder was to portray a
kind of updating of certain what had been stereotypes in teen sex comedies and
to realize that a film like "Porky's" was, in fact, incredibly misogynistic
and ugly, and to try to put women a bit more in control of the situations in
this film.

GROSS: I thought it was interesting. Most of the guys in "American Pie" are
actually revealed to be very vulnerable, even though they're putting on this
big front.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Yeah.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. No. It's a film where pretty much everybody is trying
to be nice to each other and--yeah, so I agree.

GROSS: Well, now I have to ask you about the actual title scene, the pie
scene. And for listeners who haven't seen it, you know, a friend who claims
to have lost his virginity says--when asked what it feels like, he compares it
to the feeling of an apple pie. So the Jason Biggs character tests this out
by getting intimate with a pie and, of course, his father, played by Eugene
Levy, walks in as this is happening. What went through your mind in
considering how you should shoot that whole sequence?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well, the first thing that we said to the studio is, `Look, you
know, we're going to be very delicate. It's going to lose the comedy of this
if you see too much.' And then we got there and we said, you know, `What the
hell? Let's just shoot as much as we can.'

Mr. C. WEITZ: Well, it's not just `What the hell?' There's actually no way
to show someone...

Mr. P. WEITZ: That's true.

Mr. C. WEITZ: ...having sex with a pie without showing someone having sex
with a pie. I think to us, the important thing was more the interaction
between the kid and his father afterwards than the gag itself, which is
fairly--you know, if you're willing to do that on film, then you've achieved
the strength of that gross-out gag, but the more important stuff is that his
father is actually willing to cover up for him and, in some way, is actually
trying to deal with his son's--what seems to him is his perversion.

Mr. P. WEITZ: The film was interesting in terms of when it came out, because
it actually came out right after the Columbine shootings. And so the
Columbine shootings led to a huge questioning of the role of the R rating in
society, and our film got sort of swept up in the question of, you know,
should kids be allowed to go see films that are perhaps violent? So to me,
you know, the idea that America sweeps in sort of sexuality with violence and
lumps them together in terms of how it deals with them in terms of its
entertainment was interesting. And in retrospect, you know, you have this
image of American as apple pie, and so I thought there were a few interesting
aspects to that being a central image of the film.

GROSS: What were some of the issues surrounding, like, what kind of rating
you wanted to get for the film, whether you wanted a PG or an R or...

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well, at first we had a...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. P. WEITZ: No. Well, we wanted an R...

GROSS: Why did you want an R?

Mr. P. WEITZ: ...as opposed to an NC-17.

GROSS: Oh, I see. Right, yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: We knew that it would never get a PG-13, just because...

GROSS: Well, it's about virginity, so how are you going to do that? Yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Yeah.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: It's about sex. But at the same time, we didn't want an NC-17,
which is--if you haven't heard of it, it's because films that get an NC-17
rating never get seen. It's the rating above R, between R and X. And for
about four cuts of the film, we were stuck in that kind of middle territory.
And, you know, you get involved in these rather bizarre horse trading moments
with the MPAA, in which you say, `You know, well, I'll take out one F-word if
you give us this extra thrust on the pie.' And so we went through a rather
surreal period of watering down the film without watering it down too much.

GROSS: Now, so, you know, your two best-known films are a teen comedy, a teen
kind of, like, sex and gross-out comedy that is much more--I don't
know--sensitive is the right word than a lot of other films in that genre, and
your other big film is "About a Boy," which is a much more kind of, like,
sophisticated, witty story about adults.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. And I...

GROSS: So compare for us how both of those films were tested and marketed
before they were set forth into movie theaters.

Mr. C. WEITZ: The system for testing a film, any studio film, is the same
nowadays. There's a research company called NRG and they run a kind of market
testing thing in which you invite what's supposed to be an arbitrarily
selected audience to watch the film and grade it, and they have these cards on
which they score the film in various ways and list their favorite scenes and
the scenes they liked least and that sort of thing. You try, as filmmakers,
to bias the selected audience as much towards, you know, what you think is
your hard-core demographic. So, of course, we only wanted teen-agers to come
to the "American Pie" test screening, and I think we only wanted bourgeois
mid-30s people to come to this one. And then you wait for this score, which
is a kind of strange compilation of numbers. And on that score rests, to some
extent, how avidly the studio is going to market your picture.

Mr. P. WEITZ: And luckily, they both tested really well. I mean, "American
Pie" is--you know, it was as if they'd had a religious experience or
something, these kids. You know, they'd probably never seen a film before.
But I think filmmakers tend to fear those events, the test screenings. For
us, we were a little lucky because there were a couple of really edgy, you
know, comedic things in the film that the studio wasn't so sure would go over,
but the test audience sort of singled a couple of those things out as
everybody liked.

Mr. C. WEITZ: This is in "About a Boy." There were...

Mr. P. WEITZ: It's "About a Boy," yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: ...moments where Hugh Grant's character seemed, to the studio,
to be on the verge of detestable, which audiences actually rather enjoyed. So
we actually found ourselves benefiting from the process, whereas I think in
certain cases, it could damage a film or at least damage the integrity of the
film, because you start catering to the imagined sympathies of an imagined
audience.

GROSS: "American Pie," which you directed--it was one of the most popular
teen comedies of the late '90s. What kind of teen movies did you grow up
with? Did you go to the teen movies or did you just watch, you know, more...

Mr. C. WEITZ: We were watching Bergman in our teens.

Mr. P. WEITZ: "Wild Strawberries" is hot.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Well, I was mostly about science fiction, "Star Wars," the
first "Star Wars" trilogy, which, of course, in its own way, was a teen movie.
Luke Skywalker's a kind of space teen, although I guess less hormonal than
Earth teens.

Mr. P. WEITZ: And I remember going to see "Porky's," although I don't
remember anything about it. The film...

GROSS: Did you like it?

Mr. P. WEITZ: As a kid, it didn't really stick with me, so maybe I didn't
love it that much.

Mr. C. WEITZ: I liked it a lot at the time. I thought it was, you know, the
Second Coming. But I...

Mr. P. WEITZ: But essentially, I mean, the actors were all in their mid-30s
playing 17-year-olds.

Mr. C. WEITZ: That was the amazing thing.

Mr. P. WEITZ: I think I was frightened by it. But "Fast Times at Ridgemont
High" is a wonderful film that deals from a female point of view with a lot of
the issues and is a really funny comedy. And so I think that that was more of
an influence. And also, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" introduced a lot of
wonderful young actors to the mainstream. So that was also the thing we're
trying to do, is take unknowns and, you know, bring them to the fore.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Yeah. I remember seeing "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and not
understanding why the two cute girls holding surfboards in the ads weren't
actually in the film. It was my first experience with disappointment with
marketing, because they looked really great. That was a terrific film. Going
back to "Porky's" now, I think, is a pretty mortifying experience because the
actors are in their late 30s to early 40s, have beer bellies and are losing
their hair, and also because the attitude towards women expressed in the
script of that film is so odious.

Mr. P. WEITZ: I mean, just to go back to marketing "About a Boy," I mean, the
thing is, it's a little hard because people are now used to sort of
classifying their comedies. There's romantic comedies. There's sort of teen
genre comedies. But they don't really have that kind of category of films
that, you know, for instance, Billy Wilder used to make. I mean, occasionally
you get one--like, "Jerry Maguire" is a wonderful film or "As Good As It
Gets"--that actually manages to be a comedy for adults. But I think that it's
a real trick as to how to market that kind of film.

BOGAEV: Directors Chris and Paul Weitz speaking with Terry Gross. We'll hear
more of their conversation in the second half of the show. He's "Above You,
Below Me" from the soundtrack of "About a Boy." I'm Barbara Bogaev and this
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of Above You, Below Me")

Unidentified Singer: Don't wanna give. Don't wanna steer. Don't wanna be
anything I'm not. You take answers. I give questions like some rolling
monologue. Wanna be the one to say that today could be the day. A pity to
believe in what you know is what you know. I will take you as you are.
Please accept me as I am. Find your lonely life bizarre. Know it's above
you, know it's below me.

(Announcements)

BOGAEV: Coming up, choreographer Garth Fagan. He's been leading his own
dance troupe for over 30 years and has created a distinctive dance vocabulary
which draws on African and Caribbean influences. Also, David Edelstein
reviews the new film "City of God," and more of our interview with filmmakers
Chris and Paul Weitz.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

Let's return now to Terry's interview with Chris and Paul Weitz. They
directed the film "About a Boy," starring Hugh Grant, which is now out on
video and DVD. The Weitz brothers' other directing credits include "American
Pie" and the animated film "Antz."

GROSS: Your working together, it sounds like a mother's dream come true, you
know. Every mother hopes that their children will actually get along when
they become adults, but working together, that's great. Is your mother
thrilled that you work together?

Mr. P. WEITZ: I think our parents are thrilled that we work, period, because
it was touch and go there for a while. But, yeah, they're pleased. It's the
opposite of the old Cain and Abel scenario. But she doesn't get to see us in
the editing room.

GROSS: I want to ask you a little bit about your family. You come from a
really interesting family. Your grandfather was an agent who represented
Billy Wilder, who you've referred to, and who else?

Mr. P. WEITZ: William Wilder, John Huston.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Ingmar Bergman.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Charles Bronson, oddly. And pretty much anybody who came into
town with a funny accent had to stop at the Paul Kohner Agency and play gin
rummy and have apple strudel or something. Yeah. So our grandfather had
these great clients. Our grandmother was a Mexican film actress who starred
in the first talking picture in Mexico called ...(unintelligible).

Mr. C. WEITZ: And who's on a Mexican stamp actually.

Mr. P. WEITZ: And then I...

GROSS: Wait, I read that she was in the Mexican version of "Dracula"?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: She was. Yes.

Mr. P. WEITZ: At the...

Mr. C. WEITZ: It was shot on the same sets as the Tod Browning version, but
from midnight on after the English language crew had finished their day
shooting. It was a really scheme by my grandfather to keep my grandmother in
the country, because talking pictures had just come around, and she had an
incredibly thick accent. And what with the end of the silent era looked like
she wasn't going to get too many more jobs.

Mr. P. WEITZ: So he came up with the scheme of let's shoot Spanish-language
versions of American films at night when they're not using the sets. And...

GROSS: That was his idea?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Yeah.

Mr. P. WEITZ: As a ruse to keep my grandmother from going back to Mexico.
And then our mother, Susan Kohner, was an actress. She was nominated for an
Academy Award in a film called "Imitation of Life," which was an old Douglas
Sirk tearjerker.

GROSS: Where she plays a very light-skinned...

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yes.

GROSS: ...African-American woman passing for white.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Mm-hmm.

Mr. P. WEITZ: And our dad was a fashion designer. In the '50s he and, I
think, Hardy Amies and Pierre Cardin--I'm probably leaving out a couple of
people--were the first people to put their names on the clothing they were
selling and to make it--the whole idea of licensing and of the designer name
for men...

Mr. C. WEITZ: But then he turned basically to writing biographies of
prominent Nazis because he had worked in intelligence in the OSS during the
Second World War. So we've got a strange family, in other words, to cut a
long story short.

GROSS: So you in your family you had two actresses, an agent, a fashion
designer. What was it like when you watched movies with your family? What
would they point out to you? What were they looking for?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Really nothing. No, no. I mean, I think they all had their
own predilections. My grandfather was still--I mean, my grandfather started
out as a producer, so towards the end of his life in his 80s he decided, `I'm
going to produce again,' so he was really looking for properties to produce.

Mr. C. WEITZ: But he had--I mean, in his time, making films was an extension
of a larger sense of being cultured, which had to do with literature and, you
know, a lot of the great films of his time were made from books.

Mr. P. WEITZ: I think that actually our mother instilled more of a love of
the theater. And maybe on our part, as opposed to I think most directors who
come from a very visual perspective and maybe come up through doing MTV videos
or commercials or something, we, like the old filmmakers of the '40s and '30s,
were really looking to theater and to the written word a lot more for our
inspiration.

GROSS: So what were your teen-age years like? Maybe you can compare your
teen-age years to the teen-age years in "American Pie," where the issues are
going to the prom and losing your virginity and...

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well...

Mr. C. WEITZ: Well, I was in high school in London. There was no such thing
as a prom. I wore--my school had been in mourning for Queen Victoria for
about a hundred years so the uniform was black and gray and white. It was a
very different scenario. I don't think I met a girl until I was about 18.
And I played a lot of rugby and cricket. So not very similar to "American
Pie."

Mr. P. WEITZ: Well, maybe I could...

GROSS: So do you know what kind of film you will be doing next or that you
would like to do next?

Mr. P. WEITZ: Not really. It's going to have to be ambitious in that I think
that it can be either ambitious on the level of just being truthful or
ambitious on the level of scope and sort of the visual task set before us.

Mr. C. WEITZ: I mean, I think that--well, I've certainly decided that the
process of making a film is so incredibly draining that you may as well
overreach yourself slightly; otherwise you're sort of wasting your time. The
last thing we want to do is another version of what we've just done. I can
never understand the position of a sort of jobbing director. And fortunately
we don't have to be because we can kind of write to keep body and soul
together while we're waiting for the next thing to direct. So it's really
hard to say exactly what. I only know it would be interesting if it were some
kind of leap in genre. It would be amazing to do a science fiction film or a
thriller. I think the only thing we wouldn't do is an action film, since I
think there are enough things blowing up in real life without blowing them up
on screen.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you both so much for talking with us.

Mr. P. WEITZ: Thank you very much.

Mr. C. WEITZ: Well, thanks for having us.

BOGAEV: Chris and Paul Weitz directed "About a Boy." It's now out on video
and DVD. From the soundtrack, here's "Something to Talk About."

(Soundbite of "Something To Talk About")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I've been dreaming of the things I learned
about a boy who's bleeding, celebrate to elevate. The joy is not the same
without the tears. Ooh. Ipso facto, using up your oxygen, you know I shall,
calling out for extra help. You've got to let me in or let me out. Ooh,
something to talk about. And something to talk about.

BOGAEV: Coming up, we meet choreographer Garth Fagan. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Choreographer Garth Fagan discusses his dancing career
and dance-teaching style
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

My guest, Garth Fagan, founded the Garth Fagan Dance company 33 years ago, and
ever since, his work has challenged assumptions about gender, race and
political correctness. A native of Jamaica, Fagan incorporates African and
Caribbean dance, extreme athleticism, hip-hop and balletic movements into his
choreography. Fagan Fagan has also worked on Broadway. He won numerous
awards, including a Tony and Britain's Laurence Olivier Award for his
choreography for the Disney musical "The Lion King."

The Garth Fagan Dance company is currently on a national tour. When I spoke
with Garth Fagan in 2001, I asked him what is earliest dance memory was from
his childhood in Jamaica.

Professor GARTH FAGAN (State University of New York): My first dance memory
was really like party dancing, you know. I come from a family of 13 aunts and
uncles on one side and seven on the other side, so there were always parties,
you know. Somebody's always having a birthday or a graduation or whatever.
And everybody danced. Right up to my grandparents, everybody danced. And we
didn't have the age-specific parties that are so trendy now. We had parties
where you had from children through grandparents, and everyone danced. But
the idea of concert dance or professional dancing never occurred to me. It
was just a fun thing that you did.

And Iva Baxter, who was--directed Iva Baxter Dance Company and who forged
Caribbean dance and modern dance into a nice synthesis, she saw me in high
school. And I had to fill in for someone who had sprained his ankle or
something. And I did it on an outrageous dare. And I knew it would upset my
father because he was an Oxford graduate, a very British gentleman and Fagans
just didn't do things like that. You know...

BOGAEV: So someone hurt their ankle and you, who had no dance experience,
said you'd fill in for them?

Prof. FAGAN: Well, I was very athletic and was quite the party dancer, you
know. I had won awards in cha-cha and mambas and what have you. So...

BOGAEV: At dance contests.

Prof. FAGAN: Yeah, dance contests. So, I mean, it was the thing to do. And
just on a dare I did it. And all I did was I listened to what this lady told
me to do and totally unbeknownst to me, I went out there and did it, and
people said, `You were great.' And I said, `I was what?' You know, 'cause it
didn't feel great to me, 'cause what do I do next, you know, blah, blah, blah?
And she invited me to come to her studio and start taking classes. And she
also showed my Martha Graham's "A Dancer's World," which is one of the most
beautiful films on dance and that art. And Martha--well, you know, what can
we say? What an amazing artist and person. And that showed me Mary Hinkson,
who became one of my teachers and still my mentor and priestess, and just
showed me the possibilities of concert dance. And I also saw men dancing in a
very manly way, because as a teen-ager back then I didn't want to be a swan
prince or anything like that. Now that I'm an adult, I understand the value
of swan princes, but as a kid, you know, I wanted a--more athletic stuff. And
she had wonderful dancers.

BOGAEV: You founded your first dance troupe here--your--now your only dance
troupe, Garth Fagan Dance, 30 years ago.

Prof. FAGAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: And back then, you picked untrained dancers for the troupe.

Prof. FAGAN: Mm-hmm.

BOGAEV: Why'd you do that? These are people who had no contact with dance...

Prof. FAGAN: Right. They were...

BOGAEV: ...I guess, as you did when you were young.

Prof. FAGAN: Right. They were people that I saw at parties who had this
really wonderful sense of movement and rhythm, and people on the soccer field
or the basketball court, you know. And I wanted to come up with Fagan
technique and I wanted to break the mold. And I didn't want to spend time
untraining people who had had, you know, classical training or major modern
dance training. I just wanted to do something new. And I wanted the speed
and precision of ballet, the love of weight, and the flow of modern dance, and
the polyrhythm and the use of the torso that you find in African and Caribbean
dance. And I wanted to forge that into a new blend.

BOGAEV: I think you see a lot of modern dance and it looks like dancers are
trying to look like real people while they're dancing.

Prof. FAGAN: Yeah.

BOGAEV: And it strikes that false note, but watching your company, the
dancers look more like real people dancing.

Prof. FAGAN: Yes.

BOGAEV: Is that at result of the technique or your philosophical infusion to
your dancers?

Prof. FAGAN: It's a result of the technique and the philosophy because from
day one I didn't want them to do the self-congratulatory thing, you know. A
dancer does some fabulous turns and then looks out at the audience for
applause--you know, that kind of vulgarity I found boring and tedious. I
mean, it is understood that you are professional people, got baby-sitters, got
on the train and came to see you perform, so now do it. And it was very
important to me that you get the sense of people dancing, as opposed to
hybrid-mannered dancers trying to be people.

BOGAEV: I love how the women in your company dance. They are so, so equal
to the men. They're just as athletic, just as fast, but they don't--they do
it without sacrificing the sensuality of their movement or their femininity.
Could you talk about creating that? Was that a political decision on your
part...

Prof. FAGAN: That was a poli...

BOGAEV: ...that reaction to that girly, princess status of the ballerinas?

Prof. FAGAN: Yes. Yeah, that was a decision that I made, A, to celebrate my
daughter; B, because the women that I know and respect are not waiting for any
prince to carry them off or tell them what to do. They have a good idea of
what they can do and what they ought to be doing. And the whole girl-boy
thing annoyed me. These are adults who are dancing and if the men can turn
that fast, well, why can't the women? If the men can leap that way, why can't
the women? And by the same token--my women are strong and erect and fabulous,
but by the same token, my men are so--are not just macho, you know, soulless
beasts. They have to be vulnerable and open, also, but I consciously wanted
to do that so that you had this sense of humanity, and then gender and race
came down the road, you know, after you'd enjoyed the dancing.

BOGAEV: I'd like to talk about your work on "The Lion King." You
choreographed the Disney Broadway musical, directed by Julie Taymor, and won a
Tony Award for your work and, also, the Laurence Olivier. Now in a musical,
dance is not the focal point. It's just part of the whole. How do you adapt
your choreography to not stand out too much?

Prof. FAGAN: Well, you need a seamless whole. You know, you need the
evening to be a seamless whole. And there are moments when the music is
numero uno, and then there are moments when the dancing is numero uno, and
there are moments when the entire parade flows before your eye. And this
involves music, costumes, lights and dancing. And you listen carefully to the
director--in this case, Julie Taymor--and hear what her ideas are. And then
you go ahead and you forge your own ideas.

I had decided and told Julie and everyone that I wanted all types of dance in
this musical, because I wanted children who came in to see, you know, modern
dance, ballet, hip-hop, African dance, jazz. I wanted them to experience as
many of the dance forms as exist--and just kids fooling around. Like in "I
Just Can't Wait To Be King," it's just kids fooling around the way kids would
do in a bedroom in a pillow fight, you know.

For me, the newest thing was the use of Julie's wonderful puppets and
elaborate costumes, which, in concert dance I like clothes as minimal as
possible, so the human body, which is the dancer's instrument, is seen without
much distraction. So I had to use those and use them well. And I had to
realize that people were hyenas in this section and then they were lionesses
in the next section. Then they were giraffes. Anyway, it was an amazing
experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was quite enriching for me.

BOGAEV: Did you try and play against people dancing too much like the
animals that they're supposed to embody?

Prof. FAGAN: Oh, yes. No, I--it wasn't a stuffed-suit show, you know.
They--Julie always wanted the human beings to be seen within the costumes of
the animals. So, like, the lioness dances like--a beautiful feminist tone
that shows, I mean, all the wonderful range of womanhood. I mean--and, you
know, if the lionesses don't hunt, nobody eats, you know. So let's get a grip
on that one. And you have all the femininity in the world out there, but
still, they kill the gazelle so that people can have a meal. And sometimes
we're not comfortable with the two perspectives of that being in one person
and in one woman. And, likewise, the hyenas are horrible, terrible people,
but there is some humanity to them, so that was important that it just wasn't
stuffed suits trying to look like an animal. No, it was the way that the
lions use their shoulders. I used a lot of that, you know, essence--the
essence of being the animal.

BOGAEV: So in choreographing hip-hop for "The Lion King," where did you
learn hip-hop or what were you drawing on? Your an older gentleman now. I
don't imagine you're doing it in the club.

Prof. FAGAN: Mature, Barbara. Not older yet, just mature.

BOGAEV: Very good. Very good.

Prof. FAGAN: Yeah. I go to a lot of parties, you know, so I see it in my
grandkids and the dancers, you know. The dancers--I have company requirements
for the dancers to see certain shows, certain galleries and they have
requirements for me, too, you know. And...

BOGAEV: What does that mean? You have a list of things that--ways in which
they should enrich their lives?

Prof. FAGAN: Oh, absolutely. When we're on tour in foreign countries we go
to the art galleries. We go and see their national dance or whatever they're
most famous for, you know. And it expands the consciousness. And we call
those company requirements. I mean, when we have company requirements, you
have to go. There's no debate, no whatever, you just go. And they love that.
And then they give me company requirements, too, you know. I mean, singers or
dancers that I wouldn't know of in my general field--they'll tell me.

BOGAEV: Garth Fagan, I want to thank you very much for talking with me.

Prof. FAGAN: Thank you ever so much, Barbara.

BOGAEV: Garth Fagan. His Garth Fagan Dance company is currently on tour
performing in cities along the East Coast. In March, they travel to England,
France and Germany.

Coming up, a review of the new Brazilian film "City of God." This is FRESH
AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film from Brazil, "City of God"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

The Brazilian film "City of God" was a runaway hit in Brazil, and it's that
country's entry for an Academy Award. Critic David Edelstein says that the
film has elements of great storytelling, but it left him cold.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

The Brazilian melodrama "City of God" takes its title from the notorious slum
on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. According to the movie, the community was
thrown up in the '60s to keep poor people as far as possible from the swanky
beaches and resorts. That name, Cidade de Deus in Portuguese, is a sort of a
sour joke, like calling LA the City of Angels. And the corpses pile up, the
narrator says it over and over to drive home the irony.

I've heard the M-word, masterpiece, invoked about "City of God," along with
comparisons to great juvenile crime tragedies like Bunuel's "Los Olvidades"
and Hector Babenco's "Pixote." But the movie isn't slanted as a tragedy of
lost youth, and despite that title, it's not really about the absence of God.
It's basically a blowout gangster picture about a psychotic new breed of urban
capitalist. It's like "Scarface" or "New Jack City" or "Menace II Society,"
but with the jazzy syntax of "Pulp Fiction" and "GoodFellas." I'm mentioning
a lot of other movies here, which should tell you something. This is one of
those foreign films that once you get past the unfamiliar landscape and actors
isn't really so foreign. "City of God" speaks the international language of
splattery action pictures.

OK, brilliant, splattery action pictures. This is a sensational piece of
filmmaking. It's fast and hopped up, it's packed with mayhem, yet the framing
is detached so the bloodshed isn't shoved down your throat. The director,
Fernando Meirelles, has done a lot of commercials in Brazil, and I bet they're
high-end ones because you've never seen a movie about violence and poverty
that's quite this sleek. It's rife with flashbacks, digressions, the
narrator's commentary. The seems are all on show, but it still moves like a
rocket.

That's the nickname of the narrator, by the way, Rocket, placed by Alexandre
Rodrigues. He's meant to be the film's protagonist, but he's really just an
observer. His big brother, Goose, was at the center of things in the '60s,
one of a trio of high-spirited rogues who rob a gas truck then throw handfuls
of money in the air for little children. The early scenes in the '60s take
place on brown earth that's not yet paved, and the lighting bronzes these
beautiful robbers. They're stupid but sexy; they're hungry for life. They
aren't brought down by the cops, but by a little kid who goes by the name Li'l
Dice. He gives the trio the idea for a motel robbery that ends in a massacre.
Then Li'l Dice grows up in the '70s to be Li'l Ze--that's like Little Joe--and
becomes the teen-age Scarface of the city of God.

As played by Firmino da Hora, he holds the screen with his huge front teeth
and a grin like a storybook wolf. He wants to swallow the world. He wipes
out the rival drug dealers and anyone else in the way, including little kids,
whose robberies or muggings would bring more police in the slum. This is when
the movie gets bluer and colder and much, much bloodier. In its final third,
the now-crazed drug lord, who's upset because he can't get a date, picks a
pointless fight with a handsome straight arrow known as Knockout Ned. That
doesn't mean throwing a few punches. It means firing several hundred rounds
into the guy's house and killing a large percentage of his family. The movie
builds to a full-scale gang war, which goes uncovered by fearful Rio
photojournalists, which creates an unprecedented opportunity for our narrator,
Rocket, who dreams of becoming a photographer.

"City of God" might have justified that M-word if Rocket had learned from his
new vocation, if he'd been able to see something through the lens of his
camera that he couldn't as a mere bystander. But Rocket doesn't seem to think
about the horror of the violence that he shoots, which suggests that the
director, Meirelles, didn't think about it much, either. The violence isn't
glorified, but it almost never gets under your skin, which is odd when you
consider the sociopolitical trappings and how many little kids end up eating
bullets. Photographing the carnage is a way for Rocket to get out of the city
of God and a way for the director to get a big US release, an Oscar
nomination, a calling card in Hollywood. The movie is like a high-toned
commercial for youth violence: `Come to Rio for the rush, and don't forget
your bullet-proof vest.'

BOGAEV: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

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