The Preston Guiz interview

In fall of 1995, Detroit Film Archive director Preston Guiz caught Alan Smithee in a rare chatty mood while on the set of JADE SHOWGIRLS (rumors of amphetamine abuse were proved to be groundless).
Mr. Guiz found Smithee to be relaxed and cheerful between set-ups, though he did make an odd guttural noise whenever Karen Black passed by in her State Trouper outfit.
But this strange reaction only adds to the legend that is Smithee.

Q: First, let me state on behalf of Smithee devotees world-wide, a simple thank you for agreeing to this interview.
A: Is nothing, Presta. I do for anyone who loves the film, you know?
Q: Um, Preston.
A: 'scuze?
Q: My name.
A: A nice one too!
Q: Ah...yes. Thanks Alan.
A: You can call me Al.
Q: Okay, Al.
A: Or you can call me--
Q: Mr. Smithee--
A: You interupt me?
Q: No, no, no. I'd like to start with dominant themes.
A: Ah, we get kinky quick, no?
Q: I meant in terms of text and subtext.
A: Oh. The fancy stuff.

Smithee lights a cigar, offers one to Mr. Preston, who declines.

A: No like smoke? A good cigar better than a dead woman, we always say back home.
Q: In Bucharest.
A: Smiszosk.
Q: I thought you were born in Bucharest.
A: (shrugs) Is close.
Q: Okay, back to themes.
A: The fancy stuff.
Q: Right. The dissolution of the human body is an image central to your films. I point, of course, to such classic images as the final love scene in KISS ME BEFORE I MELT (1993) in which transformed ice-woman Drew Barrymore echos the title quite evocatively. Or even more provocatively, the choice to have Madonna, in a startling narrative trope, suddenly turn into a wax statue that melts in an obvious post modern hommage to JOAN OF ARC in your version of EVITA A/K/A JUNGLE CHICK FEVER (1997). What does this signify Alan? Or, Al, rather.
A: Well, for one thing, Drew and Madonna, they have-- how you say--nice tushies.

Q: (silence while Smithee draws on his cigar)
A: I please the audience! I direct EVITA, and there is Madonna with her nice tushie and I think: what does audience really want with Madonna? What? (PAUSE) So I melted her. As for Drew...I think we just had her for three days. So, well, melting seemed, like, a good thing.

Q: Yes. Moving on--one signature of your ouerve is casting: if one sees John Saxon, Lee Van Cleef and Karen Black in one film, it's a good chance it's a Smithee film, no? (CLEARS THROAT). I mean, isn't that true?
A I don't know. The camera is my eye. Actors are what I see. The film is my canvas. If my eye sees something I paint it with the colors of the eye, which is my camera, which I focus on the actors, who then become pictures on my canvass that move and tell a story that I saw with my eye. Which is my camera. (PAUSES) It's all very simple, no?

Q: No. I mean, okay. You also are alone in your even- toned treatment of marginalized groups.
A: You mean weirdos?

Q: I mean, for example, the that despite their becoming RTD busses with headlights for mammaries--a brilliantly self-reflexise move, I must say Alan--

Q: --you're welcome. Despite this strange imagery, the women of BUSWOMEN and it's sequels are treated as intelligent, self-impowered characters. The same for blacks in SAMBO and SEPIA. And in MUDWOMEN OF ZIMBABWE (1963), you eschewed the cheap way out and presented the indigenous rituals of African Mud Mother worshippers with tact and sensitivity.
A: (SMOKES CIGAR). Um--I don't remember those pictures. But I always like the negro, you know? And women, well, better than dead goat, like I said.
Q: I thought you said a *cigar* was better than a dead--
A: (Waves Preston off, lapses into deep reverie) I say much. I mean little. It is my way. The artist's way.

Suddenly Smithee's mood lightens and he laughs.

A: Did you know Lee Van Cleef was--how you say--a bum- boy?
Q: A what?
A: Heh. A funny boy. You know. That mustache, and nobody ever figured.

Q: Moving on to critics, you have often been accused of being derivative. Critics point to KILLER IN A DRESS (1974), your fascinating meditation on themes presented in DePalma's lackluster DRESSED TO KILL. Or LAST POSSESSION ON MANDROID STREET, which many find traces THE OMEN, THE TERMINATOR, LA JETEE and THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. What do you, Alan say to these charges?
A: Poppycock! I am not derivative! Never! What *I* do is this: I steal. Everything. Is a big difference, no?

-- Grey Zone 1