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STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS

STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS soundtrack CD

 

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STRAIGHT TO HELL

 

 

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Strummer in Hardware Heaven

 

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Courtney in her party dress

 

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Sy Richardson and Grace Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS
 

WHAT'S UP WITH STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS?

It came about because I watched - in quick succession - the old DVD of STRAIGHT TO HELL, and thought, oh, I wish we'd had the digital technologies of violence and grotesquesness then (back in 1986, when Courtney was still a baby and Shane an innnocent genius and Strummer resembled the young Michael Caine), followed by the DVD of APOCALYPSE NOW REDUX, which Kim Aubry had very kindly given me, and then thought, wait a minute: it's not too late! Because thanks to a wonderful relationship with Collateral Image, who did the million and one special effects backgrounds for REPO CHICK, and most of that film's model stuff, I DID have access to just those violent and perverse technologies. And this new, longer, crueller 'return' is the result.

BILLY WILDER THEATER, LA: Del Zamora, Alex, Dick Rude, Shannon Kelly, Miguel Sandoval, James Fearnley, Sy Richardson

HOW DIFFERENT IS THIS RETURN FROM THE ORIGINAL STRAIGHT TO HELL?

There was once a version of STRAIGHT TO HELL which was five or six minutes longer. At the eleventh hour, the producer, the editor and I cut out half a dozen scenes, in a misguided flight of cutting room madness, thinking that by making the film shorter we were making it better, by making it go a bit faster we were making it funnier...

We were wrong. Now, fortunately, the UCLA Film and TV Archive has rescued the original Interpositive of the uncut version, the missing scenes are restored, and a new HD master has been created, Dan Wool has recovered the missing audio, Richard Beggs has whipped the picture into aural shape, Tom Richmond and Beau Leon have created a new visual strategy - heavy on the yellows and deep blacks - and Webster Colcord has animated some additional skeletons.

All to be in theaters again in October and November 2010, and on DVD and download on December 14. This - along with Microcinema's release of SEARCHERS 2.0 - must be the perfect stocking-filler. Oh! And did I mention all the digital violence by Collateral Image, and the dolly tracks, and the new shot of George's shoes?

George's Clogs, personally selected by Miguel Sandoval

AND HOW DID STRAIGHT TO HELL COME ABOUT?

While we were editing SID & NANCY, Commies From Mars Inc. organized a concert at the Fridge, in Brixton, in support of the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) in Nicaragua. The Pogues, Elvis Costello, and Joe Strummer played to a full house and we made a couple of thousand quid for the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign.

Eric Fellner, the producer of SID & NANCY, came up with a grander scheme: since the public clearly loved the musicians and was sympathetic to the Nicaraguan cause, why not organize a rock'n'roll tour of Nicaragua, involving the same guys?  Eric figured that a video deal would pay for it, and we persuaded the musicians in question  to sign up for a month-long accoustic Nicaragua Solidarity Tour in August 1996.  The bands agreed;  but, as time went by, we couldn't find a video company that would fund the tour. 

WHY NOT?

You know why not.  This was the mid 1980s.  The Reagan/Thatcher maniac front was working overtime to destroy the Sandinista revolution by any means.  Thatcher had even attempted to criminalize the word "Sandinista" -- hence the Clash album of the same name.  It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the punk movement at that time:  the Clash, the Jam, the Pistols and their successors were almost the only beachhead many of us had against a tidal wave of reactionary politics.  Which put Commies from Mars in a somewhat embarrassing position, having persuaded at least a dozen musicians not to tour or record for the entire month of August.  Eric's solution?   Make a film instead:  as he predicted, it was easier to raise $1m for a low-budget feature starring various musicians than to find $75,000 to film them playing in a revolutionary nation in the middle of a war.

WHAT DO YOU THINK OF STRAIGHT TO HELL?

I think it's very funny.  I like that it has no swearing at all (the worst thing anybody says is "Go boil yer 'ead!").   It has great cinemascope compositions by Tom Richmond.  And it is completely autobiographical.  It has fine performances - Sy Richardson, Fox Harris, Biff Yeager, Miguel Sandoval, Xander Berkeley, Elvis Costello, Jennifer Balgobin, Courtney Love, the list unends.  The characters were written for the actors: Courtney was the  Spungenesque heroine - a Nancy who was tougher and more together.   This was her first leading role, and she acquited herself very well, I thought.  It was Sy Richardson's first lead role in a feature, too:  now he is a great actor - I've been very fortunate to work with him so many times. 

Plus there was a great deal of pleasure attached to being there.  In Almeria, in the desert, in midsummer, at night.  It's a pleasure I can't explain.  There are people who think the desert looks like a slag-heap.  That is  their point of view.   For me the greatest pleasure of STRAIGHT TO HELL was filming in that fantastic, surreal Andalucia landscape -- the desert of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY, and FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE - films with extraordinary locations: the weird, ancient clay and sandstone and volcanic badlands, the huge triangular mountain of El Faro on the horizon.  Filming there, and making a homage to the great Spaghetti Westerns -- the Leone films, DJANGO, ¿QUIEN SABE?, HELLBENDERS, and DJANGO KILL.

There is an inexplicable beauty to being on location, to working in Spain, in Mexico, staying in a small country town, walking its streets at night, then rising at dawn and going out to the surrounding desert to film till the last light is gone....

WHY WAS THE REACTION TO THE FILM SO EXTREME?

I don't know.  Perhaps it was a little ahead of its time:  there was not then a vogue for jokey films about black-suited professional hit-men a la Jean-Pierre Melville.  Certainly some people didn't "get it" -- having rigidly observed our "no swearing" rule, we received an R-rating from the American film censors for "strong language." 

And there is also an expectation on the part of film critics that a  director will follow a certain trajectory.  In their hearts critics have this Hollywoodian fantasy:  they imagine all directors want to "graduate" into gigantically-budgeted movies full of special effects and petulant stars..  But this trajectory is illusory:  it has nothing to do with me.  I turned down the opportunity to direct THE THREE AMIGOS and made STRAIGHT TO HELL instead.

DO YOU REGRET THAT?

Not at all.  Of course, if I'd done THE THREE AMIGOS I would have earned a lot more  money.  But that money would be spent by now.  I would have had to shoot in the United States, and not in my beloved Almeria.  I would essentially have been a hired hand for some comedians from Saturday Night Live.  It would not have been a good experience, for them or me.  The script had these weird political overtones:  it promoted the idea that Americans have the right to intervene in a violent way in foreign countries - for all that it was supposed to be a comedy, it was actually propaganda for the Monroe Doctrine.  STRAIGHT TO HELL, for better or worse, is my film, and I like it very much. 

DOES STRAIGHT TO HELL HAVE OTHER MERITS, BESIDES THE LOCATIONS?

The music, by Pray For Rain, Strummer, Schloss, The Pogues, and the McManus Gang.  And the costumes by Pam Tait.  Especially the womens' costumes!

WHAT ABOUT THE RUMOUR THAT SERGIO LEONE WAS INVOLVED IN STRAIGHT TO HELL?

It isn't true.  The only spaghetti veterans were Juan Torres, a flamenco singer from the gypsy quarter of Almeria city, and some of the stunt men.  But I was told later that Leone saw the film at the Madrid Film Festival, where he was on the jury. 

WHAT DID HE THINK OF IT?

I don't know.  There was a rumour that we'd won a prize of some kind, but I never heard any more about it.  It would be nice to think that the Old Master did see STRAIGHT TO HELL.