Friday, November 1, 2013

In Conversation with David Cronenberg’s D.P., Peter Suschitzky

My story about David Cronenberg’s director of photography, Peter Suschitzky, since 1988's Dead Ringers, at Filmmaker magazine. Suschitzky also shot The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Empire Strikes Back.  Click to read the entire story:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Interview with Naked Lunch star at TIFF's David Cronenberg retrospective, Evolution

This weekend, the TIFF Bell Lightbox launches a massive celebration of hometown director David Cronenberg running into 2014. The director of A History of Violence, Videodrome, Scanners and many others will personally introduce some of his films; co-creators will discuss making films with him; and Dead Ringers star Jeremy Irons will sit down with Cronenberg for a 90-minute conversation on Nov.1. Meanwhile, the Evolution multimedia exhibition will showcase costumes, handwritten notes, posters, props, and even sets from all of Cronenberg's films over the past five decades. Allan had the pleasure of chatting with the star of 1991's masterful adaptation of Naked Lunch, George Mugwump:
AT: How did you get cast in Naked Lunch?
Mugwump: I had just graduated from Ryerson and was playing Stanley Kowalski in a Nunavut production of A Streetcar Named Desire when my agent rang me and told me to try out for a role in the next David Cronenberg film. Now, I had seen and liked Dead Ringers, so I was expecting a horror film, not Naked Lunch. Anyway, I auditioned and voila!

AT: Did you know the novel?
Mugwump: Well, I knew of it, but didn't read it until I was literally on set. I thought, How the hell will he adapt this? I was impressed with the final product, but to be honest I was never much into [Naked Lunch writer William] Burroughs. I'm more of a Grisham fan.

AT: What was it like to be directed by David Cronenberg?
Mugwump: Wonderful. He makes his actors feel relaxed. He never freaks out or goes on an ego trip. Actually, he didn't say much apart from “turn left here” or “slower.” I mean, he's an actor's director.

AT: So you were an unknown actor and your first big role out of school is on a Cronenberg picture. How did that role change your career?
Mugwump: [gazes contemplatively] I remember walking the red carpet in Berlin and thinking, This is unreal. I'd always dreamed of this, and now it's happening. To me. It was out-of-body experience. I mean, right after the screening, I was signing autographs, posing for photos, and producers were throwing scripts at me.

AT: Starring roles?
Mugwump: Some of them. But 99% of them were Naked Lunch-ish cookie-cutter roles. You know, here I am, a Shakespearean-trained actor, and they want more of the same William Burroughs-ish hallucinatory stuff. People have no imagination.

AT: Instead, you did that Star Wars-inspired remake of Fiddler On The Roof set in outer space. Why?
Mugwump: To avoid typecasting. I didn't want to be Mr. Naked Lunch Mugwump forever. I'm an artist.

AT: That adaptation of Fiddler is a cult film here, but it did good business in Angola.
Mugwump: And Venezuela. It opened doors for me in those countries.

AT: You became a heartthrob.
Mugwump: Yeah, the soundtrack took off and my manager at the time put me on tour as a singer. Remember my Grammy appearance?

AT: How was singing different from acting?
Mugwump: More girls. [laughs]

AT: You found your first wife on that tour. She was 16--
Mugwump suddenly switches off the voice recorder. “Don't,” he says, suddenly anxious. AT asks if he wants to set the record straight about this episode of his life, which resulted in the highest divorce settlement in southwestern Africa, but Mugwump glares at AT. AT agrees to move on.

AT: Did you ever try to perform in another Cronenberg picture?
Mugwump: I auditioned for the role that Viggo [Mortensen] got in Eastern Promises. I've done a lot of Chekhov and I'm an aficionado of gangster films, so I thought...

AT: What did you think of Mortensen's performance?
Mugwump: [pauses] Okay, it was pretty good, but I would have nailed that naked-in-the-sauna-knife-fight!

AT: Rumour is Cronenberg considered you for that role, but there were concerns about insuring you due to certain substance problems like cocai--
Again, Mugwump grabs my voice recorder, but this time threatens to devour my left hand unless I change the subject. I nod in agreement and slowly retrieve my hand.

AT: So...what are you doing nowadays?
Mugwump: Dinner theatre of Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd in Sorel, Quebec. I also just shot a beer commercial which is slated to run during Superbowl 2014.

AT: How do you unwind?
Mugwump: Yoga. And I meditate every day. Keeps me grounded.

AT: So, you're clean?
Mugwump: (long pause) Pardon?

AT: (clears throat) What do you owe David Cronenberg?
Mugwump: My first big break. I was a 23-year-old kid, knew nothing, knew nobody, and suddenly I was thrust into the spotlight, as they say. Without that role in Naked Lunch, who knows where I'd be?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anita Hill, Taxi Driver and The War Room

Three of my latest stories for Filmmaker magazine about renown director/screenwriter Paul Schrader about Taxi Driver, Anita Hill at Hot Docs to discuss the film, Anita, and documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus about the 20th anniversary screening of The War Room also at Hot Docs.  Click to read the full stories:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 in review

In 2012, I woke up to a snowstorm at Sundance and rose to a thunderstorm in Sierra Leone.

My short film, Little Mao, premiered at the TIFF Lightbox and screened at the Facets cinema in Chicago.

I worked on The Beatles Live! Project and helped cover the final Canadian Auto Workers' conference.

I met Irvine Welsh, Danny Glover, Ken Burns and David Chase.

I spoke at TIFF and the CMPA Conference.

I pitched Leone Stars at the Hot Docs Forum.

I visited Chess Records in Chicago and a week later stood before Abbey Road in London.

I saw the sun rise over the Atlantic.

That was 2012.

January: Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.  With Leone Stars co-director Ngardy Conteh.  We were both invited to Sundance as Sundance Documentary Fellows to attend workshops and networking meetings.

March: Above: In Ottawa to speak about crowdfunding for Leone Stars on a panel at the Canadian Media Producers Association Conference, Prime Time.  Right: The Bloor Cinema re-opens.

April:  My short film, Little Mao, receives its world premiere at TIFF Kids at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  Three of the four screenings sell-out, and at one nine cast members appear with their families. Actors take part in post-screening Q&As with audiences. (Group photo by Mira Dimovski Budd)

May: With co-director Ngardy Conteh pitching Leone Stars before international broadcasters at the Hot Docs Forum, only one of four Canadian teams chosen to present.  (Photo by Joseph Michael)
May:  Top: Attending Mark Dillon's (right) launch of his book, 50 Sides of The Beach Boys at the Gladstone Hotel.  Contributor Randy Bachman (center) is recalling touring with the Beach Boys back in the day.  Bottom: The world premiere of Ecstacy at NXNE, The Royal Cinema, with author Irvine Welsh and director Rob Heydon.

July:  Canadians remember the Chinese railroad workers of a century ago on Canada Day.  Wreaths were laid at a memorial just outside the SkyDome.
Summer: I was a researcher on the multiplatform project, The Beatles Live! Project which is compiling fans' homemade movies of The Fab Four's concert tours of 1963-66.  Produced in cooperation with The Beatles' Apple Corp.

August: Part of a crew streaming the Canadian Auto Workers' conference where delegates voted to create a new super union, Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union (CEP). That is former CAW chief Buzz Hargrove on the monitors at the conference at the Sheraton Centre.  Streaming crew was headed by Lisa Santonato.

August:  Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band blow away Toronto at the SkyDome.
September:  Little Mao plays Cinefest Subury.  (Thanks to Marsha Cummings' family for hosting me up there.)

October:  I programmed the Industry Series of panels and networking events for the Planet In Focus Environmental Film FestivalTicket sales rose this year across the board.  The fest took place at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  Below is the sold-out Networking Lounge which paired filmmakers with funders.

October:  Little Mao plays the Chicago International Children's Film Festival at the renown Facets cinema.  Allan meets fellow filmmakers Julio and Leslie Cabrera (two photos above) and Caru Alves de Souza (immediately above).  The bottom was taken at The Bean by Julio. (Great image.)

October: At 2120 South Michigan Avenue, Chess Records. home of the Chicago Blues...
....a week later, standing outside Abbey Road Studios in London, where The Beatles recorded their music.

 November:  Days after screening Little Mao in Chicago I joined Ngardy in Sierra Leone to finish filming our documentary, Leone StarsCinematographer Colin Akoon and our fixer Hash Magona.

Top photo: Bornor Kabo running through the streets of Freetown as Colin films him from the back of a moving vehicle.  Second: Practicing on Aberdeen Beach at sunset.  Third: Colin panning across Freetown just seconds before a cloudburst drenches us.  Bottom: My view of the Atlantic Ocean every morning.

November: Grey Cup champions, The Toronto Argonauts, give Torontonians something to cheer about during a hockey strike.