Talking Movies with Henry Rollins
Last week I got the opportunity to have a sit down with Henry Rollins, musician, writer, actor, and now the host of his own film critic series on IFC, Film Corner. I can’t say I was terribly familiar with him before getting this opportunity, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect upon meeting him. I did find, however, that he was very articulate and entertaining to listen to. Below is the back and forth we shared, which discusses his new series and his opinions on movies.
Tail Slate: How did Film Corner come about?
Henry Rollins: None of it was my idea. It came from the people who actually produce the show, the Swift River guys. They pitched my manager. They called him up one day — they’re like right down the street from his office — and they were like, we like Henry, we’ve seen him on VH1, opinionated, big mouth, we think he’s funny. What if he reviewed films? Because we know he likes obscure films and he always likes to talk about his film heroes, and their kind of obscure. And what if we had a venue where he could talk about films, and just mouth off. He could interview interesting guests, we think he has fans in interesting places. And he does film, and he’s in the film world, but he’s kind of not at the same time, because he’s not a full time actor. So they sent my manager this worked out thing that they’d obviously spent a lot of time on. It clearly wasn’t thrown together, because it was pages and pages of information. So my manager said, “These guys are putting a lot of work into this, so why don’t we take a meeting with them.” So I said, sure. I drove over to my manager’s office, they drove over, and they showed me this whole layout and I was like, oh, this is a funny thing, that’s a funny thing, and we kicked it around and they said, “Can we pitch it?” And I said, yeah. Nothing will come of it, go ahead. Because I knew nothing was going to happen. But put an iron in the fire, I crave employment. You’re alive, you should be working. And then they came back and said, “Well, nobody cares,” I said, well DUH! I could have told you that a long time ago, but I like to see you out there trying. You know, go ahead yuppie, keep trying. Then months go by, and I’m on tour. I’m always on tour. And I come back had forgotten about these guys and my manager was like, “Hey, you know those Swift River guys?” And I was like, oh, God, those movie guys again. But they wanted to do a twelve-minute version of the show, so I agreed. We rented a little sound stage, and I interviewed a buddy of mine who makes movies. He made a little movie called The Chase, Adam Rifkin, good guy. Funny guy. Very smart guy. He was the interview, and I railed on this movie, I railed on that movie, made up some stuff. So now we have this DVD-R and we could go into meetings and show them what it would look like. We showed it to VH1, who likes me because I’m always on their shows and they’re very good people. They liked the show but wanted me to talk about mainstream movies. And I went, no, I don’t want to talk about Jennifer Lopez. I mean, I’ve got nothing against that woman, long may she wave, but everyone talks about those movies. They’re not movies I’d want to go see. You know, any Ben Affleck movie, eh, I’m asleep. And I said, I already have a job, and if this is going to be something I hate then I’d rather just pass. So then IFC saw the little twelve-minute thing, and they went, “We like Henry, the films and the directors he’s talking about, we know what he’s talking about. We’re the Independent Film Channel. He likes Sling Blade, we like Sling Blade, he says he likes that director, he love that director. So could we meet Henry?” So I’m here in New York doing a show or something, my manager came here, the Swift River guys came here and we all met with IFC and they said they liked the show and gave us some dough and told us to make a broadcastable 30-minute thing. Rob Zombie was my guest, the mailman was my non-celebrity guest, and they mulled it over for a fiscal quarter or so and then said, “Let’s do ten of them.” And I was like, no way, and so, here we are. So it was all the Swift River guys, it was all their thing.
TS: How much did you get into developing the show?
HR: It was all Swift River. They said, how about we interview a celebrity guest, and to juxtaposition a celebrity insider, let’s get an everyman. I mean, the premise of the show is everyone hates a critic, but everyone is one. The moment you walk out of a theater everyone around you is talking, just listen to them. They’re all like, “Oh, well, that scene was stupid.” Americans and Europeans, the West loves movies. All of us love movies. And we’ve seen enough, its in our culture, where we know a good one from a bad one. And on the coasts, where they have electricity and make wiser voting choices, people are critics. Go to the Midwest or some places in America and they love that Ben Affleck film, they really do want to see the Bourne Supremacy four times. Not me. Once on an airplane, that was enough for me. Once for free, cool. And so they gave me my show. They have this Henry tees off, and I get to rip and rave. And there’s a thing where I can talk about the films I like, and if something is new to DVD, I get to say check this out. And I love talking about the movies that I like. I’d like to talk about movies that I liked than movies that I hate.
TS: The pilot focuses on older films that have been around a while, will the other episodes focus more on new, upcoming releases?
HR: Because it was a promo, we couldn’t get any screenings. The new episodes, like the show we shot for December, we will be reviewing Sean Penn’s new film, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, which comes out next month. And me and the electrician at the Viper Room in LA, will be reviewing The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the new film by Wes Anderson. Which we got to go on the Disney lot and literally walk down Dopey Drive and into the screening room. Me, two Swift River boys, and the electrician were the only audience. The four of us, in this beautiful theater, watched The Life Aquatic. And I was like, I can’t believe this, it was so cool. And I’m a big Wes Anderson fanatic, I just think he’s great. I just love what he does, I’m a fan. So, it’s another good Wes Anderson film. If you like what he does, you know, no surprises it’s a Wes Anderson film. Bill Murray is great in it, Angelica Houston is great in it, Cate Blanchett, great, Owen Wilson does no bad work, in my opinion, so does his brother. Great stuff.
TS: Are there films you want to avoid?
HR: Yeah, Ocean’s 12 and their ilk. Are they good actors? Absolutely. Do I care about the movie? Nah. That’s for Ebert and Roeper, or whoever they are. Handsome men saying witty things. Cool. But there are five other shows that are going to cover that. I’d rather talk about American Splendor, or if Wim Wenders gets up to another film, let’s go see that instead. Lets see what Sean Penn is up to, lets see what Jim Jarmusch is up to, lets see when David Lynch is going to do something. And as far as people to talk to, if I had my way it would just be directors. Actors, you know, I’m a fan of a lot of actors, but I’m a huge fan of directors. I usually buy films for the director, not the actor.
TS: In the opening bit on the show, you single out Ben Affleck and CGI. Why?
HR: Ben Affleck just makes those pointless movies. Jersey Girl. Just those kinds of movies where you’re like, why? What do we need this for? Because there are shopping malls? What came first, those kinds of movies or shopping malls, because they seem to go together. If you’re white and from the Midwest and shop at Wal-Mart, then we’ve got a movie for ya. Stars Ben Affleck. Take the whole family. Can he act? Absolutely, he’s fine. Good handsome boy. Knows his lines and shows up to work on time. But those movies, I never care about the characters. They never make me care. And everything being so CGI’d. I don’t mind an interesting effect, but the films seem to be more gimmick where they’re afraid to do what David Fincher says he does. He likes to put some actors in a room and role film. I mean, I told him, come on, it’s a little bit more than that. You can see that when you look at any of his work. Be he was like, that’s basically what I do. But he’s just being humble, because it’s a lot more than that. It’s like a Woody Allen film. He puts the actors in a room, he locks off the camera and he says, “You’re actors, right, so act!” And you’ll see like six-minute lock-offs in his movies. Rainier Fassbinder, he would just let the film role. “You guys know the plot, do it.” I really miss that. Let the art be art, lets get wild and let there be errors and let the actors really get ripped up doing it. Don’t be second guessing everything, don’t get so manicured and polished where people look airbrushed on the screen. I just get tired of Jack Nicholson-aged people married to 22-year-old girls in a movie and I’m just supposed to go, “Oh yeah, sure.”
TS: You don’t act that often, but when you do its nothing too mainstream.
HR: I’ll show up to whatever they give me, because I’m not an actor. Never taken a lesson. But for me, movie acting is part of my overall principal to life. I come from a working class, minimum-wage world before I got into music and all this stuff. If I’m not employed all the time then something’s wrong. When I come home from a tour, I’m kind of unemployed for a minute. Movie scripts come in, I go on some auditions, I rope a part now and again, that’s four weeks of work for me. It’s a job to me. I’m not saying I don’t give it all that I can. When they say action, I’m going to hit it with everything I’ve got and hit it with as much integrity as I do with anything on stage. It’s just, I don’t consider myself an actor, and I never care about the film. I care about being good in it, but I don’t go to the premiere, I don’t go to the wrap party. It’s just a job, I’m not trying to have a career in acting. It’s just a job between tours.
TS: Have you ever looked into getting behind the camera?
TS: Because you do writing, have you ever considered writing a screenplay?
HR: Nah. I don’t know people all that well. It’s an interesting idea to articulate dialogue. I’ve done some writing where I made a conversation, and it was fascinating to write that way. It’s like playing chess with yourself. But it’s just a writing exercise, I’ve had no formal writing training, and it was interesting. Wow, I just made these two people come into a room and have dinner. It was fascinating. But when you read a good script, or like when you watch Dr. Strangelove and your listening to the dialogue. If you can’t do it that way, just leave it alone. And in LA, cab drivers have given me screenplays. My neighbors have given me scripts. I mean, I find them in my mailbox. But I’m never going to read them, yet I just can’t throw them out. So they just sit and they become combustible. There’ll be a fire in my house some day and it’ll just go up because there’ll be forty pounds of paper in my living room because I just don’t have the heart to throw them out. And trust me, I won’t read them.
TS: Have you ever gone to a movie and walked out?
HR: Yeah. Walked out on one of the National Lampoon movies.
TS: One of the most recent ones?
HR: Yeah, a couple of ones ago. I was just like, God, this isn’t funny.
TS: Yeah, they haven’t had anything really funny since Vacation.
HR: It was just not as good as I wanted it to be. I nearly walked out on that one (he points to the poster over his head), Fahrenheit 9/11, which I thought was really poorly put together compared to Bowling for Columbine. It seemed very hastily done. And I thought that Michael Moore let all those bastards off the hook. I was mad.
TS: I would have thought that would be a movie you would have gotten into.
HR: I was so hot for this film. I went down there, jumped in my jalopy, stood in line. I was so pumped. I got out of there and I wanted at least $4 of my $9.50 back. I think he let the Bush Administration slide, I would have been a lot harder on it. But, anyway, I don’t go to many movies in theaters, I usually just buy the DVD later. I do borrow DVDs from people. My manager will be like, “Oh, this is great, watch this one.” And I’ll get like 20 minutes into it and think, this is just so bad. And I realize I’m a damn snob. If I can’t believe it, if the story is just so damn annoying, I just turn it off.
Henry Rollins’ Film Corner premieres on IFC, Saturday, December 4th at Midnight.