The Arrow interviews Alan Jones
I met journalist Alan Jones on my "Exorcist: The Beginning" set visit in Rome. Alan is a man that's been imbued in the horror genre for a while, having written for countless horror magazines, written books on Dario Argento and hardcore horror, having been involved in documentaries on Bava and Argento, having started his own horror festival called "London FrightFest" and even having partied with Sex Pistols cohort Sid Vicious. And that's just the tip of the ice pick. Needless to say, the man has lived a FULL LIFE with the genre on his side thus far and he shares some of it with us here.
1- Whatís your favorite horror movie?
Itís tattooed on my arm. Itís Dario Argentoís INFERNO. Itís my favorite for numerous reasons Ė the main one being itís the most perfect synthesis of everything Dario had learnt up to that point. The dream-like narrative looseness, the weird drug-laced Three Mothers mythology, the odd atmosphere, the epic grandeur it oozes, the fabulous lighting. I do think itís a breathtaking work of art as you could freeze any frame and put it in a gallery. I so still remember seeing this movie when it opened in Britain (in 1981) and being riveted to my seat because I thought it was just so wonderful. And I think Gabriele Laviaís murder Ė the music stopping and starting because of failing electricity Ė is one of the cleverest and moodiest in the annals of horror. It was just after INFERNO that I met Dario for the first time. I was shocked he knew who I was and that Iíd written features about him saying he was my all-time favorite director.† So while THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE still remains my most frightening movie-going experience, INFERNO is my fave ever because it encompasses everything I love about the genre.††
2- Youíve been a genre journalist, since the 70ís having written for countless genre magazines. You now write for 'Cinefantastique', review films for ďStarburstĒ and are a film critic for the 'Radio Times'. What was the trigger that set you on this hardcore ďhorrorĒ journalistic path?
Funnily enough, Iíve just written a feature on this for the British magazine The Dark Side. In a nutshell, Iíve always been in love with the genre anyway. As soon as I was old enough to be able to sneak into an X film (as horror movies invariably were in the UK - you had to be 16 to see them) I saw three seminal films for me in a row, they were CIRCUS OF HORRORS, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. Right from the start those three movies encompassed everything Iíve wanted to see in a horror movie Ė camp nasty villains, gory murders, sleazy sexploitation, great cinematography, evocative music. I started writing reviews in my diary after I saw these movies.
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, and to some extent Frankie Avalon in the BEACH PARTY movies, fired my desire to see everything Italian. Thatís why I traveled across London to see THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE when it opened and why I fell in love with Darioís work.† I started writing for CFQ in 1977 mainly through a series of lucky accidents. I literally was the right person in the right place at the right time and I have two people to thanks for that, my close friend Mike Childs who I wrote in conjunction with in the early days (any excuse to get the two of us on movie sets and to screenings) and Harlan Ellison who gave me much encouragement about my writing technique when I was the most unsure about it.†
3- In 1977, you interviewed the entire STAR WARS cast and crew on location. Any fond memories from that experience youíd like to share with us?
How lucky was this! No one knew STAR WARS was going to be the phenomenon it turned out to be. At the time the film was being made at Elstree Studios in London I was still doing regular jobs. It wasnít until 1986 that I could afford to go freelance and make writing my career. I worked as a receptionist at the Portobello Hotel, which at the time was a hip and happening establishment in Notting Hill Gate. Iíd go gambling with Richard Dreyfus, have dinner with Richard Gere, get groupies for The Eagles, listen to Carly Simonís demo of ĎYouíre So Vainí, book rooms for Abba and hang out with Ryan OíNeal. The main cast of STAR WARS stayed at the hotel. Thatís how I got to talk to most people and thatís why I still have a pair of Harrison Fordís jockey shorts to this day!† Any bidders?†††
4- Youíve been involved with 2 documentaries one on Mario Bava and the other on Dario Argento. Any other documentaries in the works?†
I had such a great time making those two docs. Just meeting everyone involved in Bavaís world was a dream come true. Having composer Carlo Rustichelli play his theme from THE WHIP AND THE BODY for me on his piano, well, does it get any better than that? I did try and talk my producer on the two docs, Richard Journo, to do more Italian skewed career overviews. He did try and get one going on Lucio Fulci but film clip clearance was going to prove a nightmare on that and he abandoned it. Then there was talk about a Pier Paolo Pasolini one. But I bowed out of that because Iím not a fan Ė apart from SALO Ė and didnít think I had anything to contribute. My own Ďmaking ofí film company Wide Scream did the DOG SOLDIERS extra for the DVD. My business partner Rel Pinto has just done some filming for a CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG DVD featurette and Iím involved in a HIGHLANDER Ďmaking ofí for the British DVD Ė Carl Daft, the producer, and I worked together recently when I did the audio commentary with Alejandro Jodorowsky for SANTA SANGRE.
5- Sid Vicious of the ďSex PistolsĒ was a friend of yours. Looking back how were those good old days? Lots of partying I assume?
Have you got a year to listen to all the stories?† Iíve recounted my punk memoirs in so many books now even Iím bored by my sex, gig organizing and lawbreaking activities. I worked for Vivienne Westwood in her shop ĎSexí for a while when the Pistols were forming. Thatís how I got to know them all. My close friend Nils Stevenson Ė who died suddenly last year Ė became their manager after I introduced him to Malcolm McClaren. The early days were fabulous, it was a non-stop orgy of music, fashion outrage (I was arrested for wearing a porno T-shirt) and street threats. If Iíd known how culturally important those days were going to become, I would have paid far more attention! I am featured in THE GREAT ROCK Ď Ní ROLL SWINDLE. My credit says Ďand introducing Alan Jonesí so see if you can spot me. I talked all about making the movie and how I screen tested for Russ Meyer in a 2002 issue of Mojo magazine.† I never took any other punk bands seriously. It was only the Pistols for me. Dancing on top of one of the on-stage speakers at the 100 Club in Londonís Oxford Street will always remain with me because it was so exciting. Iíll never forget having to clean cum off the toilet walls in the El Paradise Soho strip club when they did a one-off gig there either.† Happy times.
6- Youíve contributed some memoirs to Alex Cox when he was writing ďSid and NancyĒ. What are your thoughts on the film as a whole? Would you call it an accurate retelling of Sidís life?
That was an interesting experience. Iíll never forget the way it happened. I was interviewing Alex Cox about REPO MAN that was about to be released and my inevitable final question was, what are you doing next. When he said a film about the life of Sid Vicious, I literally pinned him up against the wall and told him it had better be accurate, that I knew Sid well, that he was never the idiot he was painted out to be etcÖ So the tables turned. Alex then interviewed me about my punk days and much of what I told him ended up in the finished screenplay. I also supplied him with all the phone numbers he was ever going to need. I do get a great thank you during the end credits. Originally I was going to be featured in the film. I didnít want that and so my character was transformed into the black guy. I attended the Cannes world premiere of SID & NANCY and at the party afterwards told Gary Oldman his performance was near perfect Ė which it was.
Alex caught the right anarchic feeling without succumbing too much to a political agenda Ė the one thing I do so object to in treatises about the era. It was about fashion, music and sex, never about the state of the nation. Artistic license and commercial demands meant the events depicted would never be an accurate reflection of exactly how it was. Sid was never a tragic figure, he used to stay in my apartment, and I got to know him well. He had a great sense of humor and was remarkably intelligent. I even liked Nancy, I can still remember her arriving at my place with a suitcase after one fight they had, and all it contained was dirty knickers. ďI didnít know what else to packĒ, she said. I have been asked to write a book about those days but Iím not sure if I want to. Sidís death was a painful experience for everyone close to him and I now just want to remember him singing Ď My Wayí. He looks so handsome, iconic and charismatic.
7- Youíve written 3 books ďSaturday Night ForeverĒ, ďMondo ArgentoĒ and ďNekrofileĒ. Any other books on the way? What would you like to cover next? How about the story of ďThe ArrowĒ (joke)?
I also wrote ĎThe Making of Tomb Raiderí for Carlton Books and Iíve just completed ĎThe Making of Tomb Raider 2: Lara Croft and the Cradle of Lifeí.† I adore Angelina Jolie and did the second tie in because the film can only be a lot better than the original. Mustnít knock it though because the first book made me a best-selling author over night. My next book, to be published by FAB Press in October 2003, is PROFONO ARGENTO. Thatís a complete update of MONDO including all the interviews I did for the Dario doc that were either dropped or had only one sound bite used.† Iím back in Rome in two weeks to cover Dario directing IL CARTAIO/THE CARD PLAYER, which will be the final chapter of the book. One whole section will be devoted to Asia Argento who Iíve known since she was ten years old.† I love SATURDAY NIGHT FOREVER though. Many people think because I was so heavily involved in punk thatís all I did. Disco is still my favorite musical genre and I primarily wrote FEVER to prove to myself I could write about something other than film. The reception it had overwhelmed me and I still get a thrill when I see its translated edition on sale in Italy. I may be publishing something about the new THUNDERBIRDS movie but at this point nothing has been confirmed.† I would write the story of The Arrow in a flash if it meant I could get up close and personal to my favorite web master!
8- Director Dario Argento and yourself have been joined at the hip for a while now. What is it about the man as a person and an artist that draws you to him?
Iíve thought about this question long and hard over the twenty years Iíve now known him. What is it about any artist that makes you respond to their work? It touched my heart in so many ways. When I saw CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and CAT O NINE TAILS I had a sort of epiphany. So this is what the cinema is for and can do? Initially I thought it was all to do with the level of screen violence Ė unsurpassed in its day. You know how we all like to see the envelope pushed Ė there can be no other explanation for the popularity of CANNIBAL FEROX!† Iím not embarrassed to admit I love watching blood on screen and Iím very suspicious of any horror fan who thinks they have to justify that fix in academic or political terms. Itís down to the thrillingly ethereal nature of empty stylish Italian visuals as ever.
I still find Dario an amazing enigma. Iím not conceited enough to say that I know all about his life but I have been privy to a great deal above and beyond what would be normal for someone in my position to witness. I find him lovable, impossible, arrogant, driven to the point of being annoying and fiercely passionate. Iím the same. Perhaps itís that personal compatibility. I just love his work, I always have, I always will Ė despite people continuously telling me he hasnít made a decent film since SUSPIRIA - and I will promote him tirelessly because I promised I would at our first encounter and I never renege on a promise. Darioís impact on my life has been extraordinary in both professional and private avenues. Iíd say I owe him my undying allegiance at least.†
9- Which do you consider to be Argentoís strongest film and weakest film? Why?
Strongest would have to be OPERA. Although Iíve always loved the movie, it grows in stature every time I see it. Itís Darioís cruelest, most nihilistic, thematically cleverest and technically brilliant work. As much as Cristina Marsillach was a total cunt to work with (OPERA was the first of his movies I covered in production), she does give one of the best female performances in any Argento movie. His weakest, not including the atypical FIVE DAYS OF MILAN, is THE STENDHAL SYNDROME. Asiaís blonde wig! Her kissing a fish! Her performance in general is terrible. Iíve found it interesting that Asiaís worst work is for her father. Is/was she so in awe of him? When you see her in CLOSE FRIENDS or LA SIRENE ROUGE, sheís a revelation. STENDHAL is strung together, not edited too. Although the initial concept is a great one Ė being made ill by great art Ė no way does it jell as a giallo and even by Argentoís off-hand storytelling standards barely scrapes by. I had a good time on the movie and still count star Thomas Kretschmann as a friend, but itís a hopeless disaster. Many people think PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is his weakest but I like that a lot Ė plus I met Ennio Morricone because of it and will forever cherish that memory.†
10- Being that you have extensive knowledge of the genre; ever though of writing your own screenplay for eventual production?
This is the question Iím most asked. I know what Iím good at and I stick to it. Thatís why Iíve lasted in this business for 25 years. So many people come unstuck when they think they can write a script.† Iíve never forgotten something that happened to me when I went to Larry Cohenís Hollywood house for an interview about THE STUFF. Iíd pounced on him in the toilet at the AFM that year and asked if I could interview him. When I arrived at his home, he said to me ĎIf you are one of those assholes with a script in his back pocket, you can fuck offí. I wasnít, I never thought of it, and I would never put myself in that position. Itís a bit like asking people you interview for their autograph. I would never do it even if I was their biggest fan. It changes the relationship from professional to stalker in a nanosecond.† I have many friends who are still trying to flog scripts and have done so without any luck for 15 years. But having said that I have been asked to produce an exploitation horror film next year.† Weíll see. The ultra-violent script is currently being written and thereís a role in it for you. Since the day we met and you told me you were also an actor, Iíve thought about you for one particular part. I am being serious here, so we must discuss.††††
11- Youíve accomplished so much and lived so hard, is there anything left for you to aim for? What are some of your future goals, if you have any left?
Aside from seeing if I could produce a movie and not collapse when someone like me reviews it badly, my major goal is to get my film festival FrightFest (late August every year in Londonís West End) recognized internationally. I want it to be the Sitges of Great Britain. Sitges is my favorite festival in the world. I love it, always have a good time there and itís a great opportunity to greet, meet and interview everyone. Last yearís was fabulous with CABIN FEVER, CYPHER and MAY and I want FrightFest to have that same effect on people. We had great success in 2002, already have a nice line-up for this yearís event and will be at Cannes to make sure anyone who doesnít know what weíre doing does so. Iím an eternal optimist who always looks forward to the next set visit (HELLBOY), the next great film (JEEPERS CREEPERS II), the next festival, the nextÖ.whatever. If I havenít done it, met them, been there or seen it, I just have to.† Iím still the same fan I was at 14 and if I can put a finger on anything that informs my writing, itís that love. That drive to still be scared in a cinema. Plus Iíve always lived by the same code Ė I donít care if people love or hate me, as long as they never forget me. So far they havenít
12- Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Which one is your poison of choice?
Itís got to be Sex, Sex and more Sex. Iím that shallow! My dick has gotten me into tougher areas than even you could possibly imagine. But itís a primal force in my existence. There comes a point in everyoneís life when you do have to recognize and own up to your vices and neuroses and either embrace them or subvert them. I chose the embrace route. Iím full-on when it comes to my sex life and couldnít care less if my lifestyle shocks anyone. Alejandro Jodorwosky and I discussed this a lot recently and he said that only at 70 did he decide to give up on carnal pleasures. He said he was relieved his sexual motivation was now over. I canít ever see my life getting to that point - ever. I either want to die watching BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS or having a mega-orgasm Ė with someone as lovely as you!†††††
I'd like to thank Alan for his time and wish him the best in his future endeavors. The man is unique, talented, ambitious and one kool dude.