Even in the realm of obscure retro discoveries by Quentin Tarantino, Larry Bishop is obscure. His biggest claim to fame is a series of biker movies from the late 60s and early 70s, and then he seemingly dropped off the radar for a while before returning with his directorial debut Mad Dog Time. But for most people Bishop, only son of Rat Packer Joey Bishop, is a leather-clad motorcycle madman.
Which is why Tarantino came to him with the idea of making the ultimate motorcycle movie. Hell Ride is a smash up of AIP bike picture, spaghetti western and pure machismo, with plenty of tits thrown in. It’s a wild, weird movie that won’t be for everybody, but I dug the hell out of it. With a motley cast that includes old time biker movie vet Dennis Hopper, fellow drive-in legend David Carradine and the modern equivalents of those folks, like Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones, Hell Ride opens in limited release today.
What makes a quintessential motorcycle movie?
When you do it no one wants to talk to you ever again. I say that
tongue in cheek, but to some extent it’s true because when I did the
original ones like The Savage Seven, Angels Unchained and Chrome and
Hot Leather, people stopped talking to me. My family stopped talking to
me, my friends stopped talking to me. I was only doing it as an actor,
not as an actor/writer/director, but they hit a nerve in an odd way.
They were the opposite of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. You
know how they say, ‘These are the people your parents warned you
about?’ Well, these are the movies your parents warned you about. I
think it has to go up against the grain of all the perceptions of
mainstream success and moviemaking. It has to collide with that. I
felt, because I had Quentin Tarantino on my side, we could get away
with murder. Regardless of what happens with the theatrical release
because it has the Quentin Tarantino name it’ll outlive me for sure.
Whether it’ll continue as a cult film or whatever the hell it’s going
to be, I felt like it was secure in its existence.
The theatrical cut – how different is it from your directorial vision? Did the MPAA take a lot out?
Nothing. There’s nothing. That’s the amazing thing. When I originally
was negotiating a deal, Bob Weinstein, after he got the script, his
first question to me was, ‘Larry, what kind of rating are we getting
with this thing?’ Because I wrote it really really graphically. It was
really a graphic script. Was it something beyond NC-17? I promised him
an R rating, and everybody was betting we’d get an NC-17, but on the
first pass we got an R rating. It has a lot to do with the fact that
Quentin and I agreed to the fact that when I was done with my cut he
would come in and take a peek. I gave him final cut, actually, which
was a smart move because he’s a master. He’s just a master at so many
things, but in the editing room he dazzled me, completely dazzled me.
What he did with some of the eroticism it’s not cuts, it’s just a way
he did certain things that no one at the ratings board asked me to
change one frame.
That comes from his experience with them in the first place.
Exactly. I was learning here. I was thinking I was going to have to take out… but in this no trims were asked for.
You had Quentin involved in editing. Was he involved at any other point
or did he just come in at the end. How is he as a producer? How hands
on is he?
He’s a great producer because he left me alone completely and let me
make the movie exactly the way I wanted to. That was part of what he
wanted; he wanted to do that. It was one filmmaker honoring another
filmmaker. He wanted to see what I would do. We had two conversations
at the beginning laying out the territory. I wanted to hear what he
thought was interesting about motorcycle movies and I told him what I
thought was interesting about motorcycle movies, and then we laid out
the territory a little bit and he went off and made Kill Bill. He
called me and told me he wrote me a part for Kill Bill but the next
time I saw him for Hell Ride is when he came to the editing room. He
just let me make my movie.
One of the things that surprising about Hell Ride is how funny it is.
I’m happy to hear you say that. You’re one of the few – I’ve been
having a lot of conversations today about the sex and violence, but I’m
glad to hear that it tickles your funny bone.
You have a background in comedy. You worked with Rob Reiner. How
important is it for you to get some levity into a film like this?
Here’s the great thing: I had done a couple of gangster movies as a
writer/director/actor… and that was one of the first things in my
initial conversations with Quentin. He said, ‘Larry, what you’re doing
with the gangster movies, that’ll translate to the motorcycle movie.
That’ll go right across. You can take those characters you’re doing as
gangsters and make them motorcycle people.’ That was a thought I had
never thought, and I wasn’t sure it would work but when Quentin said it
I knew he was absolutely right. The minute he said it, I said ‘That’s
it.’ But yeah, I hadn’t reached that conclusion yet.
What was the funniest scene for you?
It has to be Vinnie Jones describing his tattoos. But while the movie isn’t a comedy, but it has moments that make you laugh.
I was curious about whether you’re still in touch with Rob Reiner? Do you guys do stuff together?
I talked to Rob two days ago. We have a film in development, but I was
talking to him about another one, actually. As soon as Hell Ride opens
I told him we’d get together. He had to go away for a week, but when he
gets back he’ll see Hell Ride. We got one idea that we’ve developed –
Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks were also friends of ours when we
were growing up, so there’s one with the four of us, but there’s also
one with just me and Rob.
Do you see yourself more as an actor, a writer or a director?
That’s a pretty good question. I guess I’d have to say actor first. But
writing right on its tail. And then the directing I would say is just
an extension of the writing and acting for me. Of course there are
other directors who aren’t actors or writers, so that would be an odd
thing to say. The directing came from the acting and writing.
What is it about the acting that is so creatively fulfilling?
It’s cathartic, acting. I never found writing to be cathartic. When you
write you go into yourself, when you act you go outwards. You’re
projecting outwards. You’re stirring yourself up in a different way;
when you write you’re stirring up your conscious in a different way so
that your conscious and unconscious meld together and you understand it
while you’re writing. You don’t need to do that when you’re acting –
you can have things flowing around in your brain, but you don’t have to
be aware of it. You just have to get the results of what you’re heading
towards. For me acting is much easier on the system than writing.
Writing is a direct confrontation with yourself. When you sit down with
a piece of paper and a pencil – I write longhand and give it to a girl
to type out – when you do that, that’s a direct confrontation with
yourself. If you don’t want to have a direct confrontation with
yourself, don’t write. But with acting it’s not a direct confrontation
with yourself at the beginning. Eventually you get to that point, but
it’s a long way around. It’s disguised in such a way that you don’t
know it until you’re done.