If you’re visiting CHUD.com there’s a good chance that the films of John Landis have been important to you. Animal House. Coming to America. An American Werewolf in London. And of course, The Blues Brothers. It’s that film’s 25th anniversary, and Universal is releasing a new DVD edition (August 30th – buy it from CHUD.com right here!), as well as doing a special event – doing a one night theatrical showing of the film in HD on Monday August 29th, with a satellite simulcast live interview with Dan Aykroyd and John Landis. (Check out the trailer for the event here - I imagine that this is going to be a fun night, maybe even with some fun Rocky Horror-style sing-a-longs and stuff. See if it’s playing near you and buy tickets by clicking here)
I got to have a more intimate moment with Mr. Landis – we did a phone interview this afternoon. I only had 10 minutes, but I could have easily gone on for 10 times that. I barely even scratched the surface of this guy’s great career – hell, I didn’t get a single American Werewolf question in, and that’s one of my all-time favorite films!
Q: The new edition of The Blues Brothers DVD that is coming out – what can fans expect on this new edition that’s different from what we’ve seen in the past?
Landis: Not much! Five years ago for the 20th anniversary we did this expanded version which included footage we found in a preview print. On this DVD they’re releasing on the same DVD the expanded version and the original theatrical version, plus the documentary which was done five years ago on the making of the movie, which is excellent. It has footage from the location, the shooting of the film, as well as interviews that were done in 79 and 1999.
What’s interesting is that for the new DVD they also have additional things – they have a documentary on John Belushi and a piece on the impact of the Blues Brothers on the world. And I think they have a piece of Danny and Jimmy Belushi performing at the House of Blues. It’s interesting because I was looking at some of this stuff and it’s weird for me because I see myself in 79, and then in 80, then in 95 and then in 2000 and then in 2005, being interviewed. It’s very odd for me – it’s like I’m fat! Thin! Long hair! Short hair! Black hair! Grey hair!
Q: It’s like the DVD of Dorian Grey for you.
Landis: On speed!
Q: The Blues Brothers is well known for its incredible car chases, but it’s really mostly a musical. What was tougher for you – the insane car stuff or wrangling the stars and the dancers and the audiences?
Landis: Logistically the big car chase scenes are more complicated to shoot. This was way before CGI, so it was all real. We were doing ridiculously elaborate, 35 cars going over 100mph in downtown Chicago. So to set stuff like that up was like a military operation. For a couple of those shots we had to literally make sure there was no entrance to the street for a mile. So it was very, very elaborate and complicated shooting the car stuff.
The musical stuff was more fun for me, just because it was so entertaining, especially with these incredible performers.
Q: For people of my generation – I’m 31 years old – The Blues Brothers introduced us to a lot of these acts, and the film is their defining moment for us.
Landis: The intention of the movie – Danny and John did something unique, which was that they deliberately exploited their celebrity of the moment, since they were big stars then, to focus a spotlight on these amazing acts. At that time in 79 it was all disco. The big acts were Abba and the BeeGees. The movie was very successful in that respect, it really brought back rhythm and blues.
Q: One of the big stories this summer has been the return of the R-rated comedy. You’re sort of the king of the R-rated comedy. Why do you think they fell out of favor, and why do you think they’re coming back now?
Landis: It never fell out of favor. You have to understand that this stuff has to do with what the studios will make. The studios are like sheep and they just follow where the money is. If you made a film, no matter how despicable, and it made money it’s a good film.
I haven’t seen The Wedding Crashers or The 40 Year Old Virgin, but I’m pleased that they’re doing well because the studios have shied away from the R-rating stupidly, I believe. An R-rating just means that adults can see it. I’ve made a number of movies that grossed well over a hundred million dollars – The Blues Brothers is R-rated, but there’s no sex in it, there’s no violence in it. It’s all slapstick. There’s nothing in it I wouldn’t let an 8 year old or a 9 year old see. There’s a lot of profanity it, that’s why it’s R-rated. But I’ve made Trading Places, Coming to America – I mean, Animal House! I’ve made a lot of R-rated comedies that were hugely successful.
Q: And they’re great films. I saw them at a young age and I don’t think they screwed up my life anymore than it would have been.
Landis: I hope not!
Q: You have a lot of projects that have been announced. What’s next for you?
Landis: I don’t know. That’s an excellent question. I just finished a show, this thing called The Masters of Horror. That was actually kind of fun. Mine was called Deer Woman, and it was written by my son Max. That’s complete. It’s part of this DVD and Showtime series that’s exciting because it’s director driven. And nothing these days is director driven – it’s all about actors and franchises. What’s wonderful about this is that all 13 of us directors were basically given a million eight and seven to ten days to do whatever we want.
Dario Argento’s finished, I did mine. Tobe Hooper finished his. Joe Dante is shooting now. John Carpenter finished his. Stuart Gordon finished his. Don Coscarelli finished his. Takashi Miike is doing one. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a lot of really interesting filmmakers, and I think it’s going to be fun.
Q: And this is Showtime, so you can do whatever you want. There’s no MPAA breathing down your neck.
Landis: Oh yeah, we can do whatever we want. Some of them I have seen and they’re pretty gruesome!
Q: My DVD collection has a big hole in it because I haven’t bought Three Amigos because there’s just that barebones version available. Any plans for a new edition?
Landis: I would love for them to do a fancy edition of Three Amigos, but I don’t even know who owns Three Amigos now. That was made for Orion, who went out of business. Maybe MGM, who was just bought by Sony? I don’t even know who owns it! That’s up to the DVD companies.
Certain titles of mine, like Coming to America, Three Amigos and Spies Like Us, Innocent Blood, they sell consistently. They just keep selling. Because they’re selling they figure, fuck it, we don’t have to do anything! They do all the bells and whistles to resell stuff.
Q: I heard that if you went back to Coming to America you would actually make it shorter. Is that true?
Landis: If I could. They wouldn’t let me.
Q: Why would you cut it? It’s such a great film now.
Landis: That was the fastest movie ever made. I don’t know if you know this, but we were in release in 3000 theaters about three weeks after principal photography. It was insane. We agreed to a release date before we went into production so I had two editors going and I was cutting at night. We had cut, mixed and scored nine reels before we finished shooting. And we had to give Technicolor two weeks to make the prints! It was never even previewed – it was finished, out the door, done and gone.
I’m pleased with the movie, and it was a giant success, but I think it’s too long. It’s a little fat. I think it would be a better picture with twelve or fifteen minutes trimmed out.
Q: Is there going to be a Batboy: The Musical film?
Landis: I hope so. I have a meeting Thursday about it. I’m overseeing the development of the script by the writers of the show. Have you seen the show?
Q: I’ve never seen the show, but I am a big fan of the Weekly World News!
Landis: Well, the show is quite wonderful. It’s extremely dark, very funny and ultimately kind of a Greek tragedy. The music’s wonderful. We’re fighting about that right now, because to be true to the musical – talk about R-rated, it would have to be. It deals with bestiality and other things that don’t work PG. It’s very, very dark and very smart. I don’t know if they’ll let us.
Q: Is there a soundtrack out there now?
Landis: You can buy the Broadway album and the London album. I actually thought the London production was better than the Broadway show.
Q: Mr. Landis, thank you very much for taking time to talk today. I’m dying for a good edition of Three Amigos, so if I find out who owns it, I’m dropping you an email!
Landis: Email them! I would love that. That’s a beautifully photographed film, and I think that the DVD that exists is just from the laser disc. It’s an old print.
Also that movie has my favorite score. It has Elmer Bernstein and Randy Newman, and Elmer literally making fun of Elmer Bernstein. It’s a brilliant score And Randy’s songs – Randy’s the singing bush, you know. I like that movie too.