Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Director Kurt Voss on Criterion's BORDER RADIO (1987)


Co-Director Kurt Voss talks a bit about the film BORDER RADIO (1987) and working in a collective of three directors.

TV STORE ONLINE:    Where does the story for BORDER RADIO start for you?

VOSS:   Allison Anders, myself, and Dean Lent were all at USC film school together.  I had actually met Allison a few years prior though as I was a high-school drop out and when I did catch up and enroll in Junior College, Allison was enrolled there was well. 

From there, Allison and I met Dean Lent and we three became chummy and we crewed together on the short films that we made at USC.  We loved black and white, and so we teamed up because we had that commonality between us.   People that saw those said, "Hey, you guys should make a feature..."

TV STORE ONLINE:  What films inspired you early on to eventually pursue a life as a filmmaker?

VOSS:  Well, I have a pretty broad range of interests.  I can remember as a kid going to the drive-in to see John Wayne in TRUE GRIT (1969).   MEAN STREETS (1973) was another film that I saw that really had an impact on me.    In terms of some of the indie stuff, we were really inspired by films like BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) and STRANGER THAN PARADISE (1984), because when we saw those, we understood that there were people out there that were doing what we were trying to do with BORDER RADIO.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So did you go along with Allison and Dean when they went to work on PARIS, TEXAS with Wim Wenders the year before BORDER RADIO work started?

VOSS:  I didn't!  In retrospect I really wish that I had though.   At the time I thought that it was more important to stay at USC and get my degree.   I did visit the set of PARIS, TEXAS a couple times.  In fact, the scene where Harry Dean Stanton is watching the home movies of his kid and getting all teary-eyed....He was really watching some film footage of my friends dog.   That was the first time where the three of us realized that films are often made by the seat of one's pants.   We were a little dismayed by that at the time I think, but we all realized just how fun it is to work that way too.    We did a little of that on our new film, STRUTTER (2014).  There were days were we didn't know quite exactly what we were going to shoot an hour before we were to start for the day.  It's fun to wing it.  It's easier to do it when you have some experience under your belt as well.

We tried some of that early on with BORDER RADIO and we ended up basically shooting two different drafts of the movie.   We started out and we shot this sort of existential drama, and then we changed directions in the middle of it, just because we knew it would be a hard sell.  So we changed it, and brought in the rock element and made it more of a shaggy dog story.      Some of those earlier scenes that we shot are on the Criterion DVD for the film.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Is there any truth in the rumor that actor Vic Tayback helped to finance BORDER RADIO?

VOSS:  Yes, that's true.  He and my dad were drinking buddies.    He had done really well on a television series that he was on.  He was our first stop when we were raising money to make BORDER RADIO.  He gave us a couple grand to start working, and while it wasn't a lot of money, it was a king's ransom for us because it got us started.   We were shooting on 16mm, and even back then at that time it was super expensive.   Our average lab bill was between $3,000-$4,000 dollars.  We would often have to wait 6-7 months to get our dailies out of the lab. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  When you finished the film, did you take it to Vic Tayback and what did he think of it?

VOSS:  I think we took him a work-in-progress to try to get some more money from him.  He was pretty funny because he didn't really know what to make of it.  He said, "John Doe?  Who the fuck is John Doe?  What kind of name is that?"  "This Chris D.  This is the good guy?  This brooding-looking bastard."    He didn't quite get the concept.  I did work with him again though. He was in another film I made a few years later called HORSEPLAYER (1990).  I think that was his last film that he worked on before he passed away.

TV STORE ONLINE:   If you look at BORDER RADIO via the context of when it was made, with its mood and tone....Do you think it's fair to say that PARIS, TEXAS had a direct influence on BORDER RADIO?  There is a very similar tone to both films....

VOSS:  I haven't ever thought of it as a direct influence on us, but I'd say that Wim Wenders' body of work up till that point was influential on us.   Films like ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974) and KINGS OF THE ROAD (1976), were both black and white films, and they feature an alienated hero that wanders around in an existential landscape.  Then the long, sustained takes as well, that was something that everyone was doing around that time in film.   You see that in Michelangelo Antonioni's  THE PASSENGER (1975) for example.  The entire climax of that film is a long dolly shot where all of the action takes place off camera.   No doubt though, that we were all influenced by the new German cinema.

TV STORE ONLINE:  How did you guys come across Chris D. for the film?  He's not your typical "rock star" type of guy?

VOSS:   Well, I was always a big fan of his band that he had at that time in Los Angeles called 'The Flesh Eaters'.    He was very accessible and I can't remember if it was Allison that suggested him or not, but it was a matter of walking into one of the clubs that he was playing at and handing him the script.  He was cast against type for sure, and he brought John Doe along with him to the film.   David Alvin was also a friend of Chris D. as well.  He was really pivotal in helping us cast the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Speaking of John Doe...What's your favorite X album of all time?

VOSS:  I'd say the first four albums.   My personal favorite would probably be the second album, 'The Wild Gift'.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   While you're shooting the film...How does the three director dynamic work? 
 
VOSS:  Well, we were really operating as the entire crew of the film.   We did have a couple extra sets of hands on a few of the scenes, but mostly it was just the three of us.  Dean was a cinematography student first and foremost, and we would all negotiate for what was in the frame.   We would talk a lot about where was the best place to set the camera up for the first shot of the scene.   We were all so busy that we really didn't even have time to argue about who should call action.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   My favorite scene in the movie is where Chris D. burns his guitar...

VOSS:  Chris D. went into town and he came back with a bottle of Tequila.   He had that guitar and he said, "I'd like to burn this on the beach."   We said, "Okay!"   He contributed so much to BORDER RADIO.

Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung