Director Of Photography Nicholas von Sternberg talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his work with Rudy Ray Moore and schlockmeister Larry Buchanan.
TV STORE ONLINE: Before we talk about Larry Buchanan shouldn't we talk about your work with Rudy Ray Moore?
VON STERNBERG: Certainly... Rudy gave me my first job as a cameraman. I was only 21-years-old at the time. It was on DOLEMITE (1974). Until that time I had a fairly sheltered life--so it was quite an experience to work with Rudy and his team.
TV STORE ONLINE: You worked on all of his '70s films in some capacity or another... My favorite of Rudy's '70s films is PETEY WHEATSTRAW: THE DEVILS SON-IN-LAW (1979)--because it's so visual and dreamy...
It was directed by Cliff Roquemore. He had some ideas about things he wanted in the film visually. He wanted a dream-like look for some of the scenes. I came up with the idea of putting a net out in front of the lens. I learned that from [Director Of Photography] Cliff Moore. It's a very pretty film. I used a stocking in front of the lens too for the flashbacks. We burnt a hole in it...
TV STORE ONLINE: Visually, I love the sequence in PETEY WHEATSTRAW where all the church-members are machine-gunned down at the church, and PETEY shows up and it's as if everything and everyone is frozen in time...
VON STERNBERG: Oh yeah. (Laughing) Cliff and Rudy really had so many ideas on that picture...
TV STORE ONLINE: Some months back I spoke with Larry Buchanan's son, Jeff, about the shooting of GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN (1976) and GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN (1989.) He had mentioned that you shot the "Wammo Ammo" sequence in NORMA JEAN for Larry...
|Misty Rowe in Buchanan's Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976)|
VON STERNBERG: I don't think I did that, but I may have. The scene I remember shooting from GOODBYE, NORMA JEAN was of Norma Jean posing on a bed for a pin-up poster as if she was about to be murdered. We shot that in 16mm. We shot about five minutes, but Larry only used about thirty seconds of it.
TV STORE ONLINE: Prior to working with Larry had you been familiar with any of his previous films?
VON STERNBERG: No, I wasn't.
TV STORE ONLINE: You must have may made an impact on him because he wanted you for his Director of Photography on the follow-up to NORMA JEAN, HUGHES AND HARLOW: ANGELS IN HELL (1978)....
VON STERNBERG: Right. I really like the work I did in that picture. I shot that whole film. It was quite an experience working with Larry. He was a nice guy, and we shot that film at Culver City Studios.
TV STORE ONLINE: For every critic that has said something awful about any of Larry's films--I see him as a true auteur. For any small budget he had to work with--the thing about Larry's films that I think makes them so interesting is how he manages to produce a fully realized aesthetic world in which his characters exist. We know these are low-budget films, you can see limitations in the art direction at times, yet, there is something aesthetically fascinating about his work... It's like they function in a out-of-time unique universe or something.....
VON STERNBERG: On HUGHES AND HARLOW we had a budget of $230,000 dollars. That was small for those days! We had less on DOLEMITE. HUGHES AND HARLOW, in the end, turned out to be a tax write-off. Most of Larry's films were financed that way. Even though, we didn't know that when we were shooting the film.
TV STORE ONLINE: What do you remember about the shooting of Larry's MISTRESS OF THE APES (1976)?
VON STERNBERG: I remember that we shot it out at the 20th Century Fox ranch in Malibu. We only had three weeks to shoot the movie. He used a lot of special effects make-up on the movie. The make-up people were great as were the actors who played the apes. It wasn't quite soft-core porno, but at the same time, it kind of was.
TV STORE ONLINE: That sequence with the ape man and Jenny Neumann is visually stunning...
VON STERNBERG: Yeah.
TV STORE ONLINE: One of the things that I love about Larry's work too is how he's always fearless. He likes to mixed aesthetics. He'll use rock music out-of-time. He'll stop a film for a song...In MISTRESS OF THE APES there are some interesting ideas at play....Did his crew ever give him any guff about any of his artistic choices?
VON STERNBERG: Not that I saw. I didn't, because I was pretty young at the time. I just listened to him because he was much older than I was. I respected him because he was taking a chance with his films. With MISTRESS OF THE APES, I knew it wasn't going to be a good film when we were shooting it, but I did quite like HUGHES AND HARLOW. DOWN ON US (1984) or BEYOND THE DOORS, I also knew that wasn't going to be a good film either because the acting was so sub-par and the writing as well.
TV STORE ONLINE: In mentioning DOWN ON US...Did Larry ever discuss with you his various conspiracy theories on the "pied-pipers of rock and roll" or Marilyn Monroe?
VON STERNBERG: Not really, but he had so many ideas about everything. He was really light-hearted and he liked to joke around on the set, but when it came to his ideas or his films he wouldn't ever joke around. He was very serious.
TV STORE ONLINE: I think DOWN ON US is a pretty extraordinary film because it's the culmination of what I've suggested earlier about Larry desiring to create a completely-realized alternate universe in his films...
VON STERNBERG: But the actors weren't good. The guy who played Jim Morrison wasn't anything like the real Jim Morrison. I met the real Jim Morrison when I was younger. When he was a film student at UCLA he was a student in my Dad's class there. He and Ray Manzarek were both in that class. The actor who played Jimi Hendrix--I didn't feel like he was the right choice for that part. The way that Larry set it--nothing about it was real. They tried to make it real, but none of it worked.
TV STORE ONLINE: Your complaints about DOWN ON US are the reasons why I praise it...(Laughing) I love it because it has zero realism. To change subjects...I know you worked in a capacity on Francis Coppola's ONE FROM THE HEART (1981)...What did you do that film?
At the time I was doing a lot of large-format photography. I shot the neon stuff for the one-sheet for the movie. There were a couple different posters for the movie
and I did one of them. I used to shoot large-format photography of neon signs for a living. I got quite a reputation for that. It was wonderful to be on that lot with Francis. I wanted to work with him again after that, but I never got the chance. I first met Coppola when I was younger in the Summer of '69 in San Sebastian. I was eighteen-years-old and he was visiting my Dad one day.
TV STORE ONLINE: ONE FROM THE HEART is one of those films that I think is tremendously underrated--but many don't confer with me on that notion...
I would, but I also think the same thing about TEXASVILLE (1990) too.
Interview Conducted by: Justin Bozung