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During this December, noted deejay Tony Smith would have celebrated his latest birthday. Unfortunately, lung cancer took his life earlier in 2021. Though the Sirius XM radio host and veteran dance song spin-ster — who worked at such legendary clubs as Xenon — is gone, I had an opportunity to be at an event which honored him.
More than 40 years ago, during disco’s heyday, we had known each other and had re-connected a few years ago. Thanks to his husband Mike, I attended the recent Legends of Vinyl™ DJ & Artists Hall of Fame annual award ceremony.
As a perpetual outlier, I have long identified with music that reflected my outsider nature: punk, new wave, hardcore on the rock side of things; funk, blues and jazz on the Urban side of it all.
Somewhere in the middle of this was disco, dance music — in all its permutations such as drum & bass, EDM, etc. — and deejaying. Back in 1983, I learned about mixers, Technics 1200 Mk2 turntables and the joys of playing live. From then on, I started doing gigs, first at private parties and then, regularly in clubs. Probably my most significant gig was being the Friday/Saturday night China Club turntablist. I also played a hell of a lot of parties, weddings and bar mitzvahs.
While I loved cutting-edge music, most of it you couldn’t dance to — unless you were tripping and then it didn’t matter anyhow. Okay, there was moshing and pogo-ing to punk. But from the blues, rockabilly and bluegrass on, music that came from the streets meant it was for dancing — or at least could be. First it was R&B, then rock, soul, funk and ultimately, disco. But of all those genres, disco was all about dancing brought by a deejay to an audience in a club. And by the late ’60s and early ’70s, it became a worldwide phenomenon.
I deejayed for 13 years until I was burned out and decided that because of problematic club owners and the wretched conditions they offered, I couldn’t take it anymore. Unfortunately for me, I chose to stop just as digital equipment was coming in. That change eliminated the need to move heavy boxes of records and big equipment. Bad timing but C’est la vie.
I never became a great deejay but the work brought me into another arena and closer to actually making and performing music. I thought I would turn to remixing and started doing it, but got sucked back into writing. Then I launched a music magazine which led me into a new phase of my life.
Recently I got a chance to be immersed in a world I’d left behind. Once again, I appreciated the joys of getting people up to dance and of seamlessly segueing music based on the beat and texture.
At this year’s annual ceremony, honorees included Mark S. Berry, Sal Abbatiello, DJ Richie Rich (recipient of the Legacy Award), Lisa Nocella-Pacino (recipient of the Golden Circle Award), and the recipients of the 2021 Icon awards, the first lady of Salsoul Carol Williams as well as the incomparable Smith.
Musical artists such as Pattie Brooks, Pamala Stanley, Phil Hurtt, Cyre, Unlimited Touch and all of them performed with dance tracks. DJ Jeff Yahney and DJ Jimmy C provided the tunes for the late night dance session.
The entire event was produced by Luis Mario O. Rizzo who had founded the Legends of Vinyl™ LLC Organization and the L.O.V. DJ/Artists Hall of Fame years ago. Now he’s working on a book to capture his memories and the special people he’s met along the years. He expects it to be published next year as “My Life, My Music, My Love” by Luis Mario Orellana Rizzo. So this offered a great occasion for Rizzo to enthuse on his love of this music and its impact on his life and the world as well.
Q: What made you decide to do these awards?
LMOR: About 20 years ago, I thought about giving thanks to my peers in one very special way, creating a Hall of Fame for DJs. This was a dream for me. It became much more than that as I presented the idea to my friends. Immediately it became something amazing because there were so many individuals who had never received the recognition that I believed was necessary, and that no one had ever thought of providing for many reasons.
One of the requirements of legendary attainment is remaining committed, consistent and passionate about turning dreams into reality. I had that commitment for L.O.V.
And now, over 12 years later, we’re the only organization fully engaged and responsible for keeping the musical legacies of our industry in the forefront and alive. I take pride in having created this magnificent entity and am confident that it will continue for years to come.
Q: Who selects the awardees and how are they chosen?
LMOR: When I created the Hall of Fame for the industry in general, I put together a Board of Directors who are part of the industry. They can select/nominate those who are deserving of the acknowledgement for their contributions to our industry.
I have no involvement in these choices. That’s because I, as the founder and CEO, must remain neutral while allowing my Board to make these very difficult choices.
Each year we update some of the Board membership to provide an opportunity to others with fresh ideas. Even more importantly, I need a proactive Board to keep the organization alive and moving forward. It’s my responsibility to keep Legends of Vinyl™ relevant and interesting to the world. We are the Legacy keepers, doing our best to leave our history intact so that future generations can learn from our success and or mistakes.
The Board of Directors are from each city we’ll visit and bring the awards event to. These individuals all have incredible personal histories. They themselves know the “who’s who” in the business, from DJs to Recording Artists. They spend months studying each bio and then vote in a democratic process to finally send me a list of awardees. Only then, as executive producer of Legends of Vinyl, do I begin production of the whole event.
Q: What is your role in picking the award-winners who appear each year?
LMOR: I’m the last to review the honorees as I give primary responsibility to my Board of Directors. They are usually right on target!
Q: What about the Icon awards in particular?
LMOR: The Icon award was created to celebrate those who are multifaceted in our industry. They stand out for obvious reasons.
Q: And as to this year’s Legends of Vinyl Awards?LMOR: There was no 2020 celebration and as time passed so did a lot of our legends. 2021’s celebration proved that although time took away some of us, time also left a lot of us here to make this year’s gala awards event an unforgettable evening of honoring those with us along with, unfortunately, a longer than usual “In Memoriam” segment. We attendees all saw many peers and friends in person after such a long period of time. A feeling of victory over the pandemic won out, with hope and gratitude for the legends who are still here.
I began to move forward to include artists of the ‘80s freestyle. We don’t want time to further pass them by as has happened over the past two years. The inclusion of Phil Hurtt, music achiever since the ‘70s and younger artist Cyre, was seen as the beginning of going into the future with a full recognition of ongoing music history.
Q: You honored DJ Tony Smith, in particular, to whom you recently gave a posthumous Icon of Music Award.
LMOR: As far back as I remember, Tony was a creative and generous peer to everyone he came in contact with. An impressive quality about Tony was that he would talk with you as if he had known you forever without the “ego” that was so predominant and still is in our industry. I considered Tony to be a purist to the fullest extent of the word. Friends like Tony are very few. I’ll always remember those precious moments when we saw each other and interacted.
Q: What made Tony an Iconic Legend in music history?
LMOR: Icons are people who break barriers because their voice/image and talent is so captivating. I believe an icon is someone who uses their talent to introduce a new concept into their field, all while knowing how to display their image and music to the public. This describes Tony perfectly! He’s widely acknowledged to have been a major factor in the historic rise of Disco, for example.
Q: What prompted your passion for music?
LMOR: I believe it’s a natural passion that I was born with. I feel blessed to have inherited a natural love and understanding of music in general. In my home there was always music of all genres. Growing up, my ear was always tuned to old and current melodies, compositions and songs.
Q: What were your favorite clubs?
LMOR: In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s I can recall The Electric Circus, The Haven and The Sanctuary as the home of my favorite schooling. They created a valuable source of interest for me. That is how I became a DJ and part of the generation of pioneers during the inception of the Dance Music Culture.
Q: And what was your favorite song?
LMOR: Too many to mention. It wouldn’t be fair to just pick one song. I have a library of so many genres of music in my head that only a few in the world can understand.
Q: Favorite group?
LMOR: Growing up in the ‘50s listening to a vast range of music from both my parents and family, I will also restrain myself from choosing just one favorite group.
Q: Okay. But how about your favorite deejay?
LMOR: Francis Grasso who was my mentor and friend. He created the movement through which we, the DJs/Vinyl Spinners, came to present our talent to our audiences. They reacted on the dance floors to evenings of non-stop seamless change from one song to another, with music and dance flowing continuously for hours on end. Francis took charge of the dance floor to drive people to ecstasy night after night!
Q: Do you still have your vinyl collection? How many records do you still have?
LMOR: I started collecting vinyl as a child in the way that most kids collected toys. When I immigrated to the United States, years later I went back to my homeland for a visit and I brought back those records. After returning to the States, I started to collect vinyl prior to becoming a DJ. Then, as a DJ my collection became a lifestyle.
To this day I can proudly say that I still have my personal vinyl favorites to the last days of vinyl production. I have about 25,000 records of 78 RPM, 45 RPM, LPs & 12”. They’re approximately 75% Promotional Copies from Motown, Doo-Wop, Standards, Rock n’ Roll, Opera, Classical, Show Musicals, Jazz, Latin, Reggae, etc.!
Q: Have you ever used digital equipment?
LMOR: As a consistent performer, I had to adapt to the changes around me. It was not my preference to do that, because technology presented itself as cold and indifferent compared to the feeling of listening and playing analog on Vinyl! But I was naturally curious. And in order to continue to be relevant to my profession, I had to adapt to a new era. To this day, I can confidently play Vinyl to Digital without missing a beat and Loving It!
Q: How did you get your first gig?
LMOR: Non-paying in the late ‘60s doing house parties, then as a paid professional DJ it all started in 1970.
Q: I lean towards deejay but which term do you prefer — deejay or DJ?
LMOR: I’m fortunate to have grown from a DJ to a Producer. That being said, I use DJ.
I have many “firsts” in my career. I have traveled both nationally and internationally, representing myself at first. Now I represent the company which maintains the legacies of all those legendary pioneer DJ’s. They include those who have and have not been recognized by their peers. These achievers include artists, sound & lighting engineers, club promoters, producers, etc. I call the program Legends of Vinyl™ with the goal of helping their legacies to live on into perpetuity.
Artists Hall of FameLink: https://www.legendsofvinyl.com/artist-hall-of-fame
Pioneer DJsLink: https://www.legendsofvinyl.com/hall-of-fame-pioneers
Eight albums in, multi-talented musician/actress Patricia Vonne is back with a new recording. This time it’s her holiday celebration, “My Favorite Holiday" (on her label Bandolera Records). This award-notable filmmaker and two-time SXSW best female vocalist winner released the full album on November 19th, building an audience with its many music videos which can be seen on YouTube.
Vonne’s ode to this special time of the year features 10 original songs and one cover. Joining her in an all-star cast are Rubén Blades, David Grissom, Alex Ruiz, Rosie Flores, Stephen Ferrone on drums (Tom Petty) and Carmine Rojas on bass (David Bowie).
For the San Antonio native, Christmas meant gathering with her parents and nine siblings (including hit film director Robert Rodriguez). Recalls the statuesque performer, “As children, we would perform ‘Haul Out the Holly’ and other Christmas favorites with big candy canes and perform for our family and friends. Another family favorite was the singing of ‘Carol of the Bells,’ which I included on this album to invite the world into our family through music. My sisters recorded from four different cities in three states. I am thrilled to share their voices and this song with the world.”
The album opener, “Santa’s On His Way,” is a pop-flavored kick-off featuring lush piano and orchestral arrangements by Scott Plunkett of Chris Isaak’s band. Originally intended as a one-off single, Vonne says it inspired the full-length album project with producer Rick Del Castillo at the helm. The title track displays Vonne celebrating her inner Brenda Lee with an ebullient pop arrangement featuring Johnny Reno blowing red-hot saxophone. Powered by drummer Thommy Price (Billy Idol, Joan Jett), the ferocious rocker “Old Man Santa!” reveals Vonne’s rocker roots:
“Old man Santa’s cruisin’ down the hill
Used to drive a Chevy now he rides a Coupe de Ville…
Bag full of goodies, guitar on his back.”
The smoky rockabilly number “Santa’s On A Rampage,” features Vonne’s San Antonio sister-in-arms, Rosie Flores (one third of Texicana Mamas with Vonne and Stephanie Urbina Jones) and longtime Chris Isaak sidekick Rowland Salley on bass.
As to less upbeat realities that are also part of the seasonal package, “Alone On Christmas Day” — co-written by Austin ace guitar-slinger David Grissom — envisions the holiday among the homeless. Inspired by Vonne’s own volunteer work with the homeless, the song has what she calls “a Tom Petty feel,” enhanced by Petty’s drummer Stephen Ferrone and David Bowie bassist Carmine Rojas.
Born Patricia Vonne Rodriguez, the 50-something celebrates her Hispanic heritage by adding a bilingual vocal and musical flavor to “My Favorite Holiday” with a song like “Nochebuena.” Co-writers Del Castillo and Alex Ruiz touch upon the divine, the miracle of God and salvation. “Las Posadas” is inspired by Joseph and Mary’s night journey to Bethlehem, and the classic Spanish passion play it inspired. On the track, Vonne is joined by salsa and Latin jazz giant Rubén Blades and the pair put a cumbia spin on the ancient tale. “Cumbia Navidad” is an ebullient, multi-lingual celebration of a San Antonio Christmas. Vonne wrote it to perform at her beloved Holiday River Parade which features floats carrying scores of entertainers (including, in 2019, Vonne herself).
Vonne has always felt doubly blessed because her birthday falls six days before Christmas, and she wants to share that spirit with listeners. With “My Favorite Holiday,” San Antonio’s native daughter brings a gift to the Alamo City and the world.
Q: How do you craft a Christmas song? Where do you begin?
Patricia Vonne Rodriguez: On my Christmas album I started with titles and chose themes like the spanish song "Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve.) "My Favorite Holiday” was inspired by Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. "Las Posadas” is a popular theme that has many renditions and I wrote my own inviting Ruben Blades as a duet. (Las Posadas is a passion play of the Nativity Journey)
I wove elements from the film “It's A Wonderful Life” into the first track, “Santa’s On His Way,” mentioning “Bailey Park” and “every time you hear a bell ring an angel gets his wings. And on “Alone On Christmas Day” I chose to write about those that don’t have a family to go home to. That song was based on an incredible community in Austin that helps mitigate homelessness and it’s called Community First Village. I volunteered there and brought the idea to David Grissom to write the song with me. I then reached out to Stephen Ferrone (Tom Petty’s drummer for 20 years) and Carmine Rojas (David Bowie’s bass player) and they generously came on board for this great cause.
Q: What determined which musicians played on what songs?
PVR: I had just met Tommy Price in my hometown of San Antonio when I actually had the two last perfect songs for him to play. He’s a legendary ferocious drummer and his style and muscle totally matched the barn-burning energy of “Old Man Santa" and "Santa’s On A Rampage.”
I chose Stephen Ferrone for “Alone on Christmas Day” because David Grissom and I wrote it with a Tom Petty feel. I had met both Ferrone and Carmine Rojas at the Legendary China Club in NYC when I was an 18-year-old coat check girl. So getting them together on a special song is truly a gift to the world. ‘
For “Las Posadas” which is a nativity story celebrated all over Latin America and beyond, Rubén Blades was the perfect choice to sing with me. He surprised me by contributing lyrics in the solo and singing my name. I melted to the floor and wept.
Q: Is there anything special a Christmas song must have?
PVR: Spirit, and a catchy melody would be very cool to get you in the mood. Q: What are your favorite holiday songs?
I absolutely love “Santa Bring My Baby Back” to me because of its ebullience and joy. “With my baby far away, what good is mistletoe “ makes me dance and sing along.
I adore Washington Square Park because it reminds me of those in the service that can’t be home for Christmas. It really is a touching song because not everyone has families to go home to and this song brings this sentiment home.
I love “We Need a Little Christmas “ by Jerry Herman because we used to sing it as a family when I was little. That led us to sing “ Carol of the Bells” with my sisters as a tradition which is why I am thrilled it is on the album for the world to share.
I also love “ Washington Square Park” by Chris Isaak and The Ronettes’ “Sleigh Ride.”
Q: Who are your inspirations in music and life?
PVR: My parents inspire me every day. My dad was a door-to-door salesman for 39 years and my mom worked the night shift as a nurse in order to be home when we got home from school. They sacrificed everything for us.
Musically, everyone from The Stray Cats, Johnny Reno and the Sax Maniacs, Tom Petty, Cruzados, Lone Justice, Pat Benatar, and Rubén Blades!
Q: Recently the legendary Mexican music star Vicente Fernandez died. Do you want to comment on that?
PVR: He was “El Rey de Canción de Mariachi!” He was the music and voice of Mexico that will never be forgotten. He was Elvis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett rolled into one. He will be sorely missed.
“Passing”Director: Rebecca HallCast: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Alexander Skarsgård As the film “Passing” opens, two mixed-race childhood friends run into each other while “passing” as white women shopping in midtown Manhattan. Both are living in middle class adulthood; they become increasingly involved tapping into each other's insecurities. While Irene "Reenie" Redfield [Tessa Thompson] identifies as African-American and is married to a black doctor Brian Redfield [André Holland], Clare Bellew [Ruth Negga] "passes" as white and has married a prejudiced, wealthy white man John Bellew [Alexander Skarsgård] who is unaware of his wife’s origins. Based on American author Nella Larsen’s novel, — first published in 1929, — it’s set primarily in 1920s Harlem. The story centers on this reunion and their increasing fascination with the practice of "racial passing", — a key element of the novel. Clare’s attempt to pass is the novel’s most important depiction and a catalyst for the tragic events that follow once the enter each other’s circle. Larsen was informed by her own mixed racial heritage and was praised for the book’s provocative narrative. Now celebrated for its complex depiction of race, gender and sexuality, it’s all capably presented in this sensitive and subtle film as well. In this Q&A conducted with director Rebecca Hall — a veteran actor herself — and cast members Thompson, Negga and Andre Holland, they explore what it took to bring this project to fruition and how it felt about to consider what life was like in those days. New York City is a place where life happens and it shapes who we are today — something that was revealed in this film and poignantly discussed after this preview screening held in the Paris Theater. Q: When did you realize there’s something here that you wanted to make into this movie? RH: I remember specifically seeing the book in the window. Then I finished the book, loved it, opened my laptop, and started writing the screenplay. It was suddenly like being possessed. I think that I had freedom to do it because honestly, I didn’t think it would end up like this. Or I talked myself out of it. Also, I was just struck by the modernity of this: how it speaks to so many aspects of humanity, in this tiny, tiny book. Now it’s not just racial passing, it’s all the ways in which the thing that you think you believe in doesn’t match up with the thing that you want. The ways in which we all put ourselves into containers or let other people put us into containers, and then we’re massively spilling out of them because nobody can be defined by one thing. That is a very contemporary idea. We have words like intersectionality or something [like that]. I was blown away by that so when I arrived to work, I just thought I wanted it to look a certain way. I came up with ideas that shocked me when [placed] in the movie. I got really attracted to the screenplay, thinking, “I’m going to get into this because I’ll never make it. So it’s fine, this is just for me.” And then it was a 13-year process, maybe not quite 13 years. It was about a six-year process of me getting the nerve to take it out of the drawer, and then another six years of actually trying to get it made, which is normal. Q: What was one of the early shots that you had in your mind? RH: Of the feet. Also I had the idea of the meeting between the two of them. I committed self-matching at that scene. I had [that] in my head. I look at her playing the central character, and is she in a place where she was being observed, and you didn’t know why she was hiding from something, to a place where she was taken in this room and feeling safe, and then she’s looking around and suddenly there’s this other person looking right at her. Q: In an interview you talked about bringing Tessa and Ruth to your house for a weekend before going into production because you felt that it would be imperative to have that time together. So tell me all about that: what did you do? RH: Well, I’m an actor so I understand rehearsal very much, so I just kidnapped them and said – Q: Was it like a rehearsal at the house, or was it bonding time connecting everyone? RH: There were some. You and I sat down and did a lot of work. We’d sit down and go through scenes a lot. Mostly it was just time for the two of them to be together and explore each other’s [thoughts]. Q: Tessa, you said that you were terrified to take on this role. But you did it with such grace and depth, it was a beautiful performance. What ultimately made you say yes, what intrigued you about diving in? TT: I guess I like being terrified. In the sense that I like to, when I am approaching work, there’s something that is central to the thing that I’m not sure that I can do. In this case, it had to do with being in the character and also that there was this — so much is expressed, as Rebecca said, with her example of that panning shot of their passage. It focused squarely on Irene’s obsession with staring at her. Without the movie looking away, and looking back, there is no cinematic journey. So Rebecca was able to tease that out, and so I felt very comfortable. If she could do it… What I was worrying about for myself is, there’s this incredible document in Nella’s words. There was a wealth and a depth of feeling that this woman has inside, and when you don’t have a lot of dialogue to express that, and also in that she’s playing someone that’s quite restrained, the moments when she’s feeling strongly is whenever she’s around this person and that stirs things in her— [which I had to express]. She’s a feeling person. How do you say that without saying that? And that terrified me. And then also other stuff terrified me, but I won’t go into that. But the easy thing is that she just needs to be really beguiled and blown away by this woman and look at her. Q: Ruth, in bringing this really complex woman to life, what compelled you to play this woman? RN: I love the word “haunting”. I love it. I was haunted by this book. I was haunted by these characters, and I think what struck me most is, I never really read a friendship like that: the full, deep complexity of female friendship with all the usual attractions, and also repelled by one another at the same time, that push and pull. We have all combatted the disease of UJE: the ugliness of it, the jealousy, the envy. I was bewitched by these women. For me, for Clare, I was so curious about this woman – her intention of living so fully and authentically. It brings to mind a Mary Oliver quote: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Clare, for me, she embraced it fully and deeply. And I guess after reading it, I found – I don’t know, this atmosphere of sense of ending somehow that haunts the book and that lingers way after the final frame. I think Rebecca shocked us, and that’s a terribly hard thing to do. I don’t think I’ve ever seen film writing that captures the feeling, the emotion, having read it, onscreen, sufficiently. Q: Had you read the book before anyone suggested you read it? RN: Yeah, I’d read the book. I’d wanted to work with Rebecca for a long time. We met up in New York and she said she was adapting this, and I [said] I’d do it anytime, anywhere. Q: André, your character is so complicated and so rich. There are so many scenes that jump out at me when I think of them. But I ask you what I was asking them: what was it that intrigued you about this character, and do you want to explain it to the audience? AH: This character gave me a chance to explore this world. I think that’s one of my favorite things about this job: getting a chance to learn about men I didn’t know before. I didn’t know about Nedda’s work, I hadn’t read that. Q: In the dinner table scene, there’s an argument that you have with the other characters. It’s very much of that era, but also very contemporary. Black parents have had these conversations all the time. What was it like preparing for that and diving into that performance? AH: Well, I was really looking forward to that scene from the very beginning. Which is exciting. Q: Tessa, how was that exciting for you? TT: What struck me is just that: how modern it felt. And this was before the events of last summer. But it’s like forever and always in this country, right? I think that’s the negotiation you make as a parent to black children and in particular, I’d say, to black men. So there was that on one hand, and to activate that which would do him a favor even now. And on the other hand, I think the scene has a uniquely important physicality that it felt like we were playing a piece of music together. To me there was a real specificity in rhythm. So that was what I liked. Something that I really enjoyed about this project is the precision, I think, because of the precision of every angle. If you were off your mark by a little bit or just objectively not in the right place, Rebecca would come and be like, [gestures] “Once again.” But I don’t know — I like that. I didn’t do sports and I’m not into doing anything else. This is just something I like, so I’ll do it right. RN: You did, you know? TT: And inside the form is such freedom when you know what the form is. When I was into Shakespeare and the Classics... But [Ruth] knows, go see her in “Macbeth” [on Broadway co-starring with Daniel Craig]. Q: Ruth, you talked about the precision of the technicality of the camera. How did that stretch you as an actor? How did you get that joy of finding freedom? RN: In order to play you have to have rules because it just tightens everything up. I felt a great comfort and relief in it because I think the way Rebecca works is a very lavish process. We were let in on this. This wasn’t a proletarian office. We knew that there was a goal as we were [performing], and we were recruited. And that’s a lovely thing, I think, about Rebecca, especially in her being an actor as well. There’s a gift in ensuring trust. That’s a lovely thing for an actor to have, a director’s trust, and to let us in on it. We had freedom to discover within the scene, working with Tessa and Andre. Q: The framing is so beautiful. There is such a precision, and such a beautiful stillness in every shot. How did you arrive at that framing as the visual language of this film? RH: It’s as I said earlier. An inherent problem in adapting this book for the screen is that if you were unable to show the inside of your protagonist’s mind, it would [belie her reality] because she’s not truthful to herself. That’s the whole point of this story. She doesn’t really know who she is. She’s so bound up in the idea of this respectful, proper, erect life – wife, mother, and everything – that there's no room for her expression of herself. So this was the bottom of that problem: How do you get you guys in on that? How do you show that? I think the formality of it felt to me, finally, correct, that there should be a way of slowly giving signals to the audience that this person is unreliable, and finding the visual language to do that. You slowly start to see what you are saying or she is saying it, maybe it’s not real. It’s fuzzy, it’s blurry, and you literally use lenses that compressed the image, but were soft on the top and bottom. That creates a sense of her world dissolving around her. Also, it occured to me what I thought about this novel. The '20s are famous for being loud – the Jazz Age, color, photographs -- and there was something so — this book was so simple and held so much in it because it allows you to do the work. So I couldn’t help thinking about... What's the simplest version of this? And that comes down to shot-by-shot. I didn't want to have to cut away. So let's see how long I can contain the two-shot. Let’s use a mirror if we have to. Let’s play a two-shot in the mirror with that person as well. That formality also literally puts them in a box, it puts them in this place of restraint — Irene, specifically. It should feel claustrophobic. And, the music is deliberately beautiful, and haunting. It’s deliberate. So I was very specific about everything. Q: It made us curious as well. RH: Yes. Correct. Well, she was an exile for most of her life. And that song that you hear all the way through the movie is called “[unclear] Walker Rag.” I heard it when I was doing a rewrite at some point. Not right from the beginning, somewhere in the middle. I remember hearing that piece of music and thinking, "That’s the film." That’s the time, that’s the feeling, and that’s the sensibility, and what we were looking for. If I can make this film sound like how this sounds, then it’s worth it. Q: And the house [which was used in the film] was a character as well. RH: Well, the house was pretty bright. I did want the feeling that the house was meaningful. It was meaningful to be there in Harlem, in that house, in a brownstone like that, knowing that these houses and these spaces, and the apartment that’s at the end of the film was a historic building. There were probably parties in the ’20s that took place in that building. RN: Yeah, I think so. The house, the residence, we learned a lot and we would use the bedroom as the place where we were all sitting. TT: So we’d all be sitting in this bedroom together. It was a little claustrophobic. Which was helpful for me, because Irene was supposed to feel very claustrophobic. [I would go] “Irene would love this.” But the bathroom was open, and I could go in there. TT: I was very happy for you except when I had to pee. RN: And it’s the set you want to work in… RH: There were things that weren’t right. RN: I believe that when I’m not working, I’m haunted. I think the bricks, mortar and moulding carry memories. I am living there. All the memories that one would have in Harlem are so vibrant and so, of course, it is its own costume. I love that. So yeah, I definitely felt that. And it was all that for a lot of nothing [in the end].
Horror films fascinate some people, while they repel others. A classic slasher series such as “Halloween” prompts extreme passions either way. Creating a supernatural menace that’s both relentless and hair-raising but seems that somehow he can be defeated takes a talented and clever creator who can strike fear in the heart and possibilities in the mind.
That is something that a young John Carpenter managed to do and his original film inspired a whole sub-genre — the slasher film — when he created 1978's "Halloween" with nefarious murderer Michael Myers, neighbor to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who fought him off and survived his killing spree.
After Carpenter made the original movie, he declared he never wanted to make a sequel. Nonetheless, a series of successful films got produced, expanding the franchise but not enhancing it.
He went on to make lots of classics such as “The Fog” (1980), “Escape from New York” (1981), and “Starman” (1984), “The Thing” (1982), “Christine” (1983), “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986), “Prince of Darkness” (1987), and “They Live” (1988).
He also pursued the art of composing music making many of the soundtracks for his films including the signature sound of "Halloween's" theme.
Along the way, he split from his first wife, actress Adrienne Barbeau, and married producer Sandy King in 1990. King produced Carpenter's later films — “In the Mouth of Madness,” “Village of the Damned,” “Vampires,” and “Ghosts of Mars” and earlier had been the script supervisor for his films “Starman,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Prince of Darkness,” and “They Live” — on was she also associate producer. Then she co-created the comic book series “Asylum,” with Carpenter and a full-scale publishing company, Storm King emerged. In 2018, a direct sequel to the original film was released starring Curtis again, now a senior who was still battling the menace of Myers.
Somehow horror master Jason Blum and veteran director David Gordon Green pitched Carpenter to make this sequel to the original film — after a string of films not connected to the storyline that the 78-year-old director had originally created. The Halloween series captured the relationship between the Myers family (who was in the first film) and Laurie, who had developed a particularly strong connection, which was established in the first film and carried through to the latest.
At this year’s New York Comic Con, the Carpenters’ Storm King Comics was much in evidence with a large booth touting their new releases and back catalog. This Q&A was a result of meeting Sandy there where we arranged that she and John would answer questions by email. They did and here are the results.
Q: How much did you contribute to the storyline of Halloween (2018) and the just-released “Halloween Kills'' (October 15th) to sustain it as a sequel.
JC: First of all, I wasn’t making the sequel. I’ve never directed a sequel to Halloween [and wouldn’t]. Secondly, David Gordon Green and [writer] Danny McBride came up with the stories. I participated in the development of both films. No blessing involved. I scored the movies with my son Cody and godson Daniel.
Q: Jamie Lee Curtis was a teenager when you cast her in the first film, what elements stood out for you to cast her in the lead role?
JC: Jamie was [and is] a talented actress. She was beautiful and charismatic. When she read for me, she was perfect for the part. I thought she had an inner strength, a will to survive. I used it in the movie.
Q: What inspired you to create the bogeyman of Michael Myers? Even though he gets shot dozens of times, he lives and the audience is left with a never-ending fear of him.
JC: Michael Myers was a force of evil. He was less a human being than an element. It was this lack of characterization that made him scary.
Q: The score you’ve done for this and the other Halloween films is very haunting, how did it come about?
JC: [I did it out of] necessity. There was no trial and error involved in making the music for "Halloween." I knew I was going to use this theme I had developed over the years. It was based on my father teaching me 5/4 time.
Q: What are the ingredients for a great horror film?
JC: [That] there are no rules. Horror is the oldest of genres. It was there at the beginning of cinema. Each new generation reinvents horror for its own. We are all afraid. That’s why horror is such a universal genre.
Q: Next year, “Halloween Ends” will be released, how will you be involved with this, and what do you have something to say about the final film?
JC: I will be executive producer and composer on “Halloween Ends.” I’ll give my opinion, and watch basketball on TV. I want the audience to have a great time when they watch “Halloween Ends.”
Q: Why did you put your name above the title in the original film — was it your way of taking possession of the film?
JC: A conscious choice. I’m taking possession of my movies. Final cut is essential for directors. I urge every young director to fight for their vision.
Q: Horror films have such a powerful impact. Why do you think this one has such a fan base and has resonated with audiences for such a long time? What aspiring young filmmakers do you think are following in your footsteps?
JC: Because it’s scary. But as to others… There exists an army of young directors dying to tell new stories and strut their stuff. Each director has his own path into the movie business. It’s a tough gig but a road well worth traveling.
Q: What made you two decide to develop your own publishing company?
SK: It was a more natural evolution than it might seem on the surface. People had been trying to put John’s name on comics for years—usually to use his brand to sell substandard “horror” comics without putting much effort into the books. Finally we had a story that lent itself to comics/graphic novel format that truly was a John Carpenter presentation and it just made sense to do it ourselves.
We spent two years researching the art and the business of comics before launching our first book, Asylum, and had a lot of fun doing it. That led to the yearly anthology, Tales For a HalloweeNight, then we branched into our other imprints — Tales of Science Fiction, Night Terrors, and now our newest line, Storm Kids, for ages 4 to 18.
Q: Will you develop films based on the comics being created, which ones and why?
SK: Possibly. A few of them. Not all comics make good films and not all films make good comics. Our focus with Storm King Comics is to make great comics. That being said, one of the collections is currently being made into a TV series in collaboration with a major studio and network. We’re not at liberty to say which one until they announce it. Another one is likely going to be an animated feature.
Q: Sandy and John — how do you two strike the balance between writing your own ideas and editing others?
JC/SK: On the comics front, each year we each write one of the stories in the HalloweeNight anthologies. On other books we occasionally create the concepts and characters and plot lines and turn them over to writers we like to bring to life. We don’t have time to do everything that is in our heads between movies, tv, podcasts and comics.
Q: How do you two envision the publishing company developing?
SK: About the only thing I can picture us doing that we haven’t is expanding our distribution internationally and with more foreign translations. Right now, we’re in the process of printing our first Spanish translation of our Eisner-nominated children’s book, Stanley’s Ghost. A lot more young families are choosing to raise their children in a bilingual environment and it’s a cute beginner book for them.
Q: You two seem to work together so well — what is the secret to your success together?
SK: Patience and laughter. Also, we’re not competitive with each other. We’re supportive. Always have been.
Q: Is there a difference in the process of creating for film and comics?
SK: It’s all about team-building and supporting the writers and artists in both endeavors. I think that’s what we bring to comic publishing that might be different from other companies. At the time lines are shorter and the risks are less per book, but the risks are all ours. We blow it, it's on us.
Q: What was your primary role in developing this film?
SK: For "Halloween Kills," [I did] nothing but cheerleading and being proud of my family. But for "The Manor," I developed it with the writer/director Axelle Carolyn and Executive Produced it.
Q: What is it you like about making films and don’t like about the process?
SK: I love problem solving the process that takes a script into the reality of shooting a movie. The nuts and bolts of implementing the director’s vision. It’s a giant puzzle to be solved every day at every stage through delivery.
I don't like the complications of adding 10 additional production layers, lawyers and fail safes to water down the creative process. It becomes a burden.
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