Director BUDDY GIOVINAZZO talks about COMBAT SHOCK and LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN!

July 20th, 2009 04:34:00

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We've been waiting for a long time for Buddy Giovinazzo to visit Montreal for Fantasia. Since his intensely horrific Vietnam flashback film COMBAT SHOCK first lit underground screens ablaze in 1986, he's been an unsung hero of cult movie fans the world over, especially in Germany, where he's been living for over a decade. His subsequent films included MR ROBBIE (1989) the ultra-rare aborted sequel to Bill Lustig's controversial MANIAC (1980), NO WAY HOME (1996) starring a recently-famous Tim Roth, THE UNSCARRED (1999), a beautifully-lensed thriller starring the always-riveting James Russo and euro-starlet Ornella Muti, as well as countless features for German television. His latest film LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN is a challenging depiction of life in a drug-addled New York City neighbourhood overrun with gangs, violence and apathy (based on his book of hte same name), and reaffirms Giovinazzo's status as one of the edgiest independent directors working today. The director's cut of COMBAT SHOCK will be making a rare big-screen appearance at Fantasia this Sunday, followed by the International Premiere of LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN on Monday.

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COMBAT SHOCK – THE DIRECTOR'S CUT plays Sunday July 19th at 7:15pm in the Salle JA De Seve.
More info, including full description, images, trailer and more on the film page HERE

LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN plays Monday July 20th at 10:10pm in the Hall Theatre.
More info, including full description, images, trailer and more on the film page HERE.

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There are a handful of films dealing with the emotional aftermath of Vietnam, but none come close to the psychosis of COMBAT SHOCK - was there a specific case that inspired the film?

No. Not really. It was a series of incidents that i'd read about in the newspapers, one after the other, about men who had killed their families and then themselves. I noticed that a majority of them were vietnam veterans, this got me thinking. The baby in the oven--that was inspired by something that happend in reality, a man thought his baby was possessed by the devil, and the only way to save the baby was to cook the devil out of him, so the man put his son in an oven. Freaky. You can't make that sort of shit up.


For a long time it seemed that the director's cut of COMBAT SHOCK would never see the light of day. What happened to make Troma decide to release it on DVD?

About a few years ago the rights were due on the film and I wrote to Lloyd Kaufman and told him I would like to issue my own version of the film, completely uncut. I thought I would put it out online, with the very limited resources I had, and that would be it. But from the very beginning, Lloyd loved the film, still does, and he convinced me that Troma could put out the definitive version of the film, far better than I could have done, and so I agreed with him. the result is the best, most comprehensive issue of combat shock there could be, including interviews with famous filmmakers, and all my short films as well. In fact, this issue has the only interview with my brother Rick about the making of combat shock that exists. In 20 years, no one ever thought to interview the star of COMBAT SHOCK. Funny, huh?


What was the most valuable thing you learned from the experience of making COMBAT SHOCK?

That's a hard question because I learned so much from the experience. Before COMBAT SHOCK I had only made short films, so the struggle of making a feature film without a budget was something I had no idea about. I guess the one thing I learned that had an effect on my other films is on the script: that is, the script has got to be as solid as it can be. The script to COMBAT SHOCK was not too solid at the time, and there are many weaknesses that I would have improved on. For instance, I think the film is very long in the middle without dramatic drive, this is due to the fact that the script was a bit short, and also to my inexperience in thinking that a directorial style could carry a film. It can't. It very rarely can. I learned that every scene is important and must be produced and directed with a point of view, there's no filler in a feature, or at least there shouldn't be. However, I learned from the ending of COMBAT SHOCK that if you end your film on a kick ass moment, that will also save the day, so to speak.


What made you move to Germany to start making films over there? How long have you been there now?

After my second feature, NO WAY HOME, I couldn't get work in the U.S. I had moved to L.A and had three years of struggle, poverty and rejection. I couldn't believe it. After making NO WAY HOME with Tim Roth, I thought for sure I could get another film up and going, but it was impossible; I still don't understand it as NWH is one of my favorite films. Anyway, I had a chance to go to the Berlin for a few months, for free, and I thought I would go and clear out my head, get out of my depression and try and earn some money to get myself out of debt. But once I was there for a while, I realized that NWH was actually really liked there, and then a company called me up and asked if I'd be willing to work with them. it was pretty crazy when I think about it now. The other thing was that I loved the city, as much if not more than New York, so I decided to stay where my heart was happiest. I've been there now for ten years, and my German film career is pretty successful, though it will never be enough because I'm working strictly in the crime genre and I'd like to do other kinds of films. Also, I really love working in English.


Any chance of seeing your German-made films on North American DVD?

No, I don't think so. For one thing, they're primarily made for German TV, which is different than our TV here. German TV is without commercials and the films are 90 minutes long, the budgets are about 1.2 million euro, so for me it's like making a low budget feature every time i work. Without this experience i could have never made LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN.


LIFE IS HOT IN CRACKTOWN is based on your book of the same name - the book is extremely brutal, and I always thought it would be unfilmable. What were the greatest obstacles - content-wise - in bringing it to the screen?

Content-wise, the only obstacles in getting it made were financial. Convincing a financier or company to make the film was very, very difficult. Many people in the industry really liked the script and thought it was something different and fresh, but it was just too hard for them to invest in. Directing the film was the hardest thing I've ever had to do because of the budget and the scope of the film, the film was quite ambitious for what we had to work with. That's why the acting is so good, I focused everything on the characters and story; I knew if that worked then the film would work. The actors were with me step for step, no one ever said it was too hard or dark; in fact, I think the actors loved the fact that it was so dark. They never get to play stuff like LIHIC. One thing I have to say, the structure of the film is completely different from the book in that the book plays chronologically while the film plays simultaneously. The stories had to take place all at the same time in order for the film to seem like one piece instead of a jumble of separate stories without a connection.


Where can people buy your books? Are they available online?

Yeah, my books are available online by amazon and other online sellers.


CRACKTOWN opens with a harsh rape scene - why do you think it was integral to open the film like this? Has it created a problem with any potential distributors or film programmers at festivals?

I think the rape scene at the opening pretty much tells the audience "this is where we're going for the next 90 minutes, so strap yourself in." I made LIHIC with the intention of provoking an audience, I wanted people to see a side to life that they normally don't get to see, or at least see in the detail that is shown here. A friend of mine, who had seen an early cut of the film (which wasn't working by the way--it was a mess) suggested I open the film on the rape scene to give the film a real kick at the beginning. I thought he was crazy, but he convinced me that anyone who walked out during that scene, would walk out whether it was in the beginning or 20 minutes into the film. I realized he was right, and for some reason, the rape scene is the best introduction to CRACKTOWN that there could be. It's sort of 'truth in advertising", there's no question about what you're about to see. I like that. I did have many problems with distributors about it and still do. But the film works with this scene up front and I stand behind it.


How did you film the scenes in the film that depict people using heavy drugs in front of children?

That wasn't really a problem in that I spoke for a long time, and in detail with the kids' parents. They understood what I wanted to portray and how I would do it. The kids themselves thought it was pretty cool to work in such settings; They'd never done such a thing before. The crack that everyone's smoking in the film is actually macadamia nuts, they made the best crack rocks we could find, short of the real thing. Keep in mind also, shooting the film is not the same as watching it, the kids were surrounded by 40 crew members and all the equipment, so it wasn't like they were submersed in the real thing, Which I'm sure would be much more traumatizing for children to see and be around.

Are any of the characters in CRACKTOWN based on real people?

Not really. Like with COMBAT SHOCK, I don't make films about real people, but composites. I see types on the street, or in life, and I try to imagine "what if" and then I sort of create the life around what I see them doing, be it drugs or violence, or anything for that matter. There are people that inspire characters as well, but I couldn't really say that any one character in my films is based on someone I know or have met. I think the goal for me is to be as realistic as possible in a fiction format, which is what I love the most about writing and making films.

- Kier-La Janisse



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