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On this episode of The Carl King Podcast, I speak with Mark Borchardt! Mark is one of my biggest personal and creative inspirations. Getting to know him was a big deal to me. I religiously listen to his weekly radio show Cinema Tonight on RiverWest Radio out of Milwaukee. I recommend you do the same!
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The following was transcribed by Eric Alexander Moore.
CK: Here today with Mark Borchardt.
MB: Excellent. Thank you for having me, Carl, and right of the bat I was blown away by your prodigious realm. You had handed me a DVD of your feature film and not only that, to top it, actually, you handed me your book, and I’ll have you sign it after this show, and as I was talking to you before we got on the air, that I would immediately begin reading it, actually for a couple reasons. For one, so it doesn’t begin to collect dust among thousands of other books, but also in honor of your immediate spirit not only of kindness but also of your incredible work output, just to honor what you’ve done in life.
CK: Thank you.
MB: You’re kind of a hard guy to read. I can’t read you right off the bat. A lot of people, their personalities are kind of … You can kind of read them on the surface, and you … I don’t know, you’re a little hard to read.
CK: I’m most likely some sort of borderline autistic Asperger’s syndrome or something, most likely.
MB: But that immaculate focus has brought you to the environs of a book and a film completed.
CK: Yeah, yeah.
MB: So congratulations.
CK: And definitely inspired by things you’ve done, which I actually mention something that you were involved with at the end of that book. In the references, it’s for further research-
CK: … but …
MB: Incredible, incredible.
CK: Now, I asked you before if it was okay to talk about American movie, because I didn’t want to offend you and it could be one of those situations where I bring it up and you say, “Absolutely not. I will not talk about it.” But-
MB: That’s beautiful. Yeah, we had this prefatory exchange and not to digress, but I certainly will and take the bull by the horns, you have a very, very good radio voice. It’s very … Now dude’s cracking up. That’s why I’m saying you’re hard to read, because a lot of people would merely say thank you and take it that, and then you crack up, so that’s what makes you kind of hard to read because it’s undeniable that you do have this good radio voice, but then when you’re recognized for it, you crack up, so that kind of … again, that makes you a hard personality to read.
CK: All right. Thank you.
MB: I mean, here you’ve got a professional radio guy cracking because he’s complimented, so that’s … Hey, man, it’s your show.
CK: I just always thought I had a nerdy voice.
MB: No, no, no. You’ve got a good, solid radio voice, man.
CK: Well let me tell you real quick, the first time that I saw American Movie, a friend of mine who was an associate from Los Angeles when I lived in Florida at the time, and she was a music manager. I always wondered if she was going to get involved with me or sign me or something, or give me my break or whatever, and then she recommended that I go watch American Movie, and I watched like 20 minutes of it and I was so angry because I thought it wasn’t a real movie, and then I thought somebody had made this movie making fun of me. Like I took it so personally because I was this struggling kid in Florida trying to do his thing and never getting anywhere, trying to do it. I thought it was an insult somehow. Does that sound like a familiar thing that people say to you?
MB: No, I’ve never heard that before. It’s pretty bizarre. No, I mean, you talk about your struggling and so forth, your book is very finely done, your DVD is very finely done. Now, of course, I’m talking form over content at this point, having perused what’s actually inside, but obviously I can tell you’re a pro and so on and so forth, and so it’s amazing that you say struggle, which you have done, because only you know you, but at the same time you have also wildly succeeded because the majority of people will never, ever even remotely get close to where you’ve gotten. I know many, many people where publishing is not going to happen for them. A completed anything is just not going to happen for them, and yet you’ve went ahead and you’ve done this, you’ve accomplished this, so again, congratulations and it’s amazing because you do have the latter half of your life now waiting for you and obviously it’s going to be interesting what you do continue to do.
CK: Thank you. I’ll also … I’ll try not to laugh there, but to say thank you.
MB: No, please do, man. You know what? Maybe it’s some nervous recognition that you’re alive, that you are accomplished, that there are contradictions along the way, and you are identifying those contradictions furtively through these humorous outbursts.
CK: Yeah, maybe. Anyway, American Movie and your life now, how does American Movie fit into-
MB: Oh, no, no, no, no, no.
CK: Oh, we’re going back.
MB: My life now. My life is from 1966. Everything from that date until the present time is a footnote. There’s only one since, and that’s since 1966. Now dude looks all serious.
CK: I’m a little bit of a slow thinker and I’m trying to follow along.
MB: Yeah, but obviously it’s paid off because you’ve brought depth and texture to your life through that slow, temporal pace you’ve administered to yourself.
CK: So how does the movie now fit into the context of your life?
MB: See, I don’t-
CK: How do you relate to it?
MB: When something happens to someone, it doesn’t change the person, it changes the people around them and their reaction to you. I wake up at the same time, I write the same. It hasn’t changed. So not only that, I don’t think like you guys do. I don’t think about any media that I’ve been on. I don’t think about any … It’s not part of my life. It’s not a conscious choice. It’s just the way that my mind works. It only registers self-potential. It only registers internal curiosity, so when people come up to me, I always draw a blank because they’re talking to the wrong person. I mean, what they’re talking about is an illusion, a this, a that, a phantom in the shadowy network of their own potentially misaligned perceptions or aligned perceptions maybe or something like that. So yeah, I don’t think that it’s … I’m not that, that’s somebody else, so on and so forth. I mean, I’m not trying to get psychologically avant garde on you, so you as a seasoned pro will keep penetrating these formidable questions you’ve set out to have answered, so you will certainly attempt your job and I conversely will attempt mine. Are you leaving that laughter in?
MB: That’s certainly an icebreaker.
CK: Okay. Impressions of LA? What did you come out here for?
MB: Sasha Grey specifically, she flew me out for her podcast. I’ve been out here many times before. I was talking with a friend recently. He had made a film about the same time I did Coven, and I’ll get back to the LA thing, and he goes, “Yeah, you know, if they didn’t have cameras on you or anything like that, none of that would have happened.” I said, “I know. No doubt, man.” Because it’s all symbiotic. It’s all the domino effect. The documentary was made by one person that spearheaded the effort, was preternaturally blessed with determination, motivation, a high degree of intellect, high degree of life smarts, high degree of self-potential and high degree of self-wherewithal and he was aided by many other like-minded professional people who didn’t mess around and as that garnered attention and you had a certain pedigree of events that brought it to many people’s attention. So, had one misstep occurred in that process, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I would have been Joe Blow who had made a 37-minute film well among many other things I’ve done with my life, and that was that. So I take it all with a grain of salt and it’s as fake as a $3 bill, the illusion. Like I said, one little misstep in the process and we wouldn’t be here.
So I never revel in that particular glory, because again, it’s like, oh, one different lottery ticket, it wouldn’t have happened. Or anything, or some people’s lives have been saved by not stepping off the curb at a particular moment. So I see that is again … But again, it’s not like or chance either, because of the immense amount of talented people involved, and in no way, shape or form can they be sold short in any way, shape or form, because they did a marvelous job. But again, the adulation of the audience is, again, a driver from a prescription of chance beyond the hard work that was put into it. The chance of winning this, the chance of being financed by that. All of those things whereas … So anyway, yeah. So success is actually … Real success is what you do on a daily basis and how you handle yourself, and real success is how you react to the adversarial instrumentation of life that can be wrought at any time for good or ill. It’s your attitude toward things and so forth. So, I’m not going to indulge this superficial idea of success in any way, shape or form. It was not by luck or chance that you spearheaded your projects to my left, which I’m very proud of what you’ve done, and you did that out of the immensity of your own self-potential. So you have enjoyed true success.
CK: Thank you.
MB: You got it. Now I’ll answer that LA stuff. So, I’ve been out here a lot relative to who I am.
CK: But, I mean, when you say “a lot,” how many times do you think you’ve been to LA?
MB: Maybe close to a dozen, which is tremendous for me, who has otherwise no business being here, and if this wouldn’t have happened, I … determinant upon my psychology, I may have never made it out because I don’t travel, I don’t think like a normal person, I do not operate like a normal person. So, I’m as foreign as foreign can be to you guys, but anyway, specifically Sasha Grey has a podcast, Deep Tissues. She flew me out here, so thank you, Sasha Grey. We extended the plane trip to do various gigs. I considered it … James Dickey barnstormed for poetry back in his day and I was barnstorming for bucks, man, just trying to hit up some gigs to make bills and so forth, which is something normally someone doesn’t say on the radio because they’re just going to give you the usual BS.
Trust me, when you go to get a job, you don’t go to make friends, you go to get a paycheck every Friday, but eventually you become friends with your coworkers, and that social environment does exist, but no one in their right mind has ever signed a job application to make friends. They’re there to get rent taken care of, and then come the friendships. So when everyone comes and tells you, “Oh, you know, it was for this or that,” number one, people are doing it for a paycheck because rent is due in America for 300 million of us, and then comes all the friendships and the glad handing and the backslapping and all of that stuff. Because, when you listen to it enough times, I cannot, myself, propagate all this mythology that people bandy about and people who deride LA is ridiculous. There’s a couple problems. The sun is shining all the time and they drive too fast, which is a serious problem, because of … fortunately not so many accidents occur here, which is very surprising, so people at least are on their toes. It’s a very historical city. Obviously people came out here for many reasons film-wise, to flee Edison and his patent situation. He had an iron grip on it till that was broken, and also to burn sun into film stock, this had perpetually good weather. Not only that obviously.
On the East Coast, all the real estate is spoken for and out West you could buy large tracts of land for next to nothing, and what a great time to start setting up studios, since the motion picture industry was on the rise and at that point unstoppable. So there was many reasons people had immigrated out here. So then we find ourselves here now, so it’s Los Angeles and you go downtown … That’s another thing people never talk about is its beautiful milieu of art deco and the facades of all of the forlorn and timeworn and abandoned theaters downtown. It’s just incredible, so when you see Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, you see the visages of all of these past movie theaters at the beginning of the open credits of The Canyons, and that can be reflected in real life once you start strolling downtown on Broadway and so forth here in Los Angeles. So the majority of people don’t understand that there’s a thriving metropolis downtown as there is in New York City. You’re talking about all this other superficial stuff aligned with LA that really sometimes doesn’t even make sense nor pertain to the person talking about it. So LA is a very beautiful town, a lot of good people, a lot of earnest, hardworking people, a lot of very productive people. So that definitely has to be recognized.
CK: So you said your day is not like … you don’t think like normal people, and so did your growth as a filmmaker, were you ever thinking, “Hey, I should get out to Hollywood” or something like that?
MB: No, it never crossed my mind, and my growth as a filmmaker began and ended when I was about 14. Instinctively I knew how to cut film on a heartbeat, compose. There was no out-of-focus shots, there was no ill-conceived compositions, there was no such thing as jump cuts. I knew the 30% rule, 180 degree rule, eye line, all of that stuff. So my career began and ended at age 14.
Now, of course, specifically many will point out the discrepancy. Of course the first few films were out of focus because I had little money, I bought a Super 8 camera that was permanently out of focus. I think the lens obviously was jarred and thereby misaligned. What could I do? I didn’t know that until I had my first cartridge of Super 8 film developed, but as soon as I did have a proper working camera, there was no such thing as out of … I mean, out of focus wasn’t going to happen, not on my watch, and jump cuts were not going to happen, so when you look at my Super 8 films, they’re composed and edited just on the money like that. So my career began and ended, like I said, as an early to mid teen and that was it, man.
CK: How’d you learn that stuff so fast at such an age?
MB: Well, it’s instinctual. First of all, I never got into movies. I thought life was far more interested, I grew up around an interesting group of people. I listened a lot and I was in love with the language and the cadences of the syntax and so on and so forth, and I always recognized movies as being absolutely worthless and superficial. But what I did do was look at books on film and study the black and white stills to promote films. So obviously to the marketer’s advantage, they would be very dramatically composed.
So I would say, “Man, this has got to be a great film because a picture tells a thousand words,” and my mind was aflame with about 10,000 of them, and that’s how I came into film. I got onto Orson Welles and all of that stuff where the camera was actually a character, and so it wasn’t like the ABC movie of the week where the camera was just a recorder, a static recorder of events, a very prosaic recorder of events, but in Welles’s cinema, the camera is a very dynamic and compelling element and so I just was just in love with his cinema and his use of montage, that offsetting, quirky nature of editing that would jar you spatially. You know, the spatiality was very disjointed in his films because of the odd, again, spacial use of where the camera was geographically placed within the scene and so forth, and you kind of had to get used to his editing. I’m not talking about Citizen Kane but more maybe Mr. Arkadin and Lady from Shanghai and The Stranger and Macbeth and Othello and Chimes at Midnight and some more of his
adventurous, technically adventurous films.
I mean, Citizen Kane actually was … It’s great. I mean, obviously in the beginning with the snow globe, it’s like literal art at the beginning of Citizen Kane and so on and so forth. But all of that attention to Kane has precluded a curious eye toward, again, like I say, Othello, Macbeth, Chimes at Midnight, F for Fake, The Trial, et cetera, et cetera, which are just fantastic films in and of themselves.
CK: I read a kid on the internet who was writing on a cinematography message board. His mom somehow had gotten $400,000 in a divorce and she wanted to send him to film school and give him half of her retirement money, like $200,000, to go to any film school he wanted or something like that. Would you give any advice to somebody like that?
MB: Wait a second, she offered him 200 grand to go to film school?
CK: Yeah. For his education.
MB: I mean, what is that, USC? I mean, that’s a lot of money.
CK: Yeah, I don’t know.
MB: Yeah, that doesn’t make sense. Well, we’re talking about a four-year degree so that’s $50,000 a year. Nonetheless, that’s a very costly film school. I think it’s a beautiful act on behalf of the mother toward her son. Just all praises be, because if someone could get 400,000 bucks, it could be completely squandered. In fact, you probably could end up in the red, gambling debts, bad investments, buying property you’re not going to be able to keep up with the mortgage and so on and so forth, so that’s an incredibly compassionate and an incredibly hopeful act on her part.
I would be very wary of giving $200,000 to someone unless their heart was actually in it, and if there was some prefatory evidence that would suggest that that money was going to be well invested, I’d be very, very wary and cautious of such an investment. Your child is priceless, but you also want that … a child cannot be bought, and you want that child to go on the right path [inaudible 00:22:09] 20-year-old or so because they’re going to film school or what have you. So, again, it’s a specific circumstance. I mean, if it was the right thing to do, absolutely. If this person was really into film and that’s what they were going to do with their life and this education was only going to further their career and empower their chances, then absolutely it would be a good idea.
CK: Do you go to modern mainstream movies, go to the theater?
MB: No. I go to see a Hollywood film maybe once or twice a year if that. I don’t even think I’ve been to one for a year or so or something like that. No, life is too short. I watch about four films a week, predominantly on DVD or at the university where we get some great 35 millimeter prints. I mean, I’ve seen a series on Ozu, Bergman, Stroszek on 35, all kinds of stuff, 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and Made in U.S.A. on 35, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One on 35, just an incredible amount of films at the university on 35 that I’ve been blessed by. I’m not going to waste my time in a mainstream theater, even though what … I would’ve liked to seen August: Osage County, which is a very odd thing to say, but I like theater and written by Tracy Letts, so I like when the stage is transferred to the screen, because with common narrative film, there’s the obsession where each scene must fulfill a narrative arc and you feel the burden, the heaviness, that conventional template always over your head when you’re watching a conventional movie.
So I prefer films by a long shot, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary, Punishment Park, et cetera. Well, of course Cassavetes’s Faces, Opening Night, A Woman Under the Influence, Herzog Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Signs of Life, Even Dwarfs Started Small, Nosferatu, Stroszek, et cetera, et cetera. But you can go on and on. Again, like the Welles, Polanski, Dreyer, Gertrud and [Orday 00:24:28] and [Vanpeer 00:24:30] and The Passion of Joan of Arc and … or more contemporary, Paul Schrader’s work. I mean, there’s so much cinema publicly since 1895 on up that squander your time for in populist and proletariat cinema is ridiculous for me.
CK: What’s your primary focus, work-wise? What are you working on lately?
MB: Well, my primary focus is my writing assignments, because I’ve always been a writer and I write for About Face Media. I write on documentary film and interview film directors and also a book reviewer in Milwaukee for one of their papers, The Shepherd Express, and so I always have these assignments due. Not only that, I write feature scripts, I write radio dramas, I write poetry, I write short form, all of this stuff. So I’m constantly rolling and so forth. And I shot a lot of film too, and I just don’t like sitting in front of a screen, because I don’t watch TV. The only dealings with the internet is business, man, so I don’t sit around and search nothing or do nothing like that. I’ve zero interest.
The sensuality of a book is omnipotent and the internet means zero to me. It’s like a customized TV. I have zero interest. It’s a business thing. I’ve got a phone. I don’t even own it, man. I’m appreciative of all that I have, but I have zero interest in the screen. I have zero interest in the internet or nothing like that. It’s gaudy, it’s garish, it’s fragmented. There’s no sensuality to it. It’s, hm-mm, no dice. You know, it’s helpful at times. I mean, it’s good to have a cell phone in the car if you can’t … if your car breaks down or something like that, or you’re in some situation, of course, that’s always a great thing to have. But it’s just not for me. Even though you’ll see me using it, but like I say, that’s for business. I don’t even own the phone, man.
CK: So you live where? What city?
MB: Oh, Milwaukee.
CK: Milwaukee. Do you detect a big difference between the people here and the people in
MB: Yes and no, because like with any city, they have a film industry. So if I hang out with the film industry people in Milwaukee, then it’s just like hanging out with people here in LA, because that’s what they do professionally. They come out here, they go to New York, all of that kind of stuff. They’re in the industry as well as you guys, so it’s the exact same. They’re doing their business. Here, there’s a denser ratio of people in the entertainment industry more than any other city, say for New York, New York City. So it depends which circles you go around. And like I say, it would be … In one way, it’d be … Well, there’s one social reason at least for staying out here would be that people are interested in film, but not a good reason would be that you’d be constantly invited to events and parties and get-togethers and working on other people’s films, so your individuality would be disseminated. You would not be a standing person anymore out here. Especially if you’re known, you’d get being pulled each other way so you’d be in 200 parts, man, and would never be able to reorganize yourself till you got back home.
CK: Do you find that you’ve become a more peaceful person over the years?
MB: Recently, yeah, but that’s all self-induced when you … obviously you know the plasticity of the mind, and I started to catch onto that, how you could form new mental routes and how you could stop thinking about some things, start thinking about others, it would be actually … it’s habit forming. It’s an extreme form of compartmentalization that you don’t even think about things that you’ve thought about before, and also, stress inducing situations, you just kind of blank out on, because obviously that’s not good for your health. It raises your blood pressure, can send bad signals around the body and ultimately they can react in a very, very malignant way. And so you want to be aware of that.
So my peace has been brought about by myself. It’s funny because people talk about meditation. “Hey, man, just sit in silence and don’t think about nothing for an hour,” and I’m thinking, “Man, what good is that going to do you, thinking about nothing for an hour? Forget that crap.” And I stand by it. I understand what they’re saying, that’s their gig. I do my own meditating invented by myself which thinks about productive life paths and that pays off because then you fall back on that. You sit around and think about nothing, which 99% of the meditators do, man, God bless you, it’s just not for me, and you’ve got to focus on something, which may be antithetical to that particular philosophy of meditation, but all the … a lot of very accomplished people, they focus. That means repetitive thinking, repetitive choice, thinking on what you like. That also is called meditation.
CK: So, in general, you wake up feeling a lot better these days as opposed to maybe 10 years
MB: No, not particularly. No, because my mind is very complex and hyper analytical, so again, it’s not like a normal person just wakes up with a blank or maybe one or two concerns. I track the sun and the light each day, how that affects me. That can have a very profound historical effect on me as I look back at my history, look forward to my future, and how-
CK: Tracking the sun?
MB: Sure, tracking the sun, because I-
CK: How does that work?
MB: Well, I have no choice. The morning is the most beautiful, just calm, it’s ethereal. The day has not been poisoned by the insanity of others and other circumstances beyond your control. So, the morning is just heaven and bliss, and then the sun begins to rise and traffic increases and various things have to be accomplished so then that becomes more of a very garish, unromantic situation. I have this melancholy anxiety thing. Maybe 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, I’m watching that sun, so on and so forth, but I calm down by when evening, the twilight, the ethereal beauty of twilight begins to make itself known and slowly but surely begins to dominate and overrule the garish nature of that obstinate sun.
CK: Do you think that would freak you out, living in somewhere like San Francisco, then, where it’s always foggy? That would actually affect your mood?
MB: I like overcast and thank God in Milwaukee for filming reasons, I couldn’t make a film out here because there’s sun all the time. You’ll never get a beautiful exposure out here. I mean, it’s just sun, and that’s not good. It was good 100 years ago to burn into film stock, but when you have overcast, continual overcast, which we have a lot in Milwaukee, there’s an even dispersal of the light … disbursement of the light, which makes for very beautiful tones upon everything, which you can’t get out here. So, to film out here would all just be a continual LA story, the Los Angeles architecture, the prototypical people, the perpetual sunshine.
So out in Los Angeles, Los Angeles stories remain and Wisconsin stories cannot be made out here. So, that’s that. Now, you’re talking about seasonal disorder, I love reading and writing and the moodiness of an overcast day allies itself with that particular instinct, so this perpetual sun out here, I’d go bonkers, man. Now, too much overcast, like you mentioned San Francisco, if you’re depressed, that can really affect you, and some people probably … I think you have to take medicine if they live in an overcast environment. They start going nuts, man. I’ve experienced that a few times. It gets a little bit claustrophobic, day after day. It’s very moody, very romantic to see those very somber skies, but if you’ve got stuff weighing on you and that sun ain’t coming back out for a long time, it starts to get freaky.
CK: Have you ever used any type of SSRIs or mood stabilizers, anything like that?
MB: Hm-mm, no dice. I don’t even take an aspirin, man. I’ve had maybe a couple headaches in my life, one or two, and maybe I had a bad one or so where I took a extra strength Tylenol. Extra strength Tylenol works, so I’ve maybe taken a Tylenol or an aspirin maybe two or three times in my life. That’s about it, and I just don’t do stuff like that. The heaviest I get is like coffee, man, so that’s that.
CK: There was some drinking in American Movie.
MB: Oh, no, no, not in that. There was drinking in my life. That’s all done with. That’s something. Now, a lot of people cannot get out of alcoholism. It just ain’t going to happen, and it’s a … I always laugh, and it’s not funny because for most people things are a physical thing. I smoked cigarettes for years but I laughed because I knew in my mind that I was never a smoker, so I just, after smoking maybe, whatever, for years or so, I just quit and never thought twice about it, and most people can’t do that. With alcohol, after drinking for 25 years and having a horrible alcohol problem, when I realized that it was over, I just laugh because there was no physical withdrawal or nothing because my … I was always prepared to quit because I never was that.
When I was young, I could never understand Wizard, played by Peter Boyle in Taxi Driver, was talking about where he was a cab driver but he didn’t own his own taxi cab because that wasn’t what he really was, and as a younger person, I just could not figure out what the hell this guy was talking about. And he was just saying basically that it’s a job but it’s not who he was. So I was never, even though I smoked cigarettes maybe for years, I never was a cigarette smoker, so I just laughed and stopped smoking with zero withdrawals, same as drinking. People have deliriums, DTs, whatever. After 25 years hardcore, I laughed, and that was it. And that was over a decade ago. No physical nothing at all in any way, shape or form.
CK: Why’d you decide to just stop?
MB: Oh, because I knew I wasn’t going to get where I wanted to get in life or even have a chance at that by drinking, that drinking was a great impediment. It was an act of … as well as an act of not only self-destruction but of escape. Obviously also it felt good too so you kind of had that triad of answers that were always there, but again, ultimately, in its abusive form is obviously form is obviously a form of self-destruction, and then you just say, “Well, that’s enough of that,” and then that’s that. So I’d been drinking for as much as a lot of people have been living on this earth. If you’re someone in their mid-20s, I drank for their entire lifespan, and that was that.
So yeah, drinking and addiction has its horrible consequences and a vast majority of people can never get out of it, so they need all the help they can get, God or AA or whatever. However they can get out of it, they need to get out of it, that’s for sure. But my situation was so serious, I could not mess around with God, I could not mess around with AA. That wasn’t even an option. It was like, “Dude, you’ve got to deal with this and deal with it now because there’s no cop outs, there’s no attempts or nothing like that.” So anyone who would come to me with that kind of stuff, I said that’s for somebody else, man, it ain’t for me.
CK: You like Frank Zappa?
MB: No. No, no. No, I like everyone. I just like to … as Nancy Reagan had pointed out, just say no, obviously in the early ’80s, and that’s a very good thing, so I practice it. No, I like Frank Zappa. I like everyone. Now, your question could have been bettered by being asked, “Are you familiar with or do you enjoy his music?” No, I never got into it. I know he’s extraordinarily talented and all of that stuff. It just wasn’t my scene. Now obviously it’s yours, there’s no doubt about that, because otherwise you wouldn’t have asked it.
CK: Have you had an IQ test?
CK: What was the result?
MB: I always remember it being 142. Now, that’s what I remember and who knows what kind of IQ, who knows what this, that, so all I’m telling is what I remember. So, was it different? Sure. Could it have been different? Sure. Could I be mistaken? Sure. Who administered it? I don’t know. This, that, the other thing. That’s all I remember. So, don’t bet the farm on it.
CK: Do you think that you’re charismatic?
MB: To a degree, yeah. I mean, I’m not going to say that I’m not because that would be foolish, otherwise we wouldn’t be having a conversation here, you know? You didn’t drive all the way here and say, “Oh, I’ll just find this guy sitting on the curb, man, throwing a can up and down.” There has to be some relevance to your narrative to make this happen.
CK: And has that ever had any negative effects in your life?
MB: No, not at all. Why would charisma have a negative effect? I was the guy that always jump started your car, fixed your flat, helped you move, all of that kind of stuff, but I was not the guy to sit around as a normal person at a barbecue. I’d always stay 20 feet away from people and either practice the guitar or read the newspaper, because small talk, it fries my brain cells, so I like physical activity, I like, like I say, helping people out and so on and so forth. But the minutiae, it’s an absolute waste, and I … “Hey, what are you doing? Do you want to go …” because I would never meet someone at a bar, I would never just sit around with a person unless they had something, some compelling evidence that they were of interest, you know? If, “Hey, you know, I worked at this filmmaker, I know this author,” and it’s like, “Man, tell me more.” That rarely happens.
Now, out here, it obviously would happen to a greater degree because of the particular environment, that it’s replete with artists and so on and so forth. But, see, when I was a kid, I was smart, man. I loved AM radio because I love the din of the voices, whether it was a ballgame or people talking, but I caught on that the news would always come up and it was always negative, so, like I said, when I was a kid, man, suddenly I just turned the radio … I said, “I won’t be listening to the news anymore.” So I don’t watch TV, I don’t … anytime the news comes on, I turn it immediately off, because all that goes into your brain. It’s not like you’re flying around the world helping starving people. You’re not. All you’re doing is just getting vicarious and furtive thrills through other people’s misery. That’s the only people listening to the news, is
because there’s these neural connections that get drilled by … because they’re not the ones in the crash or anything like that, and they feel this disassociated compassion to people.
There’s no harm in being curious. If you turn on the news and you’re curious, obviously you’re human. You have every right to be curious. You have every right to listen to the news, but basically, again, it fulfills a visceral need or a vicarious need in people. So, like I say, they’re not kicking in money or donating to the poor, to the helpless, or people that have been harmed. For the most part they’re just getting their thrills. So, “Hey, did you listen to the news?” Nope, I ain’t that way.
CK: I would see that sometimes on Facebook when people would repost pictures of animals being tortured or something-
MB: Oh yeah.
CK: … in a way to repost it to make people feel bad, as if they’re a better person by reposting it. Like you were saying, it’s sort of an example of that?
MB: Yeah. Yes and no, because it could be an example of that but also then when people do draw attention, let’s say celebrities draw attention to a cause, it does actually work because it does get in the psyche. All of this green environment stuff would never have happened. It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. There’s just no way people would have bought into this mass exodus away from polluting and so on.
Actually, this is now the capstone of postmodernism when … I can remember when postmodernism started to kick in back in the early ’70s with the Native American with the tear rolling down his eye because of pollution and the way I see it, modernism may have started about a hundred years ago when we left the Victorian and the Edwardian age of wood and so on, and that Victorian gaslight and electricity came in and art deco replaced realism and impressionism and then utilitarian stuff started coming in. And then postmodernism to me is when we realized all the harm that these devices were causing, like the car, like the factory and all of this stuff, and now there’s this massive reaction against modernism. And it’s called organic. Oh man.
CK: I feel bad that I don’t know anything about what’s happened with Mike Schank … Mike Schank, right? Schank?
MB: Well, why should you feel bad? There’s seven billion people to concern yourself with. I mean, in order to be fair to everyone, some people are doing good, some people are not doing as well as what’s in the tapestry of anyone’s labyrinth of friendships and colleagues and so on and so forth, and he had happened to have a very docile personality and there were very lonely times when you do artistic endeavors because you have this … When you work at a job, you put circles in the circles, squares in the squares.
Now, some people do have conceptual work where they actually use their brainpower and figure things out. You might be a graphic designer, you might even have to roll the dice on investments or a market strategist and so on and so forth, and there are those things and there’s other … a lot of people, “Oh man, I go to work and work hard.” They’re just doing … I’ve worked in factories and that just … a primate could do that stuff, you know? But brainpower, man, that’s where the psychological stress really comes in, doing … I’ve worked on a farm, the factory, the military, all of that stuff. That’s just manual labor, man. To write or conceptually conceive of things is far greater work, but, you know, the brutes will always defend, “Oh, I’m digging a ditch.” Well, I’ll dig a ditch with you, dude. I’ve dug ditches too. No sweat, man. That’s just physical labor, but brainwork is far more of a burdensome task than physical stuff. Like I say, that’s just animal stuff.
CK: Well, what I should have said is I didn’t do any research or preparation before meeting with you.
MB: Why should you?
CK: So I was going to ask-
MB: No, you’ve done fine, man.
CK: What’s going on with Mike Schank and how did-
MB: I don’t know, ask him.
CK: I have two questions there. Are you still in contact?
MB: Well, I’m in contact with lots of people. I’m not going to be objectified or categorized or pigeonholed or anything. I have had many, many friendships throughout my particular span of life and so on and so forth, and like I said, he’s doing well. There’s other people that are not doing as well. Some people ain’t even walking the earth no more, while others are, so that’s why I was very brightened and I’m very empowered by what you’ve given me and what you’ve done, and one of the things is, now, here’s the problem, now I can be very excited by your efforts and your accomplishments, but the fact is, when I step back out on that street, you’re going to fade off into the sunset. Now, I will read your book and I will look at the film. Then seeps in the minutiae of the everyday, that constant and never-ending attrition of the soul and individualityand the very prosaic-
CK: So are you saying that you are the high powered, always rolling person and I’m the minutiae or-
MB: No, no, actually just the … Well no, neither of us … No, how the hell could you be the minutiae when you just handed me this book and this film? You’re the guy who is empowering. It’s when you step outside and encounter the minutiae of the everyday, much which is avoidable, strained relationships, people’s off-track ideas. How could you ever include yourself into that, my dear friend?
CK: I wonder if that’s what you were-
MB: Now, see, that’s another … Again, you have that quirky, unpredictable sensibility out of you. After I explain all of that, sing your praises, you throw yourself into the fray of the bottom echelon of the rung, which certainly you’re not.
CK: Well, you said when you walked out in the street, then I would fade into minutiae.
MB: Yeah. No, no, you would fade away from me and I would be left with your book, your film, which would be the visages, the remnants of your great deeds, but the next people that I encounter are not going to be handing me a book. They’re not going to be handing me a film. They’re going to be handing me the everyday, like I said, that slow, silent but persuasive attrition of the soul.
CK: So do you try to surround yourself with those influences, insulate yourself like you were talking about?
MB: Well, that’s really hard because if you surround yourself with filmmakers, they’re going to want you to work on their films. That ain’t going to help you out for nothing except momentarily inspire you, so on and so forth. People are in it for themselves but other people … But they also form communities. Like Frankie Latina in Milwaukee is doing a second feature film, Snap Shot. It breaks my heart that he’s getting ready to wrap it up because he has formed … Every time we film, he forms a community of all of these hardworking friends and so on and so forth, and I just really delight in the energy when I’m on set with him, because I’ve encountered other situations where it’s just a bunch of goofballs or there’s enough goofballs that populate the premise where it kind of distracts from the intent of filmmaking and they’re talking about everything else. It took me a while to catch onto that, so I … I don’t know, it’s a crapshoot.
I mean, unless you have paid employees or unless you’re doing something collectively that you have singular ambitions with, it’s hard to surround yourself with supportive people, again, because it’s so … the human persona is so erratic. Now, if I’ve got a budget and I’m paying 40 people to work on a film, well, they’re going to want to get paid so they’re going to be … they want to be in lockstep with what’s going on or they’re out the door. So then, again, you have this singular trajectory which is helpful to all. But when you just have a loose assemblage of people, as you do in everyday life, each and every day you’ve got to, like I say, fight for your singularity and your own particular vision, and you’ve just got to, like Nancy Reagan said, you’ve just got to say a lot of no all the time. No, no, no, no. So that’s why I jumped on you with that Frank Zappa thing. Of course he’s a beautiful person with beautiful music. Did I in particular listen to him? No, I didn’t.
CK: What’s your struggle these days?
MB: The struggle is always with self. The outside world is … everyone’s born on a different track. Some, it’s their main mission to have just complete misery and friction with the outside world and have every excuse in the world not to succeed, you know? And I blame myself 100% for everything. Any error misstep, wrong path taken, I look right at me. So my struggle is with me, and me is comprised of my experiences, my hopes that have been achieved, my hopes that have not been achieved, my every move, so on and so forth. So actually, it’s beautiful you talk about my struggle, because I think I am going to maybe, potentially tackle the six volume set, My Struggle, which is going to be like 3,500 pages. There’s a discernible look of unfamiliarity that has now been painted on your face.
CK: I’m wondering-
MB: My Struggle, it’s a-
CK: … if I know what it is. What is it?
MB: Oh, I believe he’s Norwegian, and he’s an author potentially in his mid-40s who is kind of writing … and I might be wrong on every point, a six-volume … kind of like Proust, man. His multi-volume set ingratiated with details of life and so forth. Well, this is now done in the contemporary, in a contemporary atmosphere and it’s called, in English, My Struggle, and I think ultimately it’s a six-volume set and right now three volumes are out, and like I say, ultimately it’ll be a 3,500 page tome altogether, and I’m thinking about … and I think it’s struggles of day-to-day life, whatever those may be, but it’s gotten enough publicity and it seems deep enough and seems intellectually compelling enough and socially rewarding to say, “I’m reading that, man,” to give it a shot. You know, because, again, a lot of things that we do are for superficial reasons, and I do judge a book by its cover, which you’re not supposed to do. But there is some merit to judging the book by its cover and we do that all the time. If we didn’t do that, there would be no such thing as advertising, there would be no such thing as the US economy and so on and so forth. So you’ve got to kind of get to that uber intellect where you begin to admit your superficialities as an actual substantive portion of life.
CK: I think I have one more question, then we have to wrap it up unfortunately, and I didn’t feel
like this is the best last question, but have you read any Ayn Rand?
MB: Oh, Atlas Shrugged. Actually, I have to find a larger trade paperback of it because I’m not going to … you know, get a little bit larger print. It’s a dense volume, and actually, I have a rare book of hers, something to do with selfishness by her, so I’ve got that sitting there. So no, as of yet, I haven’t. I have sought … I will read Atlas Shrugged, and there is the obscure film based on her book concerning the architect. Which is that?
CK: The Fountainhead.
MB: The Fountainhead, correct. So The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged … I mean, I read a lot, whether it’s Updike and Cheever or Dickey or Carver or Thompson or Bukowski or Henry James or Joseph Conrad, et cetera, et cetera. And of course the noir greats here in LA, Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Dashiell Hammett, you can throw in Shakespeare, you can throw in the great playwrights, and I mean, et cetera. You can go back to Selene and Balzac and Proust, Baudelaire, whatever Bohemian [inaudible 00:54:26] you want to get and so on and so forth. I mean, it’s endless. We could run names for the next couple hours, dude.
CK: You might want to start with Anthem, if you haven’t read it, by Ayn Rand, because that’s like a 45-minute read. It’s a really cool book.
MB: Wait, by who?
CK: By Ayn Rand. Anthem.
MB: I may have it. I have a lot. I have thousands and thousands and thousands of books, and I know you said it’s the last question. I’m right in the middle of Nexus, Sexus and Plexus, so I’m right in the middle of the second volume, but I think summer is a great time for Joseph Conrad. The density and the mystery of his language just reeks of summer, along with our great noir classics and so on and so forth. I read about 60, 70, 80 books at a time and one of them is Werner Herzog’s journal on Fitzcarraldo, Conquest of the Useless, just another great summer journal.
CK: Herzog said LA … I think he said LA was the creative capital of the world.
CK: You agree with that?
MB: Sure. Why wouldn’t it be? This is the nexus for creative, not only crass commercialism, crass sexuality, but also just down-home creative types.
CK: Well, we have to stop on that because it’s 8:15.
MB: Hey, thanks a million, Carl, for having me, and thank you for allowing me to be … just to be invigorated by this talk. It was nice, man.