BLUE UNDERGROUND & FORGOTTEN 70'S CINEMA - Interview with Bill Lustig

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BLUE UNDERGROUND & FORGOTTEN 70'S CINEMA - Interview with Bill Lustig

Blue Underground president and filmmaker Bill Lustig is one of the good guys. He works tirelessly to bring us great films on DVD with the utmost attention to quality and loving extras. Producing DVDs and getting the absolute best possible release of a film on one can be a minefield of technical and legal hurdles. Thankfully we all have Mr. Lustig as a champion and warrior of many films we love. His continued dedication to bring us the best possible releases of many of our favorite genre films is very much appreciated. When you see a DVD at a store with the Blue Underground label, you know instantly your in for a top quality treat.

At the 25th Brussels International Film Festival where Mr. Lustig served on the jury, I was able to sit down and discuss Blue Underground with him and some great films of seventies cinema that haven't been released on home video.

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BLUE UNDERGROUND NEWS

BLAKE: First, a huge thanks to Blue Underground for releasing some of my favorite Euro-crime, horror and giallo films because there aren’t a lot of other DVD companies out there with the immediacy to do this, especially with such living treatment.

LUSTIG: Well thank you, I appreciate it. The pleasure is all mine because I enjoy these movies and I enjoy sharing with people the films that I enjoy watching.

BLAKE: What are some of the latest happenings at Blue Underground? There is a rumor going around that you are stepping down in a year.

LUSTIG: It’s true. I have a schedule now that goes for a year and unless I find films that really excite me, I was thinking rather than put out films I don’t particularly like, maybe I should let the company continue to sell the titles I have in my catalogue. It’s a thought.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, longer than I ever expected. I did not start a career in DVD producing, it just happened and it grew and it became this ride that I haven’t been able to step off of. Each month whether it’s Blue Underground or when I was working with Anchor Bay, I was putting out one to eight DVDs a month. That’s a lot of work. So I may take a little break from doing that and focus on my first love, which is film production.

BLAKE: Any updates on a possible Four Flies DVD Release? (also asked Dario Argento here)

LUSTIG: No. I have no updates on Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

BLAKE: Do you think it will ever happen?

LUSTIG: Eventually it will happen. It’s tied up in Italian bankruptcy. The bankruptcy closed on the assets that company owned back sometime in the early eighties. The Italian bankruptcy people don’t want to go back to bankruptcies that have been closed and that is the problem.

BLAKE: Any other Euro-crime or gialli films coming out?

LUSTIG: High Crime, the Franco Nero and Enzo G. Castellari cop movie. Finally we found the negative and plan to release it in February, but we’ll see.

BLAKE: That’s great as it’s like the Bird with the Crystal Plumage of its genre. It’s such a great film with some memorable death scenes.

LUSTIG: Right I know it is a great movie! It was so hard to find. That was a tough one. We still haven’t totally untangled everything.

BLAKE: What was the journey to finding it?

LUSTIG: It was bankruptcies. You know, negative locked in a lab that also went bankrupt. Just endless legal entanglements, but I think we’ve finally sorted it out. I’ll know in the next month.

BLAKE: I actually just picked up the score for it up at Dusty Groove in Chicago. I couldn’t believe my luck. I think its one of the very best Euro-crimes that people haven’t seen and you can pretty much trace all the others back to it.

LUSTIG: That was the first of its kind and everything was derivative after that. Everything was done based on the success of that one, which of course was based on the success of The French Connection.

BLAKE: Speaking of Castellari, how have his titles done for you?

LUSTIG: Just ok, not spectacular, but not terrible, just ok.

BLAKE: Anything you can mention on the new Stendhal Syndrome DVD?

LUSTIG: We finished the new high definition transfer of the film under the supervision of its director photography, Giuseppe Rotunno. We did it in Rome and it’s in its original aspect ratio, 16x9. Next week I have a crew in Rome shooting interviews with Dario Argento, Asia Argento, Giuseppe Rotunno, Sergio Stivaletti and the author of the Stendhal Syndrome book. It’s going to be a full two disc special edition, loaded with all the extras you ever could want. It would be analogous to our The Bird with the Crystal Plumage DVD we put out a year and a half ago.

BLAKE: Yes that was beautiful. Previous to it all I had ever seen was a red film print of it.

LUSTIG: Well if you get that two disc DVD of it!

BLAKE: Oh I definitely got it!

LUSTIG: Stendhal is going to be like that.

BLAKE: Can you talk about the current and upcoming slate of DVD releases for Blue Underground?

LUSTIG: We have a two-disc special edition high definition transfer of Circle of Iron. We also have a bunch of Jess Franco’s that we are releasing in August, November and January. Among them is Eugenie de Sade, brand new transfer. All these are brand new transfers. Women Behind Bars. Cecilia, which is a very little seen film of his. Cannibales, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that? It’s pretty outrageous. Its Jess Franco does Cannibal Holocaust. I never thought he did cannibal films, but he did his own cannibal film.

Those are fun and I have more that I previously released through Anchor Bay that I’m repackaging and putting through Blue UndergroundHouse by the Cemetery, Macabre, Black Cat, Blade in the Dark coming out in November, Manhattan Baby, Stage Fright and The Church. We have Suspiria and Opera coming out again in September. They’ve been out of print awhile and we are bringing those out with Cat o' Nine Tails and Stendhal Syndrome. It will be Dario Argento month!

BLAKE: Wow! Will they be available in a box set?

LUSTIG: We are not going to be doing a box set but individual titles.

BLAKE: Raro have been releasing a lot of Fernando Di Leo films on home video. Do you see his films getting released here in the US?

LUSTIG: Well probably, but not through Blue Underground. Because, my feeling is that the hardcore fans that would buy it, have bought the Raro. The Raro releases have English tracks on them or English subtitles and they have the original Italian. I want to be the first. To cut to the chase, if I can’t be the first in the world to put out something, then I’m usually not interested in doing it.

BLAKE: What was the situation with the website for Blue Underground being redone?

LUSTIG: Oh god! Everyday I’m looking at e-mails going back and forth. Yes, supposedly it’s going to be launching any second. Basically it’s a website that’s a commerce website. We are just going to have a fresh new look. We’ve redone all the trailers and everything’s been upgraded. You can download the trailers to your iPod. You can have your iPod filled with Blue Underground trailers.

BLAKE: Well that certainly clears that up. The combination of the rumor that you might step down and the website not being updated, left many to start speculating.

(Note: Their new website project was started in June 2006 and was originally to have launched in August 2006. Luckily for fans it is now back up and running again)

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HOME VIDEO

BLAKE: Where do you see DVD and home video going?

LUSTIG: DVD is here to stay for a while. High definition DVD has not proven to be anything more than at best a niche business. It hasn’t really caught the mainstream that people want to go out re-buy their library in high definition. There is a lot of production problems with the high definition, which are going to prohibit it from becoming mainstream. DVD is here for the foreseeable future.

BLAKE: What do you think of day and date releases?

LUSTIG: You’re talking about with theatrical?

BLAKE: Yes.

LUSTIG: There is one company, Magnolia that does that. I don’t know how successful they’ve been. It really is going to be a question of how successful. It takes away the special-ness of going to the cinema. But times have changed and there are people that even if it’s playing in the cinema are not going to go. They would rather watch it at home. What’s going to be important is when you can have digital delivery download to your Television. That’s going to be the next major home media platform, downloading movies to your Television, because that will allow you to instantly watch it.

BLAKE: Hopefully though, as technology makes it easier for people to access films, people will still want to go out and see actual film prints. There will always be a beauty to experiencing a film through a print.

LUSTIG: Of course, but to make a print of an old film is very costly.

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70’S CINEMA – FORGOTTEN GEMS NOT AVAILABLE ON HOME VIDEO

Blake: Any personal favorite film of yours that is not out on home video? One you feel is under appreciated that film lovers should rush out and see?

LUSTIG: You know the first one that popped into my head is a movie that I tried to get the rights to. It stars Rip Torn. It’s not a genre film and its called Payday. I just read somewhere that it may be coming out in September through Warner Bros. I said, “God that is such a good movie and I wish so much I was able to put that film out!”

Also, Welcome Home, Soldier Boys! Have you ever seen that?

BLAKE: No.

LUSTIG: Great film owned by 20th Century Fox. Never been out on video. Never been out on DVD. Directed by Richard Compton who did Macon County Line. It stars Joe Don Baker. It’s got like a laundry list of stars that were like the really cool male leads. I don’t think Tom Berenger’s in it, but it has someone like him in it. It’s got all these really cool people and it’s one of these kick ass movies about returning Vietnam vets who declare war on a town. It’s a very bizarre movie but it’s a great f**king film that deserves to be on DVD. I hope that Fox puts it out one day.

BLAKE: I definitely hope so. I feel the same way about Rolling Thunder getting a good release.

LUSTIG: Oh my God yes! But you said not available on video.

BLAKE: Well it’s never gotten a DVD release. I know its got a VHS release and a…

LUSTIG: And there is a Laserdisc, but no it hasn’t been out on DVD yet. That will come out, I’m sure! Such a great film. My favorite scene in the movie involves William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones. William Devane comes to visit Tommy Lee Jones at his parents’ house and while the parents are talking they are both staring at each other. Then William Devane says something like, “I need your help” and Tommy Lee Jones says, “I’ll go get my bag.” Remember that?

BLAKE: Oh yeah!

LUSTIG: And then they exit the house. That was a great film! Ok and I’ve got another great film from the same director. I hope to God they put this out! Great movie! Same director John Flynn. The Outfit starring Robert Duvall.

BLAKE: This is so weird; I just saw a double feature of both these films a couple of months ago.

LUSTIG: Really? The Outfit and Rolling Thunder? Where?

BLAKE: I saw them at a film festival that Quentin Tarantino does at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown.

LUSTIG: They had a print of The Outfit!?! How the hell did he get it? That’s a great f**king movie!

BLAKE: And there we learned that Robert De Niro’s characters in Heat was essentially Parker (from the Donald E. Westlake series; though of course Michael Mann isn’t going to admit that). This is a great connection, once you realize Duvall and him were playing the same character.

LUSTIG: The Outfit is one of those incredible and great movies. That is the kind of film I want to be able to put out, you know! I love that period. I love those films. They really spoke to me. When I saw The Outfit at the cinema, I saw it on a double feature with a really strange film starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, where he is a hit man coming to Los Angeles called The Outside Man. Did you ever see The Outside Man?

BLAKE: No I haven’t seen it.

LUSTIG: It was directed by a French director and shot entirely in Los Angeles. It’s a really good film. Roy Scheider is in it. He plays a hit man who is going after the hit man. Its another cool film that I just love.

BLAKE: When I saw The Outfit double feature, the second film was The Dion Brothers aka The Gravy Train with Stacey Keach in it.

LUSTIG: Don’t know the film. I’ll give you another one, The Traveling Executioner.

BLAKE: Haven’t seen it.

LUSTIG: You’ve never seen that? Wow! Quentin doesn’t have a print of it? “Mr. He Has It All?

BLAKE: (Laughs)

LUSTIG: The Traveling Executioner, if you ever get a chance to see that film, its brilliant. Stacey Keach plays a guy during the twenties, during the Depression era, traveling with an electric chair from prison to prison to do executions. He has this methodology of talking to the victim, the prisoner. He talks to them about where they are going to go to and this beautiful place and you know there will be women and whatever you want. He has this way of kind of lulling them with his voice before executing them. He is very proud of that, that he puts men to death with a smile on his face. Oh it’s a great film directed by Jack Smight and one that you should definitely petition MGM to put out.

I’ll give you another one, Sitting Target starring Oliver Reed. I actually stole a scene from Sitting Target and used it in a picture I removed my name from, ugh! It was called The Expert. There is a wonderful scene in the film at the very beginning Oliver Reed is totally in love with his wife played by Jill St. John. It’s visiting day and Oliver Reed is separated by this glass, and his wife has come to tell him that she wants a divorce and that she’s going to leave him. You can see all this anger building up in him and building up in him as she’s talking to him. What he does is he takes his hands and he bursts through the glass and starts strangling his wife and all this. I just love that scene because it then has Oliver Reed in his jail cell with this great score. It’s one of the best revenge films just like Rolling Thunder. Its one of the best f**king revenge films because the guy he’s after is this other great British actor. Seek it out. Sitting Target.

Tell Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse Owner and Director of Fantastic Fest) he’s got to get Traveling Executioner, he’s already shown The Outfit, and to show The Outside Man, Sitting Target and Welcome Home, Solider Boys!

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THE GRINDHOUSE FAKE MOVIE TRAILER QUESTION

BLAKE: In the movie Grindhouse there are fake movie trailers. If you were to do a fake movie trailer, what would it be?

LUSTIG: Oh boy! Hmmm. That’s a good question. If I were doing a fake movie trailer, I’d probably choose to do one that was a vigilante trailer. Since Franco Nero looks the same, I’d probably get him as the star and I would shoot it like it’s a combination of High Crime and Street Law. I’d make the ultimate Italian crime and revenge movie. That would be the fake trailer I’d like to make. That would be fun since Franco Nero is still alive and looks good. That would be a fun spoof to do!

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BRUSSELS INTERNATIONAL FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL

BLAKE: Thoughts on the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival this year?

LUSTIG: I’ve been here two days and it’s been wonderful. It’s really nice. It’s fun, a lot of people and I like the enthusiasm. Look you know, the people here, we are all brothers. We all love cinema. We all love fantastic cinema. What better way to spend a vacation than with filmmakers and making new friends? To me it’s the best vacation. I’m not a guy who can sit on the beach. You know? If I go away and take a little holiday I want to be around people that are interesting, make new friends and hopefully see some great movies. I haven’t seen one yet but I’m looking forward to seeing a great film!


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NOTES

I hope many of these unreleased films Mr. Lustig find there way to home video soon. I would also like to thank the KING OF INTERVIEWS Michael Guillen for providing copy editing assistance for this interview. You can read his excellent Four Flies review - here.

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* Done by my friend in Belgium who interviewed with Mr. Lustig right after me.

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