A Filmmaker’s Life and Work with the Drunken, Racist, and Probably Fictitious Lounge Singer
Scroll to the bottom of this piece to watch the exclusive premiere of Tony Clifton’s music video for “Lonely Girl.” It’s safe for work… ish.
Before the flood, Jeremy Johnson and his wife were always in the process of starting or ending some new independent business venture. Nothing ever stuck. Before Hurricane Katrina filled their New Orleans home with poisonous water, they’d curated a personal museum of pop-culture knick-knacks that they eventually tried turning into a thrift shop. Looking back on it, the most important items in Jeremy’s collection included the official WWF Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler figurines, and a copy of Lynne Margulies’s Kaufman documentary I’m From Hollywood, which told the story of the aggressively strange, groundbreaking comedian and performer’s venture into the wrestling ring. “Andy Kaufman hit me hard at a young age,” Johnson explains. “In sixth grade, this male friend of mine would get these girls in the neighborhood to come over, we would watch videotapes of Andy Kaufman wrestling women, and we would wrestle the girls in his parents’ living room while watching the videos.”
Katrina also flooded the school where Jeremy had been teaching moderately disabled high school kids, so in 2007, at the age of 27, Johnson began working at a coffee shop, while rebuilding his home. As an emotional booby prize, Johnson finally had the time to indulge his amateur filmmaking urges. “For a long time I’d been denying my creative side,” Johnson says. He slung coffee to a number of New Orleans layabouts, including an old gray-haired hippie type who began coming in every day to chat up Jeremy about pop culture, especially film. Not until the ponytailed fellow asked Jeremy to help him film a commercial for insult comic and “singer” Tony Clifton’s big comeback tour did Johnson recognize him as Andy Kaufman’s former writing partner, Bob Zmuda.
The Flaming Lips have been a lot of different things over the years. Their newest album, The Terror, shows the band moving even further from their Willy Wonka-on-mescaline incarnation. The Terror is dark, drone-y, and bleak. “You Lust,” the album’s 13-minute centerpiece, probably won’t get chosen as the state rock song of Oklahoma, but it perfectly soundtracks the music video’s sci-fi nudity.
We spoke with the Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd about the video, which, it turns out, he had nothing to do with.
VICE: What was your role in putting the video together? Steven Drozd: I had nothing to do with it. Not one thing. Wayne sent me an early edit and asked my thoughts. That was about it. If Wayne has something he wants to try with the rest of the band members, then we’ll be thrown in. But if we’re not needed, then he doesn’t involve us. That’s fine with me.
Hm. Why do you think Wayne edited the original version of “You Lust” down for the video? I thought it was going to be a sprawling, epic short film. But the video clocks in at just over four minutes. I think it was time constraints. That is a lame excuse. They’re talking about doing a full-length version. It’s an opportunity to do that early MTV thing where there’s a whole story and setup before the song starts. Maybe Wayne could make a minimovie like David Bowie did with “Blue Jean.” The shortened version was sort of weird, because I’ve listened to the song so many times, and I have gotten used to the version with the long, creepy choir solo.
Oh well. What do you think of the nudity? The nudity in the video isn’t glamorous or sexy. It’s very stark and disturbing. I think that’s a bold move. There are some shots when you go, “That’s an interesting angle to shoot a flaccid penis from…” But Wayne isn’t shy about being naked.
Are all the dicks and tits and vaginas straight out of his brain? Or are you on the same nudity trip? That’s all him. Something must have happened to him when he was eight or nine that completely zapped his brain. Wayne goes through phases of working with different types of imagery. In 1989, it was Jesus Christ and God. But the vaginas never really go away [laughs].
Some of the YouTube comments under the teaser for our HBO show were like, “HBO? Who am I, a fucking Rockefeller? I can’t afford that bullshit. Give it to me for freeeeeee unnnnggh #yolo.” You guys are the best!
The first episode of VICE premiered last Friday, and it was amazing: There were adorable Jihadist kids, dancing Pakistani guards, and a few friendly Filipino gun makers. Hosts Ryan Duffy and Shane Smith were great as always. If you missed it, and you want to be entertained, educated, and put in a state of awe for the next 30 minutes, you’re in luck. The good people at HBO have made the first episode available online for free. So click the button above that will make the video box go and enjoy premium content that millions of suckers pay, what, like $14 for every month. You’re welcome!
Our HBO show that you’ve heard about by now premieres tonight at 11 PM. You should definitely watch it. Don’t have HBO? Looks like it’s time to rekindle things with that shitty old boy/girlfriend who does. Make it happen. No excuses. Anyway, we are so incredibly thrilled about this and we have a feeling you are too. To get you even more excited, one of the show’s hosts, Ryan Duffy, put together this collection of stories from shooting two segments for the show in the Philippines—one about gun manufacturers and the other about a Jihadist youth camp. Enjoy!
There’s a moment on most shoots where you catch yourself going, “Wait, what the fuck am I doing?” This photo was taken right about that moment. You’re chasing the story, following it at every turn, consumed by getting access and meeting certain folks and all of that, and in the process you lose sight of where it’s bringing you. Then you look around and a parade of masked teenagers carrying automatic weapons is marching towards you in a hidden Islamic Jihadist camp in the most violent province in the Philippines.
The ease with which these guys made guns in this underground network of backyard sheds was alarming. It’s a family business, passed down from father to son, and requires little more than scrap metal, rudimentary equipment, and some know-how. The backyard variety of weaponry is typically sold on the black market, and a gun maker we met who wanted to be called JR, pictured above, told us some of their best customers are actually cops. Local officers sell their own officially issued weapons and pick up cheaper models, turning a profit for themselves and ensuring that the police will remain outgunned by the criminals.
There are essentially three tiers of gun manufacturers in the Philippines: At one end of the spectrum you have the local backyard gunsmiths, and on the other the massive assembly-line factories like one called Shooters. In the middle there’s a slew of mom n’ pop-style shops run by guys like Romeo Cortes, the owner of Safariland Arms, pictured above. Cortes has been manufacturing guns since he was a teenager, and maintains a family-run business to this day vying for legitimate government contracts while conducting business on the side with the less savory element of the gun-hungry public.
Ladies and gentlemen, the day we have all been waiting for is nigh. Tomorrow evening our globe-trotting docuseries, VICE, will be broadcast across the land, enlightening audiences and gluing eyeballs to televisions all over the country. Expect to see VICE co-founders Shane Smith and Suroosh Alvi, as well as the show’s other hosts, diving headfirst into peculiar and fascinating stories happening in some of the world’s most remote and dangerous places. Check out the 30-second teaser above to get primed for the first episode, which airs tomorrow at 11 PM, after Real Time with Bill Maher. Or, if half a minute of VICE isn’t enough for you, click here to watch a longer trailer for the show.
PREMIERE OF DADDY’S “LOVE IN THE OLD DAYS (KOLOUR KULT REMIX)” VIDEO DIRECTED BY JAMES FRANCO
James Franco has his thumb in a lot of pies, as they say, and these days most of them are stuffed with gooey fillings of the artistic variety. So we were more thrilled than surprised when a freshly baked golden-brown Franco treat was pulled straight from the oven and dropped into our gullets. Specifically, we were lucky enough to be offered the premiere of Daddy’s new video for the song “Love in the Old Days (Kolour Kult Remix)” offThe PVD Remixes EP, which you can download for free right here.
If, by chance (and understandably), you’re not up to speed on the dozens of art, writing, acting, and video projects the hardest working man in show business has in the works, Daddy is Franco’s musical project that he formed last year with his Providence-based art school BFF Tim O’Keefe. We spoke with both of them about this vampy remix video of theirs, the recontextualizing of culture into an amorphous blob of awesome, and why so many weirdos come from Providence.
VICE: What made you decide to record the remix EP and direct the remix video? Are you guys remix crazy? Was it all pre-planned when you released the initial Motorcity EPand the initial “Love in the Old Days” video? James Franco: I mean, no. It wasn’t pre-planned in the sense that we thought, “We know what we wanna do for the first one, and for the second one we’ll use this footage,” and that kind of thing. The way the band started was through conversations with my friend from RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], Tim O’Keefe, and he comes from this electronic music world. A lot of this is new to me—at least working in this area is new to me. But I think we both just assumed the music would take on many different forms including visual forms and remixes. And I do a lot of different kinds of projects, I have a lot of different kinds of video shoots and photo shoots and film shoots that I do for different purposes—some commercial purposes, fashion campaigns, some just for purely art context. So I liked this idea of using some of that material, or just like a song is remixed, I liked this idea of taking other things, like movies or fashion videos or whatever and remixing them for other purposes.
In other interviews about the Daddy project you mention that a lot of it hinges on juxtaposition. It seems that you are very much exploring juxtaposition and contrast with other work you’ve been doing as well, such as Spring Breakers. Yeah, I think so. And I think that for a couple reasons. I started my professional life in narrative film and television and TV shows. Commercial movies are generally structured along narrative lines, and they tell a story, and there are characters, and the object for a lot of this project is to pull the audience into this imaginary world so that you’re not thinking so much about the structure or the apparatus or the making of the thing, and all that stuff should disappear so you’re focused on the story and the drama before you. With the music, that for me as opposed to what I just described, it allows me to string images in a different way, along the line of music. It opens up new ways of storytelling and new ways of using the video images and film images and material I’ve used in my other sphere of work to organize them in a new way. So I think what you’re talking about is inherent to what we’re doing.
The idea of remixing a movie has always been interesting to me. I guess the closest example I can give to what I’m talking about is The Rules of Attraction, and then Roger Avery did the movie and thenGliteratti was excised from that, even though I don’t think it was ever publically released. There’s something interesting about telling the same story from a different point of view, or rearranging scenes to tell a different story. Have you ever had thoughts about that with your filmmaking or acting or working with other filmmakers? Yeah, I’ve tried to do exactly that. In a project that I feel is sort of related to what we’re doing and is in other ways different, I did a new version of Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. And sometimes you’ll get a re-release or a new version of a movie like Apocalypse Now: Redux, where they’ve put back in scenes that weren’t in the original release so you’ll get more of the Playboy bunnies and this dinner scene with these French people that was cut out. This project that I did with Gus is completely different. He had kept all the dailies from My Own Private Idaho. And he had cut it in 91 so he did it using an analog process. What he had were all the actual editors’ reels, and what had been used in his version that came out had been physically cut out of these reels. Meaning what was left was literally all the stuff that wasn’t used. So even if there are takes of shots that were used in Gus’s version, the takes that were left behind were unseen. So all the material I had had never been seen by anyone but Gus and the editor. And so I got that digitized and made a new version of the movie. To me it is a re-mix of a movie, or it’s almost sculptural, where the raw material of Gus’s film becomes my material for a new kind of structure, a new kind of project that is both connected to the material but is also its own thing and is not like a director’s cut or the extended cut in any way.