Sunday, Jan. 21, 2001
Penelope Spheeris has submerged herself in both extremely personal films that delve into American subcultures (Decline of Western Civilization I, II, & III, Suburbia, and now We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘N Roll) as well as surprisingly commercial ventures that have been box office champs (Wayne’s World, Beverly Hillbillies, and The Little Rascals). Her latest documentary takes a look at what is billed as America’s most successful summer concert tour of the last five years, an all-day festival that attracts fans of all ages. It is a look at Middle America that is sure to shock anybody with only a passing knowledge of concert culture.
Sundance 2001 Coverage
Sundance Glance: festival overview
9 Capsules: Sundance 2001 capsule reviews
Kim Ki-Duk and Jung Suh: an interview with the director and leading lady of the Korean film The Isle
Christopher Nolan: an interview with the promising director of Memento
Ozzy Osbourne: an interview with the lead singer for Black Sabbath
Penelope Spheeris: an interview with the versatile director of We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n Roll
PK: Your film was shot on both High Definition and Digital Video. Why both?
PS: Because High Def cameras are really heavy and expensive and not as light sensitive as the Digital Video. And after I shot the Digital Video I converted it to High Definition and then blew it all up to 35mm film.
PK: What are your thoughts on High Definition? Is it going to be as big as boosters claim?
PS: Yes. It’s not quite there yet, but if I could shoot High Def from now on out I’d be quite happy.
PK: What are some of the advantages that High Definition has over film?
PS: It’s got a very deep focus. It’s got a hyper-real color. More rich than real life.
PK: Digital Video doesn’t seem to capture true blacks.
PS: Depends on the light. If you get the right “F” stops I think it’d look better.
PK: How much footage was shot for We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘N Roll?
PS: 268 hours. Which is why I went crazy.
PK: When you’re interviewing so many people amidst these crowds of so many thousands, do you need release forms to show them on film?
PS: We had signs up that said “By entering these premises you’re agreeing to be photographed.” Most of them are such rabid fans that they were literally jumping into the camera.
PK: Or running into the camera… like that one shot where a woman hits the camera with her face and falls flat on her back.
PS: Isn’t that funny? A lot of people mention that shot. What happened is we had this one D.P. (director of photography) - some guy that come in for the day from New York, and he banged this girl in the head with his camera, among other things. He got in a fight with the other guys in my crew.
PK: How long did he last?
PS: One day. They pulled out knives on the bus. My boyfriend, Sid, was on the bus and this D.P. comes in, in the morning, and the crew really didn’t like this guy. So I’m sitting in the bus talking to Sid and this guy comes in and gives me a kiss. Sid jumps on his back, pulls him off, throws him against the steering wheel of the bus. So this D.P. pulls out a knife. And then my boyfriend whips out a knife. And I’m honking on the bus horn trying to get help. That was only one of the nightmares of the whole trip.
PK: There was certainly a lot of chaos. Do you think the film will actually confirm the stereotypes and worst expectations for parents of what their kids are up to at these concerts?
PS: I think it will be an eye-opener for quite a few parents. Whenever I’ve done music documentaries before I’ve always had people say to me how informative it was for them with regards to knowing what their kid was up to. And I’m glad it provides that information. Ultimately it’s pretty safe out there – to the point where I’m worried that it would be a boring film. But it wasn’t boring and the audience last night (at the Sundance film premiere) was going crazy.
PK: Your work is very non-judgemental, but do you ever feel that you’re seeing things that totally rub against your ethics?
PS: Like the mother who is standing outside the tent for the (Reverend B. Dangerous) freak show? I said to her, “would you like me to tell you what’s going on inside that tent before you bring in your nine-year-old daughter?” She’s the one who ends up pulling the chain that’s going in the mouth and out through the nose of Reverend B. Dangerous. I don’t think it’s right to bring the child in, but she said “Oh no, it’s fine.” And even Sharon (Ozzy’s wife), in the movie, got her own daughter, Kelly in there, by telling her that there was a juggler in the tent. Different parents have different standards for their children. I feel very strongly about seeing seven-year-olds in R-rated movies, which I see quite a bit. I’m on the committee of the DGA (Director’s Guild of America) for changing the rating system, and the violence task force, so I’m very aware of all that.
PK: How would you see the ratings change, ideally?
PS: I’m under obligation not to talk about it. Jack Valenti is the official spokesperson.
PK: It’s interesting that the scenes of the crowd are so…
PS: What? Disturbing? What are they? I’m curious. I really want to know. I won’t be offended.
PK: I got kind of depressed after a while. But then I saw the scene with the protestors and that was even worse. It’s strange because there’s only a handful of protestors, obvious religious zealots, and it should be a relief to see them after bearing witness to the drunken and debased mayhem shown at the concerts. But both groups just left me feeling like humanity hasn’t evolved very much.
PS: Are you a filmmaker also?
PK: I’m a film exhibitor for a small art-house cinema in Boulder.
PS: Will you show Decline of Western Civilization III?
(Writer’s note: I’ll let readers decide: If you folks in the Denver/Boulder area would like the IFS to bring any of Penelope’s Decline of the Western Civilization films, drop in your vote by visiting internationalfilmseries.com, and then going to “suggest a film” where you can make your voice heard.)