10 - The Michigan Daily - Weekend etc. - Thursday, April 7, 1994
Davies finds success with 'Spanking'
By ALEXANDRA TWIN
"A film with incest in it is something not very
easy to explain to yourgrandma;"explained "Spank-
ing the Monkey" star Jeremy Davies when asked
to describe his new film. "I'd rather people just
saw it than have me to try to explain it to them.;It
deals with incest, but that's just one aspect of it.
It's really about a lot of things."
Must be damn good, whatever it is. This year,
itjoins "sex, lies and videotape," "The Waterdance"
and countless other films as the proud recipient of the
Sundance Film Festival's much-coveted audience
choice award. It is the only award offered by the
festival that is voted on by the screening audience
members as opposed to the judges. Must have felt
pretty good to know that your film was the favorite,
"Actually, it was a big relief, 'cause it's such a
"It" refers to incest. But isn't that just an aspect
"Well, yeah, but arguably the most memo-
Arguably. However, beyond the buzz word,,
"Spanking the Monkey" is a relatively straightfor-
ward, contemporary tale of a young boy trying to
adjust to the changes that have come over his
family while he's been away at college for a year.
Kinda scary for those of us who are first-year
Dad picks Davies' character up from school
with the news that he needs to give up his ideal
summer internship with the Surgeon General to
stay home and take care of Mom, who has recently
attempted suicide. The good son submits, there is
littleelse hecan do. Yet what entails isa farstranger
summer than he ever could have anticipated. Dad's
detachment is matched only by Mom's nearobses-
,ion with the boy. The girl down the road provides
someemotional support, but ultimately this is some-
thing he must deal with by himself'. Although weird
and dark and disturbing, it is not without comic
relief;it isas likely to bring up a laugh as ashudder.
It is also quite likely to put Davies in the spotlight,
although not for the first time.
Hey, weren't you in that "Like Grunge, except
it's a car" commercial?
"Yeah," he laughed,"but don't print that."
Oh, so we don't want to talk about our humble
"No, no, you can mention that. It's actually,
ironically, how Igot the film. It was just such a high-
profilecommercial that Iended up getting all these
scripts sent to me, one of which was 'Spanking the
Although at the time it was called "Swelter,"
the film lacked a distributor and a budget. The
brainchild of "new" filmmaker David 0. Russell,
"Spanking the Monkey" was very much an inde-
"When we started, all we really had was a
script. We just got the money together whenever
we could. We got some short ends from 'Carlito's
Way' and some free film stock from 'House Party
3,' 'cause the director's wife was producing it," he
As a result of the limited budget and shooting
time, a good deal of improvising was done. AIt
really helped me a lot," he asserted, "'cause it would
get frustrating to be only able to do one or two takes
and then have to move on. It also helped that
David, our director, was also the writer. Some-
times they don't let the writers be on the sets, and
they tend to feel like their material is being raped
if anything is changed or experimented with. But
because he wrote it and really knew what he was
after, he was comfortable with letting us play
around with it a bit before the cameras rolled."
Davies found his "Spanking The Monkey"
experience quite different from that of 1993's
"Guncrazy," the Drew Barrymore-James Le Gros.
Bonnie-and-Clyde-ish western that marked his
film debut. "It was a little easier with that one. I
didn't have the lead, so there wasn't as much
pressure. Also, they had more money. They had
His next picture is "Nell" with Jodie Foster.
"She plays this woman raised in the backwoods, in
the wild, by this old woman who keeps her isolated
from society. It starts with the old woman dying
and I'm one of the kids in the town who finds Nell
and really give her a hard time. I have a couple of
good scenes with her."
He sees himself as being extremely lucky to
have such a good role in such a big film. As for the
argument that independent film tends to olTer
better character roles for actors than mainstream
film, he is unsure. "Yes and no. It really depends.
Like Gus Van Sant ('Drugstore Cowboy. 'My
Own Private Idaho') is getting more and more
mainstream and a lot of his characters in his films
are along the lines of what I'd be interested in
doing, but certainly, independent films tend to take
more risks: they don't have as much to lose; they
want to make a statement."I
While he pledges no particular allegiance to
either mainstream versus independent or cinema
versus theater, there are a couple of things that he
would prefer to do without: television and James
"I've done mostly television. A lot of commer-
cials and stuff. There's just a lot of limitations.
You could never put a film like 'Spanking the
Monkey' on television."
As for the roles it does offer ? "Very 90210-ish.
One thing that does bother me is the whole James
Dean role. I think he did it very well. Some others
have done it well since. But there are a lot of young
actors, particularly on television, who get caught
up in wanting to look cool in every role. That's all
they play. They would never play Leonardo
Dicaprio's role in 'Gilbert Grape,' which is just
fantastic. They just want cool guy roles, and I'm
really not interested in that, partly 'cause it's already
been done and partly 'cause, well, I'm not verycool
my self."he said laughing.
But aren't you a big teen dream in England?
'What? Who told you that ? I've done some
press there, but, no. I wouldn't say that I'm a 'star'
or any thing.'.
What ifthis film were a big success: would you
he ready for it?
"I don't know. I would hope so. It's been pretty
overwhelming so far. The response at Sundance
was pretty incredible. People just really took to it.
One thine that I've always maintained was that it
was an incredible script. I really liked that the
whole incest issue was addressed so intelligently.
So many scripts just throw things in for mutilation
and I felt like this one really took it seriouslv. I felt
like it worked."
Doesn't make it any easier to explain to
grandma. though. does it?
"No." he said laughing, "not at all.''
Prawn Song has just released the first album by Charlie Hunter's jazz trio.
ew label signs artists
Continued from page 3
hadn't heard from them in a while -
a hand called Polkacide. They're
amazinc - it's straight-up polka. A
couple of people from Tragic Mulatto
are in the band. That's something I'm
A not her favorite croup of
Before Clint, there was John, John and 'The Searchers'
By MICHAEL BARNES
You're in a generational pickle at
the video store ... you want something
new but you're in no mood for some
TOO CHEAP FOR
cutesy, feel-good bullshit; you nix
"Dave" for Harvey Keitel in "Bad
Lieutenant." Your parents or grand-
parents start getting nervous. Aggres-
sive cops who swear a lot and mastur-
bate in public rattle their dentures.
The solution'? Pick an old western
like "The Searchers" starring John
Wayne and directed by John Ford.
You'll love the spectacular scenery
and laugh at the Indians who look like
surfers. Your father will turn to you
while putting down his peanuts, belch,
and then slap you on the back telling
you how real men like John Wayne
just ain't around no more.
John Wayne plays Ethan, a myste-
riousex-soldierwhopays a visit to his
brother Aaron's home in the rugged
post-civil war Texas. Ethan charms
everyone in the family with his gilts
and macho bravado except his
nephew, Martin, who Ethan appar-
ently rescued from an Indian massa-
cre that killed the boy's parents. Ethan
refuses to recognize his nephew be-
cause Martin is "a half-breed."
The threat of an Indian attack
brings Reverend Samuel Clayton to
the house. The pious reverend is a
frontier Everyman: he marries couples
off and shoots at crazed "savages" in
hisother line of'duty as aTexas ranger.
The reverend organizes a posse to
hunt down the Indians: Ethan and Mar-
In their absence though. a mean
Comanche named Scar pays a bloody
visit to Aaron's family. Ethan returns.
finds a few fanilynis member heads
without scalps, and sets out with
Martin to search for his two nieces
whom the warchiefhascaptured. What
follows includes a blossoming friend-
ship. acrazy man on a rocker.a pair of'
mishap weddings and plenty of guns
blazing forth in the wild brush.
If you're a fan of testosterone-
charged asskickers. forget Van
Damme or Stallone. John Wayne is
the original, and these days few do the
hard-guy routine better. E;than is so
tough that he punches out a fellow
deputy to prevent the man from see-
ing the grisly, hacked-up body of his
beloved. Yet he's got the grit sensiti v-
ity to dig a grave with his own hands
and bury a fallen lady wrapped in the
coat olf his back.
The strength of the movie is its
stunning visuals. The jagged. lonely
peaks of Monument ValIey in Utah
are the real stars of the film. These
enormous statuesque slabs of rock.
whether covered in mist or standing
anonymous in swirls of dust, accom-
pany the Searchers in the background
and convey the desolate loneliness of
a land that is beautiful but dangerous.
You don't have to be a geologist to
appreciate the sights (John Ford liked
Monument Valley's scenery so much
that he shot a total of nine westerns
here). The direction is reason enough
to see "The Searchers." One of
Hollywood's great directors. Ford is
a las ish visual stylist and influenced
such people as Orson Welles. who
reputedly watched Ford's 1939 clas-
sic -Stagecoach" some 200 times be-
fore making "Citizen Kane."
Every scene has something to look
at. At night. just prior to Scar and
company s better-then-BoRicks visit,
the interior of Aaron's home is cast in
a dull red burn to convey the impend-
ing danger. When Ethan rides up to
the house, John Wayne becomes the
thrilling hero standing as a majestic
tower of macho. saddled-up steel in
dark silhouette against the backdrop
of engulfing flames.
Some of the shots look corny to a
post-Gunsmoke generation. At the end
of the film. Martin, the now veteran
hitman nephew of Ethan. with friends,
strolls into the lodge to celebrate in
Wayne. however. prefers the soli-
tude of an empty doorway. The hero
squints his eyes then strolls outside
into the wind and eternity as the
soundtrack swells in some ban jo-har-
monica jamming. Typical western
tough-cuv mirage'? Yes. but remem-
ber. this is still the 1950s.
Claypool's will also have something
released on Prawn Song later thi
year. -One of my favorite hands lo-
cally, Eskimo, had broke up for a
while." lie recalled. "and they made a
tape a while ago that they were selling
locally. They gave me a copy of it and
I thought it was great. We're just
gonna take the tape and do a little
EQing on it and remaster it and we're
gonna release it on our label. It's out
there - it's Beef'heart. Zlappa type
stuf f." V
Although Prawn Song is accept-
ing submissions from artists, Clay pool
admits that they can't sign every-
body. "I only want to sign hands that
I think that we could do a good job
for., he said. "I heard some groups
recentis that ,kc could make a lot of
money with but I just don't think we
would he the right label for them.
They're pop hands and thes should,
go to a more pop-oriented label. I'm
trying to lean away from the popular
hip-hopja/f. Ifwe doreach intosome-
thing like that I want to make sure it's
very signature and the players are
ama/img players. It'sgcot to have some
sort ofedge to it that would attract me
Prawn Song also plans to release
films. videos and books: a M.I.R.V
comic book is already on the market:
Still. Clay pool wants the company to
crow gradually. "I don't want to take
too big ofa leap into different things."
he said, "that's how Primus was suc-
cessful and that's how this thing has
been growing so well --starting small
and keeping it very small and taking
things one step at a time. I would like
this thing to become a multimedia
entity that sort of feeds itself. I don'ti
see Prawn Song as something that is
gonna make a bunch of money, as
much as I hope it becomes something
that just feeds itself."
THE CHARLIE HUNTER TRIO
will perform at the Perfirmance
Network on Sunday, April 10.
Tickets are $8 and available at
Schooikids Records. Doors open at
8 p.m. Caii u663-0681 fir more ino. *
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