5th Annual LA Times Festival of Books
April 29th, 2000
Q&A session with Clive Barker & Peter Atkins
Transcribed by Barnabas
Question: Are you going to return to some of your earlier horror roots?
CB: I think I will go back to…, well I have several stories actually, which I will certainly publish in the next few years and probably in a collection. But I don't think I will ever do this sort of single body of horror fiction that I did in early in my career, that stuff was an outpouring of fictions, I think what we'll find when I publish short fiction again that it will actually be a much more eclectic collection, that is there'll be some fantasy there, there'll be some horror stuff there. I have a story for instance, which is very important to me, in which I kill Pinhead….
Pete Atkins: Again…
CB: But finally I have a short piece of fiction in which I finally kill the guy from the Hellraiser movies and I wanna do that, and it's important to me that I do that. I think perhaps not next year but the year after I will publish such a book.
Question: What have you read recently that you liked?
CB: Wow, I have read a lot that I liked, mainly about Rumania.
Pete Atkins: Recently (laughing)
CB: Recently…The Natural History of Make-believe is the hottest thing on my list right now because I adore it. I just read a book about being gay in the south, Other Men perhaps it was called, which was tremendous. I haven't read a lot of fiction. Let me think about that and come back to you. I'll keep thinking about the book list.
Question: I studied literary adaptations in college and transferring books to film. I was wondering if you talk a little bit about that. What sort of babies you have to sacrifice in transferring something like the Last Illusion to the screen?
CB: I think you have to start on the basis that the movie and the book are just completely different animals. And the moment you become besotted with something on the page that you feel belongs in the movie you've probably done something that you're gonna need sacrifice. I think some of the greatest passages in literature are things which simply don't have filmic equivalents, I think some of the greatest pieces of cinema are things that do not have literary equivalents.
I offer up in both directions..."Call me Ishmael", there is no equivalent of opening a book and a character speaking out to you and giving you his name.
Or I offer you the knight on the bald mountain sequence from Fantasia, which does not have a literary equivalent. And so the question is whether in this adaptation area what one isn't obliged to do is deal in middle ground. And this may not be very good. This may be one of the reasons why, by and large, good books do not make particularly good movies. Because you go tot middle ground you go to the things which do not offend the cinema. And one of the things you do is take out long periods of introspection, you take out long dialog sequences and very often when you test the movie and you test it for a bunch of 15 year olds in the valley, all of whose fathers work in editing, you find that they have opinions which suggest that every literary felicity that was in the movie be removed. One of the great memories from my life was being at a screening of Candyman, the first Candyman movie which was directed by a man named Bernard Rose who is an extremely talented director. And who hated, as we all do, the testing process. Have you been to any of these preview things? Yeah? They show you a picture you sign the cards and a then there's 20 people who are called the focus group who are supposed to be a cross section of America basically, and quizzed. Bernard Rose, very drunk very unwilling to go thru this process raged his way down from the back screaming they're all idiots. Get the fuck away from my movie! It's my movie! And I thought good for you, because in away if you were to write a book and we were to read it aloud to this group of smart folks and then 20 folks were to stand up in the front and say "now which passages do you think should stay in the book? and which passages should be removed?
You would rightly go crazy. Right? And so the business, which you are now involved in and perhaps may become professionally involved in, is one, which is going to cause agony to somebody.
You have become a professional torturer…Good luck
Pete Atkins: And also might be tortured himself
CB: And you might be tortured yourself. Absolutely
Question: On the same theme I was thinking when you were talking about already doing the movies for the books you are already putting yourself in a box. You loose by putting on the screen because I am no longer allowed to imagine because it's already there. I know who Ishmael is because "Hi I am Ishmael", My picture of Ishmael is gone, I have to go with yours.
CB: Yes I think that is absolutely right I mean one of the points of being a reader is that you are a co-creator. The Ishmael that appears in your minds eye is different from mine, it's yours. And the white whale is yours, and the Pequod is yours, and everything about that book that is unparticularized by Melville, that is he hasn't shown you sufficient detail to pluck something out your imagination which is Melville's' is yours. And a movie shows you a very particular bunch of people and also does something else I think quite dangerous which is that it locks the event of the story down to a particular style.
I think that as excellent as Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson is, it is a 1998 film. It is a very particular kind of event; the hair looks…even though everything seems to be in period, it's our version of period. And I think that becomes very noticeable when you go to the issue of Keanu Reeves in Dracula for instance. Where….
Pete Atkins: Haven't you picked on enough people today?? I mean come on!!
CB: I thought it…
Pete Atkins: Oh go for it.
CB: I thought … Yes. So, um, I probably have, but I thought it was a very modern performance in a movie that was attempting to do something a little bit more artistic.
Question: And isn't killing pinhead kind of like out there?
CB: Yes but the way I'm going to kill pinhead is so unlikely, it involves a bread mixer. (laughs)
It doesn't really…I wish it did.
Pete Atkins: It will now.
CB: It will now. But I think that I have to make it noteworthy and I hope I have, but you're right of course. It's not Fallstaff who comes back, it's Sherlock Holmes, and whole bunch of others, but I'm gonna do my damnedest to kill the little bugger.
Question: I was wondering if you could give us a fantastic view into your Abarat? Like a preview.
Pete Atkins: Should we act it out?
CB: Well should we act out all 4 books? Here is the best way I suppose of my telling it to you, what my models are. The 3 models are the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis's great work of Christian apology in the form of a fantastic fiction, Cirque du Soleil, which I adore, and Fantasia. And those are the 3 things that started me off, but here is a great tradition of fantastic painting, which I have always loved. I love Bosch and Bruegel. One of the things that I think is really a little sad about our knowledge as readers of fantastic fiction or fantasy horror science fiction is how ignorant we are about how many of the images and the ideas which are contained in contempary fiction are rooted in very, very, very, ancient works.
I read again recently Beowulf, which I think is going to be a movie, am I right?
Beowulf is what 13th century no earlier 10th? 5th. It's old English. Here is a great story gag. You kill the son and then you have to kill the vengeful mother. It's a great idea I wish I'd thought of it.
Pete Atkins: and as Whistler said to Oscar Wilde…you will Clive you will
CB: I will, I will, I will.
Question: One of your most frustrating periods I understand was when you were making and trying to get Night Breed released. With the explosion of DVD's and all their extras and goodies, I've always been curious about the director's cut. I've finally gotten my hands on the screenplay…great screenplay.
CB: Thank you
Question: I'd like to see the movie of that screenplay.
CB: I have good news for you. News, which is as little as four days old. A man called Mr. Lustig, who is putting together the Hellraisers on DVD (we just did audio commentaries for the Hellraiser movies, he's remixed them, they just look amazing) told me at one of the mixes that I went to, that he had the rights to the Nightbreed stuff, and he knew somebody at Fox who would basically help us get into the vaults to find the 25 minutes of missing material including a song. What happens is the Night Breed all get together and they sort of .. um… well…
Pete Atkins: In that chorus of singing Night Breed would be myself Craig Spector and John Skipp of Skipp and Spector fame all as bearded transvestite night breed, so we're really keen to…
CB: It's a very special moment.
So what we're hoping to do, in all seriousness is with Mr. Lustig's assistance, is actually liberate this material from Fox. They're not holding it hostage. It's just that it's gone into the vaults. And the MPAA had more trouble with Night Breed than with any other movie that I've ever made, because the monsters were the good guys. They hated that. Even though it wasn't necessarily a particularly bloody movie, though it's a lot bloodier in the version we'll reconstruct, they just did not like the movie at all. So there are 25 minutes of picture. So our hope is we will now put this all together and put it out on DVD remixed. I hope I will be able to persuade Danny Elfman to come in and give us just a little bit of extra music for it. Danny is an extraordinary talent. The most uncompromised portion of that entire movie is the score. Danny's score is, I think, magnificent. So I'm hoping in answer to your question that next year we will see a version of Night Breed which, if not perfect, certainly will be coming out a half hour longer than the version you can currently get. And damn it, if I can't find it I'm just going to do it with hand puppets. (laughs)
Pete Atkins: And on that note, ladies and gentleman, Clive Barker.
Listen to the interiew in Real Audio