Alan Jones web interview by insomniacmania.com
Question – How did you fall into Journalism? Please tell us a little about yourself?
I’ve always been a horror film fan, ever since I was ten. I spent most of my youth in various fleapits in Portsmouth, my hometown, watching every Hammer, Amicus, AIP and Italian horror movie ever released. I’ve kept diaries of reviews of everything I saw since I was 14. I never thought anything of travelling miles to see the lower half of a double bill if it was a horror movie. Therefore I was completely au fait with every aspect of the genre. I’ve written about this in the Brit magazine ‘The Dark Side’, but the first 3 horror movies I saw – CIRCUS OF HORRORS, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE – I sincerely believe cultivated my love of gore, sadism, lurid plots and Italian sensibilities. I remember when I was about to take my A Level exams and I should have spent weeks revising. Instead I read Carlos Clarens’ landmark book ‘Horror Movies’ over and over again. I loved that book because it made me realise there was method in the genre madness and all my favourite films were by the same directors. I was a Mario Bava fan years before anyone else – apart from Joe Dante. In retrospect that book did more for my subsequent career than anything I learnt at school – although I do wish I had spent more time learning languages now I realise how valuable that would have been. I left Portsmouth the moment I could at 18 and moved to London, supposedly to become a supermarket manager trainee. 3 months of life in the big city though – and even more cinemas showing horror movies – and I gave that up to work in Carnaby Street. I did numerous jobs after that, hotels, the early video industry and the Forbidden Planet 2 bookshop, before turning freelance in 1987. Up to that point my journalism was a hobby. Once I realised I could actually live off that alone, I became self-employed.
Question - Who was your inspiration and where did you learn most of skills?
As mentioned, Carlos Clarens would have to be an inspiration. But so too was Harlan Ellison. He, along with many stars, stayed at the Portobello Hotel in Notting Hill Gate where I worked. I’ve always said that’s the reason why I’ve never been fazed by fame. When you are gambling with Richard Dreyfus, going out to dinner with Richard Gere, hanging out with Ryan O’Neal, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Abba, The Eagles and many more, you get used to it. I used to work the night shift and would write my reviews up during the downtime. Harlan asked to read them, thought they were ok and gave me invaluable advice. Otherwise I was completely self-taught. I’m not saying my writing is the most brilliant in the world but I do say what I honestly mean, ask the right questions I know the fans want answering, focus on what’s important and put it all into a readable style. Some say breathless style. Mark Kermode, who wrote the forward for my book ‘Profondo Argento’, always tells me that once he starts reading anything I’ve done he has to read it all the way through because it’s so relentlessly driven. I think that’s a good quality. Others may not agree but I’m still doing what I’ve been doing for 25 years now so I must be doing something right.
Question – Alan was able to interview the entire Star Wars cast back in 1976,did you anticipate it would gather such attention? How did you seize this opportunity?
It’s back to the Portobello Hotel again. The cast stayed in the hotel while they were filming STAR WARS in 1976. I got to know Harrison Ford, Mark Hammil and Carrie Fisher because they would relax after filming in the main lobby. That’s how I got to talk to everyone. No one was anticipating the film’s eventual blockbuster success. They were just thrilled to be working on this strange little sci-fi movie. My best friend, Mike Childs, had been asked by Chris Knight, the original London correspondent of ‘Cinefantastique’, if he wanted to take over his duties with the magazine as he couldn’t find the time to do it anymore. Mike said we should do it together. Our first work for CFQ was interviewing Brian De Palma about CARRIE. Then STAR WARS opened, we had all the interview material, and we capitalised on it. Later, Mike let me do everything because his job, at Capital Radio in London, severely limited his time. So I became the sole CFQ correspondent, a role I enjoy to this day, despite editor Fred Clarke committing suicide a few years back. His death devastated me. I would not have the career I have today if it hadn’t been for his amazing support. I always say he made my obsession my profession. I learnt everything via CFQ and Fred let me do whatever I wanted. No one outside of Italy had ever reported from the set of an Argento film but I did on OPERA. No one had ever interviewed Lucio Fulci until I did in 1980. In those days, no one was going on horror or sci-fi movie sets. The unit publicists were thrilled you were interested and gave me carte blanche. So different today now that you have to be approved by everyone, join junkets, deal with personal PRs etc. I spent the 80s on every studio film based in London. It’s the reason why I have so many contacts now and know exactly who to get hold of for anything.
Question – Your profile states that you write for 'Cinefantastique', review films for “Starburst” and are a film critic for the 'Radio Times'. How did you acquire these positions?
CFQ I’ve just explained. Because I was writing for such a popular cult magazine, I was asked by Dez Skinn, editor of ‘The House of Hammer’ mag, to write for him too. Then when Alan McKenzie left his sub-editing job at ‘House’ to take over the reins of ‘Starburst’, I joined him. When ‘Starburst’ was sold by Marvel Comics to Stephen Payne, he asked me to take over the reviews section completely. That’s something I still do today and love doing. Everything else I’ve done has stemmed from that chain of events. Radio Times asked me to review all their genre releases and that eventually spread out to include other movies too. Because I literally knew everyone in film circles I became attached to Sky Movies and in my ten-year stint with that channel literally interviewed every major star from Mel Gibson and Jim Carrey to Jennifer Lopez and Courtney Cox Arquette, went on every global location and to every Film Festival. I credit Sky for allowing me to make on camera mistakes and giving me the experience to appear relaxed and informed on TV. I’m on TV a lot now and I couldn’t have got into that position without SKY. The cliché is it’s not what you do but who you know. I have to reverse that by saying it’s who knows you and what I can do. That’s the reason I get so much production notes/EPK work and unit publicist opportunities above my core review and feature writing.
Question – Out of all of the articles you have made, which do you think have gained the most attention?
Genre fans loved my A-Z of Italian Horror in Starburst (# 72 & 73), one of the first times any info on the subject had ever been published. Then there’s the zombie issue of Starburst (#48) which even now is impacting on my career. Edgar Wright, the director of the comedy horror SHAUN OF THE DEAD, asked me to play a zombie in the movie, because of that. It was fun, even though the contact lenses were horribly uncomfortable. I do get a lot of people saying how much they loved my reviews and how they steered them into a love of the genre. I couldn’t be happier over that. At Cannes recently I interviewed Eric Valette, the director of MALEFIQUE, and the first thing he said to me was it was an honour to be interviewed by the person whose features he’d read in the French mag ‘L’Ecran Fantastique’ when he was eight years old. I felt both thrilled and ancient at the same time. The one feature of mine that has gone the distance, been quoted in various books and other mags, is the set report I did on Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN in Cinecitta in 1987. I was there at the exact moment the film fell apart, reported it as such, and have seen it used in every book on Gilliam or the vagaries of the film industry. It has always been amazing to me that you make one fleeting TV appearance on some dodgy cable channel and the next day everyone says, I saw you on TV last night. I wish my printed work had the same effect. But that’s the reason I decided to write ‘Profondo Argento’ because so many people outside of the fans don’t realise I have covered every Argento film in depth since OPERA.
Question – Could you tell us more about the documentaries you have been involved in?
I’ve been involved in so many over the years – Jean Claude Van Damme, Disco, Punk and Star Trek etc, but the two I had most to do with were ‘Mario Bava: Maestro of the Macabre’ and ‘Dario Argento: An Eye for Horror’. Both were made by CreaTVty and I love them. The Bava was nominated for a Montreux Festival Rose Award and I was so proud of that. Producer Richard Journo got hold of me in Italy when I was covering the making of Asia’s SCARLET DIVA and said I was the only person who could help him do them. So I did and spent a fabulous couple of months travelling across America and Italy interviewing everyone I hadn’t met but always wanted to like Jessica Harper, John Saxon and Michael Brandon.
Question – You have made quite a few television appearances in Argentina, Colombia, Italy, Spain, Finland and Russia. Could you elaborate on the purpose of these appearances?
A strange question! I’m asked to appear on TV and get very well paid for it. So you do it. Who wouldn’t? As long as I know the subject and have definite views on it. The more people see you on TV the more seriously they take you and the more chances you get to broadcast. That’s my purpose. One of my favourite quotes comes from Gore Vidal who said ‘You should never turn down the opportunity to appear on TV or have sex’. I don’t turn any opportunity for either!
Question - Punk T-shirts!? How did you manage to get arrested for wearing one in the UK?
This is a long and very involved story and one I’ve repeated countless times in numerous books from Jon Savage’s ‘England’s Dreaming’ to ‘Punk’ by Stephen Colegrave and Chris Sullivan. I knew Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood extremely well. I worked for Vivienne in her World’s End shop ‘Sex’ for a while. That’s how I got to know the Pistols before the group was formed. I always wore Vivienne’s clothes. One of them featured the now infamous nude cowboy graphic and the police thought it was far too provocative when I wore it for the first time. I was arrested for indecency, Malcolm promised me support and the best lawyer – which never happened – I got fined, made headlines in all the newspapers and it’s one of the many stories I’m now asked about constantly regarding that amazing time. The Pistols would come and see me at the Portobello Hotel and hang out. I was at every single early gig they did – they would often say hello to me by name from the stage. So when they played the El Paradise strip club in Soho they asked me to be their dee-jay. I was on the ‘God Save the Queen’ boat party and have nothing but great memories from the time despite my good friend Sid Vicious becoming it most famous casualty
Question - Argento…what is he like as a Director? What are his terms and conditions? Is he easy to work with? Does he desire a particular genre?
Dario is and will always be my favourite director. His films have affected my cinematic tastes and my own life enormously. I will never, ever forget the impact of seeing THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE or DEEP RED for the first time. I spend a lot of time in Rome and have numerous friends there thanks to Dario. Dario is the only Italian director who recognises his work has international appeal and caters to his fan base. I get so bored by people saying he hasn’t made a decent film since SUSPIRIA? INFERNO, TENEBRAE, OPERA, SLEEPLESS are all great. No he isn’t easy to work with, he’s a perfectionist and that can get on people’s nerves. I’ve seen him at his best and worst.
Question – Which is your bestselling book: 'Mondo Argento', 'Nekrofile', 'Saturday Night Forever: The Story of Disco' and ‘Tomb Raider:The Official Companion’ ?
‘Tomb Raider’ turned me into a best-selling author literally overnight. That’s why I’ve also did the ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life’ companion. My favourite book is ‘Saturday Night Forever’. I did that to prove to myself I could write about something other than film and because the Disco era has been grossly sidelined as being about nothing but trashy music, polyester fashions and The Bee Gees. Although I loved punk, I was also heavily into disco during the Seventies and it is still my favourite musical genre. To this day I collect all Euro-disco, club or dance music. I adore Modern Talking, Sandra, Kate Ryan, Sylver, Ian Van Dahl, Milk Inc, Baccara – too many to list. The best disco producer in the world is Boris Midney and I have duplicate copies of all his vinyl and CD releases. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t play a Midney track, especially the disco Evita.
Question – Alan your all-time favourite movie star is Raquel Welch. I remember her from Fantastic Voyage . What is you like about her and what did you think of the sci-fi film?
Any male genre fan who grew up in the Sixties adored Raquel. I still have the famous ONE MILLION YEARS BC poster framed on my wall. FANTASTIC VOYAGE was fabulous too. She is the epitome of Hollywood glamour, sex and chic and I will argue with anyone over her undervalued acting talents. She was brilliant in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, THE WILD PARTY and KANSAS CITY BOMBER. She’s seen as such a joke yet she’s still around, is still great when she does stuff like ‘Spin City’ and time will eventually give her the dues she deserves. I interviewed her once. It was the only time I’ve ever been nervous in front of one of my idols. I so wanted to tell her how much I loved her work, but knew I wouldn’t be able to get the words out properly or she’d just think I was like all the rest. You do have to be careful in such a position. It isn’t professional in my view to ask people for their autographs or whatever in that working situation even if they are the one person you’ve always wanted to meet. That’s why I never ask anyone for their autographs even for friends. It puts you in a lesser position in their eyes.
Question - Johnny Depp is admired greatly by my sister, he takes on many quiet character roles. Have you ever interviewed or got close to him?
I did tell Johnny Depp that he was my favourite actor when I interviewed him for SKY. He got quite embarrassed but said he appreciated my praise. If Depp hadn’t done anything other than EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, ED WOOD or SLEEPY HOLLOW he would still be a fave because those performances are just brilliant. He’s wonderful in THE NINTH GATE too, a very difficult role.
Question – I admire Angelina Jolie, you need not explain why you like her. Robert Downey Jr starred was good in Weird Science. 80’s movies like the Burbs and Money Pitt, Breakfast club and Ferris Bullers day off have always been reviewed as being good comedies. What do you think?
I do want to explain why I like Angelina Jolie so much having worked with her briefly on both TOMB RAIDERS. She is just so unlike the press image she’s given and that mainly stems from her not having her own personal PR who can exert damage control. So every decision is made by herself, either good or bad. She says what she thinks, doesn’t give a damn and I wish more stars were like her. The TOMB RAIDER crews absolutely loved her because she’s an ultimate professional as well as being incredibly beautiful. Robert Downey Jr is just too good an actor to waste it on his personal vices. But only he can change that part of his lifestyle.
Question – Evil Dead has always been comic horror favourite. Did you ever get to cover stories on other 80’s horror and sci-fi flicks? How do you feel movies have changed in terms of story and action and effects? Are they more interesting, scary or realistic?
I was the first person in the world to interview Sam Raimi on EVIL DEAD because I saw one of the very first screenings in Paris. I also wrote the second review after Stephen King’s famous one. Sam always remembers that and how I took him out to dinner in Paris because he was so broke. I covered every 80s horror movie that was made in Britain – HELLRAISERS, SHOCK TREATMENT, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE KEEP, THE MONSTER CLUB, DOMINIQUE, DREAM DEMON, COMPANY OF WOLVES etc - and many in America – FRIGHT NIGHT, THE STUFF, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, JAWS 3D, HALOWEEN 3, THE BOOGEY MAN etc. Horror is going in a very interesting direction now, and not just because of the Asian influence. Nothing will ever scare me as much as TEXAS CHAINSAW, SUSPIRIA or THE EXORCIST – I thought the recent WRONG TURN did a good job of summoning up the sort of terror and dread so lacking in contemporary movies. But the stories and action are better now than ever. You only have to look at DONNIE DARKO, MAY or CABIN FEVER to see that. THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT, FEAR X and JEEPERS CREEPERS 2 are brilliant, different and make me very secure about the future of the genre.
Question - What other hobbies do you have?
When you work in cinema at the level I do, there’s very little time for anything after attending preview screenings, writing the reviews, going to film festivals - Sitges is the best – flying to far-flung locations and keeping up do date on what’s happening. The very nature of the job means your work, travel and leisure activities are combined. What most people do at weekends, like go to the cinema, I do every day of my life. But I don’t mind that at all. I’m meeting people and going to places others only dream about. I would never complain because I love doing what I do so much.
Question - Is there anything you would like to add?
Yes, please buy my book ‘Profondo Argento’. I really want it to do well so Dario will get the proper recognition he truly deserves from the mainstream press who continually ignore his landmark work. Thanks for asking me to drone on like this too, much appreciated.
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Alan Jones: I don't have to worry about missing any TV shows
Film festival co-director Alan Jones is surprisingly attached to the TV - but he relies on a machine to watch it for him while he listens to "the new Abba" (who aren't called Abba)
What's your favourite piece of technology, and why?
I have to say my Humax PVR [personal video recorder]. I don't tend to watch much television, so I record everything I want to watch and sit and watch it in a block over the weekend. It saves me so much time.
How has it improved your life?
I don't have to bother worrying about missing any TV shows, and can watch them when I feel I want to.
When was the last time you used it, and what for?
It would have to be this week, for Mad Men.
What additional features would you add if you could?
I wish it would actually drop the adverts, because I get bored fast forwarding through them. It would be great if it took those out, but the advertisers wouldn't like it.
Do you think it will be obsolete in 10 years' time?
I'm almost convinced it will be, the way technology moves so fast. There'll be something else, won't there.
What one tip would you give to non-PVR users?
Always make sure that the automatic software updates – do it every two weeks to make sure you keep it up to speed.
Do you consider yourself a luddite or a nerd?
When it comes to the horror side of movies, I'm definitely a nerd. With technology, a bit of a luddite I suppose. I don't care about it that much, I only have stuff that improves my life, or helps me with my work.
What's the most expensive piece of technology you've ever owned?
If we go back a few years, I literally had one of the first Sony Stowaways , which was the first Walkman. I had it shipped from Japan – I was desperate for one. In 1979, it cost me £150 – that was really a lot of money. I was terrified it would be stolen, but luckily nobody knew what it was.
Mac or PC?
Mac. I used to be a PC person but got sick to death of being virused up to the eyeballs so I switched to Mac and have never had any more problems. And to be honest, I find the Genius Bar at Apple stores brilliant.
What song is at the top of your iPod's top 25 most-played list?
I'm going crazy for that Scandinavian group, BWO [Bodies Without Organs] . Barcelona is my favorite song at the moment. Nobody knows them here, but they're the new Abba. They've got four albums out, they're fantastic.
Will robots rule the world?
They do already, as far as I'm concerned, with those idiots in most governments – especially our own. How much worse could it be?
What piece of technology would you most like to own?
I want a Kindle just so I can see how many books I can cram on it, and how it works – is it really as interesting as people make it sound? Is it user friendly?
by Stuart O'Connor
guardian.co.uk , Friday 27 February 2009 15.03 G