Revisiting Gone With the Pope, the Exploitation Jewel with an Unlikely Oscar Twist
What can we expect?
For those who might've seen Massacre Mafia Style, it's even more low-budget, if you can believe that! I mean, Massacre has some production value; there's a big wedding scene, locations around Hollywood, a few genre names in there. Gone With The Pope is like he had no budget. He was using short ends, hired a camera for a weekend, got a few friends together. But it was still shot on 35mm and it has the same sensibility -- it's still unmistakably a Duke Mitchell picture. It's not as story driven -- I mean, these guys do go to Rome and kidnap the Pope, but from there it takes all sorts of twists and turns. It's a real product of its time, the mid-1970s, in that it's politically incorrect, there's racist dialogue, it's salacious. But it also has a lot of heart. And there's some real issues in there about being a Roman Catholic. So it's a mixture of religious struggle and sexploitation movie!
Who have you shown it to so far?
Well, there was this writer from the L.A. Weekly who saw it yesterday but she had to leave as the end credits came up and I haven't heard from her since. I've e-mailed her but [laughs]... I warned her it wasn't PC, so I hope she doesn't hate it. But I showed it to the original editors, Bob Leighton, who's gone on to edit most of Rob Reiner's movies, and Robert Florio, who's edited Lost and NCIS. It was their first movie -- one started it, the other continued, even though neither of them got to finish it. They hadn't seen the footage in over 30 years. I was worried they'd say "Hey, take our names off this!" but they loved it!
Where'd that trailer come from? It's indelible.
I cut that about eight or 10 years ago. That's because there was literally no awareness of the movie -- no one had ever seen it. It never came out, unlike a lot of "forgotten" movies people dimly remember having seen as kids.
And the music?
The instrumental music, that's Duke. But the rock and roll song, that's Jeffrey Mitchell. He's a virtuoso rock guitarist who played with people like Suzi Quatro. He's really talented, and he was sending songs to his dad, who'd transfer them to the movie's magnetic stripe soundtrack. That raunchy rock number, "Jacknife," has to be one of the great unknown songs of all time.
Do your colleagues in the mainstream movie business "get" your fascination with the likes of Gone With The Pope, and other Grindhouse releases like Cannibal Holocaust and The Beyond?
[Laughs] They kinda do, but they kinda don't. I work a lot with Sam Raimi, but even his tastes are pretty mainstream. He's not a huge horror fan; his favorite directors are Howard Hawks and Frank Capra, and he's not into the exploitation stuff. So everyone jokes about it. And sometimes it's used against me to discount my opinion. Working on Spider-Man 2, producer Laura Ziskin said to me, "Oh, what do you know about music? You probably think Cannibal Holocaust has good music." And I was like, "Well, Riz Ortolani is a great composer -- he's been nominated for two Oscars!" It's easy for people to try to pigeonhole me as an idiot, but to heck with them.
What are you more excited about: The Oscar nomination or Gone With The Pope finally getting a release?
It's cool that The Hurt Locker is such a cheap movie -- it's almost a borderline exploitation movie -- and it's getting nominated on its own terms. And I'm really honored to be nominated for that rather than one of the bigger movies, but I gotta say I'm more excited by the Gone With The Pope premiere. It's a movie that's 35 years in the making!
If you win the Oscar for The Hurt Locker, are you going to give a shout-out to Gone With The Pope?
Well, my wife was coeditor on Hurt Locker and she's trying to keep me on the straight and narrow. But someone said I should have a silk screen of the Gone With The Pope poster on the back of my tuxedo.
For information on Gone With The Pope's premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles on March 12, visit the film's Web site.