Monday, April 23, 2012

The Greydon Clark Interview

Conducted By: Justin Bozung; Host of The Mondo Film Podcast

Greydon Clark is one hell of a nice guy.  I've exchanged many emails with him over the years, and we've met face to face, having dinner in Indianapolis.  We appeared on a radio show together talking about the tragic passing of actress Elizabeth Taylor in 2011, and he's even helped me secure an interview or two with some of his esteemed colleagues as well.  He's a true gentleman.

Clark has spent an entire career making film's the way he's wanted to.   Coming to work in film by a chance meeting/pick up basketball game in the mid '60s with Z-Grade schlock-master Al Adamson, Clark would befriend the director and eventually act in Adamson's biker cult classic, Satan's Sadists.  Throughout the '70s and '80s, Clark would write and direct several low budget horror and exploitation films that would by today's standards be considered to have achieved a cult status.  Films like, The Bad Bunch, Black Shampoo, The Hi-Riders, Joysticks, Wacko and Without Warning would en-grain themselves in the consciousness of drive-in loving teenagers across the United States of the '70s looking for that first cinematic impression.

Here's the first interview I did with Clark in the spring of 2010 on the heels of the release of his film's The Bad Bunch & The Hi-Riders onto DVD for the first time via VCI Entertainment.

JUSTIN: Greydon, it's well documented how you came about to work in the film industry. But I can't imagine that you really just sat up in bed one day, and said " I'm going to Los Angeles to be an actor." There must have been some sort of catalyst growing up in Michigan, that put that thought or dream into your head. So, growing up what influenced you to make this decision? Was there a film or a particular actor you liked or idolized growing up that made you want to act and direct? And what was it about either that inspired you?

GREYDON CLARK: I was raised in Niles, Michigan - a small town in Southwest Michigan. At that time there was one drive-in and one walk in theater. The movies would change each week and I’d see everything that was playing. I liked all genres – comedy, western, horror, science fiction. I knew nothing about how movies were made. The only thing I knew about directing was that the director’s title was the last credit and the movie was about to begin.

I’d never been in a play or taken a drama class. However, during my first year in college I took a speech class. I’d always been able to tell a story and keep people’s attention and the class went well. When I received an injury my dream of continuing to play basketball in college ended. I foolishly dropped out of school and waited to be drafted into the army. This was just prior to the Vietnam War heating up. During the physical for the draft it was discovered that I had a scar on my ear drum from a childhood disease. I received a deferment.

A bit of soul searching followed… what did I really want to do with my life? A small voice whispered… “You love the movies… wouldn’t it be fun to be an actor in the movies?” I was young and very naive regarding the movie business, but I knew most films were made in Los Angeles. I figured I could do anything I really wanted to do if I put my mind to it. I’d always had super self confidence… blame my parents I guess. Within a month I was driving west with everything I owned - a small black and white TV and record player in the back seat of my car. After several years of knocking on doors I got lucky and my career began.

On Set of The Bad Bunch
JUSTIN:  With the release of your film The Bad Bunch on DVD, I went back and watched it again.  It's really aggressive in it's tone and the message there was pretty powerful.  Did you ever worry when you wrote it  that the public opinion would back-lash against you or the film?   For example, in the film's written and directed by someone like Spike Lee, some have perceived that there's a negative portrayal of white people in his film's, so with something like The Bad Bunch, could it be seen in that same way?  Meaning, could it be interpreted that the African American's are the villains of The Bad Bunch in a sense, simply because of their relentless assault on your lead character whom just so happens to be white.  Did you worry about?  

GREYDON CLARK: I’m a big fan of Spike Lee and enjoy his films a great deal. I was always a political person. Unlike most in Southwest Michigan where I was raised I was strong supporter of liberal ideas. The civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 60’s dominated the news when I was in school. One of the proudest moments of my life was in the fall of 1963 when I participated in a parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King in South Bend, Indiana. Friends of mine asked, “How could I do that?” My response, “How could you not?”

When I began to make films my personal views of life became part of my movies. In the fall of 1972 I was able to make The Bad Bunch. Those that look at the young African Americans as the villains have misread the intent of the film. The white racist cops played by Aldo Ray and Jock Mahoney are the villains in the piece. Our racist society and the way these young men are treated is an even greater villain. I was trying to shed as much light on the situation as possible. The inter-cutting of the life circumstances of the young black man and the young white man was intended to illustrate conditions in our society. Until society actually examines treatment of minorities we’ll continue to have nothing but tension, violence, and sadness. The Bad Bunch is a very explosive, political film with offensive situations and dialogue. It is a sincere look at the times during which it was made and a sincere desire to expose conditions and a plea to make them better.

JUSTIN:  Originally you released the film under the title, Nigger Lover right?  With the DVD release did you consider that original title for the DVD or ultimately wasn't that something that was left up to you?

GREYDON CLARK: The film was released theatrically under both titles. The decision regarding which title would be used for the DVD was not mine. I support VCI Entertainment’s decision and feel that at this time The Bad Bunch is the appropriate title. I hope people take a look at it and give some thought to the message behind the film.

JUSTIN:  The thing I've always admired about your career in relation to the films  you made in the '70s and '80s was that you were always making films that seemed very current in comparison to what was trendy in pop culture at the time.   You made Joysticks during the early '80s video game arcade craze. You made The Hi-Riders in the middle of the '70s custom car craze.  Was that something you always intended to do?  Also, working that way did it ever delay you from making a more personal picture that maybe you wanted to?

On Set Of Joysticks
GREYDON CLARK: I have always been a very curious individual - aware of what’s going on in the world. Getting the funding for a picture is very difficult. I found that if you could come up with an idea that was “current” it would be easier to raise the funding. I can’t say that I actively looked for story ideas; most of them came by accident. I was in San Antonio, Texas attending a “sneak preview” of Wacko when the idea for Joysticks came to me. I saw a group of young people standing in line to play a video arcade game in the lobby of the theatre. It was the first video arcade game I’d seen and I realized I could create a movie based around an arcade. Most of my movies come from an idea that somehow snuck into my consciousness. Often I’d have an idea, work on it for a few months find it didn’t work and walk away from it. Sometimes the story would work out and I’d be able to raise the financing and make the movie.

JUSTIN:  Trying to get your foot in the door in Los Angeles in the mid/late '60s must have been a exciting and frustrating time for you.   Do you have any stories about those days in Los Angeles?

GREYDON CLARK:  The late 1960’s were an interesting time in Los Angeles… an interesting time in the world. I was selling stuff door to door in the evenings – trying to pay the rent. During the day time I was knocking on doors trying to get acting jobs. When I first got to Los Angeles I found an acting class and began lessons. After a couple of years I got lucky and met low budget director, Al Adamson. Al was making a movie and I managed to get a small part and got into Screen Actors Guild. Getting in SAG is a big step for a young actor. At the time I had no thought of directing. After a few days on the set I became fascinated with the job of directing. I thought it was the best job in the movies – I still do.

Within a year I’d written a script and wanted to direct. Once again, I got lucky and was able to raise a few bucks and make the film. Over the next three decades I was able to direct twenty films… I feel luck played a great part in my career. I think back to the young man who happened to take a speech class and sometimes wonder what might have happened to him if he’d not taken the drive to Los Angeles.

JUSTIN:  You haven't made a film in a while.  Do you see yourself coming back to filmmaking any time soon?  If so, what are your plans?

GREYDON CLARK:  I’ve been working on a remake of Without Warning for several years. MGM owns the U.S rights to the original. We’ve been discussing the remake in detail and we’re working on it. As you may know, MGM is re-organizing and may be purchased by another company so we’ll see what happens. I may have to start over. Making movies has never been easy… just keep trying.

JUSTIN:  Without Warning, has achieved a pretty impressive cult following over the last few years.  Are there any updates as to when fans could actually see an official DVD release?

GREYDON CLARK: MGM controls the US DVD rights. For years they’ve been saying that they are going to release a DVD. I’ve encouraged them. I’m told that Without Warning is the most pirated film on the internet. MGM should release it.

JUSTIN:  Looking back in retrospect, what's the one project that is your all time favorite, and why?

GREYDON CLARK:   I can’t select a favorite. I see so many mistakes in each of my films… I’d like to do them all over again. Some work better than others… some were received better than others. I do like all my films. Each brings back fond memories. I’ve been fortunate to work with exceptional cast and crews and owe them all a big thanks.

JUSTIN:  Listening to the commentary tracks you've done for some of your DVD's, you mention several films that have been made over the years that you seem to be a big admirer of.  Do you enjoy one genre of film over another, and if so what are some of your favorite films?

GREYDON CLARK:  I’m a film lover… all kinds of films… all genres. When I first got into the film business and learned what a director did I began to notice that many of the films I liked were directed by the same people. This was before the internet, before cable TV, before people really knew anything about directors. I began to scour the book stores in Hollywood looking for more information on directors and directing. I devoured books about the great American directors… Ford, Hawks, Capra, etc. I loved reading about their lives and directing philosophies. I guess it was sort of my film school.

For more information on Greydon Clark, or to purchase autographed behind the scenes photos or DVDs of Greydon Clark's films, please visit

For more interviews by Justin, please visit his official website here 

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