Arts & Culture Blog
The Carmel Art & Fest is Crazy for Matthew Modine
October 13, 2011
My editor confesses that Matthew Modine's 1985 Vision Quest, aka Crazy for You (after the Madonna hit song), in which he plays a promising 18-year-old wrestler who falls in love with a traveling older artist (Linda Fiorentino, looking not that old) and must decide between his sport or his woman, stops my her in her tracks to watch, regardless of what she's doing. For me and my pals, it's Modine's conflicted and sympathetic lead as Pvt. Joker in Stanley Kubrick's calculating and powerful Full Metal Jacket. Other memorable Modine moments, as they might be called, could include the naturalistic and sensitive performances by a young Modine and Nicholas Cage in Birdy, or his straight-laced but sensitive FBI pursuit of former mob wife Michelle Pfeiffer in Married to the Mob; Weekly music writer (and beyond hope film-o-phile) Adam Joseph hypes Modine's recurring role on Showtime's award-winning Weeds with the fervor of a caffeinated publicist.
It would be difficult to live a life of even moderate movie-going without encountering the tall, lanky, usually sensitive, blond fella at least once. He's good at inward acting and moves with the easy farmboy grace of a Jimmie Stewart, which can make him more likable than memorable. And it's not a crime to confuse him with Ed Begley, Jr. Other than the fact that Ed wears glasses, they share similar physical features, as well as real-life political proclivities toward the liberal.
Those views show up in bold relief in Modine's entry in the Carmel Art & Film Festival line-up, a 15-minute short called ironically titled Jesus was a Commie. And Modine, who's politically outspoken but in a polite and reasoned manner, will talk after its screening about its content, his message, and how to save the earth. But first he spoke (in a polite and reasoned manner) with the Weekly.
That's a pretty provocative title. [Politicians] have corrupted the simplicity of communism. [Jesus] was breaking away from the laws of Moses. [He was] disinterested in owning things. He said when we have a banquet, we should invite the poor, the crippled, the blind…do we do that?
Politics and religion can be a combustible. Are you trying to combine the two in a way that defuses that and lets them coexist? In our country, [we have] the wisdom of our founders to have separation of church and state. That was real wisdom. If you go back in religious history, there's a lack of separation of church and state. If you look at the things Jesus has said and done, inspired by divine instruction—the things he was supposed to have said and done (someone else wrote that), it's certainly progressive, liberal thought, it's kind of revolutionary. Conservatives, the Tea Party, say the Constitution is a rigid document written in stone. They forget there are several amendments that make it a liberal document. Otherwise there wouldn't' be social security, child labor laws, women wouldn't' have right to vote, we'd still have slavery. That's what makes it so great.
Even though the subject seems controversial, the tone of the film is moderate and civil. The way you narrate, in this calm voice.
The people most offended by the title have been the most moved by the film. It's rational thought. That's why I speak calmly. It's rational thought I hope will be awakened to the discourse, the dialogue, the essay. We're facing arguably some of the most dangerous time in human existence, what we've done environmentally. There's more people on the planet than on any other time. Even our going to the bathroom has an effect on rivers. Will you consider that those 7 billion people will have an impact on the planet? Will you accept these 7 billion peoples behavior has had an effect on the planet?
There is a segment of the Christian community that consider themselves charged by the Bible as environmental stewards. Have you heard of them? I know who you're talking about. In the last election, John Kerry, there were a lot of Christians [who were about] stewardship. I thought that was wonderful. I forget what words there are in the Bible about our responsibility. I know what you're referring to. I thought it was wonderful that they recognized that responsibility. As I say in the film, we shouldn't' be divided. Communism is a word, like Republican and Democrat. The problems we're facing are bigger than brands, than groups. That's why I was so excited when they unraveled the DNA and discovered we are all brothers and sisters. The problem with Christians is that they don't act like Christ. My favorite line is "You without sin cast the first stone." It has the potential to change the course of human history. It's such a beautiful idea.
Did you grow up religious? I grew up in Utah so I grew up in a religious environment. My parents taught responsibility but weren't religious. My grandmother was spiritual, not religious. She tried to understand the spiritual aspects of life. When you receive spiritual teaching from your parents, you learn responsibility. This thing that we live inside of is your temple and you should take care of it. We live in this body, and outward from that is other people and you want to take care of them and in the bigger sense the world. We better take care of our bigger body. This earth that we go back into.
You did this online video where you were talking about giving our bodies back to the earth… ["The Teachings of Jesus Christ" for BigThink.com] We spend a lifetime taking and refuse to give our bodies back to nurture the earth. It seems such a selfish thing to do. To fill our bodies with embalming fluid and seal ourselves [off]. It's probably just fear. I was just watching this Scorcese documentary on George Harrison. The last 15 years of his life was about leaving your body when the time comes, to comfortably let go. The basic material of your body, it's okay, I'm ready to move on. That's the scary thing, how do I let go, comfortably? "I didn't cause harm, I helped other people when I could, I didn't cause pain and suffering."
These kinds of views…are you the exception or the norm among your Hollywood peers? I don't know. I know that they've been very moved by the film and they want everyone to see it. They want it to be shown in schools and churches. Because it's a simple message. I think life is simple and we complicate it. There's something written on the window of my hotel in LA.: "Life is really simple, we insist on making it complicated."
What would determine a success for your experience at the Carmel Art & Film Festival? When the festival director sees the film and says "I really like this"…he knows his community and feels this is something they would be moved by or find controversially challenging, it's already accomplished what I hoped for it. The producer wants the film to continue to be recognized with awards and things like that. There's been a few festival that have asked "What is it?" It's not a narrative or a documentary. "What have you made?" It's a song, like Marvin Gaye singing "What's Going On." It's Buffalo Springfield: "There's a man with a gun over there telling me I'd better beware." It's a message. The film is a protest. Protest always implies something negative. I think the people who are in lots of cities across the country, Occupy Wall Street, they haven't figured out what to say. They don't know what they're protesting, but they recognize the fact that there's an inequality. Did you know that Congress doesn't pay social security tax? They have their own retirement fund that provides them with an unbelievable pension. Those senators and congressmen, they don't give a shit about [social security]. They're not above us. They are citizens, so for them to not be participating in social security…If they didn't have that special system, there wouldn't be Rick Perry saying it's a Ponzi scheme.
Documentaries seem to have exploded recently. When did you first encounter the power of the documentary? I was certainly influenced by Jacques Cousteau. He's the person who awakened my environmentalism, at 15, 16 years old. When I was living in Imperial Beach, I loved the ocean. In Tijuana they didn't have a sewage system so when it rained, all of that would go into the sea and the current would travel north and you couldn't go into the ocean three to four days later. The films of Carl Sagan, his deep understanding of the universe, his humanity. He instructed the Voyager to turn around and take a picture of our solar system. The moment the shutter opened, just by chance, our earth was caught in a solar flare, a sunbeam. If not for that, we may not have gotten the picture. Everyone that's ever existed, singer, songwriter, conquerer, leader, has existed there, on "A Mote at Best."
What are you going to do at the film festival? I'll be there Wednesday. I think they're playing Jesus was a Commie twice. I'm going to do a Q&A. We had screenings in New York and Italy to see what reaction they would have. Communism has a different value in America. In Rome they have a mayor who identifies as communist. When I say "Jesus was a commie" there, it's not shocking. "Of course he was." It's not offensive. "Oh, that's interesting." It's a dialogue. He was [best described as] utopian communist. I think the world think communism doesn't work. It's contrary to our nature. We all want, as I say in the film, a little more for ourselves and our families.
Ever been here before? I did a film a long time ago in Washington called Vision Quest and my wife and I drove down the coast to Big Sur. I remember it smelling good. Sea and pine. It makes you feel hopeful, that smell, your heart beats a little faster. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity for someone to show me around. It's always an honor when you get invited to a festival. There's a lot of people, a lot of things to say. I know they have thousands of films they go through. I'm really honored to have the opportunity to present my film in such a cool town.
[At this point I thanked Modine for his time, whereby he apologized for not calling sooner; he said had been on a film shoot late the night before.]
What film? The next Dark Knight movie.
Whoa, I totally forgot. You're in that. Wow. What's it been like? I just finished my Batman in L.A. It's been great. It's been the third city for me, the seventh for the production in the six months. We've been filming nights so I couldn't talk to you earlier. It's an epic film and [Christopher Nolan] is an extraordinary director. I'm really looking forward to it. Christian [Bale] and I never really encountered each other. It's the most anticipated film of next year. One of Nolan's great talents is assembling a group of people who want to work on extraordinary an film. Everyone—teamster, writer, actor—wants to make something extraordinary. I've seen all of Nolan's movies. From Memento to Prestige to Batman. He's one of the few directors around who people are like, "Oh, there's a Christopher Nolan film coming out."