The Playboy Interviews: The Directors

Stephen Randall

In Print

The Playboy Interviews: The Directors

edited by Stephen Randall and the editors of Playboy magazine
M Press, 300 pp., $22.95

Roman Polanski: But I don't think I would eat your flesh. I think I would rather die. Not because I would think there was something morally wrong with eating you after you were dead. ... Would you swallow mine?

Playboy: Who knows? Our cultural aversion to the idea would probably make us throw up, anyway.

Polanski: Only in the beginning, my friend.

Honestly, the Playboy people should just scatter excerpts from the Polanski interview over the cover of this impressively dense brick of wide-ranging interviews with a standard roster of "great" film directors (Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, John Huston ...), since no critic could hope to blurb a more scintillating or accurate come-on for its contents. Certainly, Polanski's 45 pages alone make the volume a prize. Conducted during postproduction on the Hugh Hefner-financed Macbeth and just two years after the Manson family murdered wife Sharon Tate and a group of friends in his home, the interview makes one hell of an argument in favor of working a conflict of interest for all its worth. Could any publication besides Hefner's Playboy have hoped to attain such access with this prickly and frustrating interviewee, and would anyone else have indulged the discussion at such great length without a stake in selling the film? As this thoughtful, utterly fascinating conversation between Polanski and interviewer Larry DuBois ranges through sex, cannibalism, religion, politics, and, yes, the Manson murders, it's hard not to admire the promotional chutzpa and hard not to feel a little grateful for it, too.

Of course, by 1971, Playboy had established a rep for great interviews with actors, athletes, and cultural figures, as proven by the other dialogues here, taken between 1963 and 2004. Cinematic storytelling and technique naturally get plenty of play, but all these long-form interviews roam through detours and diversions that lend a tremendous sense of character. Federico Fellini offers his own personal take on Catholicism as beautiful for its embrace as it is frustrating in the convenience of its male chauvinism, while Orson Welles talks trash about other directors and offers a tall tale of eating lunch next to Hitler, and the Coen brothers very entertainingly and assiduously offer nothing. Rather surprisingly, nearly all delve into fairly earnest discussions of spirituality, and unsurprisingly, there's a lot of sex talk and sexism here, too. While one might read Playboy for the interviews (no, really!), one wouldn't read it for the feminism, and I can't help wishing for this kind of discussion lavished on Jane Campion. Still, the value of honesty itself remains, and if it makes you throw up, perhaps that's only in the beginning.

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