This is the most excit­ing part of Josh Becker Week, at least for Your Humble Reviewer.  Josh Becker is the ide­al inter­view sub­ject for a cult movie pub­li­ca­tion or web­site because he has all the nec­es­sary qual­i­ties for a good inter­view sub­ject: he’s fun­ny, he’s extreme­ly opin­ion­at­ed, he has the nec­es­sary smarts to back up those opin­ions in an effec­tive man­ner and he’s not afraid to let loose with provoca­tive thoughts.  As the fol­low­ing inter­view reveals, he was in fine form and deliv­er­ing the goods on all the afore­men­tioned fronts.

This is the first half of Schlockmania’s marathon ques­tion and answer ses­sion with Becker and it cov­ers the entire­ty of his career.  Read on and you’ll dis­cov­er his thoughts on the state of Hollywood, his opin­ions on his own work and his feel­ings about his col­lab­o­ra­tors and friends from Michigan’s low bud­get film­mak­ing scene of the 1980’s — a group that includes cult movie stal­warts like Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel.  Be sure to return on Friday for part two of the inter­view, which will devot­ed entire­ly to ques­tions about Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except.

You learned the ropes of film­mak­ing as a young man alongside Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel.  What are your thoughts on the direc­tions their careers have tak­en?

JB: Let’s not for­get Bruce Campbell, too.  They’ve all done quite well for them­selves, and good for them.  Early on I would have nev­er sus­pect­ed that I’d be the slack­er of the group.

You have a big list of favorite films at your site.  What inspired you to assem­ble such an expan­sive list?

JB:  I was con­stant­ly being accused of hat­ing every­thing, so I put togeth­er that “Favorite Film List” just to prove I love a lot of movies.

You’re pret­ty famous for your uncom­pro­mis­ing crit­i­cism of Hollywood and its out­put, even­tu­al­ly bail­ing out on the city in the ear­ly 1990’s.  What do you think would have to hap­pen in the Hollywood film­mak­ing cul­ture to improve it?

JB: I actu­al­ly bailed on Hollywood for good in 2001, after “Xena” went off the air.  The folks in Hollywood could try watch­ing some good movies just to see what they’re like.  They used to make real­ly good and great movies all the time.  I don’t think a great movie has come out of Hollywood in near­ly 20 years.  All they under­stand at this point is prece­dent.  All of the big mon­ey-mak­ers of 2011 – which wasn’t a very prof­itable year for Hollywood – were all sequels.  I sup­pose if you haven’t got the slight­est clue what a decent script is, you may as well just make sequels, until the fran­chis­es fiz­zle out, which they always do.  I just watched “The Grapes of Wrath” for the 20th time yes­ter­day and there’s no movie like it before it or after it.  Darryl Zanuck had balls, and some taste.  Taste is what is seri­ous­ly lack­ing in the movie busi­ness the­se days.  The movie busi­ness is not run by peo­ple who love movies; it’s now run by bean coun­ters.

As far as clas­sic Hollywood film­mak­ing goes, what era do you prefer and why?

JB: The 1950s and ‘60s, although I’m very par­tial to the ‘30s and ‘40s, too.

The 1970s were OK for a while, until “Star Wars” came out and it all went to hell in a hand­car.  That was the begin­ning of view­ing kids as the main audi­ence, and that’s when movies got stu­pid.  In the ‘50s you had “All About Eve,” “From Here to Eternity,” “On the Waterfront,” “East of Eden, “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and the­se are not stu­pid movies.  In the ‘60s you had “The Apartment,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “A Man for all Seasons,” “Midnight Cowboy.”  These are also not stu­pid movies.  Now we have “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Crash,” “Chicago,” and “The Hurt Locker.”  These ARE stu­pid movies.  When I was a child I spake as a child; but now that I’m a man I’ve put away my child­ish ways.

You’ve said William Wyler is your biggest influ­ence as a film­mak­er.  What is it about his work that inspires you and which films of his would you rec­om­mend to a novice view­er?

JB: I don’t mean to keep dis­put­ing you, but William Wyler is not my biggest influ­ence, he’s my favorite direc­tor.  But it took me years to fig­ure that out.  I would say that Michael Curtiz was a big­ger influ­ence on me ear­ly on because I watched “Casablanca” so many times as a kid.  I actu­al­ly tape record­ed the film on a reel-to-reel tape recorder (before cas­set­te) in ele­men­tary school and lis­tened to it all the time.  I did a hel­lu­va a Bogart imi­ta­tion when I was eleven.  “Of all the gin joints in all the world, she had to come into mine.”  Regarding William Wyler, I think he made the most great movies of any direc­tor ever, and they’re all dif­fer­ent.  He pret­ty much didn’t make a bad film from 1933 to 1967, and he always got the best per­for­mances out of his actors.  He said to Charlton Heston a few days into shoot­ing “Ben-Hur,” “Chuck, you’re just not good enough.”  Heston asked, “Well, what can I do?”  Wyler shook his head, said, “I don’t know,” and walked away.  Heston end­ed up win­ning the Best Actor Oscar that year.

Out of the four the­atri­cal fea­tures you’ve made — Thou Shalt Not Kill Except, Lunatics: A Love Story, Running Time and If I Had A Hammer — which is your proud­est achieve­ment?  Please explain why.

JB:  That’s sort of like ask­ing which of your kids do you like the best?  I’d put forth that all of my films are some­what over­ly ambi­tious (if not nec­es­sar­i­ly good), and due to that they each came out with vary­ing results.  “Running Time” is some­thing of a crazy stunt – being all in real time – and I think I pulled it off, with the help of some very tal­ent­ed actors, a very inven­tive cin­e­matog­ra­pher (if the cam­era keeps going around in cir­cles, where do you put the lights?), and a young, ener­get­ic steadicam oper­a­tor whose ass got kicked over and over again.  The film of mine that says the most, phi­los­o­phy-wise, is cer­tain­ly “If I Had a Hammer,” and I think it looks pret­ty damn good, too (pho­tographed by Kurt Rauf, who also shot “Running Time”).

You’ve also done a lot of t.v. work.  What is your favorite exam­ple of this work and for what rea­sons?

JB:  I like most of my Xena episodes quite a bit.  Since I was the sil­ly com­e­dy direc­tor, and I’m friends with the exec­u­tive pro­duc­er, Rob Tapert, I kind of had unprece­dent­ed free­dom.  Rob told me ear­ly on, “You know what I think is fun­ny.  If you think it’ll make me laugh, put it in.”  He of course added, “And if I don‘t like it I’ll cut it out,” although he rarely if ever did that.  But Lucy and Renee were absolute­ly won­der­ful to work with, and they have extreme­ly tal­ent­ed crew peo­ple in New Zealand, many of whom have gone on to win Oscars for “Lord of the Rings.”  Richard Taylor, who did the effects on my Hercules movie, has won five Oscars.  Xena was a very good-look­ing show that was made with a lot of enthu­si­asm.  The six sea­sons I spent work­ing on that show were prob­a­bly the high­light of my life.

From your super-8 pro­duc­tions to Alien Apocalypse, you’ve main­tained a long friend­ship and pro­fes­sion­al col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bruce Campbell.  What is the secret to the longevi­ty of this rela­tion­ship?

JB:  We both make each oth­er laugh a lot, we trust each oth­er, and we both respect each oth­er.  We also enjoy work­ing togeth­er.  I also love his wife, too.  In a busi­ness where peo­ple quick­ly for­get their friends, Bruce and I have always remained close, which is sort of a mir­a­cle.  Sam Raimi was just here in Detroit for six months mak­ing his “Oz” movie, and even though Sam and I were good buds in our teens and twen­ties, and I’m still good friends with his broth­er Ivan, and his par­ents, I nev­er heard from him once.  But then again, “Nobody sees the great and pow­er­ful Oz, no way no how.”  Bruce, on the oth­er hand, stays in touch.

In inter­views, you’ve ref­er­enced a war movie script you’ve writ­ten called Devil Dogs with great pas­sion.  Can you tell us more about this and what would make it dif­fer­ent from cur­rent war-themed films?

JB:  The full title is “Devil Dogs: The Battle of Belleau Wood,” which was the very first bat­tle the Americans fought dur­ing WWI, and it was most­ly Marines.  As far as the U.S. Marine Corps is con­cerned it’s one of the most impor­tant bat­tles in which they ever par­tic­i­pat­ed.  Belleau Wood, like Gettysburg, had no mil­i­tary impor­tance, it was sim­ply where the Americans and the Germans encoun­tered each oth­er.  28,000 Americans again­st 40,000 Germans, and Belleau Wood was as far west as the Germans ever made it dur­ing the war.  They were 75 miles out­side Paris, and the Americans stopped them right there.  The lead char­ac­ter, Gunnery Sgt. Dan Daly, was the most-dec­o­rat­ed enlist­ed Marine of all-time and had two Medals of Honor going into that bat­tle.  The man basi­cal­ly had balls of steel.  Belleau Wood was a mile-square hunt­ing pre­serve, and the bat­tle, which was most­ly hand-to-hand com­bat, last­ed for a mon­th.  I think it’s an amaz­ing sto­ry that hasn’t been told yet.

On the sub­ject of war movies, you’ve ref­er­enced The Bridge On The River Kwai as a per­fect film.  What are the ele­ments that make it per­fect?  Any oth­er favorite war movies you care to men­tion?

JB:  It has a bril­liant script, beau­ti­ful direc­tion and pho­tog­ra­phy, and a ter­ri­fic cast.  Both Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayakawa could not be bet­ter.  It’s the film I stud­ied the most regard­ing the con­struc­tion of a screen­play.  When the threads begin to tie up at the end of the film you didn’t even know there were that many threads out there.

Regarding oth­er war films, I love “From Here to Eternity,” and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen “The Longest Day.”

In recent years, you’ve penned three books — The Complete Guide To Low Budget Filmmaking, Rushes and Going Hollywood.  Beyond the obvi­ous tech­ni­cal dif­fer­ences, what are the dif­fer­ing rewards and chal­lenges of writ­ing books as opposed to mak­ing movies?

JB:  Screenwriting is almost entire­ly about struc­ture.  There are so few words in a script that you’d bet­ter mean every one of them.  In a book there’s about ten times more words, so you can say a lot more.  Also, how you write a book – mean­ing is your prose any good – means a lot.  I gen­er­al­ly spend a cou­ple of months writ­ing a screen­play;  “Going Hollywood” took an entire year.  It was a sto­ry I felt that I had to tell, and it didn’t seem like a script to me, so there­fore it became a book.

What does the future hold for you as a film­mak­er and writer?  Are there any big ambi­tions you still want to tack­le?
JB: Yeah, I’d like to shoot about half the scripts I’ve writ­ten (I’m writ­ing num­ber 40 right now).  My good bud­dy Gary Jones and I have been noodling around with a deal to make SyFy Channel movies for about two years, which may have some life in it, but that remains to be seen.