Terry Gross: This is FRESH AIR, I’m Terry Gross . . . When John E. Meredith watches a movie, it’s like there are two of him sitting in the same seat. There’s that regular movie-going guy who likes blood and boobs and things that explode, rarely stopping to deeply consider what he’s seeing. We call the kind of movies that guy likes popcorn movies. But there’s another fellow who accompanies him. This guy might like some of the same things as his friend, but he is a seeker and connoisseur of serious cinema. This guy doesn’t just want to see a movie, he wants it to change his life. Both of these guys are with me right now. Gentlemen, welcome to the show. CINEMA: Thank you, Terry. It’s a pleasure to be here. POPCORN: ‘Sup. Terry Gross: So your column has really taken off. You’ve gone from three or four readers to sometimes as many as nine. I’m sure it seems like all of your hard work is finally starting to pay off. How does this make you feel? CINEMA: Well, Terry – POPCORN: Gotta beat the chicks away with a stick. For real, dude. The limos, the jets, the invites to Brangelina’s house, all this damn money. It’s almost too much. I can’t just party and have sex all day, ya know? Sometimes I feel like there ain’t no time for me. Terry Gross: (laughs) It’s true. Those of us who are lucky enough to do work that we love are sometimes cursed with too damn much of it. In your regular lives, outside of being superstars, you still manage to do normal things like go to work, keep the lights on, and see the movies and television shows that provide the basis of your weekly column. How do you guys find the time, not to mention the energy, to do everything that you have to do? POPCORN: Bennies, mostly. CINEMA: (sighs) Terry, I think it’s the regular things we have to do that feed into the other thing. I feel like life consists mostly of dreams and disappointments, typically falling somewhere in between for most people. It’s hard to get up on a winter’s morning, shovel out the driveway, and go do something for the sole purpose of making money, especially when there’s a part of you that knows you should be doing so much more. It’s hard to see books on the bestseller list, or movies that suck the butter right off your popcorn, and know that you can do so much better than what everyone’s buying these days – POPCORN: One chick at a time. That’s my secret. You’re probably thinkin’, no way, this guy . . . but you gotta save somethin’ for the work, man. I’d like to think of it like this, that I’m <bleep>ing my dreams. Terry Gross: <bleep>ing your dreams, I like that. POPCORN: Thank you, Terry. CINEMA: Oh, come on. Terry Gross: Popcorn, I wonder if you could speak a bit about the origins of the piece that you guys do. It seemed to spring up almost overnight, this POPCORN CINEMA, but I’m sure its inception took much longer. While we certainly can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s heart or mind, what could you tell me about how this came to be . . . and a little bit about your creator? POPCORN: He’s an angry god. CINEMA: Not that god, you nincompoop. She’s referring to the other guy, the one who gets all the credit for what we do. You know, the big JM. POPCORN: Oh, him. He’s an <bleep>hole. CINEMA: I think it’s creative frustration, Terry. You spend so much of your time trying to perfect your craft, and . . . well, the guy’s a writer – I’m a writer, too, have I mentioned that? – but, anyway, you spend all of this time alone, moving words around on a page . . . you submit and you submit, but no one is interested – and then <bleep>ing Snookie gets a book on the bestseller list – and your soul dies a little . . . POPCORN: So the dude throws us up on Facebook, cuz ain’t no one gonna stop him – CINEMA: But we still get ignored amidst all the Trump memes, cute kitty pics, and people bragging about how wonderful (or how terrible) their lives are. But then it is Facebook, not a place known for its in-depth analyses or for anything that requires more than a ten-second attention span . . . POPCORN: I like cute kitty pics. CINEMA: My point. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few loyal readers who click that little ‘like’ button, and they are very appreciated. But if there are any more, they haven’t made their presence known. Luckily, we got picked up by Paul Brian McCoy over at PSYCHO DRIVE-IN – POPCORN: Solid dude. CINEMA: – which increased our exposure at least two-fold. Terry Gross: So what’s the process of doing one of these pieces? Do you – this <bleep>hole named John E. Meredith and the two of you – decide on a film to see, then make a journey to the theater together, or is there some other methodology? POPCORN: Never seen the dude. CINEMA: We are aware of him, Terry, but rarely get the opportunity to have a good face-to-face encounter. It’s all very BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. Terry Gross: So you pretty much live in his head? POPCORN: Yeah. Smells like cheese in there, dude. I don’t like it. CINEMA: We tend to choose the movies we want to see without involving . . . you know, him. He’s usually broke anyway, from what I understand. Then it’s mostly a visit to our local library, the Family Video, or sometimes even the theater. Terry Gross: But your ideas have to come from somewhere. If nothing else, the inspiration to do a particular topic – such as the recent piece on broadcast intrusion – must arrive like a spark in your mind. Do you ever wonder who, or what, placed that spark there in the first place? POPCORN: Elves. CINEMA: The spark is mine, Terry – or, if we’re desperate, it might come from Popcorn – POPCORN: Elves with big boobs. CINEMA: – but mostly it’s me. There is no divine intervention – POPCORN: Elves with big boobs and automatic weapons. CINEMA: – no great gifts from the big JM. It’s just hard work, dedication, and endless nights spent doing what I do, instead of doing something else . . . POPCORN: Or maybe a sword . . . but definitely big boobs. CINEMA: I’m still struggling with this idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing John E. Meredith who’s controlling us and the world around us. This is all real, dammit, and I have some say in what happens here. This is still my life. The ideas, the inspiration, and the talent, they are all my own . . . and they are not gifts from some unseen benefactor. POPCORN: Yup, it all comes from elves with big boobs. Definitely. Terry Gross: I’d like to play a clip of your first episode – CINEMA: The first one, or the first first one? Terry Gross: From the Thirty-One Days of Halloween. POPCORN: This isn’t gonna be one of those cheesy flashback episodes, is it? You know, the kind everybody does so they don’t have to pay the actors. Terry Gross: (laughs) No, just this one clip, I promise. The big JM tackled a rather huge endeavor toward the end of last year, of writing a piece on a different horror film for each day in the month of October. He called upon the both of you to help him out. I believe your public debut was near the end of that month . . . CINEMA: It was October 21st. Terry Gross: In this sequence, you had both just finished watching Michael Haneke’s psychologically brutal film, FUNNY GAMES. This is your reaction. POPCORN: What the hell did I just watch? CINEMA: I thought it was brilliant. POPCORN: You would. What was up with all that talking-to-the audience <bleep>? CINEMA: He was breaking the fourth wall, that imaginary boundary between the viewer and those being viewed. It was rather subversive, challenging even. POPCORN: It was a challenge all right. I had a hard time getting through it once they started doing that crap. The scene would just start to get really good, all tensed up. Then some douche-bag would look at me and wink, like I’m supposed to be in on a joke or something . . . Terry Gross: This is a fairly typical response to anything that arises on your show. In the end, you ended up watching John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, because it was a film in which you could both find a common ground. Does this happen very often, and what are some other movies that you both enjoy? POPCORN: This guy won’t admit it, but he likes scat movies. Terry Gross: What’s a scat movie? CINEMA: You’re such a liar – POPCORN: You know, poop porn. The use of number one and number two in a sexual way. TWO GIRLS, ONE CUP was huge a few years ago, but there are more professional ones. TEACHER’S WET PET. SCAT CAT. POOP ON ME, PEDRO. He’s into all of that <bleep>. Terry Gross: Oh my. CINEMA: You are such a childish, inconsiderate <bleep>head! Terry, all of this is completely untrue. I’m a huge admirer of film noir and the German Expressionist movement that inspired it . . . Murnau, THE GOLEM, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, NOSFERATU, the works of Fritz Lang . . . not to mention the recurring waves of indie film, both here and abroad . . . and foreign films in general – POPCORN: Foreigners poop too, dude. Terry Gross: (laughs) CINEMA: How am I supposed to find anything in common with this moron?? Seriously. You can see what I have to deal with, and it never ends. It never <bleep>ing ends! POPCORN: For real, though. We both dig horror movies. Terry Gross: That seems like a broad genre, with anything ranging from the Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s to Michael Myers. What is it about these particular movies that appeals to each of you? POPCORN: Pretty simple, dude. You got a really good horror movie, you crap your pants. You got a bad one, you got yourself a comedy. Terry Gross: Maybe there’s even some boobs in it for you. POPCORN: Elves with boobs, if I’m lucky. Terry Gross: (laughs) And for you, Cinema? CINEMA: Terry, we’re all dying. There’s just no way around that. Whether your personal beliefs include an afterlife or not, there’s still going to be the messy business of death. There’s obviously the physical aspect of it, where something is failing, shutting down, or destroyed by disease, accident, or even some kind of weapon. That’s fairly universal. Then there is the mental-emotional part of it, the spiritual aspect, where you question what might happen next. Terry Gross: Am I going to heaven or hell – CINEMA: – or just into the ground? Yeah. Well, if it’s handled with any kind of depth or insight – and, sometimes, even when it’s not – a horror movie can sometimes answer some of these questions. Especially where the physical aspect is concerned. Terry Gross: Such as, what, how would it feel to be impaled on a post? CINEMA: Sure, I suppose. I mean, obviously, it would hurt. But I think that, in some way, horror movies can be seen as preparation, like a rehearsal for our own inevitable end. When you see something long enough, in all of its possible forms, it tends to lose its hold of fear on you. It loses its power. Terry Gross: Hmmm. POPCORN: Yup, and the dude from HELLRAISER is just bad-ass. Terry Gross: In an interview with Roger Ebert from 1984, he spoke about there being a time when we just have to go the movies we feel like seeing. The example he gave was of being dropped off by parents at the multiplex to see OH HEAVENLY DOG, but sneaking in to see SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER instead. He called it one of the initiations into adulthood. Is there a particular film or incident that feels like such an initiation for each of you? CINEMA: They used to print coupons for freebie kids movies at the East Towne Five in the Kalamazoo Gazette. This was way back . . . that theater’s long gone now. You’d cut out the coupon, then go see BENJI or whatever, completely free. Well, our mom was a complete nut about horses. She used to go riding when she was a little girl, though her parents would never have been able to get her one. Not to mention that they lived in the suburbs. So, there was one of these coupons in the paper for THE BLACK STALLION. Obviously, we were going to see this movie. Mom dropped a quarter in the newspaper machine, grabbed three copies of the Gazette – Terry Gross: Only paying for one? CINEMA: Exactly. She cut out three coupons, for me, my brother, and herself, and we headed off to the movies. But when we got there, I saw that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was playing in the same theater – POPCORN: Dude. CINEMA: I know, right. We had seen the commercials for the movie, you know, read the Marvel Comics adaption. Han Solo was in it. I mean, for a kid, you just couldn’t go wrong with this movie. So we started begging her, please, please, Mommy, can we see it? I was, like, maybe twelve, but already pretty devious. I explained that we could get the freebie tickets, then just sneak into the other movie. Terry Gross: As if the thought hadn’t already occurred to your mother. CINEMA: Of course it had. We didn’t think, for even a minute, about her love of horses. When she started telling us that sneaking into another movie would be wrong, that devious young mind was already working out some kind of response, something about her getting three newspapers for a quarter. But then she stopped, right in the middle of what she was saying, and just kind of nodded her head. We ended up seeing RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Terry Gross: Did you enjoy the movie? CINEMA: Mom loved it, but I always think of it now with a feeling of guilt. Growing up, we sometimes feel like we’ve been cheated somehow by our parents, that our clothes were never good enough or that they didn’t give us something that we felt we needed. As if it was their fault that we were poor. I felt that way when I was younger. But now, when I think of my mom . . . well, I think about her giving up the black stallion so I could see Indiana Jones. Terry Gross: Wow, what a wonderful story. Popcorn? POPCORN: Yeah, my childhood was kinda jacked-up too. We had a lotta sandwiches with nothin’ but bread, you know? School clothes straight outta the Good Will. That kinda thing. I was a funny-lookin’ kid too, big-ass pumpkin head and little arms. Not the smooth, well-adjusted dude you see now. CINEMA: Right. POPCORN: I was kind of a crybaby. Terry Gross: At school? POPCORN: Maybe, yeah. They beat the hell outta you for that, even those wussy rich kids. So I was kinda messed up, and . . . it wasn’t great at home. Terry Gross: You weren’t abused, were you? POPCORN: Naw, nothin’ like that. Dad wasn’t around that much, and my mom had problems. There were some drugs . . . that’s really all I wanna say. But it all messed me up pretty bad. I mean, there was this one time – I was probably thirteen, first year of high school – and everything was just <bleep>, complete and total <bleep>. I was at school, and . . . well, I went up to the roof. Terry Gross: Of the school? POPCORN: Yeah, dude. I skipped class sometimes. Okay, a lot. So I knew my way around pretty good. I knew how to get up there. So I was up there on the roof, like, <bleep> it, I’m just gonna jump. Hell with this. CINEMA: You were going to kill yourself? POPCORN: Yeah, dude. Unless I bounced. CINEMA: Damn. Terry Gross: So, what made you change your mind? POPCORN: I was up there, and I was lookin’ down. It was, like, a long, long way down. I was, like, damn. I’m lookin’ and I’m lookin’ and pretty soon I’m just not thinkin’ I’m gonna do it anymore. I mean, that was really a looooong way down. And I figured I always knew my way back up there if I changed my mind. CINEMA: I wish . . . that I’d known. POPCORN: Whatever, man. No big deal . . . really. So this is, like, a couple weeks later. It’s late at night, and I’m hearin’ voices and stuff out in the living room. My bro’s asleep in the other bed, so I sneak out there. Everybody’s all out in the front yard. Terry Gross: Your parents . . . POPCORN: Yeah, them and a bunch of other people. In them cheap-ass lawn chairs, with beer bottles up in the air. Terry Gross: It’s a party. POPCORN: Yeah, I guess. But what I been hearin’ is the TV. There’s some nurses and stuff on there, passin’ out a bunch of pills to a bunch of messed-up dudes. The cops are gettin’ this new dude outta the cop car, walkin’ his ass up to the hospital. He’s got a leather jacket and one of them dock-worker kinda hats. The dude looks dangerous, man. They bust him outta the cuffs and the dude laughs, all crazy-like, and plants a big ol’ smacker right on the cops cheek. Little bit later he walks right up to this big-ass Indian dude – CINEMA: “Goddam, boy, you’re about as big as a mountain!” POPCORN: Yeah, dude. Terry Gross: It was ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST on the television. POPCORN: Sure was. But I was, like, twelve or something. Never seen nothin’ like it before. They’re all out there drinkin’ and laughin’, and I ain’t heard my mom or dad laugh in, like, a really long time. It was weird, man. So I just kinda sat down in front of the TV and started watchin’ this crazy dude. But he wasn’t really crazy – CINEMA: He was pretending to be crazy to stay out of jail. POPCORN: Yeah, that was nuts, dude. I knew something about places like this and about tryin’ to get better. Thought that was what people were s’posed to do when they weren’t thinkin’ right . . . but here’s this dude pretendin’ to be senseless, out of it, gone-down-the-road wacko. And then they go and <bleep> with his brain – CINEMA: The lobotomy. POPCORN: By the end of that flick, I was back in bed and . . . I was cryin’, dude. Tryin’ to make sense of that <bleep>. The big Indian holdin’ that pillow over the dude’s face, then bustin’ outta there. Like he got the dude’s, like, spirit in him or something. I pulled them blankets all up on me, looked around for that old teddy bear. Terry Gross: It almost sounds post-traumatic. POPCORN: My mom was, like, suddenly looking in on me. Acted like I was asleep. The door closed and I just kinda laid there. Thinkin’ about that dude and the Indian and about standin’ way up on that roof and lookin’ down. I just kept sayin’ like the dude in the movie said. Well, I tried, didn’t I? Goddam it, at least I did that. NOTE: Terry Gross is real. 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