Five Favorite Films with Footloose Director Craig Brewer
The Hustle & Flow writer/director explains why he took on the 1980s remake.
Director Craig Brewer made a big splash at Sundance back in 2005 when his first major feature, Hustle & Flow, won an Audience Award. That film, about a Memphis pimp who tries his hand at the rap game, later turned more heads when its signature track, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," earned Three 6 Mafia the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the first ever to be awarded to a hip hop group. Brewer followed up in 2007 with another gritty tale set in the South, Black Snake Moan, starring Christina Ricci as a battered nymphomaniac and Samuel L. Jackson as the troubled farmer who rescues her from the side of the road. Though it didn't prove to be quite the critical darling that Hustle & Flow was, Black Snake Moan saw its fair share of supporters, who touted its blend of strong acting, skillful direction, and fantastic use of a killer blues soundtrack.
With all that in mind, it was a bit puzzling to some when it was announced that Brewer's next film would be a remake of the 1980s pop culture classic Footloose. Ostensibly a teen movie about dancing, Footloose seemed out of place for a filmmaker who had previously focused on pimps, prostitutes, and nymphomaniacs. RT recently had the opportunity to chat with Brewer, who not only gave us his Five Favorite Films, but also went on to explain passionately why he signed on to the Footloose remake, what he changed in his version, and how it does, in fact, fit within his wheelhouse.
First of all, I would say John Sayles's Matewan. I don't know if you've ever seen it -- and by the way, you should, because it's a really incredible film -- but it was one of those things where my Aunt Mary Jean from Knoxville, Tennessee sat me down and said, "You need to see this movie." It's by the same guy who did this other movie called Brother from Another Planet, but this movie's really one of the best strike movies. It had James Earl Jones, Chris Cooper in his first movie, and Mary McDonnell. It's got an incredible cast, but it's just got a lot of soul. It's really one of my favorite movies.
The Blues Brothers was a big movie for me, because I was about 13 to 14 years old, and it was my first introduction to James Brown, my first introduction to Aretha Franklin. I knew about Murph and the Magic Tones, which was made up of Booker T and the MGs, essentially. Steve Cropper and "Duck" Dunn, the two guys in there, they were two members of Booker T and the MGs, and then the drummer, you know, he's got one of my favorite lines in movie history; his name's Willie Hall. There's this great line where Willie Hall goes, "Jake, Elwood, you're out of prison, things are lookin' good for you. You got the money you owe us, mother f***er?" That's Willie Hall. He actually plays at my kids' birthday parties here in Memphis, Tennessee. But, it was a movie that just had the... I mean, my dad and I watched that, and the whole scene where the nun is just beating them up; I've never seen my dad laugh so hard. It's an electrifying, fun movie, and Steven Spielberg makes a cameo at the end of it.
I would say that Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration was probably one of the most influential movies for me to be a filmmaker. I had seen a lot of how-to movies in the past, but there was something about how unapologetic that movie was to be filmed on a video camera. They had all these rules because of the Dogme 95 rules, where you couldn't have a tripod, you know, you can't bring in lights, you can't use props that aren't already there, you can't use music, and I thought, "Well, this movie's going to suck." I went to see it, and I was riveted, and it was like that moment where I kind of sat at a coffee shop -- I saw it in Washington D.C., I was there on a trip -- and I just sat there thinking, "The only reason you're not a filmmaker right now is because you're not going out and doing it, because these people just made something with a camera that's sh**tier than yours, and it's brilliant." So, "The only reason you're not a filmmaker is not because people aren't giving you money, or giving you a break. It's because you're not good enough, or you're not doing it." So that was a very important movie for me.
You ended up making your first feature, The Poor and Hungry, in sort of the same fashion, didn't you?
Oh yeah, that was the movie that kicked my ass. I made my first feature in 1998, or I started making it in 1998, and then I saw The Celebration, and I was like, "I'm doing my movie wrong. I need to just celebrate the performances and make them good, not try to bring in a damn dolly track just for the sake of bringing in a dolly track. I can't even afford a dolly track. Why would I want to do it?" So that was a really big, important movie to me.
The Bridge on the River Kwai was one of those movies that my father and I watched for the first time, and he prefaced it by saying, "You're probably not going to like this movie now, but you're going to understand it later." [laughs] And I remember watching it with that I mind -- because I was young -- and now I'm at the end of... You know, my dad is no longer with me, and I look at Alec Guinness's character in it, and I now understand him. Where, at a point earlier in my life, I didn't understand him -- I was like, "Why is this guy building a bridge for the enemy? Why would a person get so obsessed with this just to try to keep order?" -- I now understand it. It's one of those movies that means a lot to me, because it was the first time that I think my father showed me that movies can actually speak to an ageless part of your soul. I remember the first time I saw Unforgiven, and I thought it was going to be like this big Western shoot-em-up, and I was like, "Man, I didn't like that movie at all." Then, I was at work the next day, and I thought, "I can't stop thinking about that movie. Maybe I saw it wrong." And now it's one of the best movies ever. Bridge on the River Kwai was the first time I ever realized that.
Next, Brewer talks at length about the why he chose to do Footloose, and why he made some of the changes in his version.
I would say my number one movie: Purple Rain. I could probably teach a semester of film studies on the first eight minutes of Purple Rain. And if you watch that first eight minutes, you're going to see why, because the way the music -- it's like the extended version of "Let's Go Crazy" -- the way it's cut, continuity completely goes out the window. You'll be on stage with Prince, but then you'll cut and you'll see him getting ready to go on stage, then you'll see him at his house, blowing out candles. Then you see him on his motorcycle coming to the club, cuts to him on stage in the club, cuts to Apollonia coming into town... By the end of that eight minutes, you know everybody's character, you know their relationship to each other, and the music never stopped. It's a dizzying... I think you see three tongues within the first eight minutes. You know, Apollonia's boobs were like an atom bomb going off in my world, because up until that moment, I wanted to marry women, like, "I like that girl. I would want her to be my wife and have kids with her." But then I saw Apollonia, and I was like, "I have thoughts now in my head that I didn't have before, and feelings that I've never had before!" The same poster that I got at a fair in Vallejo, California of Apollonia in a bikini is up on my wall here in my office, and people still come in here and go, "Damn, I had that poster on my wall!"