In part one of our interview with author david j. moore on his book The Good, The Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies & Stars 1960s-Present we discuss the origins of modern action cinema, what makes an action star and more. We continue the conversation below and talk about acknowledging the enduring value of these films, david's favorite discoveries, the cool cover art and filmmaker interviews:
MT: The book includes interviews with many of the people most integral to defining action cinema. How did you approach this?
dm: I had a wish list early on. It grew over time. I started kind of small. Just one at a time, basically. When people would see that what I was doing was important, they would recommend me to other people. I remember I interviewed Mark Dacascos. Somebody had passed Mark Dacascos's phone number and email to me. I think it was Sam Firstenberg. When I interviewed Sam Firstenberg, the director of the American Ninja films, he could see how earnest and for real I was. He said, "Have you talked to Mark Dacascos?" I said, "No. I would love to talk to Mark Dacascos." I had breakfast with Mark. It was a great interview. Mark could clearly see that I was for real and that I was doing something that nobody else was doing, and he recommended me to somebody else and that person passed me on to Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock and Lorenzo Lamas.
It's a ripple effect. Everybody knows everybody in this business. I think what was really the deciding factor for all these people was that they could tell that I wasn't just some googly-eyed fan kid out for some kind of joyride like, "I love you! I want your autograph!" It wasn't like that. I sat down face to face with most of these people and these were really down and dirty honest interviews. I don't think any of these people have been interviewed quite like this ever. I remember when I interviewed Olivier Gruner from Nemesis and Angel Town, he had never been interviewed by anybody the way I interviewed him. That's what the whole point of this book was. I wanted these people to realize, in case they forgot, because these days people don't really look back on those movies with as much fondness as I wish they did. I really wanted all of these men and women to realize how special and important they were, or are, in the hearts of all of their fans, who still remain.
This book needed to be a reminder of all of these people's great accomplishments in this day and age where these guys are kind of fading away. The era of the action star is dying and I needed this book to be that. I think, when I sat down with these people, one by one, I think they realized it too. When they saw the book they realize it and they've come back to me and they've thanked me. They've sent me letters. They've sent me emails. They've called me. I just got an email today from Sam Firstenberg. He just got his book and really, he was amazed by it. The interviews were integral. I didn't get everybody that I went after, but I got people that I was very happy to get, some at the very last moment, too. I even got Jean Claude Van Damme and Lou Ferrigno but those didn't make it in the book. For one reason or another, I just wasn't able to fit them or it just didn't work right.
MT: Your writing captures your genuine appreciation for these films and the people who made them. So many films and filmmakers have been predominantly written about or acknowledged with irony or a Mystery Science Theater 3000-type approach. Do you think it's important to push back against these attitudes and give these films the credit that they are due?
dm: I can't stand that whole Mystery Science Theater thing. I hate that. I really do. I don't want to make fun of these guys. It would be so easy to. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone, people made fun of those guys for years because of the way they spoke or how dumb they seemed. Man, that's garbage. This book is a love letter to, not just the stars, but to the fans, the people who really, really love these people. When I was a kid, I idolized these guys. When I was a kid, I wanted to be Michael Dudikoff or Stallone or Schwarzenegger or Van Damme and I've never lost that feeling. I know it sounds really sappy and stupid but I've never lost that feeling of being a kid.
In the very last line of my book on the very last page of the acknowledgement, I say, "The dream should always stay alive." You should never forget what that felt like to want to be an action star. To make fun of it, it's like spitting on your childhood. Why would you do that? Why? Just embrace it. Remember what it felt like to watch these movies for the first time. Every boy wants to be a strong action star, action figure, know karate, wielding uzis and machine guns. We grew up on G.I. Joes, man.
MT: What were your favorite discoveries in the course of writing the book?
dm: I love Fist Fighter. Read the review for that again. I had never heard of it. It's only on VHS. It stars George Rivero, a Mexican action star. To me, he embodied everything that Bronson did. He was active in the 80s, early 90s. I loved that movie, loved it. Oh my gosh. It just totally took my breath away.
There was another guy named Paul Coufos. Interesting action star. He did a movie with Jesse Ventura called Thunderground. That is a really cool movie. I highly recommend that. It's only on VHS. There were some action stars that I discovered like Jino Kang, a Korean guy. Fist 2 Fist. Blade Warrior. Those are fantastic films. Everything that he's done was outstanding. He’s only made three movies so far. He became my client. I'm doing PR now so I'm getting him press. There was another guy named Julian Lee. He did My Samurai and Tiger Street. Both are really cool movies. I had never seen anything like him. He’s a Tae Kwon Do gold medalist. Everything he's done is worth watching.
There were lots of movies that I discovered and lots of action stars that I discovered in the process of writing this book. Mimi Lesseos is an action star who I wasn't really that familiar with her work before I started writing the book. She is a titan amongst titans. She is very different than anything you have seen. She is not Cynthia Rothrock. She is Mimi Lesseos. She is just huge. When she kicks, it's like she can kick a guy clear across the room. It's amazing. Her movies are small, very small movies, but every one of them is worth watching because of her. One of them was directed by Danny Elfman's brother, Richard, who did The Forbidden Zone, under a pseudonym. It's kind of funny. There's lots of stuff out there that's worth discovering. If you just get a pad of paper and start taking notes, go through the book, and you'll find all kinds of gems in there. One thing I didn't do was a rating system because I felt like that would defeat the purpose. I didn't want to give some of these movies one star or whatever it was.
MT: The cover art for the book is very memorable. How did it come about?
dm: I was introduced to the artist when I was a kid. I knew his wife, who was a teacher's aid at my school. She could tell how much I loved movies. She said, “You should meet my husband. He paints movie posters.” I was like, “Oh, okay, cool.” Sure enough, she introduced me to her husband and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is for real!” He painted the poster of Seven Magnificent Gladiators with Lou Ferrigno. He did Sword of a Valiant with Sean Connery. He did House of Long Shadows with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing and all those guys. I was absolutely floored. He had the original posters that he painted in his house. I thought, “Holy cow, this is awesome!”
I've kept his contact information all these years. When I became a journalist, I thought it would be a really cool idea to reach out to him to write an article about the work he did for Canon back in the 80s. My article with him was the first of its kind on him ever. He had never done an interview about his work in this capacity for a magazine before. Then came the resurgence of VHS artwork. Somebody interviewed him for a documentary about VHS tapes. I felt like I was ahead of the curve there because I happened to know him back in the day.
When it came time to get a cover for this book, I convinced my publisher to hire him based on a concept mock-up that we did together. I let him borrow posters and lobby cards and everything and I said, “Give me something that is like the baby of all this.” We did a sketch on my kitchen table. He came over and we sketched this thing out real quickly. He did a mock-up and that convinced the publisher to hire him for the cover. It went through variations. I have every single version that he did. I have it all. This new one is the one that made everybody happy. That's how it all worked out. His name is Keith Batcheller and he's still around. He doesn't really do movie stuff anymore. I'm sure he would if he ever gets the offer to do it because he hadn't done anything like this in decades.