By this time, however, the coordinator of America’s longest-running independent studio is mellowing out. He edits the previous comment by adding, “Friends is funny. I’ll have to admit that.”
Kaufman goes on to simultaneously praise Jennifer Aniston and flex his movie trivia muscles by stating, “She was great in the film ‘Office Space,’ by Mike Judge. She was cute, and funny, and subversive. Now I have a soft spot for her.”
Moments later, after the dapper, tie and sport jacket-wearing director finishes a tin dish of rainbow sherbet, he smiles at a waitress who arrives to clear the table. “Thanks, ma’am,” he acknowledges as she carts off his eating utensils and re-fills a coffee cup. Revealing both an edgy, maverick spirit and a refined, polite demeanor, this Lloyd Kaufman is a complex character, indeed.
Troma Films was born kicking and screaming in 1974, when Kaufman and Yale college buddy turned business partner Michæl Herz cut their teeth with a cluster of sex comedies oriented towards the drive-in theater crowds, that preceded such blockbuster, mainstream counterparts as “Porky’s” and “Animal House.” Meanwhile, Kaufman dabbled in larger profile Hollywood features as a production assistant, working with director John G. Avildsen on a string of early seventies hits including “Joe,” “Cry Uncle,” and “Rocky.”
Darting back and forth between the worlds of corporate, big studio movies and low budget, exploitation fodder, Kaufman viewed filmmaking like a mountain climber might scan Wyoming vistas from various Grand Teton peaks. He hunted down places to shoot as a location manager for John Badham’s disco classic, “Saturday Night Fever.” He took on the role of production manager for the intimate, highly regarded Louis Malle feature “My Dinner with Andre.” All the while, he’d sneak off from these more respectable stints to produce such lowbrow fare as “Mother’s Day,” about a couple of depraved, “Deliverance”-style crackers who terrorize young girls to please their equally sadistic matron.
However, Troma’s definitive mascot, and low-budget cinema’s equivalent to the omnipresent fast-food image of Ronald McDonald, was spawned in 1984. “The Toxic Avenger” followed the grisly metamorphosis of wimpy, absent-minded supergeek Melvin Junko, an ill-fated mop boy slaving away at Troma Health Club. After being humiliated at the callous hands of some murderous, fitness-obsessed jocks, Melvin hurls himself out a window and into a barrel of oozing, hazardous slime. Emerging as a muscular mound of orange tumors and crime-fighting savvy, Melvin becomes The Toxic Avenger and dispatches several depraved crooks in creatively gruesome ways.
“The action is set in the town of Tromaville,” Kaufman explains of the fictional, New Jersey based locale where ‘The ToxicAvenger,’ and most of Troma’s other features, are based. “The good people there are perfectly capable of running their own lives, but there is a conspiracy of elites that get in their way. There’s the labor elite, the bureaucratic elite, and the corporate elite.”
“The three elites conspire to suck dry the little people of Tromaville and their economic and spiritual capital,” continues Kaufman, revealing a political undertone that weaves through all the severed heads and gloppy intestines that more commonly define his work. “Sometimes the people need Toxie to save them, or Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD. In ‘Troma’s War,’ they did it themselves. That’s the theme of all of our movies – that there is a conspiracy of elites that must be stopped.”
Kaufman, who was recently honored alongside fellow indie legend John Sayles at the high-profile SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, states that this much-hated stew of conglomerates is at the heart of what’s wrong with Hollywood today. The fact that studio-owning corporations often possess the very theatre chains, video stores, and television networks which feed their product to the public ensures that certain movies are guaranteed public exposure. Meanwhile, those films not directly thrust into such mainstream pipelines are often neglected.
Kaufman can definitely talk the talk, but can he walk the walk when it comes to support of indie films? His latest endeavor, The TromaDance Film Festival, celebrated its third year in January, in the rugged, snow-covered confines of Park City. As a deliberate nose thumb at its more well-known Utah neighbor, the glitzy, star-studded Sundance Film Festival, TromaDance does not charge filmmakers to submit their work. Void of special reservations for the rich and famous, TromaDance rolls out the red carpet for the average film-loving guy on the street, with free, public screenings of all entries.
“Some poor sucker trying to get his movie exposed to the media can’t hand out leaflets there in Park City,” growls Kaufman, denouncing what he perceives as Sundance’s pretentious, spoiled kid vibe. “In fact, two volunteers from TromaDance were put in jail for handing out leaflets! The guys from Enron won’t be put in jail, but these people had to spend a few nights there.”
“I’m pissed off that in what is supposed to be the freest society on earth, the American Public is denied art. Art is stolen from the people. We have to see the same piece of crap on 8,000 screens, like A Beautiful Mind.” Once again, the low budget icon edits his statement.
Get the rest of the feature and see how far Lloyd will go in part three of CITIZEN KAUFMAN>>>