As “Shatter Dead” is less about zombies and more about the idea of religion, government, depression, love and sex, the underlying themes explored in “Sixteen Tongues” goes beyond the outward trappings and taboos of S/M sex and garish hitmen.
“Most important to me was mortality and the taboos and barriers people are willing to trample to maintain their own existence,” says McCrae. “Machines are fascinating because they are an idealization of how the human body should work; all the parts fit together perfectly, function in a complimentary style, and if there’s a problem or disharmony, that’s what spare parts are for. It’s funny that machines and our bodies use the term ‘parts’ interchangeably, as bodies have parts but technically machines have pieces. Part of it is that we as human beings are projecting our own fears and wishes onto the machineries we create. It’s rather hopeful in a misguided way. Optimism has always seemed much more liberal and forgiving in its outlook to me than the conservative pessimism that currently drives our countries foreign policy.
“It’s also got a hint of environment vs. hereditary traits in it; one character’s been born bad (through artificial means) and the other one has been made bad by circumstances beyond their control. Is one kind of evil (and I don’t use that word very comfortably) more forgivable, more sympathetic (if you will) than another? Although it was written and shot seven years ago, that’s a very 9/11 kinda question for me that time and the circumstances we live have made more relevant. This is a project I made during the Clinton years that is finally coming out to play in the Bush II Monarchy. The project has no overt political stance or point-of-view, but the era in which we are releasing it begs some kind of political introspection if for no other reason than the fact that we are experiencing a very conservative administration at the moment. The images in this project would always be considered troublesome and explicit no matter who was in charge, but I think they seem even moreso now.”
McCrae continues, “Betrayal and trust are the other themes that wind their way through the various intricacies of “Tongues”. In that sense it’s a much messier project than “Shatter Dead”, which had one strong main thematic motif and a bunch of various secondary themes that flowed from it. I prefer working that way, but with “Tongues” I just kinda’ gave up and decided to emotionally pursue what it was about the story that interested me instead of trying to invest it with some meaning first. It’s a lot sloppier on a structural level, but I think it’s what the project needed in order for it to express itself honestly. You can’t shoe-horn a story into an idea or vice-versa.”
Even the hardcore detractors of “Shatter Dead” have one image burned into their heads: the close-up “gun-barrel copulation” scene undertaken by star Stark Raven (who also makes an appearance in “Tongues”). With its frank depictions of sex and violence (and a mixture of the two), “Tongues” is shaping up to make “Shatter Dead” seem almost tame by comparison.
“I’ve never had to convince any of my actors to do anything. If I’m interested in a performer I give them the script to read and then let them tell me if it’s too far outside their window of possibility. If they say it’s just too much for them and they wouldn’t be comfortable doing what the role requires, I thank them for their honesty and move on to the next possible performer. I’ve been very lucky so far and I guess a good judge of character as I haven’t had any major changes-of-mind from a performer in the middle of a shoot.
“When we were filming the sex scene (in “Tongues” between leads Jane Chase and Crawford James), which is quite explicit even though it doesn’t quite (technically) cross over into hardcore territory, my actress objected to a specific moment that the script called for in which the other character was going to ejaculate on her face. She asked me if there was some other way of showing it; like having him come on her breasts or maybe even her a*s instead. I thought about it and she was right. Having him come on her face was probably just too much; having him shoot his load on her breasts was actually a much more interesting and exciting image and turned out to better accomplish the script’s original objective.”
McCrae pauses. “I just finished telling you that I didn’t shoot a hardcore scene and now I’m talking about the cum shot! Let me be clear; it’s a fake ejaculation. And when you see it in the finished project, you’ll understand exactly why we had to fake it. It always gets one of the most visceral reactions I’ve ever seen in a theatre. At the Fantasia screening the guy seated in front of me actually yelped out loud and turned away from the screen. As you could imagine, it was one of the most satisfying moments of my brief career.”
Other reactions to the film? “Some walkouts, some screaming during a few more intense moments; nothing unexpected and it’s always entertaining to see. Montreal is a pretty liberal town and they have a real love of cinema, especially the folks who make up your average Fantasia audience.”
One of McCrae’s driving forces is the current state of independent filmmaking, as he sees it. A film scholar and critic off the set, McCrae sees a lot of movies and is a walking encyclopedia of film history. Independent film, as it stands now, in his view, leaves a lot to be desired. Particularly now that the Hollywood industry has forced the non-studio community to virtually redefine itself in terms of what Independent Film actually is. His view, not surprisingly, is very liberal and very outspoken – the perfect mouthpiece for these troubled times.
“Independent filmmaking has become commodified and traded on the open market ever since corporate stooges like Miramax and such allowed themselves to be purchased by the Walt Disney Corporation. The whole flap over Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 helped remind everyone the hard way that they were just another corporate lapdog in the post-Reagan environment which destroyed 95% of the true regional filmmaking and filmmakers who were creating flicks before then. I mean, this is Miramax here; these guys made f*****g “The Burning”, a slasher flick, way-back-when! That bag of s**t Ronald Reagan took the independent filmmaking movement away from the filmmakers and handed it right back into the tainted hands of all the major studios with his tax law changes and by allowing the monopolization of the entire film industry, with the manufacturers (and that’s really what most film studios are) once again able to control the distribution of their product by buying up the movie theatres. How are filmmakers like you and I gonna fight against that kind of muscle? Well we can’t, of course, which is why we must continue to act as, to use a word that is not exactly endeared by the popular media, terrorists. And by that, of course, I mean an esthetic terrorist. Surprise, subversion, dealing with subjects that no other film can or would; these are our weapons.
“The only way for us to defeat these corporate Goliaths are to make sure that we remain sharp-eyed Davids with a full slingshot. Everyone’s trying so damn hard to suck-up to the majors with their little home movies, making things that are cute and inoffensive; like their shot-on-video project is the rough, first-draft cloth of something waiting to be remade with a big-budget studio. Fine, if that’s what you want to do, but I also find that kind of sad. If you can’t maintain your dignity and integrity at this pissant level, then maybe you really are made to be a lackey to the gods of horseshit that control this sad industry. Going to the movies to see major releases these days has become such a masochistic endeavor that I just can’t bear the pain anymore. I’m lucky to see five new releases a year without swearing off ever watching movies again for good every single time!”
Get the rest of the interview in part three of SCOOTER McCRAE: SHATTERED TONGUES>>>