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PHANTOMONIUM: Genre Critic Joe Kane On The Art Of The Interview PDF Print E-mail
Written by By: Debbie Rochon   
Nov 23, 2004 at 07:00 PM
(This interview was conducted in December 1996 and published in CHILLER THEATRE MAGAZINE)
"Every actor in his heart believes everything bad that's printed about him."
- Orson Welles


With the birth of film a second life form instantly started to grow and mutate, feeding on it's original host, waiting in the wings for the right moment to pounce and brutally tear apart it's prey limb from limb... What could possibly have our fearless film makers shaking at the thought of turning to the review section of their newspapers? What single breed of humanoid has the power to end a career with a simple stroke of the pen? The dreaded (gulp)... Film Critic.
In the 1930's and 40's playwright and novelist James Agee was a highly celebrated film critic for Time magazine. By the 60's and 70's we looked to the eminent Pauline Kael who penned for the New Yorker magazine, and Vincent Canby, a distinguished scribe for the New York Times, to educate us with their insights on motion pictures. Even Alfred Alistair Cooke wrote film reviews before he booked his engagement with MASTERPIECE THEATER in 1971. Today, specifically in the genre-movie/independent film category, we have our own progeny. A movie critic that in his own right is like a character out of the very flicks he reviews. His name?
The Phantom of the Movies.
The Phantom (a.k.a. Joe Kane) has been a columnist for The New York Daily News since 1984, reviewing what most people in the industry refer to as 'B' movies - but he prefers to call them 'genre flicks'. The Phantom also publishes, edits and writes for his own nationally distributed magazine called The Phantom of the Movies' Videoscope. His writing can also be found in The Washington Times, Video Viewsletter, Rage and Samhain Britain's leading genre magazine. His presence hasn't gone unnoticed by the mainstream tabloids, our critic has been critiqued himself in such publications as The New York Times, People magazine and Entertainment Weekly which hailed him "The best movie critic in America."
I recently spoke with The Phantom, and he gave me a few tips on the correct way to converse with your subject...
Debbie Rochon: How did you acquire your name?
Phantom: It was a compromise between myself and The Daily News when I started with them back in 1984. They came up with some possible title ideas and so did I, and we ended up settling on The Phantom of the Movies, which was my favorite. They were really interested in Trash Man, but I thought that was too limiting.
DR: The name Trash Man would have given you a whole different persona!
Phan: And you find the directors don't like it...
DR: I guess a title like that wouldn't exactly get you invited on a lot of film sets. A number of celebrities over the years have had films made depicting their life stories. If there was to be a Phantom of the Movies movie, who would play you?
Phan: Well, Claude Rains isn't around anymore...
DR: You can't say Liam Neeson because everybody chooses him.
Phan: He's such a natural to play anybody! I could see him doing me in a big dark coat. Maybe Billy Zane could play me. It's my fantasy so why not?! By the way we just got a call from Harper/Collins after they saw us in The New York Times, and they're interested in publishing my book The Phantom of the Movies Videoscope which is a sequel to The Phantom's Ultimate Video Guide.
DR: Between your column, your book and your magazine, it sounds like you must be chained to your computer.
Phan: The magazine is completely enslaving us, we don't have a life anymore but it does!
DR: It's like having a child.
Phan; Yeah, and we already had two cats.
DR: You started out with a newsletter format much like The Joe Boway?
DR: Have you ever experienced a bad interview?
Phan: I guess it would have to be one that didn't happen; Steven Seagal. I wasn't looking forward to speaking to him anyway. His people had me jumping through hoops to get to this guy and I ended up just saying 'screw it', it's not worth his dubious wisdom to go through that. Another one would be Chuck Norris, although he was really polite and it was probably my fault. I had just let him run it. He probably had a paper right in front of him with all my information so he came off very personable. But he took control. I did get some good stuff about his experiences working with Bruce Lee. He was so experienced at doing interviews. I learned a lot.
DR: If an interview isn't going well, what do you do, and why is it bad when the interviewee takes over?
Phan: Usually because then they just fill their own agenda and you don't find out what you wanted to know. Always make sure you have new batteries and that your recorder works!
DR: You mean I was supposed to turn this thing on?
Phan: Not in this case... You should always know what you want to get out of that person before you go in, and realize you may not get everything so don't get stiff and uptight. Always guide the interview back to what your agenda is, even if it means bringing something up that they're comfortable talking about. If you're talking about a film of theirs that wasn't well received they may very well become distant. Then you bring up one of their films that did well and inch back to the hot topic. Some people use the line "Some critics have said" which distances you from the negativity.
DR: Even if you just printed it yesterday!
Phan: Yeah! It goes back to the 'running into the same people' theory. I interview Wes Craven every year, it's almost a joke! Every time one of his movies comes out we talk and catch up. You should always save the personal stuff for the beginning or the end because if their current release isn't doing well they may just want to BS with you and not get to the interview.
DR: What happens when you know your subject too well, does it make the job easier or harder?
Phan: You get what you need quickly. You can't insult someone either and just end the conversation abruptly. With Wes when he did VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN we did get to the meat early, then we caught up personally. If I know them I like to ask what they like; what films, what directors, and that gets them to talk about things that liven them up. You want them to feel spontaneous, not like they're under glass. Another great interview is Tony Todd star of CANDYMAN. When you speak to him you're not even sure it's going well because you have such a great time. But when you get home and play the tape it was better than what you had planned in your notes.
DR: I find a lot of celebrities give the same answers to all the publications and that makes it hard to get an original interview.
Phan: That's what you'll find. It was only at the end of my conversation with Wes Craven that he opened up about his weird religious upbringing and the script he's writing about that experience. If we never went through the extraneous stuff we never would have gotten to the fascinating information.

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