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Lloyd Kaufman is a staunch defender of American independent cinema. He's also the guy who, with business partner Michael Herz, co-directed The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High. As the co-founder of the now-40-year-old Troma Entertainment, Kaufman produces, distributes, and directs no-brow comedies about, for, and by a new generation of juvenile delinquents like South Park's Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. This month, Kaufman's latest film, Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1, had its New York premiere at the Museum of Modern Art. The Village Voice talked to Kaufman about too much urination, stoner-friendly kids' shows, and the Toxic Avenger's Christ-like qualities.
How did you sneak into MOMA?
They liked [Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol. 1], I guess! I keep wondering if they've got me mixed up with Charlie Kaufman. But I do believe that both Return to Nuke 'Em High films will be, when completed, my Sistine Chapel. This recognition may be because of Troma's 40th anniversary. But I've been making movies in New York since 1968. It's nice to get this recognition. When I was five years old, my mother put me in the art class at MOMA, so I spent a lot of family-time there.
You usually rank Troma's War as your favorite Troma film, right after Tromeo and Juliet and Toxic Avenger. How do contemporary Troma fans respond to [Troma's War]?
I believe Troma's War is one of Troma's best movies, but Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead is a much better film, and I certainly like both Return to Nuke 'Em High films better — Toxic Avenger IV: Citizen Toxie ... Terror Firmer! Troma's War is a very underrated movie, and it got totally fucked by the MPAA. Richard Heffner, who just made a noise like a frog and was president of the MPAA, told Michael Herz over the phone that our movie stunk. The MPAA is not supposed to do that, and they disemboweled our movie. They took out punches and jokes and things that were perfectly acceptable in movies like Die Hard. I think Heffner's words were, "No fuckin' good," or something. It was very unpleasant.
Our violence is, as you know, cartoon violence. That movie followed The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High, so we had built up some steam. But the only way we could get into movie theaters in 1986 was with an R rating. And the film was cut down to something like a G-rated movie. I'm very bitter about it; I hope Dr. Heffner burns in hell, quite frankly. And I don't like to speak ill of the dead, but the nerve, the arrogance, the hubris of his comments! There are very few movies studios that have lasted and remained independent for a long time. And the MPAA is one of the reasons.
Moviegoers generally can't distinguish independent or exploitation films from mainstream films. On Netflix Instant, if you search "Troma," the first two options are Troma films, and the third is Tora, Tora, Tora. And Michael Haneke used footage from The Toxic Avenger in his film Benny's Video as an example of typical Hollywood filmmaking. Is that a basic literacy failure on his part, or a victory for Troma?
[laughs] I have no idea. That's insane. Troma now has brand-name appeal. Troma and Disney have name-brand recognition. People don't go to see a Paramount movie, I don't think; people don't go see a Warner Brothers movie; they go see a Leonardo DiCaprio movie. But people go to see a Troma movie because it's a Troma movie. So when the MPAA unfairly censored Troma's War, they totally ruined us. Our fans were pissed off at us! They don't know the MPAA fucked it up. They think we tried to sell out.
Troma has had a lot of alumni infiltrating big corporations, like James Gunn. Pretend you're a proud mother showing off embarrassing baby pictures of your favorite son. What can you tell us about some of his rookie mistakes?
[I spent five years writing Tromeo and Juliet, but he solved it! We co-wrote it together, but most of the dark brilliance of that screenplay is James Gunn. James came to us through a friend, and he wanted to be a novelist, not a screenwriter. I gave him what he had written, and gave him $100.
Oh wow, how generous. Well, it was back in 1996; $150 was worth $150, back in those days. The only thing I remember is … he put a lot of urination scenes in it. Too much of that. Other than that, I think he did a great job. It was his idea to put in the line, "What light through yonder plexiglass breaks?" That set up a stunt with plexiglass that almost blew me up. They used too much dynamite, or whatever they use for stunts like that.
Speaking of too much blowing up, almost all of the movies that you either directed or co-directed since Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD recycle that one car crash. When did that stop being a good way to save money, and start being an inside joke?
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