The indie icon shares the pleasures and passions of his past with Joseph McCabe...
The world of Robert Rodriguez encompasses all kinds of genres, from the science fiction, horror and fantasy of Planet Terror,
The Faculty and From Dust Till Dawn to the Western, espionage and film noir of Desperado, Spy
Kids and Sin City. But the long, tall Texas- born filmmaker’s maverick spirit and often outrageous aesthetic weren’t created in a vacuum. They were forged from a steady diet of classic cinema, comic books and cartoons, as Rodriguez makes clear to SFX when he sits down to talk Heroes & Inspirations...
Escape From New York and a lot of the John Carpenter movies influenced me. Right away, when I was younger, I saw this guy who was having way too much fun making movies. But not just directing them – writing them, scoring them, wearing multiple hats, and doing it independently. And I thought, “Wow, this guy’s figured something out.” I was really inspired by that to go try and make films. That was a direct inspiration for a lot of the things I did.
Additionally, Sam Raimi and other guys who were doing it independently and doing it really creatively on their own terms, that really inspired somebody like me, who didn’t grow up in Hollywood. I lived in Texas. Also, George Miller with Mad Max and Road Warrior, coming from Australia and making these independent films, that really had a different language, really inspired me to go make stuff. I enjoyed other films as a moviegoer. But the ones who actually made me feel like I could go be a filmmaker too were those guys.
I grew up with a lot of classic cinema, because my mom used to take us – I’m from a big family with ten kids – to this revival theatre where they would play double features. Anything from MGM musicals to Hitchcock films. She liked that stuff better than the current crop of movies that were out at the time. So we would go see those. I remember seeing a double feature of Rebecca and Spellbound, and seeing the Salvador Dali dream sequence in Spellbound really freaked me out. I thought it was amazing, and it stuck in my head for a long time. I didn’t see it again until many years later when it was finally released on video. There was no video back then. So I remember being eight or nine when I saw that and that being really powerful. Hitchcock was definitely an influence early on. He really made me see movies in a different way.
I remember liking shows like Starsky And Hutch that Michael Mann became a writer on. And seeing things like Miami Vice later, which was the first real attempt to bring a cinematic
Alfred Hitchcock really made me see movies in a different way
quality to television that rivalled things that you would see at the movie theatre. That was pretty cool. That was a fun time growing up, seeing that happen to television, when it finally started being less like TV and more like movies.
It came out on my birthday when I was seven, and that was my birthday present. I wanted to go see Jaws. I remember it feeling like a true horror film, because when I was a kid I hadn’t seen anything that horrific ever. But a few years later I went to a drive- in and I saw Alien [ laughs]...
Black- and- White Comic Books
I think the first comic book I bought was Savage Sword Of Conan. It was a black- andwhite, larger- sized comic. It was magazinesized. It had John Buscema art and a Roy Thomas script. Great art in black- and- white, so you could really see the art. I really didn’t care for colour comics since that was the first thing I saw. I really enjoyed the black- and- white. There was a lot of line, it felt like more of an artist’s medium. I collected those. That’s what got me into Robert E Howard. The first one I bought I saw at a magazine stand – I was probably ten or 11 – and then I got a subscription. I just couldn’t wait for those to come every month. I absolutely loved those. I was already into Frazetta and fantasy art. Those were the main books I got. I think the only comic I collected that rabidly after that was Sin City – another black- and- white book! I’ve been getting the black- and- white editions of a lot of the graphic novels that come out. Especially now that everything’s coloured in a computer…
He’s the most influential illustrator by far for everybody who works in genre. He created images never seen before, before everyone else, and they were all out of his imagination! He didn’t use models or swipes. And he created things that felt like cinema. You would look at them and imagine whole stories that went with them. It was very powerful. So to get to know him was just one of the highlights of my life. Now I can turn other people onto his art, now that I can make a film based on his work. It’s based on a film he did in the ’ 80s called Fire And Ice. It’s gonna be Frank Frazetta’s Fire And Ice. It’s gonna be like walking into one of his paintings and just seeing it come to life. Frank’s was the first art I ever had up on my walls as a teenager. And now I can walk down to the gallery that I have set up for his work and see the same ones that I had cut out of his art book and put up on my wall, but they’re the originals now! It’s pretty cool.
I did like that cartoon a lot. It felt like nothing else you could see when you were a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons. It was even very different for Hanna- Barbera. That’s why it didn’t last but one season, because they couldn’t keep up with the drawing style that the artist who created it demanded! He wanted it to be a real adventure show. He saw the
Jonny Quest just happens to have a kid in it, but it’s a true adventure film
quality go down when the season progressed [ laughs]. Because it was just hard. It was like three times as much drawing as they would do when they were drawing normal cartoon characters. This was like a pre- Raiders Of The Lost Ark, James Bond- style adventure show that just happened to have a kid in it, with a ton of action – and death. People would die! It was crazy. So I would watch that; and then when I had kids I showed it to my kids and they loved it. When they first approached me to do Jonny Quest as a film, I was doing my own series – the Spy Kids series. So I said, “No, I’m already doing my own series and I own it and I control it.” Now that time has passed and the Spy Kids series is over, I still really loved that property and I really wanted to make a true adventure film for kids. It just happens to have a kid in it, but it’s a true adventure film. Very true to the original.
Robert E Howard
He was my favourite author when I was growing up. He was from Texas. In fact we were very inspired by his stuff for the second season of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. We had a character who was loosely based on Robert E Howard. We were very inspired by the pulp novels for season two… I have a house right there in the area he saw when he had climbed up on a rock and looked over and said, “That’s Cimmeria down there!” So right where I live is where he imagined Cimmeria would be, where Conan is from. So I live in the land of Conan basically [ laughs].
I loved that particular style of black- andwhite, where it was almost like a very high- contrast film noir look. I’d seen some other artists – one who was a friend of mine, who actually became a big artist later, Chris Ware. He had a comic called Floyd Farland, Citizen Of The Future. That was a pre- Sin City comic, but it had that sort of high- contrast look. It was kind of a Blade Runner type story. It ran in our local college paper, and I was a big fan of that. When I saw Sin City, that was like the ultimate statement of that film noir look, and of black- and- white. I picked it up right away because I liked the style. But then of course I got sucked in by Frank Miller’s amazing stories and characters. I would buy it and re- buy it and have so many copies of it, since I saw it in 1992. Over ten years I had that book, before it finally dawned on me that I should make it into a movie. That coincided with me doing green- screen work with Spy Kids 3, so I thought it would be possible. I wouldn’t have even attempted it before. But it finally all clicked together and I realised the time was right to try to bring something like that to life… I was very much drawn to his books and his stories and his characters and the sprawling epic that he had laid out. But I had wanted to do a film noir film for years and years, having seen all those black- and- white classics in the theatre when I was a kid. But it felt like it would be too nostalgic; and what I loved about Frank’s work was that it was more of a post- modern spin on the film noir, so that it felt really very current and exciting. I thought, “That’s what you need to do. You need to make a classic film noir story but in a very modern way.”
I got sucked in by Frank Miller’s amazing stories and characters
Mad Mel before he was properly mad. Hitchcock goes phantasmagorical in Spellbound. How many Carpenter films have been a patch on Escape From New York?
Eyeing the Machete Kills script, with the ( unrelated) Michelle Rodriguez.
Jaws will eat up and spit out your CGI machines… Monochrome malarkey in Savage Sword Of Conan. Indies do it scarier: The Evil Dead.
Does everyone in Fire And Ice go to the gym? Guess which episode of Jonny Quest this is from. The Sin City comic: not a greenscreen in sight.
Going green with Frank MIller and Mickey Rourke on Sin City.