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'Glory,' 'Wild Bunch' Among David Simon's DVD Picks

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'Glory,' 'Wild Bunch' Among David Simon's DVD Picks

Movies

'Glory,' 'Wild Bunch' Among David Simon's DVD Picks

'Glory,' 'Wild Bunch' Among David Simon's DVD Picks

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Steve Inskeep talks with David Simon of HBO's The Wire and Generation Kill about his favorite DVDs. Simon's choices include Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We're going to continue now with our occasional conversations that bring you recommendations on DVDs worth renting. This morning, we brought in David Simon. His many screen credits include "The Wire" on HBO; he created it. He also co-produced and co-wrote a mini-series about the beginning of the Iraq war, "Generation Kill." He's been connected with so many other programs, including "Homicide," and he's on the line. Welcome to the program, David Simon.

Mr. DAVID SIMON (Producer and Writer, HBO): Thanks very much for having me.

INSKEEP: You've got a list that you've sent us of movies that you love, and you start with "Paths of Glory." Stanley Kubrick is the director and Kirk Douglas is the star. What's it about?

Mr. SIMON: It's a World War I film, and it's about a French colonel who was confronted by his superior officers with the insistence that he select men and kill them as examples. So, it's from the point of view of middle management, which is a point of view I very much love.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMON: And you know, where the bosses are all bastards and good help is hard to find.

(Soundbite of movie "Paths of Glory")

Mr. RALPH MEEKER: (As Cpl. Philippe Paris) I'm going to have 10 men from each company in your regiment tried under penalty of death for cowardice.

Mr. KIRK DOUGLAS: (As Col. Dax) Penalty of death?

Mr. MEEKER: (As Cpl. Phillippe Paris) For cowardice. They've skim milk in their veins instead of blood.

Mr. DOUGLAS (As Col. Dax): That's the reddest milk I've ever seen. My trenches are soaked with (unintelligible).

Mr. MEEKER: (As Cpl. Philippe Paris) That's just about enough out of you.

Mr. SIMON: What it really is I think is the most important political film of the 20th century. I've come to love not only the film, but the book, Humphrey Cobb's novel from 1935. He was a World War I veteran and wrote, I think, a magnificent piece about a man and institutions, and what happens in the modern world and the post-modern world between individuals and the institutions that they serve or are supposed to be served by them. And I think it's just - I think it's elemental, and I stole liberally from it for "The Wire."

INSKEEP: What makes that film - black and white, not too long, not too epic in scope - the most important political film of the 20th century?

Mr. SIMON: Well, it really is about what happens when institutionalism becomes paramount. And the paradigm becomes, what can you do for the institution? Not what is the purpose of the institution, or how can the institution serve you or serve society as a whole? Now, if you look at everything, from what's going on Wall Street right now to how we got into Iraq, it's the same echo. You know, in season two of "The Wire," one of the characters said, you know, we used to make stuff in this country, build stuff. Now, we just put our hand in the next guy's pocket. That was a stevedore in Baltimore, but he could've been one of the French soldiers.

INSKEEP: Well, now, were you also inspired in your work by another movie on your list here, "The Wild Bunch," 1969?

Mr. SIMON: Yeah. I have to confess; "The Wire" writers had a contest of how many lines of dialogue from "The Wild Bunch"...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMON: We could get into season two of "The Wire," and I think we quit at about 20. I eventually made a tape of all of the moments back-to-back and sent it to Walon Green, who wrote that screenplay, with just a one-word note that said, homage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMON: But the greatest line, I think, in that movie, and maybe in American film, is the very simple one of...

(Soundbite of movie "The Wild Bunch")

Mr. WILLIAM HOLDEN: (As Pike Bishop) Let's go.

Mr. SIMON: Before the carnage at the end spoken by Bill Holden to Warren Oates. And he doesn't explain it, because the film has explained it, and it's a moment of great restraint by a writer. And when I got to meet Walon Green, I said, you know, how did you manage to not write any more than, let's go? And he told me about these heroic battles to prevent the guys at Warner Brothers from ruining the film with an explanation about why these guys are going to go to their deaths. And so, I not only love the film for what it is; I love it for the writers having fought and won.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Hm. Fought to not write as much?

Mr. SIMON: Right. Well, I - you know, I can talk to you about films that I think were ruined in the last moments by explaining too much, something "The Wire" was rarely accused of.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SIMON: But I mean, you know, you look at "The Hustler." I love "The Hustler" as a movie, Paul Newman, '61, but when he's playing pool at the end with Jackie Gleason...

INSKEEP: Jackie Gleason, Yeah.

Mr. SIMON: And he's come back to beat him now - he's grown as a person, and he understands the world; he's suffered loss - he explains winning.

(Soundbite of movie "The Hustler")

Mr. PAUL NEWMAN: (As Eddie Felson) That's the way you always told me to play it: safe, play the percentage. Well, here we go: fast and loose.

(Soundbite of billiard ball falling to pocket)

Mr. NEWMAN: (As Eddie Felson) One ball, corner pocket.

(Soundbite of billiard ball falling to pocket)

Mr. NEWMAN: (As Eddie Felson) Yeah, percentage players die broke, too, don't they, Bert?

(Soundbite of billiard cue hitting balls)

Mr. SIMON: Yeah. But that scene should have been silent. That should have been done with looks, with eyes, with a word here or two, with a gesture. It's heartbreaking.

INSKEEP: So, that's a movie that did not make David Simon's list of recommended DVDs. And there's another movie here that did. Actually, it's a concert film from 1964, "The TMI."

Mr. SIMON: Yeah. It stands for Teenage Music International. It was filmed in Santa Monica in '64. I think the movie came out a year later, was in the theaters for, like, a second and died. Really, what I love about that film is the last 12 minutes, the James Brown Band and James Brown, and the famous names come out. It's the end of his set, it's like "Night Train" - please, please, please, try me - from when he was at his height, from when he was everything.

(Soundbite of movie "The TMI")

Mr. JAMES BROWN: (Shouting) Night!

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

Mr. BROWN: (Shouting) Night!

(Soundbite of crowd cheering)

(Soundbite of song "Night Train")

Mr. SIMON: It is a triumph of American entertainment, of American cultural power, you know, African-American music at its height. It's maybe our greatest gift to the world, is African-American music, never mind baseball or constitutional government. You know, flatting the third and seventh note, and sending it out into the world has probably been - you know, if America's remembered for anything, it'll be for that. And here it is. It's so perfect. And then these scrawny, little, pale-faced white boys have to go on after him, because the Rolling Stones in 1964 are the last act up.

INSKEEP: Ah.

Mr. SIMON: And you can see they're terrified, and what are they going to do to top what just happened? They're derivative of that music, but they're nowhere close to James Brown's authenticity and talent. And they're standing out there, and they've got to play a Chuck Berry song. And in the last analysis, they somehow manage to do it.

(Soundbite of song "Around and Around")

Mr. MICK JAGGER: (Singing) I said the joint was rocking, Goin' round and round. Yeah, reeling and a rocking, What a crazy sound.

Mr. SIMON: It's sort of this moment of what the power of rock 'n' roll was and its transformation by, you know, by sort of young white kids post war. And I just think that - those 12 minutes are, like, everything rock 'n' roll was about.

INSKEEP: Do you find yourself relating to that moment or identifying with it? Because you as a writer, throughout your career as a journalist and as a screenwriter, have dealt so often with African-American characters and tried to put words in their mouths.

Mr. SIMON: That's very clever. I had not thought of that at all until you just said it. I don't know. I mean, I think I identify with it as a kid who played guitar, in bad bar bands and bad garage bands and never really had the talent to - you know, I mean, I'm like every other frustrated kid with an electric guitar in his closet. You know - listen, I think what James Brown does in those - at the end of that film, as far as human endeavor, the equivalent of, you know - I don't know - as far as American endeavor, it's like raising the flag on Iwo Jima or landing on the Moon. It is magnificent. It is a triumph of things that can only happen in America.

INSKEEP: David Simon is creator of "The Wire," among other programs. Mr. Simon, great talking with you.

Mr. SIMON: Thank you. Thanks for your opportunity.

(Soundbite of song "The Night Train")

Mr. BROWN: (Shouting) All aboard the night train.

INSKEEP: Complete box sets of "The Wire" and "Generation Kill" are out this month. It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Mr. BROWN: (Singing) Miami, Florida. Atlanta, Georgia...

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