Interview: Alex Cox on MOVIEDROME

I remember Moviedrome with deep affection. Not so much the very early years of Alex Cox's tenure as host, more, Mark Cousins' short-lived reign. But I do remember certain episodes of Cox's - such as Mad Max II - and they opened my eyes to the weird and wonderful world of cult cinema, and I've never looked back...
A couple of years ago, as Repo Man was set to be released on Blu-ray, I decided to get in contact with Alex Cox and ask him some questions - not about his 1984 punk classic - but the show that really did, no word of a lie, alter my perception of what cinema was and could be. The fact I wasn't even a teenager at this point just highlights what a dedicated cinephile I was (even if I didn't understand that term - I just 'loved movies'. I'd sit and watch films in my bedroom with the sound turned really low, so many parents didn't catch me watching some weird flick or realise I was staying up way past my bedtime. But this is what the movies did to me - I *had* to watch the films no matter what, or the punishment.

I thought I'd republish the interview, which was conducted via e-mail as Cox was somewhere in America, and originally appeared on my now defunct blog, Cinemart.

How did you get involved with Moviedrome, and was it your concept?

Cox: I was invited to do it by a very nice BBC producer called Nick Jones. He had the idea and came up with the name. They were looking for a front person and I had just intro’d a couple of other films for the BBC – Point Blank (1967) and something else… I can’t remember what!

How did you choose the titles each week and were there any rules for you to follow and break?

Nick picked most of them from the BBC’s huge archive of unscreened films. There were lots of these and they were looking for a ‘format’ or ‘strand’ in which to include them all. There was no rule that I can recall at the outset – later a rule of ‘English language only, no subtitles’ was applied which took a lot of the fun out of it.

Was it difficult getting hold of certain titles and were the Beeb ever hesitant to show certain things?

No, since they’d already licensed most of them. I was able to persuade them to license Django (1966) and Django Kill (1967) and The Big Silence (1968) too. I think it was the first time the Corbucci films were “officially” screened in Britain. That made me proud. Also we made a new video transfer of Yojimbo (1961) in a letterbox format – previously it had only been available as 4X3 with the sides missing. Not a good way to watch a Kurosawa film!

You focused a lot on horror and westerns, as I recall, was this a purely personal taste dictating the show?

Westerns are my thing; horror was more Nick’s, I think. He came up with some great stuff – Italian horror and Nightmare Alley (1949), among other things.

Was there anything you wanted to show but couldn’t?

More foreign language titles – especially Rosi’s Salvatore Giuliano (1962) and The Mattei Affair (1962), and Fons’ Rojo Amanacer (1990). But by this point the Beeb wasn’t showing foreign language material on its two main channels – a prohibition which I believe continues (though it is a secret, it is cast-iron as far as I can tell).

Why did you leave Moviedrome?

For the above reasons. To refuse to screen so much that is great about world cinema merely because the characters don’t talk American seemed tedious; the fun and cinema-literacy aspect of it waned.

Did you ever watch it when Mark Cousins took over hosting duties?

No, but that was because I was living in Mexico and didn’t have a TV!

Do you think the format could ever return with either yourself or somebody else?

The unique thing about Moviedrome was the film literacy angle – I actually got to talk about things like editing strategies and casting and raising money for films and the politics thereof – and that I could actually say I didn’t like the film: “This film is rubbish, but there are certain elements in it which … ” etc. In that sense Moviedrome was quite unlike any other TV movie presentation format I’ve seen. Normally the presenter is obliged to be a cheerleader. Of course the format could return. But will it?


Moviedrome remembered
Moviedrome archive
Alex Cox's Moviedrome The Quietus