Saturday, December 13, 2014

A travesty of a report

By Charles Krauthammer
December 11, 2014

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

The report by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding CIA interrogation essentially accuses the agency under George W. Bush of war criminality. Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein appears to offer some extenuation when she reminds us in the report’s preamble of the shock and “pervasive fear” felt after 9/11.
It’s a common theme (often echoed by President Obama): Amid panic and disorientation, we lost our moral compass and made awful judgments. The results are documented in the committee report. They must never happen again.
It’s a kind of temporary-insanity defense for the Bush administration. And it is not just unctuous condescension but hypocritical nonsense. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was nothing irrational about believing that a second attack was a serious possibility and therefore everything should be done to prevent it. Indeed, this was the considered opinion of the CIA, the administration, the congressional leadership and the American people.
Al-Qaeda had successfully mounted four major attacks on American targets in the previous three years. The pace was accelerating and the scale vastly increasing. The country then suffered a deadly anthrax attack of unknown origin. Al-Qaeda was known to be seeking weapons of mass destruction.
We were so blindsided that we established a 9/11 commission to find out why. And we knew next to nothing about the enemy: its methods, structure, intentions, plans. There was nothing morally deranged about deciding as a nation to do everything necessary to find out what we needed to prevent a repetition, or worse. As Feinstein said at the time, “We have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”
Nancy Pelosi, then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed about the interrogation program, including the so-called torture techniques. As were the other intelligence committee leaders. “We understood what the CIA was doing,” wrote Porter Goss, Pelosi’s chairman on the House committee. “We gave the CIA our bipartisan support; we gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.”
Democrat Jay Rockefeller, while the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was asked in 2003 about turning over Khalid Sheik Mohammed to countries known to torture. He replied: “I wouldn’t take anything off the table where he is concerned.”
There was no uproar about this open countenancing of torture-by-proxy. Which demonstrates not just the shamelessness of Democrats today denouncing practices to which, at the time and at the very least, they made no objection. It demonstrates also how near-consensual was the idea that our national emergency might require extraordinary measures.
This is not to say that in carrying out the program there weren’t abuses, excesses, mismanagement and appalling mistakes (such as the death in custody — unintended but still unforgivable — of two detainees). It is to say that the root-and-branch denunciation of the program as, in principle, unconscionable is not just hypocritical but ahistorical.
To make that case, to produce a prosecutorial brief so entirely and relentlessly one-sided, the committee report (written solely by Democrats) excluded any testimony from the people involved and variously accused. None. No interviews, no hearings, no statements.
The excuse offered by the committee is that a parallel Justice Department inquiry precluded committee interviews. Rubbish. That inquiry ended in 2012. It’s December 2014. Why didn’t they take testimony in the interval? Moreover, even during the Justice Department investigation, the three CIA directors and many other officials were exempt from any restrictions. Why weren’t they interviewed?
Answer: So that committee Democrats could make their indictment without contradiction. So they could declare, for example, the whole program to be a failure that yielded no important information — a conclusion denied by practically every major figure involved, including Democrat and former CIA director Leon Panetta; Obama’s current CIA director, John Brennan; and three other CIA directors (including a Clinton appointee).
Perhaps, say the critics, but we’ll never know whether less harsh interrogation would have sufficed.
So what was the Bush administration to do? Amid the smoking ruins of Ground Zero, conduct a controlled experiment in gentle interrogation and wait to see if we’d be hit again?
A nation attacked is not a laboratory for exquisite moral experiments. It’s a trust to be protected, by whatever means meet and fit the threat.
Accordingly, under the direction of the Bush administration and with the acquiescence of congressional leadership, the CIA conducted an uncontrolled experiment. It did everything it could, sometimes clumsily, sometimes cruelly, indeed, sometimes wrongly.
But successfully. It kept us safe.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Rick Bragg talks about his Jerry Lee Lewis biography

Gruber’s Pathetic Congressional Testimony

Despite his memory lapses, the ethical problems related to his work on Obamacare are plain. 

Today's Tune: Jerry Lee Lewis - Great Balls of Fire

Jerry Lee Lewis biographer Rick Bragg visits Triangle bookstores

Posted by David Menconi on December 4, 2014

At one point early on in “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story,” biographer Rick Bragg tries to ask his subject one more question.
“Didn’t I hear once that you …” But he cuts me off.
“Yeah,” he says, “I probably did.”
And that, according to Bragg, was about the only time that Jerry Lee Lewis – The Killer, an icon who has lived through the highest highs and lowest lows of anyone in the rock era – dodged one of his questions. Through several years of interviews, Bragg coaxed the story out of Lewis in all its amazing and tawdry glory. From scaling the charts to burying wives and children, Lewis has had enough agonies and ecstasies for 10 men.
Bragg will be in the Triangle for three readings, and we caught up by phone.
Q: As much as he’s been through in 79 years, does Lewis have the most iron constitution on earth?
A: It’s almost spooky. There’s something beyond science in Jerry Lee. I’m usually a show-me-don’t-tell me kind of guy who believes what he sees. But every news organization in the country has a Jerry Lee obit ready to go, and he just keeps defying time. I always tell audiences, Jerry Lee ain’t like you and me.
When I interviewed him, Jerry Lee had crippling arthritis in his back, a compound fracture of the leg, shingles, pneumonia a couple of times. And that’s the beginning, I can’t even remember all the things that went wrong. He’d lay in his bed while I’d sit beside him in an old rocking chair asking brutally hard questions, some of which had us both laughing out loud.
Q: It’s funny that he and Chuck Berry are about the last of the old-timers left, given how much alike they seem.
A: It’s almost romantic in a way, that it’s come down to two guys so similar in belligerence and toughness. They used to look at each other like game roosters in a barnyard, fighting over who was gonna close the show, who was more man, who was more rock ’n’ roll. There was the infamous burning-piano incident, where Jerry Lee torched the piano as he was walking offstage just to see Chuck Berry’s face. But Jerry Lee would say it don’t matter who’s the last one left, he is the stud duck of rock ’n’ roll.
Q: Did you ever get him mad at you?
A: A couple times, yeah. But he never stayed mad because we had an understanding that he’d have to talk about things that were uncomfortable, embarrassing and quite frankly heartbreaking – like the deaths of his two sons. There were times he’d physically turn away, but he’d always come back and finish the thought. People who ask if he didn’t want to talk about this or that don’t understand Jerry Lee. Jerry Lee doesn’t want to be whitewashed, which would make him just like you and me. Jerry Lee doesn’t want to be safer or more respectable or more reasonable or even more thoughtful – although he did prove himself to be plenty thoughtful, gracious and almost kind.
He did not ask me to leave out anything and he talked plenty about the death of wives, busting men over the head with a mike stand, being pursued by the IRS for the greater part of his adult life. Sometimes, at the most embarrassing moments of all, he’d laugh out loud. I’ve never interviewed anyone like him, who was so devilishly proud of bedevilment.
Q: Nick Tosches’ “Hellfire,” from 1982, has long been regarded as the definitive Lewis biography. Was it a challenge to go beyond that?
A: “Hellfire” is a great story, and the writing is just so good. It’s as much a tone poem as anything else, a beautifully dark and grim tale. But when people ask me what I have that nobody else does, I quote my editor: “We had the guy.” That was the difference between us and everything done before.
The first 100 pages are some of my favorites because of what happened in that mud and dirt to create him. Jerry Lee disagrees, he says he’d have been a rock ’n’ roll star even if he’d been born in Manhattan or Kansas. But I think a lot of it had to do with the Louisiana mud and the fact that he was born into that convergence of blues, hillbilly and gospel.
Jerry Lee had been thinking for quite some time that he’d like to tell his story, his side. He’d kinda danced around with different folks over the decades and wanted to finally have his say in the autumn of his life. My editor is a huge Jerry Lee fan and a piano player himself. Jerry Lee and I don’t have a lot in common; I can’t even play the radio. But he figured we had enough to where it’d be a good fit and I think it was. Southern is Southern, whether it’s Appalachia or the Louisiana bottomland.
I joke that I should’ve gotten myself a three-month supply of beef jerky and bottled water, taken the tags off my car, fled and not come back until it was safely underway with some other poor fool. It was not easy just because of the nature of Jerry Lee and his world. But I look at the elegant cover and I’m proud I did it.
Q: The question comes up throughout the book, can a man sing rock ’n’ roll and still go to heaven?
A: That question haunts Jerry Lee still and lingers on. It’s one he asked Elvis and it terrified him; he turned white and walked away. Obviously any Southern boy is gonna think about this. But I tend to agree with Jerry Lee and his mama. You can commit a lot of meanness in the name of rock ’n’ roll, be selfish and cruel and pollute your body with all manner of chemicals. But Jerry Lee’s mama told him his gift came from God and had the power to lift the blues off people. When I hear him on the radio, driving down some highway with 400 miles to go, I’m immediately transported to a place where the smoke is so thick it’s blue, the air smells like perfume and the floor is slick with a thousand years of beer. It’s a haven and it may not be heaven, but it takes the blues off.
Q: Does he really keep a gun under his pillow?
A: Oh yeah. Not his pillow, but the one on the passenger side, so to speak. If he had a bad dream, well, it was going to get dealt with violently. He showed me his .357 and I could not help noticing the bullet holes in that bedroom’s walls, or thinking about how he shot his bass player. “He didn’t MEAN to shoot his bass player,” I told myself, but was he any less shot? Well, no.
He told me about that, how someone handed him the gun and said, “Be careful, Jerry Lee, it’s got a hair trigger.” Everyone was in the middle of “unconsolable drinking,” as he put it, and of course it was cocked. Only in the South would someone in a roomful of drunks hand over a cocked and loaded gun. You’ve got to love our people.
So the book is on the best-seller list, critical success is in place. Things have gone as good as I could hope. But the bottom line is I made it through and I’m not even trying to be funny. I tell people all the time at book signings: Jerry Lee ain’t like you and me.
    Rick Bragg will read from and discuss “Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Life Story” (HarperCollins, 498 pages, $27.99) at the following stores. Admission is free.
    • 7:30 p.m. Thursday – Quail Ridge Books & Music, 3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh (919-828-1588 or
    • 7 p.m. Dec. 12 – Regulator Bookshop, 720 Ninth St., Durham (919-286-2700
    • 10 a.m. Dec. 13 – McIntyre’s Books, 2000 Fearrington Village, Pittsboro (919-542-3030

    Read more here:

Read more here:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chesterton’s Islamic England

December 9, 2014
The Flying Inn Illustration
G.K. Chesterton had a knack for anticipating future trends but when, in his 1914 novel The Flying Inn, he anticipated the Islamization of England, it seemed so far out of the realm of possibility that it was difficult to take it as anything but a flight of fancy.
True enough, the book has a whimsical, Pickwickian quality. It follows the rambling adventures of two British stalwarts, Patrick Dalroy and Humphrey Pump, as they try to stay one step ahead of the law, dispensing free liquor as they go in an England where alcohol has been banned. The “Flying Inn” is their motor car which they have furnished with a large keg of rum, a cask of cheese, and a pub sign.
Roughly one hundred years later, Chesterton’s scenario no longer seems improbable. Many observers believe the Islamization of England is just a matter of time. For example, in her 2006 book Londonistan, Melanie Phillips presents a detailed description of the Islamic “colonization” of England now underway and shows how it is made possible by the governing class’ abandonment of cultural and spiritual values. Chesterton was remarkably prescient not only in imagining that Islamization might happen, but also in envisioning how it would happen—through the instrumentality of a deracinated governing class. The reason that alcohol is banned in Chesterton’s tale is because some upper-class elites have become enamored of Islam and everything Islamic—including the prohibition of drink. Chief among these is Lord Ivywood, a Nietzschean diplomat who has enlisted the aid of a mysterious Turk, Misyra Ammon, to spread the new gospel among the jaded upper class who find exotic Islam to be more exciting than their own traditions and religion.
Among other things, the establishment of the new order involves a rewriting of history. As Ammon patiently explains to his sophisticated audiences, England was originally an Islamic country. This is evident, he says, in the existence of numerous pubs with Islamic names—“The Saracen’s Head,” for example—as well as in the English fondness for the word “crescent”—as in “Grosvenor Crescent,” “Regent’s Park Crescent,” and “Royal Crescent.” Moreover, like today’s multicultural elite, Chesterton’s “smart set” are all too happy to hear that this exotic culture is superior to their own, and are quite willing to accept that virtually all scientific and technical discoveries were first made by Muslims. As one of the English characters puts it: “Of course, all our things came from the East…. Everything from the East is good, of course.”
One of the imports from the East is polygamy or, as Ammon calls it, the “Higher Polygamy.” No one is as yet practicing polygamy, but it eventually dawns on one of the young ladies in the story that this is the direction in which things are trending—that Lord Ivywood’s mansion is, in fact, designed to be a harem. Not quite as astute, the other young ladies prefer to think, as Misyra Ammon tells them, “that women had the highest freedom in Turkey; as they were allowed to wear trousers.”
Chesterton was smart enough to realize that something like Islamization could not happen without a prior undermining of the existing culture. As Hal G.P. Colebatchobserves:
Chesterton was original not only in seeing a then apparently down-and-out Islam was still a threat to Europe, but also in seeing that the Islamic conquest would not be possible without a preceding culture war to destroy the social agents of resistance, that Islam had a certain seductiveness for a type of jaded Western mind, and that the betrayers would not be the lower classes but the wealthy elite.
As Chesterton foresaw, and as is the case today, naïve clergymen would also help to pave the way for Islam. In The Flying Inn, the great cathedrals replace the cross with a cross-and- crescent emblem, and intellectuals believe that the time has come “for a full unity between Christianity and Islam.” “Something called Chrislam perhaps,” observes a skeptical Irishman. But others are convinced that Christianity and Islam are “natural allies”—to use a term that is currently in favor. In Chesterton’s Edwardian setting, progressives believe that Christians and Muslims can work together to “deliver the populace from the bondage of the all-destroying drug [alcohol].” Today, some conservative Catholics believe that Christians and Muslims can work together to fight pornography and restore sexual morality. And then, as now, many believe that we have much to learn from Islam. As Lord Ivywood puts it:
Ours is an age when men come more and more to see that the creeds hold treasures for each other, that each religion has a secret for its neighbour … and church unto church showeth knowledge.
Or, as one contemporary Catholic author claims: “Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation.”
Then, as now, part of the softening-up process is accomplished by employing politically correct euphemisms to hide plain facts. The reclusive Turkish warlord, Oman Pasha, who has taken the estate next to Ivywood’s, and who, with Ivywood’s assistance, is secretly building a Turkish army in England, is referred to by naïve neighbors as the “Mediterranean gentleman.” “The description,” notes the author, “did not illuminate and it probably was not intended to do so.” In our day, the elites have invented a whole panoply of Newspeak terms designed to cover up for Islamic aggressiveness. Thus, in England and Europe, Muslim gangs that riot and rape on a mass scale are referred to in TV news as “Asian youth,” or simply “youths.” And Islamic terrorists are routinely designated by the generic, could-be-anyone label “violent extremists.” Meanwhile, in public and private schools, children are learning that jihad is an interior spiritual struggle to become a better person. Perhaps the mother of all euphemisms designed to keep us off guard is the oft-repeated assurance that Islam is a religion of peace. That phrase doesn’t appear in Chesterton’s story, but Misyra Ammon assures his listeners that Islam is a religion devoted to serving others.
Chesterton’s prophetic novel hits uncomfortably close to home. One thing he didn’t anticipate, however, is that the final Islamization of England could be accomplished without importing a foreign army. Since modern England has already imported enough Muslim immigrants to engineer a significant cultural shift, an occupying army won’t be needed. Otherwise, Chesterton was right on target. He foresaw that an Islamic takeover would be facilitated by cultural elites eager to show their tolerance for new ideas and fashions and their corresponding disdain for traditional culture. In Chesterton’s day, the cultural elites were referred to as the smart set; today they are the multicultural and media elites. And, as in Chesterton’s story, they are quite willing to believe that Muslims discovered or invented just about everything under the sun.
Recently, for example, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, claimed that Muslims were the first to discover America and this, no doubt, will soon be taken seriously by Western educators. Multiculturalists would love to believe that America was discovered not by a light-skinned European Christian but by a dark-skinned Muslim. It would fit in nicely with their decades-long campaign to undermine the Western tradition. Thanks to his teachers, the average Western student doesn’t know much about history, but he does know that he was born into a rotten culture with an appalling history of racism, sexism, and imperialism.
Much of what Chesterton foresaw has already come to pass. Cross-crescent emblems haven’t yet appeared on the cathedrals, but several churches in the West have been sold to Muslim groups and subsequently turned into mosques. And just recently, in a gesture of Chrislamism, the Washington National Cathedral opened its doors to a weekly Muslim prayer service. Meanwhile, a senior Church of England bishop recommendedthat Prince Charles’ coronation service should be opened with a reading from the Koran. The gesture, he said, would be “a creative act of accommodation” to make Muslims feel “warmly embraced.”
In the England of Chesterton’s imagining, polygamy was just a gleam in Lord Ivywood’s eye. Nowadays, for all intents and purposes, it is an institution. Although polygamy is still against the law, it is, in fact, a growing practice among Muslims of Great Britain. Instead of enforcing the law, culturally sensitive police and courts look the other way, and the welfare agencies do their best to provide material support. A Muslim man with four wives can expect a welfare check for each of them—and all signed over to his name.
One of the things Western citizens take comfort in when contemplating Islamic radicalism is that we possess powerful armies and well-trained police. Once again, Chesterton skewers our illusions. As it turns out, the England of The Flying Inn has been disarming itself militarily as well as culturally. It gradually dawns on the citizenry that police are few and far between, and many of those who remain have taken to wearing Turkish fezzes. They also discover that while Ivywood and Pasha have been quietly bringing in a Turkish army, the “British army is practically disbanded.”
I don’t know if the British police are declining in number, but whatever their number, they have become one of the most politically correct organizations on the planet. For example, the London Metropolitan Police Authority recruitment target for 2009-10 required that 27 percent of all new recruits must be black and minority ethnic and 41 percent must be female. Many of them might as well be wearing fezzes or hijabs because, if you say something critical about the religion of peace, you will quickly find yourself in front of a magistrate on charges of Islamophobia. When, for example, Parliamentary candidate Paul Weston stood in a public space and read aloud Churchill’s unflattering assessment of Islam in The River War, he was promptly arrested.
As for the British army, it hasn’t been disbanded yet, but the armed forces of the UK are not what they used to be. The same can be said for NATO forces in general. They can be relied on to march in the local gay pride parade or help out with ebola patients or even launch an occasional “overseas contingency operation,” but major wars on multiple fronts are another matter. The United States, the largest NATO member, has been drastically reducing the size and strength of its military. The U.S. plans to shrink its Army to pre-World War II levels, the number of ships in the Navy is lower than in 1917, and, according to several reports, the Obama administration has been quietly conducting a massive purge of top military officers.
Just at the point when Islam is advancing by stealth jihad and armed jihad all over the world, the West is letting down its guard, both literally and metaphorically. And all the while, the Lord Ivywoods of the world assure us that we have nothing to fear from Islam. What at one time seemed merely a fanciful fiction is fast becoming fact. Chesterton would not have been surprised.
(Illustration credit: Washington Times)

The “Torture Report” and American Values

December 10, 2014
One of the most common and most understandable reactions to the Senate’s “torture report” is that the practices described by Dianne Feinstein’s investigators are contrary to “American values.” On a certain level the assertion is undeniable: torture (and that’s what the “enhanced interrogation techniques” amount to, even if it is not torture as heinous as that routinely practiced by dictatorships) is definitely not an “American value.” But what about incinerating civilians? Is that an “American value”?
The reality is that the U.S. has often done things in the past that, looked at in another light, could be judged as immoral acts or even war crimes. Exhibit A is the strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War II which culminated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The two atom bombs killed an estimated 190,000 civilians. The non-nuclear bombing of Japan killed at least 330,000 more. That’s more than half a million dead civilians in Japan alone. The toll was not as high in Germany but it was high enough. One bombing raid alone, on Dresden, killed between 25,000 to 40,000 people. The total number of Germans killed in Anglo-American bombing raids has been estimated at over 300,000.
It would be interesting to know what those who now decry the torture of terrorist suspects have to say about the deaths of some 800,000 people, mostly civilians, in these World War II bombing raids. Were Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the presidents who ordered these bombing campaigns, war criminals? And if not how can one argue, a so many on the left seem to, that George W. Bush is?
This is not purely a historical debate either. Although Barack Obama shut down the “enhanced interrogation” program (or, more accurately, continued the shutdown which had already been ordered by Bush in his second term), he has stepped up drone strikes in countries from Pakistan to Yemen. By one estimate: “the United States has now conducted 500 targeted killings (approximately 98 percent of them with drones), which have killed an estimated 3,674 people, including 473 civilians. Fifty of these were authorized by President George W. Bush, 450 and counting by President Obama.”
Note that there was no judicial review before any of these attacks, nor should there have been. They were purely executive decisions made by President Obama and they resulted, by this estimate, in the deaths of some 473 civilians. Is that OK but the use of coercive interrogation techniques is not? That’s a good question for a college class on the ethics of war. At the very least it’s not an easy question to answer, and it’s one that those who are outraged by the CIA’s interrogation program should grapple with.
I tend to agree that we should not torture, but I am honest enough to admit there are circumstances–for example preventing an imminent, mass casualty attack on the American homeland–when a president may well be right to decide that repugnant measures are necessary to save large numbers of innocent lives. I am also troubled, by the way, by the strategic bombing campaign of World War II, but I am not arrogant enough to second-guess the decision makers at the time who thought that such steps were necessary to defeat the evils of Nazism and fascism. If you think the atomic bombing of Japan was wrong, try reading Paul Fussell’s wonderful essay, “Thank God for the Atomic Bomb,” whose sentiments have been echoed by every World War II vet I have ever spoken to.
It would be nice, but unlikely, if all of those preening about how awful torture is would stop for a minute to wrestle seriously with these complicated moral dilemmas. Try to place yourselves in the shoes of a Truman or a Bush and ask what you would do when you felt that the only way to effectively protect the United States was to use methods that one’s critics could denounce as barbaric. And try to place yourselves in the shoes of a future president who may well have to grapple with such dilemmas while trying to avoid a WMD attack on the American homeland that would make Pearl Harbor and 9/11 combined look like a Sunday picnic by comparison.
But of course it’s much easier to simply flay Bush, Cheney, and the CIA as latter-day Nazis. All of this reminds me of nothing so much as the pacifists of World War II who were “advocating,” as George Orwell once put it, “non-resistance behind the guns of the American Fleet”–or in this case behind the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.

Guillermo Del Toro Opens Up About ‘The Strain’

December 2, 2014
Corey Stoll and David Bradley in Season One
The first season of “The Strain,” FX’s apocalyptic vampire series based on the novels by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan, was a hit by most measures. Critics generally liked the show, it managed to hold on to strong ratings in its 10 p.m. Eastern slot on Sundays, even when the NFL season kicked off, and it was renewed for a second season.
But while Del Toro was largely satisfied with “The Strain’s” maiden run, he is the first to admit that some aspects of the show didn’t work quite as well as he had hoped, at least at first. Still, the show managed to find its footing over time as it struck a better balance between character and action, the director told Speakeasy in an interview.
Now that “The Strain” — whose first season is out on Blu-ray and DVD today — has found its groove, Del Toro will be even more hands-on in the production, even if he won’t be directing an episode for season two. His presence will be felt more in special vignettes and second-unit work, as well as on the cinematography and the overall look of things. (The story responsibilities are largely handled by showrunner Carlton Cuse and Hogan.)
Del Toro will also have more time to focus on “The Strain” this time around, too, as he’s had to postpone a small, black-and-white film project he had planned to make between wrapping up one project and starting production on “Pacific Rim 2,” which he’s currently re-writing.
Del Toro shared with Speakeasy his musings on the first season, including his favorite episode, as well as his hopes for the second season and beyond — including an update on “Crimson Peak,” his upcoming Gothic romance starring Charlie HunnamTom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. An edited transcript of the interview follows.
Overall, how satisfied were you with the first season of “The Strain”?
You know, I think that it was a very steep learning curve in a way. We were very ambitious with the production values and visual aspects of it, and I think finding a balance between character and set pieces was, I think, was one of the things I feel we learned as we went along. I’m very satisfied. I love the response of the audience. I think that some traits or character storylines that seemed to … I’ll give you an example: the custody battle with Eph that, in the beginning, for the people that didn’t know the books, seemed to be a character trait that you see in other shows. When you get to episode 10, Kelly is taken. It took 10 episodes for people to know we’re not just doing this for another character trait. It’s going to become part of the backbone of the series. That episode for me, particularly, was very poignant, the ending of it. Finding the different strengths of the characters as played by the actors when they’re revealed … for example, David Bradley as Setrakian is a much harder, tougher, almost-relentless Setrakian than the Setrakian in the books, so we needed to start writing differently for him.
It was a huge learning curve for all of us, but we had fun, and we watch with great relief and gratitude and happiness that we have a very steady, very strong viewership. We were especially very daunted by the football season, and remained very strong and steady during that. For me, it was a particularly exhausting experience, because in movies you work for two years, three years, and then, basically, it all comes down to one or two weekends. You release the movie, there’s a box office return, there’s a critical consensus, and then that’s the end of it. With a TV series, you kind of learn week by week. You have certain dramatic arcs as life lines in the series that became quite intense for me at times.
If you had to pick a favorite episode from the season, what would it be?
The one the that has lived with me for the longest as an idea was the attack on the convenience store because it’s something that I wanted to do a long time ago, and we tried to find a way to write it into the books, and we couldn’t. So I love that idea. I love that characters come together, and one of them dies that way. Carlton and Chuck came up with the idea of killing Jim in that episode, and it’s a very satisfying moment, in that you’re eight episodes in, and you’re seeing the strands and you’re wondering when they’re going to connect. And when they connect it’s very satisfying for me. That is probably one of my favorite episodes. I like very much the backstory of Eichorst and Setrakian. One of my favorite moments happens in episode two when they talk through the plexiglass barrier. All of them are tethered with ideas and moments that we riffed on that were a lot of fun to see. I love the killing room moment with Eichorst and his victim. I live inside this all. I love many of my children.
What did you think of the creation of the character Dutch, the hacker?
During dinner with Carlton one day, we were talking about that character, and originally it was going to be this sort of Jesse Eisenberg in “The Social Network” kind of character. We were having dinner, and we said why don’t we make it a woman, why don’t we make it a woman that is really strong and really sort of a loner that has some sort of hard edge, that doesn’t get along with most people. We thought it would be a great idea, great energy for the series. We started seeing how she riffed off Kevin, Fet, you know, and it was quite a great addition. Going off book for me in the series, I think has proved effortless. Carlton runs the writers room and runs, basically, the scripts for the series. I contribute ideas for set pieces and riff on it with him, but ultimately for the series to be run the way it’s been run, he needs to be the arbiter of that part of the content. Going off novel, proved very effortless for me. I actually enjoyed the fact that we burned the Master at the end of the season, when we actually burn the Master at the end of book two.
How long do you foresee being involved in the second season before other responsibilities pull you away?
My hope is that I remain in that capability for the entire season. I originally was going to do a very small project around April or May, but there are some issues in the family that I have to take care of. So I decided that staying put was the best idea for the family, and “The Strain” allows me to do that, allows me to basically 20 minutes away from home. I’ll be shooting the pre-credit prologue of the pilot, I’ll be shooting the Silver Angel black and white Mexican movies, and I’ve been doing second unit last week, and I’ll continue to do it, God willing, through the season.
That project you mentioned, that was the small, black and white film you were looking to do?
Yeah, I have to postpone it until later notice. Life has a way of telling what you need to do instead of what you’re planning.
What do you think the most important thing “The Strain” will have to do in the second season to broaden what’s going on?
First of all, the easiest part, the one that comes naturally, is that we have such a wealth of mythology and biology to unfold. The one thing the first season was short of was all the biological talk that occurred in the first book. It ended up being more driven by set pieces or by character interaction than the actual way the epidemic is dealt with. The other thing that I need to do is expand the epidemic more in terms of social consequence and scope. The way the epidemic starts to grow quadrant by quadrant and starts affecting the lives of people in the city, in the country, in the world — that’s part of the growth of season two. We need to lay the seeds for the apocalypse, essentially. So, there’s plenty of work, and not only plenty of work, but plenty of things that make it naturally: A. a growth season and B: a different season than the first one. I love that thing that Carlton came up with about Palmer throwing the secretary of Health over the balcony. (laughs) Reading it, I thought it was completely brutal, but watching it, I absolutely loved it. (laughs) It’s one of my favorite moments in the series. It’s completely unexpected, but let me go back on track. What we need to deal with now is that the Master has control of many more strings and to grow the epidemic disproportionately this season.
Generally speaking, people tended to like the creature design, but when the Master’s face was revealed, there were a lot of fans who weren’t quite happy about that. Did you hear any of that? Do you have any comment about the Master’s look?
I think that, honestly, half of a creature is the way it’s lit, and I think that the reveal of the Master, in retrospect, was done in a lighting circumstance that was not the one I would have gone with. I was shooting “Crimson Peak” during those episodes, so all I could do was keep up with the dailies and the VFX load that is my share of the package. VFX cannot do anything about cinematography, and I thought that the reveal of the Master should have been more moody, lit in a far more … in a way that is not so flat. The rest of it, I think that’s the way I saw him. I didn’t see him as the usual gaunt vampire. He’s a 7’3″ giant, so he needed to have this very brutish face, and I think that I will stand by that. At least I will assume responsibility over that part. I do think that the cinematography suffered in that particular reveal.
Season two is filming already, is that correct?
Yeah, we’ve been shooting for a week. And I can say that the first appearance of the Master in season two is far more moody.
Where does postproduction stand on “Crimson Peak”? How is everything coming along?
Well, since we have the luxury of time because the movie doesn’t come out until October next year … originally, I was going to deliver it in December, and I’d been able to try different things, different cuts, tweak the effects, tweak the music, probably more than any movie I’ve ever done. I have the license now to deliver the movie in January or February. It’s frankly addictive to have that much time. I’m not sure it will not be too addictive. I’m working with the same VFX company that does “The Strain,” so we can tweak every shot. Every time we meet for “The Strain,” we meet for “Crimson Peak,” too. I think it’s the most beautifully designed movie I’ve done, and the one that, because of this very distended preproduction and postproduction, I’ve been able to design basically every part of the visuals on it. I’m very enamored. Hopefully people will find it a rewarding Gothic romance when it comes out.
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