Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait stepped out of his Police Academy shadow with his first directed film Shakes the Clown in 1991, in which he also starred as the title character. Since then, Goldthwait has put more of his focus on becoming a filmmaker, releasing absurd cult favorites like World’s Greatest Dad (starring Robin Williams), Windy City Heat, and now his raging dark comedy, God Bless America.
In his latest film, Joel Murray plays a divorced father named Frank who decides he has had enough of bratty reality TV stars, jackass political commentators, people who talk during movies, etc. With the help of a young girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), Frank decides to kill some people in hopes of making our world a nicer place.
I sat down with Goldthwait to discuss God Bless America, what he thinks of MTV, and the little anti-Semites extras he worked with on set.
God Bless America is now available on VOD and opens in Chicago on May 11.
I was in Texas for the SXSW premiere of your film. Toward the middle of the film, two men who were 55 or older starting talking, and they rarely stopped. I was wondering what you think they must have been thinking, especially after watching a scene in which people get shot for talking during a movie?
And also because it’s at the Alamo Drafthouse. I think it’s kind of awesome that they were older. It just wasn’t me going, “These young people don’t know how to shut up.” Were they confused?
People just have to react to what they see, I suppose. “Oh, there’s the girl from … “
“That’s not Bill Murray!”
How does it make you feel about people getting the message of your movie?
I think they totally didn’t get the movie. I wish I had seen that, that would have really infuriated me. Especially [at the Alamo Drafthouse], of all places. Wow, they’re rebels, man. That’s amazing. I think that’s really funny.
In the beginning of the film you see what really pushes Frank over the edge. Was there anything after what I assume is a long buildup of anger against stupidity and cruelty, was there one thing that tipped it for you?
No, it was kind of a mental zit. I do remember one day watching with my wife a commercial, which is parodied … well, it’s not parodies, there are no parodies in God Bless America. I just re-film these things, the dialogue is paraphrasing all of the Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly, or just re-filming things I see on reality shows. So, I’m sitting there at home, my wife and I, and this elephant came on. It comes dancing out and sticks its ass towards us, and it farts. “It’s the funniest ringtone ever! Text F-A-R-T!” I felt it was like, “Bobcat Goldthwait, we’re gonna fart right at you.”
It’s like your burning bush, the hand of god coming down and telling you …
Yeah. Thank goodness we don’t have 3D television. I just looked at [my wife] and said, “Alright, we’re gonna get some guns.” She is a little more like Frank, because she actually thinks that if there are certain people you kill, mankind will be improved. Whereas I am a little more like Roxy, and I just want to … f**king take them down. Start with NASCAR fans and just work your way up.
There’s talk in this film about the “Oh No You Didn’t” generation. And I was wondering how you feel this movie reflects upon that idea.
But that’s what it was. It’s like, my answer to it. Instead of me having a clever sarcastic thing for me to say about how irresponsible it is to perpetuate shows like “My Super Sweet 16,” I’ll just shoot them and kill them. I’m not really going after on that level, I’m trying to ask, “Why do we watch this crap?” But instead of just going … it’s really just me saying, “F**k you, MTV. F**k you.” Encouraging teen pregnancy, and encouraging rich kids to act even worse? You can do better. Or, play a goddamn – I am an old guy – music video. Get off my lawn, you kids! Would it kill you? Other countries are still playing rock music videos.
That’s something I do forget. When people ask me, “What motivated you?” now I do remember a real moment. I was in England, and we only had a limited number of channels, and one of them was just having a “My Super Sweet 16” marathon. I’m like, “Oh no, they really think this is who we are.” It really bothered me that this is what we were exporting.
Were there things that you originally had as ideas or notions that you said, “Oh, I can’t go that far?” Was there any self-censorship on your part?
The censorship would always be that I would go back to Frank’s thinking. Frank only wants people to act nice. He only wants people to act right. So that would be the thing that I would finally go, “Is that a Frank kill, or a Roxy kill?” Because Roxy wants to kill everybody. I’m really bummed out, there’s one scene that went away, and it’s when they decide to rob a bank. They go to rob a bank, and there’s a f**king d***o in front of them. But there’s also a guy getting foreclosed on, and he’s trying to do everything to make a loan work, and so they’re getting an earful of this. So Roxy just shoots the guy being grouchy to her. They run out and they don’t rob the bank, and then there’s a beat. Frank walks back in and just shoots the banker. Due to budget, I had to cut 80 pages of this script.
Also, the Frank and Roxy death scene was intended to be like Bonnie and Clyde, but a lot more spectacular. Because of the limited time, I ended up having to kill them a little less gross.
Your music between your action scene is solemn. Your film even ends with an Alice Cooper ballad. What do you feel your music says about the sadness, or the futility of the film? It’s not like they shoot people and the music is triumphant and rocking.
The music was really influenced by the music in Badlands, which is fine because that music ends up in True Romance. The composer listened to Carl Orff. He was a young kid who was helping me in the editing room, and he writes music. And he goes, “Well, here’s the music I wrote.” And then I suggested to him Carl Orff, and he came up with what you hear. But that’s how it works in what Robin Williams calls the “Bob Wood Universe – he thinks I am Ed Wood. Robin was excited when we were shooting a film in Seattle, because he said, “We don’t have permits.” And I said, “Fuck permits. Just run!” He was really excited. He wasn’t used to it. It was really funny.
You have all of these extras in your film. Especially in your last scene, was it hard to convince them to be a part of this?
It’s really funny. The scene with the Westboro Baptist Church people, the extras saw Frank had a “9/11 Never Forget” bumper sticker, so they thought that Frank was patriotic. So I didn’t bother clearing that up. And then that little boy started ad-libbing “God hates fags,” which I just said quietly, “Roll.” And I don’t know which one said it, one kid had a sign that said “God hates fags,” and another kid had one that said, “God hates Jews.” It was behind my back so I didn’t know which one, but one of them said, “That’s the one I wanted!” So I was like, “Who’s the little anti-Semite?”
How do you feel about how people will respond to this film?
You know, I am tired. There is right and wrong, and there is decency. And I’m sorry that I know there are certain places that people will attack me, but at this point I’d rather go out swinging. I’d rather say, “Yeah, you know what? The Tea Party is a white hate group.” And they’ll be mad. And as someone who has lived in Hollywood for thirty years, I hate to bum them out, but there’s no big conspiracy. There’s no big meetings. We don’t go to Barbra Streisand’s house, and Martin Sheen makes the coffee while Ted Danson sets the chairs, and we talk about how we are going to take over the world.