CULT MOVIES Magazine #16, (1995)

Cult Movies talks to
Writer, Director, Producer
J. Michael McCarthy

"The exploitation genre is an acquired bad taste. It is not so much the bad acting or the low budget that make Big Broads films so desirable, it is the uncanny ability of exploitation as a medium for personal expression that places it beside underground comix and punk rock." John Michael McCarthy (1995)

In 1993, thirty year old JMM (John Michael McCarthy) incorporated the only Indie Film Company in Memphis and didicated itto his ideas alone. JMM had drawn comics for seven years being (primarly) published by Fantagraphics Books in Seattle. Though he had received some publicity (including a glowing review from the Village Voice literary supplement), he felt he was wasn't reaching enough people with his "regionalist unpopular culture."

Highly premeditated in his approach, JMM got a feel for shooting film by serving as associate producer on two shot-on-video horror movies in Memphis. "I set up the locations, found the actors, and let everyone stay at my house."

Hugh Gallagher's "Gorotica" and "Gore Whore" had sold-out shows in Memphis. Soon JMM planned his own projects the the help of credit cards. Armed with a script tha he had originally planned to draw, JMM made DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS in 1993. The flick featured such characters as Rebelvis, Psychedelvis, Evel Knievelvis!

An ongoing trademark to be established was nudity and a certain amount of violence. "Sex plus Violence equals Nature." says JMM, "and we have forgotten that we are permeated and controlled by this feminine force. Due to this analogy, my women characters always come out on top. Perhaps in similar fashion to Russ Meyer's movies. My movies are also intentional comedies, which most low budget filmmakers are afraid to make."

With TEENAGE TUPELO JMM deals with the story of his own conception in Elvis's birthplace Tupelo, Mississippi in 1962. My biological father is unknown to me, so in my story I;ve made into an Elvis-inspired character called "Johnny Tu-Note". Basically I'm saying that Elvis is my father.

"TEENAGE TUPELO makes my biological mother into the definitive heroine, though I've never met her. You might say this movie is a 'semi-auto-bio-sexploitation-comedy-drama-musical.' " Therefore JMM is the first to make a "Nudie Cutie" starring his own mother.

I suppose the genesis of TEENAGE TUPELO belongs to history and sin-chronicity, JMM explains, "My bio-mother saw Elvis play at the '56 Tupelo Fair and Dairy Show when she barely a teenager. You can see her in the famous photo of Elvis singing and reaching out to the crowd of mostly young women. At that same show the people who would adopt me years later are sitting in the back row. Elvis is my divine arbiter of synchronicity. We shot exclusively where He walked."

CULT MOVIES: Why did you leave Comics?

JOHN MICHAEL McCARTHY: William C. Gaines died. Kurtzman died. Then Jack Kirby. The world's not the same. Also, I became cynical to who I could reach and what I could prove with Fantagraphics which I perceived as the pinnacle of comics publishers.


JMM: I wanted to do an auto-bio story. The trend had been popular in comix so everyone was doing it but I wanted mine to be different. Then I realized I could pull maverick action and do it one better as a sexploitation film. I also succeeded in making a fun-eee movie. You laff at the moments that are supposed to be funny.

CM: How do you reconcile Sexploitation as Autobiography?

JMM: I wanted to do the mystery story of my conception. (and conceptualization is the highest form of western art ). Sort of a "Birth of a Baby meets JD meets Nudie Cutie" in a city vs. country setting. That's TEENAGE TUPELO. My biological mother had one child out of wedlock and when I came along as number two the family decided to give me away. This is what the film basically deals with in a Nudie-Musical-Comedy Drama sort of way. I made up the personal details (about my own life) that I don't know by creating and using a combination of Elvis folklore and character concepts that I will continue to use in my comics. The movie takes place in October, 1962. All my movies take place in October.

CM: Is TEENAGE TUPELO about your Mother?

JMM: It's multi-faceted. The premise is fact, the details are fantasy. And I continue my regional 'unpopular' cult take on Elvis that I began with my first flick DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS. There is an Elvis-inspired character named Johnny Tu-Note. Johnny comes back from the army and everyone has forgotten who he is. My Mother (played by starlet D'LANA TUNNEL) still idolizes Johnny ... until Johnny gets her pregnant.

CM: So you are saying that Elvis is your Father?

JMM: Why not? I take after Elvis in some odd ways. I left the boredom of Northeast Mississippi to pursue fame and fortune in Memphis. Elvis loved comics and was influenced by them (his favorite character was Capt. Marvel Jr.). I left that first love to make bad movies just like did. But I don't wanna be buried in my backyard.

CM: Did your biological Mother know Elvis?

JMM: If you study the famous photo of Elvis at the '56 Tupelo Fair and Dairy Show you can see my Mothers hand reaching up to touch Elvis. At the same show the family who would adopt me seven years later are sitting in the very back row. The juxtaposition of Elvis to the screaming girls in the front row is like Michaelangelo's composition in the 'Creation of Man'. It is sexual and very ironic.

CM: You filmed on location in Tupelo? (Birthplace of Elvis Presley)

JMM: We went to GREAT PAINS to do so. Although the police department was on our side, they didn't take kindly to topless babes running across parking lots. We were almost arrested for that one. After the incident, Officer Patterson gave our group a stern speech: "Boys, there's nudity and there's Art, and I'm not saying which is which, just let me know where I can find a copy of this movie!" I love exterior location nudity in films. It must be the Nudist in me.

CM: What kind of locations did you use?

JMM: Any (Tupelo) location that had something to do with my pre-history (or Elvis' s) was used. The fairground is the only area that Elvis and I have in common, other than my Mother also being from East Tupelo. My adoption father was working at a shirt factory called Blue Bell at the time he heard that i was 'on the market'. So we shot D'LANA TUNNELL doing a walking strip-tease there around the outside of the building in sexploitation homage to the little boy hero in 400 BLOWS, one of my favorite films. I wanted to beat Truffaut's continuous shot time of one minute thirty seconds. The li'l boy walks it off and D'Lana takes it off. Darin Ipema, the cinematographer strapped the camera to a bicycle seat that ran parallel to the building to get a smooth shot.

CM: What do your adoptive parents think of TEENAGE TUPELO?

JMM: You mean my real parents. My parents are in their early seventies and have supported everything I've done as an artist. Of course I don't think they fully comprehend what I'm saying with this project - they're so laid back it's hard to know. They've seen the Depression, World War 2, Elvis, Kennedy Assasination ... My Nudie films are the least of their worries. My Mom made the DAMSELVIS costume and the CAPT. CRYPT robe for TEENAGE TUPELO. She's already made a four-armed suit for the next movie SORE LOSERS.

CM: I understand you had a muse while filming?

JMM: There is a mystical character that began to appear in my comic work whom I dubbed CAPT. COMPANY. He had no origin, He just came to me. When writing the TT script, I needed a Dickensian apparition who informs my Mother of the weight of future decisions. I changed his name to CAPT. CRYPT (who I had drawn into my comics with hood and broken 'bat-ears'). He has taken on a much larger meaning in my life. CAPT. CRYPT is a sentinel of regional synchronicity and much more. CAPT. CRYPT is the guardian icon for the BLUE LIGHT OF CAPRICORN which heralded the birth of Jesus as well as the birth of Elvis Aron and his stillborn brother Jesse Garon. TEENAGE TUPELO is all about birth and the power of secrets. More secrets begin at birth and truths are told at death. You will witness my birth right there in your living room.

CM: Is this going to come across as too esoteric for most people.

JMM: Eccentric maybe. It's Regional Junk-Lore. I went from HOTROD HORROR POP to Regional Junk-Lore! I just happen to be from a mystical place, that's all. Northeast Mississippi contains the grave of the Stillborn Twin, Jesse Garon Presley. I have dubbed this the TOMB OF THE TUPELO TWIN and placed it within the scope of my film. My Mother (as played by starlet D'Lana Tunnell) walks by His grave everyday (in reality, an unmarked baby tombstone) on her way to work. The twin is symbolic of my Mother because she never gets to go anywhere. She has a twin-sister in the movie, a Nudie-Cutie star named Topsy Turvy (another character from my Dark Horse Comics / Mr. Monster days). Topsy's been places and comes back to Tupelo to premiere her new movie, "TRASHUS TRAILERIS". Topsy even has a German accent. Johnny Tu-Note is one satircal look at Elvis, Topsy is the other.

CM: You take this seriously don't you?

JMM: I hope to spread the message of the Blue Light of the Capricorn and the Tomb of the Tupelo Twin all over the world by the end of the Millenia.

CM: You shoot on film?

JMM: Yeah, one of my pet peeves are people who shoot on video but are called filmmakers. If I have to shoot my next project on video out of financial considerations then I'll be a storyteller not a filmmaker. There's a reason why video is cheaper - it doesn't look as good.

CM: How did you get the $13,000 to make the film?

JMM: After chasing around a couple of investors (which ended at the Western Steak Lounge in Elvis's favorite booth (with Butch Patrick. He had a salad.) and realizing they had no intention of doing anything but bore us, Darin Ipema, my starlet wife Dawn, and myself (with several credit cards) decided to make the leap. We started paying on the cards before we even had half the movie shot. Post-Production is the last thing we think about and that's more money. Now we're broke and we have to sneak into the local college after hours to finish the edit using someone else's name. The film students know what's going on but they don't report us. From what we've gathered they hate the schools courses and it's approach. There is no incentive in films schools down here to go out and make a politically incorrect film.

CM: How long was your shoot schedule?

JMM: There was a two week time frame in which we shot a little more than half the movie. The camera we used (a Beulieu 5008 graciously loaned to us by Robert Walters in Houston) arrived the day we began filming. The investors (and I use that term loosely) kept us waiting, thinking we could afford 16mm and so forth. Our erratic schedule kept Dallas Starlet D'Lana Tunnell coming back til mid-November 1994.

CM: Ms. D'Lana Tunnell is the star?

JMM: She's the STARLET! Totally untrained as a thespian, with assets given to her by Mother Nature that method acting just can't implore! She's about to do a photo calendar for Planet Pimp Records. 16 months of D'Lana Tunnell! I've used a lot of the same talented Femphis crowd that have showed up in past efforts but there are some new faces. Wand Wilson plays D'Lana's mother. Wanda was in WALKING TALL 3. Hugh B. Brooks is simply excellent as Johnny Tu-Note. I'm very lucky to know the most talented and outrageous people in town.

CM: How did you meet your Associate Producer David F. Friedman?

JMM: Dave has a secret hideaway in every airport in this country. That's where we first met after an initial phone call when he told me he would be flying through Memphis. This was in 1992. I gave Dave a bunch of comics and he gave me a copy of his book "A YOUTH IN BABYLON". Soon after I asked him to be Associate Producer on my CADAVERA film project which has since been put on hold. In the meanwhile TEENAGE TUPELO came up and he graciously accepted my offer again. We're southern boys you know. We don't loose anything in the translation.

CM: Because of that affiliation, TEENAGE TUPELO becomes Something Weird Video's FIRST NEW MOVIE?

JMM: Yes, but if Mike Vraney didn't think it was bad enough, he wouldn't want it. Mike is providing me with a way of getting my exploitation movies seen that defies the total lack of the old distribution system (that no longer exists). You have to be versed in this stuff and know how to find it unfortunately. You can't accidently find it at drive-in anymore.

CM: What's the future of BIg Broad Films*?

JMM: There are new Exploitation Movies to be made! And I'm talking about more than just the standard serial-killer and scream queen formula to which no level of criticism applies. I want Big Broad to be to film what garage rock is to rock and roll. Independent and personal. And I want to put lots of punk rock into movies. I live in the right place to do that. IMPALA is doing the CD soundtrack for TEENAGE TUPELO and FIREWORKS are slated for the next project THE SORE LOSERS. We begin shooting in October.

CM: Anything else?

JMM: "Hail to Grandpa!"

CULT MOVIES magazine #16, 1995