Winter 2006

The Playboy Interviews: The Directors
(M Press, 300 pages, $22.95)
Edited by Stephen Randall and the editors of Playboy magazine

"I only read it for the articles” has long been the familiar alibi for anyone caught toting Hugh Hefner’s pioneering skin-mag, but an equally acceptable excuse might be, “I only read it for the interviews.” The Playboy face-to-face encounter is remarkable in several ways. For one thing, the lengthy, in-depth interviews are well researched and more penetrating than standard-issue media chatter. For another, Playboy has an enviably sure instinct for catching people at important turning points - those felicitous, fleeting moments when self-examination and frank reassessment seem likelier to occur. These principles were evident in famous 1960s interviews with Malcolm X just before his assassination or Albert Speer just after his release from Spandau, and they work just as well for the 16 moviemakers in The Playboy Interviews: The Directors.

The sheer range of interviewees here is dazzling: Robert Altman needling his interlocutor in the aftermath of Nashville; Billy Wilder and Ingmar Bergman interrogated in 1964 (though not together, sadly); Roman Polanski’s first interview after the Manson murders; Scorsese after Goodfellas; and Francis Coppola after The Conversation and The Godfather II. The sparkling 1968 conversation with Stanley Kubrick reminds one that there was a time, before his self-enforced media silence, when he was downright gregarious. John Huston is encountered in his bohemian dotage, the interviewer having to endure unpaved roads and a three-hour boat ride simply to reach the ailing master in his remote Mexican refuge - a worthwhile journey it turns out, as Huston freely drops names, anecdotes and indiscretions in his wake. Orson Welles, “grown fat from spreading himself thin,” is encountered in 1967 by Kenneth Tynan, and is a sharper judge of his own efforts and shortcomings than the dozen biographers who have since picked over his grave.

Although one might have appreciated pictures of the subjects, and not a single woman director is included (it is Playboy, after all), this collection is truly a Roman banquet of interviews, and its pleasures and surprises never seem to end.

Review written by John Patterson.


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