NOTE: At long last, Dangerous Men is now available for digital download thanks to the good folks at Drafthouse Films. This movie - which had a triumphant, brain-melting screening at Fantastic Fest this year - is a gonzo work of art, and really must be seen to be believed. We're very excited for all of you to finally have the chance to see this movie, and to celebrate, we're reprinting (with permission!) the following rare interview with Dangerous Men director John Rad, conducted by LA Weekly's Paul Cullum all the way back in 2005.
I am from Persia, which is called Iran. When I finished my high school, I went to college in England.
HOW OLD ARE YOU?
Not what you look is your age, but what you feel is your age. I know some who seem like a 180-year-old person, and they are not even 20. That’s not the issue. The issue is what you feel about life. Life is so beautiful; it’s the moment. Yesterday is gone. I don’t believe in the future. Nobody saw their future. So life is now. If you could be a help, you must be a nice person, you must understand what is humanity. That’s what my life is all about.
YOU GREW UP UNDER THE SHAH?
Yes, when I came back from England.
THIS WAS OXFORD?
It was an annex of Cambridge. I was educated there. I have been an architect, which – I consider myself one of the best. I’ve done a lot of different buildings in different places in the world. And too I’m a filmmakers. I create different. If it is bad, it’s a bad different. If it’s good, it’s a different. That’s the way my creation is. And I’m a good writer. I’m writing a book, and I’m sure it is going to be absolutely revolutionary. And I’m a poet. I can write poems about anything, and I don’t follow anybody’s technique, just my own. I have thousands of poems. And also I am a songwriter. I have about a hundred songs ready. I don’t do: “I went to lady’s room/I made a phone call,” or such a thing. Or “I hold my private parts.” It’s nasty, these songs I hear; I feel sorry for our society that they like it so much. As a director, I create a story and then I squeeze it to five minutes or four minutes, and when you hear it, for you, it goes big. That is what my songs are all about. I compose too.
IS YOUR BOOK A NOVEL OR A MEMOIR?
It is kind of everything in one thing. It has a very beautiful title. Everything thing in one thing: When you start as a child, if you do good what happens, if you do bad what happens, or a politician – everything, you name it, as my experiences and knowledge of life. Life may give you a lot of education, if it’s what you’re after, but if you don’t use your brain, you don’t learn. There are a lot of educated people, when you talk to them, you feel you talk to a dummy. Look at the computer – it’s all over the world; this is a small imitation of a brain. Then why don’t we use all of our brain? If you want to talk philosophy, I can talk for days and days and days.
WHAT DID YOUR PARENTS DO?
My father was an Iranian doctor and in the army, and also he was a very bright and good person. He did a lot of other things besides. But I learned from him. He always told me, if you want to be successful, be honest in everything. That’s one of my policies. I lose a lot because I’m honest, and I gain a lot because I’m honest. And also, what I never forget, he told me, “Impossible is impossible.” For a human being. I said okay, what do you mean? I was a child. He said, put it in your mind; I’m not going to explain until you find it out. I was in high school when I found out that impossible really is impossible. I remember once a very good friend of mine said, ‘Okay, John, if impossible is impossible, go on top of a building and fly.’ And I said, ‘Yes, only on one condition: If you 100% know yourself, which we can’t do. We only use 25% of our brain. How can we know ourselves. So that is fortunately a good father I had who gave me very, very good advice, and also in some aspects which I don’t want to explain now, I don’t like him either, because of what he should do, he didn’t.
SAY THAT AGAIN.
I didn’t like him so much also because – on the one hand, it was hard for him, but on the other hand, he can do anything he wants. We human beings, when we bring a child into this world, we are responsible. It’s natural: anyone can make a child. But how to bring him up? That is the issue? Also in this film you see, there are many people – good people, bad people – everything. That’s what human beings are. Why not be the right person?
BROTHERS AND SISTERS?
I had two sisters and a brother, we were four.
EDUCATED IN ENGLAND, CAME BACK TO IRAN.
I came back to Iran. I didn’t go get money from my father. I started myself, I had the best property anybody can have – that’s education, and nobody can take it away. That is why I really advise always friends let your kids be educated. That’s the main important thing you can do. Then I started from scratch, and with reason, honesty and good work, I became a multimillionaire. I started with architecture first, doing projects and other stuff, and then afterwards, when I had enough time, I started making films. With my first film I took pride, and the next and next.
HOW MANY FILMS HAVE YOU MADE?
Probably around 10. [features] Most were in Farsi, which everything I just left there, I only saved my life to get out of this stupid [situation].
YOU LEFT IN ’79?
’79, exactly – 24 hours before Khomeini comes. Nobody believed the Shah would not come back. So did I. I just came here to be out of the problem. My mother-in-law was here. And then the next day when I called my office, they said, ‘Stay where you are, sir, this is a jungle – it’s a hell.’ So that’s why I stayed, and I started from scratch again. From scratch. I got nothing out. If I figured my dollars, I’d probably have a billion dollars by today. I don’t care. The only thing I care is it’s my dream if one day I can make a foundation for the smart, with high IQ, teenagers who don’t have parents, or if they have, they don’t have money to go and be educated and be leaders. The best come from poor families, the best leaders, because they see both sides. They’ve been poor, so they know better how to lead. That’s my main purpose and hope, and I’ve already told my kids they’re not going to get a penny, and they know it. As soon as I have enough to have that foundation, everything goes there.
HOW MANY KIDS DO YOU HAVE?
I have three. They are grown, they don’t need me, they have enough to live. That’s important. At least to have their kids educated.
AND THEN HOW MANY OF YOUR FILMS HAVE YOU MADE IN ENGLISH?
THERE’S NO RECORD OF THEM I CAN FIND. WERE THEY CREDITED TO ANOTHER DIRECTOR?
No. Usually I sold them. Unfortunately, when you are a low-budget filmmaker, sometimes you lose your pants because they don’t let you grow. I don’t know why. But I decided not to sell my film this time, I am self-distributing it. But unfortunately, some distributors, they see I am an honest person, they don’t give you what you’re owed.
YES. EVEN I KNOW THIS.
Thank you. That’s why I decided not to, regardless of if I lose or I win.
ESPECIALLY WITH THE INTERNET, EVERY CORNER OF THE FILM UNIVERSE HAS A BRIGHT LIGHT SHINED ON IT. BUT I REALLY CAN’T FIND ANYTHING OUT ABOUT YOU OR THE FILM. HOW IS THAT?
I’ll tell you one thing about myself: I don’t like showoffs. If it was not the purpose of that foundation, I would maybe just sit with you and have a coffee, but I wouldn’t [grant an] interview. I don’t like showoffs. My work is me. If they like my work, they like me, regardless of my face or physical [presence] or who I am. That’s not important. What’s important is you can do for others what they did for you at that stage. I owe everybody in this world, because without other humans, no human can be found. We need each other, and we are of each other.
CAN YOU NAME ANY WRITERS OR FILMMAKERS WHO HAVE INFLUENCED YOU, OR WHO YOU ADMIRE?
To be honest with you, Paul, we humans have such a creative brain – everybody can be creative, can use their brain – I’m wondering why not. I don’t like imitation at all. For instance, if I am really hungry -- as an architect or a filmmaker or any profession – and you come and give me all the money in the world, and you say do something like that, even when that is one of my works: Impossible. I prefer not to imitate. That is why I don’t follow anybody. When I create something, you must be your own. When you are your own, I think you can learn from yourself to teach others. Probably, if you’ve seen this film, then you get my idea of what I mean.
ARE YOUR OTHER ENGLISH FILMS AVAILABLE?
The other two were sold. I always write and direct myself. No other directors. I heard in Europe it was very good, especially in Spain. In Korea and some other places, I heard. But they’ve never been in America. The first one was called Under the Cover of Night, and the other one is called Tough and Restless. This recent one, I decided not to give to a distributor and to do it myself.
DANGEROUS MEN: A LOT OF THE CAST HAVE LIMITED FILM CREDITS RIGHT AROUND ’95 OR ’96, SO I’M THINKING MAYBE THE FILM WAS SHOT THEN AND YOU FINISHED IT SUBSEQUENTLY. OR EVEN THAT IT WAS MADE EARLIER AND YOU DID MORE FILMING AROUND ’95. WHAT’S THE HISTORY OF THE FILM?
You’re smart. I like that. First of all, there were a few things involved as this happened. But I did the best I could, and it doesn’t show in the film. Probably by outdoors or something, you realized that, but by the characters: Kind of impossible. For instance, where we are sitting now was different two years ago; maybe through that we find out. Yes. First of all, of course budget is impossible, as you know. In Hollywood, they say [between] $15 and $45 million, they say low budget. So if I have, for instance, $45 million, in film or architecture, I can make it three times or four times with that.
LARRY BUCHANAN, MY UNCLE. THERE’S A MILLION LOW-BUDGET FILMS, BUT IT’S RARE TO HAVE A VISION BOLD ENOUGH TO STAND OUT. YOUR FILM IS NOT LIKE OTHER FILMS.
Okay, I tell you why. We human beings are unique, aren’t we? Any film I make will be realistic. That’s why it’s unique. In here, you don’t see any false thing. That’s reality of our lives. So when you go for realistic things, then we are all of us different – you cannot find two human beings exactly alike. Impossible. So if you want to be presented as different or unique, be realistic. That is my technique, and that is why I like to relate realities.
HISTORY OF THE FILM AGAIN.
Unfortunately, while I started shooting, of course, as I said, I started from scratch after being a multimillionaire. So, first of all, budget was important. Unfortunately, I had accident after accident after accident. And I’m sure if I didn’t have this positivity – which I am very positive --- and also, it always rings in my head, ‘Impossible is impossible.’ Now I’m sitting with you, and you see me as a very healthy person. Maybe not. But – I don’t let myself be weak, I don’t let myself be down. I am human, and the human is the strongest and most important creature on this planet. I’m one of them. So while I was shooting, I had surgery on both feet – there’s footage of me on the set, I have a little baby’s high chair in my hand, both feet are in slippers in bandages, and I’m walking like a penguin. And I was directing. Usually I create in the scene, it doesn’t go exactly like the script. And my DP filmed me while I was directing. The next day, when we went to the lab to look at the rushes, he didn’t come. I asked, Why not? He said, you go see that, tell me what you think. I cracked up. But I did it because I wanted to prove to myself that impossible is impossible: you have to do it, you have to finish, do what you did and present it. That’s why it took me a little time. But I think it turned out okay.
SO PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY WAS WHEN?
I filmed it in various different time periods, but I don’t remember everything exactly. It’s in the file if you want me to get it.
BUT YOU STARTED IN THE EARLY ‘90S AND THEN FILMED MORE LATER?
Something like that.
THERE WEREN’T TWO FILMS THAT YOU JUST SPLICED TOGETHER, WERE THERE? THE TWO PLOTS SEEM TO LINK THROUGH THE TWO BROTHERS – THE RAPE REVENGE PLOT AND THE COP/DEALER PLOT.
This is possible. I think with a lot of guts and talent, somebody could do that. I did a little bit of that too. As I explained to you.
WELL, ONE OF THE VERY UNUSUAL THINGS ABOUT IT IS YOU START WITH ONE SET OF CHARACTERS AND WIND UP WITH A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT SET. YOU NEVER KNOW WHERE YOU ARE IN THE FILM BECAUSE OF THAT. IT’S LIBERATING IN A WAY.
It’s kind of difficult, probably, for an audience if your mind goes anywhere else. It doesn’t make any difference, in my opinion, any film, but especially this film. As you see, there are a lot of different characters – a lot of actors and actresses – a couple hundred maybe. There’s a lot of people there. And each scene has their own characters. One thing very important in any film, there is a lead, from the start to the end. You don’t see that here. Everybody is their own lead. That’s why you have to put your mind on it. It doesn’t matter how long it took. But when you go and see the film, put your mind there and you will enjoy it, and in my opinion learn a lot. You have to just concentrate; you will enjoy and learn.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT SOME OF YOUR PHILOSOPHICAL INTENTIONS WITH THE FILM?
First of all, film for me is like a university: In two hours you may learn or you may lose. That is my main purpose in filmmaking, to give educational value. It’s true, you want to go for fun. That is correct. You need fun. But, at the same time, if a writer of director, which both are myself, be smart enough to give something to the audience to learn from, that is that university. In my opinion, from the beginning to the end, every scene of it is educational. There are parts you get so excited, there are parts you laugh, there are many things in it…..
THERE IS A RICH TRADITION IN HOLLYWOOD OF FILMMAKERS COMING FROM THE OUTSIDE OF THE CULTURE AND SHINING A SPOTLIGHT BACK ON OUR CULTURE: HITCHCOCK, DOUGLAS SIRK, EASTER EUROPEAN REFUGEES BEFORE THE WAR. DO YOU HAVE SPECIAL INSIGHTS INTO OUR CULTURE, HAVING BEEN RAISED ELSEWHERE?
Those directors or producers, from a hundred years ago up to day, whatever big name or small name they have, they have their own name. But my name is John, and I go with my technique. I work up-to-date, regardless of where I am from. I am of the society where I live, and society belongs to the world. We have to just present what we are now and what we have to do, for all society and all lives. That’s what this film is all about. You live up to date, and keep talking about the weakness of society or whatever.
AND YOUR STATUS AS A PERSIAN FILMMAKER, HAVING COME HERE AS AN ADULT, DOESN’T GIVE YOU SPECIAL INSIGHTS INTO THAT?
Okay. I have to tell you something a little bit different than what you asked. You or me or anybody is one of two things: Either we are a tourist, we compare somewhere, or we live there. I’ve been living here 28 years. And for these 28 years, I am familiar with the society I’m in and it’s my society I have to make a film about – the pain of society or the glory of the society. We see everything in it, from fun to politics, if you really see the film. It is our world; we are human and connected. I don’t care where I’m from or where you are from. We have to think we are unity, we are human, we are the same blood. And we have to explain what we mean or what we have.
CAN YOU POINT TO EXAMPLES FROM THE FILM WHERE THERE IS SOCIAL COMMENTARY?
At the beginning, we see a sign that says ‘Unity.’ Another example is a cop whose brother was killed, directly taking orders from his chief, but he doesn’t obey the rules. This is one of the political things: We have to obey rules, regardless. There are many small things there like that. If I had to explain all these things, it should be probably a one-week seminar.
I am writing a book, and also already over 70 or 60 songs in English, and those songs I create a story in [repeats “squeeeeeze]. And I have already a very good script in hand that I’m almost about to finish, but I need to find an investor or some companies and I’ll be able to.
IF I WRITE A STORY ABOUT THE FILM, ARE YOU WILLING TO SHOW THE FILM AGAIN AT MIDNIGHT?
Hopefully, I’m going to release it again, as I had a lot of response. Some different people in the business want to either release it, or there’s a big Japanese guy that’s very much in love with this film. He’s in Japan now but will be back soon, and he desperately was looking for me.
THIS FILM HAS AN AUDIENCE, IF YOU’RE RECEPTIVE TO IT-- I THINK IT COULD BE A CULT FILM.
Let me tell you one thing: All I have or all I make, including this film, it will go to the foundation I explained it to you….
FILMS NEVER EXIST WITHOUT A PEDIGREE; THEY NEVER JUST COME OUT OF NOWHERE. THIS FILM SEEMS TO COME OUT OF NOWHERE. IT’S SURREAL, FUNNY, IT WORKS IN A SPECIAL MAGICAL WAY, AND I DON’T KNOW IF I’M DOING A GOOD JOB OF EXPLAINING EXACTLY HOW.
That’s true. But I had to find a way, my way, and I walk alone, as I have been walking alone all the time. But this was like a sample that I gave to society; fortunately, it was very, very supportive. The theater manager told me we saw some people two or three times. That means that it’s accepted. But I didn’t have enough big advertisements, nobody knows about it, the same way nobody knows about me.
YOU FOUR-WALLED THIS THING YOURSELF. ARE YOU FINANCIALLY WELL OFF, DO YOU MAKE A DECENT LIVING?
No, if I was financially well off, I would have had better advertising. I just wanted to give a sample. I had the help of a lot of friends and relatives here and there, and that’s why I couldn’t go big. I did what I could.
YOU HAD A TV AD ON DURING FEAR FACTOR LATE AT NIGHT?
Some people did something, but I am not aware of it. I did have an ad, but only as far as my budget went. It became kind of a big mystery. I forgot to bring you a lot of e-mails through the theaters. They’ve been looking for me – who is this guy? But honestly, I did what I could. I did the best I could. But I’m sure, with a good backup, believe me, this film will sell a lot.
Read Paul Cullum's profile of John S. Rad here.
BONUS: We've also got this rare video interview with Rad, from some long-forgotten talk show (host: Jack E. Jett), which also aired back in 2005. This is, believe it or not, the only known video footage of John Rad.