Emmy Award Winner, Jeffrey Schwarz has brought us films about Divine, Tab Hunter, Vito Russo and now Allan Carr! “The Fabulous Allan Carr” premieres tomorrow evening at SIFF Cinema Egyptian as part of the Seattle International Film Festival. Audiences will “Delight in the decadence of 70’s and 80’s Hollywood elite through the Svengali who brought sensations like “Grease” and “La Cage Au Folles” to the world!” Get tickets here! Check out our interview with Jeffrey Schwarz as he talks about the making of the film.
Earle Dutton: How did this idea come to fruition?
Jeffrey Schwarz: I grew up in the 70s loving that movie “Grease”. I was nine years old when it came out. I was completely obsessed with it even though I didn’t really understand the sexual innuendo. None of that really mattered. It was colorful and fun. John Travolta was interesting to me, although I didn’t know why at the time. At the time, I had no idea that there was somebody responsible for all of it. There was a guy, named Allan Carr, whose name I would see above the title but I didn’t know who that was. Over the years, I started hearing about this guy. I just knew the basic facts: he was a producer; he was gay; he was larger than life; he wore caftans; he had a disco in his basement; and I just heard all of these bits and pieces of information about him. Then a few years ago, a biography about Allan Carr came out, “Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr”, written by Robert Hofler. As soon as I read that book, I knew it would make a terrific documentary. I read the book about five years ago and here we are today.
ED: How long does it normally take for you from concept to filming?
JS: They are all different. They all sort of percolate in my unconscious. I mentioned “Grease” which is something that sort of entered my consciousness at an early age and it has always sort of stayed there. I think that the idea to do a movie is sort of like a light bulb going off. I realize that this is what I want to do. It just takes a long time to make that a reality. When I say that the movie took five years to make, there was a lot of time working on other projects, working with the author of the biography, getting the rights to the book, reaching out to people who knew Allan, getting financing set up, and working on interviews. Those things take a lot of time. Once the light bulb goes off and I know I want to make a movie, it will take anywhere from about five to seven years.
ED: What was the biggest challenge with this film?
JS: The biggest challenge with this production was that Allan Carr didn’t leave behind a lot of archival material for me to go through. When I worked on the Vito Russo film, I had access to a lot of interview material with Vito footage to work with. Allan didn’t have an estate per se. I didn’t have access to any of Allan’s personal materials, home movies or photos. There is really not a lot of interview material of Allan out there. There are few key pieces that I did find. They were sort of career overview interviews. I think the challenge was finding enough material to really bring Allan to life in a way. We had to do some different kinds of things like animation, which I haven’t really used before. We did some really fun cartoon animation to turn Allan into this really fun cartoon character that we use throughout the film. So that was one of the biggest challenges, just finding supporting archival material.
The other challenge was to just find bring on-board people who knew Allan and worked with him to provide a personal perspective. We did somewhere between fifty and sixty interviews for this movie.
ED: You have made documentaries about living and dead people. Do you have a preference or is it based completely on the subject matter?
JS: Umm it is hard to say. I have done two films where the subject was still with us. Those films where about Jack Wrangler and Tab Hunter. That gives you a point of view that is very unique. Then you have someone like Allan, where you are sort of piecing together a life from what he left behind. There are different challenges for each. I don’t have a preference for one or the other. I really love the process of bringing someone back to life in a sense by working through what was left behind in the archival world. I find that a real challenge and really fun. There has really never been anything done on Allan Carr. There are specials about the making of “Grease” and stuff like that but never really anything just about Allan Carr. We really dug into the archives and found some real treasures. These are things that have never been seen and probably never would have been seen.
ED: How much fact-checking do you have to do for your documentaries?
JS: I don’t consider myself a journalist. I don’t really do fact checking per se. I am looking for a larger truth. People tell stories about Allan and a lot of these stories have entered into the world of legend. That is very interesting to me. A lot of my movies deal with the idea of myth making and these people who are creating their own legend in their own lives. For someone like Allan, I am not sure how much you can rely on what he says. He’s a master of spin and a master of controlling the story and narrative. I have no way of verifying the truth if more than one person is telling me the same story. Everyone will have a slightly different recollection of what happened. I am very attracted to the myth of all of this. I am more interested in the legend than actual truth sometimes.
ED: What was your favorite part of the process?
JS: I have to say that this has been one of the most creatively fulfilling projects that I have done. I had a producer, John Baccardo, who was so encouraging and supportive throughout the entire process. He really allowed me to take this story and run with it. I really enjoyed meeting all of Allan’s friends. I enjoyed meeting Lorna Luft for example. take this story and run with it. She was close with Allan for a period of time. I loved hearing about these bygone days of the 1970s when anything seemed possible. Allan was trying to bring back a glamour to Hollywood that he thought had gone away, in a sense. In the 70s we had stars like Dustin Hoffman. He is a huge star but you wouldn’t call him glamorous. Allan really wanted to restore this glamour back to Hollywood. He believed in the power of entertainment to make people happy.
ED: What does it mean for a filmmaker like yourself to complete your project and bring it to a showcase/film festival like SIFF?
JS: This is the moment that every filmmaker waits for. You work on these projects for years often in little rooms where other people can’t see what you are doing. You don’t know for sure if your project is really going to work or not. You really hope it does. The whole reason to do all of this is to get your movie in front of an audience. There is no better feeling in the world than to show your film to an audience that wants to be there. A film festival offers the opportunity to see movies that you may never get to see anywhere else. Not all movies that play at film festivals get distribution. For a filmmaker there is no better feeling in the world, than to hear and see the audience’s responses first-hand. I love doing that. It is my favorite thing. I am really excited about SIFF. It is my first time.
Get tickets and more information about SIFF here!
Further comments from the filmmaker, Jeffrey Schwarz about “The Fabulous Allan Carr”:
I was delighted to discover Robert Hofler’s Allan Carr biography PARTY ANIMALS, and knew right away it had all the elements I look for when choosing a subject. A film adaptation would tie together themes of all my previous documentaries – stories of visionary outsiders (William Castle, Jack Wrangler, Divine, and Tab Hunter for example) who create larger than life personas to make their dreams a reality – all stories of outsiders becoming insiders. The challenge with THE FABULOUS ALLAN CARR was to look beyond the caricature, and explore the inner life of a complicated, contradictory man. It is a story of a star-maker who became a star.
In a pre-Twitter landscape, Allan Carr was a master of spin, and knew how to cajole and manipulate the press. He controlled the narrative, even spinning his failures into successes, as long as they kept on talking about him. Today’s obsessive curation of our public personas on social media has its roots in Carr’s celebrity, as we’re all now presenting a carefully crafted image of ourselves to the world.
With this film, I also wanted to explore the gay experience in Hollywood in the 1970’s and 80’s – the new freedoms that could be enjoyed, and what the limitations were. It was an opportunity to tell a social history from the era when homosexuality was never discussed and gays sought solace in the movies through the hedonistic 1970’s, embracing the sensual and then the 1980’s when AIDS came along and ruined the party.
Although it was no secret that Allan Carr was a gay, he never formally acknowledged it publicly. The word “flamboyant” was often used to describe him, a code word. Using humor and outrageousness to gain entry into a conservative industry, Allan Carr furthered the acceptance of gay identity just by being himself, and his sensibility found its way into his product. The work he produced was infused with a gay aesthetic impossible not to notice today. With LA CAGE AUX FOLLES he presented the first Broadway musical featuring a gay love story at its center. It was a revolutionary portrayal, made more poignant by the fact that it was released at the height of the AIDS crisis.
Allan Carr was the last great showman of the 20th century. As a friend of Allan’s says in the film, “He was in the business of making people happy.” I hope this film reminds us of the power of entertainment to bring joy into our lives.