Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ask Me a Question: Conan the Barbarian w/ Sandahl Bergman & William Stout

Apparently it's been a year since Dolph Night happened, time flies huh? My quest to spread the gospel of 80's and 90's action movies continued Saturday night with a double feature of 1982's Conan the Barbarian and 84's Destroyer. The night's special guests included dancer turned actress Sandahl Bergman and production artist/concept designer William Stout for Q&A while producer of upcoming sequel The Legend of Conan Fredrik Malmberg stopped by to chat with the fans. We had several awesome guests set up in the lobby including Robert E. Howard inspired metal band Ben Morgh, The Arnold Fans with lots of great King of Kings magazines, posters and protein bars as well as comedy group Schwarzenator in costume. Also on display were several of William Stout's awesome production paintings.


Hype man and programmer extraordinaire Grant welcomed the crowd, last month saw an 80's themed Arcade program, Conan was the penultimate night in an 80's Fantasy line up and next month sees 80's Horror on display with special guests. The Conan the Barbarian print looked great and the audience was fantastic. Both Bergman and Stout watched the film and the crowd burst out into applause, cheering and laughter several times. I forgot how funny, violent and sexual the flick is. If you haven't seen it, basically young Conan's parents and village are wiped out by the powerful, hypnotic, snake loving diva Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones), gets put into slavery, grows into Arnold, becomes a pit fighter, freed, finds a sword, teams up with thief and archer Subatai (Gerry Lopez), they meet leggy blonde thief Valeria (Bergman), steal some of Doom's snake jewels and are hired to return the runaway daughter of a local king (Max Von Sydow). Based on Robert E. Howard's novels, John Milius writes and directs a deliberate, sword, sand, sex and sorcery filled epic that is at times hyper violent and then reflective and philosophical.

In Arnold's first starring and iconic role, The Oak gets to play curious, strong, stoic, sensitive and vengeful in two, mostly dialog free hours. Lopez is great as sidekick Subatai who plays out like the voice of reason when necessary while Bergman's Valeria is a somewhat forgotten cinematic female ass kicker who fuels Conan's post vengeance life. Mako provides some laughs and weird wizard moments as narrator and supporting character Akiro (simply The Wizard in the first film). Watching it on the big screen you realize how grand the film is from the snow covered village to the wheel of pain to the fighting pit to scaling the snake adorned tower, the orgy scene throne room, Thusla Doom's huge temple and a terrific last stand set in a Stonehedge like rock formation in the desert. All set to Basil Poledouris' grand and fantastic score. There's exploding blood bags galore, camel punching, drunk celebrating, Arnold having sex with nearly every woman he meets, vulture killing, resurrection and the quest to find what is best in life.

After the film, Sandahl Bergman and William Stout sat down for Q&A:

- Bergman grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, ended up on Broadway then in films like Xanadu and All That Jazz before meeting with John Milius for Conan.
- William Stout had been working in comic books and advertising for years, contributing to over 120 movie posters before being brought on by Ron Cobb for Conan where he would make about 10% of the money he did in advertising.
- Both had a huge affinity for John Milius being such a character and creating a family atmosphere.
- Stout and Cobb worked on the film for a year before Arnold was cast.
- Arnold was a specimen with a great sense of humor and drive. Milius was unhappy with The Oak's bodybuilder physique and Arnold came back two weeks later looking more athletic.
- Bergman had never trained in swordplay or riding and nearly lost a finger when an extra missed his mark. Her sword was designed with no finger guard but after the accident, one was added.
- Akira Kurosawa and samurai films were required viewing before shooting started.
- Both have fond memories of producer Dino De Laurentiis, who also cultivated a family feel.
- Bergman and Arnold became buddies so their love scenes were extremely awkward to film with the duo constantly cracking up. It didn't help that Arnold squeeze Maria Shriver was on set and Bergman was dating Stunt Coordinator and 2nd Unit Director Terry Leonard.
- Terry Leonard is a badass, on Milius' The Wind and the Lion, charged down a hill on horseback, chops a dummy's head off that landed exactly where Leonard said it would.
- Sean Connery was first choice for Thulsa Doom but passed.
- Both recall James Earl Jones being a great human being with a booming voice, so strong that during a speech in front of a thousand extras, he didn't use a microphone.
- Max Von Sydow spent a lot of time looking in mirror, running lines and experimenting with make up to create his character.
- Both are not fond of either sequel Destroyer or spin-off Red Sonja. Bergman couldn't imagine a Conan film without John Milius' involvement.
- Bergman was asked to star as Red Sonja but thought it would be confusing after being in Conan and opted to be the evil queen instead.
- Stout hated the script for Destroyer, re-wrote it himself but vetoed by director Richard Fleischer and producer Raffaella De Laurentiis. Would later write a script based on Conan the Buccaneer that he wouldn't mind turning into a comic book someday.
- After seeing a cut of Sonja, Arnold and Bergman declared they would not promote the film.
- Bergman wasn't sure how to respond when asked about her portrayal of Valeria being an inspirational, badass film heroine in the wake of Princess Leia and before Sarah Connor/Ellen Ripley.
- Bergman met with Milius several times in the mid-2000's about Conan: Crown of Iron, she would have played an innkeeper that is kindred spirits with Conan. Neither Bergman or Stout were surprised when Arnold ran for Governor but neither voted for him either.
- Stout found the 2011 reboot to be pretty but not much else. Bergman hasn't seen it after being so involved with original, describing it as a family adventure with no egos involving the best of the best.

Of course much more was discussed but hey, you had to be there! Another great night in the books and thanks to everyone who attended for being such a fun crowd, The Egyptian Theatre for hosting, Randy and The Arnold Fans for co-hosting, all of the Dammaged Goods supporters, Jeremy for documenting and of course our special guests Fredrik Malmberg, Sandahl Bergman and William Stout. We'll see you in September for the next one!

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