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terryjones-012.jpg

-by Ken Plume

terryjones-02.jpgOccasionally, an interview will - for various timing and scheduling issues - sit on the shelf for far too long a time. Over the next few months here at FRED, we’ll be dusting off those “too good to let sit any longer” pieces and letting them finally see the light of day. First up is an interview from last year featuring Monty Python alumnus, director, writer, and historian Terry Jones - conducted a few weeks into his documentary series on the Barbarians on BBC2. Barbarians is due to be released on DVD in the US this January, from Koch Lorber.

As a Python, Terry co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Gilliam before assuming full directorial duties for The Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life .

As an ex-Python, he wrote Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and wrote and directed Erik the Viking (a “Director’s Son’s Cut” of which is currently available in the UK from Arrow Films) and the recent adaptation of Wind in the Willows.

Just as fellow ex-Python Michael Palin has become associated with his frequent travel documentaries, so too Jones has also been connected with the documentary form in recent years - first with his miniseries about the Crusades, followed by a series of programs on ancient inventions, the hidden history of Rome and Egypt, and Medieval Lives, which examined the myths surrounding such historical archetypes as the knight, the damsel, the minstrel, and the monk.

His documentaries present a healthy dose of history within an entertaining (and often humorous) vehicle. As they say, “a spoonful of sugar…”

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KEN PLUME: I suppose the first thing I have to say is how much I’ve been enjoying your Barbarians series…

TERRY JONES: Are you in the States?

KP: I’m in the States.

JONES: Then how are you seeing it?

KP: The joys of the internet.

JONES: Amazing. I never knew.

KP: So on Friday evenings I’ll watch Have I Got News For You, and then the new Barbarians. In fact, I just watched your appearance on The Paul O’Grady Show

JONES: Amazing!

KP: Well, it’s a shrinking world.

JONES: Yeah…

terryjones-03.jpgKP: It’s quite interesting to get a glimpse into UK life via television, and it goes to show that people are becoming more worldly - if they actually take a chance to look at what’s out there. Barbarians, I think in some ways even tops Crusades as my favorite piece you’ve done so far.

JONES: Really…

KP: It certainly seems that there’s a real love and vitality that you’ve brought to the subject matter.

JONES: Yeah.

KP: At what point did that strike you as a kernel of an idea that you wanted to explore? Because you said in the past that something has to really interest you for you to want to explore it…

JONES: Yeah. Well, partly it was because I didn’t know anything about the classical world. I didn’t know anything about the subject. So that was quite interesting, anyway. But I kind of had a suspicion that the story of the Roman Empire must have some relevance to the world today, and to the sort of situation we have today. So I was kind of looking out for that, in a way, when we started - but it certainly became very clear as we got there was a very curious parallel. Nothing is absolutely the same, of course - history doesn’t really repeat itself, but the same people and the same motivations go on and…

KP: Human nature remains the same.

JONES: Rome was considering itself as the sole superpower for a long time, and it embarked on this policy of preemptive strike to neutralize states around its borders. But it was driven by fear. Their 9/11 happened in 390 BC, when the Celts overran Rome. So, you know, it was different, but there are similarities.

KP: I think the great thing about the pieces that you do is that it really shows that for all the differences there might be, the one thing that does remain constant is human nature.

JONES: Yeah.

KP: And humans will react in certain ways to certain circumstances across the board, no matter what time period you’re in.

JONES: I think that’s right. I think people don’t change. And I think people were the same in 500 BC and 1000 BC, but we just don’t know about them. You had the same kind of people seeking power, and using very similar methods to gain power. I mean, it was laughable when Caesar, driven by political considerations at home - he wants power, and he needs money, so he declares himself Protector of the Gauls. By the time he’s finished protecting them, he’s killed a million of them, and enslaved another million, and he owned all of Gaul and was very rich, thank you very much. Well, it’s not a million miles away from saving the Iraqis from their dreadful dictator, Saddam Hussein. By the time we’ve finished with them… So far, we must have killed about a quarter of a million of them and destroyed their society.

KP: But we bring freedom!

JONES: Right! Freedom! Yeah. But Halliburton and Kellogg Brown and all that lot, they’ve all done extremely well out of it.

KP: I found it fascinating - in the episode last night - regarding the Visigoths…

JONES: Oh yeah…

KP: And the description of… what was the society that was completely wiped out in Germania?

JONES: The Dacians…

KP: Yes. And the gold, and that pursuit of a coffer…

JONES: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. I mean they’re just wiping out the Dacians because they wanted their gold. They built Rome on the proceeds, really. Or what we regard as Rome.

KP: And it’s amazing how many military actions in history have such a base desire that are covered up in loftier stated goals. Although that one was pretty blatant as to what the goal was.

JONES: I mean, to do the Romans justice, they weren’t mealy mouthed about celebrating their acts of violence. I think that was one of the things that became very clear - Trajan celebrates by having his column show all of these pictures of Romans killing Dacians. And there’s a big celebration of an act of genocide.

KP: I found it even more fascinating what was done for the corresponding monument…

JONES: Oh yes, the one at Adamclisi, in Romania…

KP: Which was a threefold statement - that you’ll never pose a threat again, we’ll protect you, and I’m great.

JONES: (laughing) That’s the big difference between the Roman sort of carvings and monuments - which are usually you’re showing Romans killing people in one form or another - and, for instance, the Persian monuments in Persepolis, which are all sort of celebrating peace, and it’s people coming to present the emperor with gifts, and they’re all walking hand in hand. Or they’ve got their hand on the back. It’s not hands around the wrist, which is always the symbol of having captured somebody. But walking hand in hand and so there’s all that celebrating, friendship, and partnership.

KP: Well, peace doesn’t keep people in line!

JONES: (laughing) That’s true!

KP: In the research you’ve done, is there any society that is that forthright and celebratory of conquering as the Romans were?

JONES: To tell the truth, I think all of the societies would be, given the chance. But there is a really huge difference between the Persians - in what is now Iran - and the Romans. There is a cylinder in the British Museum that was uncovered beneath the ruins of Babylon, and it’s in cuneiform. It’s got cuneiform all over it, and the cylinder celebrates Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon. But in it, he says, “I came as a friend.” And he said, “I didn’t allow my troops to terrorize anybody. We didn’t have to carry weapons. We were able to walk around the streets without weapons. And I freed all the slaves, and allowed them to return to their homeland. And I was celebrated as a great benefactor.” It’s almost called the world’s first statement of human rights. You might think, “Well, it’s the kind of thing a tyrant might put on, a bit of spin doctoring…”

KP: Right.

JONES: Except that it’s born out by the Bible. And in Isaiah… and I can’t remember the other book… but in Isaiah, Cyrus the Great is celebrated as the Lord’s anointed. I mean, he was Persian. He has nothing to do with the Israelis. But the slaves he freed are the Israelites. And he sends them back to Israel to rebuild their temple. And he’s a hero to the Jews. So there is corroboration about that. And then Cyrus’s successors - Darius, and then Xerxes - they leave records of what they’ve done, and any monument always starts with, “God is great, who created the world and created yonder skies, who created man, who created happiness for man, and who made Darius or Xerxes king.” But the idea that happiness for man is on the political agenda and there’s a statement of intent from the emperor, it’s kind of something I think we could do with nowadays.

terryjones-07.jpgKP: It’s odd… It’s almost a celebration of philanthropy.

JONES: It is, in a way. I mean, I don’t really know that much about the Persian empire, but certainly it’s got these statements, and there is some corroboration that it was a fairly benign kind of empire. The Persian emperor was king of kings at this time, and so he allowed other kings to stay as long as they paid tribute to him… Not like Rome, trying to turn everybody into Romans…. Into a new image of themselves.

KP: It’s amazing, as you see the deterioration of the empire, how many civilizations - and the people within them - used the Roman system of acclimation against the Romans themselves…

JONES: Yeah.

KP: By playing the double agent…

JONES: In the first two programs you probably noticed a lot of the people who rebel against them, like Arminius, have been brought up by the Romans and they’ve learned Roman military tactics. Because Rome’s big weapon really was the fact that it had this standing army. It had a professional army, and the others didn’t - so the others all had to go off at harvest time. They couldn’t stay the whole year. The Roman army was a professional army and could just hang in there and just win by sheer bloody minded hanging in, which is only what Trajan did in Dacia - he just hung in there and the Datians eventually just couldn’t carry on. So it was that. But then, of course, the army kept on swallowing more and more of the money, and it got costlier and costlier to run for the empire.

KP: Let’s look at a born and bred Roman that rebelled and was later celebrated as a home grown hero, like Herman the German. What is it about history that tends to erase those Roman ties? Is it just a desire to make them fully a home grown hero?

JONES: I think it’s that history changes because we want to tell each other different stories. It’s all part of our critique of the present day, really. And so, as we want to tell a different story, so we look at history differently. I think during the 19th century in England, the stories were very keen to celebrate the British Empire. And they look back to Rome as the great sort of justification, and that the British Empire was going to be greater than the Roman Empire. So they loved the Roman Empire. And I think, you know, that in the Renaissance they loved everything Roman because they were trying to revive Latin, and wanted to go back to Latin. So maybe it’s time for a more critical critique on the Romans.

KP: In Medieval Lives, you went into the myth that the people in the Middle Ages believed the world was flat - which was actually a Washington Irving invention meant to rewrite a bit of history…

JONES: Yeah.

KP: Honestly, after - what is it, four programs that you presented? You’ve done Crusades, Medieval Lives, Ancient Inventions

JONES: Well, I did quite a few for Discovery actually. Ancient Inventions, and then another short series called Surprising Histories. We did The Surprising History of Rome, and The Surprising History of Sex and Love, which has never been shown in the States because I think Discovery Channel found it too disturbing.

KP: I think I have a screener tape of that that they sent out before they decided not to air it.

JONES: Oh really? I think the Sex and Love one is one of the most interesting programs, actually, and it’s sort of about looking at the relationship between love and… I’m sorry, not love. It was really about sex. It was about the relationship between sex and power. And sort of why do you have periods of liberation - liberal sexual morays - and periods of repression. It all seems to be sort of tied up with politics, and particularly with men wanting to take over, to run the roost, and to cut women out - and when you have that happen, you get those periods of heavy sexual repression.

KP: It’s fascinating how often men feel threatened by women. Again and again - and I’ve told you this before - there’s one program I would love for you to do… and it’s a recurring theme in all the programs you’ve done… would just be Terry Jones’s History of History.

JONES: (laughing) That’s interesting.

KP: Analyzing who actually shapes history.

JONES: That’s a pretty good idea.

KP: Because you keep touching on certain accounts - like, “Here’s the Roman version of this…” or, “This Roman historian said this, but here is the opposing view.” So who actually crafts history?

JONES: Yeah…

KP: It’s become a bit of a joke on the program QI about the documents of Pliny the Elder, and the statements that he had made in his chronicles about various subjects, and how laughable they’ve turned out to be when it comes to historical accuracy.

JONES: Yeah.

KP: And then Washington Irving, and how these things become popular knowledge when they are, in fact, myths…

JONES: Yeah…

KP: It’s just one of those things that keeps niggling every time I see one of your programs.

JONES: (laughing) I think it’s a very good idea, Ken. I might have to get back to you…

KP: Well, my fingers are crossed that I eventually get to see it.

JONES: Okay.

terryjones-04.jpgKP: It goes back to the first book that I ever seriously contemplated stealing from a library, I hate to admit… because it was impossible to find, and I found it in my first year in college… which was your Chaucer’s Knight

JONES: Oh right, yeah.

KP: It was that weird sort of eye-opening moment when you realize that your teachers were wrong. ‘Cause I still have my notes about the “Knight’s Tale” from high school, where we were instructed that the Knight was a noble, heroic man… And then you point out that, no, Chaucer was saying the Knight was a less-than-noble mercenary, and the it was all satire…

JONES: Yeah, yeah.

KP: I actually sent a copy of the book to my English teacher, saying, “You might want to read this for future lectures.”

JONES: (laughing)

KP: Do you think understanding history requires certain perspectives to be able to uncover certain aspects? I mean, here you have a 400 year-old joke that scholars could never spot, but you - as a comedy writer - could clearly see…

terryjones-05.jpgJONES: I think it’s all about attitude. For example, I’ve been looking at the Ellesmere illustrations, in the Ellesmere manuscript of The Canterbury Tales, which is in the Huntington Museum. And I wrote to Mary Robinson, who’s the curator of the Huntington Library there, and asked her if she could have a look at the illumination of the monk under a microscope. And she very, very kindly agreed to look at it, and she said, “Well, we backlit it and we could see around the head, but it might just be what the artist was drawing to place the hat on.” And she really didn’t look any more. But then eventually, very kindly, she came and heard me talk about the illumination in Los Angeles, and invited me to come look at the illumination again, in the manuscript. And we went to look at it, and then we looked at its backlit version, and then we put some lights on the front, and as soon as we put lights on the front, you saw this gold under the monk’s chin, and elsewhere. And it’s quite clear that it had been blotted out. The point about the illumination is it doesn’t look anything like the description in the text, because in the text he’s large and mighty, he’s got a bald head, a red nose, he’s very jolly, and wears this gold pin, and all that sort of thing. He has hounds and he loves hunting. And in the illumination, there are the hounds there, but the illumination is of a man covered in black. He’s just covered in black. He’s got, like, a veil over his head. But when you looked at it through the microscope, you could see that he wasn’t jolly. You could see he’s got a gray wash over his face to calm it down - but with a microscope, you could see he’s got rosy cheeks and a red nose, but he’s also got this gold. I thought clearly that the illumination had been blotted out. And the reason why I tell you that, is that Mary Robinson didn’t see those things herself, because she wasn’t looking for that. And she didn’t see it. And it’s just that I was looking for that, and I thought there must be something there. So it was easy for me to see.

KP: It seems that also a certain mindset… I mean, you’ve had centuries of scholars analyzing The Canterbury Tales

JONES: Yeah…

KP: … and coming to the same straightforward, straight laced conclusion about the Knight, but you coming from the perspective of knowing comedy and satire…

JONES: Yeah… I think, yeah… I mean, that’s what I’d like to think about that, because that’s exactly it. That I kind of… you could see where there were joke shapes, and you could tell in the text that that ought to be a joke there, ’cause that’s how Chaucer told a joke very often. He said something every one line and then undercuts it in the next.

KP: So he was the first of the Peter Cook school of fine literature…

JONES: (laughing) I don’t know whether he was that, but you could certainly see that sort of thing going on, yes!

KP: One of the things that’s been remarked on before, and Paul O’Grady mentioned it in the interview that you did, was how there is humor that you bring to the historical programs and books that you do, in analyzing history. And you’d made the comment that people tend to ignore the fact that people have always liked to laugh, and that there is humor in these things. What is the thing that struck you as… and I hesitate to characterize it as such… but what is the greatest joke you’ve run across in historical accounts?

JONES: Oh god, um, ha! Um… I’m sorry, I can’t think…

KP: Certainly, irony abounds everywhere…

JONES: Yeah, but I think the irony… I think the idea is that Trajan’s Column is a monument to genocide is pretty ludicrous. I mean, I quite like the Germans hoodwinking Varus and concocting fictitious lawsuits to keep him busy. That’s a good one.

KP: I can imagine the strategy sessions about who they should send in next…

JONES: Yeah! (laughing)

KP: I thought the story of Attila the Hun’s motivation…

JONES: Yeah, that’s a great one too, the fact that he’s going to rescue a damsel in distress! That’s wonderful…

KP: Who essentially has sent him a missive meant to free her…

JONES: She said, “Please come and rescue me, and if you marry me, I’ll give you half the empire as a dowry.” It was quite a genuine offer. Talk about flimsy excuses for a war. I think Attila’s excuse about rescuing a damsel in distress had a lot more going for it than WMD in Iraq.

KP: See, that’s why men through the centuries have been so fearful of women…

JONES: (laughing)!

KP: Here they have the power to bring on the Huns.

JONES: (laughing)!

KP: You return to certain time periods more often than others. It seems like the Medieval period really fascinates you.

JONES: Well, I think that’s the sort of period I know a little bit about, so I’ve been sort of inhabiting that world, because of Chaucer, for a while. It fascinates me. It’s like with, you know - the more you know about something, the more interested you get sometimes.

KP: And I thought your Chaucer book was wonderful…

terryjones-06.jpgJONES: Oh, Who Murdered Chaucer?… I think that’s one of my favorites, actually.

KP: Has there been any thoughts of turning that into a program?

JONES: I did try the BBC on it when it came out, but they’d done two half hour cartoon versions of The Canterbury Tales, and they said, “No no, that was enough. Enough Chaucer for one year,” you know?

KP: Well, there’s always another year…

JONES: Yeah! (laughing)

KP: I thought it was really engrossing. And again, I think the great thing about what you bring to it is the investigative approach from a humanist point of view.
What was the germ that launched Who Murdered Chaucer?

JONES: I always thought it was odd that he just disappeared and nobody really knows what happened to him. And the fact that he disappeared so soon after Richard II, who I’d always been told was his protector - or he was closely associated with him. I always thought it was odd, so I thought maybe there could be some connection. And especially when an idea like the actual burning of heretics was brought in so soon after Henry IV takes over. And so it does really seem like a turbulent time. And it was sort of like, I could quite imagine Chaucer having sort of gone down in it. I just really wondered whether there was some connection. And I’m sure - I’m absolutely positive - there is, now. I don’t think there can be any doubt about it. Chaucer had just survived the coup of 1387 when the Barons took over, basically. They call it the Appellant Period, but it was actually the Barons taking over this government for about 18 months, I think it was. And Chaucer just disappeared during that time, and doesn’t really reappear until Richard takes over command again in 1389. And then Richard suddenly comes back and Chaucer suddenly gets appointed Clerkship of the King’s works, and things like that. But he got out of it, and survived - whereas a lot of people in his position - sort of civil servants in the regime - they were executed. Eleven of Chaucer’s closest friends were executed during the Appellant Period. So he just survived that, but the coup of 1399 was much more serious business.

KP: And obviously, having survived the first, he had a much higher profile when the field had been cleared a bit, I’m assuming…

JONES: Well, he certainly had a high profile anyway. Chaucer represents Richard’s age, and that’s why Hoccleve was so keen to have a picture of Chaucer in his book, Regiment of Princes - it’s a book of rules for princes on how to rule. And so it’s important to have Chaucer there because he represents Richard’s age.

KP: In which time period was it most dangerous to be a political humorist?

JONES: Well, I suspect it was very dangerous in Henry IV’s rule. I think anybody who had any sort of doubts didn’t muck around with Henry at that point. (laughing) I don’t really know about other periods, really, but you can see what happens to English literature in the 15th century. It’s just destroyed, really. I mean, there’s nothing… you know, you’ve got things really flowering at the end of the 14th century, and then a period of nothing in the early 15th century when, I think, people shut up, basically. The only people who keep writing are the really dull, wordy, non-controversial types.

KP: You touch upon it in most of your series, the sort of history of political comedy and commentary.

JONES: Yeah.

KP: And just how it sort of morphs. Post-Chaucer, it seemed like there was a bit of a lull in any real humor…

JONES: There is, really. I mean, I don’t know much about 15th century literature, but certainly you look at the writings and oh god, it’s so dull. Gower keeps writing until the first ten years of Henry IV’s life, and I’m afraid my good friend Robert Yeager - who worked on the book with me - is a great Gower scholar. He does his best to revive Gower as, but it just kills me.

KP: There’s a reason why it rhymes with dour.

JONES: (laughing)I think could be, yes.

KP: When we spoke previously, you had talked about the anti-Renaissance show that you had done for the radio…

JONES: Oh that’s right, yeah.

KP: And I know one of the suggestions I had made, that you seemed keen on at the time, was including that on the eventual DVD release of Medieval Lives.

JONES: I just think these great ideas go in one ear and out the other. I’ll make a note here… Anti-Renaissance…

KP: And I’ll keep my fingers crossed for The History of History

JONES: Okay! (laughing)

KP: Which begs the question, now that Michael has gotten this huge DVD set chronicling his journeys, where is the Terry Jones set?

JONES: That’s a good point, yeah. I mean, the one thing is whether the BBC can pull their act together. They didn’t put out a DVD of Medieval Lives. Maybe lump the two together, or something like that.

KP: In fact, the only thing that’s really been released of yours is Crusades

JONES: Crusades, yeah. It’s that time. They are talking about that. Actually, we’re talking about at the moment, well they’re not quite sure what’s gonna happen in the States, but because it’s funny, we’re going to put over a new DVD of Erik the Viking.

terryjones-08.jpgKP: Which is a long time coming.

JONES: What’s happened over here is that an English company, Arrow Films… I happened to be doing the director’s commentary, and I was saying I’d really like to re-edit the film - because I was never happy with the edit - and they put up money to re-edit it.

KP: Who says complaining doesn’t get you anything?

JONES: Exactly. Unfortunately, all the original material is lost, so we can’t change the cut - we can reduce it, we can take things out and we can change scenes, but can’t sort of do the way the dialogue goes, because we haven’t got the materials, and we can’t put any other bits in. We can’t put in things.

KP: Where is all that material? Was it just destroyed over the years, or lost?

JONES: I think it’s just been junked by somebody. Whoever owned the library at some point said, “Well, we don’t need that.” But it’s this great pleasure - a threefold pleasure, because A, I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time; B, I was working with the best editor I’ve ever worked with; and C, it was my son. They’re re-releasing “The Director’s Son’s Cut.” It’s down from about 101 minutes to 77 minutes. It really gallops along. I think it’s a really good… it’s getting much more like the movie it was supposed to be.

KP: What are the elements that really niggled you about the original cut?

JONES: Well, it’s just too long. The whole thing had been cut… it was one of those things where… What had happened in the film was that for some reason, I thought - as an experiment, I think it was - I thought I’d keep out of the cutting room and just… and the editor was really keen to keep me out. And I go, “Let’s see what happens…” And I thought, “Oh, this seems to be easy…” Because I’ve always been very hands-on in the editing. I’ve always got really involved in it. And I’ve always edited myself, really - all the Python movies and everything. And it was only about two weeks before it was due to open over here, I said, “No, I really ought to put this on the screen and look at it myself,” and I did it, and as soon as I did it my blood ran cold, because it was just wrong. It was just long. And I could just see… I managed to take out about 10 minutes for the English release, but the American was already printing 250 copies or something, so they didn’t want to change or junk them. So the long version went out in the States and the shorter version went out over here. But I’d really like to change a lot of the way the dialogue’s shot. You know, it’s like, for some reason the editor always cuts off halfway through a line, so somebody starts a line and then it cuts to the person they’re talking to, and when you really start seeing it, you often miss crucial words. I mean, I’d really like to change the whole thing.

KP: It really didn’t seem like it was cut for comedy.

JONES: Well, I think that was the trouble. I mean, what I realized was that the editor didn’t cut in to leave gaps for the laughs. “Oh, what?”

KP: It undercut any of the satire and comedy you were trying to play in the situation. I mean, it’s interesting how certain themes recur in your work. You can see a lot of what you did in Erik the Viking, particularly with the Christian character, play out in the documentary work you’ve done since.

JONES: (laughing) He really was one of my favorite characters, I think. And for him to be a missionary…

KP: Oh, it was brilliant. Then so blind.

JONES: Saved at the end because he was blind.

KP: It’s odd - and obviously you can explain this - the fact that for the most part, that was your last fiction film…

JONES: I did the Wind in the Willows

KP: Which was done for TV though, wasn’t it?

terryjones-09.jpgJONES: No, it was a feature film. It was released over here. But very badly. I’m really pleased with Wind in the Willows. I think that’s the best film I’ve made, in many ways. It’s a really lovely film. It’s won various awards in America, the Chicago Children’s Film Festival, and something else… I can’t remember what it was. It wasn’t distributed. It was just sort of… Disney never really wanted to do it, and they kind of had their arms twisted by Jake Eberts, who’d put the money up for it. And they didn’t really like it, and kind of deliberately lost it.

KP: I remember getting the VHS screener of that as a direct-to-video.

JONES: Oh yeah…

KP: I guess that would be around ‘97.

JONES: Yeah. I think they called it Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in America.

KP: Well, you have to make it like the theme park ride. Otherwise people won’t see it. I thought it was interesting that the one question you got from the audience on The Paul O’Grady Show was someone asking you for a sequel to that.

JONES: Oh yeah. It’s a really lovely film, I think. On the big screen it really works. I just don’t know why they didn’t distribute it over here. What happened was, because it didn’t do anything here, because they didn’t put it out in afternoons, everywhere else, Columbia said the world said, “Well, it’s not gonna work anyway,” so nobody advertised it. What happened, I was in… I was actually doing one of the Ancient Inventions programs, I think. Or something else. I can’t remember. And I was in New York, and John Goldstone, my producer, rang up and said, “They’re showing Wind in the Willows in a couple of cinemas in LA and New York.” And it turned out that Columbia, who had the rest of the world, had got the theatrical rights off Disney. Because they’d realized that some of their deals around the world had to have a theatrical distribution in the States first. Disney didn’t want the theatrical rights, anyway. They just gave them to Columbia for nearly nothing. And so Columbia put it out in a couple of cinemas in LA and a couple of cinemas in New York, with no publicity, really. So I rushed over to the cinema where it was, and it was one of those porno cinemas in Times Square with an awning, and it had Wind in the Willows -m or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I can’t remember - put up in those letters. So I rushed off to get a camera, buy a camera to take a photo of it. By the time I got back, it was gone! (laughing)

KP: And yet oddly, it was replaced by a porno called Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

JONES: (laughing) And then it got reviewed, like, in The New York Times. It got the best review of any film I’ve ever done. They gave it a whole page. And then Variety gave it a review, and they had editorials two weeks running saying, “Why are Columbia TriStar dumping this lovely film?” But it didn’t do anything, because nobody had any intentions of actually releasing it. So it never got released again.

KP: So has it just been circumstantial that there’s only been two fiction projects in the past 16 years?

JONES: Well, you get disheartened, I suppose, by that. And, you know, I thought I’d made a really nice movie. With Erik, I’d taken my eye off the ball during the editing, stupidly, and with that one, I thought I’d saw it right the way through it. I relaxed when I thought that we’d made a good film, and I should have been pushing when it came to the distribution. I hadn’t really realized that’s what I needed to do. So anyway, then I sort of… I got involved with documentary projects, really. They all seemed very interesting. I guess maybe I didn’t have time to write anything. You can spend time writing things and nothing happens. But I wrote some things that are cooking at the moment. I hope to get some films going.

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