In the past year, we’ve introduced you to Open Road Integrated Media, the digital publisher traveling far and wide to bring you the best in eBooks and behind-the-scenes author content! In the first of our ongoing guest blog series, “On the Road with Open Road,” we traveled to Pat Conroy’s house. Soon after, we ventured on to the John Gardner Papers, the Boxcar Children’s Museum, Alan Dean Foster’s desert abode in Arizona, and Don Miller’s Portland home.
Earlier this year, Open Road had the opportunity to visit Colorado and meet filmmaker Nile Southern, son of legendary American satirist Terry Southern, author of Candy and Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes (now $4.99 through July 12)—and the screenwriter behind such hits as Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider. To round out their research, Open Road also interviewed Paris Review Southern Editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, and writer Fran Lebowitz, both of whom count themselves among Terry Southern’s admirers. What an exciting roundup! Without further ado, I’ll turn the blog over to Greg T. Gordon, a producer at Open Road, to sound off on the experience:
Meeting filmmaker Nile Southern in Boulder, Colorado was a real pleasure. Boulder was a refreshingly friendly city surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. I was struck by the universal kindness of the people in Boulder, and by the genuine interest they had in others. They were incredibly well-read, open, and unguarded. I found this to be true pretty much everywhere we went.
Cinematographer Luke LoCurcio, filmmaker Nile Southern, and producer Greg T. Gordon
As the son of the man whom Gore Vidal called “the most profoundly witty writer of our generation,” Nile has done a great job carrying on Terry's legacy. While interviewing Nile, I was moved by how passionate he was about his father's work, and about making sure that the literary world gives Terry Southern a seat at the table. His enthusiasm really speaks to the work itself. Nile, as well as others with whom we spoke, are deeply moved by, interested in, and drawn to the work because it is still relevant, unique, and powerful today.
"My father ruffled a lot of feathers by setting down some of the sort of riff-y stories that were just . . . spoken about informally," he explained.
It made immediate sense to me: reading Terry Southern is like experiencing some of my favorite films on the page. His dialogue is seamless (just try reading the title story in Red-Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes without experiencing a live-action film in your head), and his ideas stick with you (the satirical dream-logic journey of Flash and Filigree keeps you thinking about it long after you’re finished).
Nile is also a dead ringer for his father. Granted, Terry Southern went through a lot of different looks, but Nile looks just like his father at that age—so much so that we used Nile to try and recreate the image of Terry Southern in the video. After the interview, we went to Nile’s office and equipped him with the things Terry used: a yellow notepad, a pencil, and a cigarette. We lit Nile in silhouette so we could really see his profile, the feature that bears the most striking resemblance to his father. We filmed him writing, thinking, and smoking at his desk as if he were his father. (Check it out in the video below.)
Terry and Nile Southern
In New York, we interviewed Fran Lebowitz, who is one of the sharpest people I've ever met. She's quick, she's fast, and I found her incredibly relatable. It was a pleasure to sit down with her and discuss a writer for whom she has great respect.
Last, but certainly not least, I interviewed John Jeremiah Sullivan in his home in Wilmington, North Carolina. He is an intellectual yet welcoming man who goes by JJ and wore a suit with no shoes or socks when we met. I had a great time talking with him. He approached our conversation as if he were a detective approaching a mystery, trying to figure out what made Terry so unique and groundbreaking and how he's influenced future writers. I watched as he processed things, and I could see the gears of his brain turning. I realized then that we had come to the right person—a person who was (just like Nile and Fran) excited to give Terry's work the time of day.
"He really took the form of literary magazine writing and just exploded it," said Sullivan.
I think the biggest takeaway for me is that Terry Southern will surprise you when you get to know him. Before this project, I knew of him only as the screenwriter of Easy Rider and Dr. Strangelove—but many know him as the hilarious and subversive novelist, or the eye-opening essayist, and I am now proud to be among them. He did so many things well, and he surprised me with the various ways he was able to write and explore ideas in works like Blue Movie, Candy, and others.
"Anyone interested in being a good writer can look at Terry's work and learn something," said Nile.
After spending a couple of days with Nile in Boulder, it occurred to me that he and I were doing the same thing: telling the story of Terry Southern. The only difference is that I did it for a short period of time and Nile has made it his full-time responsibility.
“What a fun and exciting responsibility to have,” I thought.