An Interview with Matt Cimber
Matt Cimber is a director, writer and producer. Starring Jayne Mansfield, Matt’s first feature film Single Room Furnished was released in 1968. After releasing several X rated films, Matt ventured into the Blaxploitation genre with The Black 6 (1974), The Candy Tangerine Man (1975), and Lady Cocoa (1975). In 1976 his film, The Witch Who Came from the Sea was released and was subsequently banned in Britain after being labelled a ‘video nasty,’ along with other controversial films such as Cannibal Holocaust (Deodato, 1980) and The Driller Killer (Ferrara, 1979). Matt later went on to direct films such as Butterfly (1982), Hundra (1983), and Yellow Hair and the Fortress of Gold (1984). I spoke with Matt about his transition from stage to screen, working with DP László Kovács on Single Room Furnished, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, and collaborating with Ennio Morricone.
How did you get your break in the film industry?
I directed Jayne Mansfield on a revival of Bus Stop as a summer revival on Broadway. She invited me to Hollywood. I went and got hooked up at her studio (Fox) by the greatest techs from the Thirties and Forties filmmakers and at her behest they taught me everything, from editing to costumes, to casting, to sound effects, to cinematography. I assisted in every department for almost a year. They really enjoyed having someone to pass their knowledge on to. It was like I was back at school.
How did your early work in theatre inform you work in film?
Understanding the roots of good drama. Studying theatre is basic to knowing all the factors that make up good drama. Story line, character, theme, growth and movement of plot etc.
Are there any filmmakers that have particularly inspired you?
All filmmakers impress me some place or other. I can watch an unimpressive film and suddenly a moment or a full scene is creative and captures you. All films are worth watching even for that short bit.
The first time I saw The Great Race (Edwards, 1965) I left the theatre swearing I would never make a comedy because I could never top that film.
Your first feature film Single Room Furnished was shot by László Kovács. What conversations did you have with László about the look of the film?
Total luck to get László on his first American film. He showed me how to go to a museum and select paintings that have the feeling and texture and atmosphere of a particular scene. He was a total visual human being. He operated from colors and shades and camera angles. Everything I learned at Fox he put into practice. It was a great experience and is still with me 50 years later.
The Witch Who Came from the Sea has since gained recognition as being one of the greatest 'video nasties' ever made. What challenges did you face getting the film made?
When I first read the script submitted by Robert Thom it distressed me because I was certain nobody would finance it. It was too far ahead of its time. When I told Robert he said not to worry, he could talk to Millie Perkins, his wife, who had received an Academy Award nomination for her role in Diary of Anne Frank (Stevens, 1959) and was getting money roles in Hollywood, to do it for scale wages (she did it for nothing). That's how it got made.
You collaborated with Ennio Morricone on three feature films. How did you first get involved with Ennio?
While working in Italy I became good friends with Sergio Leone, who was a fan of my work, and when he saw a rough cut of one of my films he suggested that I speak with Ennio about the music. That's all that was needed. Our relationship developed over the years from that point.
Other noted filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino are self-proclaimed fans of your work. What do you make of the legacy of your work?
I think Quentin is the greatest and most creative filmmaker of our or any other time. He is a miracle that I have watched grow and grow. From the first of his films to date, his growth has been amazing. When I started out I was not “main stream” as told to me by a top agent. The top films were Pillow Talk (Gordon, 1959) etc... Quentin made our type of film main stream and no one can match him.