Stuff To Read: Gothamist Interview With Jacob Burckhardt, Director of ‘It Don’t Pay To Be an Honest Citizen’

Music ‘Doubleplusgood’ by The Eurythmics from their 1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother) album (which was supposed to be the soundtrack for the 1984 film ‘1984’ but wasn’t used by the director Michael Radford. Go figure…)

Excellent news from Gothamist…the director Jacob Burckhardt is putting ‘It Don’t Pay To Be an Honest Citizen’ out on DVD (finally!)

Here’s what the DVD looks like (thanks to the film’s director Jacob Burckhardt for sending me one so quickly and also for the release party poster and flyer)

Thanks to Gothamist (again!)

Original article at Gothamist’s Interview With Jacob Burckhardt, Director

April 30, 2007
Jacob Burckhardt, Director

Jacob Burckhardt is a second generation observer of New York life. His father, Rudy Burckhardt photographed and made narrative films during the ’50s and ’60s of city life and his New York School artist friends. In ’84, Jacob made a fiction film about his bohemian life in Brooklyn casting the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg and Beat novelist William S. Burroughs in small parts, as well as a young neighborhood thespian named Vincent D’Onofrio as a mugger. Burckhardt had lived in Red Hook from ’73 to ’80, long before the Fairway moved in, and thought it seemed ripe for filming. Now, his lo-fi, autobiographical movie is getting a DVD release and in honor, the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in the East Village will be screening It Don’t Pay To Be an Honest Citizen! on Tuesday at 7 p.m. followed by a beer and pizza reception. Gothamist recently corresponded with Burckhardt about his experience shooting on the mean streets of Brooklyn in the early ’80s and why pigeons are the best kind of New Yorkers.

Do you feel like your filmmaking style was influenced by your father’s photography?

I would say my filmmaking style was influenced by his filmmaking style. Work fast, don’t let your collaborators get bored. All you need to make a movie is a camera and some film. There’s a lot of inspiration in what’s happening in the streets around you. Don’t be judgmental, just appreciate it.

How did you cast most of the people in your film? Most of them seem to have an unstudied, naturalistic, “folks from the neighborhood” quality.

There were few people in the movie who were “professional” actors. William and Allen weren’t trained at all, but had incredible presence. I held quite a few auditions for the main part, and Reed Bye was the least professional and the most real. He is a poet–I think this is the only dramatic role he has ever done (I still don’t know if he was acting or just being). A lot of the small roles were guys I knew from around the neighborhood or friends who I thought looked good in the part. The ferocious greasy spoon counterman is Rackstraw Downes, a well known painter. I think the guy who said the title line “It don’t pay to be an honest citizen!” might have been a friend of the actual muggers.

Was the story of a young filmmaker getting mugged and trying to use neighborhood justice to get back his stuff based on personal experiences?

It is almost completely based on personal experience. One evening in 1978 while I was living in Red Hook I stopped at a cash machine on the way home late at night. Two kids followed me home and mugged me in my doorway. The cops caught them almost by accident. And so on. As the days went by and events unfolded, I was somewhat scared of course, but at the same time I realized that I was encountering a whole world that I had only read about, and some of the things people were saying to me were pretty funny, and I started to write it all down, and it became a short story (unpublished) and later this film. Most of the better lines, including the title of the movie, were actually said to me.

How did you end up casting Ginsberg and Burroughs in your film?

I was telling a filmmaker friend of mine that for the Mafia boss I needed someone who is old and physically not very strong but psychically totally dominating, like William Burroughs. He said, why not ask him? I could think of no good answer to that, and got in touch with Burroughs, and he was interested. He did the part perfectly, except for his Midwestern accent. An unknown (at the time) actor named Vincent D’Onofrio was a bartender at the Ritz, a club that has since turned into Webster Hall, and somebody I knew who worked there put us together and he tried out for the lead part. He wasn’t right for it–too big and tough looking–but he was a good actor so I asked him to play one of the muggers.

What other kinds of projects have you been working on lately?

After this one I made another feature called Landlord Blues. Then it became apparent that as budgets get bigger and bigger, fundraising and business become larger and larger parts of filmmaking. So I went back to making shorter movies, some I like to call “poetic documentaries” for want of a better term, and a series of comedy collaborations with Royston Scott, the latest of which is Tomorrow Always Comes, which has its own website, On June 15 I will be doing a show at Roulette involving live mixed sound and music with 16mm (Not video!) projections.

Where’s your favorite place to see a movie in the city?

In the old days I used to like places like the Selwyn on 42nd street where they would show first run movies, unadvertised, at reduced prices. There was an amazing dialogue between the audience and the film. I remember seeing 48 Hours there, and most of the guys in the audience were young black men, and whenever Eddie Murphy sassed Nick Nolte they roared. There’s a similar spirit at Anthology Film Archives–not the rowdiness, but the engagement. People go to those odd or exotic films because they want to get involved with them.

Which New Yorker do you most admire?

The pigeons, because nothing fazes them.

The Renewal Negotiations Saga: Congress & The FCC Complicate Things A Bit For Dick Wolf

As if Dick Wolf and GE/NBC don’t have enough to worry about…apparently last week Congress and the FCC, having nothing better to do than make angry noises about violence on TV (as opposed to say the former dealing with their outrageous level of spending and the latter doing something to ensure that the Internet of the future is not owned and controlled by a lucky few corporations rather than the US citizenry and the world at large) have now decided that there is too much crime and violence on TV.

Whee! Can you say ‘election season’? At least TV Week is asking for the right solution…that the networks do something about the content and number of TV shows that deal with violence and crime themselves before our government decides to ignore real problems and acts as a federal V-chip for grownups and children alike. This will make the fate of any crime drama not yet renewed just that much more iffy.

Editorial: Violence Report an Industry Wake-Up Call

April 30, 2007
Violence Report an Industry Wake-Up Call

“Last week’s report by the Federal Communications Commission recommending Congress take action to regulate violent programming is a wake-up call programmers and network executives need to take seriously.

The issue is as old as TV-and radio-themselves.
“The volume of protests against the orgy of crime on the air has deluged many a desk in Washington, and Wayne Coy, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, months ago issued a warning.” That was from a July 16, 1950, New York Times piece by its legendary TV critic, Jack Gould, in an article titled, “Time for a halt: Radio and TV carnage defies all reason.” In his almost too clever first sentence he writes, “If radio and television aren’t careful, somebody’s going to call the cops. … [T]he two media have exceeded the bounds of reasonable interest in murder, mayhem and assorted felonies.”

Then, as now, the creative community decried the threat of what they saw as possible government censorship of content.

Indeed, in an article we published nearly 15 years ago on Dec. 21, 1992, when the then Big 3 TV networks-ABC, CBS and NBC-struck an agreement of joint standards limiting television violence, many in Hollywood took exception to the plan.

“`It’s absolutely draconian and stupid,’ said Dick Wolf, executive producer of `Law and Order.’ … ‘This is the first step toward legislative censorship. I’m never going to sign it.”‘

Today the issue is still with us.

Interestingly, the one major part of the equation that’s changed since Mr. Wolf made those comments is that the networks and the studios have merged. Universal, for example, which has produced all the “Law and Order” series, is now the same entity, NBC, that airs them. NBCU has already said it opposes any government regulation of violent content “without clear, objective and consistent standards.”

We have never been a fan of government regulation of content, and, in this case in particular, agree with those who wonder if there are any standards of violent content for broadcast or cable that would pass muster with the courts.

And we have also been strong advocates of parents taking control of what their children watch on TV.

That being said, there is no doubt the networks could be doing more to curb the criticism they get.

Our biggest complaint is the networks’ seemingly unending TV show promotions of violent material during such family fare as “American Idol” and “Survivor.” “CSI” follows “Survivor,” for example, and many times the promos that run for it are not suitable for kids. The same is true when “Idol” runs promos for the next week’s “24” or “Prison Break.”

The networks need to do some self-policing before the government tries to do it for them.”

Remember that if you don’t like it, you can always change the channel or turn off the TV folks.