My Last Interview With José Mojica Marins (Part 2 of 3)
The creator of Coffin Joe talks about filmmaking and censorship
In 2012, I was invited to take part in an incredible project called Memória do Cinema (Memory of Cinema), created by Heco Produções and carried out in partnership with the Museum of Image of Sound (MIS) and the Government of the State of São Paulo. This project allowed me to interview Brazilian filmmaker José Mojica Marins, a cult artist and a true icon of horror cinema (because of Coffin Joe, the character he created and lived for decades).
Our conversation lasted for almost three hours and was filmed on September 11, 2012. Mojica was 76 years old at the time and still very lucid. Shortly thereafter, he would suffer a heart attack that left him very weak and reclusive, until his death on February 19, 2020, at the age of 82. This must be, therefore, one of his last longer interviews.
There are few interviews with Mojica translated into English, and I thought it was worth translating this one because he talks about aspects that are generally ignored. I divided our conversation into three large chronological blocks. The original video can be found at the end.
In this second part, Mojica recounts his memories of Boca do Lixo, the official address of Brazilian independent cinema in the old days; tells unpublished stories about some of the more conventional horror films he produced in the 1970s; explains how he deceived the censors with “Delírios de um Anormal”, and also speaks passionately about “A Praga”, a movie he directed in 1980, was shelved for 30 years and finally found and recovered in 2007.
Boca do Lixo
Mojica was one of the most representative names of the so-called “Boca do Lixo” — a region of the city of São Paulo that became a cinematographic pole when foreign distributors, such as Paramount, Fox, and Metro, settled in there. Between the 1960s and 1980s, film producers and equipment companies also began to establish themselves in the area, making it the official address of Brazilian independent cinema. From the end of the 1980s, the area deteriorated due to prostitution and drug trafficking, but for a long time Boca do Lixo was the place where directors met actors, actresses, and filming crews — often at a bar table!
FMG: Mojica, I wanted to hear your memories about Boca do Lixo, the good and bad things about working at Boca.
JMM: Very well.
FMG: Because everyone says it was a place and a time when if you needed a camera, you just ask some guy. If you needed an actor, you just stop by a bar and invite someone on the spot, as you did once with Índio Lopes. [note: In a scene from “Finis Hominis”. Mojica put Índio Lopes, who was just an extra in the productions of Boca do Lixo, to act with Teresinha Sodré, a huge Brazilian star of movie and television in the 1970s]
JMM: Exactly. (…) I put Índio in a sex scene with Teresinha Sodré and he took advantage of that later. Who was Índio Lopes at the time? I remember that Teresinha even complained: “Who is this stinky guy that you put in the scene with me?”. Because he sweated a lot. Índio became too famous because of that scene, he even appeared on the poster with her, and became well-known as the guy who had sex with Teresinha Sodré! And I chose him at a Boca do Lixo bar, I just went in there and asked him: “Do you want to have sex with a beautiful woman in an art scene?”. “Who?”. “Teresinha Sodré”. He almost had a heart attack when he heard the name. But then he had years of happiness. Fuck, he tells this story to this day! It was the height of his life, everyone got to know Índio Lopes because of that. And at the time of filming, she [Teresinha] keeps saying: “Gee, but isn’t there another guy?”.
FMG: Was that a common thing at the time, recruiting an actor in a bar and in a hurry?
JMM: It happened a few times with me. Sometimes the actor went out for coffee with an actress, and it took three hours to get back. So it was obvious that they had gone to a motel. Then he would come back and say: “I’m ready to film my scene”. And I said: “What scene? There’s already another guy doing it. You left, you gave me losses, be grateful that I did not sue you for the damages you caused to my production!”. And after that, the guy used to leave without complaining.
FMG: And why do you think it started to end, the collaborative aspect of Boca do Lixo?
JMM: Some adventurers started to appear, some guys who confused Boca do Lixo with prostitution. They used the cinema as an excuse to take girls into prostitution. These guys did the famous “casting couch”, something that never existed for the real filmmakers who worked at Boca. The “casting couch” started with the bad guys who started to appear.
FMG: Who were Boca’s hotshot producers at that time?
JMM: There really weren’t many, but the few that existed had great prestige. There were three of them: Alfredo Palácios, [Antonio Polo] Galante, and Augusto de Cervantes. These were the ones who really had some influence. There were other smaller producers, like Tony Vieira, who had no power at all.
FMG: Was it difficult to work with these guys?
JMM: No, it was not difficult. Cervantes, for example, started with me. He came from Spain and I taught him the basics of the business. He started to stand out, became manager of my production company, and later became one of Boca’s bosses. Augusto de Cervantes was really a big boss. And there was Galante, who looked more like a merchant. And Alfredo Palácios was the one who really had a reputation, who knew powerful people. I stayed at Boca do Lixo almost until the end, and I did my best to associate the area with the cinema business.
FMG: Was there a lot of fighting between the producers?
JMM: They had some conflicts, but nothing out of the ordinary. These conflicts always ended with a glass of wine or a hug. There was not much rivalry. The wrong things started with the outsiders. I remember some of these guys. One of them was a complete fucking sadist, a guy from Rio Grande do Sul.
FMG: Sady Baby? [note: Sady directed extremely violent pornographic films produced in the 1980s]
JMM: No. Sady Baby was even crazier but wasn’t he. This other guy put a firework on his wife’s pussy, lit it, and blew it up!
FMG: And to think that people said that you were crazy!
JMM: Yeah, I had the reputation of being crazy! But anyway, there were many guys that I always helped, because I wanted to preserve Boca do Lixo, I wanted to do something that would stay in history. I was very happy a few years ago, when I went to the Netherlands, and I was the guy who talked the most about Boca do Lixo. [note: In 2012, the Rotterdam International Film Festival promoted a retrospective of Brazilian films produced in Boca do Lixo, and invited filmmakers like Mojica to talk about that period] I spent more than two hours talking about Boca do Lixo. (…) A lot of filmmakers from Vila Madalena [note: An upper-middle-class neighborhood of São Paulo] had an idealized idea of Boca. Vila Madalena had more money, but Boca was a place of poor people, and we did what we could. “How many cans of film do you have?”. “Oh, I have seven”. Then another one had five more. We put everything together and tried to make a movie. Another guy had lighting, another guy had the camera, another guy knew one thing or two about photography, and that way we formed our crews. I envy Argentina because they still have it there [this collaborative aspect in film production], and we had it at Boca do Lixo. I think Boca represented a lot, but very little was written about this moment. And the guy who could really write the story of Boca do Lixo was [filmmaker] Ozualdo Candeias, who has already died. He was an intellectual. I met him when he worked doing pornographic photos. Augusto de Cervantes was my partner and I said: “Look, he’s a nice guy, he has very good ideas, he knows how to take photos, and maybe he can even write scripts”. Then Cervantes hired him to write our first scripts, and that’s how Candeias started in Boca do Lixo. Years later, when Candeias was going to direct his first film, “A Margem” (The Margim, 1967), and needed 300 people to shoot one scene, I invited all the students at my drama school to work for free. He didn’t even pay for the lunch, everyone took their food in their lunchboxes. And that’s how he did “A Margem”.
Targeted by the military dictatorship, Mojica went through the 1970s making more traditional horror films, afraid of being censored again — his “O Despertar da Besta” (Awakening of the Beast, 1970) had been seized by the Brazilian government. At this time, a famous producer named Anibal Massaini Neto gave the filmmaker his biggest budget to date to shoot a “The Exorcist” ripoff called “Exorcismo Negro” (The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe, 1974). But apart from this rare big-budget production, the other movies directed by Mojica in the 1970s were independent productions filmed with almost no money.
FMG: What can you say about “Exorcismo Negro”, your best-produced film from that period?
JMM: It was my most expensive production, with a quality level I had never had before. It was something like: “I need a needle”. Boom, the guys from the crew just brought me a thousand needles! But the film was not as good as it should be. [Producer] Anibal put a guy on my back, to control me, and he was the wrong guy. He passed away recently.
FMG: Are we talking about Adriano Stuart? [note: Also a filmmaker, Stuart directed successful films with the Brazilian comedy group Os Trapalhões. He appears in “Exorcismo Negro” as an actor.]
JMM: Yes, that’s him. Adriano was there as a kind of spy for [producer] Massaini, someone who should control me during production. But the curious thing is that he drank a lot, I saw him drink a whole glass of cognac in front of me. He was an alcoholic, so he was unable to control me. And he had the audacity to say that he could stand drinking more than I did! Once the guys made a bet, the poor part of the crew with the rich part, to see who could take more alcohol. I drank a lot, cognac, wine, mint liquor, everything they served me. And he [Adriano Stuart] didn’t have the satisfaction of seeing me fall, because he fell first. And only when he fell drunk did I raise my hand and say: “Okay, now I can fall too”. And then I fell. But while he didn’t fall, I didn’t either. The power of the mind is incredible! I took it all because it was a gamble and the poor part of the technicians bet on me.
FMG: Adriano Stuart once said that he directed scenes from the film.
JMM: No. The only thing he did was busting my balls because I don’t like to repeat takes, and he wanted to do all of his scenes again and again. He made me repeat it too much, and I am against it. All the scenes in which he acted… Sometimes he wanted to repeat four, five times, thinking that his performance improved with each take, when in fact it got worse and worse.
FMG: But at least was he a nice guy?
JMM: No. He was very arrogant, too arrogant. And he drank a lot while shooting. [note: Ironically, Mojica and Stuart worked together again more than 30 years later on “Encarnação do Demônio”]
FMG: Let’s talk about “A Estranha Hospedaria dos Prazeres” (The Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures, 1976). Who directed this film after all, you or Marcelo Motta? [note: Officially the film would be directed by Marcelo Motta, a pupil of the filmmaker, but Mojica had to take control of the production. Motta’s name is the only one that appears on the poster and in the credits.]
JMM: Marcelo Motta was a friend of mine, a student at my school of dramatic arts, whom I wanted to give a chance to. But he became religious at the same time, he started dating an evangelical girl, and started to change his way of thinking. The whole thing started to get complicated, but he was a smart guy, and I really wanted to give him this chance. (…) But in the end he threw away so much money, wasted so many things… I had to take over the production. I said: “Marcelo, I don’t want to discredit you, I know you’re smart, but I think you need to take a few months off with this girl”. He did so many things wrong that it was not easy for me to finish the film, he left everything incomplete.
FMG: And what do you think of this film now?
JMM: Well, I ended up doing exactly what I wanted from the start. But the film could have gotten a lot better. It was a project that I believed in a lot. It was very difficult to give a shape to the material that he [Marcelo Motta] filmed, because it was impossible to understand anything.
FMG: Soon after you directed three films, “Inferno Carnal” (Hellish Flesh, 1977), “Perversão” (Perversion, 1979) and “Mundo, Mercado do Sexo” (World, Sex Market, 1979), without the presence of the supernatural. All three are thrillers and the horror comes from the human being. What happened?
JMM: This time it was not because of the Dictatorship. I simply wanted to show that the human being does not need to appeal to the supernatural, he is already supernatural, he is already perverse. If you look at “Perversão”, for example… Good heavens! My character in that film is very cruel! [note: In this movie Mojica plays an evil millionaire named Vitório Palestrina, who sexually abuses a virgin girl and bites off one of her nipples!]
FMG: So the villain doesn’t need a supernatural element to be bad.
JMM: Exactly, it is not necessary. That’s what I tried to show and I think it worked.
Censored for a considerable part of his career, Mojica took his revenge in 1977 by releasing “Delírios de um Anormal” (Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind), a collection of the “best moments” of his career until then. Scenes that censorship required to be removed from his old films reappear as if they were the main character’s nightmares. This time the censors didn’t notice and didn’t ask for cuts!
FMG: I love what you did in “Delírios de um Anormal”, which was putting back all the scenes from your other films that the censors had cut. And none of the censors noticed this time!
JMM: Their imbecility was gigantic. I did it on purpose after I went to the censorship building and, suddenly, a woman and two men appeared and started touching me, to make sure I was a real human being! And these guys were responsible for censoring our films!
FMG: And they touch you to see if you were real?!?
JMM: Yes, they were touching my body! And I asked: “Do you want to touch another part too?”. Holy shit, that was crazy. “Why are you touching me? Do you think I’m an extraterrestrial?”. And I said: “Are YOU the guys responsible for the censorship?”. I was really pissed! And so I looked for several journalists to tell the story and said: “Let each one do their own censorship because Brazil today has no censorship”.
FMG: That’s why you decided to make a film with all the scenes they had cut?
JMM: Yes, I put back everything that was cut, as a confrontation. Everything I was asked to cut in my whole career I put in this new film, and it passed uncut this time! I thought: “Fuck, it can be!”. Because everything they cut from my other films was there. What censorship was that? [note: Of the 1h23min of “Delírios de um Anormal”, Mojica filmed only 35 minutes of new scenes. The rest of the narrative consists of images from his previous films.]
FMG: And you’ve always had a lot of problems with the censors.
JMM: Yeah, a lot. You have no idea how much censorship has hurt our youth at that time. I have always defended youth with tooth and nails. I think that censorship destroyed a part of Brazil.
FMG: When you think about how much you couldn’t do during the dictatorship…
JMM: Holy shit, lots of things!
The Lost Movie That Was Found
In 1980, Mojica directed his last horror film for almost 30 years: “A Praga” (The Plague), about a man who develops a wound that needs to be fed with human flesh. This independent production was filmed in Super-8 and ended up shelved due to a lack of resources to finish it. In 2007, Heco Produções rescued the filmed scenes and producer Eugenio Puppo decided to finish the movie. Puppo shot additional scenes and recovered the lost audio using lip reading. The result was shown only in a retrospective of Mojica’s career that took place in São Paulo that year.
FMG: Let’s talk about “A Praga”, a movie of yours that was lost and has been rediscovered just now.
JMM: “A Praga” had one of the great actresses of Brazilian cinema, television, and theater, Wanda Cosmo. I think “A Praga” would be a great success if Eugenio Puppo released it at the end of this year, because they are preparing many tributes for me this year. I still don’t understand why, maybe is it because the Maya said that in 2012 it’s the end of the world? The only thing I know is that I am receiving a series of tributes in Brazil and abroad. And I wanted to release “A Praga” right now, because the film is ready. If he intends to release only after I die, it will not have the same intensity.
FMG: Is it true that the film had to be dubbed now and the dialogue lists no longer existed?
JMM: My ex-wife [note: Nilcemar Leyart, who also edited many of his films] does lip reading very well and managed to save a lot from the original dialogues. She was the one who edited my old films.
FMG: “A Praga” was filmed in Super-8, right? Why?
JMM: At the time I had a new Super-8 camera and wanted to make an experiment with it. I think the movie is really good. But I had a maid who didn’t know about those things, mistook the film rolls for trash, and she threw it all away. So we literally had to rescue the movie from the trash! I think “A Praga” will be interesting right now because it will show things from the past, and a lot of strong scenes.
FMG: Have you ever seen the movie since it was shot?
JMM: Exactly. And I’m curious to see it now. I’ll be really pissed if Puppo took things out of the movie that he shouldn’t have taken. What was in the movie should be in the movie. Unfortunately, a long time has passed and it would not be possible to shoot new scenes with the same cast, so I hope we can show the film as it was originally. What I do know for sure is that “A Praga” has amazing scenes. The main character has a wound in his stomach that needs to be fed with human flesh, and in the end there’s a fantastic scene in which he swallows his own wife! If Puppo waits for me to die to release the film, I don’t know if it will be the same thing. Because with me alive I can talk about the film and help promote it, but with me dead they won’t do a fucking thing. [note: Until the death of José Mojica Marins in 2020, “A Praga” had not yet been released commercially, as the director dreamed. And until the time this article is published, the film remains unreleased.]