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Filmmaker Larry Cohen To Present ‘The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover’

Maverick director will also be celebrated in new documentary at MOPA

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Larry Cohen

Maverick filmmaker Larry Cohen at work.

This Sunday veteran independent filmmaker Larry Cohen, director of "It's Alive" and "The Stuff," will be at the Museum of Photographic Arts to present his 1977 film "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover."

Larry Cohen is a genius. Orson Welles may have accolades, Oscar nominations, and a star on the Walk of Fame but he died broke, none of his films turned a profit in his lifetime, and he always struggled to get financing and control over his movies.

Larry Cohen, on the other hand, engineered a career that got him the best of both worlds in the entertainment industry. Not many can claim to have enjoyed a traditionally successful career within the mainstream Hollywood system as well as cult status outside the studio system making audaciously independent films exactly the way he wanted to.

Cohen built a successful career as a writer and director in television starting back in 1958 writing for Kraft Television Theater. He went on to create series like "The Invaders," and wrote for shows like "The Defenders," "Colombo," and even as recently as "NYPD Blue." But the structure of network television and Hollywood studios was much too constraining for the maverick Cohen. So in 1972 he set off on a parallel career as an independent filmmaker. Over the decades he managed to be both a savvy businessman and an artist who got to pursue his creative vision.

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Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Poster art for Larry Cohen's successful horror film "It's Alive."

"Most of my movies take something benevolent like a baby or ice cream or an ambulance or a police officer and turn it into an object of terror," Cohen said assessing his long career.

The titles of his films attest to his particular vision: "It's Alive," "God Told Me To," "Q the Winged Serpent," "Maniac Cop," and "The Stuff."

Cohen's deliriously eccentric films have won him a devout cult following. Among his fans is Steve Mitchell whose admiration for the director led him to make the documentary "King Cohen," which will screen in conjunction with ”The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” on Sunday. Mitchell wanted to pay homage to Cohen, whom he felt was not widely enough appreciated in the mainstream.

"I wanted to tell a story about an interesting, idiosyncratic filmmaker who's had a very, very long career that was mostly executed on his terms, in his way," Mitchell said.

Mitchell hits pay dirt with Cohen who is a great raconteur and has outrageous tales to tell about shooting his independent films, including anecdotes about shooting on the street of New York City without permits.

Cohen's films tend to start off as seemingly conventional genre films, many looking like standard police procedurals, but almost all of them take wild left turns that simply make your jaw drop in awe. But the film he’s most proud of is "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover," which most resembles the old Warner Brothers films he grew up with and loved.

"[It's] is a political documentary-horror story in a way about the FBI director and all that happened in American politics, and one after the other, you’ll see the cynicism and corruption of people that run the government."

The film has an energetic tabloid flair as it savages just about everyone. Cohen said that a Hollywood film wouldn't attack everyone but would rather take a side so that there could be heroes and villains in the story. But that's not the film Cohen wanted to make and he was able to make it exactly how he wanted to by financing it himself.

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Photo credit: American International Pictures

Iconoclastic filmmaker Larry Cohen (center) on the set of his film "Black Caesar."

"I really make films myself," Cohen explained. "I don’t have a huge staff. I don’t have a producer. I don’t have studio executives. I don’t have other people giving me input and supervision. I just go off and make my own movies the way I want to make them. I edit them myself, I usually hire the same people to work on my crew because they are accustomed to working long hours and they do what they are told and don’t ask questions. Making the film as independently as possible."

It’s that defiantly independent spirit coupled with a mastery of guerrilla filmmaking techniques that make Cohen such a delight to talk to and such a wealth of information. Audiences will have the opportunity to meet him and ask him questions when he screens "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover" as part of the Film Geeks SD event on Sunday, Feb. 18 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. There will also be a bonus screening of the documentary "King Cohen" with a Q&A between films featuring both Cohen and Mitchell.

In addition, there is a VIP meet and greet reception with Cohen and Mitchell at 7:00 p.m. before the two films screen at 7:30 p.m.

As one of the volunteer programmers for Film Geeks SD, I will be co-hosting the event on Sunday.

You can listen to my full interviews with Larry Cohen and Steve Mitchell on Cinema Junkie Podcast 130.

This Sunday veteran independent filmmaker Larry Cohen, director of "It's Alive" and "The Stuff," will be at the Museum of Photographic Arts to present his 1977 film "The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover."

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