Emma Westwood is a writer, journalist, film aficionado, storyteller and dedicated aesthete of provocative cinema from Melbourne, Australia. I’m a bit nervous about chatting to her today because she’s written for such big publications as (Australia), Fangoria (USA), Filmink (Australia), Screem (USA), Senses of Cinema (Australia), ReviewAsia (Hong Kong), Diabolique (UK) and Metro (Australia). She has also dabbled in travel journalism for the likes of FRV (Bali) and Essentials (Australia)
DB - Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time to chat to me of OFFoHM. You have a very impressive resume`. There is a lot to cover today, so I would like to start off with your book writing. You’ve had a few published such as "Monster Movies" in 2008, "The Fly" in 2018, and "Seconds" in 2021. Tell us a bit about your books.
EW – That's nice of you to say, David! The CV's been building up over decades and I'm still wondering what I'm going to do when I grow up!
I must say that the book writing has consumed a lot of my time over the last 15 years, although I can't say it's been a highly profitable pursuit. I reckon if you talk to any of my fellow film book writers, though, they'll say the same as me: you do it for the passion.
Monster Movies was written in 2007 after I had finished as arts editor for a Melbourne weekly street press paper. It's part of a range called 'Pocket Essentials' in the UK, which we reviewed a lot in the paper and I remember thinking that I'd love to write one of these books (to this day, the Pocket Essentials on 'Carry On' films is one of my favourites). So, I literally sent an email to the publisher and they told me they wanted a book themed on monster movies, which they felt suited my expertise and interests. I gave them a pitch on what I wanted to write and then, Bob's your uncle, I got a publishing deal! The only thing is I feel I've come a long way in terms of writing since that book. But Monster Movies served its purpose as an entry for readers to the sub-genre, and I felt it was well received because I managed to position it in terms of what it was: a rather small book that was trying to cover a mammoth topic. I took it from a very personal angle so no one could accuse me of leaving anything out! If it were up to me, it would have been a 100,000-word book, at least, rather than a 45,000-word book, but I had to meet my publisher's wishes.
It took me awhile to find the time to write the book on David Cronenberg's The Fly but, when the time came, I was hungry for it. I'd been talking to Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Lee Gambin about their adventures in film monographs and I felt I'd love to have that 'indulgence' – to write a really deep-dive into just one film and really live with that film during the time of writing it. I'd recently done a presentation for Lee's cinema group, Cinemaniacs, on The Fly, so it was a film that was top of mind for me, and it has resonated with me since I first saw it as a kid. So, when Alex introduced me to her publisher, I was thrilled that he jumped on the chance to publish a monograph on a David Cronenberg film. I toyed with the possibility of writing on The Brood instead but, since then, Stephen R. Bissette has written a massive monograph (about 500 pages) on The Brood for my latest publisher, Electric Dreamhouse Press, so I'm pretty glad that fate steered me away from that one.
And then there's the monograph on John Frankenheimer's Seconds, which is my most recent book and one that I co-authored with Jez Conolly, which was a unique and wonderful experience in itself. That was really Jez's project that he graciously brought me into because he was finding it difficult to find the time to finish it. But I loved being able to slot into the rhythms of what he wrote and be able to contribute to something that eventually would become greater than the sum of its parts – at least, that's what I hoped it has become! I really love that book, and the chance to celebrate something that tanked upon its release but that I feel is a masterpiece.
Now I'm putting the finishing touches on another book, this time on Bride of Frankenstein – although I'm acting more as editor on this one, and assembling a whole lot of essays from some sensational other writers to give a sense of the breadth of influence, interpretation and lineage of this very special film. I'd like to move onto fiction after this book, so watch this space...
DB – You have also been quite active on radio talking about films?
EW – Yeah, radio and presenting isn't my natural space, so it's been a matter of slaying my demons to do it! But I've really pushed myself and worked hard to hone the craft. I don't think I've perfected it, or ever will, but I'm really pleased to have got to a point where I enjoy broadcasting and presenting, as well as the camaraderie that develops with fellow presenters.
It was back in, I think 2017, that I started on-air with the Plato's Cave show on Triple R radio, which at the time was Thomas Caldwell, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Cerise Howard. Talk about intimidating! I was stepping up on live radio every week with a cast of broadcasters who were very skilled at thinking on the spot and articulating their opinions. They were also all very well-versed in film so that kept me on my toes and really made me work hard at trying to be better. I can't thank that team enough for what they taught me in terms of live radio. I mean, what comes out of your mouth goes to air and there's no way to rewind and erase – it's out there! For the first two years, I would lie in bed on a Monday night after the show and replay all the stupid things I said in my head. It resulted in many sleepless nights until I resigned myself to the fact that it just is what it is.
DB – You have also done quite a few commentaries on DVD’s for releasing companies around the world. That must be exciting!
EW – Sure is. Just like radio, you finish a commentary and then you're on a high, but totally exhausted! I know a lot of film commentators who fully script their DVD audio commentaries and then literally read it out across the top of the film. That's a totally viable way of creating a DVD commentary but I've never been so prescriptive. I enjoy the more loosey-goosey feel where you plot out themes and content with a loose structure of what's said and where, but you literally just press record and talk over the top of the movie. Then it's sent off and, like live radio, it is what it is. It means the commentaries I'm on usually have a more 'raw' feel, I guess, but I do like that style of commentary and the authenticity and entertainment value that comes from it. The other style of commentary is totally valid and some people may prefer that, but it's good to have different approaches to the storytelling in commentaries and, if possible, even multiple commentary tracks for the one film. Personally, I don't like doing commentaries that are just me talking – I really get into co-commentaries where I can have a conversation with another film critic. It's just more fun and more interesting to me.
By the way, the first commentary I recorded was William Castle's Strait-Jacket for Indicator's William Castle boxset with Lee Gambin. That one got nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best DVD commentary. I peaked early!
DB – I think that I first met you at Cinemaniacs? Can you tell us about Cinemaniacs and your involvement there?
EW – I love Cinemaniacs! It's such a great group of kind, inclusive and genuinely lovely people who are just enthusiastic about championing classic cinema and keeping the flame for important artworks burning, especially smaller works that could be easily forgotten. I still work with contemporary cinema but it's with the classics where my interest really lies, and that's where Cinemaniacs really plays into my interests. I'm not officially part of the group, as such, but I'm regularly called on to do presentations or speak on panels for them. One of my favourite experiences with them was presenting two films in the one day – The Funhouse and Eaten Alive – as part of their Tobe Hooper Film Festival. And I've got another presentation for Cinemaniacs coming up in May this year for Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. I also got to speak about that film on Mike White's The Projection Booth podcast when we were first in COVID lockdown, so I feel really prepared for that!
DB – You are certainly a powerhouse within the indie film industry in Melbourne Emma. Can I ask what your future plans are?
EW – That's funny you should say that, David, because I don't feel like it! Part of what you have to reconcile when you're a film commentator is there is always someone who knows more, or does more, than you, so I just try to be me and bring my own perspective to any film and what I'm saying. Often, I won't read the work of other critics before talking about a film because I don't want to accidentally colour my own opinion. Let's hope I can step from the critical side of film to the 'making' side sometime soon. I'd love to get some horror scripts on paper. That's my next step.
DB – Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today. Where can our readers follow your work?