Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn are not partisan movies. It is not political scenarios that attract Milius but pre-political ones. He is drawn to landscapes where there is no law, no sovereign, no state, to the desolate places where men must make their own way. His characters are renegades. They either oppose the dominant order like Dillinger, Kurtz, and the Great Raisuli (Sean Connery), or they exist outside it entirely like Jeremiah Johnson and Conan the Cimmerian and the Wolverines. The authority figure Milius admires most is Teddy Roosevelt, exponent of muscular Christianity and the New Nationalism, frontiersman, soldier, hunter, dynamo. Not exactly a square.
Milius’ characters do not reside in the United States. They reside in states of nature. And it is in this state, Milius believes, that the true character of an individual, his guile and wit and vitality and mettle, is revealed.
In a way, it would be accurate to say that John Milius invented me. Well, his movies invented me. As I've said on the podcast, there was a time in my life when I was going to be a Citizen, have a house in the suburbs, a new car every 2 years, all the blessings I imagined America had to offer. And then one evening I went to a movie theater in downtown Tampa to see Jeremiah Johnson.
It wasn't like Saul on the road to Damascus, but more of a reminder of what that smartass in high school intended his life to be...as if someone...some filmmaker, no less...had recalibrated my internal compass to True North. Musta worked…I'm sitting at my dining room table typing this, and out the window in front of me are the Rocky Mountains…"l told my pap and mam l was coming to the mountains....to trap and be a mountain man. Acted like they was gut-shot. Says: 'Son...make your life go here. Here's where the people is. Them mountains is for animals and savages!' l said: 'Mother Gue...the Rocky Mountains is the marrow of the world.' And by God, l was right!"
I saw Big Wednesday in New York City premiere with Jan Michael Vincent, who starred in the film, and both of us cried. It was my belated discovery of The Wind and the Lion that got me interested in Teddy Roosevelt, and it was TR's observation that "critics don't count" that ultimately launched me out of NYC into the West. The whole crew teared up when Joe Mantegna did his amazing delivery of that TR speech for the closing of our GUN STORIES episode on TR's great safari. Weird how things work, isn't it?
Later I interviewed Milius by phone in the mid-1980s…it was like talking to a Nerd God King (maybe like Joss Whedon in the Firefly days)…I was pretty into martial arts then, and we talked about swords, gladiatorial weapons and the problems of doing a realistic sword fight with a 13-pound broadsword. Was cool beyond words...