Joe Dante - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Morristown, New Jersey, 28 November 1946. Family: Single. Education: Graduated from Philadelphia College of Art (now Philadelphia Colleges of the Arts), 1968. Career: Contributing editor for Castle of Frankenstein, form 1962 ; managing editor of Film Bulletin , 1968–1974; trailer editor for Roger Corman's New World Pictures, 1974–1976; co-director and co-editor of his first feature, Hollywood Boulevard , 1976; director of Police Squad , The Twilight Zone , and Amazing Stories TV series, from 1983; Gremlins a major commercial success for director Dante and producer Steven Spielberg, 1984; creative consultant for Eerie, Indiana TV series, 1991; director and executive producer for Warlord: The Battle for the Galaxy ( The Osiris Chronicles ) TV series, 1998. Awards: Saturn Award, Best Editing, for Piranha , shared with Mark Goldblatt, 1979; Silver Raven Award, for Matinee , 1993; Locarno International Film Festival, Leopard of Honor Award, 1998. Agent: David Gersh, The Gersh Agency, 222 N. Canon Drive, Suite 202, Beverly Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.

Joe Dante on the set of Small Soldiers
Joe Dante on the set of Small Soldiers

Films as Director:


Hollywood Boulevard (+ ed)


Piranha (+ ed)


Rock'n'Roll High School (uncredited)


The Howling (+ ed)


Third segment of The Twilight Zone: The Movie




"The Shadow Man" episode of The Twilight Zone TV series; "Boo" and "The Greibble" episodes of Amazing Stories TV series; Explorers


Innerspace; Amazon Women on the Moon (co-d; segments: "Hairlooming," "Bullshit or Not," "Critic's Corner," "Roast Your Loved One," "Reckless Youth")


The 'Burbs


Gremlins II: The New Batch (+ ro as Grandpa Fred)




Runaway Daughters (for TV)


"Lightening" episode ("Picture Windows: Language of the Heart") of Picture Windows (TV mini series)


The Second Civil Was (for TV)


Small Soldiers

Films as Actor:




The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal


Oscar (as face on the cutting room floor)


The Magical World of Chuck Jones (as interviewee); Flying Saucers over Hollywood: The Plan 9 Companion ( The Ed Wood Story: The Plan 9 Companion ); Sleepwalkers (as lab assistant)


A Century of Cinema (as himself); Il Silenzio dei prosciutti ( Silence of the Hams ) (as dying man); Beverly Hills Cop III (as jailer)


Flesh and Blood (as himself)

Other Films:


Fly Me (dialogue director)


The Arena ( Naked Warriors and La Rivolta delle Gladiatrici ) (ed)


Grand Theft Auto (ed)


Mr. Stitch TV (special thanks)


The Phantom (exec pr)


By DANTE: articles—

Crisafulli, Chuck, "A Fan Turned Pro . . . A Guy Named Joe" (interview), in Filmfax (Evanston, Illinois), no. 38, April-May 1993.

On DANTE: articles—

Cardon, André, "Joe Dante a la dent longue!" in Séquences (Québec), no. 126, October 1986.

Bassan Raphael, and Frédéric Benudis, "Panic sur Florida Beach: conte philosophique dantesque / Joe Dante: l'ange noir de Spielberg," in Mensuel du Cinéma (Nice), no. 8, July-August 1993.

Barbano, N., "Jeg savner film!" in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), vol. 42, no. 216, Summer 1996.

* * *

Multi-talented director Joe Dante is a bit like one of the juvenile heroes of one of his best films, Explorers , tinkering about with various cinematic bits and pieces and the found parts of miscellaneous cultural artifacts to assemble unique vehicles which sometimes take flight to new and astounding fantasy worlds. It's no wonder personalities similarly steeped in America's cinematic and pop cultural past (such as Roger Corman and Steven Spielberg) were among the first to recognize Dante's unique attributes.

Like certain other writers on film who eventually became filmmakers themselves (Truffaut, Goddard, Peter Bogdanovich) Dante also began his career as a periodical editor and critic of the genre films he loved. But in 1974 Dante began editing films as well, and his active career in filmmaking commenced with a job developing trailers for Roger Corman's New World Pictures (with Jon Davison and Allan Arkush). At New World the trio was given the daunting challenge of generating audience anticipation for an assortment of Corman releases, among them a steady stream of no-budget Filipino imports.

Dante's first effort (done with Davison, who would later produce Dante's first two legitimate features) was The Movie Orgy , a seven-hour pastiche of 1950s B movies. This was followed in 1976 by his first commercial feature, Hollywood Boulevard , a collaboration with Allan Arkush in which Corman let the two aspiring filmmakers toss together a satire of low-budget filmmaking on . . . an extremely low budget. Dante would further pursue his love of B movies in 1987 with Amazon Women on the Moon , and in 1993 with Matinee. Dante's two feature films that followed Hollywood Boulevard launched his career as a legitimate master of genre film in his own right. Piranha , co-written by novelist/director John Sayles, was originally conceived as a Jaws parody. However, the screenplay's inherent humanity elevates it above the typical slasher films popular in the post- Halloween 1980s. Aside from its imaginative technique, Piranha is effective because Dante and Sayles develop characters about which the audiences cares. The same held true for The Howling , a film which also manifested Dante's fondness for self-reflexive, life/media blurring situations in a tale of a television reporter who eventually becomes involved in a werewolf cult in an Esalen-like California retreat. The involving screenplay was also rife with references to Little Red Riding Hood, Big Bad Wolf cartoons, famous directors of werewolf films, and Allan Ginsberg's "Howl".

The Howling ushered in a peak decade for Dante and the 1980s saw the release of his most distinctive feature films. Gremlins , produced by Steven Spielberg, proved a box-office blockbuster, and the apex of Dante's commercial clout. The tale centered on Mogwai, an adorably cuddly creature who morphs into a tribe of grotesque and gleefully malicious reptilian creatures that wage an assault on an idyllic Frank Capra-esque small town. Gremlins introduced a level of graphic violence that was new to Dante's work, and for which the film received some severe critical reviews. In two of the film's most celebrated technical sequences one of the creatures is pureed in a blender, another self-destructs in a microwave oven. One review dubbed the film "Dante's Inferno." Dante had first worked for Spielberg on the third segment of 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie , and comments that Spielberg chose him for Gremlins because Piranha was Spielberg's "favorite rip-off of Jaws. "

Dante followed Gremlins with some of his most unique and appealing work. Explorers in 1985 was a kind of "Boy's Own Story" of three preteen buddies who construct a working space craft from the carriage of a 1950s amusement park ride, the Tilt-a-Whirl. Transported into outer space the trio encounter a race of grotesque yet appealing Muppet-like aliens whose knowledge (and paranoiac apprehension) of the human race stems from their having tuned in to a steady stream of old movies, television, and media beamed up from earth. A charming amalgam of Peter Pan and Tom Swift, of childhood wonder and disillusionment, the sentiment is kept in check by a sharp gloss of media satire.

Dante's enduring love of B movies peaked most overtly in a collaborative funny valentine to low-budget science-fiction films and mass media foibles, 1987's Amazon Women on the Moon. This most unique and self-reflexive of American movie satires is a hodgepodge of comic skits held together by on-going episodes from a mangled print of a 1950s sci-fi film being screened on late-night television. (When viewed on TV the effect is truly disorienting!) Codirected by Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, John Landis, and Robert K. Weiss, Dante helmed several of the film's best sequences. These include the substantial "Critic's Corner/Roast Your Loved One" episode in which a nondescript middle-class male expires of a heart attack while watching a mysterious television critique of his mundane life (which is given an emphatic "two thumbs down" by two merciless critics). His demise is followed by a funeral in the guise of a celebrity roast MC'ed by his wife, and featuring real-life comedians such as Steve Allan and Rip Taylor. The film is capped by Dante's brilliant post-credit parody of old sex/VD education films, "Reckless Youth," with Carrie Fisher and Paul Bartel.

Two rather disappointing films—a comedy, The 'Burbs , and the technically interesting Fantastic Voyage parody, Innerspace —spawned a sequel to Dante's major commercial success, Gremlins II: The New Batch , in 1990. But the director was back in peak form in 1993 with Matinee , an affectionate homage to B-movie mogul William Castle. Like Explorers , Matinee tempers its unexpectedly poignant evocation of a young boy's experience of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 with an affectionately satirical portrait of a low-budget film producer come to town to promote his cheap creature feature, Mant! ("Half-Man, Half-Ant!")

Dante focused on television work for the rest of the 1990s, but did direct one other feature, Small Soldiers , in 1998. Soldiers is a well-meaning but rather mean-spirited allegory that deals with children's action toys which turn violently aggressive when implanted with faulty military microchips by a greedy defense industry conglomerate. Somewhat obscured by the violent techno wizardry is a plea for pacifism and tolerance, and a critique of profiteering big business. But, as Variety pointed out, "Despite good intentions, Small Soldiers is a muddle of violence and sermonizing that doesn't achieve its intended comic edge. When the lethal toys go into action any 'message' evaporates, and all one can do is marvel at the technology—and be dumbstruck by the onscreen carnage."

Still, in his finest work Dante was genuinely (and knowledgeably) retro long before everything from music to Volkswagens seemed to become trendily so in the 1990s. He innately possesses a mindset which has translated into a body of films which draw on a plethora of influences from America's cinematic and cultural past with a unique blend of poignancy and satire. At his best there's no one like him, and even misfired Dante is more interesting than most other genre work done in the Hollywood mainstream in the last decades of history's most complex, commercial, and culturally bewildering century.

—Ross Care

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