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Interview with Mitchell Lichtenstein, writer/director of Teeth

Mitchell Lichtenstein writes and directs Teeth, a horror comedy about Dawn (Jess Weixler), a seductive teenager who develops "vagina dentata" (read: teeth inside her vagina) which can sever any male predators. Her gynecologist (Josh Pais) and abusive stepbrother, Brad (John Hensley), among other men in her life, try to take advantage of her. Vagina dentata is just considered to be a myth--for now. This marks the feature directorial debut of Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. In the past, Mitchell has had small roles in TV series and films such as "Homicide", "Law and Order", Flawless and The Wedding Banquet.

Roadside Attractions releases Teeth on January 18th, 2008 at the Village East Theater.

NYCMOVIEGURU: Why did you decide to direct Teeth as you first feature film?

ML: I originally wanted a woman to direct it and it was, kind of, hard to find someone. I did, ultimately, find someone who was really interesting who I was working with for a while. Then we realized that the tone became so specific and she would have done a different version than what I would do. It would have been hard for anyone to make this. My main reason for not doing it was being afraid of if it didnít turn out to be the way that I hoped. Once I was able to risk that, then it made sense for me to do it.

NYCMOVIEGURU: What was going on in your life when you were making Teeth?

ML: I wasnít working much as an actor and I always wanted to get back to writing, which I did as a kid. Also, I learned about the myth [of ďvagina dentataĒ] years ago in college. For years, I thought it was interesting fodder because itís such a pervasive myth in all these culturesómost religions have their own version of it. If you could address it directly in the right way with humor, youíd see right away that itís says something about men and not much about women. Itís clearly a male problem. Although it isnít, strictly speaking, a horror movie, the best horror movies tap into some deep-seeded fear and this clearly [does that].

NYCMOVIEGURU: What did other people you approached think of your film idea?

ML: I did ask around two friends whether I should even go there. People in the business were mostly against it. A lot of people were turned off by the script or at least wary enough not to come in. I was aware that I wasnít in any obligation to cast someone well-known. When John Hensley, who plays Brad, read the description [of the film] on the script, he thought it was a practical joke. He just thought it was so crazy, that he had to meet whoever was responsible for it. A lot of people thought it was really funny, but it took a while. Jess didnít want to come in, but they lured her and she read for another smaller part. I just had to talk to her about the larger vision in the movie and that this is a real myth and that itís really about the birth of a superhero.

NYCMOVIEGURU: How did the cast and crew joke around offset?

ML: There was some playing around all of the prosthetics.

NYCMOVIEGURU: How did you know how much gore to actually show? ML: Itís just an expression of what I think would, kind of, wake you up, [without] going too far. Early on, I wondered about showing the vagina dentata itself and quickly realized that I didnít want anything violent or ugly associated directly with Dawn. Since she ultimately is the heroine and a positive image, I didnít want to have that imagine in our minds.

NYCMOVIEGURU: Do you think men still have a fear toward women today?

ML: Yes, I think it is. In the biology class in the movie, they do cover the female anatomy and not the male anatomy, which did really happen in West Virginia. The school board decided that the vagina shouldnít be shown because women have a natural modesty that shouldnít be betrayed by seeing and men are so stimulated by visuals that it might be too much to see the diagram. I donít believe that those are the real ideas. Thereís something deeper that does want this mystery to be maintained. Whatever the theory is, it isnít serving women. Itís a fear of womenís power, whether itís sexual or not.

NYCMOVIEGURU: How did you get the dog to eat the prosthetic penis?

ML: We had to make one that wouldnít be harmful if she ate it, but also wouldnít be attractive for her to eat. The other one was one that she would actually want to eat. What she spits out at the end is just a little hotdog, which, unfortunately, looks like a hotdog--weíre low budget.

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