Meet the Poet Laureate of Meat-Head Cinema

Main Cast: John Milius

Directors: Joey Figueroa, Zak Knutson

Leave it to noted actor Sam Elliott to succinctly sum up the career of screenwriter and director John Milius in two sentences: “He doesn’t write for pussies, and he doesn’t write for women. He writes for men.”

Milius, the man who’s had more screenplays turned into films than anyone in the history of Hollywood, is the closest thing we’ve had to an Ernest Hemingway since Papa Bear sloughed off this mortal coil back in 1961. He is a larger than life man – all bluster, and guns, and macho bravado – yet underneath the tempestuous exterior beats the heart of a poet. The man is responsible for some of cinema’s most beloved (if not always the most highbrow) creations – and was the inspiration for John Goodman’s character in The Coen Brothers’ classic comedy The Big Lebowski.

Documentarians Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson capture Milius in all of his glory in their 2013 documentary, simply titled Milius, because, well, let’s face it – the man’s name alone is enough to reel in savvy cinephiles. This ode to a man hailed as “The Poet of Meathead Cinema” (which strikes me as more than a little unfair…) is sure to not only appeal to hardcore fans of Milius’ oeuvre, but will likely inspire new viewers to explore his work.

The film chronicles Milius’ entire life and career, mostly through a series of interviews with colleagues, people he’s influenced, and his children. For as talkative and outgoing as Milius is, we eventually learn that the stroke the filmmaker suffered has left him unable to speak for extended lengths of time. This is really unfortunate, because if anyone could, and should, speak about the life and career of John Milius, it’s John Milius.

Milius does turn up, through a series of previously recorded interviews. We learn about the early days of the “Zen Anarchist” and how he washed out of the military and eventually wound up at USC as part of their film program.

Those early years were vital for Milius’ evolution as a writer – he formed bonds with fellow students named Spielberg and Lucas – and he was, for a time, the most successful graduate of the program. Milius’ rise was fairly meteoric – as if we’d expect anything less – and eventually he was writing films like Apocalypse Now and directing features like Conan.

Figueroa and Knutson take us on a fascinating voyage not only through Milius’ life, but through a Hollywood that no longer exists. It’s hard to imagine even a character like John Milius pulling guns on studio bosses in this day and age and getting away with it. It’s even harder to imagine filmmakers swapping points on the backend of their films – who still gets points these days?

This stuff is really what makes Milius so fascinating, though – they don’t make writers like John Milius anymore, and that’s a shame. At least we can all sit back and listen to the stories. Anyone who loves the business and history of Hollywood is likely to enjoy this documentary.

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