Joel Schumaker, director of Flatliners, interviewed. Plus Nikita. Darkman and

the European Film Awards.


From here to eternity

One of the surprise successes at this years US box office has been the med school tall tale I’latliners. in which a star-studded group of student doctors delve into the murky underworld ofafter-death experience. Great minds meet as Trevor Johnston and the film‘s director. Joel Schumaker. ponder the Big Question: is great art direction next to godliness?

The poet l.‘.tltllc ('ochran once noted ’l’here are three steps in heaven. but the band of plucky medical undergrads m Joel Schumaker‘s Hat/inns are out to find the short cut. Theirs is to be a journey into the very deepest recesses of the audience‘s credulity. for Kiefer Sutherland. Julia Roberts. Kevin Bacon and co. want tocheat death and return to tell everyone about it.

Actually. it looks so simple you wonder why they haven't tried II on Blue Peter before now. All you have to do is get a life support system set tip: sedate yourself to the point where your body functions have terminated and all the lines are flat on the monitor (hence the film‘s title); then massive electric shocks should be enough to bring you round again. In the meantime. you'll have had a genuine after—death experience. and. haying so glimpsed the eternal mysteries of the universe you should be a cert for a good grade in your next term paper. A glamorous future of acclaim from your peers and opening slots on all the best TV chat shows should be yours for the taking.

As such. l‘lUllth'l‘S’ is probably the grade-A dumbest idea for a movie extravaganza since l.uc Besson‘s The Big Blue. but. perversely. like the Besson movie. therein lies its curious appeal. The whole film reads like pages from The L'inemaIographer and Art Director's Bumper Book of.Was‘rurlnaory Fantasies. so slickly' exquisite is every aspect of the production. The actors take it incredibly seriously. playing this drama of life. death the universe and everything as if life. death. the universe and everything depended on it. It's absolute tosh. and as a connoisseur of the post-MTV absurd. I enjoyed it immensely.

I‘ll say right now that director Joel Schumaker. with his nasal New York fashion scene politesse is one ofthe most ingratiating and likeable

filmmakers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting;

but he appears to be living his life in the delusion that LJtravox's l'ienna y ideo is one ofthe key momentsoflatterday Western civilisation. ‘I5laI/iners‘ he proclaims. an older man than l'd expected but still a striking figure with his gaunt cheekbones and long hair nonchalantly swept back. 'is really not a story about death. it‘s a story about people who learn more about life because they experience death. What‘s important in any artistic treatment of death is that it affirms life.‘

Such grandiose statements give you some idea ofjust how seriously he takes his movie. and as the man who made both X! [fl/no '3 Fire and The Incredible Shrinking Il’oman. when he‘s talking ontology you know you’d better sit up and listen. The central plot point with [film/mm is that visions the protagonists experience whilst suspended twixt death and life. appertain directly to some area of unresolved guilt in their lives. With Julia Roberts it‘s the suicide of her Vietvet dad with Keifer. the death ofa young boy during achildhood prank. and soon. It‘s a heavily retributionist view of existence that tells the audience to go out there and be good people. otherwise all the nasty things they‘ve ever doen will come back to haunt them in another life.

'We tried not to create a universal set of images that would dogmatically say "'1 his is what it‘s like when you die" .‘ Schumaker continues. ‘lnstead we tried to make it relevant in a l’reudian sense to each particular character. which doesn't insult

the audience and helps move the story along. l've talked to atheists who think it's about the denial of God because the characters bear their own personal responsibilities. while there are (‘atholics who think it‘s a very (‘atholic movie. for my point of view. I'm not saying there is God in the movie. I know that everyone involved in making it felt that it was really about responsibility and atonement.‘

All of which might conceivably be credible in a Bergman picture. but is harder to take within the context of a product apparently tailored in the latest music video chic. Visually. however. the film is never dull. and Schumaker deserves much credit for the energy of the design and the came rawork. creating a surface elan without which events on screen would verge on hysteria. A previous Schumaker offering. vampire teenpic The Lost Boys, is still one ofAmerica's biggest-selling video cassetes and. unfashionable though it might sound to snobbish cineastes. MTV in his opinion ‘has served the film medium because it's educated a generation to surrealism . . . ten years ago l couldn't have done l'ilatliners' because the audience wouldn't hay c understood it .'

At which point your interviewer decided silence on this occasion was the better part of diplomacy. l'lalllners 1s (m wide releayi' across central I .S’eorlantl/rinn Hi 9 Nov. See/ilm lisluigvlor/ull details.

The List ‘I -- 22 November N90 15