INDEX 18: LISTINGS 23
Brad Pitt shucks off his Levi’s and slips into something less comfortable for his role as Johnny Suede. Trevor Johnston gazes in
awe at the quiff of director Tom DiCillo.
‘He’s someone we all know. a guy who‘s afraid to drop the pose because that‘s all he has.‘ says
director Tom DiCillo of his central character. Johnny Suede. Indeed Johnny Suede. the movie. DiCillo’s debut as writer and director. is a wryly entertaining fable about the perils of hipness. Starring Brad Pitt. the scene-stealing hitchhiker from Thelma and Louise. as a SOs-obsessed poseur who discovers he’s not quite as cool as he would like to think he is. the film wittily exposes the dangers of developing too strong a passion for fashion. ‘It’s about a guy who chooses this name Johnny Suede because it fits a certain self-image he has.’ explains New Yorker DiCillo. no image slouch himselfwith modest quiff, sideburns and ; winklepickers. ‘He loves suede because it’s “rough ? but smooth, strong but quiet". yet underneath it all he’s a mess. He’s gripped by the same fears and insecurities that everyone else is. but the idea of his image being so perfect and so strong really interested me.‘
Home decorator by day. aspiring rock ‘n‘ roll icon by night, Johnny is an extravagantly-coiffured vision of pristine Ricky Nelson chic. building his life around an elusive dream of fame and fortune. Fellow fashion casualty pretty-in-pink Darlctte (Alison Moir) arrives on the scene and all seems set for the perfect romance. Except that the path of true love does not indeed run smooth. and it's left to the rather better-adjusted Yvonne (Catherine Keener). a hardworking teacher and all-round non-style victim. to give our pouting protagonist a few lessons about successful relationships in the real world.
Although partly set in the sort ofbig city nowhereland Jim Jarmusch used with such panache in Stranger than Paradise— on which DiCillo was responsible for the fabby B&W photography — and running on a similar slow-burning comic fuse. the temptation for too easy comparisons should be avoided. For one thing. DiCillo is more interested in fumbling everyday emotions than the subtle intellectual games of the Jarmuschian screen domain.
So, as Johnny learns the hard way about personal commitment and exactly where it is that you find the clitoris. DiCillo‘s movie draws not a few knowing chuckles from the ironic disparity between his unrufﬂed superficial hauteur and the frightened, ignorant and inexperienced young man that‘s hiding beneath.
‘Because I basically knew the role inside out. the
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“The List 19June—2July 1992
plan for a long time was that I would play Johnny myself.’ DiCillo explains. ‘but aside from the pressure of acting and directing. l was worried that with my particular complexion he would have seemed like some kind ofcthnic thing. Dion and the Belmonts or something. Truly. my worst nightmare was that everybody would see this Johnny Suede character as Fonzie. Then one night I caught Midnight Cowboy on TV and Jon Voight had this kinda light-featured look. like he‘s a guy who‘s obviously come from somewhere else to the big city. and so that gave me a whole new spin on it.’
‘Truly, my worst nightmare was that everybody would see this Johnny Suede character as Fonzie.’
‘I think I saw about 150 actors and Brad was the last one. There are more dumb young guys who want to be actors out there than you’ll ever know. but Brad really was the only one who was able to come in and understand that Johnny was a guy trapped behind a facade. a guy who has this identity that‘s essentially destroying him. At that point. he’d already shot Thelma and Louise but it hadn’t been released so people weren‘t as aware of him as they are now. In the first two weeks of shooting. we were still finding the character. but we ended up with a balance between my take on Johnny and what Brad brought to the part.‘
After only a couple of movies. it’s hard quite to equate all the brouhaha that‘s surrounded Pitt. suggesting he’s the new James Dean and Marlon Brando rolled into one. but as a director who‘s
worked with him. DiCillo seems more aware than . most ofwhat the Brad Pitt mystique is all about. i i "There‘s just something vulnerable about him. you | know. He‘s transparent in a good way in that you ' can see into him. not through him. It helped to , create a Johnny Suede who could do stupid or unlikeable things and yet still retain the audience’s i sympathy.’ j DiCillo himselfisexpcriencingaslightdifficulty retaining any sympathy for man-of—tbe-moment Mr Pitt, unimpressed as he is with the prospect of seeing his movie bundled onto the back of the trundling Pitt bandwagon.‘l just want to make sure that the film is promoted not just as a vehicle for Brad Pitt but as this rather odd little movie in its own right,‘ he states tersely. ‘lt‘s definitely a 2 story I created through my vision. It has a directorial signature. Sure there‘s something to 'what you’re saying. but it's so difficult to get an independent movie made these days and find an audience for it that ifthis helps then that‘s fine.‘
It only remains for the director to clear up one of Johnny Suede’s most puzzling conundrums: dear. dear Nick Cave is something of a hoot as shambolic rock 'n’ roller Freak Storm. but why j does he have white hair? The answer. according to f | DiCillo, is simple: ‘Basically he was unwilling to say yes to the project because he was worried that people might think he was playing himself in the part. So we made him into this albino preacher Elvis guy and right away he said he‘d do it . . .’ i Johnny Suede ([5) opens at the (ilasgo w Film Theatre on Sun 28 June and the Edinburgh (.‘umeo on Fri 3 July. A special List/Cameo .s‘ereening takes place at 1.30pm on Sat 24 J une. free to those who
take this edition to the Cameo box office.