Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have added an
intriguing twist to their
examination of personal identity in Suture. They tell Trevor Johnston everything‘s not always black and
Back in 1989. San Francisco experimentalists Scott McGehee and David Siege] made a deal with each other that they'd stick at their filmmaking partnership for a couple of years before reassessing the situation. Luckily for them. they kept plugging away long enough to see their debut feature Suture grace last year's Sundance and Cannes film festivals. where it was quickly snapped up by lCA Projects for a British release. Lucky for us they did. because the film's startling. eminently stylish blends of classic thriller narrative. existential philosophising and eyecatching use of black-and-white scope cinematography makes it one of the most striking first-time efforts to have
hit the screen in quite some time.
‘How is it that we know who we are‘?’ declaim the ponentous tones of psychiatrist Max Shinoda (Japanese-American actor Sab Shimono) under the opening credits. significantly setting the scene for Clay Arlington’s (Dennis Haysbert) trip to his wealthy and extremely weird half-brother Vincent Towers (Michael Harris). whose motivations appear cloudy until the visitor is unrecognisably scarred in
Suture: ‘striking first time effort'
an automobile explosion and Vincent‘s ll) planted in the car as the only clue to the victim's identity. It's not inconceivable that the authorities can mistake Clay for Vincent (and pin him with the murder charge that‘s been hanging over the latter's head) but the key conceit in the movie is that actor Haysbert is black and his counterpart Harris is white. it‘s something that only we. the audience. seem to be aware of as we follow Clay's recovery from amnesia and plastic surgeon Renee Descartes's (Mel Harris) attempts to reconstruct his personality — as Vincent.
‘We had been watching a lot of paranoid thrillers and 60s Japanese movies. and we started kicking around the whole notion of identity.‘ explains McGehee. who was finishing a Masters degree in Rhetoric at Berkeley before he came to lilmmaking. ‘We wondered if we could take the various plot
devices from these films like plastic surgery. twins. amnesia —- and turn them to our own purposes.‘ For his other half. Siege]. it seems that constructing the story needed an extra element to focus the audience’s attention on the split between interior and exterior identities: "l‘he whole black/white issue is a visual idea that keys people into the concept of the malleability of identity and the alienation our exterior can provide for us in certain social contexts. Hopefully too. it adds a certain level of irony and provocativeness to the story that makes the film more fun and more challenging
Amazingly. as Siege] suggests. a device that could seem merely clever-clever. fits in rather well. adding a welcome element of sly humour to the film‘s playful (never po-faced) questioning of the basic epistemological and psychological assumptions that hold together the fabric of our experience. There's an echo too here in the deliberate black/white contrasting design scheme in the visuals. which have a clinical confidence remarkable in a piece of work from tyro artistes; yet. as McGehee points out. the two filmmakers had a wealth of extraordinary material to draw on.
‘We were aiming really to create a visual world that was unfamiliar and would somehow create a new proscenium for audiences unused to watching black- and-white scope. We showed the production team things like John Frankenheimer‘s Serum/s and Japanese films like 'i‘eshigahara's ’l‘lu) l’zu'e of Another. Kurosawa‘s Hie/1 and Low. We did everything to amp up the narrative as much as we could. so the design idea was to have this black intrusion into Vincent's almost completely white world: a black guy in a white suit against a white wall — that's a tough gig for the cinematographer.'
With its perfectly visionary use of music from Brahms to Johnny Cash an extra added bonus. Suture is surely something special indeed. Forget Tarantino. for once: here's the real definition of celluloid cool
Suture opens ur the lav/inbure/z film/muse on Fri 3 and the Glasgow I’ll/u Theatre on Fri 1!) Mar
We’ve had cars chasing through city centres, buses careering along highways, all sorts of runaway trains, planes and automobiles. For a more unpredictable set of spills, however, there’s not much that can beat the hands-on rush of white-water rafting - a wet-suited battle between man and nature with the big, bad rapids waiting around every corner..
‘I look on this as a suspense movie that has action in It as opposed to an action movie,’ says director Curtis llanson of his outdoor thriller, The Itlver Wild. ‘An action movie Is a rollercoaster ride: it starts with action sad, as action, it carries you along. A suspense movie is based on characters: you need to care about the people before you can really start
Meryl Streep takes up the oars in The River Wild
generating meaningful suspense. Once you have the characters established, start tightening the screws and then get into the action.’
Hanson should know all about
crafting suspense: his last movie, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, was a surprise hit and one of the better family infiltration thrillers that have saturated the market in recent years. leaving behind that film’s claustrophobic interiors, The River Wild heads for the great outdoors as Gail and Tom try to patch up their marriage by taking their young son on a rafting holiday. The waters become more troubled, however, when a couple of murdering robbers force skilled oarswoman Gail to help them on their escape, by taking them and their hostages along an unpassable part of the river.
Hanson’s determination to root the movie in strong characterisation is aided by his cast, which includes John Sayles regular David Strathairn, Kevin Bacon and multi-Oscar-winner Meryl Streep. ‘Meryl I was amazed by - not only how much she would do, but how much she in fact could do,’ he says of his star, who managed about 90 per
cent of her stunts herself. ‘I thought it would be great to take Meryl, who has been so incredibly respected for years and years, but who is almost kept at a distance because of the kind of parts that she plays - the period movies and the so-called “accent” parts — and take her off the pedestal she was on and put her in a physical movie.
‘We tried to find room to make Gail into somebody we would feel was real, and I think we ended up with somebody that’s more like the real Meryl Streep than probably any character she’s ever played. She’s the classic over-achiever who’s really smart and determined and headstrong and, of course, a wife and mother. Meryl once said that she thought it would be good for her three daughters to see a movie with a character like Gail at the centre of it. And then she hesitated and said, “And you know, it’ll be good for my little boy to see it too.” ’ (Alan Morrison)
The River Wild opens on Friday 24.
18 The List 24 Feb-9 Mar 1995