Filmmaker Firsts: Alexandre Rockwell

#1: In the Soup (1992) – dir. Alexandre Rockwell

What does it take to make a “cult” film? For this comedy, which famously beat Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, its stature is connected to its huge cast, culled from all corners of the movie and TV world: Steve Buscemi, Seymour Cassel, Jennifer Beals, Pat Moya, Will Patton, Sully Boyar, Carol Kane, Stanley Tucci, Rockets Redglare, Elizabeth Bracco (younger sister of Lorraine; Elizabeth doubled as the film’s costume designer), Debi Mazar, Sam Rockwell, Ruth Maleczech, Jaime Sánchez. This is an independent film featuring a massively talented set of actors, so I have to give writer/director Rockwell some credit for that.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Jim Jarmusch is in it too. Funny, since the film feels like a ripoff of the indie king’s Down by Law (1986) at times, particularly because of the grainy black-and-white picture quality. Apparently In the Soup was originally filmed in color, so I can’t fault cinematographer Phil Parmet for the way the movie ultimately compares to Jarmusch’s oeuvre, but it’s still annoying. Utilizing a black-and-white style comes off even worse when it’s applied only for distribution and seeming cool, even though it was not actually used in the filming process. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I haven’t explained what the movie is about.

Steve Buscemi plays an aspiring filmmaker who attracts the attention of potential producer Seymour Cassel. Buscemi is infatuated with neighbor Jennifer Beals, who is married to a Frenchman (Stanley Tucci) in a green card marriage. Cassel has a girlfriend (Pat Moya), but that does not prevent him from hitting on Beals. A series of vignettes show the difficulties that Buscemi and Cassel face in trying to secure money for his project. While many other personalities pop up from time to time, these are the main characters. Too bad they’re not enough to sustain a script that’s weird for weirdness’s sake.

There’s also a little person, cast only to be a bizarre, menacing presence, a choice which calls to mind the fantastic film Buscemi starred in a few years later (playing an actual director this time), Living in Oblivion (1995). That’s a genuinely funny indie comedy by Tom DiCillo and it has a brilliant rant scene related to using dwarves in films, as explicated by Peter Dinklage.

What did I gain from seeing this film? That is a question worth asking after every movie viewing, not just this one. I don’t know if I have an answer with regard to In the Soup. The one real benefit I can point to was seeing Seymour Cassel being even more awesome than usual, teaching Buscemi how to cha-cha and how to tie a tie. That may not be worth the total 95 minutes of film footage, though.

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