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Premieres & Events

Black and White in Color

By S.T. VanAirsdale

"They're still here," Steve Buscemi told Seymour Cassell over his cell phone from the stage at the Walter Reade Theater. "There are a lot of people here." He pulled the phone down onto his cheek and looked out at the crowd. "He wants to know how much you paid." He paused, then repeated Cassell's follow-up: "How much did poor Lincoln Center make out of this?"

In the Soup director Alexandre Rockwell (left) on the phone with Seymour Cassell, with Steve Buscemi and Sam Rockwell keeping the crowd engaged (Photo: STV)

No one was saying, but the sold-out room and well-populated wait-list said enough as the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Young Friends of Film hosted a screening of Alexandre Rockwell's 1992 comedy In the Soup. Buscemi joined the filmmaker and co-stars Sam Rockwell (no relation) and Steve Randazzo for a post-screening discussion of the film, which proved Thursday to be one of the increasingly rare indie mainstays of its era to age well. Thank the cast -- primarily the combustible duo of Buscemi and Cassell, literally bouncing off one another as a destitute New York filmmaker and the shady "producer" who pledges the funds to underwrite his self-indulgent epic. Alexandre's then-wife Jennifer Beals portrays the filmmaker's troubled neighbor (and prospective star); Sam Rockwell and Randazzo feature in smaller roles as, respectively, Beals' disabled nephew and Buscemi's harmonizing sociopath landlord.

Of course, Phil Parmet's lovely black-and-white cinematography handily knocks decades off both the city and its subjects -- not quite accidentally, but not by painstaking design either. "Oh, the print looked beautiful," Buscemi told Cassell before pulling the phone down again. "The print looked great, didn't it?" Back into the phone: "You don't mind if I talk to them while I talk to you, do you? You know, on the card they sent out, the picture is in color, and that's because Alexandre had to shoot the movie in color -- yes, Seymour, the real movie. To get the money for the movie, he had to shoot it in color so he could deliver a video version in color. And then he printed it in black and white so that you would only see a print in black and white. And there's color version on video. But don't get the color version." Beat. "I don't know! I'm just explaining to them--"

Alexandre spoke up. "Does anybody have a question so we could get Seymour off the phone?"

The filmmaker had earlier invoked the semi-autobiographical spirit in which In the Soup was conceived. ("Was I playing you?" Buscemi asked, authentically surprised.) "What happened was I sold my saxophone," Alexandre told the crowd, hesitating a bit lest his former producer had ears in the theater. He turned to Buscemi -- "He's coming after you because you're the one with the money now" -- then back to the audience. "But I sold a lot of stuff, and in that scene where I went to the hotel -- or where Steve went to the hotel for me -- a very similar scene happened to me with a much less charming Joe. Unless, of course, he's in the audience. But the odd part is that he had stubs on his fingers like Seymour does; the tips of Seymour's fingers were crushed, but that's another story. But he also whipped out the money, and I said I wanted to make a movie. I was busing tables at the time; I said. 'I want to make a film.' He didn't even ask me what the film was about. He just said, 'OK,' gave me $10,000 and I was off to the races with my first film. And I hate to say this, but the more I go down this road, he was the best producer I ever had. And I mean that from my heart."

The discussion eventually came around to Sam Rockwell, then a 23-year-old plugging away with small roles in New York. "Alexandre said, 'I want you to play this mentally handicapped guy,' " he recalled. "I said, 'OK.' And he said, 'You know what I want? Look at this documentary Best Boy.' " He looked at Alexandre. "Best Boy, you know?"

"Oh, that's right, that's right."

"And I watched this documentary about this mentally handicapped guy. And I kept sort of going all the way with this mentally handicapped thing; I was putting things in my mouth. I wish I'd seen (What's Eating) Gilbert Grape before I did this movie, because I think he did a better job. But it was pretty fun."

A swell of fans rushed the stage at the end of the event, including Grace is Gone writer/director Jim Strouse, who waited patiently at stage left to introduce himself to Alexandre Rockwell (who in turn congratulated Strouse on his Sundance success before winkingly hitting him up for money). A reception followed with wine, cupcakes and a guy performing on a ukelele. Someone noted that the Young Friends of Film didn't look so young. Maybe, maybe not, but again, In the Soup hasn't aged a bit, and good work makes living in the moment easy.

Posted at February 9, 2007 8:23 AM

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