Not all stories in the film business end like this one did.
A few months ago I found out that without my consent, major sections of music had been replaced in my film Johnny Suede showing on Netflix.
This was pretty shocking because the film had been “locked” since it was released in 1991. But, suddenly all of the Link Wray music I’d carefully chosen had been replaced with generic 50’s instrumental crap. This included complete tracks like “Hotel Loneliness” which I used in its entirety as the Opening Credit score.
But, now Johnny Suede is back up on Netflix with all the original music restored. This came about due to the remarkable support and patience of Miramax, the film’s US distributor. Through the assistance there of Ryan Sosa and Pamela Popp updated music rights were obtained for all the Link Wray tracks.
Even more exciting is that I got a chance to re-edit the film. In viewing it again I saw places where the focus drifted and the intent of the film wandered off like a distracted child. There were also performance issues due to my inexperience and as a first time director I was not yet aware of the concept of reshaping the film with the best of what I had.
That is one of the most important adjustments a writer/director has to make. With every film you put your soul into trying to bring the script to life. And with every film what ends up on film is always different than what was on the page.
Sometimes you can see that immediately. Other times it takes months to let go of the love and affection for the original ideas. It is amazing what kind of clarity you get with a distance of 20 years.
Miramax allowed me to start with the original Director’s Cut which had won Best Picture at the Locarno film festival in 1991. This cut does not have the annoying narration that was added just before the US release. In the course of a week I cut 7 minutes out of the film. I didn’t cut to make the film faster. I cut to make it clearer.
Early in the shooting I’d given Brad a note that Johnny was like a child. I meant that his attention and interest could shift quickly from one thing to another. I found out later Brad took it to mean that Johnny was a child and he’d made a choice to make the character a little less emotionally mature than himself.
This affected the pacing of some of the scenes. It also affected the reality of why Yvonne (a luminous Catherine Keener) would be attracted to Johnny. I never wanted this to be a question in the film. I always thought of Johnny as a smart, sexy guy who put sharp, intense energy into his facade. And I know Brad was capable of this, especially after seeing his charged, brilliant performances in 12 Monkeys, Snatch and Moneyball.
But, as the director it was my job to be as clear and precise as I needed to be in order to get what I felt was crucial to the film. So, in this new cut I tried to address this.
The film is still the same. Johnny is still the naive, schizophrenic fool that Brad brought to life. These were qualities written into the character and Brad went for them with great openness and courage. His scene where Yvonne discovers his infidelity is one of my favorites; fierce, raw and emotionally naked.
I shot a lot of the scenes in wide masters instead of going in for traditional close-up coverage. This was partly creative and partly as a result of having so little time. But, in the scene where Johnny meets Freak Storm (Nick Cave) it limited me.
That day was one from hell. Nick was furious because the wig “expert” had no idea what she was doing and his white pompadour looked like it was stapled to his forehead with a glue gun.
Also, the Director of Photography was going through some bizarre emotional trauma about me directing my first film. So, I ended up with an angry Nick, a misinformed Brad and a sulky cameraman who later admitted to me he was intentionally sabotaging the film (I intentionally relieved him of his trauma by replacing him).
Fortunately, in the re-edit I found a way to trim the scene, tightening it and taking out a moment where the writing stretched Johnny’s gullibility a little beyond belief.
But, in other instances, the single shot approach fostered some indelible performances. The scene where Yvonne instructs Johnny in the basics of female anatomy was done as a single take and the performances of Brad and Catherine have an amazing emotional pulse that gives life to the entire shot.
Likewise, every scene that Calvin Levels was in brought a sly humor that injected a great note of surprise into the film. In this new cut his relationship with Johnny is stronger and carries more importance.
When I first realized my film had been altered without my permission I felt like something infinitely sacred to me had been violated. And now, 20 years after I made it, I have what I feel is truly THE OFFICIAL DIRECTOR’S CUT of the film.
Miramax has allowed me access to the new digital master and I’m hoping to get this new version out on DVD and Blu-Ray as soon as possible.