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Reel World 

Wednesday, Jan 27 1999
Purple Noon
David Siegel and Scott McGehee might be the best filmmakers you've never heard of. It's hard to prove, though, since the S.F. State grads haven't been able to make a movie since 1994's Suture, a stylish black-and-white psychological thriller informed by a fascination with Japanese wide-screen and an ultradry wit. Last year, Siegel and McGehee were all set to shoot an edgy comedy called Snatch in Italy with Bertolucci producer Jeremy Thomas on board. All set, that is, until a principal investor, dissatisfied with the casting of the male lead, zipped up his checkbook.

New year, new start. The duo just returned from the Screenwriters Lab at the Sundance Institute, where This Sweet Sickness, their adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel, was one of the invited (and dissected) scripts. Aiming to have more control over their projects, Siegel and McGehee -- along with former attorney Robert Nathan and L.A.-based Eileen Jones -- recently formed i5, an S.F.-based production company. The first project under the i5 banner will be Lush, described by Siegel as "a darkly comic tale of an ex-professional golfer with a bit of a drinking problem making an ignoble return to his hometown of New Orleans." Written and directed by Mark Gibson, Lush is scheduled to begin shooting in March.

Meanwhile, McGehee and Siegel are writing a script called The Deep End, an adaptation of Elizabeth Sanxay Holding's forgotten novel, The Blank Wall. (Forgotten by everyone but film buffs, who recognize the book as the source material for The Reckless Moment, Max Ophuls' gripping 1949 tale of murder and blackmail. Siegel hastens to add, a tad sheepishly, that they're re-adapting Holding, not remaking Ophuls.)

Meanwhile, Snatch remains a possibility if the bankers and stars -- celestial and celluloid -- align. Although more than ever the bean counters see name actors as box-office insurance against a bad review or, God forbid, a bad movie, Siegel and McGehee are committed to nabbing the best actors for the parts, not the ones who look best on the video box after the movie's bombed. "We're not going to be casting for failure," Siegel says. "We're looking to make good movies, and cast accordingly." It may sound cliche, but that's the real credo of genuinely independent films.

Apocalypse Now
Way back in 1987, an experienced, versatile Bay Area filmmaker named Bill Couturie broke through with Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, a superb HBO documentary that seamlessly blended archival footage, emblematic rock music, and actors like De Niro, Keitel, and Penn reading excerpts from GIs' letters. (You can find it on the video shelves of the Main Library, or at Le Video.) Couturie tried to parlay his Emmy Award and newfound visibility into a Hollywood feature deal and, after moving to Southern California and enduring several years of frustration, he succeeded, in a manner of speaking: Couturie directed an excruciating family film called Ed, starring Matt LeBlanc and a chimp. (You can find this forgotten bomb at Gramophone Video.) Lo and behold, Couturie has resurfaced as one of the key creators and writers for NBC's upcoming prime-time minisoap The '60s. As my Uncle Ralph used to say, stick to what you know.

By Michael Fox

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Michael Fox


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