Thinking about Mike Figgis

The work of director Mike Figgis has always been of particular interest to me.

From more traditional films, like his adaptation of The Browning Version, through his looser, more playful experiments in video technology (i.e. Timecode and Hotel), Figgis never seems to have touched the same ground twice. But his films are his throughout.

I could point to any number of patterns. My personal favorite, a quality that continues to pop up in these films again and again, is Figgis’s deep investment in sensuality. I don’t mean sex (though that surely is a part of it), I mean a voluptuousness of sound, color, and cutting – especially cutting – that pervades even his starkest pictures. Figgis rarely needs a dissolve; his pictures seem to dissolve all the time, like thin wafers on a hot tongue. And there is no better example than those of Leaving Las Vegas, the centerpiece film of his career, and arguably one of the defining films of the 90s.

No other indie feature of the era started with so little to go so far, beginning with a budget of a few million dollars and Super 16mm film, and ending at the Oscars. Other pictures started with less, and some went farther, but none spanned the entire range like Leaving Las Vegas. Add to that Figgis’s renaissance-man approach to filmmaking, which transcends the confines of the regular old auteur (more than the film’s writer/director, he scored the film, edited, operated, and invented camera equipment specifically for his cinematic needs), and you have the poster child of successful DIY filmmaking.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be interviewing Figgis for something I plan to write for the 15th Anniversary of Leaving Las Vegas (yes, that was fifteen years ago), and because I know pretty much everyone interested in motion pictures has something to say about the film, I thought I’d throw out the line a little early and see what thoughts were tossed my way.

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5 responses to “Thinking about Mike Figgis

  1. Love that LEAVING!
    (And that smarmy this-is-really-a-sitcom narration on the trailer is priceless.)

    • I love LLV too – probably more than I love most movies. Today I spent the day at the Academy Library down on La Cienega and discovered they had no permits for those Vegas exteriors. Now THAT’S what I call independent.

  2. I fell in love with Mike Figgis because of one scene (it may have been one shot) in Stormy Monday: Sting playing the bass, alone in a deserted nightclub… for quite a while.
    Not essential to the story, didn’t move the plot forward, not even a leading character, just a moment of music making solitude that gave me the filmmaker. Then a year or so later, Internal Affairs — one of my half-dozen favorite movies. Rare portrayals of two men: racist, misogynist, driven, murdering men. Neither Gere nor Garcia have ever been better. It wipes out ALL of this year’s glitzy, pushing-for-a-plot thrillers. Makes ’em look fat and stupid. LLV had some tough acts to follow.

  3. oops… neither Gere nor Garcia HAS ever been better…

    • I actually just saw Internal Affairs for the first time not too long ago. I was amazed. Figgis took a script that must have read like a conventional procedural and really slooooowwwedd it dowwwwwn to give the characters breathing room. Gere and Garcia were tops and so were the women too. Nancy Travis, for the first time, really made sense on screen, and Laurie Matcalf almost stole the show. A very quiet, but also colorful performance and memorable also for playing a 90s Lesbian without putting it front and center. Gere, as the bad guy, really got his sometimes flat persona to work for him. Watching it you think, is this a front? Yes. In other movies, it’s just Gere being flat.

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