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MORIARTY's Off To Visit John Sayles and the SUNSHINE STATE!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

"... leavin'... on a jet plane..."

It's just about four hours now before I head to LAX to catch a flight to Florida, where I plan to spend a day with John Sayles, one of the giants of American independent film, on the set of his new movie SUNSHINE STATE.

To tell you the truth, I'm more excited than I would be if I was going to Skywalker Ranch. John Sayles isn't just any filmmaker in my book. He's the consummate filmmaker. He's demonstrated not just longevity in the business, but he's also managed to have a long and productive career without ever once compromising his ideals. His films are individual, personal, nothing but voice. They feature strong ensembles of actors instead of movie stars, and they tackle subjects that Hollywood not only wouldn't make films about, but couldn't.

EIGHT MEN OUT. MATEWAN. LIANNA. BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET. CITY OF HOPE (a personal fave). PASSION FISH. SECRET OF ROAN INISH. MEN WITH GUNS. LIMBO. LONE STAR. What a list of films. What a history of characters and stories to have poured out of one person. And that doesn't take into account his exceptional novel LOS GUSANOS or his uncredited rewrites on films like APOLLO 13 or his delicious exploitation fare like THE HOWLING and ALLIGATOR and PIRANHA and BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS.

This guy can do it all.

So what's he up to right now? That's the same question I asked when Sony Pictures Classics approached me about going to the set. Turns out, I may be the ideal person from AICN for this trip, since the film is all about Florida, the state where I spent most of my formative years.

I know that Florida has become a popular punchline since the elections last year, and deservedly so. It was a situation that seems perfect to have happened in that state. There's a reason Carl Hiaasen has been able to mine the foibles of the citizens of Florida for such potent comic gold over the past decade, and there's a reason Sayles has set his new film on Plantation Island, a stand-in for the real-life Amelia Island, the place I'll be heading tomorrow night.

Florida is one of those places where the gold rush never stopped, where developers continue to work tirelessly to transform nature into commerce, where the rush to pave things over and build things up continually tramples any sense of history that might occur.

Sayles was inspired to write this film after seeing a documentary based on AMERICAN BEACH, an exceptional piece of journalism by Russ Rymer, that details the race struggle on Amelia Island. American Beach was known along the entire east coast as one of the few black beaches, and for many African-Americans, it is an integral part of their memories of childhood. It was part of a rich culture defined by separation, and now it's almost gone, sold off in parcels and absorbed into local development projects.

Sayles has set his sprawling ensemble drama against the backdrop of the week-long Buccaneer Days Festival, a new tradition dreamed up by the local Chamber of Commerce, and it's the perfect way to play out the various personal relationships that define not only this particular place, but the very attitude that is Florida.

There's two main characters at the center of things. Marly Temple (Edie Falco from THE SOPRANOS, JUDY BERLIN, and OZ) is trapped in a life she hates, tending to her father's business, refusing all offers to sell, gradually watching the world pass her by. A former mermaid at Wikki Wachee, trained to be a marine biologist, she's reduced to running a seedy motel and diner, and it's killing her one day at a time.

Desiree Perry (the tremendous Angela Bassett) escaped Plantation Island and Lincoln Beach, but she's returned with her husband Reggie to try and make piece with her past and her mother. In doing so, she and her husband become entangled in the life of a troubled boy who her mother has taken in, and Desiree ends up coming face to face with the man who forced her to leave home in the first place.

In typical Sayles fashion, though, there's dozens of speaking roles here, and the way he weaves his various story threads together is a lesson in screenwriting. I found myself going over certain scenes not just once, but again and again, savoring the dialogue, the delicate interplay between these people, amazed by the way he makes it all look so very easy.

The day I'm there, Wednesday, they'll be shooting a barbecue scene involving Desiree and many of the Lincoln Beach locals. I can't wait to watch Sayles at work. This is a guy who doesn't have to compromise his vision for anyone at this point, and that's a rare thing in this business of diminished expectations and artistic atrophy. I plan to learn as much as I can in the limited time I have, and I look forward to sharing more details with you as the week progresses.

I'll also have some articles for you this weekend including my review of TOMB RAIDER and peeks at the scripts for at least three major upcoming releases. Gotta have something to do on those plane trips back and forth, eh?

Okay... off to finish packing. Talk to you all soon.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • June 5, 2001, 3:22 a.m. CST


    by abcdefz

    Let's not forget his very cool cameos, like the motorcycle cop in SOMETHING WILD or his dead-on Ring Lardner in EIGHT MEN OUT... Props all 'round, Sayles... Though I confess I haven't read his novel. Didn't he get a genius grant early on? Maybe you mentioned that and I'm just still bleary-eyed...

  • June 5, 2001, 4:49 a.m. CST

    John Sayles and Intelligent Responce

    by TectorGorch

    Maybe this is one of the few articles that will illicit intelligent responce from ACIN readers instead of the usual drival and prick waving. Sayles is also a personal hero of mine. My taste lean more to "Matewon", "Lone Star", and "Men With Guns" than any of his other work. The ability that Sayles has is stunning. He goes into an enviroment or a community and takes the auidence. When you have left the film you have a real sence of that enviroment or community. Most filmmakers today take us to a white washed world of American Suburbia(This may the the fault of Speilberg or TV) where everything pretty much seems the same and indistictive. We might meet some characters but we don't get any real sence of place. Sayles does that, Robert Altman does that- but they seem to be the only ones left who can create a distinct and real world on screen. I think the problem with American Film and the American Novel is they have come to exist in this white bread world where any real study of the enviroment is left out. Tha is why films like "Sling Blade" and the books of Harry Crews do so well. They take us to a world we have not been to, plop us down, and then let us stay feeding us enviromental details until we really have an idea of the place. As for Sayles cameos- throw in "Preacher" from Maetwon".

  • June 5, 2001, 5:04 a.m. CST

    capturing the environment

    by abcdefz

    I think if you're looking for people who really nail it in terms of people who accurately capture their environment, you have to include Werner Herzog. Nobody films nature like him, making it a main character in the narrative. Some might argue that John Ford did the same, but overall I don't see him as titanic a director as so many others do. Renoir would do a great job, also, of getting the people down; Truffaut to a lesser degree. And look -- I'm talking about mostly foreign directors. Kimberly Peirce nailed the -- excuse me -- white trash aesthetic in "Boys Don't Cry,"; it was so accurate and depressing that I had to walk out...

  • June 5, 2001, 5:36 a.m. CST

    Lucky Bastard! John Sayles rules!

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Looking forward to reading the reportage.

  • June 5, 2001, 8:01 a.m. CST

    I want to Matewan with John Sayles

    by His_Own_Momma

    This guys is awesome! NE1 know why he hasn't been rewarded by the shortsighted Acadamy?

  • June 5, 2001, 8:38 a.m. CST

    Sayles! THAT dude!

    by The_Black_Hair

    I've only seen BROTHER FROM ANOTHER PLANET, LONE STAR, and MEN WITH GUNS.... all three are great... the latter two especially. His writing is a lesson in how to make films with political undercurrents that are not heavy-handed and have tangible characters. I've got to check out more.

  • June 5, 2001, 9:24 a.m. CST

    John Sayles

    by Billy Talent

    'Matewan' is the best. Spielberg called 'Piranha' his favorite 'Jaws' rip-off. Did he direct 'Alligator' as well as write it? I loved that movie when I was a kid, I should pick it up again sometime. 'Lone Star' was great too, didn't care so much for 'Limbo'.

  • June 5, 2001, 9:46 a.m. CST

    I have lived

    by cohen

    up and down the east coast including florida for a number of years, and I have to say that this place is due for a lambasting. A feature length movie could be done on the destructive effect of the zoning laws alone. Can't wait to see this one. p.s. Herzog is great. "Aguirre:the wrath of god" is one of the greatest movies ever.

  • June 5, 2001, 10:19 a.m. CST

    Am I dyslexic or did you say the new Sayles is based on a Russ M

    by Brother Putney

    I'm just kidding. Sayles is so cool he can even get away with wearing wife beater t-shirts (though I do sorta wish he'd stop). "Alligator" was directed by Lewis Teague. What I wanna know is: when will the world deliver a fat DVD of Sayles' first feature, "The Return of the Seacaucus 7"? It's been unavailable for years and it's one of those movies that isn't perfect but I love it because I saw it on just the right day, at just the right time, in just the right mood. Also, I'd like to see "Shannon's Deal" again, Sayles short-lived TV show. It seems like Bravo would've picked that up by now. Ever wonder why, after you post, the talk-back dumps you back to the previous page? I do. It haunts me.

  • June 5, 2001, 11:50 a.m. CST

    That's WEEKI Watchee, bud, not "Wikki"

    by Milktoast

    God love Sayle though none that sounds like it is going to "capture" FLA. With those crime novels about FLA establishing how people view the state it seems people only strive to capture a cliche. Sayles will do it better, but only in fleshing out characters rather than "capturing" the state. It's a big state. So far, Victor Nunez has used FLA the best (TRANS was also good in a similar way).

  • June 5, 2001, 12:28 p.m. CST

    Let's not forget Clan of the Cave Bear

    by otis von zipper

    John Sayles is great. Anyone who can put Piranha AND Lone Star on their script resume is AOK in my book. What really has me excited about this film is the casting of Angela Bassett. She delivered a one-two punch with Malcolm X and the Tina Turner movie, and then what? Supernova? So sad how little quality work this woman has been given over the last 7 years.

  • June 5, 2001, 1:27 p.m. CST

    City of Hope

    by Bad Nick

    This is one of my favorite movies, too. Masterfull storytelling. Anyone know if it will be out on DVD anytime soon?

  • June 5, 2001, 4:18 p.m. CST


    by pedant

    If you want to see another film celebrating the quirkiness of the Sunshine State, check out the brilliant Errol Morris documentary VERNON, FLORIDA (if you can find it).

  • June 5, 2001, 5:29 p.m. CST

    Limbo was nice!

    by JoeGastineau

    OK, so I was living in Juneau when they filmed it, and my boss had a cameo.... But it really *did* capture the thereness of there, and how you have to feel something -- one way or another -- about all that sublime natural grandiosity in order to survive. Now, it doesn't have anything like that awesome flashback in Lone Star, where at the end of the murder on the bridge the camera pans and we're back in the junkyard.... But apparently the weather didn't allow such things. That's Alaska for you. Also, the DVD for Limbo includes commentary by Sayles, whereas Lone Star is bereft of such cool stuff. Get both! Now that I'm in Texas, I find the 2 flicks to be very similar, like bookends. Felfoitas! &B^)

  • June 5, 2001, 6:09 p.m. CST

    Sounds like a nice vacation

    by Projectordust

    And truly an opportunity to watch a master at work... I look forward to reading about it.

  • June 5, 2001, 7:05 p.m. CST

    I used to admire Sayles...

    by Cleary

    ...until he plagiarized my friend's MFA thesis and called it "Lone Star." Hey, Moriarty, ask him about his "research" when he was in Miami in the early '90's.

  • June 5, 2001, 7:49 p.m. CST

    Men With Guns is best

    by Andy_Christ

    My brother said it was like "2 hours of Bambi's mother getting shot." And wasn't that really the best part of Bambi?

  • June 5, 2001, 8:26 p.m. CST

    He's king of American Indepedent Film

    by Solaris

    though Sayles himself is too humble to ever assume it of himself. I'm glad Moriarty you mentioned "City of Hope." As a political activist back San Diego about ten years ago, I don't think I've ever seen a film as trenchant in getting at the rotten core of what really happens in a big city.I'll take his films over "The Mummy Returns," "Pearl Harbor," and so on any day. The subculture focus you described in the film does seem to vaguely parallel another independent film made back in the late 80's called "Daughters of the Dust," which dealt with the vanishing Gichy culture off the coast of North Carolina. Sadly, here in Japan, many of Sayle's films don't make it over here for over three years or longer. "The Secret of Roan Inish" is a case in point. I'll be looking forward to hearing more about this one in the future.

  • June 5, 2001, 9:39 p.m. CST

    I just love all the phony jerk offs in here including Moriarty.

    by SierraMountain

    John Sayle's is really an amateurish director with something to say, he may have profound(not really) observations to say about life, but that doesn't cover up the fact the man cannot make a single film that is involving to anyone but himself. There's a reason he seeks funds independently and on his own. Why is that you ask? Cause the fucker's afraid to take on the responsiblity of delievering a mainstream film for studios. Like all other indie filmmakers, he is just another coward who really knows the limits of his ability and knows that to cover up his incompetence, he proclaims independence like all other losers like him. Michael Mann, Anthony Minghella, Cameron Crow, David O Russell, Ang Lee, Spike Jonze(although I think this dude is a talentless idiot), and Steven Soderbergh are all filmmakers who have been able to retain their personal vision without compromising with producers(although I'm sure these filmmakers have had to defend their cuts). Indie scuzz asses like Sayles and others are talentless, passive, lazy, hacks who are too afraid or too incompetent to accept studio funding. How can you expect to make great films if you don't wish to fight for it. Remember, filmmaking is a collaborative endeavor, independents are just anti-social, self important fuck ups. And I know none of you like any of John Sayles' work. Just realize none of his films have "enlightened" me. If anything, his films validated my opinion towards indie filmmakers.

  • June 6, 2001, 2:52 a.m. CST


    by Nordling

    you're an idiot. LONE STAR is a perfect film. Go see ARMAGEDDON for the 10th time. Moron.

  • June 6, 2001, 4 a.m. CST


    by TectorGorch

    Having read Milktoast post I'd like to add Victor Nunez to my list of directors who can capture communtiy. He's also an extremely nice man who is glad to help out other, younger filmmakers. If he could just get together with Harry Crews...

  • June 6, 2001, 4:57 a.m. CST

    John Sayles is not the best director at times (technically) but

    by lostoptimist

    Pretty solid usually. While LONE STAR and CITY OF HOPE, BROTHER FORM ANOTHER PLANET (my personal favorite), and EIGHT MEN OUT are great movies with capable direction, SECRET OF ROAN INISH (probably mispelled that) and MATEWAN leave a bit to be desired. I think INISH is great but what's keeping it back from being a child-friendly movie is that it lags in some places something fierce. I mean, it just friggin draggggs and most children will get bored (I tried showing it once to my 10 year-old next door neighbor and she just got up and left after one too many scenes of waves rolling onto a beach and little else). As for, MATEWAN--Which I also like--Something seemed off directorially. Like that scene with James Earl Jones contemplating whether or not to shoot Chris Cooper...Call me 'old school' but I wish there had been more suspense in that.

  • June 6, 2001, 12:37 p.m. CST


    by Palpatine100

    Sierra, you're proving your ignorance here. Sayles can't make commercial cinema? Anyone care to guess just HOW he manages to get funding the way he wants it, when he wants it? THe man is a regular script doctor on action and horror flicks (even did a rewrite on Mimic), and claims to enjoy doing it. He options creative control over his films instead of money for his drafts. He's not anti-social, or pretensious (though I would agree that a lot of the people on the independent market are), he's smart. Anyway, I'm certainly not a Sayles expert, but I found Lone Star to be one of the most honest, and involving films I've ever seen. Comparisons between him and Altman are dead on, though Lone Star is far more entertaining than Nashville anyday.

  • June 7, 2001, 11:02 a.m. CST

    pedant- re:Vernon Fl

    by Herbert

    I saw that on video about 1988 and almost peed myself laughing at some of those folks. Like the old man carrying the 50 pound tortoise insisting it was a gopher. I live in North Fl now (Jacksonville) and you do run into some of that, but it's really more normal than you would think. Then again, I came here from NC so consider the source...

  • Three great films. "Piranha" was Sayles first effort for Corman and a believeable story with a good cast. That gunfight at the end of "Matewan" was intense! David Straithern rocks as an actor! Very underrated! "Lone Star" stands on its own. Smooth! John Sayles makes HIS films HIS way. He goes out and scrounges up the money just like everyone else. He knows how the game is played, but doesn't sell out. That's why his films will stand the test of time rather than the "Flavor Of the Month" director everyone goes apeshit over.