In the Soup features an early starring role for Steve Buscemi, a rare leading part which proves he can carry a feature from start to finish. He stars as Adolpho Rollo, a down on his luck aspiring filmmaker, who has written a 500 page screenplay he is desperate to get on the screen. Broke and living in a crummy apartment, he fantasises about being a great director while working his menial jobs and getting frustrated with the lack of action with the neighbour he so desires (played by Jennifer Beals). Adolpho's luck changes though when he meets a shifty stranger called Joe (played by the hilarious Seymour Cassell) who offers him large sums of cash to make his film. What seems like a perfect sweet deal soon turns out to be a hellish nightmare, when it's clear Joe has his own ideas for the film and drags Adolpho into his often sleazy, shady little world.
In the Soup is one of those perfect little films which just flows beautifully. The black and white look is sublime, and Buscemi's features come alive off the screen in every scene. His charisma shines through too, and Adolpho remains one of his finest, though not most well known characters. We really do route for the guy, especially when the untrustworthy, but immensely likeable Joe drags him further into his unsavoury universe.
"In the Soup was the first film that I had really worked with a director that closely because my character was so important to the film," Buscemi said. "Alex gave me a lot of responsibility for that character. Not that he didn’t have his ideas about this guy—which I tried to fulfil—but we were constantly discussing ideas. He’s very much an actor’s director, and a brilliant filmmaker."
Clearly done on a shoestring budget, it proves that money isn't a guarantee of a decent movie. Given the autobiographical elements, and seeing as Rockwell's life mirrored Adolpho's at one point (he goes into detail about this in the next section of the book) I am sure that a lot of these events were not as funny in real life. Joe's brother Skippy for instance, is a frightening individual, and Buscemi puts us right there into these often scary scenarios.
Rockwell keeps things simple, gives the actors room and ensures every moment is interesting. Though retrospective reviews have alluded to a sagging in the script (Empire for one noted this), my interest has never flagged at all on repeated viewings. Rockwell takes us inside this initially bleak but fascinating world, one which suddenly comes to life as soon as Cassell enters the plot. On that note, special mention needs to go to the legendary Seymour Cassell. A veteran of the screen, this is arguably the role that matches his classic John Cassavettes work the best. Has there ever been a better on screen indie duo than Buscemi and Cassell? If so, I haven't seen one. There is an infectious energy to their scenes together, and their shared moments are so lively and enjoyable that you could watch them for hours just messing around with each other. If you were ever feeling down, In the Soup would be a great antidote, even giving its slightly downbeat ending.
"In In the Soup, we tried to get things done in two or three takes. We did all our rehearsals on our own before we got there," Steve recalled. "We had to work long hours, there was no going back. When you are shooting a film like In the Soup, it gives you this incredible energy, this excitement that comes from knowing that we have to get this now. Sometimes the pressure of that bothers me. But other times it inspires me, you can’t stop and think, you are just forced to do the scene and do it right. You are forced to go on instinct more. To me, it’s a valid way to work."
It's also worth watching for an acting role by Jim Jarmusch, and a young Stanley Tucci, who is great as the neighbour's shifty lover, shimmying across window ledges. Still, this is Buscemi's show, and anyone watching at the time must have known that he was destined for big things. The film won best dramatic film at Sundance, back in the festival's true glory days, and now has something of a small cult following. It deserves to be more well known in my view, an understated little gem, which is a world away from the dross coming to the big screens these days.
Though Cassell has the showier part, and is absolutely hilarious every second he is on screen, this is for me the film I would recommend as a Buscemi starting point, for anyone who wants to scratch the surface to go deeper than his more well known work. It's one of those films I have loved for years, but one that no one I ever meet or come across has ever heard of... save my partner Linzi.
However, it does have its fans, including certain members of the film press. Ken Turran of the LA Times gave the film a glowing review, writing "In the Soup (selected theaters) is a charming pipsqueak of a movie, a playful film of ragged and shaggy appeal. All its virtues are small-scale except for one, because inside this little picture is the year's largest, most robust pieces of acting, a performance that no one can resist, Aldolpho Rollo least of all. Rockwell, whose previous features were little seen, has not let the fact that he had to make this film on a shoestring, at one point even borrowing money from his mother-in-law's pension fund, hamper his sense of style or of fun. He had the film shot (by Phil Parmet) in expressive black and white, and allowed his actors (including his wife, Flashdance survivor Jennifer Beals, as the girl of Aldolpho's dreams, and Sully Boyer, unforgettable as an old man who misses his own wife) the liberty to improvise when necessary."
TV Guide also raved about it, writing, "There isn't enough one could say about the casting in this film -- it's simply perfect. The story is elevated by the chemistry and sense of improvisation between Buscemi and Cassel. Overall In the Soup is consistently winning and uniquely eccentric."
In the Soup is a no frills hidden little masterpiece, which gets by on its wonderful performances, the unexpected twists and turns, its visual perfection and a most superb script.
Q AND Q WITH ALEXANDRE ROCKWELL
It was 2 pm for me. It was 9 am for him. I was in Yorkshire, England, and he was in New York, but it was raining in both destinations. It seemed rather fitting. On the phone we chatted about In the Soup, the making of the film, its reputation as a cult classic and what a nice guy Steve Buscemi is.
I always wanted to ask you where the inspiration came for In the Soup. How did you first come up with the idea?
Yeah, the film came out of a bit of my life. I was really broke, after living in New York for a year. And I had bought a saxophone, I really wanted to get into music, and I decided I really was not going to be a great saxophone player, even though I really liked it, and I really wanted to make a film, so I decided to sell the saxophone to see if I could get some money to start shooting a little movie. And then what I did is I met a gangster, Joe, a kind of drug dealer character, and he started funding my movie. He had a crazy brother too, a little like Skippy in the movie, and he had this Thai girlfriend. He was a little out of control, this total coke head. She used to flirt with me in front of Joe, it was kind of scary. I remember I was telling these stories to my buddies at work. I had these crappy jobs, cleaning out basements, or working in the sewer or whatever, and they would all start laughing at these stories. I wasn't laughing, these stories were real to me and I thought the guy was gonna come and kill me. But they would laugh, so I thought I would write a story about a young guy who is trying to make a film, who takes himself very seriously. But like I used to say years ago in interviews, this guy Joe was the best film producer I ever met. He was the guy who believed in me the most. He eventually got arrested, and I used to send him books in prison. I haven't lost total contact with him, but I haven't been in touch for a while.
Wow, I really did not know it was autobiographical to that degree...
Yeah, a lot of it happened.
So when did you first meet Steve Buscemi?
I met Steve... I was going to put him in my previous film, Sons. He was supposed to play the youngest brother in this story. There were three brothers in this story. It was influenced by John Cassavettes. He was going to play the youngest, the kind of sweet brother. Steve was gonna play him, but I could not get the movie made with him. No one knew who he was, he was still a fireman at the time. People didn't want him. I felt really bad about that because I really liked him. Then I met Seymour Cassell, who was a Cassavettes actor, and I thought 'Wow what a great thing just to get these two guys together.' They were so different. You know, Steve was such a good, straight up guy, a fireman. Seymour was such a wild, mischievous man. My instincts were right. Those two really had a great chemistry together. So I was really lucky to get them together.
It must have been amazing to watch them together.
Oh, it was so much fun. Seymour has a relationship with Steve a little like mine. He would drive Steve crazy. Steve has a patience like no one I have ever seen. Seymour would get me so mad that I would throw coffee at him. He was always getting me mad. Always sticking his finger in my ear, or he'd be doing something to drive me crazy. He's a disruptor. But Steve put up with it. I mean, he really loved Seymour a lot. Seymour is annoying but he's also a loveable crazy uncle. He was so patient with him.
It must have been a fun film to make.
Yeah it was. We would laugh so much on set. One time, Steve and I were on a lunch break in the middle of the night. You know, when you are doing a night shoot you sometimes have lunch at, like, two in the morning. Everyone had left the set but me and Steve. We were just sitting there eating our lunch in the Adolpho apartment set. We had eggs. An egg in between two pieces of bread. Fried eggs. One time we were laughing so hard, that Steve was laughing and he inhaled this entire egg sandwich. The egg disappeared and he was turning blue.
Oh my god! (Laughing a lot.)
We were laughing, both of us, so hard, that I almost couldn't save his life, but eventually I got over to him and hit his back hard. He coughed up the entire egg. And the funniest thing about is that the egg was exactly perfect, it just looked like a fried egg. So anyway, you would never have had Steve Buscemi's career, he would have died eating an egg if I hadn't smacked him on the back. That was crazy.
I wanted to say about this thing with Steve. When you watch him on the screen, there's a kind of magic about him that is hard to explain or define. I was wondering what it's like to see that before your very eyes, when you are making the actual film?
It's a very weird thing. When I first worked with Steve he was so quiet. Whenever I said cut I would never go up to Steve. You know, I would go up to Stanley Tucci or Seymour... I mean, a lot of actors were introduced with this movie; Steve, Tucci, Jennifer Beals, Sam Rockwell. But I would always go to these actors. I would never go up to Steve to say anything. Finally, about half way through the shoot, he said 'How come you never come up to me and say anything after takes?' But a part of it, like you said, is that every time I said Action, the guy was just magic. You know, there was nothing to say. He was Adolpho! He was the guy! He was so perfect that I never had to say anything to him. That was weird. And every movie he's ever made, I always tell him that I am so shocked - because he is such a close friend of mine - it's like a family member, you don't always appreciate the talent of a family member because you know them so well. I got to say that with Steve, every movie he has made, my jaw kind of drops, because I'm thinking, 'Oh my God that's Steve!' I just can't believe how his craft has become so tight. I mean, he is such a good actor.
I think he is amazing in everything he does.
Yeah. And he is not one of these actors who indulges in himself. Some actors remind you that they are acting, make you suffer with them through it. I am not saying it's all bad, but they make you very aware that they are working. You never get this sensation with Steve that he is working. He just gets better and better. I have been very lucky to work with him.
What I like about him is that he is in the indie field, but when he goes over to the mainstream, he never stays there, he just kind of floats over the edge of it.
Yeah, well I don't think his heart is in the mainstream. I mean, I think it has become a good way to support his family, but I do think his heart is in the indie. I remember way back when he was gonna do that movie with Bruce Willis. What was that called?....
Yeah, Armageddon. And he said to me, ''You know, if I do this movie, maybe you will never want to work with me again.' I remember telling him no, and that he should do it. But he has always been very sensitive to staying independent. His heart is very in independent film.
He's a one off for me, because he is very popular, but he stays a cult figure at the same time. The only person I can compare him to in that way is maybe Harvey Keitel.
Yeah, Harvey, sure. I worked with Harvey too. In a way that is true. With actors, a lot of it is luck, but the only thing they have is the ability to make decisions. When you see the decisions Steve has made, he has very good instinct. He has been very good at choosing projects. And Harvey too! They are very good friends. I just saw Harvey actually at the 25th anniversary of Reservoir Dogs at Tribecca. Harvey was telling me that he found Steve in New York for Quentin, and that they came all the way to New York to do auditions and Steve was the one they chose for it after all that.
That's a good opportunity to move on to your 1994 film Somebody to Love, which stars both Steve and Harvey.
Oh yeah, we were all a big troupe again. It was a lot like In the Soup but a little bigger. We added Harvey Keitel to it, but it was a lot of the same people who worked on the two films. We were very close, like a big circus, all hanging out, a bunch of New Yorkers all together in LA.
Yeah, I used to love that movie. When I was a teenager I loved it, but no one had heard of it. A few more people knew In the Soup, it was in magazines and stuff, but not Somebody to Love. Even now I think it is very underrated.
It was underrated. It's a shame. I need to get that movie transferred digitally and re-released, because I saw it recently too, and I thought it was a good film, but the copies of it are so bad. I wish someone would re-release it.
I think I still have my ex rental video copy of that!
(Laughs) Well hold on to it, it's a rare one! It's hard to find them. It can cost a lot of money. If I had the rights to it, it would be circulated, but I do not own the rights.
You own In the Soup though, right?
Yes I do, and we are re-releasing it. We are getting it fixed. We have to raise the money for that one. We need to get a new print made of that.
Do you find people still mention the film to you? Does it still get good feedback?
Yeah it's kind of a culty film. When people liked it, it was an important film to them, kind of affected their lives. There's a guy. Who's the singer for Simple Minds?
Yeah, Jim Kerr. I was in a hotel gym once, sitting on a bike back in the day and he was sitting on a bicycle next to me. I started singing (sings) "Don't you forget about me!" I was singing it as I was working out. So I noticed a guy next to me, he looked like an actor or a singer, he was British. All of sudden he goes, "hey that's my song!" So weirdly, it turned out to be him. When he asked me what I did, I told him I'd made a film called In the Soup. And he was like, "Oh my god, In the Soup! Me and my mates, when we drive around on the tour bus that's the only film we have!" And he started quoting every line from the movie. So there are hardcore fans out there. It meant a lot to them. But the company that released the film went bankrupt after they released it, so it added to the...
Yeah, the mystique of In the Soup. So it's not an easy film to see.
I like that about it really. Like a secret club almost.
Yeah, it created more interest. But it will be really nice to re-release it.
Then there's 13 Moons which you did with Steve too.
Yeah, with 13 Moons, you've seen them all then, which is great. That was a character Steve and I wanted to explore, a man who is a clown but has a stressful life through the day. He's a good character, I wish I could do more. The guy with the kid's show through the day, but has a screwed up, alcoholic life. I'd love to do a spin off of it. I loved working with him in that. He has a clownish side to him. I don't know if you have noticed but in his work there is a real sadness in him. That's what makes people funny, the real sadness as well.