Mike Figgis

Mike Figgis

Although Puttnam would pass on the project, Figgis did finally get backing for his tale set in the seamy world of Newcastle jazz clubs. The atmospheric homage to Hollywood film noir featured a score by the director, who also persuaded B.B. King to record the title track, a career first for the great bluesman. His impressive American debut, "Internal Affairs" (1990), was a striking portrait of police corruption featuring powerhouse performances by a creepy silver-haired Richard Gere and a seething Andy Garcia. The studio demanded control over the music and chose two composers to help execute Figgis' vision, even though he had already done a temporary track to accompany the film. His follow up, "Liebestraum" (1991), made precious little sense--something about a 40-year-old sex scandal, corruption, and family madness--but had style to spare, and with Brit backing, he was able to write his own score, a more or less "wall-to-wall" affair, often almost inaudible but always a presence. Figgis then tangled with the studio and producers who insisted that "Mr. Jones" (1993), a change-of-pace romance with Gere as a manic depressive charmer who gets involved with his psychiatrist (Lena Olin), be more upbeat. "I thought it was a ludicrous idea," he told The New York Times (November 1, 1995). "Manic-depression isn't something to dismiss lightly."Once again a hired gun on the well-mounted, though stodgy remake of "The Browning Version" (1994), Figgis was at the creative center of his next project, "Leaving Las Vegas" (1995), and acquired foreign financing to protect the integrity of his noirish character study of an alcoholic, suicidal screenwriter (Nicolas Cage in an Oscar-winning turn) and his relationship with an abused prostitute (Elisabeth Shue). The actors and director took virtually no money, and Figgis began his love affair with the cheaper, grittier, "more impressionistic" Super 16 film (later blown up to 35 mm) normally used in documentaries, perfectly capturing the seamy trappings of the powerful love story. He also composed the score, and Sting, who had starred in "Stormy Monday," volunteered to sing on the soundtrack. When the movie opened, he had no expectations for commercial success, but "Leaving Las Vegas" became a critical darling, earning him the best reviews of his career as well as two Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.After serving as executive producer of Annette Haywood-Carter's "Foxfire" (1996), Figgis then produced his own "One Night Stand" (1997), which he extensively rewrote from a Joe Eszterhas script (so much so that Eszterhas took no credit). Despite a too pat ending, it continued to show him as a filmmaker firmly in control, expertly matching his moody score to his complex take on relationships and reassessing life choices. His next film, "The Loss of Sexual Innocence" (1999), may have completed a trilogy of sexual obsession and human frailty begun with "Leaving Las Vegas," but it was also a labor of love 17 years in the making. Rejecting the linear three-act structure ("the filmmaker's Bible"), Figgis presented a fragmented narrative relying more on music and images than dialogue, intercutting a coming-of-age tale with the Adam and Eve story. His ambitious attempt to restore art to the medium was his most personal film yet and, despite its problems, successfully demanded audience participation in a way few pictures can. Like the preceding two films, it featured improvisation, energetic camera work and a fearlessness to delve into the human psyche that had become the director's trademark.Figgis continued his experimentation with "Miss Julie" (also 1999), an adaptation of August Strindberg's 19th-century play about sexual obsession, filming in 16mm in 16 days on one set with two hand-held cameras. His decision to split the screen and show the love scene from both camera perspectives prefigured the four-camera point-of-view he would employ on "Time Code" (2000), arguably his most innovative picture to date. Working only from an outline, he equipped his actors with digital watches, and as they hit their prescribed marks at the prearranged times, he followed the action with four hand-held digital video cameras, shooting the entire 93-minute movie in one complete take. Though there were multiple takes, Figgis eschewed editing, opting to simultaneously show the images from all four cameras of what he deemed the best take. The director drew inspiration from the Dogma '95 movement and from the success of "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) to come up with this seminal work of the digital revolution, and the actors involved embraced its guerilla aspect. "This is the most incredible experience I've ever had--and the most stressful," Selma Hayek told the Los Angeles Times (November 8, 1999). "Nothing is really set. And there is no room for mistake. The danger of it, the experimental quality of it, really turned me on."