David Bowie on Screen: The Linguini Incident (Richard Shepard, 1991)

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Unless you are a newbie here, it probably won’t be a mystery to know that, aside from classic films, my other great passion is a wonderful individual named David Bowie. People first know him as the music icon who wrote and sang Ziggy Stardust and inspired Fashion with his many transformations through the years. Although David’s music was his biggest contribution to the arts, we must not forget that he also insured himself a career on the big screens, his most notorious films being The Man Who Felt to Earth (Nicolas Roeg, 1976), Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima, 1983), The Hunger (Tony Scott, 1983), The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006), etc. David also played in some nearly forgotten films, and my personal favourite happens to be one of those: The Linguini Incident, a 1991 comedy directed Richard Shepard and in which Bowie’s co-star in no other than the underrated Rosanna Arquette. I’ve mentioned that film briefly on a few occasions before on my blog, but when Gill from Real Weegie Midget Reviews announced her Pop Star Moonlighting Blogathon I thought it would be a good occasion to finally discuss it in detail.

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The idea of Gill’s blogathon is to discuss films in which pop stars/music artists have appeared. Madonna, Mick Jagger, Christina Aguilera, and, of course, David Bowie, are all people we can think about. And I was happy to see that the Starman was a popular subject for this blogging event. A lot of good reading in perspective.

The Linguini Incident takes place in smoky 90s New York. Lucy (Rosanna Arquette) works as a waitress in a restaurant in Manhattan owns by friends and business partners Cecil (Buck Henry) and Dante (André Gregory). On the side, she’s rehearsing to become a famous escape artist like the great Houdini, her friend fashion designer Vivian “Viv” (Eszter Balint) supposedly being her assistant.

At the restaurant, there is a new British bartender, Monte (David Bowie). Monte is in trouble because he needs to get married to get his green card. Otherwise, he’ll have to return to England where he will most surely die (we don’t know why, but we guess he got caught in a lot of troubles). The handsome one is ready to do anything to find a wife and, you’ve guessed it, Lucy becomes one of his victims. The twos actually get to know each other better under most peculiar circumstances when Monte comes to Lucy’s rescue when one of her escapes attempt badly fails. Monte eventually makes the acquaintance of Vivian.

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Later, Lucy goes to that antique shop that sells Mrs Houdini’s wedding ring which Lucy desperately want to get as it will probably bring her good luck for her career as a magician. The only problem is that it costs $5000 and Lucy doesn’t have that money. On his side, Monte needs $10 000 if he wants to marry Janette (Marlee Matlin), the deaf bartender who would become his wife on that condition. Lucy has only one idea in mind, to rob the restaurant to get her money… and Monte has the same idea. After arguing on who’s going to rob, they settle an agreement: Monte will help Lucy with her plan if she agrees to marry him. To complete this perilous task, they need a good partner in crime and, according to Lucy, Viv might be the perfect candidate.

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You’ve probably guessed it, The Linguini Incident is a crazy film, with a lot going on. It keeps you entertained from the beginning until the end with its humour, its peripeties and the overall aura of excitement. Honestly, I love films or TV shows that take place in New York. That city definitely has something special to add to any story and, somehow, you know they won’t be boring. I’m myself working on a screenplay that takes place in New York (but in 1948)! Rosanna Arquette also starred in another favourite New York city film of mine: Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985) (also starring Madonna). As a matter of fact, I’ve discussed before how those two films, Susan and Linguini, would make a great double feature. Anyway, films settled in New York, being in the popular corners like in On the Town (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1949) or the more underground ones like in Smithereens (Susan Seidelman, 1982), always have something special, especially if it’s shot on location. On-location shooting became more and more popular during the New Hollywood era, but people like Jules Dassin with his noir The Naked City (1948), were pre-cursors to that.

In terms of acting, David Bowie wasn’t necessarily Daniel Day-Lewis and most people will remember him as the great singer but, the thing is, he also was a pretty decent actor! So far, pretty much all the performances I’ve seen of him were truly credible and even good. The role of Monte probably wasn’t as demanding as the alien one in The Man Who Felt to Earth. All that Bowie had to do was to act naturally to be convincing, and it worked. Of course, that doesn’t mean he just had to stay neutral, that wouldn’t be a good performance, but simply not force things. With his charming accent, his strong charisma, his good sense of comedy, Bowie sticks perfectly to the character. He also works well with his co-stars Arquette and Balint.

Arquette is quite adorable and endearing as Lucy and her character always find herself into some impossible and rather hilarious situations. Poor girl! Eszter Balint, a Hungarian actress, probably plays my favourite character of the lot: the intrepid and electric Vivien who never missed an occasion to show her latest fashion creations, including her famous self-defence bra (seriously, that thing should really exist). Balint also has a successful musical career working as a singer, songwriter and violinist.

The rest of the cast is quite interesting, including Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to have won an Academy Awards (Children of a Lesser God (Randa Haines, 1986)), classic films actress Viveca Lindfors (who sadly passed away only four years after The Linguini Incident was released), and Buck Henry who also worked as a movie director and screenwriter. Henry most notoriously won the Best Screenplay Oscar for The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967). The multi-talented man was, like Bowie, also part of The Man Who Felt to Earth‘s casting.

The Linguini Incident contains a ton of hilarious gags and situations that make this film so amusing to watch. Aside from Lucy’s failed escape tricks, screenwriters Tamar Brott and Richard Shepard had some memorable lines in reserve:

1- Monte (to Lucy after he found her lying and trapped on the floor): AGGH! God, you’re alive! I thought that rabbit was eating your head.

2- James (Jeannette’s interpreter- to Vivian during the hold-up): You’re going to have to take that rag off your face if you expect her to read

Vivian: She can read my tits! (knives pop out of her bras under the amazed expression of Jeannette who’s then more than happy to give her the cash).

3- Vivian: The simple plan is, no one in this room is going to have sex with anyone else n this room. We’ll be platonic… like our parents.

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Another very underrated thing about the Linguini Incident is the costumes. Of course, there are Viv’s many creative creations, but we can also think of Monte’s classy long coat and scarf, Lucy’s magician 30s style costumes or even the waitress metallic uniform which fits the decor of the restaurant quite well. I’m not sure there is any designer credited to the film, but Karen Keech-Swerling was credited as the “wardrobe supervisor”.

The music by Thomas Newman is also worth mentioning. No, it’s not a score containing any David Bowie song, but it’s one that reflects the atmosphere of the film quite well. Thomas Newman is the son of famous classic Hollywood film composer Alfred Newman. To his credits are also included some better-known movies such as The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994), American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999), Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton, 2003), Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012), and 1917 (Sam Mendes 2019) among others. He might not be a composer who is as known as John Williams or Bernard Herrmann, but he was, after all, nominated for a total of 15 Oscars! He never won any, unfortunately. One day hopefully!

The Linguini Incident is certainly not a masterpiece. On its release, it didn’t receive good critics, and now people pretty much have forgotten it, except maybe hardcore David Bowie’s fans. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean that you should not watch it and that you should listen to critics. I love this film! It’s clever, peppy, and I think I gave you good enough reasons to give it a chance! And fun fact, top model’s Iman, David Bowie’s second wife, even has a little cameo! She and Bowie got married the following year.

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And, despite being a forgotten film, it’s one that regroups a particularly interesting team of significant people. See it, and maybe you’ll like it!

Many thanks to Gill for hosting this fun blogathon! Please make sure to visit her blog to read the other entries and discover more surprising performances by big names of the music industry!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

See you!

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Cutie pie!