On October 31st 1993 River Phoenix, an award winning star of American cinema with such films as Stand by Me (1986) and My Own Private Idaho (1991) collapsed and died of a drug induced heart failure on a street outside a West Hollywood nightclub called The Viper Room at the ridiculously young age of 23. At the time of his death he was near to completing Dark Blood, which due to respect for Phoenix was abandoned. At that time it was assumed that the unfinished film would ever see the light of day but it's Dutch director George Sluizer had other ideas and has finally, after nearly twenty years of legal wrangling, assembled the existing footage and created a final cut in which his own haunting voiceover narrates the missing scenes played over production stills. It premiered to a private guest audience at the Netherlands Film Festival in September 2012 it was also shown at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival in February 2013 and has finally had its British premier at the 2014 Glasgow Film Festival with the director in attendance to introduce the film and take part in a Q&A following it's very well very received screening.
The film is a tense thriller which also stars actress Judy Davis and the well known English actor Jonathan Pryce as man and wife who are on a trip when their car break's down in the desert close to a former nuclear testing ground 30 miles from civilisation. That is except for a young man known as Boy (Phoenix) who is part Indian and lives alone in a broken down shack miles from anywhere, since his Indian wife died of nuclear related cancer. Boy offers to help the couple, dangerously taking a shine to the rather sexually self-assured Buffy and decides to prolong their leaving as long as he can, much to the growing frustration of her husband Harry.
Following this first ever screening in the UK George Sluizer took part in a very interesting and revealing discussion. He started by telling us that because the film was only 80% complete he had to rewrite most of it and add voice over sections that explained the scenes that where never completed including the most tender occurrence in the film which included Boy attending to Buffy's foot after an accident in the shower. He went on to explain that River Phoenix was always the only choice for the part of Boy mainly because of the young actors charisma. And when asked by a member of the audience what he was like to work with, said that this good looking blue eyed blond star was one of the most genteel people he had ever met, he was also a mixture of good and bad but had a beautiful sensitive nature. He also told us that River, who was dyslexic, had an unconventional upbringing, never had a day in school, and what he did know was taught by his mother The second of the actors to be cast was the Australian Judy Davis and although she was a great actress Sluizer said that he had no desire to ever work with the "bitch" again explaining that she was not a nice person and that he never got on with her as she was very difficult to work with and was also very condescending towards River. Pryce, who on the other hand was an easy man to work with, was the third of the three to be cast but he was not the first choice, but the Dutchman refused to say whom? The logistics of filming in the desert were not helped by the fact that the location, the Capital Reef National Monument, Torrey, Utah, a wild uninhabited area, somewhere between 7 to 10 miles from the nearest town.
The reasons that the film took so long to come to fruition was that originally the money men said there was not enough footage shot to complete the film, and the six year court case over who owned the rights to the film. Eventually it was decided by the insurance company that the material should be destroyed, but Sluizer rescued the stock. Before winding up the discussion he was asked if the other members of the cast and crew had seen the finished film he said the Pryce and Karen Black had seen it in Berlin along with the principal crew and all agreed that they were pleased with the finished article. George Sluizer parting comment was to remind us that people near to the area where the film was made are still dying as a result of the nuclear tests carried out in the 1950's.
Obviously a labour of immense pride for the director and a tantalizing vision of what might have been. Ravishingly shot by Ed Lachmann it still appears quite faultless, giving the impression that it was only shot yesterday. Has it been worth waiting 20 years to see this film? I can say with some certainty that it has been and that Sluizer has done film lovers everywhere a great service. This unique film deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.