Swoon (1992)

95 mins | Drama | 11 September 1992

Director:

Tom Kalin

Writer:

Tom Kalin

Producer:

Christine Vachon

Cinematographer:

Ellen Kuras

Editor:

Tom Kalin

Production Designer:

Thérèse DePrez

Production Company:

Intolerance Productions
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HISTORY

The 1924 kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb inspired two previous films: Rope (1948, see entry), based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play, The Rope, and Compulsion (1958, see entry).
       Tom Kalin made his feature film directorial debut with Swoon. As noted in the 10 Sep 1991 Village Voice, Kalin grew up in Chicago, IL, where the Bobby Franks murder took place. Kalin saw Chicago as a city that took pride in its criminal history. His grandmother kept a Leopold and Loeb scrapbook, and his father worked as a parole officer at Stateville Penitentiary, where Leopold and Loeb were incarcerated.
       Based on a detailed treatment for Swoon, and Kalin’s short film, They are lost to vision altogether, the following organizations contributed funding to the $100,000 budget: New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the Paul Robeson Fund, the Jerome Foundation, Art Matters Inc., and AFI.
       Kalin’s screenplay includes quotes from Leopold’s personal papers, held by the Chicago Historical Society; actual courtroom testimony; and phrenological evidence presented in the trial. The film incorporates period documentary footage, voice-over narration of Leopold and Loeb’s diary entries, and surreal sequences including a scene in which Leopold and Loeb appear in bed together in the middle of the courtroom.
       According to the 28 Jan 1992 DV review, the film was shot in black-and-white 16mm in fourteen days in upstate New York, which stood in for Chicago. The 10 Sep 1991 Village Voice quoted producer Christine ... More Less

The 1924 kidnapping and murder of Bobby Franks by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb inspired two previous films: Rope (1948, see entry), based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play, The Rope, and Compulsion (1958, see entry).
       Tom Kalin made his feature film directorial debut with Swoon. As noted in the 10 Sep 1991 Village Voice, Kalin grew up in Chicago, IL, where the Bobby Franks murder took place. Kalin saw Chicago as a city that took pride in its criminal history. His grandmother kept a Leopold and Loeb scrapbook, and his father worked as a parole officer at Stateville Penitentiary, where Leopold and Loeb were incarcerated.
       Based on a detailed treatment for Swoon, and Kalin’s short film, They are lost to vision altogether, the following organizations contributed funding to the $100,000 budget: New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the Paul Robeson Fund, the Jerome Foundation, Art Matters Inc., and AFI.
       Kalin’s screenplay includes quotes from Leopold’s personal papers, held by the Chicago Historical Society; actual courtroom testimony; and phrenological evidence presented in the trial. The film incorporates period documentary footage, voice-over narration of Leopold and Loeb’s diary entries, and surreal sequences including a scene in which Leopold and Loeb appear in bed together in the middle of the courtroom.
       According to the 28 Jan 1992 DV review, the film was shot in black-and-white 16mm in fourteen days in upstate New York, which stood in for Chicago. The 10 Sep 1991 Village Voice quoted producer Christine Vachon as stating that seventy percent of the shoot was achieved in the first ten days, at which point, filming ceased. Eight months later, after receiving grant money from the NEA, production resumed on the more technically complicated scenes, including “Bobby Franks’s” murder.
       Swoon was reportedly the first feature-length picture to receive post-production funding from John Pierson’s New York Completion Fund, also known as Islet. Finishing funds came from Fine Line Features and American Playhouse, as noted in an 8 Nov 1991 Screen International brief, after a five-minute “work-in-progress” screening at the Independent Feature Film Market in New York City. In exchange, Fine Line Features received theatrical distribution rights, and American Playhouse received television rights.
       The film was rated “R” by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), as stated in a 2 Aug 1992 LAT article. However, when the MPAA gave the trailer a “red-band label” for its homosexual content, Fine Line Features decided to release the film without a rating. Fine Line president Ira Deutchman argued there was “nothing lewd about the trailer,” and concluded that the MPAA was biased against anything that mentioned homosexuality.
       Swoon debuted on 23 Jan 1992 at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won Best Cinematography. The film was later selected as one of six American independent features to screen at the New Directors/New Films series in New York City, sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Film Department. The 29 Jun 1992 Var noted the film’s Los Angeles, CA, premiere took place on 9 Jul 1992, at the opening night of the tenth Los Angeles International Gay & Lesbian Film & Video Festival.
       Reviews were mixed. Over time, the film garnered acclaim as part of the early 1990s New Queer Cinema movement, along with Todd Haynes’s Poison (1991, see entry), and Gregg Araki’s The Living End (1992, see entry).
       A 19 May 2004 DV item noted Fortissimo Film Sales acquired distribution rights to select titles from Killer Films’ library, including Swoon.
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Apparatus Productions, Isabela Araujo, Wouter Barendrecht; Peter Bowan; Boomer Pictures; Roberts Brangam; Adam Brightman; Barnie Brightman of Stash Records; Bureau; Chicago Historical Society; Bonnie Croskey; Jim Denault; Costume Depot; Barry Ellsworth; Harlan Emil; Michael Englert; Gran Fury; Bob Gober; Deb Goodman; Brian Greenbaum; Tim Highsted; Sam Katz; Ellen Kuras; John Lindell; Chris Lawon; Elise MacAdam and family; Mass Media/Editland; Michael Nealine; Odds Costume Shop; Craig Paull; Annie Philbin; John Pierson; Pepe Romero; Daniel Swee; Charles Stevens; Tasting the Limits; Marie Francoise Vachon; Michael Vachon; Pepe Vives; Jaime Wolf; Veronica Young. End credits also include the following statements: “This film remembers Christopher Cox, Craig Owens, Vito Russo, Bill Sherwood”; and, “This film is made possible, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding provided by the Jerome Foundation, Paul Robeson Fund/Funding Exchange, Art Matters Inc., and the New York Foundation for the Arts. This film received a production grant from The American Film Institute in association with the National Endowment for the Arts. Produced in association with American Playhouse, with funds from The Public Broadcasting Service, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1992
p. 2, 16.
Daily Variety
19 May 2004.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 1992
p. 12, 36.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 1992.
---
Los Angeles Times
2 Aug 1992
Calendar, p. 19.
Los Angeles Times
25 Sep 1992
p. 18.
New York Times
27 Mar 1992
p. 8.
New York Times
11 Sep 1992
p. 8.
Screen International
8 Nov 1991.
---
Variety
10 Feb 1992
p. 82.
Variety
29 Jun 1992.
---
Village Voice
10 Sep 1991.
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Tom Kalin and Christine Vachon presentation
A film by Tom Kalin
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Co-prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Line prod
WRITERS
Wrt
Collaboration wrt
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam
Asst cam
Clapper/loader
Clapper/loader
Clapper/loader
Video services coord
Gaffer
Key grip
Key grip
Key grip
Best boy
Best boy
Best boy
2d grip
3d grip
3d grip
3d elec
Stills
Stills
Stills
Prop photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Addl ed asst
Addl ed asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Ward supv
Ward asst
MUSIC
Orig score
Mus cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles and des
MAKEUP
Hair/makeup for Indorato Artists
Asst hair
Asst hair
Asst hair
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Asst casting
Loc mgr
Loc mgr
Unit mgr
Asst to the prod
Asst to the prod
Scr supv
Scr supv
Legal counsel
Legal counsel
Creative consultant
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
Intern/prod asst
ANIMATION
COLOR PERSONNEL
DETAILS
Release Date:
11 September 1992
Premiere Information:
Sundance Film Festival screening: 23 January 1992
New York opening: 11 September 1992
Los Angeles opening: 25 September 1992
Copyright Claimant:
Intolerance Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
23 March 1993
Copyright Number:
PA641584
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Prints
Print by Alpha Cine
Duration(in mins):
95
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1923 Chicago, Illinois, Nathan “Babe” Leopold and Richard “Dick” Loeb, two affluent young Jewish men, carry on a secret homosexual relationship. They wear gold wedding bands and commit petty crimes together. With Nathan Leopold handling most of the groundwork, the two plot to kidnap and murder a young boy. Uncertain who the victim will be, Leopold types a ransom letter the night before the crime, addressing it, “Dear Sir.” Meanwhile, Dick Loeb lounges in bed and invites friends over for cocktails. The next day, Leopold and Loeb drive a rental car to the park. They offer a ride to a boy named Bobby Franks, who climbs into the front seat. As Leopold drives away, Loeb pulls Bobby into the backseat and attacks him with a chisel. Leopold and Loeb take the boy’s dead body to a wooded area, douse it with acid, and nestle it on the edge of a swamp. That night, they clean blood out of the rental car. Sven, Leopold’s family chauffeur, offers to help them, and Loeb jokingly tells the man that he is now a murderer. Leopold claims they spilled wine in the backseat, and waves Sven away. Referring to himself as “Johnson,” Leopold calls Bobby Franks’s father and delivers orders for a ransom drop. However, Mr. Franks is nervous and forgets the location to which he was directed. In the meantime, Bobby’s body is found, with Leopold’s eyeglasses, which he unwittingly dropped, nearby. Forensics experts determine the model of typewriter used to type the ransom note, and Nathan Leopold’s eyeglasses, although they have a common frame type, are found to have a special hinge sold to only three people in Chicago. ... +


In 1923 Chicago, Illinois, Nathan “Babe” Leopold and Richard “Dick” Loeb, two affluent young Jewish men, carry on a secret homosexual relationship. They wear gold wedding bands and commit petty crimes together. With Nathan Leopold handling most of the groundwork, the two plot to kidnap and murder a young boy. Uncertain who the victim will be, Leopold types a ransom letter the night before the crime, addressing it, “Dear Sir.” Meanwhile, Dick Loeb lounges in bed and invites friends over for cocktails. The next day, Leopold and Loeb drive a rental car to the park. They offer a ride to a boy named Bobby Franks, who climbs into the front seat. As Leopold drives away, Loeb pulls Bobby into the backseat and attacks him with a chisel. Leopold and Loeb take the boy’s dead body to a wooded area, douse it with acid, and nestle it on the edge of a swamp. That night, they clean blood out of the rental car. Sven, Leopold’s family chauffeur, offers to help them, and Loeb jokingly tells the man that he is now a murderer. Leopold claims they spilled wine in the backseat, and waves Sven away. Referring to himself as “Johnson,” Leopold calls Bobby Franks’s father and delivers orders for a ransom drop. However, Mr. Franks is nervous and forgets the location to which he was directed. In the meantime, Bobby’s body is found, with Leopold’s eyeglasses, which he unwittingly dropped, nearby. Forensics experts determine the model of typewriter used to type the ransom note, and Nathan Leopold’s eyeglasses, although they have a common frame type, are found to have a special hinge sold to only three people in Chicago. Dick Loeb worries that Leopold wants to get caught, but his partner-in-crime insists they have nothing to worry about. They drop the typewriter over a bridge and burn the clothes, rug, and chisel used in the murder. Leopold plans to use the ransom money to take a trip to Europe. After that, he wants to go to Harvard Law School. Before he is able to flee, however, he and Loeb are taken in for questioning. Separately, they provide the same alibi, claiming to have spent the night of the murder with two women named Edna and May. Leopold, a prominent ornithologist, claims his eyeglasses must have fallen off during a birding expedition. Eventually, Loeb breaks down and confesses, but he blames the bulk of the crime on Leopold. He admits to being inspired by detective magazines, and claims that he drove the car while Leopold murdered Bobby in the backseat. When Leopold learns of Loeb’s confession, he counters with his own account of events, implicating Loeb as the killer. The story is sensationalized in the press. Leopold is referred to as the “mastermind” of the crime, while Loeb is nicknamed “Angel Face.” During the trial, an alienist describes the young men’s sexual “perversions” in detail, explaining that they had an arrangement in which Loeb allowed Leopold sexual favors as recompense for each crime they committed. Determining that the nature of the evidence is too lewd for women’s sensibilities, the judge bans all females from the court. State’s attorney Crowe argues the young men’s basic motive was to satisfy unnatural desires. He cites a coroner’s report claiming that Bobby Franks’s rectum was distended, but the judge contends there was no evidence of sexual abuse. The Women’s Voter League protests the banning of women from the courtroom, and they are allowed back in on the final day of the trial. Leopold and Loeb are found guilty and sentenced to life in prison plus ninety-nine years. Phrenologists link the shapes of the young men’s craniums to their sexual and criminal compulsions. As a prisoner, Leopold spends his time studying languages and thinking of Loeb. Meanwhile, Loeb is antagonized by an inmate named James Day, who eventually murders him in the shower. Despite Day’s history of sodomizing and attacking other prisoners, he is found not guilty. Leopold is brought in to view Loeb’s body. He removes Loeb’s wedding band and places it inside his dead lover’s mouth. Later, he grieves by pacing in his cell and wailing. He is moved to a special ward, where James Day is also held. After thirty-three years in prison, Leopold is released on parole. In his later years, Leopold moved to Puerto Rico, where he worked as an X-ray technician and married a woman named Gertrude Garcia. He regularly flouted the conditions of his parole by drinking, staying out past curfew, keeping guns for birding, traveling without permission, and frequenting brothels. In 1956, author Meyer Levin fictionalized Leopold and Loeb’s story in the novel, Compulsion, which was made into a 1958 feature film. Leopold attempted to sue Levin for willful misrepresentation of his character. Upon his death in August 1971, having donated his body for research, Leopold’s eyes were immediately transferred to a blind woman. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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