Passion Fish (1992)

R | 136 mins | Drama | 13 December 1992

Director:

John Sayles

Writer:

John Sayles

Cinematographer:

Roger Deakins

Editor:

John Sayles

Production Designers:

Dan Bishop, Dianna Freas

Production Company:

Atchafalaya Films
Full page view
HISTORY

The film’s working title was The Louisiana Project. According to an article in the 12 Jun 1992 NYT, writer-director John Sayles had a difficult time naming the film, and enlisted the help of cast and crew, and locals in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, where production took place. The idea for the screenplay was inspired by Sayles’s experience as an orderly in hospitals and nursing homes, when he observed many nurses who also worked as caretakers.
       Although production notes in AMPAS library files list Feb 1992 as the start of principal photography, an 8 May 1992 Screen International brief reported that filming would begin that month. At the time, John Lithgow was listed as a co-star; however, he did not appear in the final film. The thirty-four-day shoot took place entirely in Louisiana, and the primary location, which stood in for “May-Alice’s” childhood home, was a working rice plantation on Route 717 in Gueydan, LA.
       A 22 Mar 1993 story in New York magazine reported some advocates for the disabled had complained that no actresses with disabilities were auditioned for the role of May-Alice. John Sayles responded that no one was auditioned because he wrote the part specifically for Mary McDonnell, with whom he had collaborated on Matewan (1987, see entry). McDonnell had also recently collaborated with co-star Alfre Woodard on the 1991 film Grand Canyon (see entry).
       A 30 Oct 1992 HR item announced Miramax Films’ acquisition of North American theatrical and television rights, for an estimated guarantee of $500,000. The film’s budget was listed as $4.8 million, and HR noted ... More Less

The film’s working title was The Louisiana Project. According to an article in the 12 Jun 1992 NYT, writer-director John Sayles had a difficult time naming the film, and enlisted the help of cast and crew, and locals in the Acadiana region of Louisiana, where production took place. The idea for the screenplay was inspired by Sayles’s experience as an orderly in hospitals and nursing homes, when he observed many nurses who also worked as caretakers.
       Although production notes in AMPAS library files list Feb 1992 as the start of principal photography, an 8 May 1992 Screen International brief reported that filming would begin that month. At the time, John Lithgow was listed as a co-star; however, he did not appear in the final film. The thirty-four-day shoot took place entirely in Louisiana, and the primary location, which stood in for “May-Alice’s” childhood home, was a working rice plantation on Route 717 in Gueydan, LA.
       A 22 Mar 1993 story in New York magazine reported some advocates for the disabled had complained that no actresses with disabilities were auditioned for the role of May-Alice. John Sayles responded that no one was auditioned because he wrote the part specifically for Mary McDonnell, with whom he had collaborated on Matewan (1987, see entry). McDonnell had also recently collaborated with co-star Alfre Woodard on the 1991 film Grand Canyon (see entry).
       A 30 Oct 1992 HR item announced Miramax Films’ acquisition of North American theatrical and television rights, for an estimated guarantee of $500,000. The film’s budget was listed as $4.8 million, and HR noted it was co-financed in a “negative pickup deal” by Columbia TriStar Home Video, which retained home video rights.
       According to the 7 Dec 1992 DV, Passion Fish opened Wednesday, 9 Dec 1992, exclusively at the AMC Century 14 Theatres in Los Angeles, CA, for an Academy Award qualifying run. A wider national release was set for Feb 1993.
       For her portrayal of “Chantelle,” Alfre Woodward won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female, and received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. Mary McDonnell was nominated for an Academy Award for Actress in a Leading Role, and received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. John Sayles received an Academy Award nomination for Writing (Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen).
       On 3 Mar 1993, Passion Fish opened the Dublin Film Festival, as noted in a 26 Feb 1993 Screen International item. The 22 Nov 1993 Var stated it also played at the Flanders International Film Festival in Belgium, where it won the Gilded Spur award for best film. The award carried a $97,000 grant, to be spent on a future film production in Flanders, and an additional grant to the Belgian distributor who guaranteed that production’s theatrical release.
       A Washington, D.C.-based attorney named Virginia Towler sued John Sayles for copyright infringement, claiming he stole the idea for Passion Fish from her screenplay, Crossed Wires or Bobbie and Wendy Were Neighbors. A judge threw out the case based on insufficient evidence, according to a 13 Jan 1994 DV brief.
       End credits include “Special Thanks” to: Mari Hoag Cassidy; Hon. Red Giles; John O. Hudson; Harvey “Neils” Johnson; Tesa Laviolette; Marshall E. and Valerie Macdonell; Hon. Greg Marcantel; The Miller Family; Continental Airlines; Galerie Melançon, Fine Arts of Lake Charles; Jennings Hospital; Lafayette Regional Airport; Lake Charles Memorial Hospital; Louisiana Office of Film and Video; Physical Therapy Clinic; Prime Engineering; Quickie Designs, Inc.; Robichaux Furniture, Inc., Lafayette, LA; Zigler Museum, Jennings, LA; and the kind people of Jefferson Davis and Vermilion Parishes. End credits also include: “Very special thanks to Larry Estes.”
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Sep 1992
p. 2, 11.
Daily Variety
7 Dec 1992.
---
Daily Variety
13 Jan 1994
p. 28.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 1992
p. 5, 14.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Oct 1992
p. 3, 58.
Los Angeles Times
9 Dec 1992
p. 3.
New York
22 Mar 1993.
---
New York Times
12 Jun 1992
Section C, p. 6.
New York Times
14 Dec 1992
p. 16.
Screen International
8 May 1992.
---
Screen International
26 Feb 1993.
---
Variety
28 Sep 1992
pp. 80-81.
Variety
22 Nov 1993.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
A.D., intern
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Office prod asst
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Stills and photo eff
Video asst
Video playback
Best boy elec
Company elec
Company elec
Generator op
Key grip
Best boy grip
Dolly grip
Company grip
Company grip
Company grip
Company grip
Cam, intern
Elec, intern
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod des
Art dept coord
Art prod asst
FILM EDITORS
Post prod supv
Asst ed
Post prod, intern
Post prod, intern
Negative matcher
SET DECORATORS
Lead person
Set dresser
Set dresser
Set dresser
On set dresser
Prop master
2d props
3rd props
Const coord
Lead carpenter
Charge scenic
Scenic painter
Scenic painter
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Asst cost des
Asst ward supv
MUSIC
Live mus eng by
Mus mixed by
Mus performed by
Mus performed by
Mus performed by
Mus performed by
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Supv sd ed
Dial ed
Eff ed
Eff ed
Foley eng
Foley ed
Foley artist
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Apprentice sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Post prod sd
VISUAL EFFECTS
MAKEUP
Makeup des
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod coord
Asst prod coord
Asst prod coord
Prod auditor
Asst auditor
Unit mgr
Loc mgr
Scr supv
Animal wrangler
Animal wrangler
Animal wrangler
Prod consultant
Prod consultant
Loc casting
Loc and extras casting
Unit pub
Unit pub
Craft service
Craft service
Tutor
Key prod asst
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Picture car coord
Driver
Promotions, intern
Runner, intern
Unit, intern
Completion guarantor
Legal services
Payroll services
Travel service
STAND INS
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
SOURCES
SONGS
“Attack Of The Mutant Guitars,” written and performed by Duke Levine, Loud, Loud Music Publishing/BMI, Daring Records, used by permission
“Bayou Pon Pon,” trad/arranged by Menard, LeJeune & Smith, Happy Valley Music, Inc./BMI, performed by D.L. Menard, Eddie LeJeune & Ken Smith, Rounder Records, used by permission
“Oh, Negresse,” written by John Delafose, Tradition Music Co./BMI, performed by John Delatose and The Eunice Playboys
+
SONGS
“Attack Of The Mutant Guitars,” written and performed by Duke Levine, Loud, Loud Music Publishing/BMI, Daring Records, used by permission
“Bayou Pon Pon,” trad/arranged by Menard, LeJeune & Smith, Happy Valley Music, Inc./BMI, performed by D.L. Menard, Eddie LeJeune & Ken Smith, Rounder Records, used by permission
“Oh, Negresse,” written by John Delafose, Tradition Music Co./BMI, performed by John Delatose and The Eunice Playboys
“Grand Mamou,” trad/arranged by Geno Delafose, Happy Valley Music, Inc./BMI, performed by John Delafose and The Eunice Playboys
“La Danse De Mardi Gras,” trad/arranged by Balfa Brothers, Flat Town Music/BMI, performed by The Balfa Brothers, Swallow Records, used by permission
“La Danse De Mardi Gras,” trad/arranged by Mason Daring, Daring Music/ASCAP, performed by Stuart Schulman
“Zydeco Queen,” written by Willis Prudhomme, Jon Music, Inc./BMI, performed by Willis Prudhomme and The Zydeco Express
“Poor Man Two Step,” written by John Delafose, Happy Valley Music, Inc./BMI, performed by John Delafose and The Eunice Playboys
“Bwanas’ Garden,” written by James Macdonell and George G. Recile, produced by George G. Recile, Mac-Rec Music/BMI, performed by Loup Garou with John Hart.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Louisiana Project
Release Date:
13 December 1992
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 9 December 1992
New York opening: 13 December 1992
Production Date:
late winter/spring 1992
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in Selected Theatres
Color
Duration(in mins):
136
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, soap opera actress May-Alice Culhane awakes in a hospital bed to find she is paralyzed from the waist down after being side-swiped by a taxi. Lonely and defeated, she is unwilling to speak to the hospital psychologist and exerts minimal effort in physical therapy sessions. When she is released from the hospital, May-Alice returns to her childhood home in Louisiana, where she spends her days drinking heavily and watching television. The first several nurses hired as live-in caretakers either quit or are fired within days. Eventually, a young African American woman named Chantelle accepts the position. May-Alice warns Chantelle that she does not want to hear about her personal problems, and Chantelle takes notice of May-Alice’s depressed behavior. On her first trip into town, Chantelle runs out of gas. A flirtatious man named “Sugar” Ledoux gives her a ride to the gas station, where she enlists the help of Cajun handyman Rennie Boudreau. Meanwhile, May-Alice falls in the bathroom, which has not been properly fitted with handrails. Chantelle returns home to find May-Alice bruised, and suggests she get an X-ray. May-Alice refuses. After the argument, May-Alice fears Chantelle will quit, but the nurse assures her she needs the job. One day, May-Alice’s alcoholic Uncle Reeves pays a visit. He and May-Alice get drunk, and he gives her his old camera. The following day, Chantelle loses patience with May-Alice’s laziness and forces her to go outside. At lunchtime, May-Alice’s childhood friends Precious and Ti-Marie Robichaux stop by unannounced. May-Alice entertains their nosy questions while Chantelle, a self-proclaimed bad cook, serves the women canned soup. May-Alice admits she was married once but never had the desire to ... +


In New York City, soap opera actress May-Alice Culhane awakes in a hospital bed to find she is paralyzed from the waist down after being side-swiped by a taxi. Lonely and defeated, she is unwilling to speak to the hospital psychologist and exerts minimal effort in physical therapy sessions. When she is released from the hospital, May-Alice returns to her childhood home in Louisiana, where she spends her days drinking heavily and watching television. The first several nurses hired as live-in caretakers either quit or are fired within days. Eventually, a young African American woman named Chantelle accepts the position. May-Alice warns Chantelle that she does not want to hear about her personal problems, and Chantelle takes notice of May-Alice’s depressed behavior. On her first trip into town, Chantelle runs out of gas. A flirtatious man named “Sugar” Ledoux gives her a ride to the gas station, where she enlists the help of Cajun handyman Rennie Boudreau. Meanwhile, May-Alice falls in the bathroom, which has not been properly fitted with handrails. Chantelle returns home to find May-Alice bruised, and suggests she get an X-ray. May-Alice refuses. After the argument, May-Alice fears Chantelle will quit, but the nurse assures her she needs the job. One day, May-Alice’s alcoholic Uncle Reeves pays a visit. He and May-Alice get drunk, and he gives her his old camera. The following day, Chantelle loses patience with May-Alice’s laziness and forces her to go outside. At lunchtime, May-Alice’s childhood friends Precious and Ti-Marie Robichaux stop by unannounced. May-Alice entertains their nosy questions while Chantelle, a self-proclaimed bad cook, serves the women canned soup. May-Alice admits she was married once but never had the desire to have children. The Robichaux sisters make judgmental comments about her non-conformist tendencies. May-Alice passes Chantelle a note urging her to get the ladies out, and Chantelle announces it is time for May-Alice’s “injections.” That night, Chantelle criticizes May-Alice for drinking too much. She hires Rennie to build a ramp to the front porch. When he arrives, May-Alice recognizes Rennie from childhood and greets him on the front porch. She learns he is now married with five children. Later, she confesses to Chantelle that she was infatuated with Rennie as a child, but because he was a “swamp Cajun,” they barely socialized. The next time Chantelle goes to town, a man named Luther comes to the house looking for her. May-Alice snaps photographs of him and develops them in a dark room set up by Uncle Reeves. Meanwhile, Sugar Ledoux encounters Chantelle at a diner. He invites her to the racetrack, where he works as a blacksmith. There, Sugar introduces Chantelle to his eldest daughter, Albertine, and lists the names of his six other children by three ex-wives. Chantelle teases him about his past, but Sugar is unapologetic. He takes her dancing and persuades her to come home with him. They begin to make love, but Chantelle cries and tells him she cannot go through with it. Instead, she lies in his arms. In the morning, she returns home to find May-Alice in the dark room. Seeing May-Alice’s photographs of Luther, Chantelle apologizes that he showed up uninvited. She explains that he is an ex-lover, and together, they were addicted to cocaine. She finished detoxification only a month ago, and begs May-Alice not to fire her. May-Alice assures Chantelle that her job is secure. Chantelle challenges May-Alice to quit drinking for twenty-four hours, and May-Alice agrees. To distract herself from withdrawal symptoms, she focuses on her photography. One day, she snaps photographs of Rennie as he works on her boat. They chat about Rennie’s wife, a devout Christian who forbids television at home, which explains why Rennie never saw May-Alice’s soap opera. She asks if she was rude to him as a child, but according to Rennie, they hardly interacted. Later, May-Alice demands that Chantelle buy more liquor, but she refuses. May-Alice’s former co-stars, Dawn and Kim, visit, along with Nina Crossley, the actress who replaced her. After they leave, Chantelle asks May-Alice if she misses acting. May-Alice responds that it was the only thing she ever did well. Rennie takes May-Alice and Chantelle on a boat ride to Misere Island, named in honor of a slave woman who retreated there after losing a child. Chantelle discusses losing her mother when she was fourteen. She married Luther out of high school and became estranged from her father, a physician in Chicago, Illinois. Rennie catches a fish and guts it. Inside the stomach, he finds two “passion fish.” He places the fish in May-Alice and Chantelle’s hands, and urges the women to grasp them and think of someone they desire. They return home after dark, and May-Alice is disappointed when Rennie says his wife will not be worried about him. That night, she dreams of herself as able-bodied, kissing Rennie on a dock. At an appointment with her physical therapist, May-Alice receives praise for becoming stronger and more flexible. She credits Chantelle, but tells the physical therapist she wishes Chantelle would not be so secretive. Meanwhile, Chantelle’s father, Dr. Blades, arranges to visit. Chantelle admits to May-Alice that she has a daughter, Denita, who was placed in her father’s care when she was deemed unfit. When Dr. Blades and Denita arrive, May-Alice tries to make a good impression. Chantelle bonds with her estranged daughter, and promises she will never be “sick” again. Dr. Blades tells May-Alice if Chantelle continues to improve, he will consider sending Denita to spend the summer with her. May-Alice assures him Denita is welcome to stay at the house. They go to a music festival, where Sugar Ledoux’s band plays. Rennie finds May-Alice sitting alone and chats with her. She encourages him to visit even when he is not working on the house, and he promises he will. Dr. Blades decides Louisiana is a good place for his daughter, but says she must prove herself if he is going to send Denita to live there. Chantelle bids them farewell at the bus stop. On her way back to the house, she encounters Vance, May-Alice’s former boss, who has come to town to offer May-Alice her old role. He pitches a new storyline for her character, and May-Alice agrees to consider the offer. She asks Chantelle to take her out on the boat and shares the news. Chantelle is concerned she will lose her job, but May-Alice assures her that she does not plan to return to the show and wants Denita to come live with them, instead. A relieved Chantelle laughs when May-Alice suggests that she better learn how to cook. +

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

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.