The Mirror sits down with writer-director Patrick McGuinn
The dreamy, hypnotic “I, Scorpio” is the latest sun and sex-drenched film by writer-director Patrick McGuinn, whose breakout hit was “Sun Kissed” (2006). Set in 1974 Arizona, this new, hour-long feature concerns Beau (Coleman Kent), a drug dealer who picks up Jesus (Christian Isaac Cruz) a hitchhiker. They drive off into the desert, and do some drugs. Later they hole up in a hotel near the U.S./Mexico border to have sex.
If it sounds like a porn film—and “I, Scorpio” is considerably erotic—McGuinn melds genres from road movies, to westerns to crime films. He also plays with cinematic conventions, using superimposed imagery, solarized frames, filters, pixilation, among other visual devices to give the film a trippy sensation. Moreover, “I, Scorpio” features a voice-over narration that recalls myths about altered time, as well as a scroll of text that discusses elements of spirituality. These elements add another dimension to the film. McGuinn spoke via Skype with The Mirror about making his entrancing “I, Scorpio.”
Your production company is called Willing Suspension films. Is that a clue to your work, which plays with time and narrative?
To me willing suspension was always about the literal term, “willing suspension of disbelief,” because my films have low-budget production values, and I thought people would have to accept that with my projects. I was also really drawn to fantasy, and you need to suspend your disbelief with that as well.
“I, Scorpio” is a road movie, a drug drama, an erotic romance and an art film. How did you come up with the story and why did you decide to mix all these genres?
Like “Sun Kissed,” I imagined this to be a fantasy, similar to that film, involving time travel and the sensuality of two men in the desert together. What I didn’t anticipate was the very sexual turn that that story took. That happened because we were working unscripted; I had only an outline for the film. I just went with it, and the story took shape in a kind of different genre than I expected. I was going more for a conventional crime noir with a little romance, but instead it became a soft-core epic.
I enjoy working in cross-genre storytelling. So I anticipated this would be a pastiche of some kind, knowing there would be the basic western genre. My original intention was to make a time travel story, but working as a one-man crew, I decided to simplify things, especially when working with limited tools. You become very resourceful.
The film’s visuals are really impressive. Can you talk about the imagery in the film?
I thought the beauty of the desert was something to highlight as well as the beauty of the two lead men. I decided once I started editing that I needed to go forward with a bold visual sense and make it unlike anything I’ve ever done before from a visual effects standpoint. The result was arty, and even arcane—something a gallery audience might enjoy.
The voice over tells a different story than the one unfolding on-screen. I like how “I, Scorpio” forces viewers to pay attention to both narratives. Can you discuss this?
I’ll admit that my inspiration for this came early on—in my teen years—when I was watching, appropriately enough, a Russ Meyer film that had a trailer that spoke about free speech and first amendment rights in addition to ecological concerns. Meanwhile, superimposed over it were shots of LA smog, airplanes taking off at LAX, and two women bouncing around together naked in Russ Meyer’s bed. This fascinated me. It was a tongue-in-cheek soapbox statement, but the technique was challenging in a great way. I felt my mind was being used on different levels. I was watching these women romping together, but also there were quick cut visuals and you were reading this dense text that was thoughtfully conveyed. I had always aspired to attempt that technique, but the right project had to come along for it, and this seemed like the perfect one.
The film relies on the physical attraction of the actors to convey the romance. Can you talk about the casting the actors?
This is a frequent question with my films. How, why and at what point do actors agree to get naked in front of the camera, and how do they feel about it? I recruited two friends of friends, based in Tucson Arizona, who always wanted to be in one of my films. There was a level of respect and trust with my two leads that I’d never had before, which was an utter delight. They’d never met before, but they had a common bond in knowing some of my past films. When they met and we talked about my outline for the film, there was an immediate chemistry and I was glad to see that because they looked great together.
There is a spiritual component to the film. Can you discuss that aspect of “I, Scorpio”?
Twenty years ago I made a film called “Desert Spirits,” and I thought it was time to revisit some of the spiritual themes I explored in that film in a contemporary way as both a filmmaker and a person. In that film, I said that we experience pain in our bodies, which I call “meat-housings.” This is a riff I expanded into an erotic theme in this particular instance, because I thought the characters falling in love was a form of redemption for people who were losing hope in a dead-end profession: being a drug dealer. The desert to me is a truly spiritual place that opens up all kinds of questions of existence and I think that I’m at a point in my life where those questions are very welcome.