Johnny Suede

Johnny Suede

Johnny Suede theatrical poster
Directed by Tom DiCillo
Produced by Yoram Mandel
Ruth Waldburger
Written by Tom DiCillo
Music by Jim Farmer
Cinematography Joe DeSalvo
Edited by Geraldine Peroni
Distributed by Miramax Films
Paramount Pictures
Release dates
August 1991 (Locarno Film Festival)
Running time
97 minutes
Language English
Budget $500,000

Johnny Suede is a 1991 American film the directorial debut of Tom DiCillo, and stars Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, Calvin Levels and Nick Cave.[1]


Johnny Suede is a young man with an attitude and an immense pompadour, who wants to be a rock n' roll star like his idol Ricky Nelson. He has all the stylistic accoutrements, except a pair of black suede shoes. One night, after leaving a nightclub, like manna from heaven, a pair of black suede shoes falls at his feet. Soon afterward, the recently completed Johnny meets Darlette, a sultry bohemian with whom he beds down for the night. In spite of Darlette's abusive gun-toting boyfriend, Johnny begins to see Darlette every day. But when Johnny is forced to pawn his guitar for rent money, Darlette mysteriously leaves him. Johnny's pal Deke fronts him the money to get his guitar out of hock, and the two form a band. Depressed about Darlette's desertion, he wanders aimlessly, and he meets Yvonne, a woman much wiser than Johnny who teaches him that there are things in life much more important than a pair of black suede shoes.


Background and production

Around 1985, while taking acting classes in New York City, DiCillo was impressed with the local punk movement and the resurgence of rockabilly led by acts like Elvis Costello, The Stray Cats and The Clash.[2] Spinning personal experiences into monologues, he created a character whose vulnerability is obscured by a superficial fifties era cool, exaggerated to the point of foolishness. DiCillo first wove what he had into a one-hour one-man show, before setting the first draft of the screenplay to paper. Eight months later he had completed the fourth draft.[3] Having received positive feedback from his friend Jim Jarmusch, DiCillo approached German television, ZDF, who gave him eighty thousand dollars.[4] Additional funding came from the National Endowment for the Arts for twenty-five thousand dollars, as well as a Panavision package and help with the script from the Sundance Lab.[4] Around 1988 to 1989, while at the Cannes Film Festival, DiCillo stumbled into a deal with a South African producer wherein he sold worldwide rights to his film for three hundred thousand dollars; an arrangement he would later call, "A shaky thing but still I felt it was worth the risk so I decided to go ahead with it."[5]

Pre-production, early casting and the search for Johnny quickly followed. By August 1989, having not found what they were looking for in New York, DiCillo and his casting director, Marcia Shulman, went to Los Angeles, where Brad Pitt was the second to last guy seen. DiCillo recalls, "[He] didn’t have much on his resume. In fact he only had two things; he’d done a small Canadian TV series and he’d just finished shooting what he’d listed as his only real film credit — something called Thelma and Louise that no one had heard about because it hadn’t even been edited yet."[6] Convinced Pitt was Johnny Suede, DiCillo forced the casting on his South African producer, who was shortly thereafter replaced by Ruth Waldburger when the South African's option expired. The film was ultimately shot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 30 days, from November to December 1990.[6]

Original music for the film was performed by rockabilly guitar legend Link Wray.

Release and reception

The film was entered into competition at the Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland, where it was seen by Mark Tusk from Miramax who, convinced Pitt would become a film star, urged Harvey Weinstein to make the unprecedented step of purchasing the rights to a film he had not yet seen.[6] Johnny Suede won Best Picture at the festival, and the distribution deal was sealed.[6]

The movie reportedly grossed $90,091 in the US box office, against a production budget of $500,000, though this was in one cinema - its widest release.[7]

DVD release

The 2009 Anchor Bay release of this movie includes a commentary from DiCillo


  1. Canby, Vincent (1992-08-14). "Johnny Suede (1992) Wishing Isn't Enough To Make a Ricky Nelson". The New York Times.
  2. Tom DiCillo interview, quoted in Lowenstein ed., 2002, p. 31
  3. Tom DiCillo interview, quoted in Lowenstein ed., 2002, p. 32.
  4. 1 2 Tom DiCillo interview, quoted in Lowenstein ed., 2002, p. 35.
  5. Tom DiCillo interview, quoted in Lowenstein ed., 2002, p. 36.
  6. 1 2 3 4 DiCillo, Tom (January 12, 2008). "39. Johnny Too Bad". Tom DiCillo Blog. Retrieved January 30, 2008.
  7. - Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information

Works cited

External links

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