Filmmaker James Gunn’s Journey to “The Suicide Squad” Begins in Saint-Louis – KION546
By Daniel Neman
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ST. LOUIS (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) – A man whose detachable arms can fly through the air to slap soldiers in the face helps save the world from a giant, megalomaniac starfish, and all because some teachers in St. Louis recognized the talent when they saw it.
The man with the detachable, self-propelled arms is the Detachable Kid, also known as TDK, one of more than a dozen characters with unusual abilities at the heart of “The Suicide Squad”.
The potential blockbuster, a sequel to the 2016 hit “Suicide Squad,” is written and directed by James Gunn, who grew up in Manchester. Based on a DC Comics series, it tells the story of a group of hardcore criminals – and anthropomorphic animals – who are recruited out of prison to take part in dangerous missions to save the world from evil.
If they live, they will get 10 years of reduced prison terms. If they die, well, no one will miss them.
In a sense, the film’s path to the screen began with Gunn’s education in high school at St. Louis University and St. Louis University.
“The guys over there, what they taught me, the way they saw something in me, that was kind of an artistry, (they) nurtured that and brought it out and had trust me, ”he said over the phone from Atlanta.
Reverend Phil Steele, who taught Gunn art in high school, was among the first to see and nurture his artistic side. Joe Schulte, who taught high school acting, thought enough about Gunn’s acting that he and a friend performed a one-act play for two for the school’s Mothers Club.
At St. Louis University, creative writing professor Al Montesi encouraged Gunn to write plays. Gunn immediately recognized that he had an affinity for drama.
“Back then, I was playing music in bands,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow, being able to use my brain and tell stories is really exciting. I mean, I love performing on stage, but using my brain and making people see my thoughts and turning my thoughts into real actions, and turning my thoughts into words outside of myself, that was exciting. .
After earning an MFA from Columbia University, Gunn began working for Troma Studios, a low-budget film production and distribution company that specializes in horror films and other humorous exploitation films. His first screenplay produced for Troma was “Tromeo and Juliet,” which was set in today’s New York City (Juliette: “Parting up is such a sweet heartbreak.” Tromeo: “It sucks.” )
After several other projects with Troma, Gunn started working with bigger studios and bigger budgets. Its first major screenplay was for the popular live-action film version of “Scooby-Doo” and its sequel. He also wrote the 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, a zombie movie that takes place mostly in a mall.
But he made his mark with “Slither,” a 2006 horror film he both wrote and directed, which reveled in the comedic possibilities of gore. With his hugely popular “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” he entered a new dimension of the filmmaker’s fame.
DC Comics was so in love with Gunn’s success, he says, that the company let him make a movie of one of his comic book properties that he loved. DC offered him “Superman”, but he didn’t want to do “Superman”. When offered “The Suicide Squad”, he asked what he should keep from the first movie.
Nothing, DC said, so he started to think about it, along with two other projects.
“I really wanted it to come from a creative place,” he says.
“I spent about a month playing with different shapes. I started to write what became the plot of this movie, and it started to sing. It started to become his own thing. I was very excited about the story of this one, and that’s what made me want to do it.
According to Gunn, the film is a war film, like “The Dirty Dozen”, “Where Eagles Dare” or “Kelly’s Heroes” – films, often with a light touch, in which a group of tough soldiers go on a dangerous mission.
“The Suicide Squad”, however, takes place in the comic book world.
“It’s this magical realist DC universe, where Batman and Superman are real guys,” Gunn says. “In this world, it’s weird to see a shark walking, but it’s not the same as if it were in (the real world). We would probably pass out if we saw a shark walking in real life. But because of this magical realism, it’s shocking to see one, but it’s not that surprising.
The unrealistic setting allows the film to engage in sudden spasms of extreme violence, often – but not always – played for comedic effect. More than one body is torn in two, while another character survives a series of increasingly violent indignities.
“Even in this movie there’s some violence that’s pretty real, and that’s what’s not funny,” Gunn says.
But much of the violence is so ridiculously excessive that it is clearly intended to make audiences laugh.
“I don’t know why it’s funny,” he said. “I’d like to know why it’s funny.”
The mixture of comic violence and appalling violence is part of the film’s deliberately multifaceted technique. It’s an action movie, drama, comedy, war movie, sci-fi, and plot image all at once. Gunn attributes this approach to films he loves from Hong Kong, Japan, and more recently South Korea.
“They don’t see gender the same way,” he says. “Here in the United States, we say, ‘It’s a comedy or it’s an action movie or it’s a horror movie or it’s a romance.’ They don’t have the same categorization process.
“Taking that style of directing and westernizing it is something I’ve tried to do my whole career.”
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