Perry Farrell & GIFT at The Egyptian Theatre, 20 Years Later
For over a quarter of a century Perry Farrell has known how to engage an audience. As the lead singer of LA legends Jane’s Addiction, and mastermind behind music festival Lollapalooza, his talents extend from impersonating Mick Jagger, to business, and, much to the disturbance of rock fans, forays into electronic dance music.
The same can’t be said about his knowledge of film. Moonlighting as a director on the night of April 30 at the screening of his 1993 film, GIFT, didn’t help the cause. Invited by the Modern School of Film to host a Q&A about GIFT, alongside Gus Van Sant, who would speak on Drugstore Cowboy, Farrell entertained his audience with his well-worn dandy-cum-rockstar routine, but said exactly nothing about film, writing or the creative process, instead turning the focus towards the financial aspects of GIFT, and his upcoming musical projects.
This lack of insight could be explained in part by the absence of co-director and co-star, Casey Niccoli. When questioned about his film experience prior to GIFT, whether he had dabbled at all, Farrell responded, “I’d never made a movie in my life! But I knew I could do it. I made it for half a million dollars – pretty badass film for a half a million dollars, right?” Co-director Niccoli on the other hand had previously directed the Jane’s Addiction vehicle Soul Kiss and in ’91 won the MTV Video Music Award for the band’s Been Caught Stealing, to date still their most commercial successful single, proving that creativity does not exist in a vacuum. Farrell neither acknowledged his co-director, or their joint achievements, but did discuss the MTV award. “You know that might’ve been the first rock video award,” Farrell drawled, “and I use it to keep my door open. Looks great.”
GIFT is a surrealistic, comedy/love story full of heroin, saturated color, gross-out shoot up scenes, mesmerizing musical performances and a gloriously bizarre yet touching Santerian wedding. Its limited theatrical release made the original VHS a prized fetish object for fans of Jane’s Addiction. In fact, a physical print of GIFT could not be located by MSOF, so they showed it on VHS at the Egyptian. Early audiences idolized the romance between the movie’s co-stars, and Casey’s shoot-up-and-die scene rivals Spinal Tap for comedic value.
Narrated by Farrell, using the couple’s real names, it’s partially a fly on the wall documentary, interspersed with performance sequences from Jane’s Addiction, and dreamy visuals that tells Perry and Casey’s story. It’s also a dark comedy, a band movie, and a directorial debut for both stars. For those who loved it, it was with fervor. GIFT was given a very short theatrical release. The editing had dragged on for two years, during which time Niccoli and Farrell’s relationship disintegrated. The end product is a bittersweet post-mortem to an era of doomed decadence.
Freaked out by the gruesome injecting scenes and necrophilia, Warner Brothers, and Farrell himself tried to kill the finished film. “They just wanted it to go away,” says Niccoli. “Perry didn’t attend any of the press events to promote GIFT. “
Twenty years down the track, Farrell has changed his tune. Claiming to have not watched the movie since ’91, he might have at least given it a cursory glance before speaking on the subject, but alas, he clearly felt he could get by purely on personality.
If Farrell was aiming to drench the audience in showmanship and buttress his image of Dionysian rock star with wild tales of sex and drugs, then the night was a success. In Perry’s world, every man is a ‘cat’ or a ‘bad mother fucker’. When asked about his foray into filmmaking, Farrell interrupted the question with, “Hey man, this ain’t film making, this is rock n’ roll!” which begged the question, why was he there at all?
“I’ll watch a film on an airplane going to England, you know, cos I got ‘bout twelve hours to kill. It takes a great, great filmmaker with a deep insight and sensitivity – like Gus, you know, and I will go see his film,” said Farrell. “Most of the other guys, they’re hacks you know?”
By admitting to not being particularly interested in film he effectively angled himself out of the conversation. Despite this, he wouldn’t take a back seat to Van Sant, at one point interrupting a process question directed to the director with, “Oh shit, did you hear about the letter that came out today? You guys gotta hear this. And then Gus, you’ll answer the question. The police just released a letter today that was the suicide note of Kurt Cobain. It said, I married this slut whore who I mean... You guys got to find it online tonight. Like, he basically could not stand Courtney Love, and uh, check it out tonight, it’s heavy.”
A nervous titter arose from the audience as Van Sant picked up the previous question.
“So, uh, my process, it changes with every film…”
Van Sant named The Panic In Needle Park, and The Man With the Golden Arm, as inspiration in the drug movie genre, keeping the conversation on topic.
Somebody in the audience got up the nerve to ask Farrell the question on everybody’s mind’s – what about his marriage to Niccoli? Was it real? Were they truly in love? And are they friends today? Farrell crossed his arms over his chest and pouted.
“Here’s the down low. I never was married to Casey Niccoli. I didn’t want to get married to Casey Niccoli, so, I went down to Mexico and I got married by a Santerian priest. Doesn’t hold up here in America.”
“Are you still in touch with Casey?”
“Oh um, you know, no cos, cos, Casey’s kinda, kinda mean. Kinda avoid her."
When asked about the real life junkies in GIFT, he made a point to say that where he had only attended rehab once, though Niccoli had been numerous times. “I mean, she seriously like exhausted my funds”. He agreed to go with her, but after ten days Farrell decided he’d had enough. “So I told Casey, I said man, lets get the fuck out of here, lets go get high.” Then, without a trace of irony, he went on to espouse the joys of drug use, stating that every husband and wife (for some reason he was very gender specific about that) should be able to take hard drugs for sexual gratification.
“Let me tell you how I feel about druuugs. I think druuugs if they’re done with education - lets just say a man and a woman are married and it’s Saturday night and they wanna, they wanna get some druuugs and get into some lovemaking, like some kinky lovemaking, I think they oughtta be able to. I think a man and a woman in their own home, wanna get that heightened feeling of SEX! Mmm, that orgasm that comes on man! So no I’m not glamourizing it, but..it. it’s fun man. It’s awesome!”
For somebody who holds a grudge against his ex for being addicted, and has lost numerous friends over the years to overdoses, this statement sounds incredible. The audience seemed uncomfortable, not to mention that it was kind of gross hearing about his sexual proclivities today. Once upon a time maybe the drug-fuelled orgasm with Perry Farrell may have been exciting. But at 55, it just sounds lascivious, and like a recipe for a heart attack.
In 2014 this is where we find Perry Farrell. Once an agent provocateur, with a reverence for women and the nerve of a politician, he now seems out of touch. He is not only divorced from Niccoli, but from most everyone that took part in his rise to fame and fortune, the contributors who lent their character quirks and personality to Farrell’s mystique. He may have been the Warholian ringleader, but in the case of GIFT he was only one half of an enchanting whole. By telling a new story – that the marriage in the film was a dupe, and the joke was on the bride – he rendered the evening a depressing washout. Farrell called it “movie magic”, but there was nothing magical about it. GIFT is a touchstone for it’s original fans, and a piece of art house cinema that brought together elements of the grotesque, the ridiculous and the truly romantic. As Jane’s Addiction prepares to celebrate 25 years of their album, Nothing’s Shocking, the once a fierce, articulate poet and performer has brought shocking back. His danger and darkness have gone, leaving an aping show pony, tapping his heel impatiently when the camera isn’t trained on him.
"Classic Girl" by Jane's Addiction, taken from the film GIFT