Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 21, No. 5, Ed. 1 Friday, June 11, 2004 Page: 50 of 120
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R.E.M. sitiger follows passion to bring
stories to the screen that ‘don’t suck’
By Daniel A. Kusner Life+Style Editor
-W" OS ANGELES — Michael Stipe waits
to enter a conference room while CNN
cameras follow him for “a day in the
^ of a film producer” profile. The
R.E.M. singer is promoting his latest project,
“Saved!” an independent film about Christian
teens that’s opening today in theaters across the
I tap Stipe on the shoulder and tell him that 1
brought him a gift. I hand him a rainbow-colored
bracelet, and stitched down the middle are the
initials for “What Would Jesus Do?” He slides it
on his wrist and says, “Courtney Love gave me
one that had WWMD written on it. She said it
stood for ‘What Would Michael Do.’”
I ask him, “Does that mean you’re the new
Stipe gives me a look of exasperation.
I add, “Was Courtney’s bracelet in gay-pride
Stipe laughs and turns on his heel to follow
the CNN producer to another room.
Hardly the anticipated savior. Stipe is a fasci-
nating and prolific cultural figure. While singing
for R.E.M. for 24 years, he’s cultivated the per-
sona of Mysterious Rock God better than Jim
Morrison and Prince. Through his sometimes-
mumbled articulation, Stipe will ultimately be
recognized as one of rock’s most brilliant lyri-
cists. For decades, R.E.M. fans have been bang-
ing their heads against stereos trying to decipher
his cryptic and gorgeously constructed composi-
When he came out in a 2001 Time magazine
interview, the news sent no shockwaves through
the media. Stipe said he came out because he was
"being made to be a coward” about his sexuality.
But instead becoming a champion for gay rights,
Stipe came off like a reluctant queer hero, which
is understandable. Like his lyrics, much of
Stipe’s allure is about dropping small clues to
unravel a sphinx.
Coming out wasn’t achieved entirely on
Stipe’s terms. In 2000, young author-poet
Douglas A. Martin penned “Outline of My
Lover,” a passionate story based on his six-year
relationship with Stipe, which ended in a painful
breakup. When the book was released, Martin,
still bitter, said in interviews that he resented the
need to be quiet about his relationship with the
famous, then-closeted rocker. So when the enig-
matic singer finally confirmed that he preferred
the company of men, some would argue that part
of Stipe’s sexy riddle lost its charm.
But rock stars were never meant to age grace-
fully — remember the lyric “hope I die before I
get old.” Now in his mid-40s, Stipe’s role as a
film producer seems more fitting than watching
him jump around stadiums like Michigan J. Frog.
And the films he’s helped bring to the screen
(“American Movie,” “Velvet Goldmine,” “Being
John Malkovich” and “Saved!”) are infinitely
more interesting than R.E.M.’s recent albums.
So why after 20 years did Stipe pick
Hollywood as an additional career?
“It picked me,” he says. “I’m a huge music
fan — I was drawn to music out of a very naive
15-year-old desire to make it myself. I was 27
when I started my first film production company
with the desire that I wanted to make movies that
didn’t suck. That has been my personal mandate
ever since. And without sounding arrogant, 1
think I’ve got a pretty good track record.”
Bringing “Saved!” to fruition was a long and
arduous path for Stipe and co-producer Sandy
Stem — the team that produced the wildly imag-
inative “Being John Malkovich.” Even with a
stellar cast that included Cameron Diaz, getting
that oddball fihn off the ground was no small task
— especially with then fust-time director Spike
Jones helming the project. Although
“Malkovich” was a box-office hit and received
three Academy Award nominations (including
best director), Stipe says getting investors inter-
ested in “Saved!” was a hellish ride.
“This film was our problem child,” Stipe says.
Written and directed by Brian Dannelly,
“Saved!” is an ensemble comedy that centers on
Mary (Jena Malone), a seemingly perfect
Christian high schooler with the seemingly per-
fect figure-skating boyfriend, Dean (Chad Faust).
When Dean tells Mary that he might be gay, she
attempts to “save” him by sacrificing her virgin-
ity. But when Dean’s parents find his copy of
Honcho magazine (featuring Dallas’ Chris Steele
on the cover), he’s sent to Mercy House for
To her horror, Mary ends up pregnant and
begins to question everything she’s believed in
— especially when her group of good Christian
friends turn against her.
“Saved!” combines religion, sexuality, come-
dy and high school. Stipe saw the film’s potential
when he read the script three-and-a-half years
ago. And his own past might explain why the
story resonated with him.
“I come from a very religious family. Going
Continued on Page 52
50 I dallasvoice.com I 06.11.04
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Vercher, Dennis. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 21, No. 5, Ed. 1 Friday, June 11, 2004, newspaper, June 11, 2004; Dallas, Texas. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth616482/m1/50/: accessed July 11, 2020), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.