Mike Figgis

Mike Figgis, Professor of Film at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Mike Figgis (b. 1948) is an Academy Award nominated film director, writer, and composer who crosses boundaries, refusing to restrict his work to a singular space. Eschewing Hollywood standards, he continually plays with film, extending and reconfiguring the linguistic structure of the medium. His films include Suspension of Disbelief (2012), Love Live Long (2008), The 4 Dreams of Miss X (2007), Co/Ma (2004), Cold Creek Manor (2003), Ten Minutes Older: The Cello (2002) (segment "About Time 2"), The Battle of Orgreave (2001), Hotel (2001), Timecode (2000), Miss Julie (1999), The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999), One Night Stand (1997), Flamenco Women (1997), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), The Browning Version (1994), Mr. Jones (1993), Liebestraum (1991), Internal Affairs (1990), and Stormy Monday (1988). Filmmaking runs in Figgis's family: his Irish cousins are the filmmakers Jonathan Figgis and Jason Figgis, who run the award-winning production company October Eleven Pictures in Ireland, while his son Arlen Figgis is a film editor, and his son Louis Figgis is a producer.

Born in Carlisle, England, Mike Figgis grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, until he was eight. He then spent the rest of his childhood in Newcastle, England. Figgis studied music in London where he played keyboard in the band Gas Board together with Brian Ferry, who later became the lead singer of the critically acclaimed pop group Roxy Music. Figgis also played music and acted in the experimental performance group the People Show. This early experimentation with music guided his later scoring of his own films. In 1980, Mike Figgis formed his own theater company, which marked the beginning of his shift from music to writing and directing. After several successful shows, he shot a film for television and made his first cinematic release, Stormy Monday (1988), starring Tommy Lee Jones and Melanie Griffith. He then went on to direct the thriller Internal Affairs (1990), starring Richard Gere. Five years and one film later, Figgis vented his frustration with Hollywood in the critically acclaimed Leaving Las Vegas (1995), telling the story of an alcoholic screenwriter (Nicholas Cage) and a Las Vegas prostitute (Elizabeth Shue). Earning four Academy Award nominations, this film affirmed Figgis’s success at both the box office and with critics.

While Leaving Las Vegas was shot on 16 mm, giving the film a nostalgic imprint, Mike Figgis transitioned into digital film with Timecode (2000) in order to explore new regions of filmic time and language. Timecode took advantage of a full range of new digital opportunities. Using cutting-edge technology, Figgis created his shots with four cameras recording each take simultaneously. This allowed the presentation of multiple perspectives, overturning the role of a singular view, by dividing the screen into four sections. Following this experimental work, Figgis shot Cold Creek Manor (2003), a psychological thriller starring Sharon Stone and Dennis Quaid. The screenplay was written by Richard Jefferies and follows a family who is terrorized by the former owner of their recently purchased rural estate. The film won positive reviews from mainstream critics, while other observers found it too mainstream for a Mike Figgis film. This was followed by the more experimental Love Live Long (2008), featuring Daniel Lapaine and Sophie Winkleman, which focused on the Gumball 3000 motor rally. His latest film, Suspension of Disbelief (2012), is an erotic thriller which examines the structure of the feature film as a plot device.

Mike Figgis's interest in digital film is complimented by a disdain for traditional film equipment. Nevertheless, he takes inspiration from the outdated cinematic era of moving cameras and pistons in order to embrace more fully the seamless flux of digital filmmaking. While the equipment Figgis uses has evolved with the times, his most recent projects harken back to his experience in theater. Utilizing elements of improvisation, dance, and performance in his productions, Figgis’s approach is more sophisticated than a simple reconsideration of the technical mechanisms used for capturing a dynamic world. His evolution also corresponds with the development of filmmaking itself and with the need to reconsider production values as part of a meta-process that intertwines formal compositions in front of and behind the lens.

Mike Figgis has always had an uneasy relationship with Hollywood, which he sees as being in decline. In a 2009 interview with the New Statesman, he voices the following criticism: "The problem in America is that young independent filmmakers who win the audience award at Sundance have already got their eye on the big bucks. We also have to ask ourselves: are we any longer that interested in the American story? Whether it’s “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” or a couple of dissatisfied college kids who maybe want to kill everybody else, or some yuppies living in New York, we’ve been overexposed to American ideas."