Why ‘Girls’ Director Richard Shepard Recut His Quirky ’90s Indie ‘The Linguini Incident’ Starring David Bowie and Rosanna Arquette

It took Richard Shepard years to get out of “movie jail” after he made “The Linguini Incident,” the nearly-forgotten 1991 crime comedy starring David Bowie and Rosanna Arquette. But now the film is getting a second chance, with a series of screenings and an upcoming Blu-ray release.

Just about everything went wrong with the production that could go wrong, Shepard recalls. “I made this movie when I was 25 — and I was no genius at 25,” admits the director, who went on to helm features including “The Perfection” as well as TV series like Lena Dunham’s HBO comedy “Girls.”

More from Variety

Unlike Dunham, who was “in complete control of her artistic self” at that age, “I was not,” says Shepard.

But when his original co-producer, Sarah Jackson, suggested he try to rerelease a director’s cut of the scrappy indie caper about two restaurant employees who decide to rob their bosses, Shepard jumped at the chance to try to improve the film and make it available to Bowie fans and niche cinema collectors.

Director Richard Shepard, left, on set with David Bowie.
Director Richard Shepard, left, on set with David Bowie.

Despite managing to recruit an indie dream cast that also included Eszter Balint (“Stranger Than Paradise”), Andre Gregory, Marlee Matlin and Buck Henry, the production struggled in several ways: The film’s other producer disappeared for long periods of time and his checks bounced, Shepard says.

“To make matters worse, the movie got taken away from me in the editing,” he says, admitting that at 25, he was probably “an awful person as well as arrogant and untalented at the same time.”

“The Linguini Incident” finally opened theatrically May 1, 1992 — the weekend the L.A. Uprisings broke out, leading to a curfew across the city. “The movie sort of opened and closed within 30 seconds,” Shepard says. “I went into a depression, and it took a long time before I was able to find my way back into the business.”

“The Linguini Incident” was eventually released on VHS and later DVD under various names including the dubiously chosen “Shag-O-Rama.” It picked up fans along the way and remains notable as one of Bowie’s few comedic roles, but it hasn’t been available to stream.

Working with the iconic musician and actor was one of the bright spots of the troubled production, remembers the director. “He was a deeply lovely person, fully engaged in the world, and that I got to spend this period of time with him was was pretty amazing,” he says.

Arquette remembers that while her agent questioned the decision, she signed on to the young filmmaker’s project because she loved the script and was “never one to choose things for just money.” As a fan, she also jumped at the chance to work with Bowie. “He was so well read, we liked a lot of the same books and he turned me on to some music — he actually was the one that turned me on to the band Sonic Youth,” she recalls.

“It was cool because Iman and him fell in love during that movie and so he would tell me all about how crazy he was about Iman,” says Arquette, whose father Lewis Arquette also had a cameo. “There’s a moment that she has in the film which is very funny if you know in the context that they were falling in love with each other.”

Before Shepard could recut the film and consider a Blu-ray release, he first had to track down both the rights and the negative. “The paper trail went cold because all the companies that had invested in the movie had gone bankrupt,” he says. “We finally found out that the Screen Actors Guild had claimed the copyright of the movie because no residuals been paid, which is very rare situation.”

The complete dailies were never found, but after much research, Shepard managed to unearth a longer version that had screened in 35mm in Austria and was still sitting in a lab.

With a new 4K transfer, Shepard was able to reframe shots, add zooms and “make a scene that had very basic coverage feel like it has two or three extra shots in it.”

“I was able to pace up the film in a different sort of way and and sort of give it an energy that it always lacked,” he says.

Now, it’s a lot closer to his original vision — a rare slice of ’90s independent cinema.

“It’s been an incredible experience to be able to go back to to a movie that had been taken away from me and actually produce a version of the movie much closer to what I had originally wanted,” he says. “You can see the transition from this movie to ‘The Matador,’ which I made ten years or 12 years after.”

Arquette and Balint will be at the Vidiots screening in Los Angeles on May 9 and at the Quad in New York on May 14 before a Blu-ray release through MVD on July 25.

Arquette doesn’t want to give away the ending, but she advises viewers to watch out for the final scene. “I love the ending of the movie — the very, very last shot,” she says.

“I’m excited for a generation of Bowie fans to see a movie that you’ve not been able to see in 20-something years,” says Shepard. “It’s a true independent film of the era.”

Watch “The Linguini Incident” trailer below:

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.