Tue. May 28th, 2024

When a Young Sofia Coppola & Zoe Cassavetes Made Their Own TV Show: Revisit Hi-Octane (1994)

It makes sense that Sofia Coppola and Zoe Cassavetes would be friends. Not only are they both respected filmmakers of Generation X, they’re both daughters of maverick American auteurs, a condition with its advantages as well as its disadvantages. The advantages, in Coppola’s case, have included the ability to get Zoetrope, her father Francis Ford Coppola’s production company, to foot the bill for a project like Hi-Octane: in the words of a 1994 W magazine profile, “a non-talk show in which Sofia and Zoe drive around and interview cool people, essentially their friends” — a group that included Keanu Reeves, Martin Scorsese, Gus Van Sant, and the Beastie Boys.

Coppola and Cassavetes didn’t do all the interviewing themselves. Their correspondents included the photographer Shawn Mortensen, whom they sent off to Paris Fashion Week to talk to the likes of Naomi Campbell, Karl Lagerfeld, and André Leon Talley, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who hosted his own regular segment. “Thurston’s Alley” was usually shot literally there, in the alley alongside the building where he lived in New York, and, to it, he lured guests like Johnny Ramone and Sylvia Miles. But in one very special episode, he visits the Condé Nast building to interview none other than Anna Wintour — and, in one of the moments Hi-Octane‘s viewers have never forgotten, to describe the mayonnaise-based hair styling technique of Pixies Bassist Kim Deal.

“I wrote the script ’cause I was so into cars,” the young Coppola told W. “And I have access to all these interesting people — these actors and musicians. But when you see them interviewed on television, they just talk about their characters and it’s so boring. The sets are always hideously ugly. TV people always say they want to cater to people my age, but they have no idea how to do it. So we just wanted to incorporate the things we’re interested in — cars, painting, music.” In one episode, she and Cassavetes take monster-truck lessons; in another, she gets a bass lesson from the Minutemen’s Mike Watt; another features an extended profile of psychedelo-sexual-apocalyptic painter Robert Williams, whom Coppola’s cousin Nicolas Cage turns up to praise as “a modern-day Hieronymus Bosch.”

Hi-Octane aired at 11:00 at night on Comedy Central, a time slot between Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Saturday Night Live. It only did so three times before its cancellation, but each of those broadcasts offers a strong if somewhat makeshift distillation of a certain mid-nineties Gen-X sensibility, whose outward smirking disaffection is belied by its overpowering subcultural enthusiasm and sense of fun. “I wouldn’t change it because part of the sloppiness makes it unique and what it is,” Coppola said in a more recent interview. “I think if anything has sincerity and heart, this is it.” She may have known even at the time that it was all too pure to last. “Comedy Central says our show’s not funny enough,” she says to Cassavetes at the end of the second episode. “I think it’s funny that they gave us a show,” Cassavetes replies, and Coppola has to give it to her: “That is… that is funny.”

Related content:

Lick the Star: Sofia Coppola’s Very First Film Follows a 7th-Grade Conspiracy (1998)

Louis CK Ridicules Avant-Garde Art on 1990s MTV Show

Close Personal Friend: Watch a 1996 Portrait of Gen-X Definer Douglas Coupland

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes: Discover the Postmodern MTV Variety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Television Age (1985-87)

Revisit Turn-On, the Innovative TV Show That Got Canceled Right in the Middle of Its First Episode (1969)

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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