Archive for Alan Rudolph

Hardcore Stenography

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2014 by dcairns

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So, INVESTIGATING SEX — I had a hard time getting to see this. I heard about it when it was new, ie before it failed to come out, from Emily Bruni, who plays the wife of Alan Cumming and the lover of Til Schweiger in it, and she spoke very warmly of writer/director Alan Rudolph, whom I love (usually). Not long after, I shared a car with Alan Cumming, but I didn’t get a chance to ask him much of anything as he was on the phone most of the time. He seemed nice, but very very busy.

Meanwhile, years passed, and the film never got a UK distributor (despite featuring Dermot Mulroney, Julie Delpy, Neve Campbell, Robin Tunney, Nick Nolte, Tuesday Weld…) and didn’t play any festivals near me.

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Finally I obtained a copy, which proved to be dubbed into Greek, then another copy in English and subtitled in Portuguese, and then the film turned up on YouTube in its entirety, and I quite simply failed to watch it.

But now I have, and it joins the pile of really good Rudolphs, funny and sweet and romantic and just a little strange. At the mansion of an eccentric millionaire (Nolte), a group of (initially all male) artists, writers, filmmakers gather to recount their observations and experiences of sex. It’s 1929, so dressing a couple of lady stenographers in sexy black uniforms and employing them as combination secretaries/muses seems cool. The known factors (Campbell, who never previously seemed able to act, and Tunney, whom I don’t recall well enough from THE CRAFT because that had Fairuza Balk in it) are excellent, but the film also has up-and-comers Terrence Howard and Til Schweiger and Jeremy Davies — and the aforementioned Bruni, whose face has all these unexpected swoops and arches, like a wondrous funhouse Fonda, and John Light, neither of whom has caught on as they should (though they both work regularly, which is the main thing). Both have the kind of faces that make you lean forward, and maybe even cock your head sideways sometimes, which I regard as a good thing.

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Funny how Rudolph’s ensembles — the main thing he shares with his mentor Mr. Altman, an exec producer here, is a desire to let the supporting players nose ahead of the leads — never really attracted a big audience. They’re always intriguing mixtures, like a great party you wish you could throw. Consider —

Kris Kristofferson, Genevieve Bujold, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer, Joe Morton, Divine…

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Campbell Scott, Matthew Broderick, Peter Gallagher, Wallace Shawn, Lili Taylor…

The film doesn’t have a Mark Isham score, normally an essential trait of any Rudolph joint, nor does it have songs per se, but Ulf Skogsbergh’s slightly eerie music — woven around the idea of the succubus that tantalises Mulroney’s character — is a standout. Why hasn’t he done anything else in movies? Google suggests he’s a photographer, unless there are two Ulfs.

Highlight: Nolte’s confession of a love affair with a donkey.

Retrospective, anyone? Or an Eclipse box set?

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Fleurs du Malaprop

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by dcairns

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I once spoke to an actor, Emily Bruni, who had worked for Alan Rudolph (in INVESTIGATING SEX, which never came out in the UK at all) and I asked her what his direction was like. “He just made us all feel incredibly loved — and that was his direction,” she said.

I am curiously up-and-down with Rudolph. There are films of his I love — CHOOSE ME, TROUBLE IN MIND, THE MODERNS, MRS PARKER AND THE VICIOUS CIRCLE, AFTERGLOW, INVESTIGATING SEX. Then there are films he didn’t write, which seem like work-for-hire and which I never care for — ROADIE, ENDANGERED SPECIES, SONGWRITER, MORTAL THOUGHTS. But then there are films which he did write which are personal but where the alchemy just doesn’t seem to come together right — WELCOME TO L.A. (turgid), REMEMBER MY NAME (dour), MADE IN HEAVEN (compromised by studio interference), LOVE AT LARGE (uneven), EQUINOX (shapeless) and especially BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS (a book I love, and a director I love, but they don’t come together at all).

This might not strike some people as strange at all, but usually when I like a filmmaker I like everything they do, or near enough. My early practice loving the compromised films of Orson Welles probably stood me in good stead here. But I can’t love the Rudolph misfires — they grate too much. Maybe he loves his actors a little too much, and doesn’t always filter their excesses (though I really like AFTERGLOW for the Nick Nolte and Julie Christie stuff, the young couple are a bit irksome, especially Lara Flynn Boyle). But then again, he has drawn some career-best work from a wide range of players.

So to TRIXIE, where Rudolph evidently loved the hell out of Emily Watson, who plays a cop/security guard who gets mixed up in a murder case. Trixie mangles the English language, which is the one joke about her, and it’s a joke that works much better with a supporting character than it would with a lead. So the flaw is in the writing to begin with. One-note characters are delightful when done well — you just keep hitting the same button whenever they show up, and the predictability and inflexibility of the character because a source of pleasure. But you can’t play that card with your protagonist — they need a second dimension, possibly a third. Trixie does have other layers, but the need to have her jam a malapropism into every line — “You can’t drink yourself into Bolivia” — obscures them.

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Then there’s the performance. Watson had just made a big splash in BREAKING THE WIND WAVES, a film I hate (every story point is repeated three times in three consecutive scenes, because the movie thinks we’re stupid), but it’s an undeniably ballsy perf. I once had a drink with another actor who had auditioned for that role, who did a bitterly twisted parody of Watson’s delivery, right there and then at the bar, which was startlingly accurate. She decimated the performance, not by caricaturing it, but by reproducing it exactly, affirming the Warhol line that “the best form of parody is the thing itself.” But I still think it was a bold piece of work.

Well, Watson is big as all outdoors in TRIXIE, but it doesn’t work so well. Firstly, she augments her Amurrican accent by chewing gum, a trick borrowed from the Kenneth Branagh school of verisimilitude. So now we have a character constantly masticating while mangling her dialogue, which is a bit much. And then, visually, the approach seems borrowed from Burt Young (above) — Watson can somehow protrude her eyeballs, as if she’s clenching her skull until they pop out. It seems like she might sock her co-stars in the jaw with these great orbs. Everything that’s going on underneath the actorly tricks is fine — there are still moments which fascinate. But the pyrotechnics and schtick seriously get in the way.

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(I think Nick Nolte’s only good Rudolph performance is in AFTERGLOW, btw. He’s a man who has been known to overplay, as we know, and Rudolph seems to encourage or at any rate allow this. His best moment here is simply staring in astonishment at Watson, which feels just right, although you wonder why nobody else was equally amazed at this freak in their midst.)

What the role demanded was a sort of Giulietta Masina or Rita Tushingham — a female clown. Those actors are rare. But, frustratingly, the movie features one in a supporting role — Brittany Murphy is delightful in this, big and broad and goofy but NOT ANNOYING with it. When she’s around you can see the movie this could have been.

Out of Mind

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on May 20, 2011 by dcairns

Keith Carradine’s hair is only one of many reason’s to enjoy TROUBLE IN MIND. Believe it or not, it’s not even one of the major reasons. The film is that good. I mean, there the hair is, hovering above his head like an angry deity, and yet in my review of the 1985 indie sleeper over at The Daily Notebook, this edition of the column known as The Forgotten, I barely even mention the hair. So that must be quite a film, right?