Archive for Alan Rudolph

The Atlantic Ocean was something, then

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2020 by dcairns

I have a strange history of not watching Louis Malle & John Guare’s ATLANTIC CITY — or, as the print used in my rather poorly-transferred DVD inexplicably calls itself, ATLANTIC CITY, USA. I think I’ve started watching it twice… once was probably on BBC2’s Film Club in the eighties, or around then. I think the way the movie doesn’t insist that it’s heading anywhere (though it is), and doesn’t seem to care if you’re watching, allowed me to drift off. But those are now qualities I value highly, and bits of it certainly stayed with me. In the last few months I picked up both the DVD, and the book Malle on Malle, secondhand, so it was clearly time.

I really enjoyed it last night. It reminded me a lot of the later TROUBLE IN MIND, from Alan Rudolph, only staged against a documentary backdrop (urban renewal in the titular city, with the crew rushing from site to site to catch demolitions in the background of its scenes, rather than attempting to transform a modern city into a place of near future/alternate reality possibilities. Both movies seem to enjoy an Altman influence, direct in the case of Rudolph, maybe just more zeitgeisty in Malle’s case, but actually stronger — a network narrative of interconnected characters whose paths criss-cross — crime — jazz — Americana.

Burt Lancaster always seems like a dreamer to me — you sense immortal longings. This is what led him, in real life, to make movies with European arthouse guys. His character here is a bullshitter, dreaming up a “romantic” past as a boardwalk gangster. His longings are for a past that never was: aspiration turned inside out into nostalgia. Circumstances finally allow him, in a crazy and ironic way, to play the hero in his own life. Burt gets several of the all-time great closeups. With Burt, the dreaminess perfectly counterbalances the acrobaticism, slightly in abeyance here. But he still has that precision of movement that makes you think of his athletic grace. Each gesture is powerful yet delicate, like a martial artist crossed with an assembly line robot and taught to dance.

Susan Sarandon is also really good. There are awkward old guy and young girl moments to get across, but Burt is still, in Fiona’s view, a viable leading man in his late sixties, and the script is so good, and of course Sarandon is not into Burt the way he’s into her… the voyeuristic element reminded me of Duvivier’s PANIQUE (and its remake, MONSIEUR HIRE, made nine years after AC) which is a possible influence since Malle seems more open to ’40s French cinema than the Cahiers mob (I can’t seem to refer to them collectively without making them sound like gangsters), who had a few favourites but mostly saw that school as an old guard to be replaced — by them.

All Sarandon’s early roles seem to be about her breasts, which is a bit embarrassing now because spectacular talents like hers are more unusual than spectacular breasts like hers. There’s generally a pathetic excuse, like the spilled wine in THE HUNGER that makes it absolutely necessary for her to become topless. Here she works in an oyster bar and spends her evenings rubbing lemon juice on herself at the window to eradicate the fishy smell. “How does she manage to get oyster on her ARMS? or her TITS?” asked Fiona.

Oh, and of course we were delighted to spot Wallace Shawn, poised to slip the script of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE to his director, and the exploding head guy from SCANNERS (the movie was made with Canadian tax shelter money). The guy, Louis Del Grande, proves he’s no one-tricky pony by playing a guy whose head does NOT explode. Although I admit we were waiting for it to happen.

ATLANTIC CITY, USA stars the Swede; Janet Weiss; Linda Loman; Inspector Ginko; Eden; Lizard; Lt. Bert Samuels; Quentin Hapsburg; Gold Leader; Dr. Bill Michaels; Vizzini; Felix Leiter; and First Scanner.

Hardcore Stenography

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

vlcsnap-2014-09-30-11h26m58s160

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.

vlcsnap-2014-09-30-11h27m44s102

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.

vlcsnap-2014-09-30-11h29m26s100

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?

vlcsnap-2014-09-30-11h28m26s17

Fleurs du Malaprop

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

vlcsnap-2014-09-26-08h53m31s0

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.

vlcsnap-2014-09-26-08h49m07s199

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.

vlcsnap-2014-09-26-08h51m29s61

(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.