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September 10, 2012

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 James Keepnews

wo, I would never consider HF or TRUST anywhere close to the same level as DEAD MAN, LIMITS OF CONTROL, DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X or even BAMBOOZLED. But I love 3 3/4s of that Van Sant quartet, so once more: taste != accounting.

And I sure can't wait to find out what said fuss is about, or is not, about this here latest PTA.

MattL

The Master is a film that takes Freud's ideas to heart - without irony. Could have been better but it does have some fine moments.

Geral

Awesome list Glen, but I do think Tim Burton and Clint Eastwood should also feature on that list.

warren oates

@James Keepnews, maybe it's because Hal Hartley is both a better storyteller and a director more in control of his less flashy toolkit that it's a bit harder for you to notice? Spike Lee's best film is INSIDE MAN... After that maybe 25th HOUR... For a guy who loves few things more than a good Western DEAD MAN is one of the few newer ones I outright loathe and THE LIMITS OF CONTROL is probably the worst Jim Jarmusch I've ever seen. The early funny ones are still okay by me if we're talking STRANGER THAN PARADISE, his best film still or DOWN BY LAW. But they don't ever move me like Hal Hartley's best work.

Lex

Hey Warren Oates:

Asking for the 10 zillionth time:

You ever consider a name change? For a guy named after Warren Oates, you always seem like kind of a mewling nance. Would WARREN OATES watch Hal Hartley movies? You're like if Jeff Wells named himself LUCIO FULCI or something. Change the name.

James Keepnews

Wow, Lex, steady. Not everyone can be as aptly named as you, Mr. Luthor.

As to wo, maybe it IS because Hal Hartley is both a better storyteller and a director more in control of his less flashy toolkit that it's a bit harder for me to notice that he's a better filmmaker than Jarmusch or Lee. Alternatively, maybe not.

First off, DEAD MAN is where JJ's cinema opens up by opening inwardly -- yes, in the "head trip" sense, but also the radical joining of the "opening" of the West to the closing of William Blake's life. And time will be kinder to LIMITS, much as it was to DEAD MAN -- I'll get nothing done at work today if I try to marshal the aesthetic defense it deserves this morning. But I was transported by it, and find its use of repetition operating at another order of sophistication from anything in Hartley's work, most especially not in the gauche one-for-ones one finds in FLIRT. INSIDE JOB is a corker of a genre flick, much like CLOCKERS which I admire considerably more, but no more than an entertainment. (Have yet to see 25th.).

But, I'm sorry, it's because Hartley's a better storyteller exerting greater control that prevents me from noticing his superiority? Even allowing for the insult, how would such superior skills remaining anonymous obtain logically? And let's be real -- "deadpan" is not synonymous with "subtle". Stately compositions notwithstanding, whose pan has (had?) more flash than Hartley's?

Lex

Yeah, that's why Hal Hartley's remained so relevant these last 14 years.

Tom Block

At the end of "The 25th Hour" I just kept waiting for Norton's buddy to tell him "Y'know, I can pound your face to pudding if you want me to, but you're still gonna heal someday, and they're only gonna bugger you twice as bad when you do". And that's even assuming hardened cons would actually be so put off because their victim isn't in pristine condition that they wouldn't follow through on the rape.

JF

I just got into Hartley recently. The movies are very much of their time (the pastel hues and synth scores) but the artificiality is so foregrounded it's ultimately less of a problem than it would be with more naturalistic material. E.g., Hartley's cluelessness about the Internet just adds another layer of absurdity to HENRY FOOL.

...whose titular character you'd think would be in the Lex pantheon for this monologue alone:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aaW_VMMa2E

HH's lack of current cultural cachet says more about the culture's e-/devolving attitude towards stylized, unapologetically brainy cinema than it does about HH.

James Keepnews

Hartley foregrounds artificiality, alright -- that strikes me as a polite way of saying he beats you over the head with it. Compare the "artificial" language in Pinter and Mamet where, if attention is called to it, it is for the disjunctive affect/effect, whereas Hartley's arch ironisms seem primed for precisely the kind of knowing douchebag titter so roiling the commenters on the "Olio" thread (Glenn, what, Dagmar Krause we'd anticipate by now, but no Newks to adumbrate your points/title through song?) hereabouts.

In fairness, HH did direct the video for Yo La Tengo's "From a Motel 6," easily one of my favorites of all time, as it might be for anyone else conversant with the narrative arc that is the band rehearsal: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apTwaiAyyPI

JF

There's a pretty big difference between knowingly tittering at a film you don't have the imaginative generosity to sincerely engage with (for which the douchebag label may be appropriate) and knowingly tittering at a film that deliberately courts knowing titters. And there are many moments when Hartley's disjunctive a-/effects do something more elusive and complicated than that, and I doubt most of the people cackling at SINGING IN THE RAIN would know what to do with those.

James Keepnews

I take your meaning -- I was thinking more about the commenters' dismay over the Film Forum titter-oisie for whom I feel far too much of Hartley's cinema amounts to a slow, winking pitch right down the middle of the plate.

(& I didn't post to the "Olio" comment thread because, beyond its service as a lament, I'm not sure what such threnodies as MZS' accomplish. Great films are not unsophisticated; we are. Super. Let's assume you're right. Now what?)

Bettencourt

I'd put off seeing Hartley films for years, because even the rave reviews (not to mention the trailers) made them sound deeply unappealing. I finally relented with FAY GRIM, thinking that a spy comedy-thriller with Parker Posey and Jeff Goldblum will at least be watchable, and serve as a gateway for his other movies. But I hated it.

For you Hartley fans out there -- is FAY GRIM an anomaly, or is it pretty representative of his work overall?

(I'm still trying to process THE MASTER, which I saw two days ago. I thought THERE WILL BE BLOOD was the great English-language movie of the last decade-plus, but THE MASTER made it seem simple, accessible and mainstream in comparison).

That Fuzzy Bastard

Bettencourt: I worship Hartley's great flicks, but I think his action pictures (FAY and AMATEUR, I'm thinking of) are disastrous. To get what the fuss is, I recommend checking out THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH, SURVIVING DESIRE, and for a good later one, NO SUCH THING.

nrh

Did anyone see Hartley's new film, that thing with DJ Mendel?

Personally I think his approach to video, more than anything, has been disastrous. Also, now that I think about it, every Hartley movie not shot by Michael Spiller has been kind of disastrous...

Petey

"Bettencourt: I worship Hartley's great flicks"

I'm also a big Hartley fan, especially his 20th century work. Among the more recent stuff, I think Fay Grim is quite good and underrated, though not great. But along with many, I find No Such Thing pretty problematic

But back to the superior 20th century work: I've always found the lack of appreciation for The Book of Life to be mystifying. Not only is it arguably his best film, but the scene of PJ Harvey singing To Sir With Love ranks among my favorite moments in all of modern cinema. Reliably sends shivers up my spine no matter how many times I see the flick.

David Ehrenstein

Gus may "restore Norman's heterosexuality" but he gives us queers a great view of Viggo's naked ass -- with special attention to the butterfly tattoo just above his crack.

warren oates

@Lex, I appreciate the name suggestions, but I was kind of expecting something a bit more traditional from you? Aren't there any females in any of the films we're talking about that you want to oggle?

@James Keepnews, Jarmusch isn't really much of a storyteller at all. He doesn't care about narrative so much as he does about making moments. Which is fine, but not every collection of moments deserves to go on from 90 minutes or more.

Hartley's visual style is quite elegant, especially in some of those early features. It's heavily influenced by Bresson and late Godard. The dialogue is stylized but no more so than it is in, say, an older screwball comedy. But really, am I the only one other than TFB and Petey who's moved by the stories in the great HH films like TRUST and HENRY FOOL? Isn't that kind of the point of _narrative_ filmmaking?

I have seen MEANWHILE, which is available as a download and a DVD directly from his website. It's my favorite thing he's done since HENRY FOOL. A very good but not great return to form. And probably the best looking/best working video feature he's just made. (At around 60 minutes, it's a long pilot that got reworked into a short feature.)

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