Home Of Pure Retro Movie Love.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gods Of Cinema: Hal Hartley

Long Island bred Hal Hartley brought his "quirky" brand of comedy to the independent film scene in 1989 with THE UNBELIEVABLE TRUTH. Audiences and critics alike found a new voice with his stylized dialogue and penchants for zany philosophizing. Through the first half of the 90's Hartley churned out a good amount of films, each one better than the one before. He was crafting an alternate reality of modern day New York filled with complex characters always on the brink of crisis. And they were funny. Bitingly so. Hartley's films brought a unique sensibility to the growingly tiresome independent film scene of the time (how many films about guys with tempers and guns can one really care about, anyway?) Hal maintained his intelligence in each and managed to have some sort of undercurrent of satire throughout all. His films were in their own world, but they commented on ours as well. It's also worth noting that Hartley himself often composed the distinct scores for his films. Usually under the pseudonym Ned Rifle. The films of Hal Hartley, when looked upon in reflection, for the majority still hold up. But, I still have my favorites. They are in no specific order: Looking back I must say TRUST is my favorite. Adrienne Shelly's performance is so unique and oddly touching that I get caught up in it's wacky little Long Island love story every time. 1994's AMATEUR is probably the oddest of the bunch, but a real favorite. Isabelle Huppert's nymphomaniac nun role defies all sorts of logic and yet she remains so captivating. Hartley really knows how to direct his leading ladies. Late into the 90's as the indie film scene seemed virtually deceased, Hartley switched technical gears and went the Digital Video route. This gave him a freer hand to make the kinds of films he wanted with tiny budgets and without having to resort to a studio's incessant need to churn out hits with compromised visions. This I must say is supremely admirable. Still, with some exceptions, I feel his films weren't as satisfying as they once were. 1998's HENRY FOOL captured glimmers of once was so great about Hartley's pictures, but I couldn't get around the lead performance by Thomas Jay Ryan enough for me to care about it. Parker Posey was amazing, as usual, but I much prefer Hartley's FOOL follow-up, FAY GRIM (2006) with Posey front and center in the title role. 2001's little-seen warped fable NO SUCH THING for me was the return of Hal Hartley. See it! Currently Hal's working on an Omni-Bus film with other great talents like Atom Egoyan and Julio Medem, but I anxiously await a return to his solo filmmaking projects. Until then, i'll re-watch TRUST or SIMPLE MEN to get a fix. CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON DVD films by Hal Hartley: Possible Films: The Short Works Of Hal Hartley (1994-04 - MicroCinema) Simple Men (1992 - New Line/Image) Henry Fool (1998 - Sony) No Such Thing (2001 - MGM) The Girl From Monday (2005 - Arts Alliance) Fay Grim (2006 - Magnolia) OUT OF PRINT on DVD: The Unbelievable Truth (1989 - Anchor Bay) Surviving Desire (with Theory Of Achievement and Ambition) (1991 - Fox Lorber) Amateur (1994 - Sony) The Book Of Life (1998 - Fox Lorber) NEVER BEEN AVAILABLE BEFORE ON DVD: Trust (1990) Flirt (1993-5)

4 comments:

The Warfreak said...

I love Hartley's films. We'll have to disagree on Henry Fool, though, because it is my favorite. Simple Men is a close second.

Cinema Du Meep said...

Actually you aren't the first person who's told me that Henry Fool is their favorite of his. I really wish I could enjoy it despite that lead actor. Something about him really put me off that picture. James Urbaniak on the other hand was a great addition to the Hartley flock.

Amanda By Night said...

I loved both Henry Fool and Fay Grim. Even though I'm not a huge Parker Posey fan, she was amazing in those movies and looked absolutely stunning in Fay Grim (and a bit like Adrienne Barbeau but with straight hair!).

I think Surviving Desire is my favorite movie, with maybe Simple Men coming in second. It's hard to pick. There's something really magical about Hartley's films. I can't put my finger on it and would hate to have to actually review one of them. They almost defy words. They're just wonderful.

J.D. said...

SIMPLE MEN is my fave Hartley film, if only for that great scene where the cast dance to "Kool Thing" by Sonic Youth. Oh man, that is just a great bit. After AMATEUR, I started to lose interest in Hartley's film but I really need to watch some of 'em.

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