Alan Rudolph

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John Cope
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#1 Post by John Cope » Wed May 31, 2006 2:48 am

So what has become of the always dependable and fascinating Mr. Rudolph? Well, at the least he's become a whole lot less dependable. Oddly he has been quiet since his last picture which was probably also his most commercially successful, The Secret Lives of Dentists. As much as I enjoyed that film, though, it felt pretty middling to me--a kind of compromise after years of experimenting yielded dwindling results?

Consider the evidence. Obviously the apprentice years with Altman had an effect, though it most specifically led to one of Rudolph's least distinguished films, Welcome to LA. That felt like a dry run at best for his later work and one that left a sour taste in the mouth. A couple of workmanlike jobs later--including Roadie, his collaboration with Zalman King (!)--and we get a string of truly great films. Songwriter was wonderfully nuanced but had not yet achieved full bore Rudolph. But Choose Me revealed his unique eye and astonishing sensitivity. Trouble in Mind and The Moderns are, for me, the apex of his art--compassionate studies of characters wrapped in caricatures they themselves embrace. Those movies are distinguished by their artifice and Rudolph's understanding of how and what that accomplishes, both for his films and in the character's individual lives. The form and content are in perfect balance. This is very delicate business and one false move sends the whole thing tumbling down.

Made in Heaven did just that. I think it's pretty godawful actually but there are stories that this was not Rudolph's fault. In any event, he seemed hard pressed to reattain consistent balance after that. Mortal Thoughts is well crafted but soulless. Love at Large is a personal fave but admittedly falls way far from recognizable human behavior and may be too idiosyncratic for its own good. Equinox is the joker in the deck--perhaps his most challenging and difficult work but once again remote from accessible audience identification in ways the earlier stuff is not. Mrs. Parker feels like an appropriate move and is a confident, unhurried piece of work but I am uncertain whether it is great or merely a great collection of scenes. Having said all this Afterglow is his last mature and completely successful picture, a throwback to the concerns for form and balance evidenced ten years earlier. The less said about Breakfast of Champions the better--for me it's the nadir of his career but Rudolph himself passionately defends it; go figure. Trixie worked for me in a Love at Large kind of way but is tough to defend when challenged. I regret to say I still have not seen Investigating Sex despite many moments when I considered picking up the bootleg. I fear it may be a mess and that's probably why I'm avoiding it. Whatever the case, it was never officially released in the States.

And, finally, we're back to Secret Lives. Though there are touches here of Rudolph's visual panache and absurdist whimsy (the Dennis Leary character obviously), it still resonates as a disinterested picture. Yes, maybe it's just me who was disinterested but comparing the safe and conventional middle class concerns of this picture to the more expansive ones embodied in Rudolph's films about loners and losers, drifters and artists--in other words, societal fringe characters--can't help but make Secret Lives look tepid and lacking. I understand that the emotional reality here is meant to be more sublimated (hence the Leary character again) but I greatly miss the off kilter intensity of Carradine, Bujold or even Tom Berenger. The vibrancy of life is sapped out of this one in favor of something more routine and less stimulating. And where the hell is Rudolph's wonderful coterie of supporting players? Actors like Wallace Shawn, Kevin J. O'Connor and Gailard Sartain had a real flair for Rudolph's material and were clearly on the same wavelength. The sprinkled reappearance of this stock company is heartening to those of us who appreciate and value Rudolph's focus and clarity. The fact that most of these people have disappeared and the only really recurring performer as of late is Nick Nolte does not necessarily encourage a similar hope.

Maybe the fact that Secret Lives did so well critically and financially was dispiriting to Rudolph. I'd actually like to think it was.

iangj
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#2 Post by iangj » Wed May 31, 2006 4:26 am

John Cope wrote:Consider the evidence. Obviously the apprentice years with Altman had an effect, though it most specifically led to one of Rudolph's least distinguished films, Welcome to LA. That felt like a dry run at best for his later work and one that left a sour taste in the mouth. A couple of workmanlike jobs later--including Roadie, his collaboration with Zalman King (!)--and we get a string of truly great films.
I haven't seen it since the late seventies, but I always thought Remember My Name, the film he made after Welcome To L.A., one of Rudolph's best. Certainly nothing "workmanlike" about it, it revisits the classic Hollywood woman's melodrama through the prism of Altman/Cassevetes-inflected seventies realism.

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david hare
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#3 Post by david hare » Wed May 31, 2006 5:06 am

I have kept a copy of Remember my Name from a one-off TV screening a thousand years ago. I gather from a friend in NY the negs no longer exist!! Appalling. No-one seems to care.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#4 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Wed May 31, 2006 9:42 am

John Cope wrote:Mrs. Parker feels like an appropriate move and is a confident, unhurried piece of work but I am uncertain whether it is great or merely a great collection of scenes.
It's definitely my favorite Rudolph film even if it does feel like one big love letter to Altman (he was the producer after all) but the cast is chock full of talent and the screenplay is crammed with sharp, witty dialogue. I also really love the way Rudolph shot the movie. It is still Jennifer Jason Leigh's best performance, IMO.
The less said about Breakfast of Champions the better--for me it's the nadir of his career but Rudolph himself passionately defends it; go figure.
I like this movie for what it is -- a big ol' chaotic mess. Plus, how often do you get to see Nick Nolte running around in drag screaming "Maui! Maui!" Well, outside of his drug convictions, I suppose. :wink:

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#5 Post by David Ehrenstein » Wed May 31, 2006 11:18 am

I gather from a friend in NY the negs no longer exist!! Appalling. No-one seems to care.
WHAT?!!?!!!! Surely Rudolph must care. As far as I'm concerned it's his masterpiece. I was just talking about it the other day as it's the sole occasion on which Tony Perkins and Berry Berenson acted together. I'm sure their twin sons want this work preserved -- not to mention Geraldine Chaplin, as it's her greatest performance. (Alfre Woodard also scores a memorable early tunr in it -- and then there are those great Alberta Hunter songs!)

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John Cope
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#6 Post by John Cope » Wed May 31, 2006 12:41 pm

iangj wrote:I haven't seen it since the late seventies, but I always thought Remember My Name, the film he made after Welcome To L.A., one of Rudolph's best. Certainly nothing "workmanlike" about it.
Fair enough. You've revealed my secret blind spot. This is one Rudolph film I have yet to see. In all honesty I kept confusing the title with the Tom Hanks melodrama Every Time We Say Goodbye, God knows why.

Given the period in which he made this I guess I wasn't expecting much from it either. I assumed unfairly that Endangered Species with Robert Urich would be the presumptive highlight--which isn't to say it's very good but how often do you get to see a mystery about cattle mutilation? Oh, and Peter Coyote in yet another reliable turn as a slimeball government official. Nobody does insinuating like Coyote!

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Jean-Luc Garbo
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#7 Post by Jean-Luc Garbo » Wed May 31, 2006 8:41 pm

Mrs. Parker started me on my love for Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Baumbach you lucky dog!) I'd love to see this film of Rudolph's get on DVD.

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John Cope
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#8 Post by John Cope » Wed May 31, 2006 10:26 pm

AMB wrote:Mrs. Parker started me on my love for Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Baumbach you lucky dog!) I'd love to see this film of Rudolph's get on DVD.
For those interested and able, I would highly recommend seeking out the laserdisc edition. There's a terrific commentary by Rudolph (certainly the best and most engaged of the ones he's done). Hopefully this will be ported over to DVD in time. However, the fact that The Moderns exists on DVD in only the most rudimentary form and that Trouble in Mind doesn't exist at all is very unfortunate and inspires little confidence.

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david hare
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#9 Post by david hare » Wed May 31, 2006 10:38 pm

David I'm waiting to hear back from old friend in NYC about his conversation with Rudolph a few years ago. R said either the negs were gone, or had faded to uselessness (the dreaded CRI stock?)

Certainly this and Choose Me are my fave Rudolphs.

filmfan
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#10 Post by filmfan » Thu Jun 01, 2006 4:23 am

ANY news on a dvd issue of "Welcome to LA" and his other "missing from DVD" films ???

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david hare
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#11 Post by david hare » Thu Jun 01, 2006 4:58 am

I dont know what the history is on Welcome to LA but both titles have been "missing" for years.

Remember my Name was a Lions Gate pic released through Columbia in the US, Of course it's Panavision (Tak Fujimoto no less) and the TV print I have is a shitty P&S.

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Fletch F. Fletch
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#12 Post by Fletch F. Fletch » Thu Jun 01, 2006 9:02 am

AMB wrote:Mrs. Parker started me on my love for Jennifer Jason Leigh. (Baumbach you lucky dog!) I'd love to see this film of Rudolph's get on DVD.
A bare bones edition was released in Canada briefly... But it may be unavailable now. You might find it on eBay. I snapped up a copy as soon as I heard. The quaility is pretty decent but there are zero extras which kinda sucks but it is just nice to have the movie on DVD.

Ted Todorov
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#13 Post by Ted Todorov » Thu Jun 01, 2006 11:21 am

John Cope wrote:... I regret to say I still have not seen Investigating Sex despite many moments when I considered picking up the bootleg. I fear it may be a mess and that's probably why I'm avoiding it. Whatever the case, it was never officially released in the States.
I saw at a Walter Reade screening and loved it. FWIW I liked it better than The Secret Lives of Dentists. I think that there is a R2 Spain DVD of Investigating Sex out there.

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John Cope
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#14 Post by John Cope » Wed Oct 04, 2006 2:36 am

Finally saw Investigating Sex on a Finnish DVD (!)--actually, this should be no great surprise given the convoluted production and financing history of this picture. It was a great joy to see as it represents Rudolph's distinctive tone and intentions far better than the more generic Secret Lives of Dentists. Using an almost incidental historical circumstance (in this case an attempt by a collection of Surrealist artists in 1929 to document their thoughts on all matters pertaining to sex), Rudolph appends his own specific set of interests and inclinations. He uses the Surrealists pseudo-study as a way to remark on his favorite topics: pretence and emotional authenticity. Having just seen Black Dahlia as well, it was remarkable to venture into Rudolph's more assured and cohesive stylistic territory, where artifice is explored and penetrated but remains unrelinquished as a means of expression and communication (this is not to say that I disliked the De Palma film--I did not; the fact that its disparate parts and its supremely self-conscious aesthetics do not cohere or synthesize into a unified whole of rational understanding seems part of De Palma's intentions, his radical, confrontational design).

Beyond all this, Investigating Sex is also a model of widescreen photography. Rudolph's understanding of composition and framing often go unremarked upon but here these qualities are undeniably in abundance, really encouraging an inspection of what goes on within the frame as everything constantly informs and enforces everything else. It's a particularly careful vision of the effects of movement, gesture and the synchronization of actors. I realize that Altman is perhaps most known for this but I don't often feel the same level of import and forceful urgency in his images (a recent exception being The Company for probably obvious reasons); a better, more apt comparison would probably be late Tati--perhaps very appropriately, given the ostensible subject matter of Rudolph's film.

As Rudolph's continued absence becomes more and more vexing with time (consternation evoked in a not dissimilar way to the prolonged Malickesque absence of Michael Cimino), it is more profitable and appropriate to look upon this film as a cap to his career rather than the chronologically later Dentists. As satisfying as that movie is, its examination of suburban, domestic malaise feels wan next to the expansive emotional richness on display here. And as good as Campbell Scott is as a settled professional harboring midlife doubts, Dermot Mulroney in IS is more of a true, traditional Rudolph hero. He shows a vulnerability and romantic longing under Rudolph's tutelage (both here and, to a lesser extent in Trixie) which he has never tapped as freely otherwise, in his more recognized roles. And he continues in a long line of actors (best exemplified by Keith Carradine) who transcend callowness and embody Rudolph's idea of real masculinity--a combination of virility and sincere sensitivity with an inability to easily find a comfortable balance (though the end of The Moderns suggests he has found it, the end of Choose Me emphasizes its fleeting quality). Anyway, the culmination of this particular Investigation yields no conclusive answers as the very effort is presented as defiantly at odds with the irreducible complexities of human desire. This is especially notable as the methodology behind the "study" is not a "scientific" one but rather a supposedly more expansive, visionary one. The film itself acts as a very funny, very wise corrective; one in which Rudolph explicitly acknowledges that the affection for artifice and our attraction to it is often as much a way to avoid the possible traumas of real feeling as it is a means of extolling its great virtue.

(Oh, and forgive me for so many parenthetical observations--I just got carried away!)

Daliah Lavi
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Alan Rudolph

#15 Post by Daliah Lavi » Mon Sep 17, 2007 8:17 am

Am I alone in longing for digital presentations of some of his best work?

Although extra less His '84 opus to singles trawling bars for love in Choose Me sits proudly on my dvd shelf.
As does his slightly lesser The Moderns courtesy of MGM.

However I'd dearly love Remember My Name, Welcome to LA with the always watchable Vivica Lindfors, and Made In Heaven.

How about it Criterion....

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#16 Post by David Ehrenstein » Mon Sep 17, 2007 8:48 am

I'm especially fond of Remember My Name -- his neo-Rivettian noir with Geraldine Chaplin at her very best, songs by Alberta Hunter, a vision of L.A. quite different from that of any other film, and for the one and only time Anthony Perkins and Berry Berenson were together.

I am sure this film is especially treasured by their children. (Berry Berenson was in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.)

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NABOB OF NOWHERE
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#17 Post by NABOB OF NOWHERE » Mon Sep 17, 2007 12:05 pm

And I still treasure my old supersized Warner VHS of Trouble in Mind featuring Divine in man drag and the amazing ever expanding pompadour of Carradine.

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Barmy
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#18 Post by Barmy » Mon Sep 17, 2007 12:42 pm

One of the best, and most underrated, American directors.

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david hare
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#19 Post by david hare » Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:37 pm

Although extra less His '84 opus to singles trawling bars for love in Choose Me sits proudly on my dvd shelf
Where on earth did you find a DVD of CHoose Me? I have to rely on a perfectly dreadful P&S VHS from ancient TV. Ditto Remember my Name.

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#20 Post by Daliah Lavi » Mon Sep 17, 2007 5:41 pm

In the UK we've had a PAL full screen edition for several years now, which I soon traded in for this region 1, 16x9 beauty, The Moderns is also available from MGM in R1 land. And how could I have forgotten Trouble in Mind!

You know while I'm at it, I'd be very grateful for Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean...

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david hare
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#21 Post by david hare » Sun Oct 07, 2007 1:49 am

There was and probably still is a R4 DVD of Jimmy Dean.

On your rec. I bought the MGM Choose Me. It's not bad, given MGM, but the disc doesn't quite capture the lushness of the theatrical image (and it's less than a 4 gig transfer.) The shots of Rae Dawn Chong lying on a bed of pink satin used to be mind blowing. But grateful for the headsup.

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#22 Post by Daliah Lavi » Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:53 am

None of my Australian dvd suppliers have have heard of a Jimmy Dean dvd. There's a full screen bootleg doing the rounds, which I'd never touch as this was IIRC a scope film.

It's a shame Choose Me isn't as lush as the theatrical prints you remember. Way back in 1985 I watched it 8 days in a row during it's UK theatrical run at a cinema I worked for. But it's been so long I don't remember any differences in colour myself.

Perhaps Criterion would step up to the table with a Rudolph box set... :D

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david hare
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#23 Post by david hare » Sun Oct 07, 2007 5:27 pm

We can dream! Unfortunately, Rudolph himself told a friend just a couple of years ago in NYC he understood the negative for Remember My Name was either lost or had perished!

My brain may be disintegrating but I could swear I rented out Jimmy Dean at some point in the last seven years. Lemme get back to you on it.

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#24 Post by Forrest Taft » Mon Oct 08, 2007 5:19 pm

davidhare wrote:There was and probably still is a R4 DVD of Jimmy Dean.

Perhaps you´re thinking of The Delinquents? There is a R4 DVD of that one as well as That Cold Day in the Park. Bought the latter and it´s the worst looking DVD in my collection. I had to turn off after 5 minutes.

Speaking of Rudolph, I read Breakfast of Champions the other day, and went straight to the world wide web and ordered the DVD along with Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. So far I´ve only seen Breakfast of Champions, and though there were some enjoyable parts it was mainly a chore to get through. Robert Altman was supposed to make this in the 70s with Peter Falk, Alice Cooper, Sterling Hayden and Ruth Gordon. Too bad Dino De Laurentiis backed out.

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John Cope
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#25 Post by John Cope » Sat Jan 12, 2008 5:10 pm

Felt obligated to bump this thread as I just found out that Rudolph's great early 00's film Investigating Sex (see above) only recently got a region 1 release under the absurd title Intimate Affairs, which, as Nathan Rabin points out, sounds like it should star Shannon Tweed. Anyway, this is certainly Rudolph's finest film in the years since Afterglow and deserves much wider recognition. I hope it starts to receive that now. On a side note, despite the fact that the Amazon specs list this as 1.78 it was most definitely shot 2.35 and I would assume the listing is therefore a typo. I will check it out though and amend this post accordingly if it turns out to not be.

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