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Investigating sex


In the libertine bohemian circles of New England at the end of the 1920’s, wealthy mentor Faldo assembles a circle of young men intent upon a curious goal: Purely academically, they intend to discuss sex, openly and without taboos. Two young stenographers- Alice and Zoe -are enlisted to record these frank and sexually charged discussions, but as the sessions progress and the group decides to allow other women into their tightly knit circle, the lines between professional and personal interests soon blur. What ensues is a series of amusing romantic entanglements far beyond the scope of the original group’s intentions.

The son of director Oscar Rudolph, writer-director Alan Rudolph followed in the footsteps of mentor Robert Altman, embracing a similar kind of ensemble picture while pursuing his own personal, less satiric, more human vision. Despised by mainstream Hollywood, he has managed to stay true to his idiosyncratic muse and remain in the game despite never having had a breakthrough commercial success. Rudolph’s dialogue has a snappy, flirtatious quality, and his distinctive “pan-and-zoom” style allows audiences to experience performances that are not built from cut to cut. It is not unusual for a Rudolph film to contain four or five shots that are as long as six or seven minutes, unheard of in this era of high-tech editing. Actors who like working with him because he lets them get into real-life rhythms wave their usual salaries, enabling him to adhere to ridiculously low budgets, and he frequently reteams with his talent, knowing that subsequent collaborations will only be richer.

Growing up around the film industry, Rudolph made a screen appearance in his father’s “The Rocket Man” (1954), a campy fantasy co-scripted by comedian Lenny Bruce. He would later quit college to continue learning about filmmaking by watching studio people work and considers his days at his father’s side his version of film school. He did eventually enter the Directors Guild training program for assistant directors, drawing inspiration from TV directors Joseph Sargent and Leo Penn before meeting Altman. By 1970, Rudolph had made several short films set to rock-and-roll hits—an early indication of his concern with musical themes and desire to use music as an inspirational element for his screenplays. Following his virtually forgotten (until its appearance on video) first feature, the pretentious horror flick “Premonition” (1972), he worked as an assistant director on three Altman films: “The Long Goodbye” (1973), “California Split” (1974) and “Nashville” (1975). He also co-wrote the script for Altman’s “Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson” (1976), and Altman, in turn, produced Rudolph’s first “official” feature, “Welcome to L.A.” (1976).

“Welcome to L.A.” boasted a name cast thanks to Altman’s involvement, including Keith Carradine, Sally Kellerman and Geraldine Chaplin, among others, and offered an ironic view of laid-back L.A. hustling, though its dark sensibility was not appreciated in all quarters. In his second film, “Remember My Name” (1978), which he still considered his finest as of 1994, Rudolph gave Chaplin full rein to create an enigmatic character study of a woman released from prison to haunt the man who has abandoned her. The director also underlined the film’s sense of menace with a soundtrack featuring celebrated blues singer Alberta Hunter. His first work-for-hire, “Roadie” (1980), a look at life on the road for pop performers, abandoned laid-back stylishness for funky, chaotic comedy and marked the beginning of Rudolph’s long association with producer Carolyn Pfeiffer. Though he had received acclaim early on as an important new ‘auteur’, the studio behind his second work-for-hire, the political thriller “Endangered Species” (1982), remained unimpressed, locking him out of the editing room during the film’s post-production. The resulting impersonal quality would repeat itself in his subsequent forays as hired-gun on “Songwriter” (1984) and “Made in Heaven” (1987).

The provocative and bizarre “Return Engagement” (1983), a documentary of the debates between 60s counterculture guru Dr Timothy Leary and Watergate conspirator G Gordon Liddy, helped Rudolph acquire financing for his next “personal” film, “Choose Me” (1984). Inspired by soul singer Teddy Pendergrass’ song of the same name, it moodily mused on the convoluted romantic entanglements of a bar owner and her lovelorn patrons, including a radio talk show hostess called Dr Love, and was his biggest (big being a relative term here) hit to that time. By his next film, “Trouble in Mind” (1985), Rudolph had gathered a following dedicated to his meditations on love and loneliness in peculiar settings, this time a town called Rain City in an unspecified dystopian future. The Rudolph brew had also come to mean cryptic performances by, typically, Chaplin, Carradine and Genevieve Bujold, and a whimsical absurdity that could sometimes sabotage narrative flow. 1990’s “Love at Large”, starring Tom Berenger, Elizabeth Perkins and Anne Archer, despite its appealing mix of parody and sobriety, suffered from this problem to some extent, while his follow-up, “Mortal Thoughts” (1991), could have used more of it.

“The Moderns” (1988) marked the realization of a long-cherished project, a story of an American artist in 1920s Paris who witnesses the transformation of “art” into a commodity. The film deftly satirized an era of art history and high culture whose reputation has enjoyed great reverence. It mixed fictional characters with historical figures such as Gertrude Stein, who sums up Rudolph’s approach in one line: “I’m not interested in the abnormal; the normal is so much more simply complicated.” He again tackled material close to his heart in “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle” (1994), creating a finely tuned tribute to the celebrated writers and artists that comprised the legendary Algonquin Round Table of the 1920s. Dismissing the notion that the two are companion pieces, Rudolph told DGA News (October-November 1994): “‘The Moderns’ was intentionally a dream movie, there was no reality . . . [‘Mrs. Parker’] is the first time I made a film based on a reality other than my own invented one.” Altman rejoined him as producer on the high-profile project, and noteworthy performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh as celebrated wit Dorothy Parker and Campbell Scott as humorist Robert Benchley elicited positive buzz, if mixed reviews. Its poor performance at the box office, however, reduced Rudolph’s stock around Hollywood to a career nadir.

Expert at making Montreal stand in for Paris and New York in his previous two films, Rudolph let it be itself for “Afterglow” (1997), a look at marriage and infidelity most similar to the director’s “Choose Me” in its noirish meditation on loneliness and the elusiveness of love. The “unwashed soap opera” is an alternately giddy and sorrowful fable (Nick Nolte’s character’s name is Lucky Mann) about two married couples whose lives intersect with a shuffling of partners. By the end, there’s a hint the original couples may be reunited, but Rudolph, ever the master of the ambiguous ending, is loathe to wrap things up neatly. Having adapted Kurt Vonnegut’s “Breakfast of Champions” for Altman during the middle 70s, he was finally able to make the 1999 film himself with the help of Bruce Willis, who came aboard as Dwayne Hoover, the successful car salesman who underneath the bright smile and slick threads is falling apart. Though Rudolph would seem an ideal choice for the material, his failure to capture the satiric spirit of the book seemed to reinforce the notion it was unfilmable, with only Nolte’s juicy turn as a paranoid lingerie-lover rising to the required comic level. Nolte was back as the pompous Senator Avery in Rudolph’s slapstick gangster pic “Trixie” (2000), which starred Emily Watson as the titular security guard who earnestly tackles a murder case with dreams of glory.
Date Added: 04/24/2013 by Bondo
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