This is a new series that we are inaugurating on a continuing basis here at Cinema Station… Now there are other movie blogs that already feature a recommended Movie of the Week so what makes us different? Or are we just imitating something that has already been done? Hopefully not. We’re going to be different because the titles we select will not be from the generally accepted canon of worthwhile or critically acclaimed films. In other words our selections will not have any discernible pedigree of any kind. They are the runts of the litter, the orphans, the rude children that just won’t behave or conform, the mavericks and the outlaws. So they will mostly be small, offbeat and often low budget works that caught our fancy or captivated our attention for one reason or another. A different way of putting it is to say that these are films that got made, released but somehow slipped through the cracks somewhere along the way and now reside in the dark abyss of obscurity. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. At least not here in the universe of Cinema Station. So hang with us, maybe you’ll find a gem or two among them.
Remember My Name (1978)
Whenever I ask any of the under 40 year old so-called film buffs that I know if they know who Alan Rudolph is I’m always confronted with a blank stare and a shake of the head. Yet Alan Rudolph, a protégé’ of Robert Altman has directed some 21 films since he started in 1978 and some of his films (most of which he also wrote) such as Choose Me (1984), Trouble in Mind (1985) and Love at Large (1990) were regarded as cult favorites in their time. Now all are pretty much forgotten. Yet I cling to the notion that several of his films, including the titles listed above need to be revived, re-viewed and reassessed because I think that there are some idiosyncratic gems among them. My favorite and my selection as the film of this week is the fourth film Mr. Rudolph directed Remember My Name (1978), a low key revenge thriller with a smashing performance by Geraldine Chaplin and a solid supporting performance by Tony Perkins (1932-1992). The rest of the cast includes a young Jeff Goldblum, a young Alfre Woodward and Moses Gunn (1929-1993) in one of the best roles of his career. Also in the cast is Tony Perkins’ real life wife Berry Berenson (1948-2001) who unfortunately wound up being one of the victims of the World Trade terrorist attack in 2001. She was on one of the planes that crashed into the building.
Alan Rudolph at that time created works of an independent stamp the likes of which we haven’t seen since he apparently went semi-mainstream with films like The Secret Life of Dentists (2002), Breakfast of Champions (1999) and Mortal Thoughts (1992). But with the titles mentioned previously Choose Me, Love at Large and Trouble in Mind he created worlds that took us into places we hadn’t been cinematically like Rain City in the latter. Places we enjoyed visiting and wanted to live in at least for a short time and characters we enjoyed meeting like cross dresser Devine in the same film. But I hold that Remember My Name and the earlier Welcome to LA (1976) represent his best work. With Remember My Name, besides presenting us with a left- handed approach to a story we’ve seen several times, he also throws us some curveballs with his characterizations and happily his actors cooperate with him fully. And Geraldine Chaplin, who was also in Welcome to LA, shapes a woman who has so many sides that we don’t know from moment-to moment how to take her. She appears at various times to be a lost child, an innocent among the “street smart”, a quiet but scheming lover (to Moses Gunn’s character), a vengeful stalker- with- a –cause, a sly thief, a wronged woman and perhaps a woman who’s quietly batshit in the way of Catherine Denevue’s Carol in Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) but not as deadly. Chaplin’s playing of the role carries the whole picture and we’re never ahead of her because her actions are always so unpredictable that we’re constantly scratching our heads as to why was she doing the things she does. But it all somehow makes sense as we get to know her. And we’re left with the feeling of pity and dread but also compassion for this very troubled individual.
Alan Rudolph liked to use music in his films. In Welcome to LA Richard Baskin’s music is virtually the centerpiece of all the comic and dramatic action. Here with Remember My Name he had the inspired idea to use the music of Blues singer/songwriter Alberta Hunter in the background almost as a sub-textual commentary to the action we’re seeing on screen, particularly to feelings that can’t be articulated but can be felt through music. It was during the time when these films were being made and released by Altman’s company Lion’s Gate, that I felt that American Independent cinema was finally coming into its own because we were seeing deeply felt work by solid filmmaking craftsmen like Alan Rudolph. The pleasurable experience of watching his films were akin to the ones I felt when I read low key literary works by people like Thomas McGuane or Barry Gifford. These guys were never on the bestseller lists but they were certainly individual masters at what they were doing. So was Alan Rudolph and to me Remember My Name stands out as the best of his work for the moment. But I’m not counting him out. He is still around and still making films. So who knows, his next idiosyncratic masterpiece might be just around the corner.