Cinema Station

Picture of the Week: Remember My Name (1978)

May 8, 2012
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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.

-GE.

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Henry Bean and Two Good Crime Pictures

August 17, 2010
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Henry Bean

Before Pulp Fiction made extinct the kind of slick crime pictures of the 80’s (though Michael Mann continues to chew on their remnants in digital form), Hollywood produced two very good ones: Internal Affairs (1990) and Deep Cover (1992).  They both happened to have been written by Henry Bean. Though now, Bean has turned to independent dramas and a focus on directing, I aim to salute the crime writing of his past.

Internal Affairs

“How many cops you know, huh? Got nothing. Divorced, alcoholic, kids won’t talk to them anymore, can’t get it up. Sitting there in their little apartments, alone in the dark, playing lollipop with a service revolver?”
-Dennis Peck, played by Richard Gere

Internal Affairs, directed by Mike Figgis, stars Andy Garcia and Richard Gere. They both play cops: Garcia the internal affairs Latin do-gooder, Gere the excellent-cop with four ex-wives and his hands in drug and prostitute money. These forces collide in Bean’s screenplay, a seedy L.A. tale full of sex and deception. The character he builds in Dennis Peck is a ruthless villain as attractive as he is repulsive; he’s funny and sadistic and Gere owes screenwriter Bean his best role ever.

Still playing in the world of straightforward storytelling, what seems so refreshing in Bean’s creation is the relationships: Garcia’s lesbian partner, their interplay as well as growing affection for each other, the pathetic William Baldwin and his beat-up-not-so-innocent wife, Garcia and his wife, her sexuality tortured and ignored while he works too hard, ripe for someone like the animal that Gere plays to come in and take advantage.

There is a great scene in the last half of the picture where a fellow criminal comes home to find Gere screwing his wife. Gere smiles and unapologetically moves around the scene of the incident, the wife (a stiff European-type) is embarrassed but turned-on.  The husband says, “I could kill you,” speaking to either of them or both.  Gere throws him a gun and taunts him to shoot “the tramp”. The gun goes off. We don’t know who’s been shot. Suddenly Gere says, “That’s my foot.”

Henry Bean created something in Internal Affairs that will always linger with me, a kind of simple, hard crime picture I wish still got made.  Specifically, he constructed in Dennis Peck a character that will revel in the bliss of evil forever, even if only in my imagination.

As a side note, Figgis’ work on this film should not be ignored.  I admire him for the later, more experimental direction he took his career. But Figgis will always be Stormy Monday, Internal Affairs, and Leaving Las Vegas to me. If it was the 1940’s and I was the head of Warner, I’d confine him to the world of noir.

Deep Cover

“This is the greatest night of my life. Terrible, terrible, but great.”
-David Jason, played by Jeff Goldblum

With Deep Cover, Bean spins a drug yarn.  Honest cop Lawrence Fishburne gets recruited to go undercover.  His goal is to work his way from the bottom to the top of a narcotics ring.  Along the way he meets a dealer/businessman played by Jeff Goldblum.  Like the Garcia/Gere relationship, this is the highlight of the film, different than the other but equally complex.

Fishburne, solid, under-appreciated and misused as he often is, plays the least interesting character of the two: he gets lost in the world of crime, sees the hypocrisy of the law, and falls for a woman on the wrong side.  He is the arch but not the spice of Bean’s screenplay.

At the beginning of the film, Goldblum is just a businessman stuck in a world of rich thugs. But, in the film’s best scene, he transitions into a true criminal. When they discover that their ultra-violent boss is actually a police informant, Fishburne and Goldblum end up stuck in a limo with him in a car chase from several squad cars. I won’t say anymore; you can watch the scene.

By the end of the film, it’s hard to tell whether I want Goldblum to die or not. After the turn, he grows more and more sadistic, but his evil is too much fun to watch. Again what seems fresh in Bean’s work is not the originality of the plot but the interactions and depths of the characters.

What Henry Bean so clearly provided in these two cop classics was the opportunity for good actors to take on great roles.  Never have either Goldblum or Gere been better and it is the duality of attraction and repulsion that Bean breathed into the script that allowed them to exist.

-TM