Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alan Rudolph

Alan Rudolph, Toronto, Sept. 1994

ALAN RUDOLPH IS ANOTHER DIRECTOR WHOSE CAREER WAS ONLY POSSIBLE in the long second golden age of American movies that started in the early '70s and lasted as long as foreign films, art houses and independent film producers thrived together in an ecosystem that no longer exists. His career followed the usual trajectory - an apprenticeship in television (assistant director on The Brady Bunch) followed by a pair of low budget horror thrillers (one of which he would disown) and a period working under Robert Altman, with whom he's inevitably compared.

His career as a director began in earnest with Welcome To L.A. in 1976, the sort of film with which I'd always associate him - a simmering, off-kilter drama where the characters strive for some fervent, often picturesque sexual congress that's ultimately unsatisfying. They were very adult films, starring sexy older women like Leslie Anne Warren (the thinking man's Susan Sarandon) and regulars like Keith Carradine playing a character that it would be very easy to mistake for Rudolph's alter ego, though probably with little accuracy.

Alan Rudolph, Toronto, Sept. 1994

I shot Rudolph when he came to the film festival to promote Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh as writer Dorothy Parker. It was clearly destined for the cover, as I ran colour slide as well as black and white through my Rolleis. I liked placing my subjects on a table top when I could - another rip off/homage to Irving Penn - and was clearly drawn to the single spot of interesting light by the hotel room window, which I staged into a corner (another Penn homage) by draping the heavy curtain over a floor lamp but leaving the sheer curtain drawn to soften the light.

I shot the colour rolls with a fill flash in an umbrella to just barely overpower the window light, but turned it off for the black and white shots, striving for a bit more mood. Rudolph seemed something of a sophisticate to me - his latest film was about the Algonquin Circle, and he'd made an earlier film, The Moderns, set in the Paris art world in the '20s - so I tried to encourage a world-weary look from him, with results that ranged from cool appraisal to bored regard.

Alan Rudolph, Toronto, Sept. 1994

Rudolph actually had a more varied career than I remembered - I didn't know he'd directed Roadie, a vehicle for singer Meat Loaf, and had forgotten all about Return Engagement, his documentary about a lecture tour/debate featuring Timothy Leary and G. Gordon Liddy. I always considered his films just a bit more adult than I was prepared for when they were released - an impression helped by the not-quite-softcore-but-almost trailer for Choose Me - so I tended to see them on a delay of a few years. Mrs. Parker was probably the first Rudolph film I felt ready to see when it was released.

Alan Rudolph's last film was released in 2002, and he hasn't found a refuge in cable television like so many other directors whose careers thrived from the '70s to the '90s. He seemed to have left the movies for painting, but last year he shot Ray Meets Helen, starring Carradine and Sondra Locke. A Variety article from a year ago describes it as a story whose characters are "stalled in mid-life, beset by profound material challenges and haunted by their failed potential in happier times. Each undergo a reversal of fortune, affording them unanticipated opportunities at self re-invention. So when their paths eventually cross, each is beguiled by the other’s altered persona..." Which sounds like an Alan Rudolph film.

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