Friday, March 11, 2011

The Films of Mark Rapapport Get a Week's Exposure at NYC's Anthology Film Archives

What fun it is to view a filmmaker's work, starting with his earliest output and moving toward the more recent. Of course it helps to have a filmmaker of whom you're fond, and I suspect Mark Rapapport, shown at right, fills that bill for many of us. Thanks to the Anthology Film Archives week-long retrospective that begins today, we can revisit his work, from early films to later, seeing his growth in both his choice of subject matter and as a filmmaker who is learning new techniques and how to use them. Always interes-ting and experimental, Rapapport has grown more assured over time. Since 1973, he's made eleven films, both narratives and documentaries, some short, most full-length. While his narratives are unlike those of any other filmmaker (they make you work, as you piece together their meanings), his most famous are the three docs that deal with the "outsider": Rock Hudson, Jean Seberg and, in his most recent film (The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender, from 1997), gays in cinema. (You can find the entire AFA Rapapport program here.)

All cinema is about how we look at things (even if some filmmakers don't seem to be much aware of how they are looking at things) and Rapapport's are no exception.  But his connections are usually odd and often playful. He'll pull you up short, even if, in the beginning, at least, he took his time doing it. In his first film, Casual Relations (shown above, from 1973), we know we're in the 70s because the guys have longer hair than the girls. The question How much can one do with so few resources? may come to mind as you view this 80-minute movie, which seems to delight in repetition, some of which is surely unnecessary (even the title cards are on screen for three times the necessary length). Yet the visuals are usually interesting (a girl's face morphs/blends into leopard skin), and the juxtaposition of topics -- stag films, Hollywood melodramas and vampires -- is not your everyday bump-up.

The nearly two-hour Local Color, from 1977, proves a much more ambitious piece. Its opening offers various icy, arctic seascapes, followed by a scene at the opera and the beginnings of... plot! But your eye will most likely be drawn more to the interesting art on the walls than to the people present. This is because most of the actors "intone" rather than simply talk, as does the best of the bunch, Randy Danson (not shown above), whom I don't think I have ever seen quite so young. This lovely legitimate-theater actress (who's done some film and TV) makes her moments real rather than melodramatic or empty and so pulls us into things in a manner different from most of her fellow actors. (Though this may not be what Rapapport actually wants. In his press/program notes, he speaks of this film as being "melodrama stripped bare, drained of the heavy breathing we associate with soap opera.") Whatever, this is another odd and original film, alternately grabbing and snooze-inducing.

Rock Hudson's Home Movies (63 minutes, 1992) posits an alternate universe in which an actor (one-timer Eric Farr, foreground) stands in for (and often next to) the screen image of Rock Hudson (shown in background), as we watch snippets from Rock's old movies, but with our up-to-date understanding of the actor's homosexuality. (Closeted during his long career; Hudson died of AIDS in 1985). Rapapport smartly offers scene after scene that, during the actor's career, went by without audiences giving them a second thought. With our current understanding, however, they resonate in an entirely different manner. After awhile, however, all the nudge, nudge/wink, wink grows suspect. Couldn't you do the same thing with the clips from any actor (or actress), gay or not, and have your audience wondering?  Of course. And I think Rapapport knows this, too, and so has built in a critique of his critique, at the same time making the closet seem an awfully sad place to have spent your entire career.

The surprise treat for me among all these films is one I had not previously seen: Exterior Night (36 minutes, 1993, which begins with the narrator watching an old film noir on his TV, exclaiming, "The Damned Don't Dance: one of his best books, ruined!" He then lifts the blinds on the window, and boom, we're in a black-and-white film noir world. Here Rapapport mixes color with black-and-white in delightful, gorgeous ways, as we follow three generations of men in the family who both play detective and write detective novels.  There's a femme fatale, of course (The Chartreuse Chanteuse, another of those  great titles), and plenty of nearly- steamy sex and psychology, dreams and movies, father and sons (and gram-pa, too)-- plus that fine actor David Patrick Kelly.  Whatever you do, don't miss this one.

For my money, Rapapport's most ambitious work, From the Journals of Jean Seberg uses actress Mary Beth Hurt (above, left) to portray Ms Seberg (above, right) and lead us into her sad, fractured but involving life, as she relives much of it, addressing the audience with a frankness that one suspects Seberg herself possessed and which may have been among  her strongest attributes. Layer after layer is both applied and uncovered here, and the end result is a movie that implicates us all -- the men in her life, personal and professional; us viewers, always ravenous for gossip; and herself.

There's plenty more in this fine series, and you can find it all at this link.  For directions to AFA, click here.

(All photos courtesy of Anthology Film Archives, 
except that of Mr. Rapapport, which I cribbed from his 
--and other Mark Rapapports-- images link, on the web.)

No comments: