Monday, March 15, 2010

cinema obscura: Hillary Brougher's "Stephanie Daley" (2006) surfaces! (under an alias)


I'm not exactly sure "Stephanie Daley" qualifies as Cinema Obscura, at least not directly, but this curious little film acutely defines why the Independent Filmmaking Scene, onces so vital and promising, has become every bit as demoralizing as the studio assembly lines.

First, an admission: I haven't seen it. I wanted to. My appetite was certainly whetted by the bits and pieces of information about it that managed to creep out of the overcrowded film-festival ghetto.

Of the three hundred or so titles that routinely play Sundance and Toronto (and are there really that many festival-worthy films?), this is one of the few of the past few years that attracted my attention, largely because of the muted excitement over the performances of its female stars.

Although "Stephanie Daley" has surfaced on DVD, its theatrical life was aborted. It didn't play in the Philadelphia area, which is where I live. Seeing it would have meant going to New York and going there within the cramped one-week period which it played. It also played in Los Angeles and probably in San Francisco and maybe Boston. But I figure that if the film couldn't make it to Philly, it really didn't get very far. (The movie recently had a one-day revival on 5 March at New York's 92Y Tribeca.)

And, frankly, finding a local store that stocks esoteric DVD titles only exacerbates the problem of geeting to see such movies. It ain't easy.

Apparently, both Amber Tamblyn, a major young star still waiting to happen, and the always reliable Tilda Swinton turned in award-worthy performances but let's face it: When a film with a good or great performance is barely released, it's like acting in a vacuum.

Tamblyn's "Stephanie Daley" is the kind of film whose most potent performances are seen only in private screening rooms or in the rarefied, often surreal, very solipsistic world of film festivals.

Directed by Hillary Brougher, "Stephanie Daley" sounds like a tough piece, with Tamblyn as a 16-year old who hid her pregnancy, lost her baby and is accused of murdering it. The initmitably creepy Swinton, always an acting powerhouse, plays the pregnant officer investigating the situation and apparently not in an entirely detached way.

The New Yorker's Richard Brody offered an enticing tumbnail analysis of the film when it played New York back in April of 2007.

Sounds like my kind of movie. Maybe I'll find it. Someday. Somewhere.

Wait! Brougher's film will show up on the Lifetime cable channel at 5 p.m. on 27 March but with a new title - "What She Knew." Hopefully, the 92-minute film will be shown intact, but it's unlikely. Ah, well...

7 comments:

Donna Lacey said...

You said it all. Too many films, too little time. It's a shame that movies like these slip through the cracks.

Jimmy Jazz said...

This film played Chicago. I don't think it was quite as mishandled as you think. And frankly, you're dead wrong about films like this being harder to find these days--the exact opposite is true, thanks to services like Netflix.

joe baltake said...

Jimmy- Thanks for the heads up. Yes, I know about Netflix, but I was talking about the film's theatrical life. -J

Brian said...

I'm stunned that a major city like Philly doesn't have a reliably well-stocked video outlet.

wwolfe said...

Tamblyn was similarly disserved by ABC in its handling of her recent TV series, "The Unusuals." It makes no sense that a network would pay salaries for several recognizable actors (Adam Goldberg, Harold Perrinau from "Lost," and Tamblyn herself), invest in the costs of making a one-hour drama on location in New York, and then dump the results with little advertising as a mid-season replacement. But that's what happened with this show, one which certainly broke no new ground in setting (battle-weary big city cops), but was nevertheless enjoyable due to good acting and intelligent writing. I wonder if ABC wound up kicking itself a little when the male lead, Jeremy Renner, wound up getting a Best Actor nomination for "The Hurt Locker." I'd definitely like to see "Stephanie Daley," having been intrigued by it when I read the good review in the LA Times. And having then been frustrated by never actually seeing it listed at any local theater.

joe baltake said...

Well, now you can catch it on Lifetime, albeit under a different title.

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