Friday, May 04, 2018

the reappearance of alan rudolph

A film titled ”Ray Meets Helen,” opening today in a few theaters scattered across the country and On Demand, is the first movie made in 15 years by Alan Rudolph who, for me, remains "the youngest auteur of the 1970s."

His last feature, released in 2002, was "The Secret Lives of Dentists," starring indie faves Hope Davis and Campbell Scott. Remember them?

The '70s - the New Wave in American Cinema - was a glorious time for independent filmmakers who happened to work for the major studios. Woody Allen was already an established figure in the movement which also included Hal Ashby (my favorite), Paul Mazursky, Bob Rafelson and, still defiantly working on the fringe of the system, John Cassavetes.

Then there was Robert Altman, who was completely unto himself - and who, because his age at the time of his success, was The Old Man of the Youth Movement. Rudolph, due largely to his status as Altman's protégé, became something of a New Wave footnote. Before that, Rudolph directed two horror films (and who didn't start out that way?) - "Premonition" (1972) and "Nightmare Circus" (1974, aka "The Barn of the Naked Dead").

Under Altman's guidance, Rudolph came into his own in 1976 with the very sophisticated "Welcome to L.A.," which starred a lot of Altman regulars. Billed as a "new-style musical," its narrative was inspired by a music suite composed by Richard Baskin who, not coincidentally, was involved (both as actor and musician) in Altman's "Nashville" from the year before.

"Welcome to L.A," is now mostly remembered for its great poster art. (Click on poster to enlarge.)

For his follow-ups, Rudolph alternated, rather bracingly, between indie films and commercial studio titles, all of them very good. On the commercial side, there were the affable "Roadie" (1980), starring Meat Loaf and Kaki Hunter, "Endangered Species" (1982) with Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, and "Songwriter" (1984), with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. And his specialty films were even better - "Remember My Name" (1978) with Geraldine Chaplin and Anthony Perkins, "Choose Me" (1984) with Geneviève Bujold, Lesley Ann Warren and Keith Carradine, and "Trouble in Mind" (1986) with Carradine, Kristofferson and Lori Singer.

Just writing these titles and names makes me nostalgic for that film era.

In 1987, Rudolph made the charming "Made in Heaven," which paired Kelly McGillis and Timothy Hutton (and also paired Hutton with his then-wife Debra Winger who played her role, and quite convincingly, in male drag).

And then there were some fine films in the late 1980s that came in under the radar ("The Moderns," "Equinox" and "Love at Large") and are still barely remembered. In the 1990s, Rudolph directed Bruce Willis in two titles - "Mortal Thoughts" (1991), co-starring Demi Moore and Glenne Headly, and an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions" (1999), co-starring Nick Nolte, Albert Finney, Barbara Hershey and Headly.

Nolte also starred in three other films for Rudolph - "Afterglow" (1997), opposite Julie Christie; "Trixie" (2000) with Emily Watson and Dermot Mulroney, and "Intimate Affairs" (2001, aka ”Investigating Sex”), with Mulroney, Neve Campbell, July Delpy, Robin Tunney and ... Tuesday Weld!

This is a fascinating, eclectic filmmography, in some ways much more interesting than Altman's. Arguably, of course. Rudolph's most accomplished feature, something very Altmanesque in feel, is 1994's "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," with a commanding Jennifer Jason Leigh as writer Dorothy Parker, hosting - with glib wit - the legendary Algonquin Round Table (whose members included Robert Benchley, Alexander Woolcott, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Robert E. Sherwood, Heywood Broun and Charles McArthur, among others). (Click on poster to enlarge.)

And what I've appreciated about Rudolph are his astute casting and particularly his eye for singular actresses - the aforementioned Geraldine Chaplin, Geneviève Bujold, Lesley Ann Warren, Kaki Hunter, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuesday Weld, Glenne Headly, Debra Winger, Emily Watson, Lori Singer, Neve Campbell, Julie Delpy, Barbara Hershey, Robin Tunney, JoBeth Williams, Kelly McGillis and Hope Davis, as well as Elizabeth Perkins & Anne Archer ("Love at Large"), Lara Flynn Boyle ("Equinox"), Linda Fiorentino ("The Moderns") and all those other actresses in "Mrs. Parker" - Lili Taylor, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Beals, Heather Graham and Martha Plimpton.

For his new film, "Ray Meets Helen" (review by Jeannette Catsoulis of The New York Times here), he brings the much-missed Sondra Locke back to the screen, teaming her with a favored collaborator, Keith Carradine. Samantha Mathis and Jennifer Tilly are also on-board, along with Keith David. I anticipate seeing it. Eagerly. And I'm looking forward to a filmic sensibility that the now 75-year-old Rudolph patented four decades ago when he was "the youngest auteur of the 1970s." In my mind, he still is.

And, oh yeah, he's no footnote.

Note in Passing: "Remember My Name" was filmed in Memphis - and Columbia Pictures, which released the film for Robert Altman's Lions Gate, held the press junket there, with Rudolph, Altman,
Geraldine Chaplin, Tony Perkins, Berry Berenson (Perkins' wife, who was also in the film) and singer Alberta Hunter (who provided the songs on the film's soundtrack) all in attendance. When ace publicist Mike Kaplan and Chaplin were about to leave for the airport afterwards, they offered me a ride. We stopped off first at A. Schwab's General Store on Beale St. to do a little shopping. On our way to the airport, our driver was involved in an automobile accident, stranding us on a highway.

A passerby stopped and drove us all to the airport. Junkets usually aren't memorable; this one, however, clearly was. 

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(from top) 

~Alan Rudolph, circa 1994

~Rudolph, the young auteur

~Poster art for "Welcom to L.A." 
~Lions Gate Films - 1976©

~ Poster art for "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle"
~Fine Line Films - 1994©

~Vintage pictures of the exterior and interior of A. Schwab's in Memphis


Gary Goldstein said...

"Welcome to L.A." is still one of my favorite '70s films, great cast and music and criminally underseen. I actually found a copy of the full film awhile back on YouTube!

joe baltake said...

Gary- It's one of my favorites, too, and I still have my one-sheet poster. There was initial interest in the film when it was released but since then, both it and Rudolph have been, as you astutely put it, criminally underseen

Tracy said...

I agree with you about Rudolph's eye for actresses. In my opinion, Geraldine Chaplin gave her best performance under his direction in "Remember My Name," and ditto for Geneviève Bujold and Lesley Ann Warren in the provocative "Choose Me." They both were rarely better.

Paul Gottlieb said...

Joe- Some trivia for you: Alan Rudolph is the son of Oscar Rudolph who was a very productive TV director during the 1960s and '70s. I remember always seeing his name on the credits for "The Brady Bunch" and "Love - American Style."

joe baltake said...

Paul- Wow! Thanks for sharing. Great stuff. -J

Melinda R said...

This story brings back many happy memories of his past movies. Can't wait to see this new one! Thank you for sharing.

Alex said...

Joe, I'm so happy that you mentioned "Roadie" and Kaki Hunter in particular. I remember her only from that film and "Porky's" and always wondered what happened to her. She was such an original, idiosyncratic actress. Anyway, your piece on Alan Rudolph makes me want to track down "Roadie" and watch it again. Thanks.

mh said...


Wasn't INTIMATE AFFAIRS/INVESTIGATING SEX tied up in some kind of litigation for many years, and then after the litigation was concluded, wasn't it given just a "token" release by the distribution company that had acquired it? I seem to remember that, as well as the fact that certain distribution companies which "owned" INTIMATE AFFAIRS/INVESTIGATING SEX went "bankrupt," further delaying that film's release.

Regarding the new Rudolph film, it is playing NOWHERE in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is "supposed" to be a "hot" market to release films. And it seems to me that more and more films, from prestigious directors and with quality casts, are being "swept under the rug" and never see a THEATER "light of day."



joe baltake said...

You are indeed correct, Marvin, "Intimate Affairs"/"Investigating Sex" did have distribution issues due to financing, which I alluded to in my review of "Investigating Sex" (for which I provide a link in my Rudolph piece). -J

kiki said...

I love your columns. The Alan Rudolph brought me to tears because it made me remember all the choices we had when he first started making films. If you didn't like French Connection, you could walk into Five Easy Pieces and if you didn't like that . . . well, there was always a Stavisky you wouldn't like either.

Ken Abramson said...

Attention Cinema Gods: Cancel any thought of Adam Sandler retrospectives or boxed blue-ray sets. Legal entanglements be dammed. Get Rudolph's films back in circulation again.

joe baltake said...

Count me in, Ken!

wwolfe said...

I was surprised when I realized that I've seen, and enjoyed, nearly all of Rudolph's films. Choose Me, The Moderns, and Mrs. Parker stand out for me among his more personal films, but I have to admit that I love Songwriter, too. If nothing else, the last one has one of my favorite dialogue exchanges ever, when the pretentious road manager lets loose a weighty quote, citing Camus as the source, to which a groupie responds, "Is the Camus the Jungle Boy?"

joe baltake said...

I love Rudolph's personal films, too, but I'm still a sucker for "Roadie."