Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Cinema of Despair


The other week I got to see the movie "Factotum" starring Matt Dillon, and Lili Taylor. It’s based on the writings of Charles Bukowski. Bukowski work was published through self-publications that the author did or published by the underground magazines and press of the time. The movie is based on one of Bukowskia’s books called “Factotum”. The word factotum is an old word, which means “a person with many responsibilities, and/or a general servant. The movie depicts Matt Dillon’s character Henry Chinaski a drifter of sorts who had many jobs & who battled the bottle also. The movie is a character study, and the characters that inhabit the world of Henry Chinaski are very interesting. I have always liked Lili Taylor as an actress. She doesn’t do anything halfway. She immerses herself into any role she plays. I first noticed Ms Taylor in the film “I shot Andy Warhol” where she plays Valerie Jean Solanas. She was great as Lisa Kimmel Fisher is the HBO’s series “Six Feet Under”. I could go on, but why bother. When you put two good actors together like Taylor & Dillon you’re going to have something special develop. This is in no small part due to the director who is Norwegian filmmaker Bent Hamer. This is Mr. Hammer’s second American film I believe. Hamer made a film entitled "Kitchen Stories" in 2003. Hamer’s style in Factotum seems laid back and he lets the actors get into their characters. It is these characters that propel the story forward.

Norwegian cinematographer John Christian Rosenland, FNF paints an interesting world that the character Henry Chinaski inhabits. The glow of a strip bar with it’s muted colors, and smoke seems to transport the viewer into a reality where bright colors don’t exsist. Shot in more then 50 practical locations in 24 days both Bent & Rosenland create the feeling of despair that hangs over the film throughout it’s 94 minutes. I am told that the filmmakers enjoyed a leisurely prep period. Four weeks on location, and six months on & off in Norway before shooting. I’ve always said on low budget films planning ahead in pre-production is a key to an uneventful shoot, and this film is an example of that.

The cinematography of the film makes the skid-row milieu look beautiful. The acting, the cinematography, the set decoration, all comes together to create a world of despair and beauty. Rarely do films come together as they do here. I really liked this film and was glad I could catch it in the theaters. The next day it was gone, and so if the film does hit your part of town catch it the first week since it seems to be in limited release. The theater here held it for a second week and I was so glad I got to catch the film.

I think what also helped this film was that the lead, Matt Dillon, is a fan of the writers, and he understood the character he had to play intimately. I would be remiss here to not also mention Marisa Tomeia's character Laura that Matt Dillon hooks up with briefly. In the few scenes that Ms Tomei is in she nails her part, and transforms into Laura, seamlessly. It is a credit to her acting prowess and the fine direction Hammer provides. Adrienne Shelly a staple of a lot of Hal Hartley movies makes an appearance here to as Jerry too. The cast contributes to this film and without them this film would not be as half as good as it is.

The film also resonates with a simple truth, and that truth is about creativity. Bukowski's writting in essence tells us don't do anything half assed. Go all the way. As a writer Bukowski never got the recognition he deserved, and was largly dismissed by the publishing field, yet that did not stop him. He had to write so he did, and now with all of his work published he is now considered a great author and in the class of such notables as Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, and Carlos Williams. In some English departments Bukowski has become an unavioidable part of any discussion of post-war American literature. His writting shows us the depth of his despair, and yet he transended it, and now makes his name among America's greatest writers. If that's not a powerful statement about human creativity I don't know what is.

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