Jim Jarmusch and Steven Soderberg get a lot of the credit for the birth of independent American cinema in the '90s, but an auteur often overlooked during this period is affable beanstalk Hal Hartley. Utilizing a very stylized, dead-pan, quirky and theatrical manner of dialogue and acting (i.e., not the way real people talk at all), Hartley's films inspired and people like Kevin Smith and Kevin Williamson. While the indie filmmaker has never really achieved any major mainstream success, his quirky and original stories (like "Amateur," "Simple Men" and "Surviving Desire") have gained him a very loyal and devout following.
Hartley's upcoming film "Fay Grim" is the 10-years later sequel to what many consider his last great film 1997's, "Henry Fool." An espionage thriller of sorts (albeit likely very quirky and personal as Hartley's films are), the film stars Parker Posey as the eponymous Grim who is coerced by a CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) to try and locate notebooks that belonged to her fugitive ex-husband (Henry Fool's Thomas Jay Ryan) containing secrets that could compromise U.S. security. The search brings her to Paris and the intrigue and existential hilarity likely ensues. 'Grim' premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2006 and will get a regular theatrical release in July.
One of the semi-peculiar things about Hartley's film was the mysterious man Ned Rifle who composed all the scores to his films. Turns out Rifle was the pseudonym Hartley used to record his soundtracks (often on a 4-track cassette recorder and sometimes with the aide of friend Phillip Reed).
Matthew: I respect and admire you.
Maria: Is that love?
Matthew: No, that's respect and admiration.
- Hal Hartley's Trust
Music, has always been a elemental part of Hartley's films. In fact, the "Amateur" CD might be the original indie-rock soundtrack. Year before there were hip, dime-a-dozen indie-rock soundtracks, shilling out b-sides no one really wanted, Hartley was utilizing classic album tracks by My Bloody Valentine ("Only Shallow"), Pavement ("Here") Liz Phair, Red Red Meat and PJ Harvey. Earlier films like "Simple Men" used Sonic Youth (see video below) and Hartley-favorites, Yo La Tengo.
Hartley took the music thing even further when he cast PJ Harvey as the lead in 1999's not-well-seen "The Book of Life"
What happened to Hartley's career after Henry Fool? Many, many fans of his (myself included) universally felt that the quality of his films and subject matters took a major nosedive. This fantastic New York article basically asked the same question. (In fact some of his movies, like 2005's "The Girl from Monday" came and went faster than you could say "screening in limited release.")
But aside from perhaps failing his fans, the worst thing he ever did was beget Kevin Smith (who once said he unfortunately started making movies because of Hal Hartley; in fact Hartley is thanked in the ending credits of "Clerks" -- Smith's world being the dumbed-down Jersey-fied version of Hartley's literate and stylized one.)
Hartley received some weird and unfortunate mainstream press late last year when one of his regular acting troupe members, Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered in November.
Download: Ned Rifle - "End Credits - Simple Men"
Download: Yo La Tengo - "Some Kinda Fatigue" (Simple Men)
Download: Ether - "Rou Des Jours" (Surviving Desire)
Download: Ned Rifle - "Cue #32 - Simple Men"
We must say, the "Fay Grim" Trailer looks like a full-on comeback for Hartley.
I Can't Stand The Quiet
Hartley's "Simple Men" dance-party homage to Jean-Luc Godard's "Band of Outsiders" (only with Sonic Youth's "Kool Thing") was always one of my favorite film moments.
Here's the original scene from: Jean-Luc Godard's "Bande à part"