Thursday, July 29, 2010

Four Rooms (1995)

I rewatched this because of my recent Quentin Tarantino project, but of course it wasn't his deal alone. It's an omnibus, somewhat reminiscent of the much-ballyhooed (if you were around to remember it) New York Stories of a few years prior. Like that, it seemed to want to function as a sort of thumbnail guide to the sensibilities of the leading film lights of a certain generation, or at least a certain scene, although of course it came much earlier in the careers of its principals than did New York Stories. Partly for that reason, it's more effective. It was the first I knew of Allison Anders and Richard Rodriguez, and it's still the only thing I know of Alexandre Rockwell. ...Anders I still need to seek out more of, since Grace of My Heart is the only other thing I've seen; Rodriguez I may like even better than Tarantino. Certainly I concur with the consensus that his segment here is the best of the four. "Did they misbehave?"

Tarantino's segment, "The Man From Hollywood," isn't the best of the four. I think I've said that. But it is a fitting conclusion to the movie. I like how it brings back Jennifer Beals: it helps emphasize the subtle (and nonsensical) connections between the four episodes in a way that really does help them add up to a whole film, at least for me. More than that, though, she's a very intriguing presence in this segment, evoking classic femmes fatales even better than she does in her own segment.

"The Man From Hollywood" is all about intriguing presences, textures, rhythms, details. The plot is completely simple - as the characters acknowledge, it's based on an old TV show, but without even the twist that the TV show had. The twist is that there is no twist, and it's a very effective payoff. You know, it's all about will they cut the guy's finger off, and, surprise: they do. The End. Really funny, actually. But it's funny because all the odd details - Beals, Bruce Willis, the business about the champagne, the patter about the Alfred Hitchcock show, the setup with the cash - have you on the lookout for something weird, something hidden, something besides just the obvious ending. (It's also funny because of the timing: you know, you just know, that they're going to keep building the suspense through nine shots with the lighter.) In its own way, the ending is just as good a punchline as "Did they misbehave?"

(Which tells you what kind of filmmakers Tarantino and Rodriguez were, and are, that for all their experiments with tone and subject matter, they never neglect to give you a good punchline.)

Of course there's something else to watch here, too, which is Tarantino's character, which is - has to be - some kind of parody of himself in the first rush of Hollywood stardom following Pulp Fiction. Chester Rush clearly has something, but he's also clearly losing himself in excess and ego. He's already so jaded that he's resorting to bloodshed for thrills, he's so lost in his own obsessions that he's recreating obscure old TV shows in his own life, he's utterly blind to the power differential that his new wealth creates between him and his friend: I don't know and don't particularly care if any of this was true about QT himself, but it certainly captures a certain kind of mythical Hollywood decadence that one could believe QT was now in a position to experience, and that from his movies one could imagine him enjoying very much.

So, Four Rooms is minor Tarantino, but well done.

It's major Robert Rodriguez, though.

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