Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Critical Reactions #12 (Paris, Texas)

PARIS, TEXAS was, along with TESS, the best reviewed film of Nastassja's career. Today it is, for the most part, viewed as a bona fide classic so it is a bit surprising to see that there were some negative and mixed reviews. For the most part though it was extremely well received, and Nastassja garnered some of the best notices of her career. Here are some positive, mixed and negative looks at the film ranging from when it was first released up until today.

"...a visual essay on loneliness and the yearning for love...featuring deeply felt performances...a powerfully affecting work charged with more visual and dramatic brilliance than any dozen of Hollywood's current concoctions."
-David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor-

"mindless travesty"
-Richard Linnett, Cineaste-

"a deeply affecting film...haunting...there is no way to deny the power of Shepard's writing or the extraordinary duet between Stanton and Kinski...a Kinski we have not seen before-powerful, simple, deeply moving..."
-Shelia Benson, LA Times-

"moribund...some great performances...nothing can fully disguise the nullity at the heart of Shepard's vision...Kinski works hard at it...KInski's back is a sight to behold, better than most people's fronts..."
-Daphne Merkin, New Leader-

"Kinski has added Texan to her accents...there are powerful, humorous, loving 'moments'...
-John Coleman, New Statesman-

"Shepard and Wenders make an unfortunate team...may be hip, but it is also boring...
-David Denby, New York-

"Kinski is electrifying, with a robust assurance she's never before shown."
-David Ansen, Newsweek-

"Moments of understated truth and beauty are undercut by the contrived relationships and overall flatness."
-Michael Musto, Saturday Review-

"As powerfully schizoid as its title."
-Richard Corliss, Time-

"A long coast downhill...Kinski is so unlikely, she might be the sister from another planet..."
-J. Hoberman, Village Voice-

"Kinski's part is relatively small but she handles it sensitively enough...perhaps only a foreigner could sense the Americanness of this material and convey it so hauntingly."
-Howard Kissel, Women's Wear Daily-

"The great achievement of Paris, Texas is the way that it so thoroughly demonstrates how one can regress to a point where direct communication becomes impossible. This is a movie is filled with arresting observations about the ways that emotions contradict each other...."
-Jeremy Heilman, Movie Martyr-

"It is a story of the United States, a grim portrait of a land where people like Travis and Jane cannot put down roots, a story of a sprawling, powerful, richly endowed land where people can get desperately lost."

"A MASTERPIECE about the agony of lost love, broken families and displaced children. Its imagery evoking the alienating strangeness of the American landscape and its story probing the fantasies of a peep show world."
-Sunday Age-

"One of the great films of recent years."
-The Observer-

"...PARIS, TEXAS is refined arthouse cinema...It's indeed a beautiful film....Some images are positively breathtaking..."
-Holl, Variety-

"moments of serene, unearthly beauty."
-Sam Adams, Entertainment Weekly-

"One of Wenders's most painful and poetic films..."
-Glenn Kenny, Premiere-

"The Texas setting evokes thoughts of the Western, but this movie is not for the desert and against the city; it is about a journey which leads from one to the other and ends in a form of happiness...Then there are the miracles of the performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Hunter Carson (the son of Karen Black and L.M. "Kit" Carson). Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir, with his lean face and hungry eyes, and here he creates a sad poetry. Kinski, a German, perfects the flat, half-educated accent of a Texas girl who married a "raggedy" older man for reasons no doubt involving a hard childhood. Young Carson, debating relativity and the origin of the universe, then asking even harder questions such as "why did she leave us?" has that ability some child actors have, of presenting truth without decoration. We care so much for their family, framed lonely and unsure, within a great emptiness."
-Roger Ebert re-reviewing the film in 2002- Full review available here.

"This is a defiantly individual film, about loss and loneliness and eccentricity. We haven't met the characters before in a dozen other films. To some people, that can be disconcerting; I've actually read reviews of "Paris, Texas" complaining because the man in the desert is German, and that another character is French. Is it written that the people in movies have to be Middle Americans, like refugees from a sitcom?
...a movie with the kind of passion and willingness to experiment that was more common fifteen years ago than it is now. It has more links with films like "Five Easy Pieces" and "Easy Rider" and "Midnight Cowboy," than with the slick arcade games that are the box-office winners of the 1980s. It is true, deep, and brilliant."
-Roger Ebert's original review- Full Version is available here.

"overly ambitious but at times compelling contemporary Western that debunks the John Ford "Old West" myth in The Searchers, or at least brings to it a more updated perception..."
-Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews-

"Influenced by the American western as much as anything, German filmmaker Wim Wenders sets out to remake the mythic vision of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) as a different kind of family story, reflecting the reality the director found when he set out to see what has become of the American West for himself. Harry Dean Stanton’s performance as the wandering Travis fleshes out an American archetype, and there’s a certain poetry to the way his face fills up one of these frames. Oddly, he’s cast opposite the very European Nastassja Kinski, playing Jane, the wife whose companionship he forfeited years ago."
-Bryant Frazer, Deep Focus-

"Epic but intimate, PARIS, TEXAS combines the European sensibility of director Wim Wenders with the expansive locations of the American West...Superbly scripted, the film features wonderful performances from all its major players. Equally brilliant, especially in a film that emphasizes script and character, is the cinematography by Robby Muller, perfectly capturing the notion of "America." A final factor in PARIS, TEXAS's success is the remarkably haunting score by blues musician Ry Cooder."
-TV Guide-

"Paris, Texas is a lengthy and quirky movie that is greatly enhanced by the evocative cinematography of Robby Muller and the sensitive music of Ry Cooder. Harry Dean Stanton excels in a role that finally taps into the talents of this incredibly expressive actor. The storyline, with its accent on the lost who are found and the surprise of selfless love, has a spiritual quality that seems well-suited to the desert setting of the film."
-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice-

"It's a superbly framed film. Every shot is art in itself. Every image is one you could frame. Every scene just rolls along. You find yourself being taken on a journey that leaves you just as confused and aimless as the characters within, and when all becomes clearer it seems like the natural progression. Harry Dean Stanton never can and never will find himself in a role that fits him as well as this one did. He is the wandering man and always will be. This was also Nastassja Kinski's follow-up after playing Susie The Bear in Hotel New Hampshire, so it's anyone's guess as to how her career ended up in the toilet after those two..
Paris, Texas is a masterpiece about the inability of humans to communicate. The characters almost never have a face-to-face conversation and while this is at once frustrating, it's also intriguing. The film took out the Golden Palm at Cannes, as well as a Golden Globe and BAFTA awards - why? Because it's damn good."
-Chris Parry, efilmcritic-

"Wenders' collaboration with writer Sam Shepard is a master-stroke, wholly beneficial to both talents; if Wenders' previous film, The State of Things, was on the very limits of possibility, this one, through its final scenes, pushes the frontier three steps forward into new and sublime territory."
-C.Pea, Time Out-

"...a hard-won miracle..."
Scott Tobias, avclub-

"One of the most preeminent American films of the 1980s...ranks among Wenders's best and most affecting works. A true intersection of Shepard's story of human alienation with Wenders's almost poetic vision of American physical and cultural landscape, the film is a wonderfully bittersweet story of hope that avoids the trappings of self-indulgent quirkiness and overwrought Hollywood sentimentality. This is cinema stripped to its barest form..."
-Dvd Verdict-

"...perfectly magical cinema."

" of those rare, magical films that says so much by saying very little...a film of regret, alienation and reconciliation. It is also a distinctly American film, in spite of it being made by one of Germany’s most celebrated directors."
-Evan Pulgino, Camera Eye-

"In the years since its release, Paris, Texas has become widely and deservedly regarded as a near perfect union between cinematography, direction and music, with Cooder's soundtrack dominating discussions of the film. Yet the film is more than a triumph of cinematic technique, for this union does not come at the expense of the actors. Harry Dean Stanton gives the performance of his career as shy but determined Travis, and Natassja Kinski almost steals the show with her portrayal of the beautiful, fragile Jane."
-Andy Gibson, Kamera-

"Nastassja Kinski sets the screen alight with her brief, scintillating, subtly-crafted performance as the loner's former lover."
-Douglas McCabe, Kamera-

"The film is perfectly cast, and while Stanton dominates the film, Dean Stockwell is also effective as the brother torn between love for his brother and fear that his return will mean that he and his wife may lose a child that they have raised as their own son. Hunter Carson is that rare thing – a good eight-year-old actor, while Nastassja Kinski is so beautiful that you truly believe that Travis could have been driven nuts with jealous desire. The ending is the probably the happiest possible outcome for these characters, and yet also desperately sad – it reminded me very much of the final moments of John Ford’s The Searchers. Paris, Texas is easily Wenders' best film, and a masterpiece of loss and regret."
-Daniel Auty, Spinning Image-

"Kinski does a more than passable Texas accent, and the film is a reminder that she wasn't just another pretty French face. She can act, too, and one wishes she'd been given more opportunities to do so."

PARIS, TEXAS is such an obvious masterpiece to me that it is surprising to see some of the more mixed reactions to it. Despite some of the initial doubters, PARIS, TEXAS is one of the definitive films of the eighties, and it has only grown in stature in the twenty three years since it was first released. My tribute to Wender's great film will continue in the next day or so.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Soundtrack #8: Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder)

Ry Cooder’s PARIS, TEXAS is one of the great memory albums. It is perfect for a late night of drinking while remembering someone you’ve lost. It is also equally fitting for the next foggy hung over morning when all you can think about is that you live in the past too much.
Not just one of the best soundtracks of the eighties, Cooder’s work for Wim Wender’s loneliest masterpiece is one of the essential albums of the period. Like Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis, the wounded traveler surveying the ruins of his life in Wender’s film, Cooder’s music is mysterious, haunting and crushing in just how genuine it is.
Produced and recorded by Cooder at the famed Ocean Way Recording studio in Los Angeles with the help of famed musicians Jim Dickinson and David Lindley, PARIS, TEXAS is a deceptively simple work that becomes more and more resonate and complex with each listen.

Cooder’s celebrated slide guitar work dominates the album, but it is the touches in the background that resonate long after the needle has lifted off the groove. Whispers of acoustic guitars, fiddles, voices and tinkling pianos appear throughout, all seeming to offer Cooder’s remarkably lonely sounding guitar some company. Like Travis in the film, there always seems to be something or someone just off in the distance offering help, or at the very least…some layer of solace in the solitude.
The Los Angeles born Cooder was born in the early part of 1947, and began to make a name for himself in the sixties with some guitar work for Taj Mahal. Later recordings with the legendary Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band helped push Cooder into the ranks of the most respected guitarists of the sixties. He soon found himself working with The Rolling Stones on some of their best late sixties work, and he began his influential solo career in the early part of the seventies.
Cooder has worked with everyone from Van Morrison to Van Dyke Parks, and his music has remained invigorating and necessary for over forty years now. PARIS, TEXAS is widely considered one of his great statements, and it has had several different releases worldwide since its first release in the mid eighties.
Jim Dickinson is one of rock’s most respected and influential players. He has been had his hand in everything from the Rolling Stones WILD HORSES to Big Star’s numbing THIRD/SISTER LOVERS masterpiece. Guitarist David Lindley has worked with Cooder many times, and his great fretwork can be heard on many recordings from artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Linda Ronstadt. The team of Cooder, Dickinson and Lindley on the PARIS, TEXAS sessions is an absolute dream, and all of them should be commended for their masterful playing.

The album itself is mostly made of short, but powerful instrumental pieces. There are two exceptions: one being a lovely traditional Spanish number called CANCION MIXTECA, and I KNEW THESE PEOPLE, featuring the famed Sam Shepard monologue that Stanton says to Nastassja Kinski towards the end of the film.
Cooder is credited as writer on all the tracks with the exception of the traditional number and the devastating final track, Blind Willie Johnson’s DARK WAS THE NIGHT. Cooder’s playing on this last song represents some of the finest slide guitar playing ever recorded. The sound of Cooder’s strong and bold hands working their way up and down the neck of his instrument is spine tingling stuff, and it is damn near impossible to shake.
PARIS, TEXAS is currently in print domestically and can be found fairly easily. However the most essential version is an out of print remastered version from England, which featured improved sound, photos and liner notes. It is the ideal one to find, but all versions are rewarding and essential.
Much like the performances of Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in Wender’s majestic film, the music that Ry Cooder recorded for it will live on as long as people still have the capacity to search their memories for something they have lost…and perhaps even to find it…

Nastassja On Ebay #9 (On The Set Of Cat People)

Here is a great rare shot from the set of CAT PEOPLE that just recently popped up on Ebay. I don't think I have seen this particular one before, so it seemed well worth posting here.

Robby Muller: Shooting Kinski Again

PARIS, TEXAS marked the second time that Nastassja was photographed by the legendary Robby Muller. My original article on Muller can be found here at this link, for those interested. PARIS, TEXAS marks a career high point for pretty much everyone working on it, and that is certainly true of Muller. His work on this film is extraordinary, and his films for Wenders remains some of the most iconic in the history of cinema.

More information on Muller can be found at the following links:
For basic information on his phenomenal career, please look at his IMDB listing.
Movie Express has a great 1993 interview with Muller where he speaks on PARIS, TEXAS as well as many of his other works.
Click here for information about a recent award Robby received from the Netherlands Film Festival.
Finally, BFI has another extraordinary interview with Muller that is a must read as well.

Paris, Texas On YouTube

There are several clips related to PARIS, TEXAS on YouTube. Here are two of the most interesting.
This first one is the original Japanese trailer, which is notable as it begins with footage of the film winning at the Cannes Film Festival.

The second is a fan made clip, with sections of the film set to Coldplay's EVERYTHING'S NOT LOST. It's very nicely done.

My posts on the film will begin shortly.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Paris, Texas: A Personal Introduction

PARIS, TEXAS is among a small handful of films that I typically name among my all time favorites. These include, among a few others, Bernardo Bertolucci's LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972), Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1975), John Alvidsen's ROCKY (1976), Kieslowski's THREE COLORS: RED (1994) and Mike Figgis' LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995).
Wim Wender's PARIS, TEXAS might very well be at the very top of my list, but it is hard to say. I can say that it is my favorite Nastassja Kinski film, which makes it particularly special to this blog. Unlike almost every other film I am covering here though, there is already a wealth of information on this very special film online. Before I began my postings on it, I wanted to give special mention to one of them.
While it has not been updated in a while, this incredible PARIS, TEXAS fan site, is an exhaustive tribute to the film, and I can hope to add little except my own thoughts concerning it here.

I will begin my own look at the film in the next day or so, but I urge everyone interested to visit the above link. It is one of the best film sites on the web.
Also, please visit Wim Wender's official site for more valuable information of one of Nastassja's greatest directors and the three films they made together.

PARIS, TEXAS is a film that means a great deal to me. I hope my upcoming posts on different aspects of it prove interesting.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Odds And Ends: The Hotel New Hampshire

" touched something deep...What is reality and what Susie sees about herself are two different things. Something melts inside Susie so she can take off the bear suit. This happened to me. There is a beauty about myself that I never saw, or I rejected, until recently."
-Nastassja Kinski in The Washington Post-

Outside of the above quote I have not been able to find Nastassja speaking on THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE. Essential though are the two interviews she did with her Co-Star Jodie Foster for Interview magazine around the time of the film's release. I would scan them here but unfortunately my copies are of poor quality and are not scanable.
The usual amount of press material can be found on the film, but I have been unable to find to many varying poster designs. It seems that the group shot, and the shot of the bear were the main ones used to market the film. I will post more in the future if I am able to track any down.
I think THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE is flawed but undervauled film, that deserves a second look. Like many films Nastassja made in this period, I don't think it warrented the critical pounding it took.
Nastassja would follow up THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE with PARIS, TEXAS and MARIA'S LOVERS, two of her greatest, and most well received films. My look at my favorite Nastassja Kinski film will begin shortly.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

14. The Hotel New Hampshire

Even though he was nearing sixty years old when he shot his adaptation of John Irving's THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, Tony Richardson's film feels very much like the work of a young man with all of the energy in the world at his disposal. That Richardson had intended to make two films, instead of just the one, from Irving's material shows even clearer that this was a director truly firing on all cylinders in 1984.
The British born Oscar winning Richardson is unquestionably one of the most important filmmakers who came out of the fifties. His finest work, including the likes of LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1958), THE LONELINESS OF A LONG DISTANCE RUNNER (1962), TOM JONES (1963), THE LOVED ONE (1963), and a brave production of HAMLET (1969) show Richardson as a man of great intelligence and seemingly unending talent.
Starting with NED KELLY in 1970, Richardson's productions seemed to lose their favor with the critical community that had embraced him in the sixties. This says more about the critics than Richardson though as films like A DELICATE BALANCE (1973), JOSEPH ANDREWS (1977) and THE BORDER (1982) are all really fascinating and valuable works. Richardson is often not given enough credit for the performances he is able to bring out of his actors, and yet that is something that is apparent in all of his films. Watch, for example, the subtle and restrained work that Richardson draws out of a post THE SHINING Jack Nicholson in THE BORDER to see this.

After the muted reception granted to THE BORDER, Richardson began planning his double film adaption of one of Irving's most complex works. THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, with its complex story lines, large cast of characters and near epic sweep, was thought to be un-adaptable but Irving himself praised Richardson's original scripts as brilliant. Unfortunately the studio finally balked at the two picture concept and forced Richardson to make just one film. Refusing to lose too much of Irving's witty original, Richardson created a final 110 minute film that is simultaneously brilliant, flawed, frustrating and inspiring. Had he been allowed to do what he originally planned, I believe the two part THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE would have been one of Tony Richardson's great works. As it is, it is one of his most imperfect but still overwhelmingly passionate films.
THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, a work centered on the most dysfunctional Berry family, features one of the greatest ensemble casts of the eighties. The core of the film belongs to a really wonderful Jodie Foster as the brilliant but troubled Frannie Berry, a handsome (and I think quite good) Rob Lowe as her brother John, and Beau Bridges as their ambitious dreamer of a father, Win. Also a part of the family are Paul McCrane, Lisa Banes, Jennifer Dundas and a young Seth Green. Throughout the film we meet a large variety of supporting players including most notably Wallace Shawn as a Mr. Freud and as the paralyzingly insecure Susie The Bear, played by Nastassja Kinski.

Working with talented cinematographer David Watkin, Tony Richardson made the huge feeling THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE on a relatively small budget in Canada in the fall of 1983. Things seemed troubled from the start as Richardson not only had to deal with merging two films into one, but he also was forced into shooting in some locations he didn't want, and he lost the corporation of the band he wanted to score part of the film, namely Queen (Whose KEEP PASSING THE OPEN WINDOWS was to play a key role in the film).
Everything seemed to work against Richardson, his crew and cast but they all persevered on. Many bonds were formed, including a close friendship between Jodie Foster and Nastassja Kinski, and some were broken but Richardson delivered his film on time, and it was set to go in the early part of 1984.
THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE is a slightly off putting film at first, as such it demands reviewings to truly fall under its spell. Certainly some of the subject matter, from rape to incest, is tricky to handle at best, but Richardson's film by design becomes more and more defined the more you watch it. With this in mind, it is easy to see why so many critics savaged it back in 1984 when it hit theaters.
The film is an absolute beauty to look at. Watkin's lovely photography is consistent throughout, and I can't imagine too many people having problems with that aspect of it. Richardson's direction has been called erratic here, but I think it is more a case of him embracing once again all of the power and invention that so defined much of the sixties when he was at the top of his game. Like a free jazz musician playing with time signatures and bending notes into something near alien, Richardson's direction of THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE is fresh, inventive, purposely sloppy at times, and never dull. It is the penultimate near great theatrical work by a very talented filmmaker, and it didn't deserve the savaging it got back in
The cast is quite extraordinary. Jodie Foster was at a weird transition point in her career but you can already see her developing into America's best actress. She is saucy, sad, funny, and very human in the part of Frannie. I like Rob Lowe a lot here too. He is forced to play kind of the calm at the center of a very electric storm, and his work is very centered, and very solid. The likes of Beau Bridges, Wallace Shawn, Matthew Modine, and Anita Morris seem incapable of giving weak performances and that is no different here, as they are all splendid..
The casting of Kinski in the role of Susie The Bear was much talked about, and it remains the most controversial of the film. In the book, the character was short, homely, and dirty. It was easy to see why she would be so insecure as to wear a bear suit to disguise her ugliness...but Nastassja Kinski? Why would Tony Richardson cast one of the most beautiful women in cinematic history in this part? That is a question that was asked a lot back in 1984, so I would like to offer up my own humble little answer.
What could be more devastatingly sad and tragic, than an unquestionable beautiful person so wrapped up with inner turmoil, self doubt and insecurities that she literally hides herself from the world behind a mask? Richardson had the idea, and I agree with him, that someone who was completely wrong about themselves would be much more effective than someone who was right. Susie The Bear in Richardson's film doesn't hide herself because she is ugly, she hides herself because she thinks she is ugly. There is a big, and profound, difference there.

I was recently accused of saying every film that Nastassja Kinski made was great, and this is simply not the case if you go back and read my reviews. However I do find her to be almost always exceptional, and her work as Susie The Bear is some of her best to my eyes. She is asked to do the impossible here, namely to make you believe that she thinks she is so hideous that she should hide inside a bear costume. Kinski delivers on this completely, and gives the most fragile but cutting work of her career. THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE opened up in the spring of 84 and disappeared soon after. John Irving noted it did better in Europe, but it has never found larger than a small cult following here in the States. The film is currently available on a sharp looking Widescreen DVD, with only the trailer as an extra. It is a rewarding, if at times gloriously frustrating, experience that gets better and better with each viewing. The great Tony Richardson would complete just one more theatrical picture in his life, the Jessica Lange film BLUE SKY, before passing away in the early nineties. While THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE isn't one of his greatest films, it is one of his most heartfelt and inventive. It occupies its own very special place in Richardson's important filmography...needless to say, it deserves another look

New Polls Feature

Blogger recently added a fun Poll option that I am starting to take advantage of. I have juts added two to the side that I invite everyone to take. Vote for as many favorites as you like. It will be interesting to see the results. I also have made them open for over a year, so we can just watch the tally build up.

I will continue to add more on her later films as the blog progresses. Thanks for the continuing support.

Soundtrack #7: The Hotel New Hampshire (Jacques Offenbach)

I have unfortunately never been able to track down the soundtrack of THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE so I can't really comment on it. I can say though that the music Tony Richardson chose for the film, by French composer Jacques Offenbach, is extraordinary so I can imagine the album is a very rewarding listen.
Apparently the lp is fairly rare here in the States. There are a few listings for it on Ebay, but that is all. Even the usually reliable soundtrack collector site has very little information on it. This small low quality shot of its cover is the only one I could find online as well.

I hope to get a copy of the album someday and post more thoughts on it. The music is lovely though, and Richardson uses it very well in his film.

Here are a couple of links connected to Offenbach and the soundtrack that might be of interest.

Wikipedia has a fairly detailed look at him, as well as some outside links.

And here is one of the Ebay listings that has some information on the soundtrack.

John Irving On The Film Version Of The Hotel New Hampshire

Here is a link to a fascinating essay by author John Irving on Tony Richardson's adaptation of his novel THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE. It's a fascinating read, and it is great to hear Irving's own honest reactions to the film. For the most part his thoughts are positive with some reservations. I don't agree with his comments on Nastassja's performance, but admire his candor, and he doesn't display any of the spite so many of the film critics of the day did.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Two Literary Looks At Richardson's The Hotel New Hampshire

I tracked down two interesting looks at the film courtesy of a 1985 article in "Literature In Film Quarterly" by Edward T. Jones, and the John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh edited "Novels Into Films".
Here are some of the interesting insights on Richardson's work that the two offered.

"The distinguishing motif in both the novel and the film is magical transformation, of life becoming art, presented with comic-elegiac tenderness, even innocence, in the midst of brutal action and language...Richardson retains Irving's structural design of the novel...more remarkably (he) keeps the novel's central metaphors in the much more literal texture of the film...Richardson retains at least some of Irving's literary allusion...Richardson has captured, albeit not perfectly, the contradictions and circularity of THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE by means which are his own and film's...(he) finds the symbols from the novel to represent both the art and life. Critics of the film seem to think that he should have transcended Irving's conditions and limitations. That Tony Richardson's invention does not presume beyond his literary source is curiously touching, and effect."

"Richardson's attempted to be both free and faithful to the story, in part he succeeded, to a degree not achieved, in many viewer's judgement, in George Roy Hill's more popular adaptation of Irving's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Richardson's large cast is extremely well chosen...Lowe's John was more often, and perhaps unfairly, criticized...since he has to play a realist in a family of dreamers and would-be artists...Critics were not kind to Richardson's film, but the director rendered fairly well the axiom of the novel's King of Mice: Life is serious but art is fun."
-Tibbetts + Welsh-

It was very nice to read some positive thoughts towards Richardson's flawed but interesting film. It made me feel not completely alone in my admiration for it.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

David Watkin: Shooting Kinski Again

THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE marked the first time Nastassja had worked with a cinematographer for a second time. My look at Academy Award winning director of photography David Watkin can be found here. This older article of mine has biographical information on Watkin, and notes on both films he shot with Nastassja, including THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nastassja On Ebay #8 (Japanese Photo Book)

One of those wonderful old Japanese photo books has appeared on Ebay. I have one of these on Sylvia Kristel and it is among my favorites in my collection. I wish I had the money right now to grab this one on Nastassja as it looks sublime. To view the listing and see many more photos, click here.
The shot above is the cover, and here is an inside pic I have never seen before.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Critical Reactions #11 (The Hotel New Hampshire)

Opening in the spring of 1984, THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE received mostly negative reactions critics and the public. It did find some support, and has since gone onto a have small cult following, but for the most part THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE has never been a critical or popular favorite.

Some of the critics, especially the older male ones, really had their knives out for the film, director Tony Richardson, and the young cast. Frankly the little respect I had left for critics like Vincent Canby and Rex Reed has vanished completely after reading their incredible rude and sexist comments concerning Jodie Foster's appearance. Canby wrote, "she had better watch those malteds between classes at Yale" while Rex Reed added, "Foster is pasty, pudgy and too asexual to attract gnats". Way to review the film at hand you self absorbed twits. Hadn't Jodie Foster been through enough in the early eighties without having these leering assholes passing as film critics writing stuff like this in major publications? It really makes me sick.
Here is a selection of quotes, positive and negative, actually related to the film on the screen.

"The movie looks great...Richardson demonstrates a good deal of skill in the way he successfully squeezes most of the Berry family adventures into a film of normal length...too many colorful characters tend to cancel one another out...the movie means to be trendy bit it is out of touch...Kinski is absolutely humorous as Susie The Bear...THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE is exhausting."
-Vincent Canby, New York Times-

"This macabre, whimsical, erotic, dark, seriocomic film is a complex tale about an eccentric family and the psychological and emotional maelstroms that follow them around from New England to New York to Vienna, where the Hotel New Hampshire is located. Writer-director Tony Richardson worked from the convoluted novel by John Irving that covers most universally saleable topics — homosexuality, death, incest, abandonment, Nazis, masochism, terrorists, rape, mental instability, and anarchists....Associated with the family is Suzie the Bear (Nastassja Kinski) who is not secure enough to come out of her bear suit. One friend of the family, Freud (Wallace Shawn), has been blinded by the Nazis and is running the Hotel New Hampshire in Vienna when he asks everyone to come and help him out. By this time, the plot has run out of room, and the climactic endings to several unresolved relationships happen in quick succession."
-All Movie Guide-

"Veers between brilliance and banality with an almost manic enthusiasm."
-Andrew Howe, EFilmCritic-

"THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE wants to be both charming; a fairy tale with wings of steel. It's engines roar but it doesn't fly."
-Jack Kroll, Newsweek-

"Notable mainly for its magnificent cast, The Hotel New Hampshire has garnered a healthy share of nasty reviews. This is perhaps because many of the issues dealt with in the movie were considered taboo back in the early eighties, but it’s rare that a movie actually gets better as it ages. While it’s not likely to break your back with laughter and it’s far from a great movie, fans of John Irving (or the myriad actors involved) could do a lot worse than giving this one a look."
-Scott Weinberg, Apollo Film-

"Richardson was obviously a brave man to adapt and direct this screen version of John Irving's ultra-whimsical 1981 novel, with serial hotelier Bridges eventually leading his family to Vienna in his quest for the perfect establishment...If it worked on the page, however, it's glassy and bewildering on screen, somehow contriving torpor from a catalogue of sensationalism and eccentricity. Irving ties the novel together with oft-repeated pat homilies on the human condition ('Keep passing the open windows'), but writer/director Richardson's aim for stylistic continuity through relentlessly jolly Offenbach arrangements on the soundtrack is an ultimately self-defeating gesture further distancing the viewer from the on-screen shenanigans."
-Time Out Film Guide-

"The film and cast rarely touch the earth, which makes it hard for them to touch a moviegoers heart."
-Richard Corliss, Time-

"The ensemble acting in this film is commendable, given the dramatic fireworks exploding in all directions...Everything in this domestic comedy about the Berry family is exaggerated — from its idiosyncratic characters to its zany incidents to its far-flung settings. Only the most adventuresome film goer will be able to look beyond the vulgar language and the strange antics on the screen to see the insightful messages about familial politics contained in the story."
-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice-

"sometimes irritating mixture of farce and insight into the human condition worked better on paper. As Bridges and his family pull together to establish the hotel they have always dreamed of, everything thinkable - and unthinkable - happens to them. A series of sexual adventures (or misadventures) sees Foster gang-raped, but she also gets to have sex with Kinski dressed in bear suit, in what must be her most bizarre role to date. A failed literary adaptation...still curiosity worth checking into."
-Channel 4 Film-

"A clumsy cartoon...Foster's smirking work is rivaled in unpleasantness only by Nastassja Kinski as a woman hiding in a bear costume."
-Howard Kissel, Women's Wear Daily-

"Too deliberately quirky, but always watchable."
-Ken Hanke, Mountain Express-

"As might be expected, Hotel really doesn't work onscreen, despite the best efforts of writer/director Tony Richardson, some of which pay off and some of which seriously miss the mark. The film's biggest failing is probably its inability to find a consistent tone (or to make its many tones mesh together harmoniously), although its disjointed narrative runs a close second. With so much going on in the film, there's not enough time to really explore the characters themselves, although the cast generally manages to fill in the blanks admirably."
-Craig Butler, MSN-

"The witless, amoral adaptation of John Irving's novel about a very strange family's adventures in New Hampshire, Vienna and New York City, which include gang rape, incest, and Kinski in a bear suit."

"Tony Richardson's adaptation of The Hotel New Hampshire proves that the unique qualities of John Irving's fiction are accessible in print and elusive on screen. (Not surprisingly, Irving's books were not truly successful as films until Irving himself adapted The Cider House Rules, although some viewers will prefer The World According to Garp.) Here, Richardson distills the essence of Irving but misses the author's dominant themes; the result is a film that follows Irving closely and understands its characters without ever giving them complete and coherent personalities. Without that essential ingredient, this film--about..."

"The Hotel New Hampshire” is a dreadfully long movie about a family as dysfunctional as any family can get. Adapted from John Irving’s novel, the film boasts the brains to be an intelligent drama with a touch of comedy, but the plot falls off the deep-end into tasteless, unjustifiable obscurity."
-Scott Spicciati, Aggressive Voice-

" The film develops a bitter, cynical sense of irony throughout. However, the final stages seem rushed, packed with incident but losing the tonal assurance of much of the first half and glossing over narrative developments in a kind of uncontrollably elliptical structure. Thus, the film gives the impression that finally it has slipped out of Richardson’s grasp and he is left with incidents in search of coherence. This protracted, episodic descent ultimately sinks the film. Nevertheless, as a piece of bitter whimsy, a vision of life’s perhaps inevitable disappointment and the burden of dreams, The Hotel New Hampshire is a genuine oddment to be treasured for its better moments. Befittingly, much of the film concerns intangible emotions and the imperative to somehow express them in relation to place and in the process make them tangible...Although the main characters are eccentric, the film is remarkable for the way it makes them seem almost normal, and the world around them the true abnormality – no wonder that in their world the forbidden and the dream is all that is left bar despair. In so charting their fleeting triumph, the film endorses them."

"The film's tone is sour...Kinski pulls the assignment...sweaty and tousled, she is actually quite good..."
-Sheila Benson, LA Times-

"The whole film is told in the style of a credit of the most faithful movie adaptations ever-faithful in both letter and spirit..."
-Richard Combs, Monthly Film Bulletin-

"...very funny...Foster is marvelous...generally well cast and performed...(but) great art this is far from."
-John Coleman, New Statesman-

"...disastrous...stupid, weightless and empty of meaning...what did Richardson become obsessed with? In this idiot's burlesque, the actors are not so much used as used up...Richardson packs too many sardines into the tin, the movie looks squeezed, shapeless, jumbled."
-David Denby, New York-

"Total disaster...a revolting exercise in cinematic diarrhea...sick, nauseating, humorless and ultimately pointless...Kinski has proven countless times before she can't act...nothing about THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE works on any level."
-Rex Reed, New York Post- (He didn't like the film)

"By virtue of its faithfulness to the source, Richardson's movie is two movies...Kinski is miscast...What's wrong with the Kinski character is what's wrong with the movie. In a movie what you see is what you get. It's literal. Saying she's ugly doesn't make her ugly."
-Joseph Gelmis, Newsday-

"A funny thing happened on my way to reviewing THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, I encountered some people who actually liked it! Why would, how could, anyone enjoy this botched mess, this shambles of a movie? Kinski, for once pleasantly at home in a wildly disorganized circus in which she does not have to labor in vain to make sense as a character...I would have had serious problems with THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE even if it had been a better movie...the wrong reasons for liking it (are) cultural snobbery, generational complacency, moral flabbiness, and the nihilism of convenience."
-Andrew Sarris, Village Voice-

As you can see, critical reaction was very much divided on THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, with it mostly veering towards the negative. I will be posting my own reactions to this very interesting film soon, as well as taking my usual look at other things connected with it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Odds and Ends: Unfaithfully Yours

The original version of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is available on a fine Criterion dvd. As for Nastassja's remake...everything from press books, to different poster designs, to crew jackets can be found. A soundtrack was unfortunately never released, but Stephen Bishop's theme song is pretty easy to find.

While not as brilliant as the original film, the remake of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS is a fine comedy from the eighties that is among the easiest of Nastassja's films to see. It is a shame that it didn't do better upon initial release, but thankfully it has always fared well on video.

I will begin my look at one of Nastassja's most resonate, and satisfying, films next...Tony Richardson's great THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Kinski on the Cover

Here is another rare magazine cover from the early eighties featuring a lovely shot of Nastassja I don't believe I have seen before.

13. Unfaithfully Yours (1984)

Few considered the original version of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS among Preston Sturgis' best films when it came out back in 1948, but by 1984 that had changed and it was considered a bona-fide classic. Just as CAT PEOPLE had suffered by comparison to its original film a few years earlier, Nastassja's second remake was hurt in the same way.
The updated version of UNFAITHFULLY YOURS has aged very well, and time has shown it to be one of the classiest and freshest comedies of the mid eighties. It was also a refreshingly adult work in a period dominated by John Hughes and the so called brat pack.
Director Howard Zieff was coming off a major comedy smash when he signed on for UNFAITHFULLY YOURS in 1983. His Goldie Hawn vehicle PRIVATE BENJAMIN had been a box office bonanza and had garnered much critical praise, so he seemed an ideal candidate to update Sturgis' great original film. The script Zieff was given to direct was credited to a Robert Klane and none other than future Oscar players Valerie Curtin and Barry Levinson.

The team of Curtin and Levinson had just come off the charming Burt Reynolds-Goldie Hawn romance, BEST FRIENDS (1982), when they were hired on to write UNFAITHFULLY YOURS. Levinson's directorial career had kicked into high gear in 1982 with his great DINER, and the years following UNFAITHFULLY YOURS would see him writing and directing a series of smash award winning films, including RAIN MAN (1988).
Curtin and Levinson's script is a charmer and a perfect vehicle for the film's star, the red hot exiled British genius Dudley Moore. Moore had rightfully become a huge Hollywood star with his astonishing turns in 1979's TEN and 1980's ARTHUR, but his films since hadn't done as well. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS should have been another huge hit for the great man, but it turned out to be a financial and critical disappointment, and its reception hurt his career. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, and MICKI AND MAUDE (also 1984) unfortunately remain the last two great roles of the much missed Moore's career.
Joining Moore was another genius comedian and renaissance man, Albert Brooks. Brooks was mostly known as a scene stealing actor at this point, but a year after UNFAITHFULLY YOURS he would strike directorial gold with his hysterically insightful LOST IN AMERICA. Also cast were the dashing Armand Assante and the always funny Richard Libertini.
Nastassja Kinski was the most surprising choice for the film. She hadn't ever made a full comedy, but she had shown some hinted comedic chops before in PASSION FLOWER HOTEL back in 1978. UNFAITHFULLY YOURS features one of the warmest and most winning performances Nastassja ever gave. She's sexy, funny, sweet and finally very effective in the role of Moore's much younger Italian wife Daniella. The performance is especially astonishing when you look at the film's Nastassja had previously made. Zieff expressed his surprise at how easily she slipped into a romantic comedy mode, and he was right. Nastassja's work here seems effortless, and she generates a real sweet chemistry with real life ladies man Moore.

The film is also helped by a nice little score from ROCKY composer Bill Conti, the great street photography of David Walsh, and the New York location shooting that would gives it such an open and fresh feel. The musical sequences are expertly handled by real life musician Moore, and the film within a film that Nastassja is making is also nicely done.
None of the above would matter if UNFAITHFULLY YOURS wasn't funny, but it is...laugh out loud funny in fact, with the film's final act achieving a frantic hysterical pace that veers an admittedly slight film into near greatness.
UNFAITHFULLY YOURS isn't perfect though. It is a bit unfocused at times, and it is perhaps a little too light at times for its own good. Any hint at subtext, involving jealously, is undercut by the film's silly nature. That's okay though, it works incredibly well as a comedy and it didn't really need to do any more.
It opened in the winter of 1984 to lukewarm business and mixed reviews. The slightly cheesy, but catchy, Stephen Bishop theme song ONE LOVE was released as single but it also failed to catch the public's attention.

The film would do better on home video and TV, and it has never slipped completely under the radar. The current DVD of it is bare bones presentation, but it at least features a nice Widescreen print.
Nastassja should have been very proud of her performance, as she is really wonderful in the film. It would mark her warmest period as her next two roles would find her at her most touching and inventive.
UNFAITHFULLY YOURS remains one of the lightest films Nastassja ever shot, but it is an essential film in her canon. In fact, I would argue that more than any other movie she ever made, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS shows just how truly capable, diverse and versatile Nastassja Kinski is as an actress. It isn't one of her great films, but its her funniest, and just maybe her sweetest. Her fans shouldn't miss it.