Monday, 12 April 2010

Love and Death on Long Island (1997)

I first caught this film at a festival showing in the year of its release and was sufficiently taken with it to revisit it from time to time. Mind you it is a small and probably slightly obscure outing from writer-director Richard Kwietniowski, who has done little of note subsequently, but it is lifted to greatness by a remarkable performance from actor John Hurt.

Hurt plays a dinosaur of a writer in London called Giles De'Ath, a widower and old fogey, totally removed from the attractions of the modern age. When asked by a rare interviewer whether he uses a word processor, he retorts 'I write; I do not process words'. One afternoon he accidentally locks himself out of his flat; to bide the time until his housekeeper's return,he goes into a movie theatre to watch the E.M. Forster adaptation that he noted on the poster outside. However, by confusing the number of the cinema he wants with the number of tickets he requires, he ends up watching a grade-Z feature called "Hotpants College 2" -- a "Porky's"-type spoof. He is about to leave in disgust when he notices one of the actors, a Ronnie Bostock, played by Jason Priestley. He is smitten and begins to obsess about young Bostock, reading the fan magazines, watching his back catalogue of equally dire movies, and starting a scrapbook of "Bostockiana".

This obsession brings him up against the modern world which he has eschewed. For example, in order to watch the videos he has rented, he buys a state-of-the-art video recorder without knowing that one needs a television set to see the picture. Unable to work at his craft, De'Ath accepts his agent's suggestion that he should take a break, and hotfoots it to the far end of Long Island where he has learned Bostock has a home. While he knows that he is a fish out of water and that he is behaving ever so foolishly, the writer can not help himself, eventually managing to insinuate himself into the household by charming Bostock's girlfriend with his erudition and wit, all the while pretending that his knowledge of the actor stems from the teenaged crush of a mythical niece.

The overall resemblance of this scenario to "Death in Venice" can not be ignored, even to the name of the character, but Hurt is not content to observe his idol from the distance as did Dirk Bogarde. What he wants more than anything is to become a mentor or more to the staunchly heterosexual actor. Priestley, who has never been known for the depth of his acting, does fine as the uncomprehending love object who just might be interested in taking on more serious roles. However the appeal of the film is down to Hurt's immaculate take on his character, giving the audience an acting masterclass. He is nearly the whole show. There is a pleasant small role for the lovely Maury Chaykin as the proprietor of the local greasy spoon called 'Chez d'Irv', but this only adds a little local colour to De'Ath's adventure.

Oddly enough the film was not actually shot on Long Island but in Nova Scotia, whose authorities contributed to the financing and there are a number of factual errors in attempting to stand-in for the Hamptons. For example the name on the local taxi that De'Ath employs (of course he does not drive himself) is that of a town on the North Shore of the island many miles away from the area. However this is of course a minor quibble, only allowable to a fussbudget like myself who was actually raised on the Island.

The ending is left uncertain as De'Ath retreats to the airport for his return flight, probably having been forever spurned by his new amour. However he is not likely to perish as did the hero in Mann's story; rather, he is now better prepared to face the future with a greater awareness of his own needs. Early on in the film the writer gave a lecture on 'The Death of the Future'; by the end of the movie, it is a more adaptable De'Ath facing what might come.
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