Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Welcome to L.A. (1976)



          After making a pair of schlocky horror flicks, writer-director Alan Rudolph finally got to make a proper film with the help of A-list auteur Robert Altman, who served as Rudolph’s producer for Welcome to L.A. Given the “Robert Altman presents” imprimatur, however, it’s hard not to perceive Welcome to L.A. as Altman Lite, especially since Rudolph emulates his producer’s filmmaking style by presenting a loosely intertwined mosaic of cynical stories. Yet while Altman’s best ensemble movies sparkle with idiosyncratic humor, Welcome to L.A. is monotonous, a downbeat slog comprising vapid Los Angelenos doing rotten things for unknowable reasons.
          The character holding everything together is Carroll Barber (Keith Carradine), a self-absorbed rich kid who fancies himself a songwriter and who spends the movie accruing sexual conquests. Some of the uninteresting people orbiting Carroll are Ann (Sally Kellerman), a pathetic real-estate agent given to humiliating displays of unrequited affection; Karen (Geraldine Chaplin), a spacey housewife who spends her days riding around the city in taxis; Linda (Sissy Spacek), a ditzy housekeeper who works topless; Nona (Lauren Hutton), a kept woman who takes arty photographs; and Susan (Viveca Lindfors), an insufferably pretentious talent representative in love with a much-younger man. Harvey Keitel and Denver Pyle appear as well, though Rudolph is clearly much more interested in the feminine mystique than the inner lives of men.
          Rudolph structures the film like a concept album, using music to bridge vignettes, and this arty contrivance doesn’t work. Part of the problem is that singer-songwriter Richard Baskin, who provides the song score and also performs several numbers onscreen, prefers the song form of the shapeless dirge. Which, come to think of it, is not a bad way to describe Welcome to L.A. While Rudolph obviously envisioned some sort of Grand Statement about the ennui of modern city dwellers, he instead crafted an interminable recitation of trite themes. Worse, Rudolph employs juvenile flourishes such as having characters stare at the camera, as if viewers will somehow see into the characters’ souls. Sorry, but isn’t providing insight the filmmaker’s job? (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on Amazon.com)

Welcome to L.A.: LAME

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