Friday, September 16, 2011

Remember My Name (1978)

          After making a minor splash with Welcome to L.A. (1976), writer-director Alan Rudolph stepped out from under the shadow of his artistic patron, Robert Altman, with this unapologetically arty drama that focuses on behavior and mood instead of narrative clarity and momentum. So, while Welcome to L.A. feels like watered-down Altman with its myriad interconnected storylines, Remember My Name is purely and eccentrically Rudolph, a cryptic meditation on strange characters wading through a languorous haze of ennui and music.
          Rudolph favorite Geraldine Chaplin stars as Emily, a mystery woman who stalks a married couple while building an oddly itinerant lifestyle that involves camping out in a depressing apartment and working at a dead-end job as a general-store clerk. We eventually learn that she’s an ex-convict, and that the husband of the couple she’s stalking is her estranged ex-husband (Anthony Perkins), with whom she has some sort of unfinished business. And that’s pretty much the entire plot, because instead of revealing story points, Rudolph spends the movie showing Emily and the other characters living the mundane reality of their mundane lives: There are innumerable scenes of people driving to and from their homes and jobs; bringing home groceries and other household items; and making arrangements for doing things at later dates.
          As strung together by a soundtrack featuring blues songs performed by the forceful Alberta Hunter, Remember My Name has a distinct vibe but not very much energy. The last 30 minutes or so have a pulse because the story evolves rapidly once Chaplin confronts her ex, but until then, the leisurely pacing and opaque plotting are frustrating; it’s easy to envision some viewers getting caught up in the smoky atmosphere, but I’m among those immune to the film’s charms. Chaplin expresses the weird and needy aspects of her character effectively, and it’s a joy to watch Perkins play an ordinary character instead of a freak, but Berry Berenson (Perkins’ spouse in the movie and real life) is a blank slate, and Moses Gunn is underused as Chaplin’s policeman neighbor, so the performances don’t slot together comfortably. Helping matters somewhat are appearances by Dennis Franz, Jeff Goldblum, and Alfre Woodard in minor roles.

Remember My Name: FUNKY

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