La Salle University, before it ditched it's film courses, had some amazing classes that got written off as "slacker studies." Some of my finest moments in my college career were holed up in the basement of the Comm Center watching films for the various classes and having in dept conversations about history, theory and all the interesting elements that come in with the world of film. One such class, Critical Approaches to Film, was the most engaging and difficult. It took a very theoretical approach to analyzing the many facets of film. We covered the fetish theory, realism in cinema and one of the most famous theories, the autuer theory. Studying a specific director, I was totally prepared to watch back to back films from someone like Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock. What I had no idea was I was getting the treat of a lifetime that, had I never had this class, I would probably have never heard of Hal Hartley. We watched two films by him: Simple Men and Amateur. It was an eye-opener and I loved every minute of both films. But it was discovering the film Trust which was not for class but found on VHS at my old job at Wow Video in Westmont. The first viewing was at my fabled first apartment in West Philly with a great grouping of friends and it was quite the experience.
Trust is a simple story of two paths crossing. It's a common thread in many Hal Hartley films. The idea of "trouble and desire." This theory is put into words in Simple Men but it's in Trust that he first brought it up. Two lives intersecting at the wrong time, but somehow helping each other with there given situations: one a genius who hates his job, his dad and T.V. and a teenage high school drop out pregnant and dealing with a family who shuns her for this. The two are hardly fit for each other, but they trust each other. It's a very strange, quirky love story but it ultimately works. Here is a great
What struck me as odd with anything Hartley has done is the way his actors act. At first glance, it looks really bad. Really dry deliveries, they characters never look at each other and they never smile. But it's all intentional. For me, this was something I never saw before. I was used to traditional Hollywood styles and maybe a few indie flicks here and there that did some different things, but nothing to this level of intentionality. The two lead actors, Martin Donovan & Adrienne Shelly, are an excellent duo and show a strange chemistry, even though their emotions are dulled. Here's a clip of one of their early interactions.
After seeing this film, my admiration for the two actors went through the roof. Something about their relationship just clicked on screen, even though it's muted. Adrienne Shelly's troubled teen is a wonderful performance filled with naive wisdom. Martin Donovan's mad genius has some of the finest comedic moments in the film, but all the comedy that comes is touched with a pinch of sadness and melancholy.
The event when I first watched Trust was quite the screening. A handful of friends were at my apartment near St. Joseph's University and we plopped on the large couch and had no clue what was to come. Certain scenes needed to be rewound because although we laughed extremely loud at what the action was, we sometimes missed choice pieces of dialogue, which early Hartley is all about. IT was a moment in time that has never left me to this day. It was a film watching experience as much as a new style of film to be appreciated. Hartley's body of work, best exemplified by a quote from his film Ametuer is an approach to filmmaking unlike anything I've ever seen:
"Certain work needs to be experienced all at once in order for one to appreciate the full force of it's character."
There is no better way to experience Hal Hartley and for my dime, Trust is his crowning achievement.
1. Cinema Paradiso (1988) dr. Giuseppe Tornatore
2. Rushmore (1998) dr. Wes Anderson
3. Jurassic Park (1993) dr. Steven Speilberg
4. It's A Wonderful Life (1946) dr. Frank Capra
5. Trust (1990) dr. Hal Hartley
Up Next: Donnie Darko (2001) dr. Richard Kelly