I went to Paris as a kid with my folks and vowed to return to the City of Lights. That dream has yet to come to fruition and the closest thing I’ve come to returning is via reading A Moveable Feast and watching Before Sunset over and over again. Shout Select’s Blu-ray of The Moderns also did the trick, and having not seen an Alan Rudolph film in years (Afterglow, Trixie), it was time well spent.
Having been an assistant director on several Robert Altman films, filmmaker/writer Alan Rudolph will forever be linked to the Altman universe. That being said, Rudolph has a compelling and idiosyncratic storytelling style, and those skills are in full flight with The Moderns.
Set during the waning days of Paris in the 1920s, the story centers on Nick Hart (frequent Rudolph collaborator Keith Carradine), a struggling artist who draws caricatures of various figures who lounge about at his favorite cafe. Nick has a gift for artistic forgery, and he’s eventually seduced by a manipulative divorcee (Geraldine Chaplin) into forging a couple of Modigliani’s and, if memory serves, a Cezanne. Money isn’t the only thing on Nick’s mind, as he has a bit of “trouble in mind” (sorry for the Rudolph pun!) with a ruthless businessman’s (John Lone) strong minded wife (Linda Fiorentino). Geneviéve Bujold, who previously worked with Rudolph and Carradine in Choose Me, co-stars as the art gallery owner who helps Hart in his forgery business dealings. Wallace Shawn (My Dinner with Andre) is a Oiseau, a popular columnist who’s intent on moving to sun dappled confines of Los Angeles.
Though The Moderns, which Rudolph co-penned with Jon Bradshaw, is a welcome evocation of the era, it doesn’t wallow in sentiment or reverence. Though Lost Generation fixtures Ernest Hemingway (Kevin J. O’Connor) and Gertrude Stein (Elsa Raven) are a part of the narrative, they are mere satellites within the storyline.
What truly constitutes as art is a big theme of The Moderns, and though that may seem like a heavy handed and ultimately pretentious discussion, Rudolph frames it in a very engaging and ultimately resonant fashion. Nick Hunt’s close knit friendship with Oiseau had a refreshing Humphrey Bogart/Claude Rains dynamic from Casablanca, and the film’s closing moments hit me on different levels (as I consistently say on CinemAddicts, the movie “stuck its landing”).
Whether or not you absolutely flip for The Moderns, a 95 minute plus featurette on the making of the movie is an absolute must watch if you’re a cinephile or love delving into the filmmaking process. A few things I learned while checking out the featurette:
1.. Alan Rudolph, like Altman, usually casts his actors on their personal vibe and presence rather than how they read their lines.
The movie was actually shot in Montreal and not in Paris due to budget constraints. Still, the flick effectively captures the atmosphere of the period and its dreamlike portrait of the time is one of the film’s strong points.
3. A big part of the inspiration behind getting the movie made was the passing of Jon Bradshaw, who had worked with Rudolph on the script. Bradshaw, who was the husband of The Moderns producer Carolyn Pfeiffer (she’s also interviewed in the 95-minute documentary), had his share of creative disagreements with Rudolph over the screenplay. Both men have different storytelling aesthetics, and Rudolph credits Bradshaw for infusing much needed structure into The Moderns.
- The closing section of the feature spotlights the music of The Moderns composer Mark Isham, who also collaborated with Rudolph on the memorable jazz score of Afterglow. Rudolph also explains why he hasn’t made a film since 2002’s The Secret Lives of Dentists. Thankfully he’s back making movies with the 2017 release Ray Meets Helen.
5. Last but not least, the doc also deals with Pfeiffer and executive producer Shep Gordon’s underrated contribution to indie filmmaking. Although Pfeiffer, Carradine, and Rudolph are the main contributors to the segment, they each provide wonderful insight into the film and filmmaking in general.
The Moderns (Collector’s Edition) is a Blu-ray that’s mastered from a brand new film transfer, and it’s a gorgeous movie to behold (there’s a well executive boxing scene between Carradine and Lone that I would never have expected from Rudolph). To order The Moderns, go to ShoutFactory.com or the Amazon ad below!