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MVD Marquee Collection: Two by Alan Rudolph: Afterglow (1997) and Ray Meets Helen (2017)

Posted By themoviesleuth 688 days ago on Entertainment - It comes as no surprise writer-director Alan Rudolph’s films are best described as Altmanesque.  The son of television director/actor Oscar Rudolph and protégé of Robert Altman who worked as an assistant director on both The Long Goodbye and Nashville, Alan Rudolph soon began making his own films before finding his niche with the sex dramedy Choose Me starring Rudolph regulars Keith Carradine and Geneviève Bujold.  Like Altman, his films focus on interlocking storylines involving peculiar, lonely characters and their interpersonal, often dysfunctional relationships coupled with class division.  With the MVD Marquee Collection, the distributor has curated two of the directors most notable films with the Academy Award nominated Afterglow from 1997 and the director’s final film Ray Meets Helen from 2017.  While the two films differ greatly with one a lush 35mm realistic production with the other being a surreal and fantastical full digital workflow production, both pictures clearly stem from this particular writer-director with his own fixations on strained if not awkward romance and the consequences that follow the short lived party for the characters involved.  Afterglow (1997) Best remembered for garnering an Oscar nomination for Academy Award winning actress Julie Christie, Afterglow is a sobering Canadian-set dramedy about two separate married couples from different walks of life who grow attracted to each other’s spouses.   Following Lucky Mann (Nick Nolte), a contractor living with his has-been B-movie actress wife Phyllis Hart (Julie Christie), this unhappy couple has an unusual arrangement where Lucky beds his female clients on the side provided he doesn’t get too involved.  This arrangement, however, is threatened when he takes on an apartment remodeling job of a yuppie named Marianne Byron (Lara Flynn Boyle) on the fringes of a failing marriage with her lawyer husband Jeffrey (Jay Underwood).  Desperate for pregnancy from her sexless and perhaps suicidal husband, Marianne engages in a stormy affair with her hired contractor Lucky meanwhile Jeffrey begins to take an interest in the depressed but sultry seductress Phyllis. Notable for Christie’s impassioned, firey performance coupled with Nick Nolte’s crusty womanizer echoing his New York Stories segment Life Lessons, the independent ensemble picture proves to be a modestly sized cross-cutting mood piece about unhappy characters falling in and out of love.  The film also speaks a great deal about the potential for apathy and depression among childless married couples with the young wealthy newlyweds unable to make love while the older couple’s only daughter is a runaway from home.   Co-produced by his mentor Robert Altman, Alan Rudolph’s Afterglow with its striking yet sterilized imagery of brutalist structures breathtakingly lensed by Toyomichi Kurita with a somber jazzy score by frequent collaborator Mark Isham giving the proceedings a somewhat gloomy mood is a curious, engaging little effort from the writer-director with a great performance from one of the cinema’s most legendary actresses.  Ray Meets Helen (2017)Something of an offbeat dramedy version of Money for Nothing including but not limited to a similar setting, the last film of Alan Rudolph Ray Meets Helenfinds the writer-director dabbling in fantastical and even strange terrain.  Reuniting the director with his favorite leading man Keith Carradine, the film co-starring Sondra Locke, Keith David and Jennifer Tilly concern two lost, middle-aged characters who happen upon large sums of money.  Just to confuse things further, the film is even haunted by contemporary ghosts ala The Eclipse though the use here is more interested in evoking spirits of the past rather than scares. A truly unusual dramedy and a fresh return to form for the director by dabbling in magical realism, Ray Meets Helen is somewhat of an odd if not meandering piece which comes together at a chance meeting one night in an expensive restaurant after shady insurance man Ray (Keith Carradine) meets Helen (Sondra Locke) and the two go out on a night on the town romantic spending spree.  The whole endeavor plays out like sumptuous melodrama as these two otherwise impoverished lost souls get to live in luxury for a little while. With a peculiar original score by Shahar Stroh and an even stranger end credits sequence involving the central cast members in a choreographed musical number, this digitally lensed effort shot by Spencer Hutchins is one of the director’s most Capra-esque pictures in his still largely clandestine filmography.  Performances in the piece are generally good with Carradine carrying the ship all by himself though a sultry supporting role by Jennifer Tilly opposite Keith David is likely to overshadow the scenery shared by Carradine and Locke. While weaker than Afterglow and not my first choice for exploring this largely unknown filmmaker’s oeuvre, Ray Meets Helen remained an interesting genre-bender eager to play fast and loose with the rules while maintaining the director’s focus on awkward love between sad and lost characters.  In that vein you could say the film functions somewhat as a companion piece to Afterglow. Whether or not these were the best choices of introduction to the work of this director, these two films by Alan Rudolph nonetheless have managed to spark my interest in his prior efforts, particularly Choose Me and Mortal Thoughts.  Fans of the director will be pleased with the spotless transfers of the films housed on a single disc while newcomers like myself can’t help but be delighted by the strange yet uniquely fascinating worlds of Alan Rudolph, that other Altman film director you haven’t heard of until now.--Andrew Kotwicki (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? 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