the interests of full disclosure and saving potentially disappointed viewers’
time, one particular Edward Hopper painting Gustav Deutsch does not recreate in
his avant-garde tribute is the one many people will most want to see: The Nighthawks. Evidently, that would be
too obvious. You will not see Automat or
Chop Suey either, but Deutsch and his
design team do justice to New York Movie,
perhaps the most iconic painting represented in Shirley—Visions of Reality (trailer here), which screens as
part of Show & Tell: Gustav Deutsch at the Anthology Film Archives.
Shirley opens with the title
character traveling through Europe, bathed in the warm glow of Hopper’s Chair Car. She will soon return to
America, where over the coming decades she will join and quit several radical
theater groups, fret over McCarthyism, protest for civil rights, work a variety
of odd jobs, and wrestle with depression. Each scene is practically a frozen
tableaux accompanied by the woman’s voice-over monologues.
as his own production designer and editor, Deutsch has created some absolutely
gorgeous images. The film is a true triumph of set decoration, costuming, and
lighting. There is good reason why key scenic artist-head painter Hanna Schimek
is credited immediately following Deutsch.
Nor can cinematographer Jerzy Palcz’s contributions be overstated.
as arresting as the visuals are, the title character’s dramatic ruminations are
nearly as tedious. (Her vitriol directed at Elia Kazan is also misguided, but
predictable.) Frankly, the film would probably work just as well or better
relying solely on ambient noise and era-appropriate musical selections.
However, it must be conceded the use of Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” with A Woman in the Sun was rather inspired.
is hard to really evaluate Stephanie Cumming’s lead performance, because she
and her most prominent co-star Christoph Bach are more like props than thespians.
Nevertheless, her voice-overs are more anesthetizing than stimulating. In
contrast, Rutger Hauer and Michael York contributed legitimate, intriguing performances
to The Mill and the Cross, Lech
Majewski’s cinematic adaptation of Bruegel’s painting The Way to Cavalry, the most obvious cinematic comparison.
It is all lovely to look at, but Shirley’s ever-so-deliberate pace is
more closely akin to video installation art than sit-down cinema. Nevertheless,
it is an accomplishment in design craft. Recommended for Hopper fans who appreciate
films light on narrative and heavy on mood, Shirley—Visions
of Reality screens this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (7/12-7/14) at the
Anthology Film Archives.
Labels: Edward Hopper, Experimental Film, Gustav Deutsch