Robert Altman protégé Alan Rudolph’s deeply affecting noirish comic rondelay about loneliness and musical beds in Los Angeles, “the city of the one-night stands,” surveys to devastating effect heavily tread-upon hopes, desire, vulnerability. At the center of the film is Carroll Barber, beautifully played by Keith Carradine, who has returned to L.A. after a three years’ absence to visit his millionaire father, a businessman, and to write songs for Eric Wood, who is recording them for an album. Wood is played by Richard Baskin, the real composer/lyricist of the moody contemporary folksy blues that gorgeously punctuate the film’s soundtrack—this, a piece of the self-reflective mosaic of sexual betrayals that zigs and zags Altmaniacally among a wealth of interesting, diverse characters.
Indeed, mirrors throughout fragment characters visually; at one point, five images of one character appear in a single frame. A supernally clean, clear mirror generates a confrontation between Susan Moore, Carroll’s agent and former lover (he has moved on; she can’t), and her own image that prefaces her freefall into insanity, signaled by her looking at us and laughing. Viveca Lindfors is brilliant in her portrait of dead-end erotic obsession. At the tail end of a number of other scenes, one character or another also fleetingly looks at us. This is another of Rudolph’s methods for suggesting the fracture of a personality. Moreover, we are reminded of the freeze frame that concludes François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (1959), where a teenager who has fled from a juvenile detention center looks directly at us who so want to help him but cannot traverse the boundary between reality and cinema to do so. Neither can we assist Rudolph’s poignant characters.
Highlight: A man is suddenly overwhelmed by the weight of the adultery he contemplates committing.
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