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USA 1988
Directed by
Alan Rudolph
126 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Moderns

Set in the American ex-pat community of 1920s Paris, The Moderns was co-scripted by director Alan Rudolph, a former assistant director and screenwriter for Robert Altman, who was a regular producer of Rudolph’s films, with Jon Bradshaw. It is a film that is distinguished by its self-aware, ironic style.

The central character, Hart (Keith Carradine who had starred in the director's not-so-successful Choose Me, 1984), is an impoverished painter Nick Hart (as in Art) who hangs out in the Selavy (as in 'c'est la vie') whose straightened circumstances leads him to copy some paintings for a wealthy socialite (Geraldine Chaplin) whilst pursuing a romantic liaison with the wife (Linda Fiorentino) of a wealthy and ruthless Asian-American businessman (John Lone) who has aspirations to be accepted into high society via the fashionable modern art scene.

Thematically, the film is about deception in its various forms (in this respect it would make an interesting companion piece to Orson Welles’ similarly themed autobiographical essay, F For Fake, 1974) for which the setting of 1920s Paris is more of a resonant artifice than a historical reality, the use of archival footage notwithstanding. Its "historical" characters, such as Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas, are more playful post-modern appropriations rather than biographical realities and in the broadest sense the film is about how Hollywood and American money created the myth of Modern Art. Aside from the engaging larger themes however the film is also a lot of fun at a purely surface level boasting a painterly representation of 1920s Paris nicely delivered by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita and a first class soundtrack including an original score by the always impressive Mark Isham.

Some will find the director’s wild cards such as Wallace Shawn in drag, and the occasional intentional non sequitor such as a pan that goes from ‘20s Parisian boîte to ‘80s NYC bar unwarranted but his time with Altman has not been wasted. You’re not supposed to take this too seriously.





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