Speaking Parts (1989) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Imagine my excitement when I opened this up and popped it in the DVD player. Atom Egoyan is one of my favorite moviemakers. He directed one of my favorite movies, The Sweet Hereafter. I also love Egoyan's Exotica, and I think that The Adjuster and Felicia's Journey are both brilliant in their own offbeat ways, if not great movies

This one, however, is a pretentious, garbled, muddled, generally fucked-up piece of cold, surreal, detached, postmodernist crap. I'd have a better chance trying to figure out an early Luis Bu˝uel movie than this thing, even after having listened to Atom's commentary. It reminds me of the experimental films we used to see in Greenwich Village in the late 60's, except that is technically superior to those "garage films". 

The essence of the story is that a handsome aspiring actor is the object of lust for two women - one an author who is involved in casting a movie, the other a hotel maid. (Our actor supports himself by working on the hotel housekeeping staff while he searches for acting jobs).

The writer is obsessed with Lance for a couple of reasons. One is lust, but the other is a strange fascination with her dead brother, whose part Lance will play in an upcoming movie adaptation of her book. Writer-woman is so obsessed with her brother that she keeps revisiting him at a special video mausoleum which houses video archives of the dearly departed. It isn't clear to me why one would go to such a place rather than watching the loved ones at home on one's own VCR. On the other hand, many things in the film are not clear to me. It inhabits some kind of surrealist alternate reality, which is illustrated by the fact that the archived video of the dead brother keeps changing.  

NUDITY REPORT

Gabrielle Rose showed her breasts on a video tape during "video sex" (phone sex with teleconferencing visuals)

There is also a very brief orgy scene with some fleeting body parts

Video plays a key role in the film. It represents the place where the characters act out thoughts they cannot express for real. Some other examples of the video theme:
  • The writer and the actor are never seen touching each other, either in passion or tenderness, but are able to have sex by mutual masturbation during teleconferencing.
  • The end of the film features a major suspension of the rules of reality, in which actors and real characters switch places. I can't say more because (1) it's a surprise (2) if it weren't a surprise, it wouldn't matter because I didn't understand it anyway (3) I lost interest in the details when I saw how silly it was getting, so even if I did understand it, I missed details
  • There are more. (1) One of the main characters videotapes weddings. (2) The hotel maid watches every film Lance has ever been in, even though he has never spoken a word.

If you are getting the idea that the film is over-intellectualized and sterile, then you are starting to see my point. The beauty of Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter is that he is able to make all of his points by using real people and their real feelings, without surrealist and postmodernist losses of the fourth wall. OK, Atom, we live in a world in which TV is often more real to us than our own lives. We think TV characters are real. people ask Alan Alda for medical advice. Point made. Let's move on, shall we?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • there is no widescreen version, but the 4:3 version looks excellent

  • Full-length commentary by director Egoyan, as well as a brief interview

  • brief deleted scenes

Actually, Atom is obsessed with these themes, and somewhat resuscitated this motif a decade later in Felicia's Journey, in which one of the characters lives in an internal world that took place several decades ago, when he was a little boy on his mother's cooking show. He still has all the tapes of the shows, and still cooks his meals along with the ancient tapes, using the equipment recommended forty years earlier, of which he has an infinite backlog of replacements. In "Felicia", however, I thought Egoyan did a much better job of placing these themes in a believable context, with no need to break down the fourth wall. Since the little boy in the cooking tapes was already the character at an earlier age, there was no further need for him to enter the tapes. He already existed both inside the tapes and outside them.

See Felicia's Journey if this theme interests you. 

Skip "Speaking Parts".

TUNA's THOUGHTS

Speaking Parts (1989) is Atom Egoyan's exploration of the way that modern communications actually get in the way of human interaction, and how images are purely subjective, with people reading anything they want into what they see.

The film starts with 8 minutes without dialogue. The characters are introduced, but it is a struggle to figure out how they relate to each other, and what is going on with them. The character of Michael McManus is an aspiring actor who has only worked as an extra to date, and works in housekeeping in a hotel by day. His real day job is as a gigolo. We never know if his "clients" are male or female. Arsinee Khanjian also works in the hotel, and is fixated on McManus. When she isn't following him around the hotel, she is watching videos of his films, only screening the sections where he is on camera. She comes to know the clerk at the video store where she rents the films, and goes with him a couple of times to shoot videos.

Another character, Gabrielle Rose, has written a screenplay devoted to the memory of her dead brother, who died donating a lung to her. In the opening scene, we see her in a mausoleum, where she is able to watch a video of her brother over and over. (Note that Egoyan came up with this concept before such places actually existed.) Meanwhile, Rose has checked into the same hotel where McManus and Khanjian work. McManus sees the script in her room, and leaves a picture and resume in her room, without knowing that he looked exactly like her dead brother.

Since this film is much longer on atmosphere and emotions than on plot complexity, I will leave the rest to discover for those of you who are interested.

The film is a long watch. The rewards are there if you stick it out to the end, but if you are an action/thriller type, you probably won't get through ten minutes before hitting eject. Also, to prove his point that people are increasingly isolated, the film is very cold, as are the characters, so it is hard to like any of them.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.0/10 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C-. I found the film to be unwatchable, but can't justify a lower score. Egoyan is a brilliant man, with a real gift for the technical side of filmmaking, so the film looks slick and is intelligent, if emotionally crippled." Tuna says, "This is a C, well made, but only for a select arthouse crowd."

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