Wednesday Editor’s Pick: Choose Me (1984)

by on June 28, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Wed June 29 at 7:30 at 92Y Tribeca [Program & Tix]

 

Roger Ebert gives high praise:

Apart from its other qualities, which are many, Alan Rudolph’s CHOOSE ME is an audaciously intriguing movie. Its main purpose, indeed, may be to intrigue us — as other films aim to thrill or arouse or mystify. There is hardly a moment in the whole film when I knew for sure what was going to happen next, yet I didn’t feel manipulated; I felt as if the movie were giving itself the freedom to be completely spontaneous.

 

 

John Wrathall gives some background on Rudolph for Sight & Sound (June 1998):

The man who rescued  Rudolph  from his mid-90s doldrums is the same man who set him on his path a quarter of a century earlier: Robert Altman.  Rudolph  worked with Altman in the early 70s, during his mentor’s greatest continuous burst of creative activity. He was Altman’s assistant on The Long Goodbye, California Split and Nashville, and his co-writer on Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Thereafter Altman produced  Rudolph’s films Welcome to LA and Remember My Name. Then, suddenly, Hollywood stopped making films like these. “It used to be that the two of us together might have been interesting to the studios,” says  Rudolph . “Now it’s just twice as hard. Neither of us can get any financing.”

 

Rudolph still talks of Altman with the enthusiasm of an eager student: “I would work with him every day of the week. He’s the greatest. When you’re in a room with him, if he was sitting here, you’d know… He’s a true seeker. I’m thrilled to be in the same sentence as him.” But though he picked up a lot from Altman – the freewheeling shooting style, for instance –  Rudolph’s films are less satirical, more human, and more concerned with style. Perhaps Rudolph’s biggest debt to Altman is Hollywood’s great forgotten actor Keith Carradine, who followed McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Thieves Like Us and Nashville for Altman with Welcome to LAChoose Me , Trouble in Mind and The Moderns for Rudolph. Despite unfortunate hairstyles in Welcome to LA and Trouble in Mind, Carradine combined old-fashioned movie-star glamour, laidback sexuality and an enticing moral ambiguity – like Gary Cooper after a few joints. His work with Rudolph  represents one of the great actor-director partnerships of modern times.

 

Tom Milne on Choose Me, also for Sight & Sound (Summer 1985):

A romantic fairytale, unpredictable in the way of fairytales within their very predictability, it captures from the outset the sense of disillusioned enchantment that Coppola lumbered in pursuit of throughout One From the Heart and Jean-Jacques Beineix gradually frittered away in The Moon in the Gutter. A sleazy studio street set by night, illuminated by a cyclorama moon and the red neon sign of Eve’s Bar, sparsely populated by the odd hooker, pusher and late customer or two who gradually resolve themselves into an impromptu dance as the camera pans over the cityscape to pick out a single face in close-up: Dr Love (Genevieve Bujold), adulated sex counsellor of a phone-in radio talk show, dispensing the wisdom that has made her a star.  Between them, the title song (‘…and if you choose me, then you’re my choice’) and Dr Love’s voice (‘There’s really no mystery to sex, Tom, but there may be to her’) begin to orchestrate the theme that emotional contact is so easy except that people make it so difficult[…]

 

The delight of Choose Me is that while seemingly spinning airy nothing but actually weaving a deceptive tapestry that depicts either dark disenchantment or sunny optimism depending upon point of view, Rudolph has got everything right.  The songs, by a cohesive variety of composers, are as allusive s Richard Baskin’s for Welcome to LA but much less constrictingly intrusive.  The evocatively counterfeit settings, as suggestive as a neon orchid (to borrow a phrase from the Los Angeles Times) as those in One From the Heart, nevertheless spring out of the earth instead of proclaiming their plastic provenance.  The characters, enacted by a superb cast in which Carradine, Bujold and Bauchau are outstanding, are granted a life of their own beyond the strict demands of the narrative (note, in particular, the bartender played by John Larroquette, who serves strictly as a plot device yet still has space to live his own little tragedy).  And, just in case the foregoing conveys an impression of solemnity, there is plenty of fun to be had out of the sharpishly good-natured satire of chat-show gurus, and from a wittly pointed string of one-liners (‘I’m not afraid of death.  At least you get laid in your coffin’).  It is, in short, Alan Rudolph’s best film to date, and bodes a bright auteurist future.

 

 

More from Ebert:

Choose Me is a deliberate throwback to the film noir of the 1940s — to those movies made up of dark streets and wet pavements, hookers under streetlamps, pimps in shiny postwar Studebakers, and people who smoke a lot. It’s also about lonely people, but it’s not one of those half-witted TV movies about singles bars and single women. It’s about smart, complicated people who are trying to clear a space for themselves and using romance as an excavating tool.

 

The performances are key to this strategy. The best thing in the movie is Genevive Bujold’s performance as Dr. Love. She is interesting, if detached, as the radio personality, but when love finally does touch her life, she is so unabashedly open and confessional and red-faced and sincere that we want to hug her. Bujold just gets better and better; coming so soon after her good work in Tightope, this is a reminder of how many different kinds of roles she can play so well.

 

All of these people interact throughout the whole movie without Choose Me ever settling into familiar patterns. It’s as if Rudolph wanted to tell a story as it might actually have happened, with coincidental meetings, dumb misunderstandings, random chance, and the endless surprises of human nature. At the end of the movie we haven’t learned anything in particular, but we have met these people and their loneliness and punch-drunk optimism, and we have followed them a little time through the night.

 

 

Excerpts from a Rudolph interview with Gavin Smith, at Film Comment (May 1993):

I felt good. It [Choose Me] was the first film I’d made in a long time that I was in complete control of, and I felt, This is what I do, this is as close to a reflection of what’s inside of me on a screen. I’m not any of the characters, but I could do this all the time, these urban fables. Because we had so little time and so little money, and it was cheaper than Welcome, which was seven years earlier, and there was not a lot of coverage. It was somehow the most graceful film for me, the most of pure filmmaking. There were no obligations other than to make this film.

 

How exactly did you come up with the script?
I write really quickly, but I withhold the writing process until I can’t not write. I never know where they’re gonna wind up. I don’t outline, I just start. The reason I went about it that way was that I didn’t write something that was too big for the budget. Once I could see the landscape of the shooting, I wrote to fit the budget. I had the seed of an idea, a guy who escapes from a mental institution for being a pathological liar, but who might only tell the truth; it was ambiguous and I thought I could just hang a movie on that.

 

How did it go into the territory of love?
One day I was looking for a baseball game on the radio and the game was rained out, and instead they had this thing like this before. People would call up and say, “Oh, my whole life’s falling apart, I’m in love with three men and I’m a nymphomaniac and I have five kids,” and she’d say, “Well, have you tried this –er, we’re gonna take a break now, when we come back….” Here are these people pouring their guts out trying to find some detached voice to give them the clue to the rest of their lives, and pausing for commercials–I thought that was as bizarre as it gets. There’s room for a character here.

 

And I knew I wanted to put it in a bar. I knew that would be our main set because I was hanging out in a lot of bars and there was this lady bartender at one of the bars I would go to; I didn’t know her, I never talked to her except “Give me another,” but just watching a lady bartender manipulate the crowd, knowing what every guy’s thinking–wondering how that works, it just was enough. I don’t remember writing the script very much.

 

Was the last shot of Carradine and Warren on the bus meant to echo the last shot in The Graduate? It has the same behavioral ambivalence.

If it happened, it was truly subconscious. Several people mentioned it to me when the film was finished. But in fact, that was never supposed to be the ending. The ending was the Bujold character knocking on a door with a Roommate Wanted ad, and the door opens and it’s Rae Dawn Chong’s character–it was a complete circle.

 

The way the sets were lined up, it was the first day shooting and Genevieve had a problem, couldn’t get to the set, and we never shot it. I thought  he was terrific.

 

Welcome to L.A. had an opening and closing shot that made the whole movie make sense to me. We shot it but because we didn’t use any extras in the movie, the Extras Guild picketed the night we shot these two shots. So there’s 500 picketers in both shots. They were single takes. The opening starts in black at night and you tilt down to the marquee of a theater that had the title of the film. And you saw all the characters in the movie at the starting point of their lives where the movie starts. Then the end shot was how they wound up, the absolute reverse of the opening, somebody walked into the theater and it goes up to the marquee and it says THE END. But how they wound up was part of the real mystery of the film: people you might have thought were broken up were together again, everybody had their own specific.

 

It happened to be the night of this picketing, it was the only night all of the actors were in town, some were leaving, some were coming. I called Altman and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” He said, “Shoot it anyway, we can use the footage when we go to court to get a restraining order.” And of course, because they were Hollywood extras, they weren’t very well organized as picketers, so the only fun I had was to say, “We’re down here,” and they’d all run down, and then I’d say, “No, we’re down here,” and they’d be sitting around, nobody wanted to move, they were all complaining–but it’s as bizarre as anything you’ve ever seen. I wish I had the footage. You see the actors acting it out and you could see past to the pickets–it changed the whole film!

 

There’s a moment in Choose Me near the end when Lesley Ann Warren is talking to Bujold on the phone-in show, and for a moment an apparition of Bujold appears beside her.

That’s either people’s favorite or least favorite moment in that film.

 

Is the way you like to shoot actors and scenes reflected in mirrors another form of undermining the viewer’s sense of reality?

It’s a way to stage it, really. Some of the uses of mirrors have been a little too all reached-for too often; I hope I’ve outgrown that to some degree. I don’t think they have any big meaning. I like the way it’s used in Choose Me because Carradine’s in bed in the mirror and she’s there [in the foreground] and it’s a two-shot, yet they’re both right there next to each other; I just like the way it lined up Things fell in on Choose Me. I think it’s a pretty good film. For people who like , they really like it. It’s kind of frightening in a way: I’ve had people come up to me and tell me it’s changed their life.

 

 

 

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