Henry Fool

wri./dir. Hal Hartley
st. parker posey, james urbaniak, thomas jay ryan, kevin corrigan, miko nikaido
winner of screenplay award cannes film festival 1998
running time: 137 mins
rated: M
releases november 19th at Dendy cinemas

Iambic pentameter. A book length poem. Hartley's new masterwork has the same fluidity and depraved ugliness of his poet, Simon. FOOL is a film that parodies the intellectual elite and their fastidious posturing and pomposities. He tells a tale of a writer while crushing the aura of the suffering genius. The movie is about Simon Grim, a garbage man who lives with his nympho sister and manic depressive mother. A new tenant arrives to take the basement room - Henry Fool. A man of intensity and debauchery - one who wishes to live the life of a great novelist - one who would be a Marquis De Sade for the modern era.

Henry is a man who lives the life of a typical great writer - think Burroughs wasting himself on junk for a lifetime. Henry talks the talk of an academic. He drinks, smokes and seduces his way about, whilst labouring over his great 'Confession', a book he has been working on for many years.

Henry encourages Simon to write. Simon finishes a poem of epic proportions. A novel of 'Iambic pentameter'. The poem is both dark and serene, containing an essence of depravity in a context so beautiful that it affects its readers profoundly - allowing the mute to sing. Henry meanwhile sleazes his way around. He is a perverted character who disgusts those around him yet beguiling them with his literary aloofness. He is Simon's mentor and friend, polishing his masterpiece and encouraging him to read and write more. However Henry is a flawed creature. He has a weakness that we find has sent him to jail. Henry is the authorial stereotype. His intellectual ranting and Dylan Thomas styling [read drunkard], lead him into the posturing that he feels creates a great writer.

Upon publication Simon's piece becomes acclaimed while Henry's 'Confession' is rubbished by Simon's publisher.

Hartley's technique is flawless. He is like the Bard in that he punctuates the drama with a dry wit. His relief scenes are hysterical, as they break the posturing with scatological humour. Hartley has an eye for cinema, as his scenes are beautiful and revealing. His exacting precision for detail creates a visual element that captivates. Hartley is a great film maker. He can entertain you without making you feel cheap. He does not didact nor club you with imagery but sucks you head first into his characters and story.

Henry Fool is a movie that runs parallels to its lead characters while remaining in the grasp of the simple film goer. This film is probably the best film I have seen this year (...well after Weekend...that goes without saying doesn't it?) . I highly recommend it to anyone who is even contemplating stepping out of their front door after November 19. Henry Fool is complete in its full length (137 mins), and even made me want more. It moved me profoundly - I wanted to smoke lots, become a great writer and cry all at the same time.

michael boston
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An analysis of performance and composition in Hartley's work to date.