S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 22 October 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 


 
    Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman


 

Investing the phrase "egg on your face" with rich, new significance, Suck is proud to announce the recipients of its first annual Evil Genius Grants. Over the next 10 days, the Suck EGG honorees, as selected by Suck's blue ribbon panel of experts, will be profiled on this page. Included are standouts in fields as diverse as pop music and pop-music criticism, film acting and film directing, magazine punditry and television punditry. But unlike those humdrum, dime-per-dozen MacArthur Foundation "genius" grants, each Suck EGG fellowship is offered not for such narrow purposes as "rewarding outstanding achievement" or celebrating the "power and possibilities of human creativity." Nor are they extended to those whose work represents the "greatest benefit to mankind," like the recently announced Nobel Prizes.

Instead, the Suck EGGs provide an infinitely more valuable service to humanity: Namely, each fellowship is granted only on the condition that for the next calendar year, in the interests of Human Civilization, its recipients stop doing the voodoo that they do so annoyingly well. (To prevent welshing, actual prizes are not conferred until the completion of each term.) Those who aspire to the heights of EGGdom in the future should realize that, by definition, it is impossible for us to accept applications - since this is an award not for who you are, but who you will cease to be.

- Sucksters


  Rarely do we appreciate the filmic vision of Michael Bay or the cerebral artistry of the Olsen twins' straight-to-video franchise more than when being exposed to the heavy-sleeper films of Whit Stillman and Hal Hartley. Though differing somewhat in style, the two cineastes offer substantial accessory value to the kind of people who put anti-Starbucks bumper stickers on their Saturns. They also share a uniquely indestructible aesthetic: Even their fans acknowledge that the appeal of Hartley's and Stillman's films lies largely in the fact that they are so indescribably annoying.

A Harvard graduate and godson of the man who coined the term WASP, Whit Stillman marked his turf in 1990 with the intermittently enjoyable Metropolitan, a film built on the premise that loathsome preppy scum did indeed have a story to tell, even if nobody really cared to hear it. Subsequently, and on admirably shoestring budgets, Stillman has managed to strip the characters in Metropolitan of their already marginal charms. In 1994's Barcelona, for example, Stillman gave adenoidal actor Chris Eigeman an extra layer of vexatiousness by dressing him in a Navy uniform throughout the film. By 1998's The Last Days of Disco, Stillman's upper-crust circle irk had effectively passed beyond merely manual agitation. The idea of giving a bad name to late-herpes-era club-hopping might seem like blacking the chimney, but even Gloria Gaynor deserved better than the last moments of Last Days, in which Stillman's usual gang of irritants gather in a circle to discuss what disco meant to all of us. Through it all, Stillman's gift for dialog that combines Great Books name-dropping with labored twittishness continues to delight his dozens of fans.

But while Stillman's oeuvre has been mercifully sparse, Hal Hartley moves with the energy and prolificacy of a true cinematic terrorist, lowering the nation's collective energy level with a whopping six features since he debuted with The Unbelievable Truth in 1990. That film established the Hartley method of scene-stilting and "highly stylized dialog" (a Hartleyan euphemism for a method in which all the lines appear to have been cribbed from Akbar and Jeff). It was a watershed achievement in American cinema. While Rainer Werner Fassbinder's stiff directing or John Cassavetes' pointless scripts illustrated the filmmakers' angst-ridden themes, only Hartley thought to use stiff directing to illustrate a pointless script. With 1995's Flirt, Hartley even played a sort of stop-me-before-I-bore-again game with his detractors by having the same flat dialog repeated by three progressively less appealing sets of thespians (including the vain auteur himself in the final sequence). Despite a nearly unanimous judgment that the director should have been sent to movie jail as punishment for that film, Hartley was in fact allowed to go on and torment audiences with this year's fly-attracter Henry Fool, whose two-hours-plus length suggests that Hartley has not only arrived as an artist, but given up on the relatively brief running times that up to now have been his only show of mercy toward his audience. We can't leave Hartley behind without giving him extra credit for both his high standards (interview quote: "There's those bullshit professional qualifications: 'Oh, he's professional. He doesn't fuck his actresses.' I don't care for being too professional") and his mentoring skills: It was Hartley's example that apparently inspired his mousy but obnoxious sometime leading lady Adrienne Shelly to inflict her own chatty pièces du cinema on select art houses.

While both filmmakers are proudly presented as antidotes to action-heavy drextravaganzas, Hartley and Stillman have been known to pack a nine for use when the idea machine runs out. Stillman treated audiences to the spectacle of the aforementioned Eigeman being shot in Barcelona, but only managed to wound him. All three sections of Hartley's Flirt end with somebody getting shot in the face (though again, maiming is all we can hope for); he also offered up some dispiriting action scenes in Amateur, his 1994 policier. Hartley branched out into mondo grossout with Henry Fool, including a scene in which the hero vomits on a woman's keester. While we lack both the enzymes and the ammunition for an award that grand, we're proud to bestow a joint Suck EGG on Hal Hartley and Whit Stillman.

Place of Residence: New York, New York
Age: Hartley, 38; Stillman, 46
Award: $39.95. These two don't need big Hollywood budgets to show their genius.




courtesy of the Sucksters