Ode to an Actress

by Robert Nagle on 11/29/2006

in General

Malcolm Jones writes a moving tribute to actress Adrienne Shelly–who was murdered almost a month ago:

I went back while I was writing this and watched some of “Trust” again. In an interview, Hartley once explained that he made the movie on the spur of the moment because he wanted to work with Shelly again immediately after making “The Unbelievable Truth,” so he had very little money and very little time. The movie was shot in 11 days. The reason he could do that, he said, was because so much of the direction was implied in the dialogue. The dialogue pretty much told the actors what to do. That’s true. It’s a talky movie, like all Hartley movies. But what’s interesting about Shelly’s performance are the moments where she’s not talking, where she’s just listening to another character, or thinking by herself. Emotion travels over her face like clouds blown across a windy sky. The whole movie seems like it takes place on her face. The miracle is that while you’re watching this happen, you never once stop to think, what an actress. It’s just a girl in trouble on Long Island. When she was acting, Adrienne Shelly could make you forget all about Adrienne Shelly.

Here’s my remarks about Trust which I just watched again:

Trust dir by Hal Hartley starring Martin Donovan with Adrienne Shelly (recently murdered). Watching Hal Hartley’s Trust for the second time 15 years later is exhilirating and somewhat disappointing. The characters are contrived and overintellectualized, and the conflict between parent and child here doesn’t ring true (it reeks with the usual bitterness of college sophomores). Also the gestures and dialogue are stagey and slightly pretentious. Never mind that; you’re missing the point. The film is not aiming at realism; it’s aiming at conveying the emotional turbulence of young adult struggling to break free from the orbit of their parents.

Plot and incident flow naturally and often end up in unexpected places. There’s lots of surprises, many comic. The film is about throwing characters together and watching how they react. The moment where the girl messes up the kitchen makes you wonder, how will the father react? The dialogue (reminiscient of Stoppard or Mamet) is curt and enigmatic and challenging. People are learning from one another and changing..possibly improving. The movie is less about plot than a certain attitude toward life–how much trust should we place in family, friends, peers? People don’t have secrets or histories; they have metaphysical complaints and frustrated dreams. Martin Donovan and Adrienne Shelley are not only young charismatic actors, they act and react with subtlety and focus. Yet both have chemistry with one another and manage to sustain this intensity without going too far (Kudos to Mr. Hartley for not aiming solely for sympathy or making their motives to easy to understand). Donovan seems adept at playing characters about to boil under, but manage to hold it in (He’s at his best in the film Surviving Desire). Adrienne, that moment when you put on your glasses at the end was a great cinematic moment. Hopeful, asssertive and maybe even cocky. Your fans will always have that moment to remember you by.

(If you liked Trust, you’d also enjoy: Hartley’s Surviving Desire (although it’s more arty), Jill Sprecher’s 13 Conversations about One Thing and her earlier film, Clockwatchers).

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