by ERIK MCCLANAHAN
“Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy”
Having only heard of Marsden Hartley, and not knowing any of his work as a painter and poet, I watched the film “Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy” from an outsider’s perspective and found it to be an interesting insight into the mind of a verbose and romantic artist. Clocking in at two hours and 27 minutes and featuring a rather dull narrative structure (for a film anyways), “Cleophas” is a true test of any filmgoer’s attention span. Although tedious and slow-paced, the film does have its emotional rewards (especially in the climax) if you put your trust in first-time director Michael Maglaras.
film is based on the deeply personal poetic narrative that Hartley wrote about
his experience with a Nova Scotia fishing family. The poem itself is divided
into 13 chapters, each one focusing on a different member of the lightly fictionalized
family and detailing his personal attachment to each of them, not least to son
Alty, whom Hartley, a gay man, fell madly in love with.
Maglaras faithfully recites every word of Hartley’s poem as he plays the
artist himself (thanks to some fine makeup work), retaining the 13-chapter structure.
Maglaras’ passion for Hartley’s words is evident and deserving of
praise, but one can’t help but think the story could have been more interesting
as a fleshed-out adaptation. After all, writers are always told to show, not
tell. Maglaras does a lot of telling in the film; we’re essentially presented
with Hartley reciting the poem verbatim into the camera, pieced together with
reenactments of the scenes that look like something out of a bad production
of America’s Most Wanted or the History Channel. The into-camera-monologue
does provide an intimate experience, though, and it’s hard to knock the
filmmaker for staying so faithful to Hartley’s words.
Would Hartley have enjoyed this film based on his poetic narrative? Hard to
say because the man kept the story private and never intended for it to be published.
The film also features 24 of Hartley’s paintings including the Mason family
portraits, which are wonderful. Hartley was a great observer of people he cared
about, and this is a film that will be enjoyed by Hartley fans and the curious
Maglaras will be presenting a free lecture at the Weisman
Art Museum on Wed., Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. and “Cleophas and His Own:
A North Atlantic Tragedy” screens at the Lagoon on Thu., Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. A discussion with the director will follow.
1320 Lagoon Ave., Mpls. 612-825-6006.
Also this week:
The most subversive summer film released in quite sometime will be playing
at the Riverview for at least two days at 9 p.m. Writer/director Richard Linklater
(“Slackers,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise”)
returns to the rotoscoping animation that he used to great effect in 2001’s
strange, acid-tinged philosophical trip of a movie “Waking Life.”
The animation looks much better in Scanner, and this time Linklater actually
tells a coherent story. A faithful adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s story
of the same name and perhaps the best screen translation of any of the highly-regarded
science fiction writer’s novels and short stories (“Blade Runner,”
“Minority Report” and “Total Recall” also come to mind,
though), “A Scanner Darkly” perfectly captures America in a future
where the government has lost the war on drugs. The film can be confusing at
first, but hang in there and you will be rewarded with a supremely satisfying
twist ending. The film’s strongest suit is its brave casting choices:
Keanu Reeves has never been better (this is not a typo, I assure you). Who else
could play a guy with two brain cells left better than Reeves? Woody Harrelson,
Rory Cochrane and Robert Downey, Jr. put forth hilarious efforts as drug-addled
losers, and Winona Ryder puts herself back on the acting map with a deft turn
as a girl who isn’t exactly what she seems. A Scanner Darkly was easily
the most exciting, unique and brilliant cinema experience this summer, and at
$3 a ticket you can’t go wrong. Sept. 20, 21. 9 p.m. $3. 3800 42 Ave
S. Mpls. 612-729-7369. ||