Road to Nowhere
Aug. 19 – Aug. 25. Real Art Ways, 56 Arbor St., Hartford. 860-232-1006, realartways.org.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Now playing at Real Art Ways: cult favorite Monte Hellman returns to film directing after a lengthy hiatus with Road to Nowhere. The film plays with conventions of film-making by giving us a film within a film, leaving it up to the audience to decide where fiction ends and reality begins.
The backstory of Hellman's film, and the story that the film within the film, also called "Road to Nowhere" and directed by Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan), is telling a version of, involves a big real estate scam in North Carolina and the seeming deaths of the principle players: Velma Duran, Rafe Tachen, and a police officer. The story was covered on a blog by lovely Nathalie Post (Dominique Swain) which brings her and the tale to the attention of a screenwriter (insufferable as screenwriters tend to be in movies) and an insurance investigator Bruno Brotherton (Waylon Payne). Brotherton adopts a different persona to ingratiate himself with the film crew. Why? Because he believes Laurel Graham (Shannyn Sossamon), the unknown actress who has been hired by Haven to play Velma Duran in his film (over hopefuls like Scarlett Johansson – the joys of fiction!), is the real Velma Duran. And indeed there are scenes that seem to show Graham speaking as though she has been in hiding, and other scenes showing her being "hired" to "be" the daughter of Duran's father, a patrician Cuban (Fabio Testi). Our confusion is deepened by the fact that the same actor, Cliff de Young, plays the "famous" actor, Cary Stewart, who plays Taschen in Haven's film, and also, ostensibly, the real Taschen, in hiding. In other words, Graham may really be Duran, but Stewart, in reality, can't be Tachen – but he's played by the same actor in Hellman's film and in Haven's.
Hellman's film drops clues about what's really going on but isn't in any hurry to confirm or deny – rather, Hellman is more interested in director Haven's journey. That story, in which Graham/Duran is a romantic femme fatale, doesn't really need the film-within-a-film sleight of hand and is the most compelling aspect of Road to Nowhere due to Sossamon's mercurial performance. At one point Haven tells her: "the camera has a crush on you," and that's quite true of Hellman's film.
For classics, check out the films showing as part of "Movies and Mimosas" at the Criterion, 11:30 a.m., 8/27 and 8/28. In New Haven, it's the estimable attempt at Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), directed by Richard Brooks, with Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor, both at their most gorgeous as a Southern husband and wife spatting under the shadow of Burl Ives' patriarchal Big Daddy. The film is marred by the kind of corniness and sentimentality that marred most Hollywood productions in the '50s, but are still well-worth the time as examples of a style of filmmaking gone with the wind.