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I recently came across this film (DVD) never having had any clue of its existence. I was profoundly affected by it in no small measure due to the wonderful work of the major players (as well as those of the supporting cast of very competent Hollywood regulars). Richard Chamberlain (Thaddeus), Michael Imperioli (Allen) and James Duval (Jaime) in particular give heartfelt performances that, in my opinion, either confirmed reasons for (as in the case of Chamberlain) or predicted (as in the case of Imperioli and Duval) the great success of these actors . Chamberlain has intonations and expressions that come from nothing short of great insight into the pains of a character who is facing a death with romantic frustrations. Imperioli, on the other hand, displays a mix of decency and occasional rage which so typifies a person who has internal good but still has been adversely affected up by the world around him. James Duval displays uncanny understanding of the nuances of psychological complexity associated with many street hustlers who, very often, need a little love even when they may not let themselves admit it. He will forever be remembered and seen in this movie as the good looking, clean cut, tough, street smart kid who holds it all in until the end when he comes to realize the feelings he holds that he has previously been afraid to embrace. It's all masterfully summed up with his tearful expressions of affection towards the end of the film. The renderings of Clare De Lune in the background of the Santa Monica street scene at the beginning of the film and Mozart's Requiem at the end express the fleeting nature of youth, beauty and life while emoting deep feelings of sorrow and tragedy. The appropriate playing of Ave Verum Corpus towards the end of the film during the art show aptly coincides with an action that Jamie has initiated which, as the ending of the movie seems to indicate, results in a step towards his salvation (as well as Allen's). A director's cut DVD should be made including a "making of "documentary. Independent films such as this are not to be forgotten. Period.
For reasons unknown to me, director James Merendino signed this film as Allen Smithee, a usual sign of discomfort or dissatisfaction with the final product, or meaning a clash between producers and director. Although producer Jon Powell appears twice in an important role, it is still strange because "River Made To Drown In" is a very good film that in its own way conveys the same feeling of despair and love for youth-as-art found in "Death in Venice" but in the 90s. Written by Paul Marius (who plays the manager of a sex club), it is a perceptive look at the relationship between young male prostitutes and their much older clients ("johns"). These are usually men beyond their sixties who still seek quick and impersonal sex among young guys who could care less for their old-age anguish. Richard Chamberlain plays Thaddeus MacKenzie, an old lawyer with AIDS, who wants to spend his last days with the only two persons he loved, two young hustlers. Allen Hayden (Michael Imperioli) has changed his life style and has become an artist. He is having an affair with Eva (Ute Lemper), a wealthy gallery owner who knows nothing about his past. The other one is even younger, Jaime (James Duval), the son of an ex model and a Buddhist monk, who wants to raise enough money to go visit his father. It is interesting that a young man like Marius, has come with an incisive story and some keen dialogues that could have been written by someone older and perhaps "wiser". What makes the Allen Smithee credit more intriguing is that Merendino is a filmmaker with real talent for directing actors, for composition, and with a good eye for expressing the inherent affective dislocation of the story. He receives good help from cinematographer Thomas Callaway, whose angles, use of cranes, hand-held camera or play with depth of field, convey the distortion of these people's lives. On the other hand, editor Esther P. Russell has made a very good job to suggest the fragmentation of the daily experience of these persons. The cross-cutting between different scenes transforms dialogues to an extent that they have greater meaning because of her editing: take, for example, the dialogue between Thaddeus and Eva on a bench, while both Allen and Jaime are involved in different places, in unpleasant situations with clients. There is no place for silly sentimentality or gratuitous sex scenes here (unless they have been cut), although the story is about love and sex between men: it is an almost heartless film, as most of the characters are. But even then, Merendino and Marius show real affection for these people, and have made a very rewarding and intelligent feature on the hustler scene.
As that renowned philosopher Roseanne Roseannadanna used to tell Jane
Curtin on "Saturday Night Live": "Well Jane, it's always something". No
truer words were ever spoken. If it's not discrimination or rejection
or hate crimes, it's some awful illness. And whatever it is, that
something gives us permission to drown our sorrow in our beer, or our
soup, or our birthday cake.
And so, self-loathing Thaddeus (Richard Chamberlain) exudes resentment and bitterness in a charming sort of way, as he calls on his old friend Allen (Michael Imperioli) to help him fulfill one last dream, before he dies. Allen resists, and tons of dialogue ensues.
Because much of the plot takes place indoors, and because the script is so talky, the story might have had more success as a Broadway play, where melancholy melodrama can be more appreciated. Most the film's characters, not just Thaddeus, have reached the end of the line, with little or no hope for the future, and with no dreams left to pursue. The story is an orgy of sentimental pathos.
But at least the film gives us some insight into the artistic temperament. Richard Chamberlain's performance is entertaining, if perhaps a tad hammy. The film's score varies from jazzy to mournful. Production design is modest. Color cinematography is conventional.
With its explicit references to Buddhism, and its cynical and fatalistic themes, the film will be too alien and bleak for most viewers. But as art-house story material, the film has thematic depth in human tragedy. As such, "A River Made To Drown In", while not nearly as good, reminds me a lot of one of its better predecessors, the landmark movie: "The Boys In The Band" (1970).
As a fan of both James Duval and Ute Lemper, I picked up the DVD last night with somewhat high expectations. What a disappointing film! As soon as I saw the "Allen Smithee" credit, the red flag was raised, and I'm convinced the director couldn't have supported the final version and thus cloaked himself in the traditional tag. Richard Chamberlain absolutely devours the scenery (what's with the accent?), and Duval is all over the map. Imperioli, however, is good, and Lemper makes you wish she would do more film work (if you have the chance, see her in concert--she's excellent!). The supporting cast do what they can, and you'll recognize many faces (West Hollywood residents will easily pick out location shots). But why did Talia Shire get a higher credit than Austin Pendleton? Gay viewers hoping for man-on-man sex scenes are out of luck; beyond a few stage kisses, pretty much nothing happens. On the other hand, Imperioli and Lemper spend a bit of time canoodling, which seems odd for a film targeted for a gay audience. Another in a long line of gay-themed feature films, including JOHNS and BIG EDEN, that aren't much more than made-for-tv movies.
Having just endured the DVD of this movie this afternoon, I agree that
pretty much crap in every facet. The script, direction, and
are all amateur at best. But where I would give some credit is to a
of the actors. While I thought Richard Chamberlain and James Duval were
awful, I thought Michael Imperioli showed geniune screen presence and
at times, and it is easy to see why he has gone on to bigger and better
things including his mega-role on The Sopranos. I also was surprised that
Ute Lemper was as effective as she was. Well, at least she wasn't
embarrassing, as was most of the rest of the cast.
I'm not surprised the director chose to go take Allen Smithee route on this one -- Merendino has done better work. "Livers Ain't Cheap" anyone?
It was very brave and admirable for Richard Chamberlain to come "out", but surely he would have waited if he had known Wolfe was going to release this horror of a film. I knew the film was in trouble when James Merendino refused to take credit for the direction...a la Allen Smithee, the pseudonym for anyone too ashamed of his contribution to a motion picture. Some of the dialogue WAS good, I have to admit...but I was so distracted by the cinematography. I rushed to IMDB to see what other movies Thomas Calloway was credited for filming only to find his genre WAS horror movies...so in essence, it made sense that he should direct this film as well. However, it must have been the first time anyone ever let him use a dolly. It became as a Disney World ride as we kept jumping up and down...and then, the "ART" shot, where he opened a scene of Richard Chamberlain on the bed while we, the audience, were viewing him through a close-up of Michael Imperioli's navel pubic hair. God! How bold! Then the editing. Esther Russell must have edited the film in her brand new Cuisinart food processor, as there was absolutely no continuity whatsoever. The whole film was made like a hundred individual scenes and spliced together at random. No one with a humongous imagination could ever believe that Michael Imperioli would have ever been Richard's boy toy...let alone, James Duval, who must have been twelve years old when Richard gave him AIDS. There must've been miles of deletions in the floor of Ms. Russell's kitchen, otherwise, why would an Oscar nominated actress as Talia Shire take a role of one minute screen time with less than 20 lines? The entire movie is an embarrassment. Richard Chamberlain's over the top acting is not matched by any of the other players, which makes him look like a Christmas ham. And the music...dear God, the music! The score was made up of everyone in the cast's favorite all time LP's. If you are a fan of any member of the cast, PLEASE DO NOT SEE THIS FILM! I am a big fan of Chamberlain, Duval, and Imperioli, but I wish I had never rented this film to see how low their careers had withered to make this movie. Richard should have removed his name also, and used "Vince Edwards" instead.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack (in Will and Grace) suggests that the 'great unspoken gay secret'
is that most gay movies are dreadful. 'A River Made to Drown In' is the
cinemagraphic proof of Jack's assertion. It is clear to see why the
director decided not to have his name attached to this tedious piece.
The script never really gets beyond the mundane; it is stilted and
gives the impression of being written by a committee of 1st year drama
students. "Do you know why people can no longer appreciate tragedy?
Because they have lost their capacity for faith." Was only surpassed by
a punter saying to Allen (the artist cum rent-boy, and the film's main
character) "I prefer warm hearted conversation to frigid sex anytime -
actually I'm lying".
Richard Chamberlain, spends half the time camping it up in a white and suit and hat. His lines to make you long for a small fire in your DVD player to end the misery. He spills red wine on his waistcoat and cries "Oh look I've got a bleeding heart". Annoyed with the ex young hustler, he assaults him with the deadly phrase "You're as transparent as cheap crystal". Chamberlain's portrayal, of a lawyer dying from an HIV related illness, teeters like an amateur performance of a 1930's Belgian detective who is about to expose the prime suspect in the drawing room of an English country house. It had all the finesse of a slightly inebriated uncle doing his 'party piece' at a family gathering. To steal a quote from Gore Vidal, or was it Noel Coward? "You'd have to have a heart of stone not to have laughed out loud at Chamberlain's death sequence."
The story, ostensibly about a dying man trying to spend his final days with the only people that have meant anything to him (the two young hustlers), makes you think that he should have got out more. Perhaps the major flaw in this film is that none of the main characters have a single redeeming quality. Consequently, the audience can never truly engage with the protagonist's situation, which is seldom the recipe for a good movie.
This film was banned in Singapore, although not a proponent of any form of censorship, I can only support this action on the grounds that no one should be subjected to gay-themed cinema that is this bad! You have been warned.
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