Henry Fool, Fay Grim and Why You Should Give Money to Ned Rifle
Director Hal Hartley is Kickstarting his new movie, Ned Rifle, which is the third movie in a series that started with 1997's Henry Fool and continued in 2006 with Fay Grim.
Henry Fool is my favorite film of all time. If you want to understand why, you can start by watching this:
In 1997, the foul-mouthed, egomaniacal, ex-con, self-described genius writer Henry Fool was everything I wanted in a literary mentor, and I very much identified with Simon Grim, the quiet garbage man turned poet whom he takes under his wing. The film is archly written, as with everything Hartley does, and characters speak in brilliant monologues and rapid-fire back-and-forth that descends up and down registers from literary erudition to vernacular sexuality in the space of a sentence. As Henry himself puts it, leafing through a pornographic magazine, "I refuse to discriminate between modes of knowing".
It's a movie I come back to once every few years and watch again, and even though I've almost memorized every line at this point, I still see new things of it, new angles on the characters, new layers of meaning in their dialog. There's a scene where Simon is sitting with a pile of rejection letters on his lap, and reads one off where the editor of a magazine says "This tract you've sent us demands a response as violent as the effect your words have had upon us. Drop dead. Keep your day job." To which Henry blithely responds "De gustibus non disputandum est."
Simon: "You can't argue with taste?"
Henry: "About taste. You can't argue about taste. God, Simon."
Henry, condescending to Simon even as he wants to build him up and talk him out of the funk of extreme rejection. And is he right to do that? To tell him that he's written "a work of great lyrical beauty and ethical depth"? Is it true and is there such a thing as truth in art? Is he setting him up for disaster? Is he just a fool? Is he using Simon for his own egotistical ends? You're never quite sure.
For me, this is just about a perfect film about art, ambition and its relationship to our everyday lives.
The sequel, Fay Grim, is a radically different movie, taking the same characters and actors and throwing them into a spy thriller (with special guests Jeff Goldblum and Saffron Burrows). I'll only say that Henry here is a different man, and was a different man all along, and the first movie becomes a different film because of it.
I admit I'm less enamored of the second film because it strips out the meditations on art, though the Harem Fool sequence is as good as anything Hartley has ever written. But it's fascinating in how it plays with our preconceptions of genre, in what a sequel is supposed to be, and how our presumptions about character can be pulled under the rug at any moment by some new stray bit of information.
Which is all why you must give money to the Ned Rifle project. Because if it's anything like the first two movies, it will have the power to change everything we think we know. Which is, I think, what the best art does.
Also, if you've never seen Henry Fool and Fay Grim, find and watch them immediately.