Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 03, 2005 6:49 pm 
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Precision and awkwardness

Forty Shades of Blue is about a triangle: a legendary Memphis record producer, Alan James (Rip Torn) has a young Muscovite lover, Laura (Dina Korzun) who lives with him and has given him a three-year-old son, but she’s terribly lonely and insecure and constantly being forgotten about by her famous, boozing, philandering man. Along comes James’s son Michael (Darren Burrows), a cheek-boned hunk who looks like an aging soap star and who’s semi-estranged from his wife now she’s become pregnant. Laura isn’t really pretty but in her posh desperation – she can shop all she wants – she plays the trophy girlfriend role to the max: she pretties herself up, is never without makeup, wears her bottle-blonde tresses finely combed, sports dressy outfits and expensive jewelry all the time. She’s desperately unhappy in an alien land. She says she’s the luckiest person she knows but she’s one of the most convincingly pathetic women in recent films. Korzun seems uncomfortable; she moves as if her back were in a brace; her English is correct but stiff and accented. But none of this is bad acting; it’s a precise creation on her part. Rip Torn has bursts of fluency and seems at home in his role. But there’s an awkward, improvised quality about the dialogue and the movie’s rhythms sometimes seem jerky, despite heavy Memphis music scene atmosphere and an appropriate soundtrack.

Eventually the spoiled, indecisive Michael and the quietly desperate Laura get physical. Alan doesn’t seem to notice. He might not care. After having good sex with Michael Laura has bad sex with Alan and she cries and cries and cries. She thinks she should be so happy, but she isn’t.

Ira Sachs tells audiences for the film’s premiere showings that he grew up gay and Jewish in Memphis and identifies with Laura’s alienation and loneliness. He was inspired by Ken Loach working with Chris Menges and by French films and Sajayit Ray’s Charulata, and he and Korzun talked about Isabelle Huppert and holding back, remaining mysterious.

Forty Shades of Blue has an unforgettable character at its center. But there is something static about her and the film at some times that makes it awkward and painful to watch. (Perhaps that is as it should be.) It’s a very sad movie. It contains merrymaking but no mirth. Specificity weighs upon it – the Russianness of the Russian woman, the perceived authenticity of the Memphis recording industry surroundings -- and makes the movie seem to be imploding rather than moving forward. It ended originally with James and Laura in a car, Sachs says. Julianne Moore, who was considering the role of Laura six years ago, said “something’s got to happen,” so Laura in the finished film gets out of the car and walks down the street. But the frame freezes on her: she’s going nowhere. Is that better than what might have been a more confrontational or logical finale – her suicide the motorcycle of a man she flirts with at a party? It’s interesting that Sash's next project is to be “a suspense film based on a British pulp fiction” about “a delicate middle aged man who kills his wife to spare her the humiliation of divorce.” In Forty Shades of Blue, Alan publicly declares that he will marry Laura, but she wanders off looking desperate with the man on the motorcycle. You almost wish it had crashed.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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