Friday, November 03, 2006

Trouble and Desire

Usually I poke around at IMDB for things to make fun of but sometimes the news pokes back. Today one of IMDB's headlines read Adrienne Shelly dead.

What might be saddest of all is most of you are probably shrugging "Shelly who?" (Note even the DVD cover art above spells her name wrong.) But for those of us who felt independent film meant something back around 1990, this is a terrible loss. For Shelly was the enigmatically impish muse for Hal Hartley's first films, back when he seemed like something revolutionary, and each new film seemed more both straightforward and unconventionally terrific than anything else on the screen. I'm not the first person to point out how much Hartley was a corrective to John Hughes, making adolescence--which he wisely knew for men could linger into the early thirties--something as mundane and magical as it truly is. The cleanness of Hartley's suburbia could swallow you whole, all those cool planes of primary colors. And his steady stable of actors were always a bit too handsome/beautiful but stripped of glamor, mere ordinary gods, for as much as his films mirror reality, they are always films. They toy with that artifice, no more so than with the blatant symbolism of the hand grenade that threatens to blow Trust and its characters to bits.

Similarly his dialog, pitched somewhere between noir and melodrama, has to ring fast and deadpan. It's tough to pull off, but no one did it better than Shelly, giving just the right intonation to exchanges like:

Maria (played by Shelly): He's dangerous but sincere.
Nurse Paine: Sincerely dangerous.
Maria Coughlin: No, he's dangerous because he's sincere.

as the words flop about like fish on the deck of the good ship Meaning. In both Unbelievable Truth and Trust her characters grow, well, it might not be "up" as Hartley isn't so sure mature is a goal. But they deepen, and anyone who mistakenly thinks Shelly is just big hair and big lips underestimates her petite power at their own risk (just ask her dad in Trust, in one of the most outlandish openings in non-horror cinema, that is if what families do to each other isn't often rich with intimate barbarity).

Of course, beyond how sad it is to see someone still so young--just 40--dead, there's the purely selfish part of it. Shelly tended to play younger than her real age, which is younger than my age, and in my celluloid-clouded head she and the Hartley films play a rich part. So if she's gone, part of me is, too, some bit of youth, some bit of dreaming, some life when I saw many more films than I do now and remembered lines I loved that I now have to Google for to get right which isn't right at all.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Mike said...

Jeez! That's awful.

I wasn't a huge Hartley fan, but like most 90s Indy fans, I saw his stuff here & there. I also wasn't too knowledgable about Shelly's work, but from what I knew I liked her a lot. Always a total sucker for smart, pretty gals (on screen and in life), she was right up my alley.

Shit. And when you see someone your own age leaving (I'm a month short of 39), that just . . .

And she had a 3 month-old child.

6:00 AM  
Blogger CLD said...

Looks like she was murdered -- she didn't commit suicide.

http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Guardian/0,,1942286,00.html

9:30 AM  

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