One weekend back in college in the mid-90s I spotted a friend in the dining hall who was carrying his tray while wearing rumpled pajamas and a delirious grin. I asked him what was up. “Nothing, I’ve just been watching Hal Hartley movies nonstop since last night,” he said, then drifted away, still smiling, as if that was all there was to say. Back then, that was all there was to say, at least among those of us to whom Hartley’s films mattered. It would be another year until Hartley won the best screenplay award at Cannes for Henry Fool, which proved to be the pinnacle of a film career that unexpectedly retreated from the limelight over the following decade (while the stars of his contemporaries Steven Soderbergh and Todd Haynes shined ever brighter). But at that point, he figured as prominently in our cultural moment as Haruki Murakami and Pavement.
Flash forward fifteen years: Hartley has finished four features since Henry Fool, a respectable ratio given the increasingly inhospitable environment for producing respectably-budgeted indie fare, especially those as unapologetically idiosyncratic as Hartley’s. In a world that mashes early Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes, Robert Bresson and MGM musicals, Hartley’s films are charged by characters who speak with the seemingly rational deliberateness of computer engineers but whose minds seem mis-programmed for perpetually bad behavior. Their mazes of words lead them into a perpetual series of dead ends. And that’s when their bodies take over. See for yourself.
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In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that these films would appeal to over-intellectualizing college kids desperate to break out of the mental traps of their environment (but for whom the default release valve of sloshy keg parties provided little solace).
Today is Hartley’s 52nd birthday, and on this occasion it’s heartening to see him busy as ever creating: in fact his new project Meanwhile is nearing the finish line, having already been shot and edited. Originally planned as a one-hour featurette like his earlier films Surviving Desire and The Book of Life, the project evolved into a potential television series, but after initial interest the TV industry backed away. Eager to distribute the film on his own, Hartley has opened a Kickstarter page to “complete the audio mix and to prepare the various materials needed for commercial exploitation, which includes the design, authoring, and manufacturing of a limited edition DVD and CD of the original music.” The trailer looks good:
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Kickstarter has proven to be a viable resource for indie filmmakers to crowdsource their projects to completion, raising funds and public awareness simultaneously. Last month Fandor streamed Far from Afghanistan, helping the project meet its $25,000 Kickstarter goal to cover its production costs and prepare for its festival rollout. Andrew Bujalski, director of the outstanding film Beeswax, raised over $50,000 for his new film Computer Chess. Hartley’s Meanwhile is over a third of the way towards meeting its $40,000 goal, with 27 days left. Pledge donation amounts range from $5 (for which you’ll receive a lobby card) to $1000 (for which you’ll get listed as a co-producer and party with the cast and crew at the NYC premiere).
So if you’re a Hal Hartley fan, or simply would like to support a deserving project, consider giving Hal the perfect birthday present, and help him finish his new film. You can also watch his outstanding featurette Surviving Desire here on Fandor, as well as several of his most recent shorts from last year: Accomplice, Adventure, A/Muse, Implied Harmonies and The Apologies. Enjoy – meanwhile I’m off to look up my college friend to see if he still walks around in his pajamas (hopefully they have deep pockets).
Kevin B. Lee is Editor of Keyframe at Fandor. Follow him on Twitter.