The Unbelievable Truth was Hal Hartley’s first feature length film. He says he was inspired by the success of fellow American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch who started releasing films a few years earlier. Both of these filmmakers have often been lumped in with a list of important independent filmmakers doing their own things but getting wide distribution without the help of big studios in the 1980s. The same thing was happening with music. And you can see this kind of aesthetic in Hartley’s films even though his films are highly recognizable as all his own.
Hal’s style was set from the very start here. There’s not much subtext to the dialogue. He has strong characters and interesting story and he doesn’t beat around the bush getting to the essential idea and conflict of every scene. Characters are not afraid to spell it out in their own dialogue. The dialogue blatantly functions to develop the story and to allow characters to spell right out who they are and what they think and feel. Thus it’s also very much a style of ideas. You understand who a character is and are able to listen and consider their viewpoints on a myriad of ideas. I’m probably repeating what I’ve said in the Hartley introduction thread and the Henry Fool thread, but here you can see the beginnings of it.
Like my last selection Henry Fool and a lot of Hal’s films, the characters in the film all seem very much to be part of a community where a selection of a relatively small cast of characters just naturally seems to be around every locale that is visited. Although all of the characters seem to be around they all know each other to varying degrees and rumors about people abound.
One of the main themes of the film seem to be exploring what is important to people. Most of the time the answer seems to be either money, image, or another person or a conflict of these things. Strangely enough there is a dollar bill painted on the wall in Audry’s bedroom near the beginning of the film. The thing that differentiates Josh from the other men in the film is that he doesn’t seem to care about money. He’s more interested in science and ideas and how an engine works. Emmet and Todd are both stuck on possessions and money. Audry’s father cares about her but sees the world in terms of making deals and making sure everything he gets he’s paying a fair price for. This becomes comic in how often he is renegotiating these deals because he can’t think of the world in any different context.
While I think most of Hartley’s films are funny, I think this one is even more so than Henry Fool. I read in an interview somewhere Hartley feeling like some of the gags he used in this first film of his were a little cheap. I don’t know that he necessarily used the word “gag” or “cheap” but he said something to that affect. Even if that’s the case, these are still cheap gags in the context of his world and if you like his style I think they will bring a smile to your face.
Tremendous first feature. Not quite as polished as some of Hartley’s later stuff, but already many elements of the later style are there.
Survivinf Desire is my favorite Hartley film, but this is second (Simple Men is a close third). I enjoy hartley’s dry humor and quirks and that is on display here in first film.
It’s certainly more than worth the time to watch and then watch again to pick up on the subtle things not caught the first time around.
I really love this movie and Trust, there was something beautiful in their raw unpolished forms
Remember a sneak preview of this film at a theate I was working in. Came so out of left field at the time. Remember grooving to this picture in such a big way. Wound up seeing this at least 3 or 4 times projected dragging new people to it each time. Became such a fan of Hal (damn shame he basically disappeared after Henry Fool). “She’s crazy you know” “listen do you hear that….. bombs” Haven’t seen it in years but it is a film burned upon the brain. mind you “surviving desire” also my fav Hartley and really have a soft spot for the orginal “Flirt” short.
and can one really talk about the cineman of Hal Hartley without talking about his nom de plume Ned Rifle the music in his films is always perfection especially amateur and simple men
I’m glad to see people like Surviving Desire as that’s what I’ll be playing next. Hopefully many of those who haven’t seen it yet will fall in love with it as well.
really have a soft spot for the orginal “Flirt” short.
Do you know where I can see this? I haven’t been able to find it.
Adrienne Shelly sure wasn’t beautiful wasn’t she?
Already like this more than Henry Fool and Adrienne Shelly is definitely easy on the eyes. Will finish it sometime soon.
It just came in today. i’m pumped for my second hartley.
What do you feel all about the repetative dialogue where it goes around in circles? Hartley has a scene like this in a lot of his films. I love it. It reminds me of acting class where you resay the same lines in different ways, sometimes only slightly different and the repetition and slight differences start to take on more monumental effect.
I don’t remember a lot of details about this, but I remember loving the dialogue. Actually, imo, the most distinctive feature of Hartley is his dialogue (which is interesting given the quote on his mubi page). I’ve only seen two of his films, though, but I really want to see the others.
aw riss, you are so silly :)
Yeah, I was waiting to post that ever since I started the thread.