CINIS VITAE, being a series of faux-resumes for forgotten, unknown or misunderstood filmmaking geniuses.
CINIS VITAE: MARK RAPPAPORT
“I just make connections that are maybe not visible to other people or other people haven’t thought of. It’s like Attention Deficit Disorder on a more exalted scale" – Mark Rappaport in an interview on the website FILMINFOCUS
To get cinephiles who may be unaware of one of the greatest bodies of work to seek out the unique films of Mark Rappaport
Born: Brighton Beach Brooklyn, NY
Current Location: France
CASUAL RELATIONS (1973)
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS.. Less a vampire movie than a film about vampirism, the kind perpetrated by ourselves against ourselves with help from the oppressive communicative systems that surround us. Mark Rappaport’s debut film follows/examines various connected and unconnected characters that are possessed by their inability to separate what is real from the incessant noise filtered through their lives by the media, societal expectations and the chatter of those around them who are similarly possessed. In one scene we are told that a woman has decided to watch television all day. We then watch her watch television, from one angle for over 7 minutes. She is alternately interested, bored, and annoyed, as are we. Who is being possessed here, or more importantly, who isn’t?
MOZART IN LOVE (1975)
Mozart in Love is unavailable in any format.
FROM IMDB: An irreverent take on Mozart’s relations with the three Weber sisters. Louisa, whom he loved, but who didn’t love him; Constanza , whom he loved and married; Sophie who loved him but whom he didn’t love. An anthology of arias from Mozart’s operas, in which art comments on life through a cheeky use of back-projection and miming to records.
Rappaport’s second feature is extraordinary. After two viewings i began to see that here he explores some not-so-casual relationships between the three women and “Mozart” to examine, through music and imagery, the way we inflate our emotional responses to visual and aural stimuli when seeking forms of intimacy. He plays with the audio to contrast the swelling romanticism of Mozart’s music as sung on record by trained artists with the tinny vocal stylings of his performers. Costume and prop switches between characters signal minute and grand changes of feeling while never dwelling on them, even if the characters do. Our hearts sing one song while our faces, bodies and voices sing another. The film plays with documenting itself as the the film begins with modern performers learning their roles and sometimes returns to modern dress and speech to comment on itself. There is a transcendent moment when the lead actor drives through a tunnel while singing Mozart over the Mozart on the soundtrack and the limited lighting in the tunnel speeds past his and our eyes the way our very lives frequently speed past us. A singular and towering achievement.
LOCAL COLOR (1977)
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS . Are our lives like a sitcom or have we created a sitcom world around our lives? Do we ever really know another person or are they simply another character in the drama we have created for ourselves to star in? Do we think original thoughts or simply repeat formulaic phrases we have caught on the tube or the radio? If Nijinsky dances and no one sees it did it really happen, and if not, is it truly the dance one of the main characters in Local Color is obsessed with or is it the void? Following a myriad of characters through a black and white universe of phoned in conversations, Rappaport sees the struggle to navigate this terrain as a positive one if there is love involved, even if it remains under the surface.
No person is an island in Local Color because as much as we may try to isolate ourselves and our feelings, other lives are always present not only around us, but within us. Much of the character’s frustrations are due to the conflict within each person between themselves and their other selves.
THE SCENIC ROUTE (1978)
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS . A love triangle that quickly becomes a love quint-angle or multi-angle when mainly the two female protagonists cannot distinguish between their “true” selves and the identities they imagine for themselves when staring in the mirror. The characters see themselves acting for others and attempt to break out of their roles but even in the attempt they find themselves acting. Their surroundings are less like real places than like postcards they use to mark off “important’ moments but memory, unlike a postcard, is fluid and both are deceitful.
Some of our ideas about ourselves come from ourselves while others come from movies, books, paintings or other extraneous places. A majority of them come from the way others see us. Rappaport’s film seems to ask us how we can be ourselves when we spend so much time sorting out the meanings and origins of our ideas about ourselves, and our ideas about others? He reveals that our personal mythologies aren’t very personal and may not even be mythological. Without locating a specific source for anyone’s personal mythology, the filmmaker’s zigzagging from source to source and location to location is a form of non-specific truth making. Here, it’s the movement and not the message that counts.
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS .There is a bravura sequence in this, Rappaport’s most deliberately theatrical feature, in which several people are running behind the scenes of a theater in which three of the main characters perform a bizarre stage show. The female assistant in the stage show is running from an old boyfriend while several extras and others are running with or near her. Some are running for their next performance while some may be running to catch a cab but at times their purposes are unclear and we may be confused as to who is running from or to whom. All the worlds a stage, in Rappaport’s universe, and everyone is playing. Here, however, play is not synonymous with frivolity, it is what makes the world go round. Systems of play are built into our systems of communication. Language is designed for play and resists the work our inner longings put it through.
In Imposters, it is less the filmmaker’s than the character’s obsession with symbols that constrains them. Words are the most common and the most binding symbols and the situation may seem dire but it is never cynical. We can’t really trust our words or the words of others to convey our innermost thoughts and feelings but we never stop making attempts to find new ways of speaking that will help our spirits break free from our sentences. Sometimes we end up trying the same words that didn’t work on a new person hoping to get a different, more fulfilling response. Two characters, “twin” brothers who headline the stage show, are supposedly seeking treasure and believe their assistant has information that will lead them to it but both become distracted by their attraction to the treasures they discover in the persons of their female assistant, for the straight brother and those of her main suitor, a charming, insecure man who believes he is a werewolf, for the gay brother. The brother kill and torture various people throughout the film in their search for the treasure but it is unclear if the killings are real or simply visions of desire and loss.
CHAIN LETTERS (1985)
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS .It turns out that we’ve been programmed to think a certain way and to love certain people. A character in Chain Letters is convinced that the state has programmed us but Rappaport’s wise film seems to argue that we have done the programming ourselves. We must find patterns in life to explain why we are who we and why we do what we do but why do our minds see certain patterns and not others? When does the programming begin and who programs the programmer? Do our actions really affect those around us deeply or, when we leave them, are they simply left with a few symbols, words or images they can then pass on to the next person in their life, like a chain letter? Again, Rappaport provides all the right questions.
Rappaport’s last truly “fictional” feature film is filled with plot but he ultimately reveals that all plots are fictions we create, even those that may be “true.” At one point one of the characters tells another about a story he is writing called “The Spy Within,” a conspiracy tale that he, and another character, eventually believe to be a true memory. What the film suggests, however, is that truth is what we make it. Knowledge is mutable, experience is painful and these are not necessarily bad things. The film begins with a murder and ends with a murder but is really more about the death of clarity in it’s character’s motivations than about any purely physical state of being.
LIMITED AVAILABILITY ON VHS. The film is in a collection called Three Short Films which also includes Exterior Night (see below) and Mark Rappaport: The TV Spinoff
ROCK HUDSON’S HOME MOVIES (1992)
AVAILABLE ON DVD. Avant Garde filmmaker Martin Arnold once said “the cinema of Hollywood is a cinema of exclusion, reduction and denial, a cinema of repression. There is always something behind what is being represented which was not represented. And it is exactly that that is most interesting to explore." Working in a far more humane and sympathetic mode than Arnold uses in his short, cynical reworkings of clichéd Hollywood films, Rappaport creates a first person essay film in which Rock Hudson, played by an actor, walks us through his films to show how much of his acting choices and the producer’s decision to cast him in roles was influenced by his secretly being gay. Funny and meditative at the same time.
FROM THE JOURNALS OF JEAN SEBERG (1993)
LIMITED AVAILABLITY ON DVD. In what is generally regarded as his greatest “essay” film, Rappaport has Mary Beth Hurt portray the tragic star of Saint Joan, Breathless and Bonjour Tristesse, who committed suicide at the age of 40, as a living commentator on her life, rise and demise. Hurt, as Seberg, dissects the hidden ideas behind the roles she played onscreen and in real life. The early ideas, about throwing women on the barbie (Saint Joan), using them as femme fatales (Breathless) or as conniving lolitas (Bonjour Tristesse), come fast and loose and dovetail nicely with later comparisons with other Hollywood ingénues. Jean mirrors Joan who mirrors Jean who mirrors Jane (Fonda) and Vanessa (Redgrave). The Kuleshov Effect is revealed to ironically be as prevalent in a stars real life as in their reel life. These fictional journals expose the spectator’s relationship to the celebrity to be one of perpetual burnings and resurrections.
EXTERIOR NIGHT (1995)
“Déjà vu, something old, nothing new. Why, am I blue? Déjà vu.” Rappaport’s short meditation on memory and desire, begins with an ending. Steve, our main protagonist, has just finished watching a poor movie version of a book by his favorite mystery writer. Biff Farley. Soon after, he has a dream in which Farley, his grandfather, is killed on a noirish street corner. When he wakes up he has the feeling the answer to the mystery of why he is dreaming can be found at his parents house, specifically from his father. The rest of the film is also a dream, however, and there is no real possibility of waking from such a dream.
Steve’s dad has little concrete information to give him but after leaving the dinner his mother has prepared the two run into Steve’s late grandfather, who insists on being called Biff. For a time, Steve’s dad takes over the story as his memories and the mysteries surrounding them get to him. He too seeks a few answers from Biff, supposedly to better help Steve. Biff, of course, has his own path to pursue and can spare little time to help his son or Steve, who develops a theory that everything hinges on the unanswered solution to Biff’s last novel, The Gilded Lily, even though he is a part of Steve’s dream! Early in the film Steve meets an attractive singer who says her name is Sylvie and later confesses that it is really Rainbow. Sylvie/Rainbow sings a song called Déjà Vu (Lyrics by Rappaport) in a nightclub with no name. She has her own needs and fears which have nothing to do with Steve’s familial obsessions.
Shot in brightly colored video, with the exteriors being screened in shots from classic film noirs such as The Maltese Falcon, Mildred Pierce, and The Big Sleep, Exterior Night may sound like a David Lynch film on paper but it feels of a piece with Rappaport’s earlier work. Even in our dreams other lives may intrude and take over for a time. The narrator in our head may change as often as the names and faces in our memories.
THE SILVER SCREEN: COLOR ME LAVENDER (1997)
AVAILABLE ON DVD
ADDITIONAL SKILLS/NON-FILM WORKS
Mark is living in France and working on new photomontage projects. He has recently attended a film festival in the Canary Islands where his nineties film work was shown.
A collection of photomontages created over the past several years in which various classic Hollywood and international films are combined with each other to create new worlds.
LE SPECTATEUR QUI EN SAVAIT TROP.
A 200 page collection of writings. Only available in French and available on Amazon.fr
Sutherland Trophy: 1978, The Scenic Route
Various articles written for The Criterion Collection liner notes, including Breathless, and for Rouge online film magazine.
Ray Carney on MarK Rappaport
Dave Kehr on From The Journals of Jean Seberg
Roger Ebert on The Scenic Route
A selection from LE SPECTATEUR QUI EN SAVAIT TROP
My review of The Scenic Route
Mark Rappaport Master Class Part 1: