Mark Rappaport is an American independent director who has been highly acclaimed over his 30 year career. His film From the Journals of Jean Seberg as been mentioned a few times on this site. Except for FTJOJS, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, and The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender, none of his previous features are readily available on any format. Here are a few descriptions of this work from Ray Carney’s website:
What do vampires, Hollywood melodramas, porn films, the countdown of golden oldies, and drives down the highway with Mick Jagger on the radio have in common? Casual Relations knows. In Rappaport’s dazzling and bizarre feature-length debut, he focuses on states of imaginative possession and dispossession, demonstrating how impossible it is to separate fantasies, dreams, and realities. The point is that we are all vampires–or being vampirized. We are all obsessed–or the object of someone else’s obsession. We are all under somebody’s thumb–to quote the Jagger lyric Rappaport uses–if we’re not thumb-wrestling ourselves and pinning ourselves down. The short film within a film, A Vampire’s Love, is one of the most brilliant (and hilarious) brief sequences in all of Rappaport’s work.
Mozart in Love
Mozart in Love is a deadpan, lip-synch, parody opera. Scored with the music of Mozart and loosely based on events in the composer’s life, the movie plays with illusions and reality to the point of utter confusion. Rappaport is not knocking the nuttiness–but celebrating it. He reminds us that the clogging of the imaginative arteries we associate with the twentieth-century was as present in Mozart’s day as today. In other words, the self has always been an onion or a pearl. There is no essential center, no heart, no core, no reality to get to–only layer after layer of processing, packaging, and costuming. As Gertrud Stein said, there is no there there. There is only the assembly line that manufactures our emotional experiences. There are more things in Rappaport’s heaven and earth than Milli Vanilli ever dreamt of.
Though we imagine ourselves on the cutting edge of the future, Local Color shows what a creaky old house we live in, haunted by melodramatic ghosts, reverberating with imaginative echoes. There is (in Rappaport’s own description) enough plot to choke a horse, but the real subject is how unimportant actions and events are. Everything that matters happens inside. Local Color has the ironclad logic not of life, but a dream. Everything means something. Everyone is connected to everyone else. Fantasies migrate from one person to another. Characters think each others’ thoughts. They think with other people’s brains, feel with each others’ hearts. For Rappaport, we are all tuning forks vibrating to dog-frequencies we can’t even hear. The song plays us; we dance to its rhythm even when we think we’re conducting the orchestra. At the very moment we imagine ourselves to be most unique and original, we’re revealed to be whistling an old familiar tune.
The Scenic Route
The Scenic Route is a bizarre dream film of a movie that tells the story of two sisters who share the same lover without realizing it. Rappaport crafts a zany anti-melodrama about female imprisonment in romantic dreams, delusions, and anxieties. He reminds us that raw experience is a myth. We live in a culture where our food is processed, our possessions manufactured, and our entertainment market-tested. Why should our fantasies be any different? They are as mass-produced as our automobiles; our emotions as synthetic as designer fabrics. And as quickly in or out of fashion. Run, run, as fast as you can; you can’t keep up with the Gingerbread Man. In Rappaport’s power-saturated vision of life, individualism has gone the way of the vacuum tube radio. We are antennas resonating to a surging force field of cultural energies. Our identities are as artificial as our art, our love affairs as elaborately conjugated as a Latin verb.
Chain Letters is Rappaport’s most deliciously lush and Byzantine work, It poses a mystery, but while most mysteries want us to dive down and excavate secrets, Rappaport insists that we ice skate the fractured, opaque surfaces. Strange puzzles, symmetries, and coincidences abound. Doppelg"ngers and mirror-image anti-types lurk around every corner. But you would have to be paranoid to try to connect the dots. Or would you? Could there be a key that unlocks the mysteries of life? Or is that the real mystery? Can you break the chains of code? One character in the film believes all of life is a plot orchestrated by a vast government bureaucracy, but Rappaport tells us that the bureaucracy of the imagination puts that of the Pentagon to shame. The real plots are in our brains–the plots that form the haunted graveyard of Western civilization.
These films, which are acclaimed as some of the most original cinema ever by many critics (Scenic Route is on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top 100 American movies list) don’t seem to be out there. Does anyone know of a source for finding these potential gems? Does anyone know if there are plans for any company to release them? Does anyone know if Rappaport is still directing? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
I just watched Chain Letters and it was a rich and rewarding experience. In terms of style it somewhat reminded me of what would happen if Dario Argento were to remake a Jacques Rivette film. It would be easy to call it Lynchian, but as Ray Carney correctly states, Rappaport is more interested in exploring the way our obsession with conspiracy and connection fucks with our minds and our relationships than with whether they really exist. The film has been criticized by Dave Kehr as not coming together but I don’t think it was supposed to. Somewhat wrote a book about Nicholas Roeg a wile back called Fragile Geometry. In Chain Letters, Rappaport creates a kind of Fragile Calculus wherein the couples, triangles, and social squares don’t add up to a solution but rather to a greater question.
I need more of this guys films.
I’ve seen “Chain Letters”, which I loved, and “Casual Relations”, which I was lukewarm on. It seemed rather incomplete, like a segment of half baked ideas. Unfortunately I don’t remember much specific about either film, as I saw them a while back and I don’t even own a vhs anymore, the only format which they can be found today.
Mark’s been a friend for 40 years. Glad to see SOMEONE talking about his films. “The Scene Route” and “Imposters” are my faves form the first period. “From the Journals of Jean Seberg” is the best of his essay films.
Fragile Geometry is by Joseph Lanza. It’s very useful.
David, what’s Rappaport been up to? It would be great to see him working again.
I haven’t seen From the Journals of Jean Seberg as it costs a fortune right now but i caught Rock Hudson’s home movies and thought it was excellent. Hopefully some company like Milestone is thinking about his films because it seems his profile is too low for a Criterion to care.
Mark’s moved to Europe with his boyfriend and hasn’t made films for some time. Have to drop him a line to find out what’s up. I hope he can find a way to make work again but it’s been very discouraging.
Rappaport is due for a rediscovery. The thought that someone with so much formal ability and talent is not producing is terrifying.
Not familiar enough with his work to say anything intelligent, but the little I’ve seen is very impressive.
I’ve read about Rappaport on Carney’s website but never gotten a chance to check out any of his films. How did you guys find them? And if I were to find them, what is a good place to start?
The ones I saw, I saw in a theater. Imagine that. I couldn’t hazard a guess where you might go to find them now.
Chain Letters is available Here:
It’s a great site in general but CL is the only Rappaport they carry.
Rock Hudson’s home movies is available and cheap on Amazon. The others discusses by Carney are either unavailable or overpriced.
Oh I am going to spend a lot of money on this site. Thank you.
yeah thanks for that link Spence. I think I might have to pick up “Chain Letters”. I actually own the VHS (got it cheap on ebay) I no longer have a VHS!! 10$ is a good deal even if all you get is;
7 – Maybe two or three generations away from the original. Colors have shifted a bit from their original places due to NTSC (Which stands for Never Twice the Same Color). Still very watchable.
I saw “Seberg” for a class a few years ago. Too bad it’s overpriced, it’s one of the better essay films out there. I normally can’t stand “feminist” films (hope I don’t catch heat for that remark) but that one was extremely interesting.
Once you get used to the vhs quality it looks fine for something you can’t get any other way. I had problems using their cart system to pay but I e-mailed the guy and he worked it out.
from Rouge #13
It’s kind of sad that this thread is the 10th site listed when you search “Mark Rappaport Films” on Yahoo. Does anyone know if Local Color. Mozart in Love, and Casual Relations were ever actually released on VHS?
I just posted this a few minutes ago and it seems to have disappeared. Well, here goes, take two. Hi, Mike Spence, I was just wasting a little time on Google, looking myself up. But I don’t have to make excuses. I’m sick today so it’s OK. Anyway, found myself on your site and here I am. Yes, I moved to Paris over four years ago and I love every minute of it. I write and, as one of your posters noted, pieces are occasionally in ROUGE, an on-line Australian film journal. Lots of pieces have appeared in Trafic, a fairly toney French film journal (translation: small circulation) and last year, here in France, a collection of some of my writings was published. Le spectateur qui en savait trop. (How oo-la-la is that???) The Moviegoer Who Knew Too Much. And don’t worry. It was written in mere English and THEN translated into French. It got some very good reviews but I don’t think anything much happened with it. I also do, thanks to Photoshop, photomontages. I had a show last year at Lincoln Center in New York in conjunction with the New York Film Festival. And a very limited edition, self-published book of some of my photomontages will be ready later this week. It’s called “Blind Dates.” In answer to your unasked question, “No,” there are no more movies in this dude’s future. Plenty to watch but not to make. And, yes, Local Color and Casual Relations were released on VHS but are out-of-print, as are all VHSs, I guess. But the good news is that George Eastman House just recently restored the negative of Local Color. And maybe, maybe, maybe will strike a new print, in the not-too-distant future, of Mozart in Love. Well, it’s kinda heartwarming to know that some people somewhere still remember that I not-too-long ago made some movies… Keep the flame alive (and I’m not talking about myself here. I’m doing just fine)…
It’s great to see this post and to know that you’re well. It’s unfortunate, however, that you’re no longer making films. For those of us who knew your work, if it helps to know that it mattered, know that it did. All the best to you, Mark Rappaport.
Thanks Mark! I echo KJ’s sadness over your no longer making films. I am glad you are writing and the restoration news is extremely exciting! Your response alone justifies the existence of this forum. Thanks again!
I just figured i wold repeat what Mark already told us:
Mark Rappaport’s Local Color Among Six Films
Receiving Preservation Funds
San Francisco, CA (April 23, 2009)—Mark Rappaport’s Local Color
(1977), a deadpan melodrama about hopelessly interconnected lives, and
five other landmark experimental films will soon be saved thanks to
Avant-Garde Masters Grants from the National Film Preservation
Foundation and The Film Foundation. Recipients of the $50,000 award
are George Eastman House, Anthology Film Archives, Center for Visual
Music, and the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas at
Heralded by film critic Roger Ebert as a “strange and wonderful
movie,” Local Color spins a mordant tale about eight individuals
trapped in a web of intertangled relationships and dreams. As
complications beget complications, the line between “real” and
“surreal” grows increasingly hard to draw. George Eastman House will
collaborate with the filmmaker to preserve the 16mm feature from the
original source materials..
Great to hear from you, Mark.
I recently saw The Scenic Route a couple of days ago and I gotta say it was just terrific.I really need to see more of his films.
Will, how did you see it? VHS or what? If it’s hush hush, i’d appreciate you sending me a message.
haha check your messages ;]
I came into this thread to give praise to the always likable Michael Rappaport :D
Having now seen The Scenic Route, Local Color and Imposter, along with the previously seen Chain Letters, I can easily say that Rappaport is one of the greatest filmmakers whose work I’ve had the privilege to see. These films are outstanding and their general lack of availability is a crime.
For those who care, the Imposters VHS is going for an insanely cheap price on Amazon right now. Does anyone know whether Casual Relations and Mozart in Love were ever actually released on VHS? I’ve never seen them available anywhere
I realize it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for films that are so hard to see that no one is talking about but, if these films will ever get out of the ghetto some people have to start getting interested. For those of you who think this guy’s opinion is important, check out Ebert’s review of The Scenic Route:
“Mark Rappaport makes movies that look, sound and feel like nobody else’s movies. He is an original. He has discovered and recorded his own universe in the same sense that William Blake, Lewis Carroll, J. R. R. Tolkein or Charles Addams have. You enter it on his terms, because it’s his fantasy, but you get caught up in it immediately.
It’s a universe in which a handful of central characters adapt postures and attitudes towards each other in the midst of the broadest possible melodramatic structures. Their stories are bizarre or sad or overwhelmingly banal, but their visual universe is meticulously controlled: The art direction on a Rappaport film (by Lilly Kilvert this time) is as important as the script or direction.
In his new “The Scenic Route" (which arrives at Chicago Filmmakers on Saturday straight from the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes), he gives us three primary characters: Two sisters, Estelle and Lena, and a young man named Paul who lives first with Estelle, then with Lena, and then with both. Lest this sound like a steamy scenario, I should point out that Rappaport’s characters rarely move very much, and tend to find themselves in formal tableaux
They do talk occasionally, but the main weight of the story is carried by voices on the sound track. Estelle begins the story by describing a 19th Century engraving on a wall: It shows a man behind bars looking down at the prone naked body of a woman whose bed is borne on the ocean. What does the picture mean? Nothing much… until Lena comes to visit and has a print of the same engraving… or when Estelle duplicates the scene in the engraving with Paul behind the bars. Images double back upon themselves, suggest hidden meanings, create a sinister undercurrent by refusing to “stand” for anything except the characters’ obsession with them.
Estelle has not been lucky in love. Early in the film, her former husband visits and attacks her. Paul double-crosses her with her sister. There is a perfect street scene in which the husband, Estelle and Paul meet, and the two men “size each other up like professional boxers,” Estelle says on the sound track, while she stands between them.
Meaning is carried by body language, by posture, by small shifts in expression in faces and eyes. Paul, for example, is almost totally silent and immobile socially. Estelle fantasizes about what he must be thinking. His silence is actually aggression, and perhaps the movie is finally about Estelle’s inability to find anybody to whom she can communicate except in the most simplistic terms.
The movie’s jammed with images, fantasies, symbols and stunning visuals (as when a visit to the country is presented by having the characters stand in front of the movie’s characteristic paneled wallpaper — and then having the “wall” slowly levitate to reveal the country behind them).
Yet despite this richness, the things the people actually manage to say to one another are usually barren and lifeless. (And yet, paradoxically, the movie is often very funny.)
“The Scenic Route” is Rappaport’s first feature in color (his “Local Color,” in black and white, naturally, played earlier this year at the Film Center). It’s a movie of great, grave, tightly controlled visual daring, and you have never seen anything like it before. It never reveals its mysteries… and I never wanted it to.
I can’t find his review of Local Color but he raved about it as well. If only Ebert would forget about Dark City and whatever other nonsense he’s raving about today and start up a campaign to get the films of Mark Rappaport back in circulation. These films matter.
Thanks to, I believe, an Ebert mention back on his and Siskel’s show, I watched Imposters years ago and loved it. I might have to check out Amazon since my memory of it is a little foggy now and I haven’t even so much as heard it mentioned in years, but, damn, now that you’ve brought it up, I have a real urge to see it again.
(This also reminds me not to be too hard on Ebert since, back in the late seventies and early eighties, that show was a major influence on how I learned about films.)