Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jon Jost - All the Vermeers in New York (1990)

Description: People's expectations of a film reflect a lot about them. A lot of people expect to be moved watching a film when the music swells. They expect to get excited when the shots are cut faster. This film allows you to get excited or moved about what's going on because of what is happening to the _people_, not the camera or the music. Films that cut the "crap" of "high-quality" production values and concentrate on character and story show how our ordinary lives achieve a cool, plausable if brief potentiality for soaring.

This film works on this premise, and that's why I love it. It's really a fairly wrenching story that gets told by the people, not as much by the camera and soundtrack (although the shooting and music are brilliantly understated). I identified very closely with the high-powered New York currency trader who couldn't live with himself unless he could come to the museum to gaze at the Vermeer portraits. It allows him to cross the threshold of his own limited life staring at a stock-ticker into a world of pure love, desire and ultimately, hope.
-imdb comment by N Bauman from Minneapolis

A parable of the missteps of life enacted in the hothouse world of the late 1980’s New York, in which the art market and the stock market each boomed, and in process spawned a smorgasbord of “yuppie” delusions which still persist. Anna, a French actress studying in New York crosses paths with a successful stock-broker, Mark, standing before a Vermeer portrait at the Metropolitan, thence ensues a peculiar romance of missed meanings and connections, with tangential asides to the steaming arts world and stockmarket, loft-mate conflicts, and, perhaps, love. Wrapped up in their blindered worlds, Anna and Mark deflect away from their chances, leaving at the conclusion the wistful face of Vermeer’s portrait enigmatically asking questions. All the Vermeers in New York is a comedy of manners which, as gently as a Vermeer, looks beneath the skin of this time and place, and of these characters.

Probably the most maligned American Playhouse production ever aired, All the Vermeers in New York inspired unanimous contempt from TV reviewers. This 1990 anti-rhapsody in Manhattan landscapes forewarned its viewers of a tedious experience, and People magazine said it was "as exciting as watching a painting dry." What they objected to as
"arty" may have had something to do with Jost's static photography or minutes-long lyrical interludes. Composed in, on top of, and around steel and stone urban monuments--as opposed to the warm and unabashed human subjects of Vermeer--Jost's brash depiction of a post-Reagan-era Manhattan and its inhabitants (at various turns a usurious art dealership, a cutthroat Wall Street brokerage, and the superficialities of the New York dating scene) may make Woody Allen's Manhattan seem like a scenic flight in positive-thinking guru Tony Robbins's helicopter, but Jost's dramatic interest isn't in mere exposé. A stock trader's lust for the killer deal is juxtaposed with his obsessions for a rare painting and later for a homesick, unemployed French actress (Emannuelle Chaulet). He spies her in a room looking at the same painting--but what they are looking at becomes, in the psychological context of the film, as mysterious and elusive as what they are looking for. Jost's most expensive movie to date--a mere $250,000--turned out to be the most virulent of his unflinching critiques of the destructive powers of materialism in the American--or, by the romantic and historical associations he provides, European--psyche.

-Christopher Chase,

no pass