Percy Adlon | Sugarbaby | Rosalie Goes Shopping | Salmonberries | Younger and Younger
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Adlon's early films were mildly avant-garde works in the style of the French New Wave. Adlon, who was born in 1935, is roughly the same generation as such French directors as Truffaut and Godard.
Sugarbaby, his art-house comedy hit, is loaded with avant-garde cinematography. Many of the scenes are bathed in strange, elaborate patterns of colored light. They give a moody feeling, a form of continuous emotional commentary on the action. The light is not naturalistic; it corresponds to nothing in reality. It is a purely dramatic device of the director. As the feelings of the characters change, and the emotional atmosphere of the scenes develops, so do the colors and the patterns of the lighting schemes.
Nonnaturalistic filmmaking techniques are fairly common in foreign "New Wave" films, especially the works of directors Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais, and to a degree as well in Italians Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni. Before that, underground or experimental filmmakers had been using them virtually since the start of film. In Hollywood, nonnaturalistic techniques have largely been confined to musicals - all of a sudden the characters are dancing on an obviously non-real set, soaring into an abstract background of color or light, or hundreds of dancers are making abstract floral patterns from the crane. Similar techniques are occasionally seen in comedy, as well. But in general they have been taboo in Hollywood non-musical films. Devices that break the illusion that one is watching reality, not a film, are usually banned by Hollywood moguls, who seem convinced that their use will cause audiences to run screaming from the theater in horror and incomprehension. Oddly enough, those same audiences love watching sf films filled with the most unrealistic special effects. They also love watching music videos, which as the heirs of the experimental film movement are loaded with every nonnaturalistic filmmaking device imaginable.
This is Adlon's best movie, the one where he puts together his eccentric personal vision with a plot, characters and meaningful personal relationships.
Adlon's previous film, Bagdad Cafe (1987), was his attempt to break into the English language market. It is endearing, but awfully slow moving and plotless. The diverse characters never connect, but seem separated by anomie and alienation. Both the plotlessness and the anomie are clichés of European New Wave filmmaking, and Adlon's work began to seem awfully conventional.
His second American movie, Rosalie Goes Shopping, is far more original. It concentrates on a family, and a happy family, at that. While this in itself does not guarantee anything, his characters really interconnect, and we see them functioning as a group - definitely not a cliché in the world of European art house filmmaking. They seem like a real family, which is something of a rarity in any country's filmmaking.
Rosalie Goes Shopping is carefully set in a real town, Stuttgart, Arkansas. Despite the joke of having selected this for its Germanic name, Rosalie Goes Shopping makes a major effort to show the farms, the crop dusting, the homes, the churches, etc.
If Bagdad Cafe went to one extreme, being set in the Mojave Desert, Salmonberries goes to the other, being largely filmed in the town of Kotzebue, Alaska, near the Arctic Circle. Adlon pays enormous attention to the film's location and surroundings in these three films.