[box cover]

Henry Fool

The question regarding Henry Fool (1997) is not whether it is a great film, but why it is Hal Hartley's only great film (so far, anyway). Hartley has made some ten features, and though there is a cult around him, his pictures usually have the arch mannerisms and tortured dialogue of a junior-high play, in which none of the babbling characters actually seem to be in the same piece of work. Henry Fool comes out of nowhere, a moving, beguiling film that is at root unlike all of Hartley's other work. For one thing, it's one of the few convincing films about writing and the writer's life. It's a magical film, about the power of words to change us. It's also a comedy, but the way James Joyce's Ulysses is a comedy, with a lusty and almost tragic view of life. It's also one of those rare films in which, if you don't know the plot, you really never know what is going to happen next. Henry Fool begins as if the premise is going to be how a stranger arrives and changes the lives of those he finds, a premise found in movies as diverse as Shane and Teorema. But what Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a wastrel faux-writer, finds when he stumbles into the neighborhood of Woodside, in Queens, N.Y., is someone whom he frees up to change everyone else, including Henry himself. Like many of Hartley's films, Henry Fool rests on a triad of men in alternating opposition and alliance. Besides Henry, there is Simon Grim (James Urbaniak, who later went on to play R. Crumb in American Splendor). Grim works as a garbage man, is believed to be retarded (because he has trouble speaking), and lives with his mother, who is vaguely ill, and his sister (Parker Posey). The third person in the triumvirate is Warren (Kevin Corrigan), the neighborhood bully who then attaches himself to a right-wing presidential candidate and ends up a wife-beater. Fool brings out the secret poet in Simon — but more than that must not be revealed about this interesting and unpredictable a movie. Suffice it to say that as Henry Fool progresses, it becomes more powerful and more profound until its poignant climax. The film comes in a fine anamorphic transfer (1.78:1), even though there is a reformatting warning before the film actually starts (IMDb Pro lists the original ratio as 1.66:1). The audio track is in DD 2.0 Surround, with no subtitles (but with closed-captioning). Trailers for Auto Focus, Laurel Canyon, and Pollock comprise the supplements (and the scene-selection menu did not work on the disc this reviewer received). Keep-case.
—D. K. Holm



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