Slipstream

Sundance Film Fest 2007Eccentric actors make eccentric movies. Marking all the traits, the positive and negative, of works by actors-turn-directors, Anthony Hopkins' “Slipstream” is actorish, movieish, self-indulgent, and artsy, but it's never boring. In its surreal structure and tone, it recalls the work of David Lynch (not on a particularly good day), who has directed Hopkins once, in the 1980 Oscar-nominated “The Elephant Man.”

Unlike many of my colleagues, I found the film amusing rather than annoying, self-reflexive rather than pretentious, a trifle rather than serious work. Hopkins film premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival's New Frontier, a section devoted to the experimental and avant-garde. Does it really belong there You have to see the picture to answer this question.

Taking advantage of his high-profile position in the industry, the Oscar-winner Hopkins (“Silence of the Lambs”), who wrote, directed, composed the score and stars in the film, has assembled a first rate-ensemble, including Christian Slater, John Turturro, Jeffrey Tambor, Camryn Mannheim. Hopkins also borrows actors, Chris Lawford and Gavin Grazer, from his film for Roger Donaldson, the 2005's “The Worlds Fastest Indian.”

Pushing the boundaries between fiction and fantasy, “Slipstream” concerns the implosion of a creative mind. The film unfolds in a dreamlike, non-linear, stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling with a surreal tale of Felix Bonhoeffer (Hopkins), an actor and screenwriter who has lived his life in two states of existence: reality and his interior world. While working on a murder-mystery screenplay, Felix becomes baffled as his characters start appearing in his life; and his life starts slipping into his characters. Unaware that his brain is on the verge of implosion, Bonhoeffer is thrown into a vortex where his dreams, time, and reality collide. As Felix enters an increasingly whirling slipstream, he soon discovers that life is random and fortune is sightless.

Hopkins' screenwriter has obviously lost grip of reality. But what is reality Felix interacts with killers and criminals, aspiring actresses, and his wife, and all of these people are actually characters in his movie. Like in Lynch's work, some actors play double roles, showing up under different names and disguises, which further blurs the already tenuous line between reality and fantasy.

Living multiple lives, Felix cultivates friendship with a young blond Tracy (Lisa Pepper), but also finds time for his wife Gina (played by Hopkins' real wife, Stella Arroyave). Gina accompanies her aunt Bette (Fionnula Flanagan) on a trip and, like the other figures, she's also an actress in the Felix's film.

Lawford plays Lars, a sarcastic cinematographer, and Grazer a director in the shadow of his more famous and successful producer brother (alluding to Grazer's real-life brother, Brian, who's the successful producer of “Apollo 13” and “Beautiful Mind.”

Turturro shines as an obnoxious and bombastic Hollywood studio boss Harvey (reference to Harvey Weinstein, of Miramax's fame) At one point, Harvey appears in the hard drive of Felix's computer and through the monitor watches his writer.

Ray (Christian Slater) and Geek (Jeffrey Tambor) are slick hit men, who move around in a 1960s Corvette Stingray. They, too, are characters in the movie: Slater plays Matt Dobbs and Jeffrey Tambour plays Jeffrey. Slater delivers a monologue about the 1956 sci-fi, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and lo and behold, the star of that picture, Kevin McCarthy, now 92, turns up in a cameo, as himself, or as a version of himself.

Michael Clark Duncan shows up wounded, with a bullet hole in his head, demanding to know why his character was deleted so soon, way before his scheduled death, according to the shooting script. Camryn Manheim plays a script girl, who returns from the dead to haunt Felix with a Stephen King-like compliant right out of “Misery”: “Why did you kill me off You'll have no more continuity.”

Self-reflexive and deconstructive, “Slipstream” aims for a dreamlike commentary on the artificial, fake nature of movies, but also on the artificial, absurdist nature of reality which, shaped by media images and sound bites, also gets increasingly surreal.

“Slipstream” takes place in the Southwest, in the Joshua Tree Park of the Mojave Desert, on the hottest day of the year (clich) on a set constructed decades ago for a Dennis Hopper picture. Thus, eve the setting, put on the map by Antonioni's “Zabriskie's Point,” and used by other directors and films, like the French “29 Palms,” is surreal in a movieish way.

The film is dense, with references to James Dean's death in his Porsche with archival footage. There are also randomly sleeted and inserted images of FDR, Hitler, and Nixon, perhaps an allusion to Hopkins' embodying both the Nazi leader and the American president (in Oliver Stone's 1995 “Nixon”)

In its third outing as director, Hopkins must have watched a lot of pictures, for he employs a wide range of visual and audio devices: Rapid cuts, spliced-in stock footage, old movie clips, changes in color mid-way, frenetic sound design, sounds that are deliberately not congruent with the text.

In this, he is greatly aided by the talent behind the camera is extremely accomplished. The images of the brilliant production designer and director of photography Dante Spinotti are stunning; I enjoyed watching a car changing color mid-scene while driving. The film begins and concludes with impressive, fast-moving shots. Editor Michael Miller, costume designer Julie Weiss, and composer Hopkins contribute to a playful, if trivial and none-too-deep, film that could be described as Hopkins' version of Alice in Wonderland.

Hopkins's personal film, clearly a labor of love that took three years to make and stands no chance to even recoup its budget at the marketplace, was misunderstood at Sundance. Several critics claimed that “Slipstream” doesn't hold together and doesn't add up, but I dont think it's meant tothat's the whole point of the movie, whether or not you like its strategy. Introducing “Slipstream” at its Sundance world premiere, Hopkins said, “I made it as a creative joke” (emphasizing both words). Nor was “Slipstream” meant to be a major surreal film to rank with the output of Lynch or Bunuel, still the greatest surrealist in film history. Hopkins satirizes movie conventions and clichs, Hollywood as a business industry, and the creation of his (and other stars) own screen images.

Cast

Felix Bonhoffer: Anthony Hopkins
Harvey Brickman: John Turturro
Ray/Matt Dobbs: Christian Slater
Gina: Stella Arroyave
Barbara: Camryn Manheim
Tracy/ nurse: Lisa Pepper
Gavin/ambulance driver: Gavin Grazer
Big Mickey: Michael Lerner
Betty: Fionnula Flanagan

Running time: 110 Minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Credits:

A Strand Release of a Samson Films Production.
Screenwriter-director: Anthony Hopkins
Producers: Stella Arroyave, Robert Katz
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: Ismael Cardenas
Costume designer: Julie Weiss
Editor: Michael R. Miller
Music: Anthony Hopkins.