ALL THE VERMEERS IN NEW YORK (director/writer: Jon Jost; cinematographer: Jon Jost; editor: Jon Jost; music: Jon A. English; cast: Emmanuelle Choulet (Anna), Stephen Lack (Mark), Katherine Bean (Nicole), Grace Phillips (Felicity), Laurel Kiefer (Ariel Ainsworth), Gordon Joseph Weiss (Gordon), Gracie Mansion (Gallery Owner), Roger Ruffin (Max); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Henry S. Rosenthal; World Artists Home Video; 1990)
“Engrossing experimental film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Avant-garde filmmaker Jon Jost (“Over Here”/”Sure Fire”/”Angel City”) directs/writes/edits/photographs this engrossing experimental film that follows along conventional narrative lines, but with no discernible plot until it veers off from being so detailed and moves into the abstract for its rushed and seemingly forced contrived conclusion. It works best as a mood piece that studies how lost in a meaningless life are the comfortable American middle-class protagonists who are trying to justify their existence by showing their appreciation for art or environmental causes without changing their troubling lifestyles. Though both benefit greatly from the greedy capitalist system, they both wish to partially retreat from its crassness and ugliness but can’t go all the way and rid themselves of their greed.

Mark (Stephen Lack) is a middle-aged smoothie bachelor yuppie Wall St. financial broker mover and shaker, who relieves his work tension of dealing with numbers by going to the Vermeer Room at theMetropolitan Museum of Art to admire the art work of the 17th-century Dutch painter. The museum has a collection of five of the artist’s works, and he especially admires the one of a beautiful pensive woman. The Frick Collection has the three other Vermeers displayed in NYC.

On one visit to the Metropolitan, the lonely Mark is taken with the beauty of Anna (Emmanuelle Choulet), who is admiring from up close the portrait of Mark’s favorite Vermeer and it seems to him that she shares a resemblance to the portrait subject. Anna is a rather rigid struggling French actress, who is visiting the city and is roommates with the unhappy, aimless, supporter of liberal causes, bourgeois rich girl Felicity (Grace Phillips), who works at the Gracie Mansion Gallery, in SoHo, and the self-absorbed uncaring aspiring student opera singer Nicole (Katherine Bean) who rehearses all day despite antagonizing her roommates. Mark’s pick-up routine includes passing a note to Anna that requests she meet him at a near-by bar for drinks. Anna shows up with Felicity, and the awkward conversation has Anna grill Mark on his occupation and the car he owns. Despite her rudeness, they get together and tour the top of the World Trade Center, on her request, a view that Mark despises, and then they go to Mark’s Upper-West-Side luxury apartment. Even though there’s no sex, Mark gives her $3,000 she says she needs for the rent.

Anna uses the money to buy a plane ticket to Paris, as she’s homesick and misses her boyfriend. Meanwhile Mark takes a financial beating at the office and to relieve his stress goes to the Metropolitan and when feeling sick frantically calls Anna and tells her he loves her and to meet him in their room. Unable to talk with her live, he leaves a message on her answering machine. Before leaving for the airport, Anna plays the message and rushes to the museum. There she finds Mark dead from a brain hemorrhage. Before leaving for the airport, Anna goes up close to the Vermeer portrait and magically she comes one with the portrait. It’s as if somehow the greedy 1980s financial markets could find salvation in death by fully connecting with the painting of a great artist who is encouraging a spiritual awakening.

The enigmatic film was made on a $250,000 budget with support from PBS’s American Playhouse.

Jost was awarded the Caligari Film Award at the 1991 Berlin International Film Festival. It also won the L.A. Film Critics Award for Best Experimental Film.