Love and Death on Long Island (1997)


(director/writer: Richard Kwietniowski; cinematographer: Oliver Curtis; editor: Susan Shipton; cast: John Hurt (Giles De’Ath), Jason Priestley (Ronnie Bostock), Fiona Loewi (Audrey), Maury Chaykin (Irving Buckmuller); Runtime: 93; Cinepix Film Properties; 1997-Can./UK)
“Without John Hurt’s magnificent performance, this film would have fallen flat on its face.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Without John Hurt’s magnificent performance, this film would have fallen flat on its face. He appears in every scene, and plays a scholarly writer who is a reclusive and stuffy Londonite. He is living in an immaculate library-like house that has none of the modern everyday conveniences most people take for granted in America and Great Britain; such as, a TV, VCR, microwave, computer, and so on. He is stubbornly set in his old-fashioned ways. And as we are introduced to him,we see that he’s a bit arrogant but oddly appealing as someone who is out of touch with the modern world.

Hurt goes by the name of Giles De’Ath, whose name fits the prudish image this recent widower conveys. His name also comes awfully close to being pronounced as — death. Oddly enough, he never goes to the cinema (I could not even imagine anyone living like that). But his life changes drastically after he gives a BBC interview and begins to open up a bit; and, after talking with a colleague, he daringly goes to see a film based on an E.M. Forster novel that is playing in a multiplex theater. Since he has no clue about how these theaters operate, he walks into the wrong film and mistakenly ends up seeing something called Hot Pants College 11. He, at first, thinks he is watching the Forster movie and is disgusted with it; but, as he is about to exit, he suddenly falls in love with one of the male stars of this soft core porn film. He’s an aspiring actor (Ronnie Bostock), engagingly played by Jason Priestley. This changes his life as he decides to become the foremost expert on Bostock’s life, researching all the films and magazine interviews he has done. It is like he becomes a teen-ager again, hiding the filthy magazines from his housekeeper and somehow managing to buy a VCR to watch these films. It is amusing to see him try to work the video without realizing that he has to have a TV set.

But this is not all that Giles has in mind so he decides to fly to Long Island where Bostock lives with his girlfriend, the glamorous model, Audrey (Fiona). He uses his charm to get to meet her, and will soon meet Bostock when he returns from L.A.. We get a tour of Long Island (ugh!). And we watch how Giles changes, seemingly becoming a more gentle and sensitive person. But his love is not returned by Bostock in the physical way he wishes it returned. Bostock handles himself with dignity over Giles’s mistaken advances. What remains interesting to ponder further is the relationship between the two males. It is the old opposites attract syndrome; in this case, it is about a trashy pop star who meets a scholar whose head is into the last century. In this scenario, it is only the scholar who falls madly in love. The trashy pop star is only interested in the class and knowledge that the scholar exudes.

The comic effects of the film seem light enough; that is, until the homo-erotic pulsations become overbearing. We are left with a rather awkward drama, that is somewhat unnerving, made plausible only by Hurt’s presence as a commanding performer. Yet it is tastefully done, but not as biting as Thomas Mann’s film version of the same obsessive theme in Death in Venice. The message of Love and Death on Long Island could fit either pop or aesthetic culture, coming to the conclusion that love is strange. I believe Mickey and Sylvia had a 1950s hit song about that theme!