The Moderns (1988)


(director/writer: Alan Rudolph; screenwriter: John Bradshaw; cinematographers: Jan Kiesser/Toyomichi Kurita; editors: Debra T. Smith/Scott Brock; cast: Keith Carradine (Nick Hart), Linda Fiorentino (Rachel Stone), John Lone (Bertram Stone), Wally Shawn (Oiseau), Genevi√®ve Bujold (Libby Valentin),Geraldine Chaplin (Nathalie de Ville), Kevin J. O’Connor (Ernest Hemingway), Ali Giron (Alice B. Toklas), Elsa Raven (Gertrude Stein); Runtime: 126; Alive/Nelson; 1988)
“The plot of the film concerns love, heartbreak, money problems, the meaning of art, alcoholism and finding one’s identity.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film is set in the Paris of 1926 for “The Lost Generation” of Americans: Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Alice B.Toklas, and all the other American artists and would-be artists seeking to make their name known on foreign soil. Rudolph takes a rather cynical and tongue-in-cheek view of that bohemian art scene. He captures the mood and the atmosphere of that period by shooting this highly entertaining and, for him, accessible film, in a dazzling display of color. The art produced at that time by Picasso, Cezanne, Matisse and Modigliani, is brought to life by Rudolph. This was actually the first feature film he had in mind, but had to wait to do it until he got financial backers. His love and understanding of this time period shows up very well; as a result, he creates his best film to date.

The plot of the film concerns love, heartbreak, money problems, the meaning of art, alcoholism and finding one’s identity. Nick Hart (Carradine) is the cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune, living in a garret, frequenting the Parisian expatriate cafes, trying to sell his original paintings while earning extra money by forging the paintings of the masters. Oiseau (Shawn) is his friend and colleague on the paper, who writes a gossip column.

When Nick sees his beautiful wife, whom he is separated from but not divorced, Rachel (Linda), in a Paris bar and notes that she’s married to the ruthless and crass businessman (manufacturer of condoms) and private art collector, Bertram (Lone), he tries to win her back. She is a dissipated and unhappy alcoholic, ashamed that she is married to a very cruel and despicable man.

Libby (Bujold) is a small-time art dealer who tries unsuccessfully to sell Nick’s paintings. Nathalie de Ville (Chaplin) is the insincere art collector wife of a husband whom she cheats on. She hires Nick to forge three of her philandering husband’s collection of masters for the nefarious purpose of getting even with him. The Parisian scene is topped off by an emotionally sentimental Hemingway (O’Connor), showing up at all the right parties, sitting at the right cafes, drinking to excess, and plying his craft. His philosophy comes off as just so much drivel, with him appearing shallow and hopelessly American despite his presence in Paris; but, he is there at precisely the right time for an American artist to be there. Gertrude Stein (Elsa) and her friend Alice Toklas (Ali), come off as snobs in love with their own sense of self-importance.

Though the story might falter at times with unneeded boxing matches and stereotyped tourists providing unneeded insights into the Parisian scene, what never faltered was how well this film looked and how engagingly it caught the ironies of that period.