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The Pocket Essential Hal Hartley – Jason Wood

Hal HartleyPocket Essentials , 96 pp , £3.99 , PB
Bitesize: A guide to one of America’s most underrated filmmakers.

Why isn’t Hal Hartley more famous? He belongs to that fascinating group of American independent film-makers who are well respected and critically acclaimed but apparently unable to raise much beyond the cost of a couple of reels of film. Some manage to break the mould and hop off to Hollywood when lucrative budgets beckon and others remain resolutely under-funded. Hartley, whether by fate or design, falls squarely in the latter camp. But despite the constant search for funding (fortunately he has quite a following in Europe and Japan) he does get total control over his films. Not only does he direct, he also writes, occasionally edits and even provides the music for some of his films. Long time collaborators (such as cinematographer Michael Spiller) help create a degree of cohesion between his projects and define an over-riding ‘Hal Hartley feel’. Of particular note is his uncanny ear for dialogue (indeed he also has a string of plays under his belt too) and an understated, dry, sense of humour with a streak of absurdity stated with a

n absolutely straight face. One of his most interesting characters is Isabelle from Amateur, a former nun and self-confessed nymphomaniac virgin!

Jason Wood’s book approaches Hal Hartley’s body of work with clear enthusiasm for his subject (none of the films are rated as less than 3/5) and for independent cinema in general. Hal Hartley’s frequent forays into the short film format are given the weight they deserve – Hartley’s experimental approach to some of his feature subjects (particularly 1999’s Book of Life) has roots in his short films – testing grounds for wider features (indeed his audacious Flirt (2001) could be seen as three shorts, all the same, set in different locales). There is a great deal of factual information about the funding and making of the films themselves with plenty of anecdotes along the way. If the tone is occasionally dry it nonetheless reflects the voice of its subject.

Any Cop?The Pocket Essential Hal Hartley provides a welcome, and somewhat overdue, overview of one of America’s most overlooked and under-funded auteurs.