a film by Abel Ferrara

Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe, Asia Argento, Annabella Sciorra and Gretchen Mol. Directed by Abel Ferrara. Produced by Edward R. Pressman and Edward Pressman. Written by Chris Zoist, Abel Ferrara and William Gibson. Distributor: Rose Releasing

You didn't see this one in the theatres. New Rose Hotel isn't commercial sf cinema in any sense of the word. It's a challenging, quirky little film that requires the viewer to watch it closely - maybe twice - and to think about what's going on. You can't sell non-bioegradable action figures and fat-saturated deal meals that way.

When I found this one sitting on the shelf at Blockbuster, I felt shivers in the back of my neck: a William Gibson short story adapted for the screen by Abel Ferrara. 

Now, Abel Ferrara is a name you may not have heard. He's a cult director of some notoriety, the maker of two of the best crime movies ever: King of New York and Bad Lieutenant. Ferrra is to Quentin Tarantino as Dante Allighieri is to Maurice Sendak. His films are brutal, unflinching examinations of human ugliness. They are also breathtaking investigations of human psychology and morality. King of New York cast Christopher Walken as a ruthless drug lord with a bent to philanthropy; as far as I'm concerned that movie throttled the last spark of life out of the Robin Hood archetype. And Bad Lieutenant is simply one of the ten best films I've ever seen: an almost unbearable journey into a homicide detective's Heart of Darkness. In Bad Lieutenant, Harvey Keitel's potrayal of a corrupt crackhead cop becomes an unstoppable plumb of the human spirit, while the World Series becomes a cruel metaphor for spiritual redemption in the face of a tractless depravity. Abel Ferrara will never be called a horror director, but he has the indispensable quality of a master of horror: he doesn't look away.

I'll just make the reckless assumption that William Gibson is a name you have heard. 

In New Rose Hotel, Ferrara brings his impressive and quirky directorial skills to another story of human degradation. Willem Dafoe and Christopher Walken are in the business of stealing people. They currently have their sights set on one Hiroshi Imori, a maverick scientist who has a bad habit of shattering old paradigms. Hiroshi's renegade approach to science and technology make him worth billions to the company that can control him, and a menace to everbody else. Our heroes have tried before to lure Hiroshi away from his corporate masters. But they've only now stumbled onto the right bait - a beautiful and seductively amoral bar girl named Sandie (Asia Argento). Walken convinces the girl to join in the plot to steal Hiroshi, and he convinces Dafoe to coach her - to teach the girl "how to make someone love you, without falling in love yourself."

So...that's a very old story. And it turns out more or less exactly the way you'd expect. But as with Gibson, Ferrara's magic is in the telling. New Rose Hotel unfolds its tale of sex, love, dissolution and betrayal through surveillance cameras, rendezvous reflected in mirrors, half-heard conversations, and most importantly through flashbacks. Hiroshi, the focus of it all, never really appears, except as a grainy image in pirate video clips. Walken is fascinating, and Dafoe seems to be a reflection of Gibson himself, wiry and sharp-featured, bearing witness to events beyond his control. But the performances are understated, the dialog at once subtle and profane. All the physical violence occurs offstage, because it isn't really important. Ferrara's always been more concerned with psychological and spiritual violence and the human propensity for self-delusion.

To make matters worse for those film executives, theatre operators and moviegoers who equate sf film with Independence Day, the last third of this movie is just a protracted flashback of the first two-thirds! And it's also the heart of this film, which ends up as an examination of the fluid, delusionary quality of memory. After the caper goes sour, Dafoe hides out in a seedy cubicle in the bowels of an anonymous Japanese city. Adrift, hunted, he reflects on what has gone before, and on what could have been. These flashbacks, unlike most film flashbacks and exactly like real memories, are fluid, shifting, inaccurate. They're both deceptive and illuminating in their plasticity. But Dafoe's mental (and literal) masturbation doesn't change anything. He's still stuck in the New Rose Hotel, boxed in by his moral dissolution and the inescapable reality of what he's done to himself. Memory is tenuous, ductile, ephemeral. But it's still a prison. 

Loved Walked In meets Rashumon.

Sullydog approves. 

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