Drink up

Alan Rudolph rises from the ashes in a suave, smoky Afterglow

Rudolph's movies will probably always belong to cultists, because his characters tend to be so infatuated with their own wounds, and they often spout self-consciously "clever" dialogue that, at its most extreme, can make you wince. His flair for melding scene and moment, environment and folly, is wholly his own, but the dialogue in his films, at least when he writes it, can become intrusive. (A detractor of Choose Me, still Rudolph's biggest box-office hit to date, described the film as a 90-minute pickup line).

Ironically, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle may have been the strongest script he's ever worked on, lifting as it did whole passages from Dorothy Parker's poems and stories. Afterglow is firmly entrenched in the stylized, pretentiously chatty Rudolph canon, but the actors are so appealing and Rudolph's camera so confident and sensual, the occasionally silly dialogue starts to take on a noirish charm.

"Ask me about my next project," Rudolph gushes, "because it's about people talking and doing." After a 20-year wait, he's finally adapting Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions with Bruce Willis as producer and star. Rudolph claims he and Willis have been discussing it off and on ever since they clicked on the set of Mortal Thoughts. As aggressively non-mainstream as his vision has always been, he's not too proud to work with a big studio and a big star. To him, that's part of the real definition of "independent filmmaker"--the flexibility to work with all people and all budgets.

"Who's the most independent filmmaker you can think of?" Rudolph asks, and then answers the question. "Stanley Kubrick. He works every few years only on projects that he wants to, he never flies anywhere he doesn't want to, and he always works with major Hollywood studios."

Don't even get Rudolph started on the new definition of "independent cinema" and the '90s breed of Sundance celebrities enfant who purvey it.

"There are no 'independent' film companies anymore, or you certainly won't find them at Sundance," Rudolph says. "Young filmmakers are the pet projects of gigantic corporations. It's great to have money to make your movie, no matter where it comes from, but there are international corporate strings attached to the 'independent' visions of these young people. Talented directors are instantly heralded as masters in the 'indie' world, so they don't have time to grow, to make mistakes and develop a vision. The instant they lose money, or the buzz dies, they're dropped. They never learn how to fight for their careers."

Spoken like a man who has done nothing but for as long as he and the bottle care to remember.

Written and directed by Alan Rudolph. Starring Julie Christie, Nick Nolte, Jonny Lee Miller, and Lara Flynn Boyle. Opens Friday.

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