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Blu-ray: Ivansxtc | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: Ivansxtc

Blu-ray: Ivansxtc

From Tolstoy to Tinseltown, flavoured with 'Tristan' - Bernard Rose's satire of Hollywood is as sharp as ever

Premiere mystique: Lisa Enos, Danny Huston on the red carpet

“Every cliché about Hollywood is true,” director Bernard Rose remarked in 2018, at the screening Q&A of the restored version of his 1999 Ivansxtc that appears as an extra on this Arrow release

– and, post-#MeToo, the film’s satire of that milieu and all its associated excesses feels as savage as ever. Its story of a talent agent felled at the height of his career by rapidly progressing cancer offered a corrosive view of the studio system seen very much from the inside, the trajectory of its protagonist seen by many at the time to have mirrored the burnt-out self-destruction of feted CAA agent Jay Moloney, whose suicide at the end at the end of the 1990s was hastened by his addictions. Moloney may have been Rose’s first agent in Hollywood, but the director counters here that it was “not his story”.

Indeed, the origins of Ivansxtc are considerably more varied, loosely adapting as it does Tolstoy’s lacerating 1886 novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich with its protagonist who faces an equally sudden death and emphasis on how his colleagues respond to that demise. In the first of his series of adaptations from Tolstoy stories that continued with The Kreutzer Sonata and Boxing Day, instead of the minor Tsarist civil servant of the Russian original, Rose gives us an almost parodic LA insider, Ivan Beckman, in a winning performance from Danny Huston. However harshly we may judge Beckman and the world that he inhabits, it’s hard not to be won over by Huston’s impish ebullience, his suggestive smile especially. (Was Huston channelling Jack Nicholson on that front? You may detect a hint of the latter’s influence in the leading-man caprices and excesses of Ivansxtc's film star character Don West, a role delivered with straight-face aplomb by Peter Weller. Identifying prototypes for James Merendino's whiningly neurotic writer-director Danny McTeague is no less fun.)

Blu-ray: Ivans xtcBut Huston’s achievement is to somehow suggest another level to his otherwise unattractive character, something that that runs deeper, with an occasional boyish innocence that suggests he’s become trapped in his lifestyle. Rose has spoken of the “fog of disappointment” that hangs over Hollywood, and he adds huge emotional depth here to his depiction of the alienation of a lonely death by setting the protracted opening and closing sequences of the film – with views of eerily empty LA streets at dawn – to the full Overture and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan. (Another of the director’s classical favourites, Schubert, is there too.) Ivansxtc reveals its depths not least through the phonetic allusions of its title, its strikingly laconic treatment every bit as resonant as when it was made.

While it was certainly about death in Hollywood, was Ivansxtc also a harbinger of the death of Hollywood, an early contribution to the ongoing "film is dead" debate? It was the first-ever feature to be made in HD, the budgetary and technical flexibilities of which appeared to represent a new path in filmmaking, away from that practised by the dominant studio system. Rose eloquently articulates the hopes of the time in another extra here, an archival interview from the 2001 Santa Barbara Film Festival. For a fuller – and more personal – perspective on the making of the film, producer Lisa Enos has contributed a brand new 31-minute documentary memoir, Charlotte’s Story (as well as her many other responsibilities, Enos played the role of Charlotte, Huston’s girlfriend, in the film).

A documentarist by training, her experience was crucial in choosing the HD route, and her recollection of bringing the project together – on a micro-budget of $136,000 – feels like a catalogue of the very best tactics of the independent filmmaker: a cast drawn from friends and acquaintances (Huston and Weller played alongside a host of non-professionals, real-life CAA agent Adam Krentzman included), locations that included the Hollywood Hills villa that Enos shared with Rose, improvisatory use of cityscape exteriors (no supplementary lighting), even car accident damage taken care of by the hire vehicle damages provision. The beauty of Ivansxtc now seems how the production advantages of the new format matched its hyper-real HD aesthetic, one that works so well with the film’s subject. Twenty years on, has digital changed the face of filmmaking? With Hollywood more reliant than ever on tent-poles and franchises, the optimism of the moment seems more remote than that distance of two decades suggests.

The film reveals its depths not least through the phonetic allusions of its title


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Thank you for this wonderful review. One thing, Rose and I were not married when we made ivansxtc in 1999. We'd only just met in Autumn of '98! We got married years later. Then divorced.

Now amended - apologies for that confusion on the dateline. What a striking piece of independent filmmaking, inspiring to watch it again

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