Rob Edelman: Choose Alan Rudolph

Apr 23, 2018

Alan Rudolph was, is, and always will be a fiercely independent filmmaker. His best works are inventive and audacious, and they are linked by a consistency of vision. But Alan Rudolph never did become a household name. For indeed, he occasionally has been confused with his mentor. That would be Robert Altman. You would think so, if you are a New York Times crossword puzzle aficionado. On one occasion, one clue was a film title: “Altman’s ‘Welcome--.” The answer was-- “to L.A.”-- even though this particular film really was directed by Alan Rudolph.

The confusion is understandable. Rudolph served his celluloid apprenticeship with Altman. In his excellent biography, “Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff,” Patrick McGilligan calls Rudolph “Altman’s most auspicious disciple.” Plus, he is “quite the unsung hero” for his contributions to NASHVILLE, Altman’s classic mosaic which mirrors the state of America in the post-Watergate 1970’s.

WELCOME TO L.A., which dates from 1977, is Rudolph’s initial major feature. Its scenario charts the intertwining lives of various lost, lonely Southern Californians who only are able to communicate for fleeting moments during hollow sexual encounters. Here, Rudolph sets a pattern for his most personal films. He establishes his off-kilter romance-ravaged characters and allows them to fumble about amusingly as they pursue their liaisons. There are mistaken identities and levels in which people connect with each other that only can be fully appreciated when seen in the context of the story. 

Other Rudolph films are typically stylish. They include TROUBLE IN MIND, THE MODERNS, and LOVE AT LARGE. But his best film is one of the true sleepers of the 1980’s. It is CHOOSE ME, an outrageously inventive tale of-- what else?-- the relationships, misunderstandings, truths, and lies that transpire between yet another set of Rudolph’s lovelorn characters. First there is a radio talk show hostess, played by Genevieve Bujold, who is a goddess to her listeners. But she never has been in love, and has not had a satisfactory sexual encounter in two decades. Next is Keith Carradine’s charming mental hospital escapee, with an incredible but very real past, who proposes marriage to every woman in sight. Then there is a statuesque bar owner, played by Leslie Ann Warren, a “collector of men” who swears that she never will marry.

CHOOSE ME is Alan Rudolph’s wildest film, a comedy-drama about the chance acquaintances and occurrences that affect individual lives and the different roles that some adults play as they relate to other adults. There are fine performances by all, as well as an evocative from-midnight-till-dawn feel.

Alan Rudolph’s latest film is RAY MEETS HELEN. It also stars Keith Carradine, it is Rudolph’s first feature in a decade-and-a-half, and it will be released momentarily. Plus, the first-ever retrospective of his work will be screening at Manhattan’s Quad Cinema starting on April 27. It is headlined “Alan Rudolph’s Everyday Lovers,” and it is well-worth a trip into the city...

Rob Edelman teaches film history courses at the University at Albany. He has contributed to many arts and baseball-related publications; his latest book, which he co-edited, is From Spring Training To Screen Test: Baseball Players Turned Actors. His frequent collaborator is his wife, fellow WAMC film commentator Audrey Kupferberg.

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