Breaking through with early features The Unbelievable Truth (1989), Trust (1990) and Simple Men (1992), writer-director Hal Hartley was one of the key figures of the tail end of the 1980s/early 1990s boom of American independent cinema, alongside the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Jim Jarmusch, before that landscape became altogether different in the wake of the success of films such as Pulp Fiction (1994) and Clerks (1994).
Hartley’s early tragicomic dramas – which explore such topics as class, the nature of love, and foolhardy ambition in the face of absurd reality – are immediately recognisable through the specific deadpan cadence to the dialogue and his performers’ delivery of it, whereby emotional duress or ecstatic highs are largely conveyed with a relatively expressionless affect, outside of a few select scenes. Hartley’s regular actors around that time included such talents as Martin Donovan, Edie Falco, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage and the late Adrienne Shelly. Hartley can also attest to being one of the earliest directors to regularly employ Parker Posey’s particularly unique screen presence.
Amateur (1994) is a key transitional work for Hartley. For one thing, it’s a decidedly more violent offering than anything he’d presented before; while relatively free of actual onscreen blood, multiple characters are shot and one is tortured to near-death and driven mad. Secondly, while his later studio foray and prosthetics-heavy oddity No Such Thing (2001) likely cost more, Amateur certainly looks like the most expensive film of Hartley’s career at that point, thanks to use of varied New York City locations (Long Island was his favoured locale before this) and the mere presence of a particular actor (more on that in a moment). Among the production company credits in the gorgeous opening title sequence, set to the score by Jeffrey Taylor and Hartley himself (under the pseudonym Ned Rifle), are the likes of UGC and what was then Channel Four Films (now Film4 Productions), a reflection of Hartley’s growing status as a hot commodity in European arthouse markets…
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