The Hal Hartley Thread

For those who grew up watching and enjoying John Hughes films, Hal Hartley would be the filmmaker they “graduated” to when going to college. These viewers would embrace Hartley has commenting on suburban American characters, but in a more sophisticated and serious way, while being humorous and accessible at the time. If Richard Linklater is the filmmaker for Generation X, Hartley is more of the independent filmmaker version of this.

Right now, the Criterion Channel is streaming most of Hartley’s films. This is a thread will be a repository for reviews, comments, and discussion about Hartley and these films.

8 thoughts on “The Hal Hartley Thread

  1. Kid (1984)
    Starring: Ricky Ludwig (Ned); Janine Eriksen (Ned’s sister); Leo Grosse (Ned’s father); George Feaster, (Ivan); Bob Gosse (Bruce, guy fixing his car); Karen Sillas (Patsy, Bruce’s sister); Pamela Stewart (Ivan’s sister), and David Troup (boyfriend of Ivan’s sister)
    about 30 minutes

    Ned’s girlfriend has left him, leaving their home town, and he decides to go after her. On his way, he runs into into various people in the neighborhood–most notably Ivan and his sister. Ivan his troubled individuals and Ned is drawn to his situation, partly because of the presence of his sister.

    There’s not much of a plot, and the acting is somewhat limited. Like other films dialogue draws me to the film, although, overall, I wouldn’t say it’s a really good film. Still, one can sense the potential of Hartley as a filmmaker.


    I re-watched most of this. To me, Karen Sillas/Patsy is the best part of the film–her lines, acting, and overall presence. I would have been more interested in seeing a film about her character than any of the others. (I believe Sillas does go on to be a professional actor.)

  2. The Cartographer’s Girlfriend (1987)
    Starring: Steven Geiger (Bob), Marissa Chibas (girlfriend), George Feaster (George, Bob’s friend), Lorraine Achee (mom), Robert Richmond (dad)
    28 minutes

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 1

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 2

    The Cartographer's Girlfriend 3

    Bob, a young and shy surveyor who works on an ancient map in his spare time. He is drawn to a mysterious young woman who enters his life.


    • Like other Hartley films I’ve enjoyed, the dialogue appealed to me, especially between Bob and the girl. Here’s an example:

      Girl: I’m just everything you’ve ever wanted. The answer to all your prayers, buster. But you don’t know anything about me.
      George: I like you just the way you are. (She’s a stranger.)
      Girl: You like no knowing anything about me!
      George: I want to know. I want to know everything about you.
      Girl: That’s just it, isn’t it? Then I’d be like any other woman. It’s what you don’t know about me that you love.

      (Note: In the film, the girl is a stranger to Bob and his parents, and she literally walks into their apartment, behaving as if she belongs there. The move doesn’t seem believable, but it worked for me.)

    • Another:

      (Bob VO): Man is so small, and he is tied so closely to his earth habitat that he must employ among other techniques that of cartography in order to see the broader spatial relationships that exist in his complex world.
      Girl: I’m just everything you wanted. But you don’t know me.
      Bob: I like you the way…you are.
      Girl: You like not knowing anything about me.
      (Bob VO: Making maps makes him able to rise above the immediate range of vision and contemplate larger areas.)
      Bob: Where are you going?
      Girl: It doesn’t matter. Away! Don’t ask such stupid questions!
      Bob: I’ll come with you.
      Girl: You can’t.
      Bob: I want to know…what you…showed about myself. I can’t talk.
      Girl: Are you alright?
      Bob: I can’t see. I’m lost.
      Girl: It took men over two thousand years to measure the earth accurately. To determine it’s actual size. It’s true shape.
      (Bob VO: A large scale map of a small region depicting its landforms, drainage, settlement patterns, roads, geology, or other geographic and economic distributions provides him with the knowledge of relationships to carry on his work intelligently. The building of a road, house, or flood control system or almost any other constructive endeavor requires prior mapping. At a smaller scale, maps of soil erosion, land use, population character, climates, income and so on are indispensable to understanding the problems and potentialities of the areas. At the smallest scale, maps of the whole earth indicate generalizations and relationships of broad earth patterns with which we may intelligently consider the course of events, past, present, and future.)

    • Anaylsis: Bob uses cartography, perhaps subconsciously, as a way to getting bearings on his life–in terms of his relationships and future goals. At the same time, he may know this is illusory. For example, in the beginning of the film, he comes home from wandering around town aimlessly. He tells his father he takes off his watch and loses track of time, but, while holding a compass, he says to his father, “No matter how far I go, whenever I look around me, I always know exactly where I am. It’s disappointing.” This indicates he’s searching for something more, but doesn’t know what. The compass gives his a sense of where he is physically, but not spiritually or psychologically.
    • I really liked Marissa Chibas in this role. Geiger may not be a great actor, but as in some of Hartley’s other films, his stiffness works with the material.
    • Feaster strikes me as someone who got a lot of attention in high school–the type of guy classmates would expect to make it as an actor. His acting is not so subtle or naturalistic, and this makes him less interesting and effective than one would think.
    • I liked the scene where Bob and George are catcalling women, and one of the women (Karen Sillas) walks up and kisses George. I specially like Sillas in this
    • Things I liked, but don’t know why: the presence of Bob’s catatonic mother; the goldfish the girl, particularly when she releases it in a sink and the shot of the goldfish coming out from the under the pulp paperback, Triangle of Lust that the girl threw in the sink.
    • Voiceover of Bob or the girl talking about cartography and the way the film uses this to refer to Bob and relationships in general–this was something that could have been cheesy, but I found it effective.
    • It would be cool if the VO’s about cartographer either came from a textbook or actual lecture notes, and Hartley wove them into this film.

  3. Dogs (1988)
    Starring: Richard Ludwig (Ricky), Mike Brady (Mike), Gary Sauer ()
    12 minutes


    • What’s notable: Hartley co-wrote this with Ludwig and Steven O’Connor. To me, this has a noticeable effect. It doesn’t feel like a Hartley film, and I’m not sure I would have identified it as such if I knew it wasn’t. For me, this was a bad thing, as the film felt flat.
    • The film feels like Hartley is experimenting. For example, he periodically features shots of dogs, with the dog barking most of the time. To me, it doesn’t work that well.
    • One other interesting tidbit: To me, Ludwig wooden acting doesn’t really work (including his performance in Kid), and yet Geiger’s performance in Cartographer, which is also stiff and wooden, does. Why that is, I’m not sure….Hartley’s lines are often unnatural; they’re conspicuously theatrical, and the dialogue seems to work better if the reading of the dialogue is a bit stiffer–which is weird, because in most cases, this would be undesirable. (David Mamet might be another situation where this is true.)
  4. Ambition (1991)
    Starring: George Feaster, etc.
    Cinematography: Michael Spiller (who also worked on several, if not all, of the previous films.)
    8 minutes

    A short film that cleverly and sometimes humorously expresses the aspirations and difficulties of a young artist or even artisan–i.e., someone who cares about doing excellent work.


    • Some may find this pretentious. Indeed, I thought Ned Rifle’s simple piano score veered into parody of youthful earnestness–although maybe Hartley intentionally wanted a more droll and whimsical tone. That may be, but I did take the ideas expressed seriously and not as something Hartley intended to satirize. But maybe I’m wrong about that.
    • Had I seen this in my twenties, I would have love the idealism and philosophy. Interestingly, the idealism and philosophy still resonate with me now, although not as much it used to. However, that’s not because of cynicism, but rather spiritual growth–being less concerned about worldly ambitions.
    • I mentioned Mamet in previous posts, and in this film it seems like the dialogue is influenced by Mamet (e.g., declaratively repeating phrases like “The world is a dangerous and uncertain place.”)
    • Examples of creatively: The main character literally fighting/punching people on the way to work–which I understood to symbolize the struggle and sometimes danger young artists often have to face. Again, this is something that could seem pretentious or cheesy, but I don’t share that opinion.
    • Feaster seems better here, as if he better understands Hartley’s aesthetic.
  5. Theory of Achievement (1991)
    17 minutes


    • Stylistically in the same vein as “Ambition.” Actually, the latter to at least Trust, Hartley has found his voice or style.
    • One thing I didn’t mention regarding “Ambition,” and it also pertains to this film: Both often have that French New Wave pretentious dialogue/scenes–the kind that might be featured in a Calvin Klein commercial.
    • The dialogue and philosophy didn’t work as well in this film for me.
    • Side note: One of the characters in the beginning of the film talks about how they should move to Brooklyn, that it’s going to be a happening place for artists.
    • Like the previous film, I think the comedy seems to be improving.
    • I can’t think of many memorable visual moments in this.
      1. Okay. If you don’t want your photo to be at the very bottom of your comment, you have to upload the photo first (as I described in the email), then copy its URL (as explained in the next email), then use the (img src=”URL”) HTML except use a greater than and less than sign instead of parentheses.

        Like this. And you can insert as many photos as you like; just upload them to the media gallery first.

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