×

The Decay of Fiction

Avant-garde film pioneer Pat O'Neill turns his formidable technique on Hollywood in "The Decay of Fiction." The legendary Ambassador Hotel materializes like Stanley Kubrick's Overlook Hotel run wild; its empty rooms haunted by ghosts from imaginary Hollywood movies. Fest and museum auds should be the main takers.

With:
With: Wendi Winburn, William Lewis, Julio Leopold, Amber Lopez, Jack Conley, John Rawling, Patricia Thielemann, Dan Bell, Kane Crawford, Damon Colazzo, Jacqueline Humbert, Judy Lieff.

This review was corrected on Mar. 3, 2003.

Avant-garde film pioneer and special effects inventor Pat O’Neill, whose classic shorts from the ’60s and ’70s led to his acclaimed features like “Water and Power,” turns his formidable experimental technique on Hollywood in “The Decay of Fiction.” The legendary Ambassador Hotel, where Joan Crawford and Marilyn Monroe were discovered and Bobby Kennedy was shot, materializes like Stanley Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel run wild; its empty rooms haunted by ghosts from imaginary Hollywood movies, appearing in transparencies as they play their fictional roles for eternity. The attention given to constructing each shot makes for a hypnotic visual experience, while lack of a progressive narrative telescopes film’s running time into infinity. Fest and museum auds should be the main takers. Partnering the film is a continuous-projection installation of the DVD-ROM entitled entitled “Tracing the Decay of Fiction.”

Popular on Variety

Time-lapse photography establishes an eerie atemporality, ironically augmented by creepy movie music. Against a background of billowing curtains, peeling plaster and ruin, a see-through ensemble cast enacts typical scenes from classic ’30s, ’40s and ’50s films. Gangsters watch floorshows in the Cocoanut Grove Bar, detectives interrogate suspects, an elegant blonde waits for her lover. Snatches of stories overlap, drawing attention to the artificial nature of the fictional narratives, but also to the wealth of memories trapped in the hotel’s decaying walls.

Adding a welcome note of variety are interludes of naked men and women walking around in death masks. Like demons escaped from some hell, or the repressed forces of the unconscious, they parade across the screen performing strange antics and recalling the miniature goblins of David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

The shadows of palm trees slide over the lawn in the haunting images of cinematographer and sound designer George Lockwood. In the end, the hotel crumbles (the Ambassador, though still standing, is under threat of demolition to make way for a school), adding a possible flash-forward to the recurrent idea that movies are photographing time as it passes.

The cast’s ensemble work is painstaking in its reconstruction of bygone Hollywood stereotypes, drawing on sources from Joan Crawford and Robert Mitchum to Art Linkletter for the artificial diction of old film dialogue. In keeping with its setting, the film uses now-superceded photomechanical techniques like the rotoscope.

The Decay of Fiction

Production: A Lookout Mountain Films production. Produced by Pat O'Neill, Rebecca Hartzell. Directed, written by Pat O'Neill.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), George Lockwood; editor, O'Neill; costume designer, Violetta Elfimova; sound, Cole Russing; sound designer, Lockwood; associate producer, Nancy Oppenheim. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (main program),Jan. 29, 2003. Running time: 71 MIN.

With: With: Wendi Winburn, William Lewis, Julio Leopold, Amber Lopez, Jack Conley, John Rawling, Patricia Thielemann, Dan Bell, Kane Crawford, Damon Colazzo, Jacqueline Humbert, Judy Lieff.

More Film

  • Mickey Rourke

    Mickey Rourke Joins Religious Drama 'Man of God'

    Pure Flix/Quality Flix has picked up international sales rights to religious drama “Man of God,” starring Mickey Rourke, Aris Servetalis and Alexander Petrov. The rights are for sale at the Berlin Film Festival. “Man of God,” directed and written by Yelena Popovic. Producers are Alexandros Potter and Yelena Popovic through their company Simeon Entertainment and [...]

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content