Monday, July 16, 2018

the Directors: Paul Schrader

Paul Schrader has made everything from brash pieces of exploitation to sensitive masterworks. At first glance, it’s easy to write Schrader off as an agent of provocative cinema. His films live in the underworld of depravity, and he explores them well. But upon full exploration of his work, it became clear to me that Paul Schrader has taken a risk with nearly every film he’s made. Whether those risks were violent or tender, Schrader has always challenged himself, and his audience. Say what you will about Paul Schrader’s body of work, but the man challenges himself in ways few modern filmmakers do.

Blue Collar (1978)
Blue Collar (which is occasionally marketed, incorrectly, as a comedy) showcases three factory autoworkers in Detroit (Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto) who live hard and mean. While the film certainly contains some outlandish comedic elements, Schrader is much more interested in highlighting the plight of the men. In one scene, roughly 30 minutes into the film, the three friends have a little party in which they casually cheat on their wives, drink like fish, and snort a ton of cocaine. When the party’s over, and the sun is rising outside, the men sit and reflect on how shitty their lives are. It’s a poignant, tragic scene that captures the confused, hazy grief of blue-collar men.

The three leads are great, particularly Pryor, who seriously steps up as the film reaches its conclusion. His desperation is so convincing, it makes me wish we saw more of it throughout his career. Blue Collar is a great film, one I didn’t expect to like nearly as much as I did. I also appreciated its ending, which is honest and pessimistic in a way Schrader so clearly understands. A-

Hardcore (1979)
The premise of Hardcore is pure Schrader. A successful, religious, Midwestern square named Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott, perfectly cast) gets word that his daughter has been kidnapped during a church trip, and sold into the Los Angeles hardcore porn underworld. A scuzzy PI (Peter Boyle) initially helps Van Dorn, but soon, Van Dorn is cruising the grim streets of LA, looking for any sign of his daughter.

Hardcore is a worthy follow-up to the Schrader-penned Taxi Driver. An isolated, lost man wanders a broken city, looking to fulfill his vengeful purpose. With Schrader writing and directing, John Milius producing, and Scott acting, Hardcore is, on the surface, a man’s man movie, But Scott’s at-times vulnerable performance makes the films so quietly deceiving. Schrader said he made Hardcore for his father, but ultimately, Schrader is not a lasting fan of the movie. That’s a shame. I think Hardcore expertly captures Schrader’s cynical sentiments as a writer, and is an early display of his colorful directing style. A-

American Gigolo (1980)
Julian (Richard Gere, never better) is a suave male escort who caters to the upper echelon of older, Los Angeles women. Essentially, American Gigolo has the same construction as Taxi Driver – we watch a man on his own as he prepares to engage in his nightly profession – but instead of Julian wrecking havoc on the criminal underworld, the crime comes to him. Julian is framed for murder, and as he scrambles to clear his name, he realizes that he is lost among the LA elite.

The beauty of American Gigolo is that it so effortlessly balances style and substance. The plot has constant forward momentum, and Julian’s descent into despair is a perfect showcase for Gere’s talents. And damn, does this flick look and sound pretty. Giorgio Moroder’s score is LA-hypnotic and the Armani wardrobe is iconic. American Gigolo is a milestone movie. Not only did it define the careers of Schrader and Gere, but it remains a definitive Los Angeles film, and a movie that helped catapult the best of American ‘80s filmmaking. I like other Schrader films more than American Gigolo, but I don’t think any of his films define him as much as this one. A

Cat People (1982)
Lowly Irena (Nastassja Kinski) goes to New Orleans in search of her estranged brother, Paul (Malcolm McDowell). Once the two are connected, it’s revealed that Irena and Paul are werecats, and when a werecat has sex with a human, the werecat turns into a leopard. And the only way the leopard can turn back into their human form is to kill a human. Irena is a virgin, so all of this terrifies her. But Paul has a solution: they engage in an incestuous relationship, so that they can fulfill their needs, without the hassle of turning into leopards and killing people. Meanwhile, a kind zoologist (John Heard) has fallen for Irena, thereby complicating Paul’s plan. So there that is.

Cat People is the first film Schrader directed without writing. So, in many ways, it feels like Schrader’s first truly cinematic movie. It doesn’t have the same working class pessimism of his first three movies, but, nevertheless, Cat People feels like the film Schrader intended to make. Giorgio Moroder’s score is a highlight, as is David Bowie’s theme song (later used iconically in Inglourious Basterds), but the real standout is Kinski’s fierce performance. I believed everything about her work; she grounds the sensationalism of the material in honest truth. B

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters is unlike any film Schrader has directed, yet he feels like the only person who could have made it. The movie chronicles the life of Yukio Mishima, a famed Japanese writer who also founded the Tatenokia, an intensely traditionalist militia. The film portrays the different facets of Mishima’s life, free of conventional narrative. Mishima’s past is captured in stark black and white, portions of his prose are realized in overly-saturated color, and Mishima’s final day is presented in natural, realistic hues. Schrader assembles Mishima’s life in a way that is initially challenging (you cannot watch this film idly), but by the film’s startling conclusion, we realize Schrader’s construction of the film is entirely appropriate.

Unfortunately, American audiences didn’t take to Mishima, perhaps due to its unique assembly, and Japanese dialogue. But watching the film today, it’s a crime that Schrader (and his brother/co-writer, Leonard) didn’t get an Oscar nomination for their script. It’s similarly baffling that John Bailey’s cinematography, Philip Glass’ score, and the production design were all neglected for award’s attention as well.

Though Mishima may not inherently feel like a Paul Schrader film, it is still absolutely clear that the movie is his magnum opus. A

Light of Day (1987)
Joe (Michael J. Fox) and Patti (Joan Jett) are siblings in a dive bar rock band whose careers are struggling to take off. Patti chooses to focus on her music full time, leaving her brother, her religious parents, and her own young son behind. While Joe, inversely, leaves the music scene and attempts to raise his nephew.

Light of Day is a well-intentioned film that never reaches the emotional apex it seems to strive for. The cast is strong (Gena Rowlands and Jason Miller are exceptional as the parents), and the film has a melancholic streak so common in Schrader’s work, but the movie is only just compelling enough to keep us interested. As the film evolves, the material becomes much more serious, but it contains third act reveals that drop out of nowhere, with little emotional impact.

Schrader has said he made Hardcore for his father, and Light of Day for his mother, yet he dislikes both movies today. That’s interesting. I’m hard pressed to find faults in Hardcore, but in Light of Day, they’re a little easier to spot. C-

Patty Hearst (1988)
The kidnapping of Patty Hearst seems like a perfect bit of material for Paul Schrader to base a film on. Hearst’s real life arc from innocent victim to Stockholm syndrome-infected criminal is the type of dark, seedy, salacious story that Schrader loves to tell. Yet, for some reason, Patty Hearst, seems more interested in showcasing the Symbionese Liberation Army, who took responsibility for kidnapping Hearst, rather than studying Hearst herself.

While Hearst is the obvious star of the material, and she’s played fearlessly by Natasha Richardson, the film doesn’t adequately get into her head, the way the great Paul Schrader character studies do. Schrader’s film is a surface-area profile; a made-for-TV dramatization of a fascinating case. I wish the film dug deeper, and exposed the harsh realities of the situation more thoroughly. C

The Comfort of Strangers (1990)
The Comfort of Strangers is directed by Paul Schrader, stars four fine actors, is based on a book by Ian McEwan, adapted for the screen by Harold Pinter, shot by Dante Spinotti, and scored by Angelo Badalamenti. In short, The Comfort of Strangers is an assembly of some of the finest artistic talents we have. Why, then, is it one of the most maddeningly dull films I have ever seen?

Nothing remotely interesting happens in this movie. And when it tries to do something stimulating, the film only creates more unanswered questions. The movie is about a failing couple (Natasha Richardson, Rupert Everett), who wander around Venice, trying to talk their way back into each other’s hearts. They soon meet a local bar owner (Christopher Walken) who eventually invites them to his massive home, where his wife (Helen Mirren) awaits.

Where to begin? The conversations the couple engage in are so pointless and repetitive, it is impossible to maintain interest. And shortly after meeting Walken’s character (who is described as “British/Italian” but has an accent that is neither), he dives into a six-minute monologue in a bar about how he met his wife. The monologue is so uninteresting, that Schrader makes the choice to cut to every single patron in the bar (who cannot hear Walken’s words), for no other reason than to distract the audience from how bad the monologue is. I cannot recall the last time I saw a movie scene in which the director trusted his material so little, that he showed us things during the scene that bare no relevance to the story whatsoever.

The Comfort of Strangers is 107 minutes of scenes like this. My favorite, though, is when Richardson tells Everett that she’s going to tell him about the worst thing that happened to her as a child. We lean in, hoping to hear something intriguing, and what follows is such a mind-numbingly dull tale, that Everett dryly says, “That’s the worst story I’ve ever heard.” What a perfect way to encapsulate this film. F

Light Sleeper (1992)
Light Sleeper follows the “man in a room” character tradition that has come to define Paul Schrader’s career. Taxi Driver, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, The Walker and First Reformed all involve men of a certain mental wiring. They’re lonely, quiet, anxious, and are either the cause of violence, or the recipient of it.

The lonely man of Light Sleeper is John LeTour, played flawlessly by Willem Dafoe. LeTour is a med-level coke dealer who exclusively serves Manhattan’s upper crest. LeTour’s loyal boss, Ann (Susan Sarandon), has made it clear that she’s going straight, leaving LeTour to wonder what he’ll do with his life. One day, seemingly at random, LeTour runs into his old flame, Marianne (Dana Delany). LeTour is desperate for another chance with Marianne, but even though both people are sober now, Marianne cannot forget the hell their drug-infused past caused her.

Much like Schrader’s other “man in a room” films, Light Sleeper has no real conventional plot. Instead, we follow LeTour around for a short period of time, attempting to gain some insight into his world. Material like this is where Schrader is strongest. He so effortlessly understands who these men are, and how to tell their stories in the most compelling way. Films like Light Sleeper are what make Paul Schrader, Paul Schrader. A-

Witch Hunt (1994)
Perhaps it’s disingenuous to offer a review of Witch Hunt, as it is a forgotten HBO movie with no redeemable qualities. This is an awful film, one that the likes of Schrader, Dennis Hopper, and Eric Bogosian cannot even begin to save.

Witch Hunt is set in the 1950s and posits a world where magic is real, and everyone except jaded private investigator, H. Phillip Lovecraft (Hopper), uses it. The film is a painfully obvious allegory for the communist witch hunt, but Schrader would have been better served to tell the story straight, instead of hiding behind (laughably cheap) parlor tricks.

I have no way of confirming this, but watching the film, I’d assume everyone involved, least of which Schrader himself, wishes Witch Hunt never existed. F

Touch (1997)
Touch is the sort of high-concept film that sounds so promising on paper, but ultimately fails in its transition to the screen. The movie, based on a novel by Elmore Leonard, is about a gentle man who can cure a person’s illness simply by touching them. Juvenal (Skeet Ulrich) is a gentle and sincere man with a remarkable gift. But as people around town – including a schemer (Christopher Walken), a religious fanatic (Tom Arnold), and a lovely woman (Bridget Fonda) – hear about Juvenal, they all want a piece of him, in one respect or another.

Audacious material like this could go any number of directions, and it’s a bit of a let down that someone like Schrader, who understands pain and melancholy so well, would choose a slapstick approach to Touch. While the film does attempt some earnest drama, the easy humor is always given the most attention. I suppose, ultimately, it is the right of grizzled men like Elmore Leonard and Paul Schrader to attempt a different tone than audiences are used to seeing from them. I just wish the film hit a little harder. C-

Affliction (1998)
Affliction is one of the very best films about the life long effects of childhood trauma. This is a movie that understands that once pain has entered a person at a young age, it simply does not leave. It can only be managed, or ignored.

Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is a local cop who drinks excessively, neglects his daughter, and routinely lashes out in anger. Wade, we learn, has failed to brake the cycle of violence, and is quickly turning into his father, Glen (James Coburn), a horror of an alcoholic man whose only pleasure is intimidating his family with violence.

Affliction is two films seamlessly carved into one. The main driving force of the plot concerns a hunting accident gone wrong, and Wade attempting to solve a massive conspiracy he assumes is real. The second, more interesting aspect of the film, is Wade’s relationship with Glen.

James Coburn (who won an Oscar for his performance) delivers such genuinely terrifying work that it’s difficult to watch. In their scenes together, Nolte and Coburn could, perhaps, deliver the most compelling acting performances Schrader has ever presented. Nolte balances rage and fear so well within Wade. There’s a scene early in the movie where Wade has to walk by Glen in the kitchen. As Wade gently moves past his father, he lowers his head but brings his eyes up to meet Glen’s. He’s afraid to walk past the beast, in fear of disrupting him. The fear, all these years later, remains.

There is another aspect of Affliction that deserves mention, and that is Wade’s brother, Rolfe (Willem Dafoe). Rolfe escaped. He left the town, he never drank; his childhood wounds are not healed, but they have been understood, and accepted. Sometimes we have to have the courage to remove ourselves from the pain, before we can examine it. A+

Forever Mine (1999)
Alan (Joseph Fiennes), a cabana boy at a Florida resort, falls in love with Ella (Gretchen Mol) while she’s on vacation with her powerful husband, Mark (Ray Liotta). Alan and Ella’s initial romance is hyperbolic in the way old Hollywood films loved to glorify. The type of movie love in which two attractive people lock eyes and realize they’re soul mates. Anyway, when the vacation is over, Alan follows the couple back to New York City, and Mark finds out about the affair and orders the cabana boy killed. 

Forever Mine is the kind of film that has no idea what kind of film it wants to be. Part old Hollywood romance, part Greek tragedy, part English Patient/“Count of Monte Cristo” knockoff. The first hour is told in muddled flashback, and once the narrative catches up to the present day, something truly baffling happens. Alan, who survived his murder but bares some facial scars from the attack, meets up with Mark who… doesn’t recognize him. Sure, the affair was a few years ago, and Alan’s face is somewhat scarred, but would you really forget the face of the man who had an affair with your wife, and who you ordered to be killed? This becomes even more absurd when, in the next scene, Alan is reunited with Ella and, surprise, surprise, she doesn’t recognize him either. Like, what? Didn’t she fall wildly in love with this man just a few short years ago? That is certainly the biggest issue of the film, but there are several more to pick apart, if you care to do so. D

Auto Focus (2002)
Auto Focus is the kind of film Paul Schrader was born to make. The film tells the true story of Bob Crane, a popular radio host who found mainstream success as the star of Hogan’s Heroes, all while feeding a secret obsession with devious sex. As depicted in the film, Crane (a career-best Greg Kinnear) was good at keeping his fetishes private, but once John Henry Carpenter (Willem Dafoe, perfect) came into his life, Crane’s obsession consumed his existence. And while Crane’s fascination with devious behaviors rose, his career and personal relationships suffered as a result.

Auto Focus is dark, dangerous, and appropriately funny – a perfect showcase for Schrader’s talents. Kinnear, though, is the big surprise here. Before Auto Focus, Kinnear was best known for his supporting portrayals of affable men, but his work as the entitled, fanatical, prickly Crane is astounding. On paper, the Crane role seems much better suited for Dafoe, who inhabits seedy men so effortlessly. But his work as Carpenter is lovingly against type as well; Carpenter was kind, reserved, and constantly in second place. Truly, it is a thrill to watch these actors bounce off each other. Although 2002 was a strong year for movies, it would’ve been great if Schrader, Kinnear, and Dafoe were remembered in some way during the award’s season. Rarely does Paul Schrader feel more at home than he does with this material. A-

Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
Perhaps the lore of Dominion is more interesting than the film itself. After the original director, John Frankenheimer, passed away before production began, Paul Schrader quickly stepped in to direct Exorcist: The Beginning. Schrader delivered a rough cut of the film to Morgan Creek Productions, who paid for the movie, and they disliked it so much that they fired Schrader, and hired Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Cutthroat Island, Deep Blue Sea) to reshoot some scenes. Harlin ended up reshooting the whole film, and when his film was released in August 2004, it bombed so hard that Morgan Creek gave Schrader $35,000 to finish his version of the material, which was ultimately released under a new title in May 2005.

Beyond the obvious notion that a prequel to The Exorcist probably isn’t necessary to begin with, it must be said that Schrader’s film isn’t horrible. It’s an at-times effective psychological thriller about the first time Father Merrin (played admirably by Stellan Skarsgård) encountered the demon Pazuzu. The main issue with Schrader’s film is that he was only given $35,000 in post-production funds, which explains why the sound mixing is occasionally off, the musical score is inconsistent, and the visual effects are laughable. It’s a shame Morgan Creek didn’t entrust Schrader to deliver the movie the way he saw fit. I genuinely think there’s a rather decent film in here, if given the proper and full resources. C

The Walker (2007)
Schrader sets this “man in a room” film among the Washington D.C. political elite, where a gay man named Carter Page III (Woody Harrelson) escorts older women to social events when their entitled husbands are too busy. And, to be clear, “escorts” in The Walker genuinely means walking women from event to event, with nothing more than platonic intentions. When Carter isn’t grazing the stuffy, D.C. social scene, he’s playing cards, having cocktails, and gossiping with a perfect cast of women, including Kristen Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, and Lily Tomlin.

Shortly into the film, a lobbyist Thomas’ character is having an affair with is murdered, and in an attempt to protect his friend, Carter unwittingly becomes the chief suspect. While Carter tries to clear his name, the film so gracefully captures how a blind smear campaign can facilitate a fall from grace. You want to know who your friends really are? Find yourself in a little trouble, and you’ll see.

I quite enjoy this film. It contains one of Harrelson’s very best performances, and it balances the lifestyle story with the exciting plot so well. Sadly, The Walker endured a sloppy marketing release, and was seen by very few people. I highly recommend seeking it out. It’s a worthy addition to Schrader’s “man in a room” series. B+

Adam Resurrected (2008)
Adam Resurrected is a noble, experimental misfire. It’s audacious and occasionally interesting, but it is a film that’s ultimately defined by its faults. The film tells the story of Adam Stein (Jeff Goldblum), who, in 1961, finds himself in a mental hospital specifically for Holocaust survivors. Through flashbacks, we learn that Adam was sent to a concentration camp and taken under the wing of a sadistic SS officer (Willem Dafoe), who literally forced Adam to behave like a dog. Adam survived the Holocaust, but his family did not. And in the hospital, he’s suffering from horrific PTSD, which may be causing him to have threatening hallucinations.

Goldblum shows the hell up here, delivering a singular performance unlike anything he’s done before. But the material fails him. The tone of the film is all over the place, as it attempts to juggle humor, horror, and surrealism with equal weight. Adam Resurrected is a tricky film, and I understand why Schrader wanted to make it, but the narrative risks simply don’t pay off. D+

The Canyons (2013)
I was so damn excited for The Canyons. Schrader hadn’t made a film in five years, and was posed to return to his indie roots. Bret Easton Ellis, one of my favorite authors, wrote the crime-themed script. The movie featured the stunt casting of fallen starlet, Lindsay Lohan, and popular porn star, James Deen. And the movie was made completely outside of the studio system. Essentially, The Canyons was a DIY Kickstarter film made by some of my favorite artists, and I could not wait to see it.

The film, however, does not work. It didn’t work when I watched it the day it came out in 2013, and it works even less watching it today. At 99 minutes long, the movie is painfully dull; the dialogue is cheap, and delivered poorly by the actors; and the overall story is never a fraction as compelling as the filmmakers want it to be.

There are some highlights. The movie was made for $250,000 but thanks to John DeFazio’s expert cinematography, looks far more polished than the budget would suggest. Amanda Brooks, playing the Deen character’s assistant, is a notable standout from the cast, and Gus Van Sant shows up for a brief and enjoyable cameo as a therapist. Beyond those sparse mentions, the film, sadly, suffers from a misguided execution. D

Dying of the Light (2014)
Similar to Dominion, the lore of Dying of the Light is more interesting (and disheartening) than anything contained within the film. Schrader wrote this terrorist political thriller initially for Nicolas Winding Refn to direct. When that didn’t work out, Refn stayed on as an executive producer, while Schrader directed the movie himself, casting Nicolas Cage in the lead role.

When the film was wrapped, the producers absolutely hated it, and instead of working with Schrader to fix it, they took the film back, and reedited, scored and mixed the sound without Schrader’s input. The result, as you might imagine, is a jaw-dropping misfire of a movie. The editing is often nonsensical and the sound of dialogue routinely doesn’t match up with the actors’ mouths. And those are just two faults contained in this mess.

Schrader tried to fight the producers, but ultimately lost. In doing so, he, Cage, Refn and Anton Yelchin (who co-stars with Cage in the film) carefully disavowed the movie, and urged people to not see it. And it’s true, the mere act of watching this film feels like a betrayal against Schrader. Of course, I’d be curious to see the film Schrader intended to make, because right now, it is completely hidden among trash. F

Dog Eat Dog (2016)
The post-production woes of Dying of the Light drove Schrader into a deep depression that he thought might kill him. He isolated himself, drank compulsively, and vowed to never make a movie again. But after some clarity, he did something I respect so damn much: He threw out the rule book and made the most insane movie of his career. And, truth be told, one of the most insane films I have ever seen.

Dog Eat Dog is batshit gonzo cinema at its most intentionally depraved. This movie is fucking madness from first frame to last. None of it should work (and, for many, I suspect it doesn’t), but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t respect the hell out of it.

The film is about a trio of moronic ex cons (including Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe) who kidnap a baby in hopes of profiting from a large ransom. But really, Dog Eat Dog is about Paul Schrader announcing that he gives no fucks. His crew was comprised mostly of film students, who were instructed to do things on the film that they had never seen done in a movie before. Mission accomplished.

I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of this movie (that was an experience), and before the film began, Schrader told the crowd, “Some may say I’ve been involved with some of the most revered films of all time. Films that will continue to be written about and discussed. Dog Eat Dog is not one of them.” Yep, that’s true. And ask Schrader if he cares. B

First Reformed (2018)
In 1972, when Schrader was a film critic for the Los Angeles Free Press and other outlets, he penned a book entitled, “Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer.” The book details the similar, patient styles of the three mentioned directors, and shows Schrader’s clear appreciation of transcendental films. However, when he began writing and directing movies, Schrader’s own style couldn’t have been more different. Sure, there were hints of Bresson in Schrader’s “man in a room” films, but for the most part, Paul Schrader is a filmmaker known for exploitative cinema. Films about the dark underbellies of society. His work is sexual, violent, stylized, and fierce.

Following the disastrous release of Dying of the Light, Schrader realized he might never be able to make a film again, so he finally decided it was time to pen his great, transcendental masterwork, First Reformed. Because the film is currently enjoying a much-deserved solid run in theaters, I won’t reveal much of the plot, but it is essentially about a middle aged priest (Ethan Hawke, perhaps never better) struggling with a crisis of faith. No, that’s too simplistic. Revered Ernst Toller is struggling with a crisis of life. Of self-worth, purpose, and understanding. Little of the world makes sense to him anymore, and the film so poignantly captures his internal dread.

Nothing about First Reformed feels like a Paul Schrader film, which I intend as a compliment. The movie has the setting and plot similarities of Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light, the patience of Bresson, the fantasy of Tarkovsky, and the clear influence of Ozu, Dreyer, and more. This is minimalist work, to riveting effect. Many are currently debating the worth of film, which makes sense. It is a singular vision of a master filmmaker. Paul Schrader is 71 years old, and just redefined his entire career with one film. I watched First Reformed in complete and utter awe. What a thing of patient wonder. A

In Summation
American Gigolo
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
First Reformed

Blue Collar
Light Sleeper
Auto Focus
The Walker

Cat People
Dog Eat Dog

Light of Day
Patty Hearst
Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist
Adam Resurrected
The Canyons

Just Plain Bad
The Comfort of Strangers
Witch Hunt
Forever Mine
Dying of the Light


  1. Paul Schrader is a fascinating individual and certainly an underrated filmmaker who deserves more respect. For me so far...

    1. American Gigolo
    2. Light Sleeper
    3. Auto Focus
    4. Cat People
    5. Light of Day
    6. Witch Hunt
    7. The Canyons

    Here's something we NIN fans know about Light of Day. A young Trent Reznor appears in the film as part of a synth-pop group covering Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways". It's odd to see him in pre-NIN era but he was in worse bands before that.

    Mishima is the one I want to see the most as I have it in consideration for next year's Blind Spot.

    I do remember seeing Witch Hunt on HBO a long time ago but I don't remember what happened in that film. The Canyons had a nice look but I found it to be boring as it's my least favorite film of his so far.

    I really want to see First Reformed as I heard it's not just this major return to form but also its comparisons to Winter Light. BTW, did you hear about the new Bergman box set that is coming? That I think should be your ultimate Xmas present.

    1. SO happy you're a fan of American Gigolo as well. I honestly didn't like that film very much when I first saw it (I was clearly too young), but man, that is one hell of a self-assured movie. I adore it.

      That's such a cool little tidbit about Light of Day. I really wanted to like that film more.

      That box set is insane. In. Sane. If I didn't own most of his movies already I would consider buying it. Shit, who the hell am I kidding... I'm STILL considering buying it.

  2. I haven't seen a lot of his films but your quick reviews of them sold me on quite a few. I kind of love the drama around The Canyons. Was it the NY Post that wrote that amazing piece on how Lohan acted on set? I've read it more than once. Same with the drama surrounding the Exorcist prequel. I tend to prefer Harlin's version until the last 10 minutes when I assume he walked away from the camera and someone who hated him made some changes.

    1. Actually, it was the NY Times and he did mention that article in his review of that film.

    2. That Canyons piece is sooo nuts. (Thanks for linking, Void!) But I remember Schrader saying he enjoyed the story, because he knew it would motivate more people to see the film. That movie is such a damn let down; really a shame.

  3. Amazingly, or surprisingly, I've only ever seen Cat People and I was mostly watching it for Annette O'Toole, who I thought was great in the film. I need to check out these other films.
    I've heard of Light of Day and the nonsense of that film in snippets. I've been curious to watch Canyons (to watch the mess of that film, I supposed) and I really wanted to watch Auto Focus, I just never made the time to do so. I've, of course, heard the one thing people talk about with American Gigolo that you didn't even hint at (very classy!).
    I'm not sure I fully understand the "man in the room" genre, I recognize and seen many of the films you reference but I don't think I full grasp it. Google was no help.

    1. As Schrader puts it, he keeps going back to this theme in his work of an emotionally isolated man sitting in a room, trying to figure out his life, potentially plotting something violent, and usually writing his thoughts down. The man is usually engaged in some sort of rare profession that occupies his time at night. Many, if not all, of these theme traits apply to Taxi Driver (which Schrader wrote), American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, The Walker and First Reformed. And it's no coincidence that the latter four are four of the best films Schrader has made.

      So, basically, man in a room is a theme Paul Schrader keeps going back to in his work, to excellent results. Make sense?

    2. Thanks for taking the time to flesh that out for me, I was piecing it together but I guess I wanted a few more sentences to make sure I fully got it and you provided. Thank you again.

    3. Sure thing! I've heard Schrader on a lot of podcasts recently discussing First Reformed, and he's dove into his "man in a room" theme a few times. I think it's such an interesting theme.


    hoping you would cover Schrader at some point. Huge favorite of mine.

    1. And, reading through, I predicted we'd agree on Affliction. His absolute best.

      Pumped to catch First Reformed wherever I can.

    2. Thanks so much for the push on this one! Affliction... man, that film hits so damn hard. It just doesn't let up. I am so very pleased that Coburn won the Oscar. Nolte should've too, in fact.

  5. I'm seeing First Reformed at a local film festival next month, and believe it or not, it will be my first Schrader film. Not sure how I've managed to go so long without seeing any of these, but I absolutely loved reading this and it has definitely inspired me to bump up a lot of these on my watchlist. Amazing work, as usual. Love seeing this kind of in-depth breakdown, especially for filmmakers who don't get the level of attention they deserve.

    1. Thanks so much, Tyler. I always appreciate you checking out the site and offering your thoughts - it means a lot! I would be very interested to hear what you think of Schrader's "man in a room" films, including First Reformed. There is so much Winter Light in that film, I hope you enjoy it.

      And I saw your tweet about your watchlist for that festival. PLEASE let me know what you think of Climax. I'm so excited for that one.

    2. OH, and Affliction. I would very much appreciate hearing your thoughts on Affliction.

  6. Of those, I've only seen American Gigolo, I liked the visually stylized way the story was told which seems to be the case for other of his 80s films too. I'll use your post as a reference point for which Schrader films to check out. Look forward to First Reformed, great when older filmmakers have a second wind!

    1. Isn't it?! I love that Schrader's most recent film is one of his best. Truly, First Reformed is visually nothing like anything he's done before. What a refreshing change of pace.

      And I'm glad you're a fan of American Gigolo. That movie is so '80s.

  7. The only one of these i have watched is Light of Day and that is only because i was a huge Michael J. Fox fan as a kid. I have always wanted to check out American Gigolo though. I'm also really looking forward to checking out First Reformed. I hope it gets released here soon.

    1. I hope you get to see First Reformed soon too! It is so singular in its vision, and unlike anything Schrader has done before. I really hope Hawke is remembered come awards time.

  8. I just saw First Reformed yesterday and it blew my mind. I couldnt tell were the whole thing was going and the script was absolutely brilliant. I am currently doing a write up on it atm its my favorite movie of the year

    1. Holy shit that is AWESOME. I am so happy you liked the film so much, it was so brazen in its approach.

  9. So happy you loved First Reformed and Mishima. Easily my favorite biopic. Mishima is a fascinating figure.

    1. Mishima is an absolute classic that more people need to talk about. That film stands entirely on its own. Never seen anything like it.