With the release of Fay Grim this week, it's as good a time as any to catch up on the films of Hal Hartley, one of the most unique and intriguing independent film directors of the '90s. Fifteen years ago, Hartley was on track to become one of the "next big things" in arthouse cinema, but his own reclusiveness and stubbornness kept the 6' 6" New Yorker from ever receiving major fame and fortune.
• Trust (1990)—Hartley's first fully realized film established his signature styles and themes early on—particularly the deadpan style of acting that he cultivated in his crew of actors, whom he would use again and again in his career. Odd, stylized, and literary, Trust showed off its European cinematic influences in the same way that Gus Van Sant's and Todd Haynes' films also did in that decade. (Macabre side note: Trust starred Adrienne Shelly, who appeared in several of Hartley's films. Last year it was announced that Shelly had hung herself in Manhattan; it later emerged that she had been murdered by a construction worker, who staged her suicide scenario to throw off the cops.)
• Henry Fool (1997)—This, to me, represents one of the most underappreciated art films of the late '90s, as well as Hartley's most easily digestible movie. The detached (and again, deadpan) Grim family—including Parker Posey at her absolute coolest—takes in an enigmatic bum named Henry Fool. Henry pushes repressed garbage man Simon Grim to develop his writing talents, and Simon winds up writing the most provocative and scandalous epic poem ever written. In the meantime, Henry fucks the nearly comatose Grim matriarch; Parker Posey goes crazy with a pot of boiling water; and Henry Fool teaches us an unforgettable lesson on the difference between "there," "their," and "they're."
• No Such Thing (2001)—In this fascinating but not entirely successful movie, Hartley took a break from realism and introduced a furry, alcoholic monster from Iceland who comes to New York. Deadpan hijinks ensue.