By Anthony Frajman

Upon revisiting Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool Trilogy, potentially the only recent comparison that comes to mind is Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy (1995, 2004, 2013).

Here are two sets of films by individualistic directors that chronicle a disparate, unusual set of characters in the American milieu, however, that is largely where similarities depart.

Hartley’s Henry Fool Trilogy [Henry Fool – 1997, the final of Hartley’s films to receive a theatrical release in Australia since his emergence in the American indie scene with The Unbelievable Truth in 1989; Fay Grim – 2006, Ned Rifle – 2014) is perhaps one of the most unusual film series ever. It is a series that traverses multiple genres, stories, cities, eras. It is a story that does not have a definitive, consistent plot, sometimes not even one at all. It is a series with a unique tone, a universe of characters following the initial meeting of beleaguered Garbage Man Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and the enigmatic Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), which changes his life, and the lives of those around him.

Set around the recurring adventures of Grim, his friend Fool, Grim’s sister and eventual wife to Fool, Fay (Parker Posey), and their child Ned (Liam Aiken), the films span years, as Grim goes from humble garbage man to esteemed poet to jailbird.

Many moments are bewildering to say the least, unscored, inexplicable moments of silence, quiet moments, challenging to the average viewer.

Hartley operates in a distinct universe, creating a world not really comparable to anything.

This is not a series for everyone, indeed, many may not be on board with the odd meshing and oscillation of tone, which features human moments, family reunions, near incest, suicide, melodrama, fart humour.

This is a series that travels from unique independent film to heightened political thriller taking on 9/11, to road trip in the last film, all harking back to that original story of a desolate garbage man helped by a mysterious new friend.

Hartley paints with a unique, unmistakable tone, one which takes on many subjects, mass culture and zeitgeist, populism, poetry, terrorism in the case of Fay Grim – where Simon’s sister has become a terrorist, as her ex-husband is suspected of also being an extremist.

Beyond that, there seems to be a commentary on the nature of America itself.

What there are, however, are rewarding quiet moments for viewers, human scenes of family, friendship, scenes that challenge the average construction of a scene.

The box set, put together by Hartley himself, includes the films with English, Spanish, French, German and Japanese subtitles, and also includes a 16-page booklet with rare photos from the production of the films and a new essay by Tom McSorley; the 2007 documentary ‘Making Fay Grim or How Do You Spell Espionage?’, and a promo clip.

Buy it here


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