Moderns, The (1988)

The Moderns (1988), written and directed by Alan Rudolph.

Nick Hart is an American artist living in Paris, not selling many paintings and reduced to drawing caricatures for a gossip columnist. Complicating his life: he has a chance to make some money forging paintings for a rich woman who wants to put one over on her cheating husband. Then of all the cafes and coffee houses in Paris, in walks his own long-fled wife with another husband, the fierce condom magnate.

Not too heavy, done with a light sardonic touch, a fantasy of quiet wit and a little boxing. This and two others directed by Rudolph are among my favorites of the 1980s: Choose Me (1984) and Trouble in Mind (1985). The Moderns is currently the only one of the three on Blu-ray.

I think of them as a trilogy, even though they are nothing alike in theme or plot, just all made during the creative burst of a few years. Same director, each has Keith Carradine and Geneviève Bujold, and all were produced by Alive Films, the indie outfit which also gave us El Norte, Koyaanisqatsi, Stop Making Sense, Insignificance (1985), The Hit (1984), A Private Function and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

For a certain generation Paris in the 1920s is a lodestone, a creative nexus never equaled. Plenty of expatriate Americans artists and writers in a place where it didn't matter if you were broke. You could still work and party and feel alive.

Is that really how it was? And how long did it last? This is set at that moment when Lost Generation Paris had been "discovered" and the tourists, poseurs and phonies were moving in. Which the film uses: this is the fantasy Paris, with stock footage of the time but actually made in Montreal, with obvious painted backdrops and little Eiffel Towers out the windows. "Forgery" is the theme: who can detect the real paintings? What is life and what the imitation?

Our players:

Carradine did one of the painting copies himself. Their professional artist arrived and said: "It's perfect. What do you need me for?" Carradine also made the film poster, an adaptation of a period painting:

Inspired score by Mark Isham. He sometimes brings up this lovely gamelan beat from underneath. The 1980s were a time of beautiful percussion, like Moroder's Afro-pop texture in Cat People (1982).

Isham also features that French tune I can never recall, and will link here as an aid to memory: Parlez-Moi D'Amour. It was written in 1930; the movie is set in 1926.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory. A thoughtful 1h36m making-of feature has memories by Rudolph, Carradine, and producer Carolyn Pfeiffer.

They'd been wanting to make this film for years. Rudolph called it "the most rejected script in Hollywood" and it lost money. Speaking about a scene were some paintings are thrown on the fire: "Making movies is like that. We put everything we have into them and no one sees them".