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* SCREENING ROOM

'Glam' Focuses on the Bad, Beautiful

Filmmaker Josh Evans offers an edgy tale of Hollywood innocence, corruption.

May 07, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With "Glam," which begins midnight screenings Fridays and Saturdays at the Sunset 5, writer-director Josh Evans follows up his venturesome debut film "Into the Goldmine" with an even riskier business, a classic tale of innocence and corruption in bad old Hollywood that evolves into a spiritual odyssey.

Evans really is fearless: He's made the kind of picture that those who aren't ready to go along with him will dismiss as arty and pretentious but that pays off for those willing to pay attention and go the distance.

As a filmmaker, Evans is a visionary, able to suggest dimensions beyond his sharply observed surface reality. Abruptly dropped into present-day Hollywood is a young man, an All-American type named Sonny Daye (William McNamara), who has a beatific expression and utters not a word. He has come to stay with his sole relative, Franky Syde (Frank Whaley), a manic, motor-mouth Hollywood wannabe struggling to survive.

Sonny may say nothing, but he writes (and writes and writes) and what pours forth is some kind of religious vision--shrewdly not spelled out, which overwhelms Franky, who also sees it as a hot screen property. But who is Sonny--a prophet, some kind of god, Jesus returned--or what?

The individual who responds to him on a personal basis, and vice versa, is Vanessa (Natasha Gregson Wagner), a beautiful young rising star who is the lover of a veteran major producer (Tony Danza), a crude Hollywood survivor whose vulnerability is his terrifying jealousy regarding Vanessa.

Sonny serves as a lightning rod in the Hollywood that Evans evokes so well and with such economy: There are the power players drained of humanity, and the young aspirants, smart, well-educated yet slipping away into drugs while a TV keeps sending video messages that raise the spiritual questions that so concern Evans. Yet for all its seriousness, "Glam" is often scabrously, satirically funny. (Evans got his mother, Ali MacGraw, to play a journalist in the unenviable position of trying to get Sonny to open up while trying to get Franky to shut up.)

Evans also writes great riffs for his actors to run with, and he gets players as different as Danza and Jon Cryer (as one of Franky's strung-out pals) to go right to the edge, with terrific results. Cinematographer Fernando Arguelles gave "Glam" a great, stylish look and mood, and Geoffrey Moore and Evans himself composed a wonderfully varied and expressive score. "Glam" is a right-now movie that suggests a contemporary "The Day of the Locust." The film is rated NC-17 for a scene of explicit sexuality and some sexual language. (213) 848-3500.

*

The restored 1929 "Lonesome" (at the Alex, Glendale, Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.) is a major rediscovery, an exquisite urban romance of poetic realism and acute psychological insight, directed by Paul Fejos and written by Edward T. Lowe Jr. from a story by Mann Page.

Lighter in tone than either King Vidor's "The Crowd" or F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise," both of which it recalls, it is no less visual in its telling of an ordinary couple (Glenn Tryon, Barbara Kent) on a holiday outing. A Hungarian emigre, Fejos made "The Last Moment" (1927), a story of a suicide, on a $5,000 budget. It so impressed Charlie Chaplin that he persuaded Universal to back "Lonesome."

First presented at Telluride and the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, it will be accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra performing live another of its venturesome original scores that greatly enhances the mood and pace of the film and illuminates the inner life of its people.

Although yet another proof that the silent cinema was reaching unprecedented artistic heights when it was destroyed by the advent of sound, "Lonesome" is technically Universal's first talkie, since it was withdrawn early in its release to have three sound sequences added. These inserts are awkward and corny, and it is a testament to the concentration of Tryon and Kent that they move between two art forms performing unself-consciously and smoothly.

With fierce kinetic energy, Fejos plunges us into the chaotic, crowded whirlpool of Manhattan, where punch-press operator Tryon and switchboard operator Kent, both unattached, are feeling painfully lonely. A passing Fourth of July band lures them out of their single furnished rooms to Coney Island, where they meet on the beach and are instantly attracted to each other.

There's an appropriately industrial sound to the Alloy Orchestra's score in "Lonesome's" opening sequences that gives way to a more romantic aura--Irving Berlin's "Always" is a continual refrain--but returns again to a more frenetic mood for the film's climactic roller-coaster sequence.

There's a magical look to Coney Island in the evening, bespangled by lights and tinted imagery, and throughout, Gilbert Warrenton's cinematography is as audacious as it is shimmering. "Lonesome" is timelessly exhilarating and beautiful. (818) 754-8250.

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