Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hotel (2001): Losing Your Mind On Screen

Hotel (2001)
dir: Mike Figgis

Hotel, upon its release, baffled everybody. Critics wondered what it was, and tried to pigeonhole the movie into one genre. Audiences avoided because it looked, sounded like, and was a more complicated extension of Figgis' easier movie Time Code.

From the standpoint of 2001, it was hard to figure out what was going on. Figgis didn't offer any clues either, probably because he didn't quite know. He declared it a work of art. Some said it was pretentious crap. Others saw it as a movie trying to be every movie. They're all right. They're all wrong.

On the surface, Hotel is like five separate movies all competing with each other. It starts out with a cannibal horror movie (movie 1), when John Malkovich checks in to the hotel, is treated to a final dinner, and then is presumably killed to become food. But, this plot is mainly dropped for the majority of the next two hours.

The main thrust of the movie is watching a cast and crew attempt to create a Dogme version of The Duchess of Malfi (movie 2). There are also scenes from the movie they're making of The Duchess of Malfi (movie 3). At one point, there is also a documentary filmmaker intending to do a feature on the Dogme movement, who is making the documentary of this movie (movie 4). The executive producers also seem to be involved in an erotic thriller of some sort with hookers and assassinations (movie 5).

A horror film, a behind-the-scenes, a Dogme movie, a pop documentary, and an erotic thriller. None of these genres blend together. Indeed, they almost seem to fight each other, as if there is some death struggle for control of the audience's attention.

So, what is this movie, really?  It's actually a document of watching somebody lose his mind behind the screen.

In 2001, Mike Figgis was still in his art house darling mode. He had a lot of good will attributed to him through his success with the traditional Leaving Las Vegas, and had followed that up with a good/bad run including the critically liked The Loss of Sexual Innocence. In 2000, he came up with the experimental four-camera single story Hollywood film Time Code. While the four camera split-screen technique was applauded, the story was seen as basic and undeserving of the experiment.

With the general dismissal of Time Code's story (which wasn't the point of the movie), Figgis seemed to finally say, "fuck it" and lost his damned mind. Then, we get this movie, Hotel.

After Hotel, Figgis did a few episodes of Television, with one last attempt at traditional filmmaking with Cold Creek Manor, a terrible revamping of Straw Dogs. Otherwise, his disenchantment was obviated, and in Hotel, it was actually on screen. But, nobody knew that it was the end of Figgis' line at the time.

Everything about Hotel is a specific aspect of Hollywood, and probably one that Figgis himself hated. The people who run the hotel are shown as cannibals who will dine with you and indulge your feckless stories, even as they're getting ready to dine on your corpse. The director (Rhys Ifans) of The Duchess of Malfi is an egotistical backstabbing asshole who yells at everybody because he can, and makes mincemeat out of his producer (David Schwimmer) in front of the cast. The executive producer will make business calls while paying for women to do weird sexual tricks for him (like dunking her breasts in champagne glasses of milk), while also trying to patch things up with his wife. There is also an assassination attempt on the director, who spends 15 minutes bleeding out on the floor in a coma as the producer and actors come over to try to talk to him without realizing he's been shot.

The documentary filmmaker is the worst of pop-internet culture, and is being hosted by a perky bubble-gum snapping Hispanic hotty who seems to trade on her breasts as much as her intelligence. Dogme is what was becoming a huge phony filmmaking trend (championed by Lars Von Fucking Trier) and something people went gaga over even though it was a waste of attempting to get something real and sincere on screen. Which is why the use of a period piece in Dogme is hilarious. In the end, the producer finishes directing the movie himself, when suddenly the director wakes out of his coma to (probably) take the full credit.

Watching Hotel as a single contiguous story is an attempt in futility. Watching Hotel as a satire on Hollywood and the chaos that it perpetrates is the only way to make any sort of sense of Hotel. It's like a metaphorical tin hat tract of paranoia. Figgis pulls no punches, either. He's scathing in this, leaving no body untainted. Once you settle in to imagining yourself at the center of this film, and that all these things are forces acting on you, you'll find it a hilarious, angry, bitter, raging asshole, primal scream of a film. Trying to make something coherent out of it will leave you crying in a corner.

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