HOME | REVIEW INDEX
THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE (1984)
d. Tony Richardson; pr Neil Hartley, Pieter Kroonenberg, David J. Patterson; scr. Tony Richardson; novel. John Irving; ph. David Watkin; ed. Robert K. Lambert; cast. Jodie Foster, Rob Lowe, Beau Bridges, Nastassja Kinski, Matthew Modine, Wilford Brimley, Paul McCrane, Seth Green, Joely Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Lisa Banes, Jennie Dundas (109 mins)
Capturing the Quirky Sorrowful
The two adaptations of novels by John Irving that emerged in the 1980s are generally considered problematic movies that only partially captured what many considered the author’s uniquely sorrowful humor.
Thus, the films of The Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp are still best remembered only as failed experiments. Indeed, the prominence of Robin Williams in the latter film has perhaps unfairly sidelined the former which, despite its many flaws, is a more intriguing tonal hybrid, a venture into America by a British director, Tony Richardson, who was sometimes noted for his irreverence and his fondness for eccentric and undisciplined spirits somehow put upon by the surrounding world. It is this quality that emerges in The Hotel New Hampshire, which attempts in part to look at quirky Americana through a decidedly European sensibility. As an outsider’s perspective, it is part of a wave of British directors to try their hand at American cinema, following on from the likes of John Schlesinger and Karel Reisz. Like them, Richardson is a generation older than the most contemporary British invasion – comprising of primarily Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Alan Parker and Adrian Lyne – and there is a woeful sense of romantic folly to his work here, but almost as if he is somehow overwhelmed by the material. There are offbeat pleasures to be had from such bizarre substance however.
Synopsis (contains spoilers)
The Hotel New Hampshire tells the sage of an unusual family, headed by patriarch Beau Bridges. Complete with a flatulent dog named Sorrow, this family follows the father’s dream of opening his own hotel.
They buy an old school and turn it into a hotel, but there seem few guests. Brother and sister Rob Lowe and Jodie Foster have a decidedly unusual interest in each other, a tension which grows through the film, and when Foster is raped by the man she longs after (Mathew Modine) Lowe wants her avenged and protected. The family sells the premises and soon moves to a rather lowly hotel in Vienna, frequented by political radicals and assorted prostitutes. There they meet Nastassja Kinski, a young woman who feels most secure when wearing a bear suit. They try to clean up the hotel but tragedy strikes when two of them die in a plane accident. The radicals plan a terrorist action which is thwarted and events soon find Bridges is blinded but proclaimed a hero by the Viennese. The youngest daughter, who has stopped growing, writes a book and becomes a famous author. They thus return to America extremely wealthy although they seem forever sorrowful and burdened by their dreams and successes. They now seek to regain the title hotel for their father even if he can no longer see it. There, Lowe and Foster finally confront the illicit passion which has been simmering between them.
The Tragi-comedy of Transgressive Love, Lust & Friendship
Stating its themes in the course of the dialogue, the film seems more an uncertain if quite ambitious tonal exercise in the intangible nature of sorrow than either a comedy or a drama.
Balancing farcical moment, tragic incident and in the end championing transgressive love, The Hotel New Hampshire manages both a sense of fragile immediacy and the inevitability of irony. All events thus turn out to have bitter consequences as happiness is mostly denied these characters, eccentrics who must stick together in the face of what is the real enemy of humanity – despair. Director Richardson seems to imply that life is cruelest to its eccentrics because they are aware of this, although the film is really at a loss to define any standard of convention from which to compare behavior. Indeed, what there emerges of “normality” is vile, mean and cruel when not indifferent. It is no wonder that the family seems forever in a game of losing and finding itself, forever chasing a dream that is finally fleetingly attainable. Although the respective hotels are achieved, the ambition to find the one true Hotel New Hampshire seems akin to pursuing a kind of New England El Dorado – the impossible dream. Indeed, despite the comedic touches, this is a sad and depressing film, although the despair is neatly used to validate the transgressive triumph between Lowe and Foster. Every moment seems important, but like in dreams, the ultimate meaning is elusive.
The film develops a bitter, cynical sense of irony throughout. However, the final stages seem rushed, packed with incident but losing the tonal assurance of much of the first half and glossing over narrative developments in a kind of uncontrollably elliptical structure.
Thus, the film gives the impression that finally it has slipped out of Richardson’s grasp and he is left with incidents in search of coherence. This protracted, episodic descent ultimately sinks the film. Nevertheless, as a piece of bitter whimsy, a vision of life’s perhaps inevitable disappointment and the burden of dreams, The Hotel New Hampshire is a genuine oddment to be treasured for its better moments. Befittingly, much of the film concerns intangible emotions and the imperative to somehow express them in relation to place and in the process make them tangible. Amusingly, the dog, metaphorically named Sorrow, is stuffed and continues to affect the family’s lives in unusual ways: they cannot ever be fully rid of it and their test becomes one of emotional endurance, to not surrender to the despair and melancholy madness that surrounds them. Although the main characters are eccentric, the film is remarkable for the way it makes them seem almost normal, and the world around them the true abnormality – no wonder that in their world the forbidden and the dream is all that is left bar despair. In so charting their fleeting triumph, the film endorses them.
Reminiscence, Dream and Prescience
The visual transfer preserves the original widescreen ratio, 16:9 enhanced. Unusually, the film opens with a dreamlike approach which quickly becomes more concrete as it proceeds.
It explores how reminiscences become the impetus behind future dreams, and such are thus brighter and more vibrant than the rest of the film, which seems indeed to take on increasing shadow as optimism is slowly eroded. The final hotel design recaptures the vivaciousness of memory in look but the irony is that now Bridges is blind to its reality, his tactility and memory enabling his sense of place. The visual textures are mostly always crisp and concise, motifs regularly spun on the contrast between stability and instability. Color tints are effectively used (red on one particular occasion) and there is attention to production detail and the grotesque nature of human incident. Indeed, although the setting seems cold, much of the colors and textures are hot (especially in a party scene) and even inconsistent, perhaps deliberately attempting to convey the intemperate nature of human emotion through hot and cold lighting – thus the Viennese sequences are especially remote and testing. At moments, the transfer looks oily. The contrast between locations is well served, each hotel having a distinct look and feel although buildings in this film seek forever to cramp and confine the people within them. There is a triumph to the final scenes of Lowe and Foster.
Eccentricity, Ambiguity and the Narrated Flashback
The sound transfer is a serviceable, technically proficient Dolby Digital stereo surround. The score reconciles the comical, the bitter and the tragic and is quite evocative when used.
Voices stand out and it is interesting to note the ways in which tones of voice reveal the ongoing struggle against sorrow and resignation. All is anchored in the voice-over provided by Rob Lowe, adding a further sense of reminiscence to the movie, as it seems Lowe is the audience anchor throughout, making his relationship with his sister the film’s most sustained tension and in the end rendering this device as ambiguous as intended, a most dubious foundation for a moral center. Details are crisp and feel authentic although backgrounds seem subdued and secondary at times, much of the film concerning how the voices of these eccentric characters are the true expression of life. There is little distinction in the ebb and flow of incidents and the ambient sound seems almost minimal at times. There are some amusing incidences of abrupt sounds for comedic and dramatic emphasis, which speak to the way the comedy is slowly overwhelmed by the bitterness. Indeed, sounds of life are here almost slowly drained away in some respects. Despite the unusual events and the difference in look and audio of Bridges’ flashbacks (which sound rather fuller) it is the brooding even juxtaposing use of sound and silence that dominates.
USA DVD PURCHASE INFORMATION:The Hotel New Hampshire
FOR MULTI-MEDIA ADULT E-BOOK CONTENT
VISIT THE EXCLUSIVE WIDER SCREENINGS TM EBOOK STORE AT:
all non-third party contents (c) 2012 Robert Cettl | logos and illustrations (c) Ed Seeman used by permission
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
(UPDATED: January 15, 2013 10:51 )
HOME | REVIEW INDEX