“The nation—the world—has agreed that they’d rather give up their privacy than be censored,” film director Hal Hartley told the Transom as we waited for seats at the low-key Greenwich Village brasserie Bar Six. He added, “The president, a couple of years ago, talked about how children have such a totally different kind of awareness of their sexuality and access to a level of perversion that was unknown to grown-ups 30 years ago.”
How did we get on this topic? Oh, yeah, the Internet.
Mr. Hartley, whose films include Henry Fool, Amateur and Fay Grimm, is a fan; in fact, he may be the most prescient director regarding Internet culture in the 21st century. As early as 1997, he was imagining the Web as a place where the anonymous individual could become a famous commodity and where all books would eventually be published. (James Urbaniak, the star of Fool, described Mr. Hartley’s aesthetic as “outer-borough yearning.”)
For all his musings on fame, the ethereally dapper Mr. Hartley is not himself all that recognizable. And yet, as we wound our way to a back table, actress Patricia Clarkson managed to intercept us. “I’ve always wanted to work with you,” she gushed.
And why not? Mr. Hartley’s track record includes turning off-off-Broadway actors like Mr. Urbaniak, Martin Donovan, Edie Falco and Parker Posey into indie darlings. Right now, Mr. Hartley takes the compliment with a vague smile. His mind is busy elsewhere, perhaps wondering how he’ll be funding Ned Rifle, his final film in the Fool trilogy. Liam Aiken, who was only seven when he was cast as Henry Fool’s son in the original, now plays the grown-up Rifle at 18. Ms. Posey, Mr. Urbaniak and Thomas Jay Ryan will also reprise their roles.
“Commerciality is inevitable,” said the 54-year-old filmmaker, explaining why he has once again turned to Kickstarter to crowd-source funding for his generation-spanning tale. “Even in communist societies. Even in anarchistic societies. But it’s just a quality, and it’s a quality of civil interaction that you can work around and change to fit your needs.” Mr. Hartley knows his audience—the cinema purists and indie cultists who associate mainstream releases with a failure of artistic purity.
Considering that audience, one might expect Mr. Hartley to be a celluloid fetishist, but he loves the freedom and avenues of communication that modern technology offers: the ease with which movies can be edited and remastered digitally, how one no longer has to lug heavy canisters of film to every small movie house but instead can bring a thumb drive with your entire oeuvre ready for screening.
“Technology and creative interests are really right in sync with each other,” he mused. “It helps my creativity, because I don’t have to rush as much, and I don’t have the kind of financial pressures that larger films might have. I can work in a way that’s more appropriate to my personality and my interests.”
This includes the odd turns into theoretical discourse that Mr. Hartley is so anti-famous for. “Irony is essential to mature human interaction,” he proclaimed at one point. “Forced sincerity does make it seem like delayed adolescence.” Were we still talking about the Internet? The Internet as a microcosm for human relations? Who knows. Go fund his movie.
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