**/**** Image B Sound B- Commentary B+
starring Joseph Fiennes, Ray Liotta, Gretchen Mol
written and directed by Paul Schrader
by Bill Chambers Paul Schrader's fragmented, risqué melodrama Forever Mine tells the tale of an exceptionally well-read Miami Beach cabana boy named Alan (Joseph Fiennes) who steals the heart of Ella (Gretchen Mol, an old-fashioned bombshell), the wife of councilman Mark Brice (Ray Liotta), and pays for it: first by being sent to jail an innocent, then with a bullet in the head. (The jealous husband does the deed.) But Alan survives and, unbeknownst to Brice and Ella, steals a new identity for himself, that of a Miami druglord called upon fourteen years later to act as the politico's criminal liaison in New York. Haunted Ella finds herself compelled by this scarred stranger and his thoughtful glances.
Although it only recently hit tape and disc, after bypassing the multiplexes altogether and going straight to cable in November of last year (thanks to the liquidation of its backer), Forever Mine premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 1999, where and when I sat in on Schrader's "Mavericks" symposium, which is basically a Q&A attended by aspiring filmmakers. Looking over the notes I made that day, my intention to write a piece that never materialized is very clear. Here are some choice soundbites from Martin Scorsese's favourite Dutch Calvinist hyphenate "maverick":
- "Movies are very retrograde in the social development."
- "I really don't think the screenwriter is actually a writer."
- "I don't write for actors...and I don't write for the camera."
- "I don't believe in test screenings."
- "I think we are running out of gas with all these special effects."
- "You don't really wanna make Austin Powers; you wanna be in the Austin Powers business."
- "I had always been working in existentialism...in Forever Mine, I went back to the romantic hero, the nineteenth-century hero. I went back to the cinema of Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray."
- "All that camera bullshit slows down a story."
Schrader, it may or may not come through in these quotes, is a blast to listen to, captivating in his loose-lippedness. Yet very little of what he said to the wannabes took on the heft of advice or the bodily shape of an idea. The problems with Forever Mine, which despite any did not entirely deserve its small-screen fate, are that it's most successful as a dialogue dispenser (it's always fun for writers to create a purple romantic: "It is my purpose to be with Ella...like plants turning to the sun. Or death. Or taxes," Alan tells Liotta, provoking the inspired response, delivered in Liotta's inimitable shout: "Nobody talks like that. Make sense!"), and that it accepts the social outcome of movies as retrograde. For starters, the picture's dual-setting, Florida in the Seventies (pink) and New York in the Eighties (blue), is such because Schrader wrote the script decades ago and didn't bother to maintain the once-timely script in the years it fermented. Forever Mine seems to have been made only to demonstrate the futility of making it at all. It's too self-conscious to compare to Sirk and not sincerely blistering enough for Ray. The typecasting of Liotta is indicative of a certain dutifulness, as are the too-tasteful period touches.
I know that any author of Taxi Driver is a contrarian at heart, and it's interesting to note that much of Schrader's audio commentary on Forever Mine's DVD release focuses on colour scheme, dolly moves, this being his first time working in 'scope--all the "bullshit" that supposedly "slows down a story." Right off the bat, Schrader says he likes to do two kinds of motion pictures, with this one falling under the "beauty" category: it lives to impress. There's even a nervy homage to colleague Scorsese's Steadicam track through the kitchen in Goodfellas. While this temporarily leavens the static quality of John Bailey's cinematography, it also illustrates the borrowed feel of Schrader's style atop his intentional deference to the genre.
Schrader's track graces a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The choppy waters of distribution might account for the unusually grainy source print (the image often appears optically zoomed-in within the letterbox bands), though the colours are outstanding. Shadow detail is relatively poor due to heavy filtering on the lens. A quiet soundtrack, presented in Dolby Surround, necessitates jacking up the volume considerably, and rear-channel presence is rare (a club scene here, a beach scene there); production-sound drops out entirely beneath the halting, asthmatic Schrader. That's it for extras--I assume a trailer was never cut. Originally published: May 21, 2001.