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Ask the Dust

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US, 2006, 117 minutes, Colour.
Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland, Eileen Atkins, Edina Menzel, Justin Kirk.
Directed by Robert Towne.

Perhaps best to refer to this as an introverted film so that those who expect some action, especially from Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek, will not be disappointed. It is a portrait of a young would-be novelist, a portrait very much from the inside, an interior monologue that we are allowed to see.

For those who like dramas about artists, slowly paced and somewhat intense, Ask the Dust can be recommended.

John Fante wrote a series of novels in the 1930s, autobiographically based, with the character, Arturo Bandini, a young man from an Italian family in Colorado who comes to Los Angeles at the end of the 1920s hoping to write and become famous. With encouragement from H.L.Mencken, he has some short stories published and embarks on his great novel. He wants to be and to appear as a Californian American.

In his stony broke days, he encounters a Mexican waitress, Camilla, who dreams of marrying an American and living the American dream. Arturo is attracted but, despite himself, puts her down all the time. Eventually, a relationship develops but she feels that he despises her and he cannot express his true feelings.

As portrayed by Colin Farrell, Arturo is a charming but complex and, at times, exasperating character. Salma Hayek has no difficulty in playing Camilla. Also on the scene are Donald Sutherland as a gassed veteran of World War One who wanders around borrowing money and Idina Menzel (Rent) as a Jewish girl who becomes obsessed with the writer.

The film is written and directed by Robert Towne who wrote a number of screenplays, the most famous of which is Chinatown. In fact, this film, while different in mood and plot, is not far from Chinatown in its detailed and loving portrait of a Los Angeles that was on the frontiers and on the edge in those days and has now disappeared. It is quite an exercise in nostalgia. However, the film was shot in South Africa and the Los Angeles sets constructed there.

If you are in the mood and patient, Ask the Dust has much to offer.

1. Towne’s work as a writer, director? His interest in the novels of John Fante? Towne and his homage to Fante and to Los Angeles?

2. Los Angeles in the 1930s, Towne’s particular interest (Chinatown)? The look, the locations, the apartments, exteriors, the ocean, the fairground, the desert outside Los Angeles? The use of South Africa for these locations?

3. Costumes and décor, the atmosphere of the Depression? Yet people smartly dressed? Prohibition era? The musical score?

4. The title, the experience of Arturo and Camilla? The desert?

5. Towne’s adaptation of the novel, a novel exploring the interior world of a writer? Interior monologues? The transition to voice-over, reflections, drama?

6. The strong cast, their style?

7. The opening, Arturo in Los Angeles? Colin Farrell’s screen presence? His voice-over, explanation of himself, of his feelings, his ambitions? His situation, broke? His dealings with his landlady? Her wanting the money? The flashback and its explanation of his ambitions and the reality?

8. Arturo’s character, from Colorado, Italian- American background, wanting to be very American, dapper in his clothing and style, skill as the writer, the support of H.L. Mencken? The arrival in Los Angeles, expectations and full of hope? His dealing with Mrs Hargraves and the boarding house? Her sardonic response to him? His room, the knick-knacks, his writing, the difficulties, creative block? Yet his keeping a diary of what was happening to him, a diary of experiences and of his mind? Hellfrick and his popping in and out, his borrowing money? Arturo down to the last of his money, deciding to have a cup of coffee, going to the café, the interactions with Sammy, meeting Camilla, his reaction to her, the spurning of the coffee, spilling it, his rudeness? Yet his being preoccupied by her?

9. His success, getting money from Mencken, paying his debts? His dealings with Hellfrick? Going out with Camilla? A strange love-hate relationship? The nude swimming scene? The mystery of his attitude? His image and reality? The encounter with Vera, her pursuing him, the effect on him, going to her apartment, the relationship? Camilla’s reaction? His having given her his story, her not reading it, her not being able to read but not telling him, the comments about it being a story about a dog? Her tearing it up?

10. The earthquake, Vera, her character, the sexual relationship? Naked, her burns? The possibility of a future?

11. The earthquake, his reaction, the scare? His discovery of Vera dead?

12. Going out with Camilla, going out to the desert, the issue of going to the movies, her feeling embarrassed, leaving? Her illness, disappearance?

13. Camilla as Mexican, her name, her hopes to become American, her hard work at the diner? With Sammy and his support? With Arturo, her being bewildered, tentative, not being able to read, outings, the swim? In love with him? His inability to say it? His teaching her to read, the questions for citizenship? Her being hurt by him, the touch of jealousy? Her illness, disappearance, Arturo finding her in the desert, Sammy’s house, her love for him, her quiet death?

14. Hellfrick, World War One, his having been gassed? His life, calling in, chatting, borrowing? Kind?

15. Sammy, the bar, his interest in Arturo? His helping Camilla?

16. The world of writing, hopes of achievement, publication? Advances?

17. Mencken’s publishing his diary as a story? His urging him to write a novel? Arturo in the desert, writing? Writing about himself and his experiences, Camilla? His future?

18. The film as a piece of Americana? American writers, the ethos of Los Angeles? The American dream and the American novel?

Created by: coffey last modification: Sunday 01 of November, 2009 [23:10:23 UTC] by malone

Language: en