ivansxtc. (18)

Review by Simon Bell

IT COMES with a director’s statement attached: "FILM IS DEAD," it declares brazenly. "The 35mm camera is chained by money to corporations. Digital cinema will be free." The sentiment runs through ivansxtc. like a vital artery, it’s naturalistic visuals and candid performances a result of the director and his DOP harnessing lightweight, high-definition equipment and thus being liberated from a taxing army of technicians and the everyday hindrances of a typical Hollywood shoot.

Based on the novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, ivansxtc. is Bernard (Candyman//Immortal Beloved) Rose’s second attempt at a Tolstoy adaptation (his first, the catastrophic Anna Karenina). Here we’re spared the perishing Siberian chill and, instead, have the very contrasting environs of LA pool parties and drug-fuelled hotel orgies.

Ivan Beckman replaces the Ilyich of yesteryear - no longer an upper-middle class 19th Century Russian - now a wily but charming and successful talent agent (and based on the life of Rose’s own wheeler-dealer, the now-deceased former head of creative artist agency, Jay Maloney.

So, all life is shit, informs Ivan in a voice-over soon after the opening credits have rolled. This, uttered immediately before he dies a horrible death from lung cancer.

His colleagues are subsequently left with a huge gaping hole in the agency and the challenge of covering up the truth of a man’s life, sustained as it was by vast cocaine consumption, and prolific all-night binges on hard liquor.

Everyone, it seems, is cynical in this industry. So incredulous that Ivan’s gradual demise can only have concluded with an OD, they confer.

This is where the film really gets going… Cue flashback and enter one Danny Huston as Beckman, the prince of Hollywood, friend to the stars and darling of the business bigwigs, in the last few weeks of his life.

The remaining 80 minutes or so chart the brief rise to the very top of his profession before his good fortune is cut dramatically short by the debilitating final stages of his terminal illness.

In the meantime, Ivansxtc. shapes up as a savage attack on the West Coast movie world; a community so cold and uncompromising that isolationism reigns supreme. This really is a guild of monsters who care for little and love even less.

Central to this is Peter Weller, magnificent as the arrogant and self-obsessed star, Don West, who has the power to get even a film called Weeds green lit, so long as its creator, Danny McTeague (James Merendino), is booted off the project in favour of a lesbian actress who will get the liberal press off West’s back.

But more impressive is Huston (son of John, brother of Anjelica), who gives a commanding portrayal that puts most players in mainstream US cinema to unmitigated shame. Let’s hope the director of such throwaway fare as Mr North (1988), concentrates on acting for a wee while.

What we have then, is a mordant hymn to the back-biting freak-show that is the Hollywood film factory, that could possibly be the most watchable and rewarding outing to the pictures you could have all year.