Claire Dolan 1998 US
Directed by Lodge Kerrigan
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2
Call me a cold bugger but it’s not that often that “movie star” deaths leave any emotional mark on me. I love seeing the people up there on the screen bring the light alive with their presence, but I really don’t know them so when various deaths are announced... I might feel a little shocked for a couple of minutes but usually I’ll just register it in my brain as a little “factoid”... useful for movie quizzes and bus shelter conversations and there’s really not much of a response in me at an emotional level. Would I pass Deckard’s empathy test with this stuff? Probably not but I can fake it as well as a Nexus 6. I am who I am.
Over the last decade, however... two actresses died who passed well before their time and their work always hit such a chord in me that their passing still causes me some major sadness in my heart when I think of them (Brittany Murphy almost made it three... but I’m not nearly as worked up over her). One of these two was the late, great Adrienne Shelley. Her murder sucker-punched me so much that I never quite got to see the last film she starred in and directed... Waitress (maybe it’s time I got around to seeing that one now).
The other actress who died in 2002 at the age of 41 due to complications rising from pneumonia and septicaemia was Katrin Cartlidge. I hadn’t seen a lot of her work but she was absolutely electric in Mike Leigh’s films, especially as the head-over-heels-in-love-with-David-Thewlis flatmate in Naked. She was suitably and typically gobsmacking as Jack the Ripper victim Dark Annie Chapman opposite Johnny Depp and Heather Graham in the Hughes’ Brother’s From Hell and when she put on a posh accent for her take as an out-in-the-field news reporter in Danis Tanovic’s No Man’s Land, another facet of her absolutely flawless acting talent was revealed. She also worked with Lars Von Trier in Breaking the Waves but that is another one I have yet to see.
I’ve been wanting to see her starring turn in Claire Dolan for a while... I think this is probably the only movie where she is the actual star and most of the footage on screen is of her. Finally saw it last night and I was not disappointed.
I’ve not seen any other films directed by Lodge Kerrigan but I’m going to have to take a look at some of his other stuff on the strength of this amazing film. Absolutely stunning framing throughout. Lots of geometrically composed shots using strong verticals and horizontals across the screen including some absolutely stunning shots of buildings which are very reminiscent of some of the building shots that Hitchcock used to use (see if you can watch the opening titles of this movie without being reminded of North By Northwest). I saw Cameron Mitchell talk about Mario Bava once on an interview. He stressed that when Bava used to shoot a film, every frame of the film was like a perfectly composed still photograph. I think the same could possibly be said of this director’s work... certainly in this movie anyway.
Claire Dolan stars Katrin Cartlidge as an Irish prostitute in the US trying to get out from under her pimp (Colm Meaney in an absolutely chilling performance that definitely puts paid to his Star Trek image) after the death of her mother. She tries to do this by earning as much as she can while getting her new “boyfriend” pregnant. Men are treated as interchangeable, sexist, mysogynistic pigs in this movie apart from Vincent D’Onofrio who she chooses to father her child (another wonderful actor who will always be remembered by me for his portrayal of Conan creator Robert E. Howard opposite Rene Zellwegger in The Whole Wide World).
This is not a dialogue heavy film. This is a film where the camera broods on the contemplation of Katrin Cartlidge as she immerses herself in the role of Claire Dolan. This is absolutely fantastic work. The dark, sombre movie is further enhanced by a moody, understated score by Simon Fisher Turner and Ahrin Mishan.
The movie culminates in a completely ambiguous ending which leaves you in a lot of doubts as to whether you should be feeling good or bad. It takes two shots/scenes - one of Claire Dolan on a positive note... but this is juxtaposed with another scene with her pimp some time after. Rubbing these two sequences together makes you ponder the things which have gone before. This is no easy resolution.
When I watch this actress at work I am always reminded of the tragedy of her death at the age of 41. So I’ll leave you now a reminder of her in her own words, with a quote from an interview a couple of years before she died...
“"I actually love getting older. I hated my 20s; I couldn't wait to be 30. I'm really looking forward to turning 40, if I get there. And not just because things are more successful now, but because I think the older you get, the more you find life interesting apart from your own problems. So roll on. I can't wait."