Alan Rudolph, whose father was a director in the fifties,
doesn't seem to mind that his films polarise the American
critics. From works as diverse and audacious as Choose Me and Mrs
Parker and the Vicious Circle, through to his latest work,
Afterglow, critics seem consistently divided. "I've learnt a
long time ago in this country that you just make a film and you
duck; you tell the truth the best you can and you run like hell
in the other direction, because American critics have become very
When talking about Afterglow, however, the one element of that
film on which the critics were unanimous was the performance of
Britain's Julie Christie. "So it became a kind of
schizophrenic response for them."
Afterglow introduces us to two unhappily married couples.
Jeffrey Byron (Jonny Lee Miller) is a cold, seemingly-heartless
businessman who is sexually indifferent to his young wife,
Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle). For her part, Marianne is so
obsessed with having a baby that she never attempts to interact
with her husband on a human level. All she's interested in is
seducing him during those few days when she's ovulating. After he
refuses to make love, she decides to find someone else to play
the role of sperm donor. The other couple, Lucky (Nick Nolte) and
Phyllis Mann (Julie Christie), are an older pair, but they're no
more content than Jeffrey and Marianne. A mysterious fracture in
their past relationship has driven them apart. They remain
married as a matter of convenience, but, since Phyllis won't
allow Lucky to touch her, they have an unspoken agreement whereby
he can fool around as much as he wants provided that no lasting
bond is established as a result of these affairs. The landscape
of emotional pain between them is palpable.
The four characters begin interacting when Marianne hires
Lucky as a handyman to fix a door in their apartment. The two of
them are immediately attracted to one another, and it doesn't
take long before they're lounging together, naked, in her pool.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey, who is captivated by older women, runs into
Phyllis in a hotel bar, is smitten, and invites her to accompany
him on a weekend retreat to the mountains.
In trying to explain where such a personal film came from,
Rudolph jokingly defines it "as one of those unwashed soap
operas that I seem to think of," he says laughingly.
"It was really written out of survival just to get my next
thing going and it seems to be an extension of a lot of things I
had been doing." More specifically, the writer/director
adds, if you don't take the film too literally, "it's really
like a page out of a diary of a marriage. Maybe it's just one
couple who are watching it manifested in different forms. But I
wanted to make a film that was both humorous and serious
simultaneously." It seems such a personal and intimate
piece, that one can imagine it being based on Rudolph's
experiences, but not so. "None of my films are. When I was
doing it, I knew that Afterglow was at the end of a whole chapter
in my work, a culmination of these little serious farces that I'd
Despite his low budget ["single digit
movie-making"], Rudolph has managed to attract formidable
casts. On Afterglow, to begin with, is Nick Nolte, who has gone
from expensive studio player to independent, character-driven
roles. "I think Nick made a real conscious decision several
years ago to shun all of the Hollywood crap, after having made a
lot of money, and do challenging work. I think part of it is that
a lot of these actors enjoy becoming character actors, finding
rich characters. Nick loves being a truth seeker, and he's an
As for Christie, who remains hugely selective about her work,
Rudolph recalls that "I don't even remember her agreeing to
do the movie. We went from reading the script to starting work,
it was that simple. She's an incredibly honest actor, just gets
in there and does it and hates rehearsals, unlike Nick. Before we
started, she asked me not to insist she improvise; by the time
we'd finished, she was doing it with the best of them." But
Christie's luminous performance did win the actress an Oscar
nomination, not that Rudolph was expecting it.
"I didn't think we had a chance. But I think what
happened was, she won two of the major critics' prizes in
America, and I think then the Academy had to pay attention.
Initially, they wouldn't even screen it for the Academy until
The Oscar nomination has also been a boost in Rudolph's
career, almost legitimising it after all this time. "You
think I might be tepid now?" he asks laughingly.
Rudolph sees Afterglow as being about "this unnatural
dance we all go through of trying to find partners. Here, it's 'I
love you, I love you, good, let's get married, we don't have to
deal with that again.' But love is a living thing, and to me,
marriage seems to be about forgiveness more than anything else.
It's the most UNNATURAL act between two people, but it's also the
most honourable. On one level, it seems to be completely
instinctual, and on the other hand, completely impossible. In
this film, you have a couple like Julie and Nick, and the thing
that keeps them together through all these adversities, is love
somewhere, that's really back there, in a deep, profound way. Who
knows WHY these things work? "
Rudolph is the son of film director Oscar Rudolph, so one
assumes that given such a background, he would automatically have
wanted to follow his dad's footsteps. "Almost in any
generation, there's a job to kind of rebel against your parents'
generation. Maybe it's because from my whole life, there was some
form of movie business talked about at our kitchen table, so I
wasn't interested at all. It was also at a time when the American
movies were really bad, so nothing interested me on that level,
except that I had an itch to write."
That all changed when his brother bought him a Super 8 camera,
and a whole new world opened up to him. "I then started to
make these little shorts, first for myself, then for all these
people who were in film school; I was known as 'Cyrano de
Filmiac'. I would do everybody's film for them, charge them
money, get more film and make more movies." Then he started
out working with Altman, recalling that when he began doing films
'legitimately' he "used the same techniques as when I made
those shorts; I simply didn't know any better as I was completely
All that has changed, as his work became increasingly
sophisticated. He's currently cutting together Breakfast of
Champions which he’s been wanting to do for over 20 years.
Not only did Bruce Willis agree to do the film for little money,
but he was so passionate about it, he even raised the money
himself "and he now owns the film. He's incredible."
Co-starring Nick Nolte and Barbara Hershey, the film's
exploration of madness, may well be the most anticipated film of
the year, and Rudolph has no doubt that once again, it's set to
polarise the critics, "but I think this is my best work and
am so proud of it."