Henry Fool

Henry Fool

Simon (James Urbaniak), a shy garbage man, lives with his sister (Parker Posey of Party Girl and Waiting for Guffman, among dozens of other movies) and mother, who both treat him with minimal respect. Into Simon’s life comes Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), a heavy-drinking self-proclaimed great writer who goads Simon into writing an enormous poem. The poem becomes the source of great controversy, proclaimed by some as a great work of art, denounced by others as perverse trash. As
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2 thoughts on “Henry Fool”

  1. Hartley’s Masterpiece: An epic, dark comedy with heart and soul and bruises.

    If Hal Hartley were never to make another film, he could easily go down as having created a genuine American Masterpiece with “Henry Fool.” Hartley takes this material and stamps it with heart and soul and distance. It’s like staring at a palette of beautiful colors – then stepping back to realize it’s a bruise. Henry is never less than this astonishing.

    As Henry,Thomas Jay Ryan gives what is easily the best film debut I’ve seen in many years. None of the wimpy whispery-voiced drivel that passes for acting these days (from even some of our best screen actors) his performance practically pops off of the screen like a fart at a funeral. The rest of the cast – James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, Maria Porter, Kevin Corrigan, et al. – are on the same inspired level, but it’s obvious why the film is named after Henry. I cannot wait to see this man in more.

    Obviously allegorical, “Henry Fool” fairly teems with its laundry list of symbolism both quaint and profound, easy and impossible. I found my cheeks hurting from the smile stretching across my face for much of the film. Other moments had my eyes welling with tears at the beauty – and pain – these oh, so deceptively simple lives toil through.

    This is not, obviously, a film for all audiences, there is something of the fairy tale here and while suspension of disbelief is required, it is also its own reward. Actually the characters, though larger than life, are so evenly and wondrously drawn as to become recognizable to all of us as ourselves or others in our own lives. Here we weigh out the seemingly unfair advantages we perceive “others” has having, the pronouncements of self-worth and desire for acceptance and understanding.

    Hartley’s dialogue is equal to the visual aspects of his film: almost stagey (in the good sense), but with a direct honesty that many, unfortunately, will find offputting. His cast delivers these perfectly placed pronouncements with all the gravitas demanded of the situation – and sound natural doing so. It’s a beautiful film to listen to.

    Aside from the brilliant storytelling, “Henry” is also beautiful to look at. Hartley’s cameramen lens a Queenscape most unusual – one never quite feels he knows where it’s taking place, despite obvious “Queens” clues. Every frame – from Henry’s powerfully bizarre arrival to the last triumphant (and gloriously ambiguous) cell is a pleasure, a joy to watch.

    At its conclusion all I could say was “this was the best movie I’ve ever seen.” Upon reflection, I realize it probably isn’t, but at that moment (and each ensuing viewing) I recapture that same, precise feeling. That’s what I want in a movie and Henry delivers every time.

  2. Warning: this is not a widescreen presentation of the original film, which was in 1.66:1 aspect ratio. IT IS A MATTED (VERTICALLY TRIMMED) VERSION OF THE PAN-AND-SCAN VHS VERSION, WHICH MEANS IT’S 60% OF THE ORIGINAL IMAGE. (The reported 1.78:1 aspect ratio on the DVD box is correct, even the claim that it’s anamorphic widescreen is correct: it’s just that the image you’re seeing was generated by taking the “reformatted for your TV” VHS version, which chopped off the sides of the original theatrical image, and *further chopping* it to fit the widescreen format by eliminating the top and bottom of the VHS image. This is a common practice for widescreen movie presentations on HDTV, but it’s always inexcusable). It’s unwatchable even if you only know the movie from the VHS pan-and-scan version (which was 80% of the film). And the transfer is poor: it looks worse on my TV than the VHS tape I rented a few years ago.

    What an incredible letdown, because the film is sheer genius.

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