Love and Death On Long Island (1997)

4 05 2014

Early on in Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island, Giles De’Ath tells one of his similarly stuffy, highbrow colleagues that he’s interested in finding beauty where no one has looked. His idea is genuine, but we, the audience, know that he’s artfully describing his new found infatuation with Ronnie Bostock, a young American actor stuck in lowbrow teen flicks. There’s two relationships at play here: Giles’ own personal obsession with Ronnie and the justification he provides for said obsession. While the film’s heart is the tragedy of the former, the rhetoric Giles himself uses in the latter speak to a complex rarely accepted. The idea that the high and the low art aren’t exactly inseparable.

1

Giles De’Ath is a beloved writer in England. He lives by himself in London, rarely ventures outside, and only holds conversation with his assistant. On a whim, he accepts a radio interview, where he learns that his defiant stance against new technology is a battle that is slowly being lost. Even E.M Forster’s work has been adapted to be projected on the silver screen. Giles chooses to investigate said adaptation, but ends up in the wrong theater. There, he sees a goofy teen comedy titled “Hotpants College II” which he is repulsed by until one Ronnie Bostock emerges onto the screen. He’s instantly fascinated by Ronnie, and investigates the actor’s life. His stubborn feelings towards technology are reversed. He buys a television and VCR to digest and study all of Ronnie’s work, which is of course, crass and commercial productions. Noticing his change in personality, a friend of Giles suggests he takes a vacation.  Choosing a destination is easy, Long Island, where Ronnie lives.

2

While filmmaker Richard Kwietniowski doesn’t particularly dazzle with any of his filmmaking decisions, he does deserve some credit for making a film about obsession and not turning the film into a reductive study in which Giles is nothing more than a creep. Giles himself knows that there is something quite ridiculous about his feelings for Ronnie and the fact that he goes so far out of his way to meet him. Calling his situation an “obsession” feels like an insult to begin with, if only because that word immediately brings to mind something that is not only unhealthy but something that we cannot possibly identify with. It is unhealthy and it might indeed be a problem, but by centering on Giles, the audience feels his process. He’s not some bizarre villain out to wreck Ronnie’s life.

3

The positive reviews I’ve read of Kwietniowski’s film have a habit of suggesting that Giles’ infatuation with Ronnie is not even romantic necessarily. I’m inclined to disagree, but I see why this suggestion is constantly made. It goes in line with sympathizing with Giles’ obsession and not making him out to be a creep. In reality, he is a little weird, which is exactly what ends up frustrating Ronnie towards the film’s conclusion. However, if the film were to be any more pointed about Giles’ feelings, it would risk making him out to be pitiful. To me, he does want to hold and caress Ronnie and be with him in all the ways that would conventionally imply. The relationships we frequently want to see in a film and perhaps in life generally, tend to be composed of young, white, attractive, heterosexuals. Giles’ age does him in, as does his profession. How silly that a respected author would even consider spending time with a lowly Hollwood actor in his 20s, let alone entertain ideas of loving him.

4

What can we make of Giles’ plight, then? Who is he but a rather silly old man whose dreams are far too unrealistic? Frankly, shouldn’t he know better at his age? He reminds me a great deal of Delphine in Eric Rohmer’s Le rayon vert. Despite his sophisticated personality, Giles is also ruled by his emotions. He too, feels his feelings too hard but the tragedy here is that unlike Delphine, he doesn’t have the rest of his life to look forward to. Perhaps because of his public persona he’s had to downplay his emotions for his entire life, and we actually catch a glimpse of him performing this facade. Maybe there’s something inspirational in him finally being “true” to himself. Giles himself would consider such an arc to be quite trite, but it all unfolds organically enough here that his heartbreak (not just from Ronnie but from the world) registers.

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