Monday, January 2, 2012

I Just Wanna Belong Someplace: Hugh Hudson's Lost Angels (1989)

Few filmmakers have ever fallen from critical and popular grace quite as fast as British-born director Hugh Hudson. A former documentary filmmaker and advertiser, Hudson received his first break in feature-length filmmaking when he acted as the Second-Unit Director on Alan Parker's chilling Midnight Express (1978). Within a year of working with Parker, Hudson got his chance to sit in the lead directors chair for a period piece focusing on two runners training for spots in the 1924 Olympic Games. That film was Chariots of Fire and it immediately became one of the most acclaimed films of its time, when it was released in 1981, and Hudson briefly became one of the most respected directors of the period.

After losing the Best Director Oscar for Chariots of Fire in 1982 Hudson began to immerse himself in what would turn out to be his next project, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan (1984). The shoot was gruelling and was strife with problems and the behind the scenes issues stretched to the screen, as Hudson's follow-up to Chariots of Fire proved to be a major critical and financial letdown. The lukewarm-reception granted to Greystoke was nothing compared to the crucifying Hudson took for his third film, Revolution (1985), a bold but flawed work that all but ended Hudson's time as filmmaker any studio would bank on, even though he had helmed a best-picture winner less than five years before.

Disillusioned and embittered after the troubles he had with the studios on both Greystoke and Revolution, Hugh Hudson stepped away from the world of film for several years in order to regroup artistically and spiritually. He would re-emerge in 1989 with what would turn out to be his finest film, a moving low-budget drama centering on a troubled young teen named Tim, but few took notice and the still-stirring Lost Angels has all but slipped into obscurity.

Had he not been a member of one of the most consistently brilliant groups of the last quarter of a century, Beastie Boy Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) could have probably had quite a film career, as he has both the looks and talent of a great star. Horowitz has appeared in a number of films since making his big-screen debut as the star of Hugh Hudson's Lost Angels but his acting career has never sparked the way his music work had and continues to. Watching Lost Angels today, it's striking just how moving and resonate Horowitz's work is. His performance has a real rhythm and grace to it and it's hard to not feel a tinge of regret at the thought he never had the chance to capitalize on it, although he came close with Abbe Wool's equally in need of rediscovery Roadside Prophets (1992).

Horowitz plays Tim Doolan, an angry and frustrated teen who is committed to a psych hospital after continually getting in trouble at home and at school. While inpatient, Tim meets an understanding psychiatrist named Charles Loftis (played wonderfully by the great Donald Sutherland) and the two form a strong, if unexpected, bond that helps heal both of them.

The gritty and small-scale Lost Angels was a real left-turn from the bold big-budget period-pieces Hudson was known for in 1989. Whereas Hudson felt like a filmmaker in trouble on both Greystoke and Revolution, he is back in total control on Lost Angels and he guides the film with an assured confidence and fluid style. Most surprising is the fact that Hudson showed that his real gift as a director could be found in the way he handled his actors in intimate and sometimes uncomfortable to watch situations. Lost Angels has all the heart found in Chariots of Fire without the bombast and it stands as a sharp reminder that, given the right material, Hugh Hudson is a talent to be reckoned with.

Lost Angels was the final script produced for the big-screen penned by Oscar nominated writer Michael Weller, a man who won much acclaim for his work on Ragtime (1981). Lost Angels could have been just another Rebel Without a Cause clone but Weller's script is really fine and in the moments between Tim and Loftis it is really quite great. Weller's dialogue is finely-tuned and really taps into what it was like to be an angry and disillusioned Reagan-era youth. Lost Angels stands out among the many angsty troubled-youth films of the late eighties and it's a shame that it isn't more well-known.

Shot by the wonderful Spanish cinematographer Juan Ruiz Ancjia, scored by none other than Philippe Sarde and featuring startling art-direction from legendary Alex Tavoularis, Lost Angels feels like a work of love from all involved, especially considering its low-budget and quick-shooting schedule. It's moving, both beautifully acted and directed and was all but ignored when it was dumped in just a few theaters by Orion in May of 1989. Despite the fact that it had been nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, Lost Angels failed to find much critical or popular support upon its release and Hugh Hudson's valiant attempt at resurrecting his film career sadly did not pay-off.

After the relative failure of Lost Angels, Horowitz would step back into his iconic role as a Beastie Boy and within a few years would help solidify the group as one of the greatest in rock history. His role in Roadside Prophets remains his sole starring role outside of his powerful turn in Lost Angels.

Hugh Hudson would drift away from film for nearly a decade before his sweetly stirring return with the lovely My Life So Far (1999), another fine work few took note of. He has since returned to the world of documentary filmmaking with the very personal Rupture: A Matter of Life OR Death (2011).

Lost Angels was released on VHS and laserdisc in the early nineties but it has never had a DVD or Blu-ray release, though it is available to stream over at Netflix. One of the great unknown American movies of the late-eighties, Lost Angels is quite a special little film and I would love to see it resurface one day and finally find the audience it has always deserved.


Rupert Pupkin said...

Fantastic stuff sir! Wow, I had no idea Hugh Hudson had even directed LOST ANGELS. So interesting to see the progression of careers and how fickle Hollywood can be. I really need to rewatch this film, it's been years. It's in my Netflix Instant queue.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much R.P.! I really love this film and am glad I finally got something written on it. I hope you enjoy revisiting it and happy new year!

Steve Langton said...

So good to see some love for this film in the form of your very perceptive review. I'll always remember Hudson for Chariots, but this is an absolute gem.

J.D. said...

Excellent look at this underrated gem of a film. I remember seeing this when it first surfaced on VHS and being quite taken with it. I'm curious to revisit it after all these years, esp. now that it's on Netflix.

What happened to Hudson is a real shame but certainly a cautionary lesson on how the Hollywood system chews up and spits out talent.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve and JD,
I thought I was the only one who dug this film so I am thrilled to read your comments. Much appreciated and I hope the new year is getting off to a great start.

night person said...

Another terrific piece of writing, Jeremy. Thank you for training a light on this work.