Video stores have become the repository for a most unusual and cosmopolitan hybrid genre: the anthology film, made usually for television, but striving after a spectacular cinema-effect with relatively big budgets, name directors and a parade of movie stars past and present.
No matter how flimsy or opportunistic these anthologies sometimes get, they sometimes offer fascinating examples of work by major filmmakers in an occasionally quite innovative format.
Often these anthology films come from the quality end of American television production. They come equipped with a certain, respectable, literary hook: classic short stories of the war between the sexes, for instance.
At other times they elaborate a social issue, such as the need for prison reform. Sometimes, they are purely a transparent pretext for international co-production, as when they present glamorous tales of world tourism.
Strangers, a French-American co-production, is a three-part anthology based on the old Americans-in-Paris theme. With its frank sexual scenes and unusual stylisation, it is certainly adult TV of a sort we rarely saw in Australia pre-cable.
Daniel Vigne (The Return of Martin Guerre, 1982) directs "The Last Game" starring James Remar and Linda Fiorentino, a kinky tale of erotic masquerade and the birth of an authentic love relationship.
Joan Tewkesbury both writes and directs "Windows", a derivative story offering Timothy Hutton as a repressed, lonely doctoral student spying through his Parisian rear window at the intrigues going on in the neighbouring apartment block. Long after the experience of working on Nashville (1975), Tewkesbury still handles her material in a murky, dreamy, sub-Robert Altman style.
The gem of Strangers is Wayne Wang's contribution "Small Sounds and Tilting Shadows", written by Judith Rascoe. Wang (The Joy Luck Club, 1993) is a fascinating, unique filmmaker who mixes conventional and experimental elements in his work.
This is a brilliantly directed vignette of a woman (Joan Chen from Twin Peaks) alone and displaced in a strange city, living in a cold apartment and gradually taking on the suicidal fantasies of its absent owner.
© Adrian Martin January 1994