"Remember My Name," this weekend's selection in the American Film Institute Theater series, "Films That Got Away," reunited Geraldine Chaplin with Alan Rudolph, the distinctively wrongheaded young writer-director who stuck her with the most humiliating role of 1977 in his first feature, "Welcome to L.A."
Although spared the indignity of impersonating another passive, soulful cuckoo, in this past Chaplin's fortunes improve only marginally. Now Rudolph envisions her a deceptive, aggressive cuckoo in a weirdly calculated mystery fable that appears to associate women's liberation with deranged, vindictive patterns of behavior.
Although he began as Robert Atman's assistant, Rudolph makes one think of Antonioni adrift in Los Angeles. If he had surfaced earlier, Rudolph might have been the ideal director for that L.A. zombie classic, Joan Didion's "Play It As It Lays."
Chaplin is introduced behind the wheel as a traveling lady of mystery, linked in some way with Anthony Perkins. He plays a carpenter (an odd choice of profession for him, perhaps the most enduring mystery in the story) who shares a cozy suburban home with Berry Berenson, making her film debut as her husband's wife and seeming grandly miscast, what with her refined nostrils and boarding-school drawl. As the plot unfolds, the clues become more explanatory, revealing Chaplin to be an ex-convict nursing an old romantic grudge against Perkins.
Although Chaplin behaves like a dangerous fruitcake, vandalizing and burgling the Perkins abode, terrorizing Berenson and making an equally ingratiating impression on her employer and co-workers at a dime store, Rudolph apparently intends her as some exemplary species of New Woman. He has olingingly described her as "a woman trapped in time who must free herself from the past before she can face the future . . . a woman who has learned to challenge men on their own terms."
I suppose one might make the same case for, say, Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten or Patricia Krenwinkle upon their reentry into society, but somehow the case would still sound sophistic and lack resasurance.
Although "Remember My Name" was released sporadically, it excited a surprising amount of critical enthusiasm here and there. And admittedly. Rudolph is a distinctive stylist, with an elegant and potentially seductive pictorial sense. But his thought processes and value system make little sense. His material emerges out of some complacent existential funk that defies authenticity or empathy.
"Welcome to L.A." suffered from a hideous original song score by Richard Baskin. For both the title and song score of "Remember My Name," Rudolph has turned to the blues repertoire of Alberta Hunter, a vastly more pleasing source, even as one regrets the occasional implication that her lyrics were composed with the Geraldine Chaplin character specifically in mind.
As the protagonist's suspicious employer, the invaluable Jeff Goldblum contributes another admirable supporting performance, making the most of very limited screen time without ever calling undue attention to himself. Sooner or later producers may wise up to the fact that Goldblum and Frederic Forrest are the potentially great "discoveries" of the next few years, the young actors who really deserve major roles and buildups.